Fly Diamonds

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Chapter 27

Three years later

Juan Merlo sat at a consigned Louis XVI–style desk, his favorite painting on the wall behind him, Milton Avery’s Paris Pigeons from 1955. The painting was flanked by two large marble obelisks that sat on a long Biedermeier console with tags everywhere. The desk was full of papers, and an iPad sat in the center. His storefront was now twice as large as when he’d started out, and it contained a maze of small pathways through all sorts of art and antiques. From his desk, he could see the entire store, because he had built a two-step-high office with glass walls. On the store side of the glass, there was a beautiful antique balustrade recovered from a demolished sixteenth-century building in the center of the city. Behind his desk to the right was a door to his private bathroom, and past that bathroom, another secret door that led to the rear parking lot. Juan was still paranoid that someday, someone might investigate him. But the passage of time had made him more relaxed. Having sold all the diamonds also helped. His selling had improved with time, and he had managed to net close to four million dollars. He’d spent it on high-end travel and artifacts for his shop, antiques and art worth about seven million. Art had moved up in value, year after year!

Having a consignment store and a strong paranoia had led him to develop a genius business plan. He actually did consign furniture and art from people, but he kept a separate book for additional consignments. If an inspector came to claim that the inventory he held was worth millions, Juan would produce the false consignment book showing that almost all the valuables belonged to others. When he sold an expensive piece that he had actually bought with diamond money, he would get rid of an item consigned to a client as well. He would show the sale as a small commission for his business, with a large payoff to a private citizen. Rarely did anyone question this sort of transaction, and if an individual was asked whether he did consign a piece to “Antiguedades y Consignaciones Euro-America SA,” he truthfully answered yes.

Juan had traveled all over the world and had completed an art history degree at the Instituto de Cultura Superior. He traveled coach to Paris, London, Rome, Rio, Caracas, Lima, Buenos Aires, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, Dallas, and Seattle and business class to Madrid, Basel, Berlin, Moscow, Prague, Milan, Geneva, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm, New York, Monterrey, Houston, Washington, Boston, and Los Angeles, all to fence a few stones, and always returning with art and antiques that could mask their value. He had used many different looks and disguises, and had left no trace of his real looks in any public or store security video. He traveled with his Mexican passport, as he had dual citizenship, which allowed him to be a tourist in the United States.

His love life improved, and he began dating the daughter of a woman who’d studied at the Art History Institute with him. His life became tranquil and he treasured that. Meanwhile, his “Lon Chaney” experiences led him to participate in a theater group; the anonymity he’d enjoyed through disguise was an addiction and a craft that he did not want to give up. His girlfriend was beautiful and rich; he was the envy of all his friends. Through her, he felt a true connection to the life his father had promised, a life of entitlement and belonging. One day, she decided to give Juan a new iPad. She bought it with her father’s money and set it up in his name. He would love it, she thought.

Over the years, Virginia noticed Juan’s great success and wealth and had become a little suspicious. After all, she was in a two-bedroom apartment in Polanco and had a maid. Juan took care of all her bills. But every time she felt she needed to broach the subject, the words eluded her and she actually asked for more money instead. He complied, and she kept her suspicions to herself, eventually buying into the idea that he was a good businessman.

All the anonymity that Juan managed to keep was destroyed the day he received the iPad.

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