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Bethany, Nr. Jerusalem
The Tomb of Lazarus

The crowd pressed in tight behind me, so much so that I could not turn around. The pressure of the people pushing and jostling, trying to see, caused consternation and anger amongst those caught hard in the middle of the pack. I was fortunate to be in the front rank.

They had come to see the man called Jesus. It was said he was a magician, a holy man, a prophet. I’ve heard stories, but whatever he was, it was known that he had performed astounding acts; like curing lepers and causing the blind to see.

His followers had linked arms and formed a ring, preventing the crowd from overwhelming him.

Rumour had it that a friend of his, named Lazarus, had died four days ago, and was now entombed behind the large stone in front of the cave. His friends and relatives were sobbing and talking to Jesus; some looked sad, others sounded angry. The man, this Jesus, asked for the stone to be rolled away. It was, and he walked to the entrance. 

He muttered words we couldn’t hear, but then after only a few seconds, his voice broke the stillness and thundered, “Lazarus, come on out!”

And we all understood what this Jesus did.

It was hard to believe, but from out of the darkness of the cave, Lazarus, still draped in winding bandages, walked out into the light and knelt before Jesus.

Like the crowd around me, I was astonished. No ordinary man could do this. Surely it was an act of God. As an artist, I knew I had to capture this event. It was the most unbelievable thing I had ever seen.

Lazarus had stepped out of the bandages, and for a reason I cannot explain, I knew I had to collect them up. I moved forward to gather what I could. One of his men tried to stop me. But this man, Jesus, prevented them. 

“Let him,” he said in a clear voice. Then, he stared at me in a way that I have never been looked at before.

His eyes shone with such brilliance, I was transfixed. I knew then he knew everything about me; who I was, what I did, all my aspirations, hopes and failures.

He spoke. “Annas Zevi, you are blessed. You shall paint what you have witnessed today and it will radiate a power for all those who truly choose to see it.” 

Well, I don’t know why, but I fell to my knees and closed my eyes as he placed his hand on me. 

To this day, and that was twenty-one years ago, I remember his words. 

“Others, through its power, will all be superseded until the end of days.”

I couldn’t understand what he meant, but when I arose, he had gone, and with him all the people. I was left alone with the burial trappings of the man, Lazarus.

That day, I rushed home determined to start painting what I witnessed. One week later, it was finished. It didn’t feel like I was painting it. I was guided. Don’t ask how, I can’t tell you. But I knew it possessed power of some sort. I was determined to preserve it. Wrapping it in the bandages from Lazarus’s body, I hid it away in a secret place.

I wept, as I swore never to paint another picture again.


Bodega de Vinos Universal
Cafayate, Argentina
Three years ago…

The 4x4 jeep, unlocked and bearing false number plates, the key still in the ignition, was parked off track amongst thick bushes and undergrowth. It stood ready for a fast exit.

He checked his watch. Two-thirty. 

Above, a spectral moon spread a pale light around the area, revealing their objective as a murky silhouette. 

“You okay there?” asked Brodie.

“Fine,” replied Ulla. “You got everything?”


“Hoods and gloves.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

He watched her pull on the black balaclava, masking her chiselled features. He leant forward and pulled down the corner that had snagged on the rope she had around her shoulders. She nodded. He made one last check on his equipment, ensuring there were no mistakes or omissions. There were none. Everything in their backpacks was secure and in its place; wire-cutters, flashlight, small crowbar, knives, handcuffs, more rope and finally the item he hoped not to use, a suppressed Glock 19 pistol that Ulla had insisted on bringing in case the going got tough. 

He pointed in the direction of the large, concrete, block-like structure that stood on the summit of a small hill. It overlooked endless rows of symmetrically planted vines that stretched out and down to the area they were now beginning to move through. 

Broderick Ladro didn’t doubt his research. He was seldom wrong. Research was what he did for a living. The concrete structure was the home of Bernhardt Higuera. He was the only known living relative; the son of the deceased Aldric Vogel, a former Nazi SS Commandant who had fled the Allies in 1945 following the defeat of the Third Reich. Vogel, had changed his name to Pedro Higuera, but had been tracked down to Argentina where he had established a successful wine producing business, employing considerable numbers of locals. It was for this reason that attempts by the Allies at extradition had been blocked by the Argentinean authorities. They wanted him for his involvement with the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg or ERR as it was known. The ERR looted, and logged with careful precision, every valuable piece of art they could find across Europe. Vogel had made a mistake. He gunned down a prominent French art historian and his aide for standing in his way, when they attempted to stop him from removing various masterpieces. The murders were witnessed by several people, and recorded. Aldric Vogel guessed what his fate would be if captured. In 1945, he fled, taking with him every valuable artefact and artwork he possessed. A brain tumour forty years ago denied the hangman his prize.

It wasn’t Vogel’s son that Brodie was after; it was what he had in his home. Ulla had gleaned from her research into the Einsatzstab’s meticulous archives that there would be more in there than the two icons their commission requested. One was Greek, a rare eleventh century work depicted as Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. The other was Russian, twelfth century, described as Mary, Our Lady of Bliss visited by the Archangel Gabriel. They had their instructions. They were to take only what was ordered. 

Ulla set a brisk pace. In stooped postures, they began to thread their way through the vines as they drew closer across the eight-hundred metre approach. The estate was bristling with security devices, dogs and guards. Traversing through the vines presented the least chance of activating any form of security. 

It was at times like this that Brodie wondered why he did this for a living. What did he get out of it? Frequently, he came close to calling it a day, but it was Ulla, little Ulla Stuart who always persuaded him otherwise. She didn’t have to say anything. Being with her and feeling the adrenalin coursing through his body as they embarked on another dubious enterprise, was enough. 

He never forgot his first serious mission with her. She had organised it after he’d met a high ranking British Cabinet Minister four years ago at an Arts Foundation soirée. The minister had lamented the loss of a very early and rare illuminated edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It had been stolen by his mistress, and for obvious reasons, he couldn’t do anything about it. He was willing to pay handsomely to see it again. On their behalf, Ulla took him up on his offer. 

The sheer thrill of breaking into the mistress’s apartment, finding the volume, and then making love in her silk-sheeted bed before walking away and leaving it in a mess, was the biggest turn-on he’d ever experienced. Ulla had agreed. She loved risks. The more challenging it was, the more determined she’d become. She never ceased to amaze him. They both agreed their line of work held more rewards than money.

As he had guessed, the security lights were switched on, pointing directly at the building’s corners. Peering harder, he watched as two guards paced in different directions around the structure, passing each other every two minutes and forty-seconds. Somewhere, two dogs gave intermittent barks.

“Do we get danger money? Those dogs are running loose,” Ulla whispered.

“If we don’t get what we came for, we won’t get anything.”

“The dogs worry me.”

“They’ll be taken care of. I’ve got four fat slabs of meat here, each laced with curare.” He patted his rucksack. “It’s almost instant and should keep them quiet for a couple of hours. Okay?”

“I bloody hope so. Now, let’s look around and work out how we’ll deal with the guards.”

“What a god damned awful place.” Brodie pointed to the building. “It looks like a German war bunker.”

Ulla counted fifteen deeply recessed square windows in straight lines, complemented by what looked like defensive observational slits at odd intervals. At one point, an overhanging balcony projected from the wall and was surrounded with massive black iron railings. 

“It looks as if it was built to withstand an attack. Nobody’s going to climb in that way.”

“Hopefully, they’re not expecting small assaults like ours. Let’s move around the back.”

Keeping low amongst the vines, out of sight from the guards, they reached the back of the house. They found a solid smooth concrete wall with a thick iron door set into it, and a pathway leading down to two cemented helicopter landing areas, each inscribed with a large white letter ‘H’. They were vacant.

“Looks like nobody’s home,” whispered Ulla holding Brodie’s arm.

“And it looks like the dogs have got our scent. Ulla, don’t move!” Brodie knelt and thrust his hand into his rucksack. He’d placed the carefully wrapped meat on top of the contents. “Don’t use this unless you have to!” He handed her the Glock.

One large barking German Shepherd, together with a Doberman, covered the distance from the building with pounding speed, before breaking into a circling movement and coming at them from two sides. Brodie had the meat unwrapped, keeping his eyes fixed at Ulla. She held the Glock and pointed it at the Doberman now only thirty metres away. Brodie lobbed the meat as hard as he could. Two chunks landed on the ground ten metres from them both, followed by two more in quick succession. 

“C’mon, you ugly bastards, eat it,” Brodie shouted in a whisper as he grabbed a large hunting knife. The German Shepherd’s nose went upwards. He turned in mid-air and slewed to a skidding halt. The dog saw the meat and lunged, his huge jaws shaking and tearing at the treat in a frenzy of greed. The food disappeared in a gulp. It turned and saw the second piece a few metres in front of him. He lunged forward to grab at it with his mouth wide open. He didn’t make it. A vacant expression passed through his eyes. Without a sound, the dog toppled over sideways into a clutch of vines. It attempted to stand, but its rear legs kicked out. It fell back down and then was still, unable to move, glassy eyed, its tongue hanging loosely from the side of its jaws. 

The curare worked on the German Shepherd, but the Doberman wasn’t hungry. Its target was Ulla. She straightened the arm holding the Glock and didn’t hesitate. The shot penetrated the dog’s throat. With a piteous moan, it attempted another attack before dropping sideways with one last gasping breath.

“It was you or me, chum. Nothing personal,” Ulla said to the dead dog.

“No time for that.” Brodie’s urgent tone cut through the air. “The guards are coming.”

They were making their way at speed across the lawn, heading towards the area where the dogs attached them.

Brodie pushed Ulla down amongst the vine foliage, her head resting on the dead Doberman’s back. “Give me the gun.”

Ulla placed it in his outstretched hand. “I thought this was going to be an easy exercise.”

The guards came to a halt, looking for the dogs.

Brodie stood up. “You guys looking for me?”

They looked startled, but the one on the left took aim and fired his rifle. The shot missed Brodie and whined into the vines. Brodie’s shot was more accurate. The guard dropped to the ground without a sound, clutching at his arm. The second guard threw his rifle to the ground and put his hands in the air. 

“Please. No kill. Please!”

“Flat on the ground, face down, if you want to carry on living.” Brodie waved the gun at him. 

Ulla stood and knew what she had to do. The frightened guard needed no second asking. Within minutes, the two guards were bound and gagged with duct tape. She checked the gunshot wound and saw it wasn’t serious. He wouldn’t bleed to death. 

“Well done, Ulla. They’re not going to move for a very long time. Let’s check the house and get what we came for.”

Vogel and his wife were staying overnight at a reception being held at the Vintner’s Heath Golf Club, just outside the town’s centre. There was no need for stealth now, but they kept their hoods on. In the glare of the security lamps, Ulla produced a set of plans for the interior of the building. She had stolen them from the municipal offices two months previously, when she learned what their objective would be.

“Now we’ve seen the place,” she said after looking carefully at the plans, “the easiest way in, would you believe, is through the front entrance. Everything else is barred and alarmed.”

“The door won’t be a problem. I’ve got these.” Brodie produced a small wedge of pen-sized explosive, and tapped the small crowbar in a sheath strapped to his leg.

Ulla looked up and around the door. “How long do we need?”
“Assuming nobody knows we’re here, we have as long as we like.”

“We agreed to a time limit. I want to get this over with fast and get out of this place.”

“You’re right. Patrol guards are normally required to make contact at regular intervals, either with Vogel or their HQ. If they don’t, another batch would turn up from somewhere to see what the problem could be. How are we doing for time?” 

“We’re four minutes to the good.”

“That’s great. Let’s go for it.”

Brodie slipped the crowbar between the lock and the door jamb. After one hard twist of his wrist and a hefty shove, the door lock splintered and the heavy oak door swung open. He slid the tool back into its sheath as Ulla pushed him into the dark interior. No need for the explosives.

“We need some light,” she said. “There’s nobody in so we can risk it. These flashlights are not going to help much. I’ll find the control box. There has to be one somewhere in the front area.” Within thirty seconds, she had located it, mounted on the wall behind the door. She pulled down the perspex view panel, activated the large red control switch, and the house blazed with light.

The entrance hall floor was covered in solid white and black marble. Works of art hung from the walls, sculptures and bronzes stood on plinths or in recesses that pointed the way to other areas. Bookcases and writing tables gave an air of culture, enhanced by the wide spiralling staircase leading to the upper floors. That culture, Brodie knew, was a stolen one. A phoney. For that reason, he had no qualms about the nature of his work. 

“Wow! Look at all this,” Ulla whispered as if she thought someone might hear her.

“No need to whisper, Ulla,” Brodie whispered back as he walked past a Picasso. He stopped and pointed. “I don’t believe it!”

“What is it?”

Brodie pointed at a painting. “It can’t be, but it is!” Staring down at them was a very obvious Vincent van Gogh. “It’s the Painter on the Road to Tarasco. That was supposed to have been destroyed in the last war, either by bombing or burnt as an example of degenerative art by the Nazis. This is amazing.”

“Well, here’s one Nazi plunderer who didn’t think it was so degenerate. We’re going to leave it where it is. Don’t touch it, Brodie... please. I know you’re an artist, but leave it... please. We know where it is now and I’m certain some museum or institution would love to acquire it. We can contact them and make a proposition.”

Brodie sighed. “What else is here?” He moved towards a large wall-mounted bookcase groaning with leather-bound first editions. “These are worth a mint, Ulla. Perfect for my collection at home, don’t you think?” 

“No, you don’t... leave them be. Remember, we’re ethical robbers not common thieves.” She pushed him away and pointed upstairs. “Our information indicates the icons are mounted in the main bedroom. So, let’s get up there, grab them, and get out of here.”

They reached the top of the staircase and headed for the main bedroom at the far end of the corridor. It had two large grey Gothic style doors.

“There it is.” She pointed. 

“How are we doing on time?”

Ulla checked her watch. “We’re on par. We have seven minutes to get back to the car.”

As expected, the bedroom was huge; circular with en suite facilities, walk-in cupboards and closets. It was perfect and neat, with nothing out of place. But there wasn’t time to admire the fixtures and fittings. Brodie swung his gaze around the walls and saw what they had come for. Positioned on each side of the bed were two icons, resplendent in golden and red hues. With their reproachful Byzantine facial expressions, they stared down at him.

“Not my cup of tea.” Brodie gestured at the pair.

“Nor mine. God knows what our client sees in them.”

“Something to do with his family. He has a connection with these icons. That’s his business. So, let’s get them wrapped and bagged and leave this place.”

Eight minutes later, the 4x4 fired up and headed back the way it had come. The Martin Miguel airport at Salta, the provincial capital, was a good two-and-a-half hour’s drive. A private jet was waiting for them.


Toledo, Spain
1553 AD

Because he was twelve years old, and busy with producing drawings and paintings that were the love of his young life, Francisco’s periods of prayer were not as frequent as he would have wished. Yet, in the last few days, he felt an overpowering desire to put that right.

For his age, he was not atypical. His build was slight, with dark hair and curious deep brown eyes, s staring out from behind his smooth olive skin. As if giving evidence of his prodigious artistic ability, his hands and fingers were slender, elongated, and tapering off almost to a point. He promised himself he would set aside his paints one morning and attend mass at the Cathedral. 

Later that evening, his father, who rarely spoke about prayer or church, but often of his vineyard and wine, had discussed the awfulness and sinful nature of one of his worker’s reckless remarks concerning God. He’d overheard the man cursing Him, shaking his fist at the sky and calling Him a bastard. For that, his papa announced, he was going to get rid of him. At the same time, he fixed Francisco with a withering stare.

“Don’t ever let me hear you say such things, son. There are mysteries in this world that only God knows of, or those with whom he chooses to share them with.”

Francisco bent his head and cast his eyes downward. “Yes, papa. I could never say such things.”


“I promise, papa. I promise.”

That night, after he had gone to bed and said his prayers, Francisco thought about what his father had said and what sort of mysteries he meant. Unable to come up with an answer, he drifted to sleep, but not before he resolved to go to the Cathedral in the morning. That would please his father. It would also satisfy the strange longing he was experiencing. He’d enjoyed going to church, and it was time to feel that pleasure again.

The cries of the crows woke him early. Francisco had never got used to their noise. They were always fighting. Spring had arrived and daylight broke much sooner. As he prepared, what his father said the night before remained with him. The thought of saying such an awful thing about God made him uncomfortable. 

The Cathedral was an hour’s brisk walk away, and that morning his father was unable to go with him. He was expecting wine merchants, and his mother would have to stay and see to the cooking.

“You’re old enough, and the way is straight. So yes, Francisco, I would be pleased to see you go. And while you’re there, say a prayer for us both. Don’t dawdle back or get in with those gypsy boys. They can only get you into trouble.”

After breakfast, he waved goodbye to his parents and left. On the way, he saw many people he knew and exchanged greetings with. Some were his father’s customers, and some were people he knew from the market. He avoided the gypsy boys. But this morning, he felt no desire to be with others and preferred his own company. He strode with purpose along the track. 

In the distance, he could see the small city of Toledo dominated by the imposing silhouette of the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary. 

Francisco lifted his head towards the sky to feel both wind and sun shower down their offerings upon
him. It gave him a happy glow. Soon, he was passing into the narrow, shady streets, squares, and beneath numerous archways surrounding the great building.

▬ ▬ ▬

Francisco sat in blissful devotion within the coolness of the Chapterhouse, the Sala Capitular. Such was the ardour of his immersion, he lost awareness of time. To open his eyes would be an affront to the sanctity that now possessed him.

He listened hard but heard no external sounds. 

He was cocooned in an awareness of the overwhelming wonder of God’s breath entering his young mouth, accompanied with the unique aroma of the Cathedral’s frankincense. It was heady, luscious, and more exotic than his paints and their inimitable smells. He held the moment, letting it stretch into a timeless realm.

Of their own accord, his eyelids fluttered open and he suspended his quivering breath.

Things were as they had been one hour ago, except they now possessed a beauty he’d never seen before ... a beauty of bewildering colours, of dazzling gold and silver, never ending perspectives of harmony, and perfection of structure and dimension. 

He looked down at the wooden stool he was sitting on and saw the large crack running the full length of the leg. He could only smile, for he now knew that the crack, insignificant, and for some a blemish, contained a symmetry equal to any of the great works of art to be found in Spain. Lifting his head, he enjoyed a feeling of serenity, asleep and cocooned in his mother’s womb was the closest image that came into his mind. Where this wonder and timelessness came from, he couldn’t explain. It was then his eyes were drawn to the many frescos around the walls painted by Juan de Borgoña. These were hailed as the most magnificent religious paintings of their genre in Christendom. They were depicted in a glorious variety of reds, blues, purples, and vibrant yellows, scenes depicting the healing miracles performed by Christ. They completed the sacredness of the Chapterhouse. 

Francisco marvelled at Borgoña’s work, its vibrancy, its realism, unique for its time. Although he had not been taught, he found he understood Borgoña’s technique intuitively ... the positioning of his characters blending into a perspective, highlighting the subject matter. He sensed the structure and the passion behind his interpretations. Each work showed a healing—the blind made to see, the lame to walk, the lepers cured and the raising of the dead. It was the huge fresco on the far wall depicting Lazarus being brought back to life that captured his attention. Francisco was transfixed. The whole of his being responded in a mysterious rapture as he gazed on the yellow shroud that covered Lazarus and the white-robed figure of Christ, who with one hand raised, was addressing Lazarus’s dormant body. 

As he studied the work, it seemed to move! Francisco gasped out loud and struggled for breath. The shroud had shifted and the form of Lazarus had become visible as he appeared to support himself on one elbow to look into the face of Christ, whose body was surrounded in a golden aura. Christ then lowered his hand, turned his head, and directed His gaze towards Francisco.

Francisco collapsed.

How long he had lain there on the stone floor, Francisco had no idea. He sat up. His head buzzed and he could see he was alone. Everything was as it had always been in the Sala Capitular. Had he just fainted? he wondered. He sensed that an extraordinary event had occurred. 

His entire body tingled. The colours around him remained the same, and the dimensions no different to his previous visits. The frescos were as magnificent as ever. The Lazarus fresco was as it was, unchanged. Yet, he was looking at it in a different way. There were no clues or signs to tell him what had happened. 

He stood with caution. A blaze of colours played through his mind, vanishing as fast as they appeared. His whole being, physical and mental, had a lightness that left him feeling as if he could fly. He turned, paused to think, and decided to return home. Perhaps his parents could give him an explanation.

He walked through the city and observed along its walls the ancient and uneven brickwork formed with rough mortar, and wondered how he could capture its texture and colour with his paints. He passed old alleyways with crumbling arches, bricks warm and weathered, and questioned why he’d never noticed them before. Entering the market place, he was astonished to realise it was a living thing. It was alive with colourful foods, meats, fish and vegetables from all regions; plus, clothes and textiles being hawked by their merchants.

Francisco became conscious that a door he’d not known of had opened in his mind. Was this one of the mysteries of which his father had spoken?

Stepping outside of the city’s main portal, the gentle wind possessed warmth, although the sun’s glare caused him to shield his eyes. He strode out of the city and once outside the walls of Toledo, Francisco set off in a daze along the dusty brown track that zigzagged its way back to his father’s house.

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