The day after Christmas Manny’s longtime partner, Lee, was showing a 7.04 Cushion Cut Round Diamond to a retired couple from West Palm Beach. The sixtyish woman wore a matriarchal Dior outfit, though her nasal accent betrayed Brooklyn roots with an envious coo, “I don’t know, it’s so bigggg!"
Her husband’s skin color of an old leather couch from the decades of sun on Long Island and Florida. For once he agreed with his wife. He wanted to get back to Boca Raton ASAP. Preferably without buying this rock.
"It is big.”
“Big? This isn’t big.” Lee, silver-haired and handsome in his early seventies, slipped the platinum ring onto the woman’s finger. “You remember Liz Taylor and Richard Burton? Well, back when we were all young, my good friend, Buzzy Yugler, had a 55-Carat D Flawless Diamond, which sparkled like snow under moonlight. Liz also thought it was a little too big, yet putting on the ring changed her mind and she said, “I think I can get used to it.
Acting as if he had been in the room with Liz, Lee guffawed with practiced elegance.
"Maybe there's a little Liz in you." The venerable diamond dealer hailed from Brooklyn too. Everyone he knew once came from Brooklyn. His posh mannerism were inherited from his wife. Her family was French he patted the woman's hand. "You got used to your husband. You could get used to this ring too."
The couple laughed with embarrassment and the man sighed, "We'll have to think about it."
"Take your time. We'll be here when you make up your mind." Lee waved good-bye to the couple. Once the door shut, he handed me the ring, “Could you put this back in the front window."
As I waked past my boss' desk, Manny muttered about Lee’s unabashed schmoozing, “Buzzy Yugler had nothing to do with that sale.”
Whereas Lee had inherited his father’s diamond business on 47th Street, Manny had spent his youth on the streets of Brownsville and learned the jewelry trade on the Bowery from the bottom up. The Italian suits and imported ties pinpointed his rough background, not that he cared a rat’s ass what anyone thought, because he didn’t have to pretend that he had a firm grasp of what was right and wrong.
“What do you mean?” I asked, bringing the 7.04 to the front window.
“I don’t have time to tell stories.” Manny looked at the wall clock at the back of the exchange. It was past noon and his customer hadn’t arrived with a promised check. He frowned like Jackie Mason not getting a laugh and turned to me. “And neither do you."
I surveyed the sidewalk for prospective customers, however most were intent on wide-eyed browsing.
"Not much business out there today.”
“Now you hexed the entire day.” Manny pulled out the folded paper towel he wore every morning to prevent his shirt collar from getting dirty. He knotted his tie at half-mast and joined me in the window. He was ready for action, but one glance at the street broke his heart and he said, “Buzzy Yugler bid a million dollars for the stone, which wasn’t 55-carat.”
I was old enough to remember Liz Taylor leaving the singer, Eddie Fisher, for Richard Burton during the filming of CLEOPATRA. “
"A million dollars back in 1964 must have been a lot of money.”
“But not enough to buy a 66-carat Pear Shape, because someone beat Buzzy’s bid by three hundred thou, though failure didn’t prevent him from crowing about having sold Liz the stone.”
“I thought Harry Winston sold Richard Burton the stone.”
“Maybe he did.” Manny shrugged like he heard different. “Abe Padrush offered Elizabeth Taylor two-million three for the stone. She would have sold it to him, except he wanted her to hand it to him personally and be photographed doing so. Publicity like that would have been priceless, but Richard Burton refused. Thought it was too low-class. Goyim, go figure.”
Richard Burton’s rejecting the prime Yiddish tenet of ‘nimmt geld’ or take the money confounded Manny, as did many aspect of gentile behavior. His son, Richie Boy, had been speaking on the telephone, but overheard his father and decided to his father a zug or needle. “You just don’t understand them, because you were brought up on the Bowery.”
“We had plenty of Gs downtown.”
“Yeah, but not like here and you don’t know how to deal with these uptown people.”
Being Yankee Irish I had a lot of better things to do than intermediate the eternal psychological battle between father and son, but Richie Boy turned to me and said, “You remember than million dollar ruby?”
“How can I forget?”
The deal was ten years ago.
The fingernail-sized stone possessed an awesome blood red radiance, but I hadn’t seen one million dollars in it and when I had told Richie Boy the same at our old exchange, he had said, “I don’t either, but believe me that’s what it’s worth."
“Your guy isn’t going to buy it!” Manny insisted, as we examined the stone.
“Why do you always have to be so negative?” Richie Boy shook his head. He wasn’t handsome, but possessed an demonstrative affability, which had won over a good number of wealthy clients, though none as rich as the president of a West Coast airline who was looking to buy his girlfriend, a blonde heiress from Millbrook, something special for her birthday. His call was for a very rare ruby. It had to be over five carats, a natural from Burma, internal perfect, and the color of the blood bleeding from a pigeon’s nose. The vein, not the artery. Very specific about the details, which meant the customer had done his research.
Richie Boy phoned several dealers and within a day came up with a stone. It wasn’t cheap and the dealer flatly told us, “875,000 dollars and I don’t want to hear any bitching about the price."
Banned from chiseling the price angered Manny, especially since his son was reaching for stars he couldn’t see. “I’m not being negative, but no one, and I don’t care how rich they are is going to spend a million dollars for someone else’s wife.”
“Yeah, but he’s going to marry her as soon as she’s free.” Richie protested, though Manny merely laughed, “Think what you like. You’re young. You’ll find out.”
His father walked away and Richie Boy asked me, “What do you think?”
“It doesn’t look like a big house in the Hamptons, but what do I know?” I grew up on Cape Cod.
Richie Boy agreed and picked two diamond necklaces for back-up from Lee’s inventory. Both cost over a quarter million. “The G has to buy something.”
An hour later the client called and told Richie Boy to meet him at the Regis Hotel
In his room on the tenth floor.
Richie Boy’s father predicted that we were being set up. Neither of us disagreed, but the client wasn’t coming to 47th Street. Manny wanted to kabosh the entire deal, however we were insured for the full value of the merchandise.
“And what if you get robbed on the street?” His father liked to play very negative angle in the search for the right path.
“That’s not going to happen!” Richie was licensed to carry, though when he stuck his 9mm in the shoulder holster, I asked, “You’re not really going to shot someone, if they try and rob us?”
He was no fighter.
“No, nothing is worth dying over, but it will look better on the insurance form, if I was carrying.” To Richie Boy’s way of thinking getting robbed was almost like making a sale, since the insurance companies would have to cover the loss, though both of us could do without the psychological scarring of someone sticking a gun in our face.
As Richie Boy hid the jewelry inside his suit coat and I picked up the front section of the newspaper. His father swore, “What you need a newspaper for?”
I was about to tell him, I wanted something to read, however Richie Boy told him, “Pete broke Doom Darazzio’s nose with a newspaper. One blow.”
Manny’s brother. Seymour the Cop, could attest to my toughness, but that beating was a long time ago and I was only taking the newspaper was to have something to read, while Richie Boy conducted his sale. Everyone wished us luck, though his father swore we were crazy.
He was right, but we walked over to the St. Regis Hotel and arrived at the hotel without incident. Two guests tried to get on the elevator with us, but Richie Boy and I glared a warning to take the next car up. Reaching tenth-floor corridor, we smiled nervously. So far everything had gone accordingly to plan.
Richie Boy padded his pockets, as if he thought he might have been pickpocketed by the Invisible Man. Feeling his jacket, he nodded to indicate the jewelry was still on his person and then he rang the bell. A woman laughed and several second later the door opened.
Both of us stared at the blonde, because she was naked, but for high heels. For a woman in her late thirties, but her skin tone was a testament to a strict gym regime. When Richie Boy and I exchanged a puzzled glance, she smiled and drawled straight out of Texas, “C’mon in, boys, we’ve been waitin’ for y’all.”
She sashayed into the main suite, where her boyfriend rose from the satin couch. He was tall, athletic, and wearing only a bathrobe. Greeting Richie Boy with a handshake, he looked at me and asked, “Who’s your friend?”
Richie played it right and took the two diamond necklaces from his jacket.
“He’s the protection for these.”
He draped the diamonds on the woman’s bare neck and she sat on the man’s lap. Even though they weren’t dressed and were from the best families in America, I didn’t trust them, but by the end of an hour Richie boy had sold one of the necklace. We took a cashier’s check for more money than either of us could earn in several years, but Richie Boy wasn’t happy, because he hadn’t sold the ruby.
Back at the store everyone congratulated Richie boy on the sale. His father shrugged and said, “I told you that he wouldn’t go for the ruby.”
“Yeah, you’re always right.” Richie Boy retold the story a dozen times that day and probably several hundred more, including the day after Christmas. Lee came over and turned up his hearing aid, since he liked to hear about the schitzah’s being naked as much as the blonde buying his piece. “I love that story.”
“You would.” Manny commented, since Lee’s admiration of blonde gentile woman was endemic to the most Jewish men. “But I’ll tell you another story.”
“Not about your girlfriend!” Richie Boy groaned, fixing his suit’s lapels.
“No, I’ll tell you a story about schitzahs that will curl your hair.” Manny smoothed down his Caesaresque coif for effect and then continued, “I was working down on the Bowery. Before you came to work for me, Richie.”
“Back in the Stone Age before the car and telephones!” Lee joked, but Manny was two years younger and said, “You remember those days just as good as me, if not better, but this was also when the blondes were really blondes and not out of a blonde. Well, maybe half of them were real.”
Manny had everyone attention, including the two Hassidic diamond brokers at the counter. “It was summertime, maybe 1971. Hilda and I were doing good. She was a lot like Richie in that she could sell rain to a picnic. Anyway this day she’s not working and I’m in the store with Norman.”
“Norman!” Everyone remembered Manny’s first employee and some not fondly, especially Richie Boy, who announced, “Best thing I did two years ago was fire that kuchleffle!”
As far as I could recall, Norman retired once he inherited his mother’s money, but Manny raised his hands, “Norman was a shit-stirrer, but back then he was a real lady’s man back then. Won the Lido Beach Club Body-building contest all through the sixties.”
“And you call that a talent?” Lee asked and Manny answered with a smile, “It worked for me. Anyway this one afternoon I see Norman outside talking with this beautiful blonde. I mean, she’s like a Vegas showgirl. He comes in with her and I expect him to want to use the vault, but instead he tells me she’s looking for a diamond ring. A big one. Five carat. I know not as big as Liz Taylor’s or and certainly not more money than you got for that diamond necklace.”
This story sounded very familiar, because I had heard it from Norman. Manny noticed my dismissive gaze and said, “Norman likes to tell it that he sold her the diamond and got screwed later, but she said to me, “I have this boyfriend. He’ll buy me anything I want. He won’t chisel you for the price, but I want you to give me half the profit.”
“I couldn’t believe my ears and thought she was trying to pull a scam, but the guy came in, didn’t squawk about the price, and she left with him. Ring, box, go.”
“And so then what happened?” one of the Hassidic brokers asked, stroking his salt-and pepper beard.
“Well, she came back, just like she said she would. I paid her what I owed her."
“Half?” Lee demanded incredulously.
“Fifty-fifty above my cost.” This split could have meant anything, but Manny stilled all other questions by saying, “She was happy, but gave me back the ring.”
“She wanted you to buy it back?” It would be the first time a woman did this to a man, however Manny shook his head. “No, she said she wanted me to sell it back to her.”
“What?” Everyone asked in unison.
“She tells me she has another boyfriend, who wants to buy her a ring, but she can’t have two, otherwise she won’t remember which is which could lead to complications, so she says, “Sell me this ring again and we’ll split the money fifty-fifty.”
Manny eyed everyone. I shrugged to signal I would ruin the punchline and nobody mentioned anything about the morality of what the woman proposed, but Manny admitted nothing by saying, “I did what I thought was best.”
“Which means?“ Lee demanded in suspect curiosity.
“That nobody got hurt.” Manny’s last word coincided with the arrival of a young couple looking for an engagement ring. I heard Richie Boy start to say, “No one is luckier than Pete.”
Manny and Lee said, “Barbara.”
I glared over my shoulders to silence them and then turned to the young couple straight in from Connecticut and asked, “When are you getting married?”
“September,” the twenty-two year-old brunette announced as if the vision of her wedding was playing inside her mind.
“No, 2003.” The man put his arm around his future bride.
Manny and Richie Boy chuckled and said, “A WOT.”
They were probably right about the couple being a 'waste of time',, but you never knew where missionary work would lead, so I said, “Congratulations.”
And I wasn’t lying.
2003 was just around the corner.