Jake was not sure what he was expecting, some burly thug perhaps, or a mean, villainous looking type, but certainly not the person standing before him now.
“I’m looking for Gerhardt,” Jake said to the short, balding gentleman who looked very much like a university professor in his knitted bow tie and tweed jacket.
“I am he,” Gerhardt said in perfect English. “How may I help you?”
“Er,” Jake began, a little taken back, “I have, er, something you might be interested in – something of value, for sale.”
Gerhardt gave Jake the once over, then said, “I see. In that case you had better come in.”
Jake followed the little man into the room which was small, dingy and sparsely furnished with just a desk, a few chairs and a filing cabinet. The carpet was threadbare and the ancient curtains were closed but the glow of a red light could be seen clearly through them. The room itself illuminated solely by a large angle-poise lamp on the desk.
“You will forgive my humble surroundings,” Gerhardt said, taking a seat behind the desk and waving Jake to a chair on the other side, “But the rent is cheap, so I cannot complain.”
“That’s fine. I understand.” Jake replied, sitting down.
“Now, my friend, you say you have something of value for sale? Please, enlighten me.”
Jake hesitated for just a moment before reaching into the front pocket of his jeans and pulling out a carefully folded piece of tissue paper. He leant forward into the full glare of the angle-poise lamp and slowly unwrapped it, finally revealing a single diamond. He had purposely chosen one of the very smallest, not wishing to set any unnecessary jackpot alarms off in Gerhardt’s head.
“Ah, I see,” said Gerhardt. “May I examine it?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Thank you.” Gerhardt picked up the diamond which was about the same size as a small pea and held it to the light between his thumb and forefinger. “Very nice,” he said. “Very pretty.” He then reached into a drawer and pulled out an eyeglass and a pair of tweezers. Fixing the glass into his eye socket and now holding the diamond with the tweezers, he gave it a more thorough examination. “Yes, very pretty indeed. Excellent colour, excellent clarity, a nice size – I assume it is stolen?”
“Er, what?” Jake was suddenly caught off guard. “Er, no, I mean—”
“Please,” Gerhardt interjected. “I am not a judge. I merely ask to protect myself. You are someone who I have never met before, you could tell me anything. But if the diamond is stolen, there are certain parties I can sell it to. If it is not, then there are other, more legitimate parties I can approach. However, if you say it is not stolen and then I discover that it is, I could find myself severely compromised. In that instance I will have no hesitation in providing any interested parties with your description. On the other hand, if you are truthful with me from the outset I will take your identity to the grave.”
“I see.” Jake said. Then after a moment’s contemplation, he added, “How do I know I can trust you?”
“You don’t. All I can tell you is that this is my livelihood, I am respected within my field and to break a confidence, to reveal a source without an extremely good reason would be tantamount to both business and most possibly actual suicide. My word is my bond, that is how I operate. But betray me and that bond is broken.”
Again, Jake thought for a moment. Regardless of his surroundings, Gerhardt did seem trustworthy. Honest, almost. “Yes, it is stolen,” he said, “But not intentionally, it was more of an accident—”
“Please,” Gerhardt interjected. “It is of no importance. But thank you for your honesty, it is appreciated. Now, this diamond – I assume you know its true value?”
“I do,” Jake bluffed. After his research on the internet he estimated that the stone he had here was worth somewhere between maybe twenty and forty thousand euros but he had no real idea. It all depended on clarity and cut and colour and many other variables that could make one diamond much more valuable than another of similar size. He suspected that this was a good quality stone, that they all were, but how good was beyond his extremely limited knowledge.
“Good.” Said Gerhardt, “You know also, of course, that I cannot pay you anywhere near that amount, not for a stolen stone and I would also like to make a small profit myself.”
I bet you would, thought Jake. “Of course,” he said.
“So, how much do you want for it?” Asked Gerhardt.
Jake had to gamble, knowing it could cost him the deal but he also needed to gauge the worth of the diamonds he possessed. The internet was good for research but nothing could beat an expert’s opinion, no matter how sleazy they might seem. A dealer was a dealer and Jake could not be too choosy. With a straight face, he said rather hopefully, “Twenty-five thousand.”
“A good and fair price for a stolen item such as this,” Gerhardt said. “But sadly too rich for my blood. As you can see I am not a wealthy man. The best I could offer is ten.”
Jake could not believe it. If Gerhardt had thought twenty-five thousand to be a fair price for a stolen diamond such as this then the actual value could be two or three times as much. He was momentarily staggered, but ten thousand was far better than he had actually hoped for. He could of course go elsewhere and maybe get a better deal but he was running out of money fast and finding another buyer could prove difficult to say the least. “Fifteen,” he said. “That’s the best I can do. Take it or leave it.”
Now it was Gerhardt’s turn for contemplation as he studied the diamond again. “Very well, fifteen thousand euros. We have a deal.” He held out his hand and Jake shook it. Then Gerhardt reached into the drawer again and pulled out a wad of notes. He counted out fifteen thousand euros with the expertise of a bank teller and handed it to Jake. “Very nice to meet you,” he said.
“Likewise,” Jake said, then as a purely spontaneous afterthought he added, “Would you be interested in buying any more?” It was another gamble to reveal that he had more diamonds to sell but thought it was worth the risk. Besides he was desperate with few other options.
“Alas,” said Gerhardt, “When I said I was not a wealthy man, I meant it. Fifteen thousand euros is as much as I can afford at present. However, for a small commission, I could put you in touch with someone who would be able to buy more from you. Perhaps many more, if you have them.”
“When you say commission, what are we talking about?”
Gerhardt’s eyes glinted with anticipation as he said, “Another stone, say? My contact is worth it, I assure you.”
“I’m sure he is,” Jake smiled, knowing he was being played but nevertheless finding himself trusting Gerhardt. He was a strange little man who reminded him very much of the Donald Pleasance character in The Great Escape. An intellectual duck-out-of-water who had been forced to adapt to a life that was not necessarily of his own choosing. He guessed that Gerhardt was not a naturally dishonest man but circumstances, whatever they might have been, had forced him to become one. Jake felt strangely sorry for him – although for all he knew Gerhardt could quite easily be one of the greatest criminal masterminds of the twenty-first century, but somehow he doubted it.
“While we’re at it,” Jake continued, “I don’t suppose you know anyone who could supply me with a passport, do you?”
“But of course,” said Gerhardt, “As many as you need.”
“And the cost?” Jake asked.
Now it was Gerhardt’s turn to smile, “Shall we say another diamond?”
“Why not,” said Jake with a resigned shrug, now reassessing his initial appraisal.
Maybe this seemingly innocuous little man was a criminal mastermind after all.
Continues tomorrow or download the complete novel here