FROM DIAMONDS AND SCOUNDRELS
Set up: This is a scene from Diamonds and Scoundrels. I am examining the books of a successful jewelry company in which I am a 10% shareholder. The president of the company, Dan, isn’t happy that the court allowed me full access to company records, and he is hoping he might offer me something to make me go away. He called me into his office to talk.
After a brief greeting, to break the ice, Dan pointed to a Magic 8 ball on the credenza behind his desk. He picked it up and shook it, saying, “Have a look.” As he shook it again, he asked it, “Will my sales be higher than last year?” The answer this toy produced was “maybe.”
I imagined Dan consulted this “oracle” several times a day. It seemed as if his only goal in life was to sell more every year than the year before; nothing else seemed to hold any meaning for him. After I sat opposite him at his desk, he asked about my findings in the document room. He had to be thinking in his own narcissistic way that he had done nothing wrong.
“So how is it, I asked him, you have the audacity to charge all your personal expenses on XYZ’s American Express card? Groceries, clothing, dance lessons for your children? You live off the card and just take and take.”
He shrugged his shoulders, as he always did when he wanted to say, “So what? It’s no big deal.”
“How much can you find?” he asked. “Perhaps you will find a million dollars worth of stuff you can blame me for. What does it matter? Stop looking, and I’ll give you $100,000.”
“To make me go away?” I paused, realizing I’d touched a nerve. “Four years ago you said you weren’t going to pay any more dividends because you wanted to build equity. There is still no equity even now. I waited, but nothing has changed.”
I paused again. “Take care of your shareholder, Dan, or you will have a big problem. I’m learning a lot in that document room upstairs.”
I stood up and turned toward the door, refusing to give him a drop more information.
As I was leaving, Dan held out his hand to shake mine. I took it. It was cold and clammy. I scowled at him, my lips sealed. He was visibly sweating.
Talking about this at the dinner table that night, I announced to my family, “I’m going to get millions from them, not $100,000.”
Our daughter Pam was worried. “Mom, what if these guys are Mafia, and they kill you?”
I was fearless. “If they do, make sure they end up in prison, and then get the money I have coming to me.”
Neither Dan nor his lawyers knew the extent of my findings. In fact, they didn’t seem to understand the magnitude of my complaint, nor did they imagine I’d uncovered so many areas where they’d broken the law.
Dan was curious though. One day he sent his full-time in-house accountant Herman upstairs to the document room, where I sat each day reading and marking pages with post its and paper clips to be photocopied. Entering the room with papers to file, feigning nonchalance, Herman turned to me quite casually.
“Tell me, Adrienne, have you found anything illegal in these boxes of documents?”
Trying to match his tone, I said in an off-hand way, “Oh, I suppose I’ve found thousands of things.”
Did he really think I would tell him anything important? He actually looked at me in earnest, expecting an answer.
Recalling that Mrs. Leona Helmsley, the hotel queen, had gone to prison for fraudulently using hotel funds to decorate her own home and claiming it was a business expense, I asked him, “Do you see any parquet floors here in the factory? Can you tell me where they are? And what about the swimming pool? Where is that?”
Set up: I was exhibiting jewelry at a wholesale trade show in Los Angeles not far from home. My client Joshahari called to ask what time the show started and when it closed. He said he definitely was coming to see the new collection and would probably be there the first day of the show.
But Joshahari didn’t come to the show. He didn’t come the first day or any day, for that matter. However, he called my cell phone repeatedly to inquire as to our opening and closing times. These calls worried me. On the last day of the show, when we were closing at noon, he called again, this time asking if we needed help to pack up and close the exhibit space before going home. I was truly annoyed. I certainly didn’t want his help or anyone else’s after the show was over. Packing up and going home was risky, and only the most loyal, devoted individuals were to be there. This time my father wasn’t with me. He was in Acapulco. Before leaving town he’d asked Stan to pick up the merchandise from the show and bring it safely home.
Here’s the truth: It’s my merchandise. I bought and paid for it with, at that point, six years of hard work. I knew how to travel with it, more than anyone else could possibly know. Those bags were like my babies. However, because of my father’s request, Stan left his office in Century City and drove downtown to pick up the four bags and bring them home from the Convention Center, allowing us to dismantle the booth without having to keep an eye on the goods. I am not sure if Stan had ever been followed before or was even concerned about being followed, the way I always was. He had never traveled alone with the bags, nor had his tires ever been slashed. He had never been followed in a mall on the way to the parking lot. He was not the one with nerves of steel and eyes in the back of his head. Why hadn’t my father trusted meto bring my bags home safely?
While we were packing up our lights and show paraphernalia, Stan picked up the four bags at 1:00 PM and drove home with them, into our garage, arriving around 1:30. He was rushing because he had an appointment in his office at 2:00 and didn’t want to be late. He had a lot on his mind. The housekeeper was there, but Stan didn’t honk for her to come outside. He opened the trunk, took two bags in the house and went to open the safe, leaving the other two bags in the unlocked trunk with the garage door open. When he came back to the car, the other two bags were gone!
Stan stood at his open trunk, his now empty trunk. Was he going crazy? Where did the bags go? Weren’t there two more? Had the housekeeper brought them in? No, she was still vacuuming upstairs. So where were the bags?
It wasn’t like him to be hasty, inattentive, or imprudent, even for just a moment. He simply wasn’t experienced in carrying jewelry. Vigilance and constant watchful concern were learned traits that I’d developed. This wasn’t expected of him.
Had he even wondered a tiny bit that someone might have followed him home, or had he thought to look in his rear view mirror just to check? And then he’d left the trunk unlocked and certainly made it easy for whoever might have tailed him. With that disturbing thought Stan rushed to the office, where his client was already waiting for him.
Did I think it was Joshahari who had robbed me? No one else had called to verify again and again exactly what time the show was closing. He’d been to the house and knew where I lived. However, we didn’t witness him taking the bags out of the trunk. In fact, even though he said he wanted to see the new collection, he never called to ask for merchandise again, not then, not ever.
I was very angry, and it took several months to get over it.
I wasn’t angry with Stan. He had a lot on his mind and wasn’t thinking of the danger. What upset me most was not having been trusted to take care of everything myself. Why was I perceived as less capable, when in fact, I was more competent, more experienced and more adept than anyone at watching over my valuable collection? Had I not been a woman, my father would not have asked Stan to bring the bags safely home, and everything would have been different. The irony here is that most of the time, a woman loves to have a man as her protector, myself included. My father and my husband were doing what they thought was best for me. So how could I be angry with them?
It took time to process my feelings of exasperation, dismay, and frustration, resenting my family’s intrusion but glad for their concern.
Set up: A new client, a woman with a beautiful store, asked me to bring her diamonds to show her customers. I knew a diamond dealer and went to see him.
“Maurice, I have a client with a beautiful store at the Bonaventure Hotel. She asked me to bring her a few nice stones, at least two carats each.”
“How well do you know this woman?” Maurice asked.
“I just met her. She has an impressive store, full of expensive jewelry and accessories that are all name brands.”
“Listen,” Maurice said, “I don’t know her, but I know you. I trust you, you understand.”
Maurice really liked me and wanted to help, but he added most emphatically, “I’m dealing with youand not with her. This is your customer.”
“I’m not worried. Her husband is a big shipping magnate in Japan.”
Maurice gave me five stones on my signature, a total value of $96,000, and he told me to add a four percent commission for myself. He did not want to know my customer. He was dealing only with me, and I would be responsible for the bill, with the understanding that Mrs. Yu could return the stones if there were no sales. The five stones were loosely stored in little folded papers. Maurice advised me to keep them safely in my bra while I was walking around downtown. That was so strange. I remember telling myself, “No one knows you are walking around with diamonds in your bra, Adrienne. You are fine.”
I walked to my car with the diamonds in my bra, drove to see Mrs. Yu, and gave her the five diamonds in exchange for her signature on a memo that said the stones were mine. I gave her permission to offer them to her customers, with the clear understanding that by my consigning them to her, she held no right of ownership. I didn’t own them either and had signed a similar memorandum for Maurice. Title would not transfer to her until she paid me. She was to let me know in a few days. If she sold them and handed me a check, only then would the consignment become a sale to be invoiced. If not, the diamonds would be returned.
That afternoon at our son’s little league baseball game I thought, “Wow, if she keeps all the diamonds, I’ll make an easy $4,000!” But there would be nothing easy about this transaction.
A few days later I called Mrs. Yu and was told two of the stones were “sold.” Mrs. Yu’s customer was a real estate broker who would take them as soon as escrow would close at the end of the month on a house she sold. A third stone was under consideration as well. I picked up the other two diamonds and returned them to Maurice. “Remember,” he said, while deleting two stones from the paper I’d signed, “I’m dealing with you, and not with her.”
Then my troubles began to unfold, as I attempted to collect either the remaining three diamonds or the money for them. Over the following few weeks, Mrs. Yu gave me one crazy excuse after another. “The diamonds are in Japan.” “The escrow was extended.” “I’ll have money for you soon.” I would go to her store, and she wouldn’t be there. A few more weeks passed.
I’d been in situations like this before with deadbeat customers. I’d figure it out once again, wouldn’t I?