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Authors: Jerrilyn Farmer

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“It was only to be expected that all the finest emeralds would disappear. They were hidden and taken off to be sold privately. It was very common.”

“So all the emeralds were sold on the black market.”

Zelli poured another glass of wine for us both, astonishing me with his global nonchalance.

“It is a wiser policy to allow free trade in the gem quality stones, regulate the market, and add a substantial export duty to profit the nation. In that way, the individual African would have incentive, you see, and the country would prosper. I believe it is only now beginning to be recognized as the most logical solution. But back then…” Zelli shook his head. “Perhaps it was more fun that way, eh?”

The waiter came with our food, but I was mesmerized by the story of jewels and black market sales and was afraid this interruption would spoil his telling it.

“And that's what you did?” I asked, when the waiter had left. “You smuggled emeralds out of Rhodesia? Zelli,” I said, smiling, “I'm shocked.”

“Well, you know,” he said, playing along. “There is always a market for the finest gems. There is a demand, you see? We had to acquire the stones somehow. That was simply the way it was done back then. And we had many wild adventures. I remember, once, a time when a friend I played polo with told me about some rough.”

That word again. “Rough?”

“Excuse me. Yes. This is what we in the jewelry trade call the rough stones. Uncut and unpolished. Rough emeralds look smudged, like they're dirty, but that's actually a veneer of other minerals that will eventually be polished off. To differentiate a fine gem quality stone from a stone that's less desirable, one must look at the size and the color…” He broke off and sampled a forkful of perfectly moist lobster, swirling it in the small pot of drawn butter, and raising it to his mouth. “Do you know about emeralds?”

I shook my head.

“Ah, well this is where the skill comes in. A stone may be of great value or it may be almost worthless. You have to know how to read the rough. Size is not the only rule. In fact, a large inferior stone is worth next to nothing to my clientele. The color is very important,
yes. A dark, deep green is the most desired, and so most expensive. But then you must look into the stone and read the occlusions. And you must know how a given stone can be cut to best advantage. I trained as a jeweler, so these are things I studied.”

“You can do this? You can read the rough?” I barely tasted my own dish, a beautiful Chilean sea bass in a sweet garlic crust tucked in a light tomato basil sauce.

“Well,” Zelli Gentz said, displaying an attractive tendency to downplay himself a bit, “that is what we tell ourselves we can do. That is the myth. Sometimes, it's a gamble. Nothing about viewing stones in the rough can be a certainty.”

“Just like life.”

“Precisely,” Zelli said, pleased. “We agree.”

I watched his eyes take a trip south and I blushed.

“You don't wear much jewelry,” he said as his eyes slowly met mine.

“Haven't got any. But after tonight, I may have to go shopping. I find I'm unexpectedly interested in looking at emeralds.”

“Perhaps you'll permit me to guide you. The main mineral that forms the emerald is called beryl. It's, in fact…”

He went on discussing the chemical formations that compose the crystals, but I was suddenly jarred back to my original quest, following a clear path of clues leading from Vivian Duncan to Rhodesian emeralds. My God, she named her daughter after the stuff!

“…is the same material, basically, that is the aquamarine.”

“My birthstone,” I said. “And it's the same mineral?”

“Yes. The difference is in the trace minerals that give the stones their unique color. The blue stones we call aquamarine, but the green are emeralds, you see?”

I ate my dinner and wondered if he would tell me any more details of his forays out into the wilderness of Rhodesia.

“It must have been dangerous when you went out to the jungle to purchase the rough stones.”

“Most of the time, no. But there was risk, certainly. I remember a most amazing event. We were going to meet a very old woman at a point. I must tell you, most of the negotiations were handled by the women, I'm not sure why. My friend drove. And when we got there the old woman climbed aboard our Land Rover to show us her stone. The reason they liked to do trade with us was that we offered U.S. currency, which was of real value. American dollars were worth twice the value of Rhodesian dollars, and these natives knew it. These women were talented negotiators. And, they had a unique way of storing the stones, these Africans. They would wrap each stone in shiny silver paper. They took the foil wrappers from cigarette packs. I used to think this was a local custom, because all the gems I saw came wrapped like this.”

“Strange.”

“Yes. But you shall see what it all means at the end of my tale. So I looked at the old woman's rough emerald and it was good. Very good. One large, dark green stone that, when cut, might weigh over five carats. This big a gemstone was extraordinarily rare. The rough was maybe the size of a Scrabble tile, but some was always lost in the cutting. We haggled a bit, and finally agreed on a price. The next thing we know, our Land Rover was surrounded by soldiers. Government troops yelling at us with their semiautomatic weapons drawn. But just before they yanked open the door, this woman calmly wrapped up her giant emerald and swallowed it.”

I sat there, happy as a child being read a story.

“That's right, she swallowed it rather than be found with it on her. In the end, they had to let us go. They could not arrest us. How could we be charged with dealing for an emerald that they could not produce?” He laughed.

“But the emerald?”

“Remember I told you that you would learn the reason
that Rhodesians put silver paper around their stones?”

I thought about the route that particular emerald would have taken.

Zelli continued smiling at me. “Easier to find once it passed, you see.”

It was not, perhaps, the most fortuitous digestive moment, then, for the waiter to approach our table to tempt us with dessert.

“What would you suggest for us?” Zelli asked me. What a charming man. If Arlo could only take lessons.

“Is Mr. Wresell in the kitchen tonight?” I asked the waiter.

“Certainly.”

“Then,” I said, looking into Zelli's large brown eyes, “I would recommend we have the
Delice
. Donald Wresell is the pastry chef here and he's famous for this amazing dessert. He brought the bronze medal home from France for creating it. Are you interested? It's a sort of cream pie with strawberry marmalade inside and…well, trust me, it's brilliant.”

“Let's have two. With coffee, black. And for you, Madeline?”

“Hot tea,” I said, content.

“You know so much about cuisine,” Zelli said. “I find that terribly interesting.”

None of this polite “date” nonsense! I had just made a majestic leap in logic and I was hot to try out my ideas on a gentleman who would not greet them with laughter. Now that I had actually met one.

“But I really hoped you'd fill me in on Vivian,” I said. “I know Vivian must figure into this somehow. Was she involved in the black market activities?”

“She had relatives living in Harare at the time, did you know?”

I shook my head.

“She came to visit her brother there, regularly. He was part of my polo set, although naturally quite a bit older. But he had money. Lots of money. And he owned some very fine ponies. Well, I met Vivian through this brother
of hers, Stephen Mills. And she was very persuasive. Since I needed to find a way to bring hard currency into the country, and I also needed a reliable way of getting the rough emeralds out, we formed a pleasant partnership. Vivian was an American and found clever ways of getting U.S. dollars into Rhodesia. She traveled quite a lot. With all my trips, the authorities knew what I was up to. I was no longer able to come and go freely across the borders. At the airport in Harare I was always searched in the most intimate fashion. But a middle-aged American woman whose brother was a wealthy Rhodesian landowner was another story.”

“I see.” My tea arrived and I began to sip it slowly. “This is all making sense. Now the only thing that would tie it all up with a bow is figuring out how Jack Gantree fits into this. You were at Sara's wedding. Tell me that Big Jack was part of this, and I'll kiss you.”

Oops. We exuberant Americans. Heh-heh.

“Ah, a challenge, yes? Well, perhaps I will win it. I told you we always needed sources of hard currency. American dollars, to be exact. It was Vivian's idea to bring in Jack. He was often on the continent filming his television program. He brought us cash. It was easy, because Jack visited Stephen's home regularly.”

“Jack Gantree stayed with Vivian Duncan's brother in Rhodesia?” I knew this was it. I knew I was on to something.

“Yes, of course. They were not exactly in-laws, but close. Stephen's wife and Jack's wife were sisters, so when Jack Gantree came to Africa, he and his wife often stayed at Stephen's house. They usually brought their daughter, Gazelle. She used to hang out with my crowd.”

“I can't believe this! I knew that Jack Gantree and Vivian went back, but I never…”

“That was before the trouble, of course. That was back in the early seventies.”

“You mean the civil war?”

“That, of course, but actually I was referring to the trouble that Jack's daughter got herself into.”

“Sara's mother?” I paused with the forkful of
Delice
almost at my mouth.

Zelli's eyes crinkled as he smiled. He had another good tale for me and he was a most indulgent raconteur.

“This was the scandal, back then, you understand? It was not talked about. But somehow, some way, Gazelle Gantree arrived in Rhodesia one July a virgin girl of sixteen and left pregnant. When her father found out, months later, he flew out to Africa and confronted his brother-in-law, Stephen. I remember because I was there that night, and so was Vivian. Jack demanded to know what had happened to his daughter. Gazelle would not tell him anything, you see. Jack was determined to discover who had been allowed to go into Gazelle's bedroom while she had been staying under Mills's roof.

“My God. I heard a very different version of Sara's parents. She told me her father worked for the Los Angeles Museum of Nature. The museum where the wedding was held. But is that just a story?”

“They had to tell the child something. Her mother, Gazelle, was not strong and I believe she died soon after the baby was born.”

“You were at the wedding, Zelli,” I said, watching as the man pushed his long hair out of his eyes once more. “Pardon me for being so curious, but I wonder. Was that because you wanted to see your daughter get married?”

“Ah, you suspect me of being that rascal? After I openly told you the entire story? But no, dear Madeline, I did not have an affair with Gazelle Gantree. She was younger than I was and much more naïve. No, Gazelle's baby was not mine. I tried to convince Jack and Stephen of it back then, all those years ago, in Stephen's study. It was very unpleasant.”

“What happened?”

“Vivian came to the rescue. She talked to her brother and Jack. She knew how to convince them. Whatever it was she told them I never learned, but at once they called on me to apologize. They humbly requested my forgiveness. As a gentleman, I had to give it.”

“What could Vivian have told them?”

“What do you think?”

I thought it over. “Perhaps Vivian knew more about the men Gazelle had been seeing than the rest of you.”

“Perhaps.” He smiled his appreciation. “You are very clever.
The only woman worth winning is an intelligent one
. A Bantu proverb.”

I appreciated the compliment, but I was also charged with where this thread might lead. “Perhaps Vivian told Jack which man his daughter was seeing before she turned up pregnant.”

“I have always imagined that was so. And now, Madeline dear, I wonder if you would care for an aperitif? I have a lovely bar up in my room and, for your amusement…”

“Yes?” How bold would this very smooth European dare to be?

“If you would like, I would be most happy to show you a pair of…very rough stones.”

T
here was nothing wrong with the offer. I actually considered it for two or three brief seconds. But the truth was, I was not ready for an alliance with a new man right now. Not even with a terribly handsome, endearingly flattering, international gem smuggler. And Lord knows, there were not a lot of those banging down my door. Timing, as they say, is everything. And with my feelings for Arlo and Honnett so unresolved, how could I begin something new?

Zelli took the rebuff with a warm smile, charming me where another man might have turned cooler. These Swiss guys are something. We stood at the hotel entrance, talking for a few more minutes while the valet got my car. And when the parking attendant pulled up smoothly in my black Jeep, Zelli Gentz gently pulled me closer to him.

Payment in full for winning my challenge. And a little bit more. The kiss was warm and tasted of coffee.

When I drove away from the hotel, I checked to see Zelli in my mirror. He stood there, still smiling, smoothing back his long black hair. Spending time with him had felt like a passport to a different world. Zimbabwe. Reading the rough. Polo. How exotic his world seemed when compared to mine.

I was amazed at what I had learned about Vivian's past. Not only had she gotten involved with smuggling
emeralds out of Africa back in the good old seventies, but she'd been a partner in crime with Big Jack Gantree. This was the link I'd been searching for. There had to be something that went sour between them which would explain why Gantree would want to see Vivian dead.

I thought that over as I drove back to Whitley Heights. And I also thought over the other stunning news Zelli told me at the Four Seasons entrance, with his arms around me to keep me warm. The valet attendant saw our heads together and discreetly left the Jeep parked out front. We didn't appear to be in any hurry.

I had finally remembered to ask Zelli Gentz about the phone message he'd left for Vivian, on Sara Silver's wedding day.

“Oh, that,” he said, amused, never showing a flicker of offense at any of my inquiries. “It had to do with my work.”

“Something you're working on now?”

“I am searching for some special gems, yes, for a client. This client is from the Middle East, a wealthy man. I cannot name names, of course, as he is well known, but this is rather an amusing tale. If you'd like…”

“Please.”

“It is his tradition to present a gift to each of his senior ministers. At the New Year. So, to show his favor, he would give each man a watch of enormous value. You know the sort of thing, very big, very overdone, with jewels on the face. Very ugly, in my opinion, but…Each of these watches would cost in the neighborhood of one hundred thousand dollars.”

“That's an outrageous neighborhood.”

“It was my task, each year, to acquire the timepieces, and so, earn a fee. But after many years of this, as you may imagine, a problem developed. It seems that after so many years of the same gifts—watches, watches, and more watches—his men began to feel…”

“They had too many watches and not enough wrists?” I suggested.

Zelli flashed me a smile. “You see the point precisely. Very good. These Middle Eastern ministers and generals were loyal, of course, but they began to see the gifts as, shall we say, less desirable than currency. Can you imagine? It got so bad, that each year about a week after the New Year's presentation, you could stroll through the bazaar and buy a huge diamond-faced Rolex for a tenth its cost, only ten thousand dollars.”

“They cashed out,” I said, shaking my head. “That's funny.”

“Not to my client.”

Ah, the sultan had not been amused. I shook my head. The rich really do have problems.

“To stop this degrading practice, my client has decided to change his tradition this year. Instead of presenting wristwatches, he turned to me and commissioned seven rings.”

“Do you mean you design them?”

“Of course. But the design is something you wouldn't like, I'm sure. It's to satisfy this Arab leader's taste that I have to make the rings large, naturally, and each must feature one perfect gem. It is not easy. You see, each ring must look enough like the other to ward off envy among the generals. You understand the problem? I have been traveling to many countries in search of seven brilliant gemstones fit for princes.”

“Fascinating. You're hunting for treasure.”

“You could put it that way. I'm afraid it is elusive treasure. The stones I must find are rare. Since each one must be valued at one hundred thousand dollars, naturally I'm thinking of emeralds.”

“And that's where Vivian came in,” I said, shivering a little.

“Yes. Are you cold?”

“Please go on. I must know about Vivian.”

“All right,” he said, putting his arm around me for warmth. “This part of the tale goes back to that time I was telling you about in Zimbabwe. You remember?”

I nodded, my head close to his.

“It was a very dangerous time, in 1976. The British had agreed to Zimbabwe's independence, and among the celebrations, the country was plunged into chaos. Various African factions were fighting to take control of the government. Well, just before the civil war completely overtook Zimbabwe, I told my partners we could only stand to do one more transaction before it was simply too risky to continue.

“There were ambushes every day. There were mutilations, rapes, every kind of atrocity. I don't like to speak to you about this. It is too upsetting.”

“I'm fine. What happened?”

“The black Africans were the targets, mostly, by other black African factions, but the streets were becoming unsafe. And for those Europeans who were left, the country had become a very uncomfortable home. The newly formed government was in a constant state of crisis and there was always a threat of an overthrow. Each week, the country was swept with new rumors. Supporters of one faction would be beaten. Supporters of another would be found slaughtered. Many people would simply disappear.”

“So what did you do?”

“It was time to leave Zimbabwe for good. So, I worked for a month, buying up as many emeralds as I could find. The government troops had begun to wield their guns without any checks. Any suspect, you see, could be shot on sight.”

“Were you crazy? Why didn't you just go?”

He looked at me and smiled. “Yes,” he said, “I must have been crazy.”

“What happened?”

“By that late date, all the other gem buyers had left. The Africans who still held onto valuable rough stones were becoming desperate. African rule, they saw as a victory over the English, true, but their new government was in upheaval. The coming war meant they were losing us Europeans who bought their gems.”

“They could kiss the black market goodbye.”

“Exactly, and the most unbelievable stones came to me from out of the bush. Never in my life, Madeline, had I seen such raw treasure as these. I bought and bought and bought.”

“How much?”

“Gantree gave me eleven thousand American dollars and I spent it all.”

“Wow. And how many emeralds did that money buy?”

“Well, at the time I believed the emeralds might be worth a thousand times what I'd paid for them when cut.”

I was shocked. “How did it end?”

“I had been very lucky, but I knew it was time to quit. I had collected fifty-two very large stones. They were magnificent. I told Vivian and Gantree it was over.”

“Did they agree?”

“Let me tell you what happened on my last trip out to a village to buy. The last two stones I bought were from an old lady—the same old lady, as a matter of fact, I told you about at dinner, the one who years earlier swallowed the emerald.”

“Yes. You saw her again?”

“This time she was showing me stones found by another family member, I think. Anyway, I paid her for the emeralds in almost the last of my reserve of U.S. dollars. This time there were no troops to interrupt us. Afterwards, she ambled off into the bush. My friend who was driving and I watched her disappear into the trees.”

Zelli paused in his story, and I didn't want to push him to talk about his memories. He rubbed my arm, and stood in thought.

In a few moments he went on. He said that it was only a few seconds later that the young men felt the earth jump, heard the low eruption, saw the flash. The calm old lady who'd been sitting next to him in the Land Rover only minutes before, agreeing on a price, counting out the dollars, must have stepped on the wrong patch of jungle, trod upon a land mine, and died on the spot.
The fierce guerilla fighting had turned the very earth into a death trap.

It had been Zelli's last gem deal in the new Zimbabwe.

“The problem came when Vivian tried to leave the country,” Zelli continued. “She was not permitted to board the plane out of Zimbabwe. Her luggage was searched. Her clothes were searched. Even her body. These black Africans were now in charge and Vivian told us later that the Zimbabwe militia enjoyed stripping a white woman. The airport security officers tore through her personal things. In her wedding album, they found a large section which had been cut out and the space filled with a box. Fifty-two rough emeralds were confiscated.”

“Oh my God,” I whispered.

Zelli looked at me, taking in my reaction, and then went on. “It was only due to the fact that she had two thousand U.S. dollars hidden in a fake shaving cream can, I believe, that she was able to pay off the soldiers and escape Zimbabwe.”

Vivian, strip-searched in Africa. The mind boggles.

“At least,” Zelli said, with his arm around me at the curb, “that was the story that Vivian told us when we all met up again in the States.”

But all these years, Zelli had kept tabs on Vivian. He kept an eye on the emerald market, noting the sale of any gems larger than three carats, examining several over the years, looking for distinctive occlusions that told an expert gemologist they were from the Sandawana mine district of Zimbabwe. In the past twenty years, he had not seen many turn up, and that handful he carefully traced back to other known gem hunters from that earlier time.

I had followed this story very closely.

“It's suspicious that the missing emeralds haven't shown up on the market in all this time, isn't it? I mean, if the officers in Zimbabwe had really confiscated them, they'd have tried to unload them to cash out. And if they
turned them in to their government, then why weren't they put on the market by the Ministry of Mines?”

“You have a very fine mind, Madeline.” Zelli seemed to be enjoying this conversation enormously.

“The only reason those emeralds would be out of circulation is if they were destroyed…”

“Unthinkable,” Zelli agreed, smiling.

“Or…” We both thought the same thing. “Vivian kept them all along.”

Zelli took my hand and whispered, “I so admire you American women.”

But I needed to hear the end of this story. I begged him to tell me the rest.

The years went by, he said. Each of the partners prospered. His own business became established in the highest of international circles. He designed custom pieces for royalty, what there was left of it, and did well-paid errands for oil-rich potentates and Far Eastern billionaires.

And then, out of the blue, he received the wedding invitation. All these years later, Jack's baby granddaughter had grown up and was getting married. And he knew Vivian would be there. He thought it would be a fitting time to bring up the subject of the emeralds once again. He was determined to fulfill his Arab commission and wondered, perhaps, if Vivian might be ready to cut a deal. Time had passed, he figured. Gems of that quality were almost impossible to unload quietly. If she did still have the rough emeralds, she'd really have had no way to sell them without him.

He talked with her briefly, by phone, upon arriving in Los Angeles the day before the wedding. If she was ready to cash in, he told her, they could let bygones be bygones. As far as their third partner, Jack Gantree, was concerned? Why would he have to know?

Vivian had not exactly confirmed that she had the gems. But she didn't deny it outright. Zelli told her to bring seven matched gems to the party and he would look them over. If they were as fine as those two he
remembered so clearly from the day a poor old African woman had her life blown away, walking through the wrong field, in the wrong country, at the wrong time, he thought his picky buyer, the Sultan, would be very pleased indeed. It was business, he explained to me. As if this type of business went on every day.

Alas, Zelli's business deal never had time to resolve itself. Vivian died before she ever had a chance to show him the rough.

I drove back home, flushed, my breath coming quicker. Vivian's office was searched. She was killed. It had to be tied to Africa, to the missing rough emeralds. I was beginning to get a pretty good idea of why Vivian's office had been turned upside down. Someone was looking for them. I'd bet on it.

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