The third Saturday of January arrived, and Juan was so nervous he barely slept and couldn’t eat breakfast. He had tossed and turned all night, then started his day at 5:00 a.m. He prepared his attire, beginning with his normal clothes, which he would cover with his hand-sewn outfit. He spent an hour applying the latex that gave him the large double chin. The skin color, the prescription-free reading glasses, and the wig completed a look that was in no way similar to his normal appearance. Security cameras would record a picture of a heavyset white male.
The Quayles Jewels store on Friars Road took up an entire city block and catered to middle-income newlyweds. It had a large staff, security personnel, and thousands of jewels inside. Juan entered the store that morning when it opened at eleven, then moved slowly to the rear of the place, looking at displays. He browsed and procrastinated until more customers arrived. Juan wanted a full house for his plan. Within a few minutes, the store was quite lively, and he began his plan by approaching a saleswoman in her thirties.
“Excuse me, do you have larger stones?” Juan asked. “All I see are one- or two-carat rings. I am looking for a larger, single-stone piece.”
“We do!” she said with a full smile. “I am Savanna, by the way.”
She opened a lower drawer in the case and pulled out a selection of only three rings, each designed with large stones.
“Something like this?” she asked.
“Oh, they are nice.” He grabbed one and carefully looked at it, then hummed in disapproval.
“Frankly, Savanna, I am not really looking for a ring. I am looking for a stone to have a pendant made in a design of my own.” Juan talked while looking at the ring all the time.
Do you sell unmounted stones?”
“Why yes, but it’s the manager that handles that.”
“And do they carry large stones? I think three carats is the minimum I want for a pendant.”
“Let me call him.”
Savanna went into the manager’s office located directly behind her. Inside Juan could see the sofa set with two chairs facing the manager’s desk. It was a large and plush office, decorated with maroon carpeting and a tall bookcase set against the rear wall that was full of thick bound books. Bigger deals happened in that office, and newlyweds looking for something a bit more extravagant completed their deal behind closed doors. Savanna returned.
“Our manager would like to meet you.” She said. “What is your name?”
“Jay Vogel. Thanks.”
She gestured for him to walk through the aisle between the counters, then accompany her into the manager’s office.
“Mr. Quayle, this is Mr. Jay Vogel. He is looking for a stone to make a pendant,” she said.
“Thanks, Savanna,” Elliot Quayle said.
Elliot Quayle was a third-generation owner of the Quayles Jewels store and had been in the business practically from the cradle. He was a good-looking man in his forties, and he had plastered pictures of his very pretty wife and somewhat good-looking kids all over the office. Behind him stood a counter cabinet that housed a safe holding many white-paper packets containing unmounted stones. The inventory was worth tens of millions of dollars wholesale and at a minimum a hundred million retail. The diamonds bought by his father and uncle were never the top of the line but slightly flawed—or three colors removed from—the best stones. All the top-quality diamonds were swiftly bought by the great houses of Tiffany, Cartier, and Harry Winston, to name a few. But Quayles had a good reputation even if it did sell second-tier diamonds. The stones shone beautifully, and most people couldn’t tell the difference.
Of course, Quayles also sold zirconia imitations, but those were not handled by Elliot, who was the retail manager for strictly genuine diamonds. Selling an unmounted stone happened rarely but was not unheard of, and for Elliot, the transaction represented an easy profit. Unmounted stones were kept in paper that was labeled in pencil with a handwritten code composed of letters and numbers. The coding system was simple—the purchase price of the stone backward, set between random letters. A stone with the accompanying code “A0B0F2Y8P1” had been purchased for 18,200 dollars. It was a quick way to prevent a mistake and ensure a negotiated price that would include profit.
Of course, the stone was never handed over in the white folded paper, so clients could never figure out the system. The Quayles family had been handling the sale process in this manner since Ely Quayle began trading diamonds in the early 1930s in Los Angeles. He’d had the foresight to move south to San Diego in the fifties, when it was a small and backward city, which Ely had seen as an opportunity to be on top.
In the first meeting, Elliot stood up and shook Juan’s hand. He failed to notice that Juan’s hand was thin and strong, which did not match his pudgy face.
“I am told you are looking for a rather large stone,” Elliot said.
“About three carats,” Juan said in perfect English. “Not too large.”
“You are aware of the cost of such stones? I don’t mean to insult; I am merely trying to make you aware that such stones are rare and costly.”
“How much are we talking about?”
“For three carats, they start at around forty-five or fifty and go up to eighty depending on their quality.”
“That is not a problem.”
“You would have to pay with secure funds, so a check or wire transfer is usually best for these transactions, and you cannot take possession until after the money has cleared our bank. Are you OK with this?”
“Clearly. But first I must be enamored of the stone.”
“Absolutely! I am sure we have what you are looking for. Let me see, three-carat pieces…”
Elliot slid open the door on the wooden buffet cabinet that stood beneath the window. The window was wired with alarm trim that dated back to the 1970s but was left on by the Quayles as a visible alarm deterrent. There were no bars on the window, and Juan could see the grass behind the building, and beyond, a concrete sidewalk. Palm trees and beautiful gardening surrounded the store—a pretty view to have from one’s office.
Behind the cabinet door was a heavy steel safe that was installed there before the cabinet was built around it. It was made by the European firm Adlersafe, and Elliot opened it by simply turning the lever. It was kept in the open position of the combination until the end of the day. He pulled out a black velvet drawer that was labeled “2.5, 3, 3.5” on its front edge and held many square-folded envelopes. He turned around to find Juan closing the office door and walking back to the desk.
“You don’t mind if we have some privacy,” Juan said, hoping Elliot did not notice he had turned the lock on the doorknob.
“Of course, of course,” Elliot said as he unfolded a white paper envelope and showed Juan a beautiful, large square-cut stone.
“That is magnificent! Do you have a loupe?”
Elliot looked in the drawer to his right and removed a jeweler’s loupe. During this distraction, Juan put on a pair of cheap green latex gloves he had in his front jacket pocket, where he kept a thick plastic cable tie. Elliot found the loupe and turned to face Juan but instead he saw the large black gun aimed at his forehead. His face turned into a whiter white as blood rushed inside his body, making his head light and his heart palpitate at great speed. Juan was pointing a Glock 9 directly at Elliot’s forehead.
“Now don’t do anything stupid,” Juan said.
Elliot instinctively placed his foot on the floor buzzer hidden below the carpet that activated a silent alarm. He pressed down on the switch.