A Con Job
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The old Bastard fired me soon as the cops left! He didn't even have the common decency to wait until we closed and spare me the embarrassing – and embarrassed – audience of ex-coworkers as I packed up my things.
What mortal sin did I commit to merit such vindictive treatment? I was right, that's all. I had a hunch, and I was right. And simply because that stubborn old buzzard had refused to believe me, when I finally proved to be right, instead of thanking me – he fired me!
It's not like I rubbed his nose in it, either. I mean, I didn't say, "I told you so." Sure, I thought it – but I didn't say it. When telling the cops what happened, one of the things I left out was his calling me a "suspicious uncouth peasant" for merely suggesting his precious Comtesse might be nothing more than a sophisticated thief.
It wasn't even a month ago she first came in, this Comtesse. I'll admit she fit the part perfectly, probably late fifties but looking mid-forties, stately and slim, simply but expertly coiffed, wearing a month's salary (even if I weren't so underpaid). She carried a shopping bag from the priciest store in the mall and flaunted expensive manners to match – classy and elegant, and the smile she tossed me would etch glass. But when she spotted Crawski, I could tell her smile warmed his tired old body from head to toe. Especially about midway in between.
Crawski shooed me off, but not before I heard her cute little accent drop two of our best customers' names in her first sentence. She bought a pair of earrings that time, white gold with pear-shaped diamonds at a half-carat apiece. She said she'd pick them up in a week, to give us time to change the stones – she wears only flawless-D, the very highest grade diamond. The way Crawski bowed and scraped as she left, you'd have thought her the Queen of Sheba.
Cubic zirconium in a Tiffany setting, I thought. It wasn't jealousy either. It's not like I'm madly in love with Crawski, but decent jobs aren't easy to come by for a divorcée with no qualifications except half an art degree. Besides, he isn't that old. I really don't know why the Comtesse bothered me, but she did. Something just didn't fit.
Shocked the hell out of me when her check cleared, although Crawski gave her a price she could've pawned them for. I know. I do all our special work like buying and setting the stones for custom orders, ever since his eyes got so bad he needs bifocals which he's too damn vain to wear at the store. My big mistake was letting him know how much I enjoy creating the beautiful objects I'll never be able to afford. He figures that's payment enough, so of course there's no reason to give me a raise. When I saw the order slip for the earrings, I said there must be a mistake, we were giving them away. He replied it's good business to cultivate "that class" of customer.
Sure enough, a week after she picked up the earrings, back she came, accompanied by a tall, swarthy, white-haired man who spoke with a thick accent. She introduced him only as her "Dear Friend" and talked with him in a rapid, guttural foreign tongue, slipping and addressing him as "Highness" just twice. Soon I learned what, but not how. This time Friend carried the expensive store bag, setting it on the counter as he glanced at some cuff links, settling on a dramatic but understated pair, sapphires in gold – excellent taste, matching his blue eyes. He paid cash, from a monster wad of hundreds; hadn't had time to establish a local banking relationship yet.
Then the Comtesse gasped and pointed to Crawski's pride and joy, a magnificent white-gold necklace with over a hundred carats of diamonds and a scattering of emeralds. I hate to give the old man credit, but it is a superb design – striking without being gaudy, although you'd have to see it to believe that. She simply had to try it on, naturally, and it really did look like it belonged on her. With tawny skin and green eyes, emeralds and diamonds are her stones – don't know how she missed spotting it earlier.
She yanked off her elegant silk scarf and carelessly stuffed it into her shopping bag, then graciously allowed Crawski to fasten the necklace around her slender neck. As she turned this way and that, admiring herself in the mirror on the wall behind the counter, Friend smiled with tolerant amusement. When she reluctantly handed it back and they left, Crawski looked like he might cry, sure now he'd never sell that necklace.
Not to worry. Twenty minutes later, Friend Highness dashed back in alone and beckoned imperiously to Crawski. How long to replace all the stones with perfectly matched Brazilian emeralds and flawless-D diamonds? Possible by a week from Friday, her burt-day? Vunderful! Then he asked the price, almost as an afterthought. He nodded negligently at the figure slightly under the national debt, saying he'd have it transferred directly to the store’s account. He insisted on leaving a small deposit – five thousand. Cash.
And now I also knew how. Or so I thought.