Night's Black Agents characters frequently have to steal high value items, like artwork. Sometimes we forget how difficult that sort of thing can be. Leaving aside the practicalities of size and weight - a Van Gogh's never going to weigh as much as Michelangelo's David - there's a whole host of issues the agents may not have considered.
Somewhere along a puzzle of corridors inside the V&A [Victoria and Albert Museum, London] is a silent passageway lined by fireproof security doors and guarded by fingerprint-sensitive locks … Shipping museum-grade art is a specialist business; only a handful of top-flight firms, among them the London-based Momart and Constantine, are trusted by major institutions. Even so, most museums also insist the art on loan travels at all times with a courier, ideally a conservator. This is known as 'nail to nail'; one person stays with one work from the moment it is taken down in room 38A of the V&A to the moment it goes on to the wall in a museum in Shanghai … the object will need its own first-class seat [on the plane] … "If you have a lorry with three Matisses stuck in snow in Latvia, that's stressful" … In most European countries, works travel by road with armed guards either in the truck or following in a chase car … Some handlers I interviewed referred to their craft as an art; many, indeed, are artists, working as handlers to pay the bills …
Some things to take away:
- Art handler sounds like an excellent background or cover identity for almost any agent, but especially one with artistic skills. Bagmen should give it serious consideration. It explains so much - odd itineraries, specialist transportation needs, peculiar cargo … "You can't open that crate. I don't care what you think is inside. My manifest says it's a priceless Titian that could be irreparably damaged if exposed to direct sunlight and this damp atmosphere. I promise you, I shall make a detailed complaint to the Ministry of Culture …"
- If you want to steal art in transit, nobble the courier - or be the courier.
- Try not to get into a gunfight while standing on or near the crate with the Cezanne in it.
- When trying to steal art, it's a good idea to crack the servers of any of the following: the insurer, the courier firm, the museum (either lender or recipient), any applicable government agency (eg the UK's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), the private donor. Any of these will have the transport information you need, and may be useful in other ways as well. Imagine arranging the theft of an artefact by posing as the V&A Conservator in charge of an exhibit asking for an artwork!
- If you absolutely have to break into a museum, bring along someone who knows what they're doing. Those fingerprint-sensitive locks are going to be trouble.
With all that in mind, I give you The Italian Job.
Hook: The Agents are tasked with recovering a life-size bronze, The Flayed Man, by neoclassic artist Gino Jerich. It's held by the Museo delle Culture in Milan, and is the property of a private donor. The sponsor suggests that the bronze be taken while in transit from Milan to London, where it is scheduled to become part of a retrospective of Jerich's work at the Tate Gallery.
Truth: The sponsor is a vampire hunter, and can even be a government agency, like Dracula Dossier's Edom, working through cut-outs. The reason they want the bronze is because its subject and its current owner are one and the same - a vampire. This bloodsucker thought it would be amusing to have a self-portrait unlike any other, and skinned itself so as to be able to pose appropriately for the artist. The skin grew back, over time, and the statue's owner fell in love with it. The sponsor wants it either because the sponsor thinks it can be used as a weapon, can be used to discover some hidden vampire secret, or to extort the owner into giving up something else the sponsor wants.
Potential Scenes: Deep in the heart of the converted factory labyrinth that is MUDEC, trying to break past sophisticated electronic locks to get into the secure vaults. Eavesdropping on the security detachment as they eat coffee and donuts in a Milanese café. Chasing after the van and its pursuit car along the highway, as you and they try to navigate the highway hell that is Milan's permanently-under-construction road network. On the ferry across to England, in high seas weather - is this normal, or is some supernatural element involved? Making the exchange in an old corn mill turned guesthouse that failed two years ago when the owner defaulted on bank loans. Or faking a handover at the Tate, bluffing conservators, security, and buttinski art experts. An angry vampire/disappointed buyer chases the agents out of the city, into the countryside, to a final showdown in some desolate backwater.