Sometimes a bold step into a new arena is unpleasant, sometimes it is the beginning of an addiction, and sometimes it is just a good thing. Dressing like a woman in perfect attire and makeup was weird but empowering to Juan. He didn’t feel a sexual emotion in what he was doing, but he did feel a complete freedom. It was the ecstasy of anonymity. The difference in the men around him—their willingness to move out of his way and be polite—was strange, but it worked for him. He knew that once he was out of the disguise, that woman he had created in flesh and blood was no longer. Like the pigeons that had come and gone from the Quayles store, so did this short-lived female person disappear. It was all quite bizarre, but he pulled it off beautifully. It took him two hours in the motel room to become a strange but convincing woman. He knew he did not need to be attractive—that would be asking too much. But he needed to be just feminine enough so that there would be no doubt he was a woman. The greatest hurdle was age. He wanted to appear older, so that fencing the first diamond would be believable. Latex wrinkles were the solution, and he crafted some for wrinkles around the eyes, then some for the forehead, and finally, some for bags for under his eyes.
His voice was also not a difficult task. He had always been a high-toned kind of person, and many times on the phone he was confused with a female. All he needed to do was to think like a woman, and his voice was believable. He was becoming a master at makeup and role-playing, and he was ready to go and meet Mr. Becker.
The Joyeria Becker jewelry store was located in the Polanco District Juan aimed to live in. It was on a large street named after the first president of Czechoslovakia, Masaryk Boulevard. It sat opposite the Hermès store and next to Zegna, in the best boutique shopping district of the city.
Simon Becker had made a fortune in jewelry by copying the best stores in the world. His system was identical to a Tiffany or a Harry Winston, and he aimed to emulate them as often as possible. He sent his children to the best design schools in the world and had cornered the Mexican luxury market that was looking to save a little over the foreign competition. Of course Tiffany, Cartier, and Winston were more expensive, but Becker’s quality was almost the same. The most aristocratic Mexican families favored Joyeria Becker, especially if they needed to be nationalistic, so most politicians’ wives shopped there. In essence, Joyeria Becker was the “Mexican Tiffany’s.”
Juan left the motel in full female attire and carrying a large leather handbag. He walked for two blocks and looked for a restaurant he could use to alter his appearance again. He entered the restaurant and went to the restroom, where he put on a honey-colored trench coat. He left the restaurant and hailed a street cab to take him to Becker’s. On the way there, he removed the gabardine once more, rolled it into a small ball and placed it back in his handbag. He didn’t need this safety measure, but it was a precaution. If street cameras were recording, he would have entered the restaurant appearing one way, and exited looking another. On top of that many places had entrances on two streets and when he could use this he would try and use a different exit.
The cab drove in traffic for close to thirty minutes, even though it was only a few kilometers in distance. Juan had no choice but to remain in the cab; the shoes he wore would not allow him to walk that far. Entering Becker’s as a lady required removing the gabardine so that the floral dress he wore displayed his features. Having a prosthetic bra and small hips made his body very feminine, and he walked quite so. The guard at the door immediately opened the jewelry shop door, and the delicious, cool air of the AC hit Juan on his makeup-encrusted face. He was happy to feel it. Inside, the shop looked like any other high-end jewelry store—very different compared to the huge size of Quayles. It was quaint and elegant, with beautiful, self-lit wood cases filled with dazzling jewels. The back of the shop had a spiral maple staircase that in and of itself was a jewel of carpentry. Juan walked straight to the only gentleman serving customers in the store, knowing that a woman would be much more likely to catch him in his game. The gentleman was Ricardo Becker, the son of the owner and a reluctant employee. Juan sensed that this junior employee would rather be playing with his friends on this sunny summer day.
“¿Disculpe?” (Excuse me?) Juan asked.
“Sí, digame señorita” (Yes, miss, how can I help you), Ricardo said.
“Gracias por lo de señorita, joven pero necesito hablar con el señor Becker sobre una pieza que necesito vender.” (Thank you for calling me miss, young man, but I need to see Mr. Becker about a piece I am looking to sell.)
“Mi padre no compra piezas así. De gente que entra de la calle.” (My dad doesn’t buy pieces like that. From strangers off the street.)
“Ya lo sé. Pero esto es diferente.” (I know, but what I have is different.)
“¿De qué manera es diferente?” (In what way?)
“Eso lo veo con el.” (I’ll show him only.)
“Hmm,” Ricardo said.
Ricardo walked backward a few steps, stopped, and looked back at Juan in his disguise. Juan was happy it was the owner’s son and stared right back at him. Ricardo had revealed to a stranger that he was a Becker. Juan could see that Ricardo was a bit disoriented and confused, not knowing that it was because he had broken a tenet of the strict guidelines of safety that his family’s Mossad security company had.
“Espere aquí” (Wait here), Ricardo ordered.
Juan stayed there, looking at the jewels in the case and avoiding eye contact with any employees, particularly females. The vibe he gave did not encourage anyone to approach. Ricardo went up to the second floor and entered his dad’s office. He quickly explained that the lady was clearly selling something, and perhaps it could be profitable. His father stopped working on his books and looked up at the wall of monitors in the front of the office.
“¿Cuál es?” (Which one?) Simon Becker said.
“Esa.” (That one.) Ricardo pointed at monitor three.
“Mándamela” (Send her up), Simon said.
Juan was getting a bit nervous by the time he heard the son coming down. The nature of his nerves was not related to the transaction or to his having a diamond in his purse; he was more concerned with not being detected as a man. He followed Ricardo up the stairs and went into the elegant office of Simon Becker.
“Pásele, sientese por favor. ¿En que puedo servirle?” (Come in, sit down please. How can I be of service?) Simon said.
“Tengo que vender este anillo, pero es muy bueno y no quiero ni enseñarlo en lugares de empeño.” (I need to sell this ring, but it is very good, and I don’t want to even show it to pawn stores.) Juan took the ring from his pocket and gave it to Simon.
“Señora, yo no me dedico a comprar joyas a personas.” (Madame, I don’t buy jewels from individuals.) Simon held the ring in his hand.
“El problema es que son 3 y medio quilates” (The problem is that it’s three-and-a-half carats), Juan said.
“El montaje no me interesa” (The mounting is not of my interest), Simon said, looking at the ring and placing a loupe on his eye. “Ven, Ricardo. Mira.” (Come here, Ricardo. Look.) Simon looked and then handed the ring and the loupe to Ricardo while Juan stayed completely silent. Simon looked again.
“Es EE1.” (It’s EE1.) Ricardo said.
“No sabes lo que dices” (You don’t know what you are saying), Simon said quietly to Ricardo and looked at him with eyes that spoke. He was reprimanding Ricardo for his lack of negotiating instinct, because he had revealed that the diamond had good color, which the lady might not have known. Diamonds that were colorless were rated “D,” “E,” and “F,” with “D” indicating the best quality.
“Es muy bueno y se lo que vale en el mercado. Pocas tiendas en México tienen la clientela que pueda comprar algo así.” (It’s very good and I know its value. Few stores in Mexico have the clientele to buy something like this.) Juan said it softly.
“¿Cuánto crees que vale?” (How much do you think it’s worth?) Ricardo asked, trying to repair the damage he had caused to his reputation.
“Cincuenta y cinco” (Fifty-five), Juan said.
“¿Qué? ¿Cincuenta y cinco, qué?” (What? Fifty-five what?) Ricardo asked.
“Mil dólares” (Thousand dollars), Juan said.
Ricardo scoffed. His father stayed quiet. They both knew the visitor was spot-on.
“¿Señora?” (Your last name?) Simon asked.
“Rodriguez viuda de Loret. Victoria” (Rodriguez widow of Loret. Victoria), Juan said.
“Pues me gusta la piedra pero no vale lo qué dice.” (I like the stone, but it is not worth what you said.) Simon assumed a simple facial expression that no longer allowed Ricardo to speak.
“¿Cuánto me dará?” (How much will you give me?) Juan said.
Simon assessed his options. Buying this quality stone at a distributor would cost him a minimum of forty-five thousand, which had the one advantage that it could be bought with credit. But paying cash offered advantages—if the price was right, he would make more money, and he could get rid of cash he didn’t want to deposit in the bank. And if he didn’t sell the stone in a timely fashion, it wouldn’t accrue interest.
“¿Me permite desmontarla para pesarla?” (Would you allow me to unmount the stone so I can weigh it?) Simon asked.
“OK, mientras yo la vea todo el tiempo.” (OK, so long as it doesn’t leave my sight.)
The next few minutes were gut-wrenching for Juan. He was constantly under the eyes of Simon as Ricardo proceeded to unmount the stone. It never left his sight, but he felt Simon’s eyes on him. Evidently Simon was trying to place him.
“¿Note un sonsonete en su voz?” (Did I detect an accent in your voice?) Simon asked.
“Viví muchos años en Nuevo Laredo y Laredo.” (I lived many years in New Laredo and Laredo.) Juan responded with a tone that made them adversaries and tried to discourage any additional chitchat.
“¿Usted sabe que no le puedo pagar el valor de menudeo de la piedra?” (You are aware that I cannot pay you the retail value of the stone?)
“Claro, usted tiene que ganarle.” (Obviously, you need to profit.)
The scale read 3.58 carats, and all three could see the displayed numbers. Juan remained quiet. He had said 3.5, and it was closer to 3.6 on their scale. This was good for him.
“Le puedo dar veinticinco” (I can give you twenty-five), Simon said.
“Dame treinta y se la dejo. En efectivo” (Give me thirty and I’ll leave it here with you. Cash), Juan said.
“Efectivo! No, señora, no se puede. Necesito la factura” (Cash! Impossible. I need a receipt), Simon said.
Juan was happy. He was no longer bargaining price, but payment system. He had thirty locked, and this was a great fence for him.
“Señor Becker, debe saber que esta es la unica posesión que me dejó mi marido que vale algo. Tengo que pagar la universidad de mi hijo y no puedo aceptar menos de treinta. Soy persona fisica y le doy el recibo que necesite, pero quiero efectivo. No confio en los cheques y no quiero depositar esta cantidad en mi banco. ¿Me entiende?” (Mr. Becker, you should know that this is the only possession my late husband left me of any value. I need to pay my son’s college tuition, and I cannot accept anything less than thirty. I can write you the receipt you need, but I need cash. I don’t trust checks or banks, and I am not about to deposit that amount in my bank.) Juan said all this in a super-feminine voice full of fears.
“Le doy el efectivo. Treinta. ¿No tiene mas piezas como esta?” (I’ll give you cash. Thirty. Do you have more stones like this?) Simon said.
“No. Nunca me vera por aquí otra vez. ¡A menos que me case con Carlos Slim!” (No. You will never see me around here again. Unless I marry Carlos Slim!) Juan said.
Ricardo chuckled at the joke. Simon took a huge mountain of twenty-dollar bills from a safe. The bills were not new, so the packs were bulkier than those of new bills would be. Juan suspected it was drug money from sales to rich dealers and smugglers. Simon looked eager to get rid of it. His secretary prepared a receipt for “Mrs. Victoria Rodriguez, widow of Loret,” for Juan to sign. Ricardo placed the cash that wouldn’t fit inside Juan’s purse into a Becker shopping bag and covered it with gold wrapping paper. Juan sensed that Simon might want to check his identity, but the deal was sealed. Nevertheless, he came up with a request as a way to divert Simon’s attention.
“Señor Becker. ¿Me puedo quedar con la montura de mi anillo? Le tengo mucho cariño y pues le puedo poner una zirconia. No sé…” (Mr. Becker. Could I keep the setting of my ring? It has enormous sentimental value to me and maybe I can mount a zirconia. I don’t know…), Juan said, almost crying.
“Claro, claro que sí” (Of course, of course you may), Simon said, handing the ring mount back to him.
Juan kissed the stoneless ring and shed a tear. It was a perfect ploy to exploit the emotion of the moment. In Simon and Ricardo’s eyes, a widow had sold her only possession of value and lost a sentimental heirloom. How could they ask her for ID? Her tears sufficed. Juan signed the paper with perfect Palmer-style handwriting that he had copied from his mother’s style. Every letter of the name was beautifully scrolled and perfectly legible. V-i-c-t-o-r-i-a L-o-r-e-t. He handed the receipt to them, grabbed the bag full of cash, and waked sadly out of the office.
“¿Me pide un taxi? ¿De sitio?” (Can you call me a cab? A respectable cab?) Juan asked.
“Claro que sí” (Of course), Simon said.
Simon asked his secretary to call a cab and saw Juan out of the office. The door closed behind him.
“Ricardo. ¿Viste?” (Ricardo. Did you see?) Simon said.
“¿Qué, Pà? ¿Te gusto?” (What, Dad? You liked her?) Ricardo asked.
“No, idiota. El trato que hice. No viste. ¡Esta piedra vale facil sesenta mil bolas!” (No, idiot. The deal I made. This stone is worth a good sixty thousand clams.)
“¿No, dijiste que no valía los cincuenta y cinco que ella dijo?” (I thought you said it wasn’t worth the fifty-five she said.)
“Piensa. ¿3.58 es lo mismo que 3.6 y 3.6 se redondea a que número? ¿Y con una montadura buena, de nuestro estilo? ¿Hmm?” (Think—3.58 is the same as 3.6, which rounds up to what number? And with a mount made by us, in our style? Hmm?)
“¡Facil los sesenta!” (Sixty thousand easy!) Ricardo got it. It was perfect.
The Beckers doubled their money in a split second. Juan made a year’s salary with his first stone. He traveled in the cab to a Starbucks only a few blocks from Becker’s. The bathrooms were minimally clean and large. There, he transformed into a man again. It was twice as hard as the last time; ripping the latex from his face was messy. But the wig and dress were easy enough. In his purse under the ten thousand dollars were a T-shirt and a small bag holding razor-thin waterproof pants made by a sporting goods store. He removed the high heels and placed them in a bag that was sewn to the dress he wore. In the very bottom of the handbag was a cheap pair of plastic flip-flops that he put on his feet after removing the pantyhose. Those he sent to the bottom of the trash bin in the bathroom. He left the busy Starbucks as a man carrying a knapsack. Any video would be of her entry and then a man’s exit, and with no criminal activity chances were the footage would be deleted in a few days.
He took a cab directly to the Banamex bank where he kept his safe-deposit box. Inside the box viewing room he counted the bills one by one, looking at the hundred-, fifty-, and mostly twenty-dollar bills that Becker had given him. One by one he placed them in the box, and every now and then he omitted a twenty here and there. They added up to exactly 1,180 dollars in counterfeit bills. He sat there thinking what to do. Then he counted out the four thousand five hundred dollars for the security deposit and first month’s rent on the condominium he would lease for Virginia. Finally, he counted out an extra thousand to have as petty cash. He had planned on discarding the counterfeit dollars, but then a new thought occurred to him. Contrary to what he had promised, he would pay Mr. Becker a second visit as Victoria, widow of Loret.