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Authors: Charles Benoit

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BOOK: Relative Danger
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Chapter 5

As he sat with Mr. Hammad Al-Kady, holding onto yet another cup of tea, Doug Pearce was hoping that Mr. Al-Kady had not just died. His head had drooped to his chest and his labored breathing had become imperceptible. The top of a real fez was all that Doug could see of the man.

That’s it, Doug thought, I quit.

The old man sat like this for five minutes before jerking his head back up, the tassel of his fez stuck to the corner of his mouth by dried spit. He chewed noisily on air, cleared his throat and said for the third time, “Who are you?”

Doug took a deep breath and was ready to apologize and leave when he heard someone approaching through the living area of the house. It was an impressive house, new, but designed in the Moroccan tradition, with elaborate tile work on the white plaster walls and, in an open air courtyard in the middle of the house, a lap pool ringed with the same tile pattern. Doug turned towards the sound and couldn’t believe what he saw.

Her thick, black hair hung loose on her shoulders, contrasting with her white tee shirt, which was pulled taut by a chest that Doug found spectacular. She had the kind of body built for tight, black jeans and Doug found that spectacular, too. She had a face, but he hadn’t noticed that yet. When he did, he saw that it matched the body—almond shaped eyes and deep honey-colored skin with a designer smile.

“Hi. You must be Doug. The maid told me you had called to speak to my grandfather. Maybe I can help you.” She extended a well-manicured hand as she walked towards the two men.

“I’m Aisha Al-Kady.”

“Doug Pearce.” Doug kept it simple. He knew he tended to get stupid around beautiful women and could feel his IQ dropping as she sat in a chair next to him. She looked over at the silent figure in the stripped garabella, the traditional Moroccan costume.

“My grandfather used to be so active. I would race him up the driveway of our old home and, until recently, he usually beat me. About four years ago he had a stroke and, well….” Aisha Al-Kady let the words trail off. She had a slight accent, part French, part Arabic. Doug decided that it fit her well.

“So anyway,” she continued, “down to business. First, let me tell you that no one makes it harder, or longer lasting, than Al-Kady.”

“Excuse me?” Doug said.

“Concrete? The family business? I assumed you’re the contractor that called about concrete.”

“No, not really,” Doug said, trying unsuccessfully to disprove the family slogan as he pictured her naked, gliding through the pool. “This is going to sound really weird but I got your grandfather’s name from a woman in Toronto. I’m trying to track down some of her old friends and she thought Mr. Al-Kady could help.”

“Oh,
that’s
not so weird,” she said as she smiled, as if she knew some things that were.

The old man snorted and shifted in his chair, looked up, mumbled something, and put his head back down.

“That’s okay,” Aisha said, “he gets like this. You can talk. Even if he hears you he won’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh great.”

“At times it’s convenient….”

“No, what I meant was that I had hoped to ask him some questions and, well, I guess now I won’t be able to.”

“Well,” she said sitting forward and smiling again, “you can always try me.” She said something else after this, something about tea, but Doug didn’t hear it. He could, however, hear the water drip off her sculpted arms as she paddled her naked self across the pool. She had refilled Doug’s cup and was pouring one for herself before he snapped back. Jesus, he thought, it’s not like you never talked to a beautiful woman before.

“So what would you have asked my grandfather?” she said.

“Let’s see. Have you ever heard him talk about a couple of guys named Russell and Charley?”

“Russell Pearce and Charley Hodge. Oh yes, many times. And the jewel heist and Russell’s murder and how Charley got blamed and how the jewel was smuggled out of Casablanca and it went to Nasser Ashkanani in Cairo then on to Singapore. It was one of his favorite stories to tell, that and the stories about the resistance movement and the Nazis. What do you want to know?”

It’s about time, thought Doug.

“Russell Pearce was my uncle. I’m trying to find out more about him and to see if I can find the jewel.”

“Well,” she said with a laugh, “you came to the wrong place. If that jewel were in West Africa my grandfather would have had it years ago. But I thought you said you were doing this for some woman in Toledo?”

“Toronto. Yes, a Ms. Edna Bowers. She knew Russ and Charley, too, and she’s helping.”

“Don’t know the name, sorry,” Aisha said, sipping her tea. They fell into an uncomfortable silence, interrupted by the old man’s chewing sounds.

Now what, Doug thought. In the movies the guy would steer the conversation around to her and before you could be back with the popcorn, they’d be having NC-17 sex. Do I talk about Uncle Russ? Do I bring up my exciting life in Pottsville? Do I sneak out now before I say something stupid?

“I suppose you want to know more about the jewels and the theft then?”

“Yes, that’s it. I mean I’d like to know more, sure.”

Aisha glanced over at her grandfather, who was mumbling something unintelligible as he lifted his head and rubbed his eyes. “This is not very comfortable after all,” she said standing up. “Do you mind if we talk somewhere else?”

She assumed he’d agree and led the way back into the house and up a flight of stairs, through a door that led to a private sitting room. It was decorated in the same Moroccan style but with more modern touches, like the abstract painting above the leather chair and the elaborate computer system on the glass-topped desk by the window. Aisha tossed herself into one of the overstuffed couches and at the same time tossed her hair back, out of her face. “Get comfortable,” she said. “I’m going to tell you a story.”

Doug wanted to sit on the couch, right next to her, but opted instead for one of the matching loveseats. Focus, he thought. Pay attention. Be professional.

“Since it was your uncle I assume you know something about him, right?”

“All I know is that he drifted from place to place and was involved in a lot of interesting things.”

“‘Interesting things.’ Well that’s one way of putting it.”

“Okay,” Doug said, “he was a thief.” Where did that come from, he thought.

“Better. But I’d prefer to call them all adventurers. You see at that time, right after the war, the line between good guy and bad guy was not so clear and if your uncle and my grandfather ever ripped someone off you can bet that that person was a bigger thief than they were. From what I’ve heard they did a lot of harmless smuggling, some drug dealing, and the occasional burglary. My grandfather liked to tell of the time—this before the war, I think—that he and some friend from France stole and sold, and re-stole and resold the same antique carpet six times. I’m sure the things your uncle was involved with were similar. But of course, the jewel was different.”

“You mean jewels, right?” Doug said.

“There were jewels, yes, but it was one jewel in particular that they were after.”

“The eye?” Doug guessed.

“The eye?” Aisha said, squinting a bit as she said it. “Oh I get it. That’s cute. It wasn’t ‘the eye,’ although I bet that’s what your uncle and Charley called it. No, it was
Al Ainab,
the grape. It was a red diamond about this big.” She held up her hand, making a circle with her index finger and her thumb.

“Diamonds come in red?”

“Diamonds can come in several colors, actually. Of course colorless diamonds are the norm, but if other elements are found in the diamond structure you can end up with colors. Golden-yellow is the most common, and there is also a brownish colored diamond, but the two really rare colors are blue and red. We used to think the red color came from manganese impurities, but the latest gemological research seems to indicate that the red color is the result of a sub-atomic deformation in the carbon structure. Colored diamonds are worth far, far more than flawless clear diamonds, and blue and red are worth the most. You know the Hope diamond? That’s a blue diamond.
Al Ainab
is supposed to be the largest red diamond in the world. It didn’t hurt that it has an interesting history either. How much do you know about eleventh century Iran?”

Absolutely nothing, he thought. “Just the basics,” he said.

“Well then,” she continued, “you probably recall that Seljuks took over the Samanid Dynasty around 1040. The Seljuks were from what is now, roughly, Afghanistan—raiders but surprisingly decent rulers, as far as absolute monarchies go. Within twenty years they captured Baghdad and were the power in what we call the Middle East. They ruled for about a hundred years.” She stood up and walked over to one of the many bookcases in the room and took out a thick leather-bound file. The papers were arranged with different color tabs separating the sections. She walked back across the room and sat down next to Doug. She smelled of warm vanilla and he felt the blood rushing from his head when she slid her hips against his.

She flipped through the pages saying something about having samples of the arts of the era.

“Did you study this stuff in college?” Doug asked. “I mean, do you have a Ph.D. or something in history?”

“I wish,” Aisha Al-Kady said, pulling a stack of papers from the folder. “My undergrad degree was in archeology and I’ve completed most of my Master’s work. There are a lot of history courses in the program so that’s where I picked up what I know. The diamond is a hobby, I guess. More like an obsession, really.”

“Did you go to school in the states?”

“Of course. My family’s rich and I’m spoiled. Here it is,” she said, focusing on her notes. “
Al Ainab
was owned by the Seljuk sultan Tughril. At this time, the so-called Middle Ages, diamonds were valuable as talismans—good luck charms. It was believed that diamonds in general made you invincible in battle or protected you against poisons or scurvy or arthritis. And if a plain old, colorless diamond helped, imagine what a rare, red diamond would do. Tughril was supposed to have carried our diamond with him when he took Baghdad. There’s a manuscript in Malta that states that a crusader from an obscure branch of French nobles saw it when he was held prisoner by Salah al-Din around 1188. I have the transcription but I’m afraid it’s in Latin.”

“Darn,” he said. It was like having someone give him directions in a city he had never been to; the words sounded vaguely familiar but he had no real idea what she was talking about. But she smelled so good and was sitting so close he was willing to listen.

“After that,” Aisha continued, “the jewel disappears for a bit. There’s a mention of it in an official dispatch to Rome from a Jesuit emissary at Akbar’s court in Fatehpur-Sikri in 1575, and he says that it was mounted on a short ceremonial staff. It may have been re-cut soon after. I have an old college friend who lives in Beijing who tells me some department of antiquities has a detailed description of what may be the jewel—along with an illustration—dating from the early 1700s, but I don’t know how carefully she has checked it out. Richard Burton claims to have seen it….”

“The British actor?” Doug said.

“The Scottish explorer. He made some wild claims in the 1850s, all sorts of fantastic discoveries along the upper Nile, most of which turned out to be true by the way, but this might have been an embellishment to spice up one of his stories, something he did as well. It’s so hard to do any research on it because so many myths have been made up and it’s been connected, somehow, to just about every important person in world history. I seriously doubt if ninety percent of what I’ve read about it is true.”

“So maybe it doesn’t exist at all,” Doug said. “And even if it did once exist it may have been lost. How do you know it’s still around?”

Aisha smiled. “I’d agree with you, Doug, if it wasn’t for this.” She flipped through the file and pulled out a manila envelope. “My grandfather saw it around 1921 in Paris. He was working for a jeweler who specialized in buying stolen goods.”

“A fence.”

“Exactly,” she said. “My grandfather didn’t know much about jewels then but he did know how to work a camera.” She opened the metal clasp and removed a black and white photograph from the envelope. It was a close-up of a jewel lying on a cloth; next to it a French coin provided a sense of scale. It was almost round in shape with several large facets ringing the center of the stone. Even without color Doug had to admit it was beautiful.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Aisha said.

“How big is it?” Doug Pearce asked.

“Straight size wise, it’s about this big,” she said, again making a ring with her thumb and index finger. “About one and a half inches in diameter.”

“How many carats is that?” Doug said, mimicking the shape she made with his fingers.

“Carats don’t tell you size, they tell you weight, but of course the larger the size the more carats you have. Your grape is eighty-three point six carats.”

“My God, that’s huge,” and he thought of how proud Ted the bartender was when he showed off the one-carat ring he bought for his fiancée. When she left him for the UPS guy, he heard she sold it for three grand.

“Like I said, it may be the biggest red diamond ever. The next largest red diamond, the Moussaieff Red, is just over five carats.”

“And? You know I gotta ask.”

“Who knows what it’s worth. What would someone pay for the Hope Diamond? Or the Kohinoor? Or the Star of Yakutia? When you have a diamond this large the question is not how much it costs but how are you going to find a buyer. It would be a steal at eight million and easily worth twice, three times that, but how many people have that kind of money to spend on one diamond? You know the most common use of gold in the U.S.?” she asked as she riffled through the leather folder.

Oh great, time to look stupid, Doug thought. “Maybe gold deposits at Fort Knox? An industrial use for a lot of gold?”

“High school rings. Yes, really, those class rings everyone buys and gives to their sweetheart and never sees again. And that’s not a lot of gold per ring. So what do you think the market is for diamonds of this quality?”

BOOK: Relative Danger
11.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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