BET ON CRAZY / The Blue Diamond Affair

In the autumn of 2008 Richie Boy opened our jewelry store in the Plaza Hotel’s Retail Collection. I thought we were going to coin a fortune. The Plaza was a legend. Rich people stayed there.

It didn’t take me long to see a disaster looming on the horizon.
The American economy was in the can after two endless wars and the theft of trillions by the banks.

The new management of the Plaza had hoped to convert the entire building into condos. The hotel union forced the city to only limit the change to 50% and the rest remained the hotel, but Israelis owners were developers unaccustomed to the hospitality business and they treated the guests like schlumps and played the same pop music in the Retail Collection for days on end like we had been renditioned by the CIA.

No signs were posted on the hotel entrances to inform passers-by about the score of high-end stores in the basement of the landmark hotel and few guests strayed down to the renovated boiler room.

Worst Richie Boy’s two partners were pieces of shit. The Persian financial backer from Great Neck was bankrupt Persian from Great Neck and the other was a thief from Long Island.

Weeks passed without my consummating a sale at our jewelry store. My 60 year-old co-worker was having a nervous breakdown. Her husband had leveraged the mortgage on their New Jersey dream to the max. Everyday my work wife spoke about suicide.

“Madoff ruined me. How am I going to pay for my Botox?”

At least she had an excuse, but I wondered what crime I had committed in a previous life to be punished by imprisonment in this purgatory.

The only redeeming aspects of the Retail Collection were a weekly salary, the cakes of Demel’s Pastry Shop, and an after-work beer at the Oak Bar. The bartender was an old friend and I would sit at the historic bar, happy to be away from the subterranean room of gloom underneath my feet.

The clientele of the Oak Bar was a mixture of nostalgic guests, loud tourists, and hard drinkers not offended by the management’s edict to measure out the alcohol in shot glass. I mostly minded my own business, but one night a young Arab man took the stool next to me. He asked the time and commented on my Omega.

The automatic dated back to the 40s.

“I love watches.” He was sporting a Audemar-Piguet retailing at $45,000.

I explained about my diamond store in the Retail Collection and he mentioned that he had a 4-carat blue diamond in his hotel room.

“A blue diamond?”

“Deep blue. What do you know about blue diamonds.”

“Not much. Boron reflects the blue within the diamond. Only a few atoms of Boron in the millions of carbon atoms created the color. I saw the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. Someone told me it had been stolen from the statue of Sita and the diamond was supposedly cursed by this sacrilege.”

“Are you superstitious?”

“I’m Irish.”

“But you work for the Jews?” His accusation gestures were extravagant.

“Why not?” Richie Boy and his father Manny had been relatively good to me over the years other than being more miserly than a French Canadian.

“No reason.” Everything about Mubarrah said royalty or fake.

“Not at all. I know nothing. How big is the stone?”

“4 carat-plus. You want to see it?”

“Sure.” I was very curious about his stone, since I had only seen a few blue diamonds in my 20-year career as a diamantaire and none had been as big as his. “Are you staying here

“In this hotel? No a chance.” He laughed with a disdain and signaled for his check.
“I’m at the St. Regis.”

“I love the King Cole Bar.” I paid $9 for my Stella with a ten and dropped a $2 tip for Orlando. The bartender and I went back to the Blackout of 1977.

It was a winter night, but not too cold, so we walked over to the St. Regis.

Mubarrah came from the Gulf. His family was connected to an emirate royal family. The Islamic right to have multiple wives . The doorman greeted Mubarrah with practiced deference and we went over to the elevator without getting a key.

“He didn?t make any moves on the ride up to his suite.

It was bigger than my lost East Village apartment by several hundred square feet.

“One minute.” He took off his coat and sat on the brocaded couch.

I shucked my cashmere coat and sat on an elegant chair.

Mubarrah reached into a bag and pulled out a box of jewelry.

“Looks like someone is getting rid of their unwanted possessions.”

“A friend needs money.”

“Who doesn’t these days?”

All the necklaces, bracelets, and ring dated back to the 80s and 90s. None of the pieces were stamped by Cartier or Tiffany. Our store on 47th Street brought such merchandise for 20-30% of value. Most people imagined their treasures were worth more. After my brief examination I said, “There’s not much money in this.”

I know, but there is in this.” Mubarrah unfolded a small diamond parcel.

A iceberg-blue diamond flashed in the low light and Mubarrah handed over the loose emerald-cut gem for a closer inspection. My loupe revealed that the stone was clean. I had never seen a stone this beautiful.

I want to sell this.” Mubarrah gestured at the diamond, as if pointing was ill-mannered

“Is it yours?”

“I used to wear in a ring.” His voice betrayed the loss of privilege.

Mubarrah was twenty-five. His open palm bore no signs of having worked a day in his life.

“Have you shown it to anyone else?” It was a stupid question.

“No one.”

It was a lie neither of us had to believe.

“How much you want?”

“$2.4 million.”

I liked him saying 2.4 instead of 2.5. It showed he was willing to ‘hondel’ or bargain.

“But I know nothing about money.” Playing dumb was a trick, but Mubarrah was as skilled at this game as an old camel dealer.

“2.4 million is a good price.”

“You have any takers?”

“You?re the first person to see it in New York.”

I feel honored.” I pretended to believe him.

My boss Manny would think that he was a liar and Manny was rarely wrong in these matters. The Brownsville native had worked in the jewelry trade for over six decades. He had heard every story and considered most of the bullshit.

Can I show it to some privates?”

“Only here.” He wasn’t letting it out of his sight.

“Does it have any papers?”

“Here’s the GIA certificate. Show them that.” His fingers plucked the parcel from my grasp with the delicacy of a tiger snapping off a turtle’s head. The diamond disappeared inside his jacket. “I’m here for a week and why don’t you take the jewelry? Get an offer from your friends.”

“Now?” We barely knew each other an hour.

“You’re not Jewish. right?”

I had spent over 40 years with the Chosen People in the nightclub and diamond businesses. I spoke Yiddish. The Hassidim and I argued the dietary strictures of the Talmud. Some of this exposure had rubbed off the good way, but I once more admitted, “No, I’m a gentile.”

“Then I can trust you.”

“Thanks.” The #1 rule on 47th Street was ‘trust no one’ and that adage worked for the rest of New York too. Even Staten Island, however the young Arab?s confidence was based on the fact that none of the outmoded jewelry belonged to him.

I said good-night and rode the elevator downstairs to the lobby where I telephoned Manny?s son, Richie Boy. I rattled off my find without mentioning the blue.

That information was better scherried to Jakob, an Afghani colored stone broker. That market was controlled by that tightly knit group of exiles. If one of them had seen the stone, then each of them would know of the gem.

The next day I excused myself from the Plaza. My co-worker was high on Valium. I doubted whether Janet registered my presence or departure. Her American Dream of being a millionaire was dead and she wasn?t alone, but none of them were willing to blame the banks.

I strolled down 5th Avenue under a bright winter sun and a cold wind whipped around the edges of the buildings. A good cashmere coat and leather hat kept me warm and I arrived at the colored diamond dealer within ten minutes. Jakob greeted me in his 17th floor office.

“You seen this stone before?” I handed him the certificate for the blue.

Jakob was a small man with a big family. They had fled Kabul before 1975. Very few Jews remained in Afghanistan, but those there were family.

“The certificate is interesting. How much he want for the stone?”

“$2.4 million.”

“How did he get that price?”

“Probably someone offered him 2.3.” It was only logical. ?It is a beautiful stone.?

“And you have seen many blues?? Jakob was big in his field. Hundreds of gem diamonds passed under his eye every month.

“Not many, but I can recognize something special.” The previous spring I had sold a million-dollar ruby the color of pigeon blood and clear as a fine burgundy wine. “This diamond is as blue as the iceberg that sunk the Titanic.”

“Deep blue. 4 carat.” Jakob handed back the certificate. “Someone was showing this stone in Switzerland. The same numbers. Tell him I’m interested at 2 million. At 2.3 no one makes money, but him. Understand?”

“Of course.” I wasn’t getting involved in this sale for my health. I had two wives and two kids in Thailand. They liked eating every day. I bid Jakob good afternoon and walked over to our diamond exchange on West 47th Street. Richie Boy was unimpressed with Mubarrah’s dreck.

A waste of time.”

What about this?” I handed over the certificate. My commission on this sale would be in five-figures. ?I saw it last night. A beautiful stone. Worth about 2 million.

“It Still sounds like a waste of time. You have a buyer for it?”

“Jakob said it was worth 2 million.”

“Yeah, but how much would he pay for it” Not 2 mill.” Richie Boy got on the phone. The conversation was short and not so sweet. Jakob was still owed 90K for the ruby sale. Richie Boy changed the conversation and asked, “Does the Arab really want to sell the stone?”

“He says he does.?

“Then get him down here.”

It was more an order than a request and my friend’s tone said that I would get cut out of this deal by Jakob and Richie Boy. I would have loved to back-door the deal to another broker, but the other Afghanis were even more untrustworthy than Jakob.

I called Mubarrah to tell him about the jewelry and the offer for his diamond.

“Come see me.”

On the way back to the Plaza I stopped by the St. Regis.

Mubarrah was in the lobby. He bid me to sit down.



I passed over the bag of jewelry.

“Like I said, there’s not much money in it, but the blue diamond is another story.”

He understood their disinterest in the dreck as well as the appeal of the blue diamond.

“A stone with clean and blue is rare. 2 million is an honest offer, but I have a better one from a friend in Geneva.”

“Oh.” My big commission evaporated with the confirmation of his shopping the stone. He had wasted my time and I sought to regain the upper hand.

“I lived the last twenty years in Thailand.”

“Selling and buying rubies and sapphires.”

“Something like that.” Actually it was counterfeit Formula 1 shirts and jackets. “I arrived in 1990 a year after the Blue Diamond Heist. Are you familiar with this story about how a Thai janitor stole $20 million worth of jewelry and gems from the Saudi Royal Palace. He smuggled the loot back to his native province and started selling the jewelry at a 1000-baht each. A Bangkok jeweler discovers the treasure trove and buys it for nothing. The janitor buys a new tractor and some rice fields.”

“I’ve heard some of this story.” Anyone from the Gulf knew what happened next, but he said, “Go on.”

“The Saudi King considered this theft an insult to his throne and send two diplomats and a royal thug to find the jewelry. The royal thug thought he was tough, but the Thais are tougher than a ball of barbed wire and his messengers were shot dead. The investigating police commander arrested the janitor and jewelry, but another two Saudi ‘diplomats’. Finally the police handed over the stolen jewelry in a public ceremony. Only most of it was fake. A month later the Thai media photographed many of the cops’ wives wearing the swag at a Red Cross function. This was not a shining moment in Thai-Saudi relationship and it worsened when the Saudis sent back 250,000 guest workers. In the end the cops killed the jeweler’s son and wife looking for a 50-carat blue. Heads rolled in the police hierarchy and the thief exited prison after serving two years. His family and tractor were waiting in Lampung. The head cop was convicted for the murder of the jeweler’s wife and daughter. His death penalty was lowered to 25 years. He claimed to be innocent.”

“Everyone in that story was innocent depending the point of view.”

“That diamond was bigger than yours. Maybe yours was cut from it.” I was making this up, but guilt spread wide from a crime.

“It’s been in my family for years.”

“The certificate is new, but that’s unimportant.”

“I don’t like bad stories and like them less with bad endings.” Mubarrah toyed with his jacket. The blue diamond was inside a pocket.

“Behind all big gems and forture are a bad story.” I could have punched him once quick, grabbed the diamond, and then ran out the door and catch a taxi to JFK. A 24-hour flight took me to Bangkok. The fence’s price of 20% would last 10 years, except Thailand had a bad habit of re-writing happy endings and I might have been many things, but one of them was not a thief.

“Cursed like the Hope Diamond.” Mubarrah tightened his grip on the hidden parcel. I had put a fear in his bones.

“You know your gems. If you can’t get your price in Switzerland, give me a call.?” I thanked him for the tea, then strolled up 5th Avenue to the Plaza.

It had been a waste of time just like richie Boy had said in the beginning.

I would never sell the blue diamond.

I was stuck in New York like it was a minimal security prison, but one day i would escape Manhattan.

I came back to the Plaza’s Retail Collection to find my co-worker crying behind a People magazine.

“What’s wrong now?”

“Same as before. I still can’t pay for my Botox.” This line was a mantra attached to Janet’s new-found destitution and I brought her a glass of wine from Demel’s. I had one too. She popped a Valium and asked, “Where were you?”

“I had to go to the bathroom.”

“You were gone three hours.”

“Are you punching my clock?” she asked like a snitch. She wasn’t bad, just paid to watch me like a hawk. “I hope you washed your hands.”

“Twice.” I appreciated her advice. She was a good work wife and knew that all men were alike and my wives thought the same, but women were all alike too. They would have loved that blue diamond. It was magic, then again so are all things of beauty.

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