• The Necklace – Part One




    Miguel Correa looked at the sun – in another half hour it would be down and the guards would drive them away from the tailings. He had a small shovel but mainly he was scratching with his hands, hoping to find a crystal large enough to contain a small emerald. He had been a miner now for the past year and a half at the Muso Mine in Columbia – backbreaking manual labor. He was paid $600 per month but was allowed once a week to glean for emeralds in the overburden that was uncovered as the strip mine progressed. Most of the time there was nothing to be found, but occasionally someone found a small emerald that they were allowed to keep. It was rare to find anything above 1/8th of a carat. Miguel had found a few and by the time he sold a gem to a dealer at the mine, he averaged a couple of hundred dollars. He toiled away along with other miners, trying to go thru as much shale and dirt as he could before twilight came. His small shovel hit something fairly hard. He dropped the shovel and started to brush the soil away with his hands. He could just see the top of a green crystal. Quickly, but without anyone else seeing, he covered up what he had found and marked the place not only in his mind, but also with a large grey rock.


    Miguel did not know it but he was the 23rd generation of the King of the Guaquers who used to rule this area. They were the first to find the emeralds and it made them rich among all the tribes in Columbia. Here in the foothills of the Andes, 65 Miles Northwest of Bogotá, was the mine that produces 20 percent of the world’s emeralds. When the Spanish came in 1537, the warlike Muzo tribe could see their intentions and so they covered the mine and let the jungle overgrow the rocks after driving the Spanish away.

    However twenty years later, the Spanish located the source once again and set up mining. With repeated attacks of the Indians they finally gave up in 1598. From that date forward, the mine fluctuated between full production and being shut down completely for years at a time. The only time that the mines were operated at peak production was between 1824 and 1909 when the Government of Columbia took full control and partnered up with mining companies, some of which were Diamond Mining Consortiums from Africa.


    With the instability of the Government in the 30’s there were many operators of the Mine who were in cahoots with the current ruling authority. Theft and fraud were rampant. In addition the corridor to Bogota was extremely dangerous, with Bandits and Rebels both using the eighty-mile road as a source of easy plunder. Emeralds coming out and payroll coming in were both prey. Even armored car caravans were not immune to being attacked. Still the mine ground away with laborers like Miguel willing to work for low wages and the chance at finding a few small emeralds.

    Now it was nighttime, and around 9:00 PM Miguel left the cantina where he had been drinking beer and quietly came up to the mine entrance – his friends Pablo and Geno were both there as guards. He had told Pablo he wanted to go in and hunt for some more emeralds and that he had a special large flashlight that concentrated the light beam into a pinpoint. Pablo said that would be okay, but he needed $100 for himself and Geno. Miguel protested but finally paid them in cash and slowly and quietly crept in. It took him 25 minutes to find the grey rock. He immediately put his hands down in the earth and brought up the stone – even in the dark he could see the gleam of the large crystals – about the size of a baseball. He fiddled around for another 20 minutes, then put the emerald crystal into the base of the huge flashlight and headed back. He didn’t have any trouble leaving, but told a sad story of how the new light didn’t work.


    He hurried to his hut, not even wanting to look at what he had found. He buried the crystals outside, five feet from the Northeast edge of the hut. His partner Juan was asleep along with his wife, Sophia. He said nothing that day, but then the next night he brought them into his confidence. Finally they brought the gem in and looked at it under a blanket so no one could see. They gasped at the size and quality of what they had. It was the largest grouping of emerald crystals any of them had ever seen. They could only guess at the weight. And it was a fortune if they could figure someway to get it to Bogota. Anyone leaving the mine was subject to a body search that examined every crevice, crack and opening in their bodies – both women and men – they even looked for scars where a gem was imbedded under the skin. Each miner leaving Muso was given a powerful emetic that cleansed the stomach with induced vomiting and docolax that cleaned from the stomach down. They were required to stay for 24 hours in case they had ingested stones. No one had ever heard of anyone successfully smuggling an emerald out. The one’s who had been caught were beaten savagely and dismissed – they had to make their way back to Bogota on foot. No one was allowed to give them a ride. Some never made it – they were attacked by the banditos just for their clothes and what they might be carrying.

    The three tried to decide what to do. Could they just go west up to the beginnings of the Andes and trek along the snow until they got above Bogota and then go east? But that was unrealistic. Anyone suspected of leaving without a pass or a search became the immediate subject of pursuit. Again, no one had gotten away by trying this route or any other one.

    “What about the Vampiro?” Sophia asked. “The Bloodsucker,” said Miguel. “He will either steal our crystals or cheat us someway or another. “ “But we have to try,” Juan said. “That is our only way to turn what you have found into money and a way out of here. We have been here 19 months, and saved $5000 with all of us working every day. This is our chance to escape this prison and begin living a good life.” “Let me go,” said Sophia, Valdez the Vampiro will treat me differently and I think I can bargain better. I’ll only take one of the smallest crystals and see what he says. It would be worth about $30,000 on the retail market in Bogota.”

    “Okay, Juan said, but we need to be extra careful – we will watch over you the entire time.” So Sophia went to see Valdez – the next evening. She was a very attractive woman and the Vampiro greeted her with a big smile. “What do you want Chicita? Did you come to show me a new dance?” Sophia said, “No,” but she had something she knew he would be interested in. “And what would that be?” said Valdez. “I know that you buy crystals from the mine, and I wanted to see what the going price was,” she said “Where is the emerald?” he said, rising to his feet. “I don’t have it with me, but I can get it by tomorrow evening. How much are you paying a karat?” said Sophia. “I have to see the rough stone before I can tell you. A nice one karat gem might be worth a thousand dollars.” “That’s all, she said. I thought it might be much more.” “Well, I have to see it, then I can tell you,” said Valdez.

    The next evening Sophia took a one-carat crystal they had chipped off and went again to Vampiro’s shack. It was larger than any of the workers and he had four bodyguards living there. Valdez greeted her, but was so anxious to see the emerald that he even bypassed offering her some Matte tea. He also wanted to see the stone by himself, so they went into the back of his rough building where they could be alone. When she unveiled the rough gem, he held it up to the light, muttered something to himself and then turned it over and over in his hands. “It’s too bad that there are so many inclusions, he said, otherwise it would have some value.” “So you don’t wish to buy it?” said Sophia. “Because you are a beautiful chica, I might be willing to give you something.” “What would that something be?” she asked. “Well, even though I may lose money on the deal, I could give you $350 for it,” but he didn’t offer the stone back – in fact his fingers showed a tight grip. “I should go somewhere else,” she said, I believe the stone is worth five times that amount.” Valdez’s smile turned downward and he said, “Who would you sell it to, I’m the only real purchaser in the camp.” Sophia said, “There are others, but none with the capital you have. I want to be treated fairly, so I’ll sell it to you for $1500.” “Nonsense, Vampiro said, that is ridiculous, I would never pay that much.” But he didn’t hand the emerald crystal over, so Sophia knew that the haggling had just begun.

    After an hour they had finally come up with a price of $750, at which price they both expressed that they were being cheated.
    Valdez told Sophia to come see him again, with or without stones to sell. Sophia said she would be back when she had something he would be interested in.

    But now it was very dark, not a time to be out in the narrow alleyways of the camp with cash in hand. She hurried along for five minutes, relaxing as she got closer to her shack. Then two men stepped out in front of her, and started to come close. Just as they were within a few feet, two other men came from a side alley, barely able to stand, drunk as skunks. They came directly towards Sophia and the other two. “Hey Que Paso, Amigos.” Sophia turned and quickly walked past as the two thugs started to talk with the drunks. Then she took full flight. She thought she could hear steps behind her, but she increased the distance, went past her hut and then doubled back. In a few moments Miguel and her husband came in. “How did you like our drunk act?” Miguel asked. “Without it, there is a good chance I’d be dead and we certainly would not have the $750,” she said. “But we now know for sure that the Vampiro will cheat us, probably kill us, and hide our bodies if we attempt to sell the emerald to him.”

    For a month they continued to attempt to find ways to get the stone to Bogota. It was all they could talk about. They were very careful not to change their work routine – they continued to search for emeralds on the day they were allowed to sift through the overburden. Sophia was especially anxious to get away from life at the mine. Finally she convinced the other two that it would be okay for her to go into Bogota for a week and look around very carefully for what would be a solution. It was consuming their minds day after day and she was afraid they would do something risky and stupid unless they found a way to move the stone soon.


    She came back in a week after being subject to four different searches on the way out. The two brothers were anxious to find out what she had discovered. She laid out her plan that night. They were dumbfounded and immediately said that they would not do as she asked. But she walked them through all of the other methods whereby they could smuggle out the stones and gradually they started to consider her idea.

    In the week she had been in Bogota she had learned all she could about smuggling, both large and small objects. There was one that she learned from a very old man – he said he was the only one who had ever gotten emeralds from the mine this way. It would involve her slicing vertically through the seam of the rear of the scrotum of each brother, removing a testicle and then substituting half of the emerald wrapped with sterile rubber. After the scrotum had healed, they would leave for the city. Even the most rigorous search would not find the stones. They finally realized that there was no other alternative to a new life.

    The plan was to have Miguel go first, and then if successful then Sophia and Juan would come as soon as they heard that Miguel was safe. It took three months for them to heal. It went as planned with a tense moment when the guard examined Juan’s genitals rigorously. They gave the cash in their company savings account to a banker at the mine who transferred it to Bogota. Both Miguel and Juan and Sophia were stopped by government troupes about 40 miles from the mine and had to go through another body search, but nothing came of it.

    Now they had other problems. Where to hide the stones, who to sell them to, what to do with the money, and where to move to if any news of there windfall came out.

    Again Sophia was the expert. She went to the largest buyer in the city with a full karat piece, using a different name. He offered her ten thousand for it, and wanted to know if she had more. Over the next two months she brought in two other similar stones and a relationship of trust was begun. The dealer introduced her to his family, which had been in the Emerald business for two generations. She told him she had access to two giant emerald crystals. They weren’t hers she said, but she was going to earn a commission if she could sell them for the right price. She brought the first part of the crystals and he offered her $500,000. She knew it was worth more, but she needed anonymity so she and Miguel and Juan could leave without a trail. They finally settled on $1,200,000 for both groups of crystals. Payment to be made into Credit Suisse in Luxemburg. Sophia and Juan made plans to move from Columbia – within a month they had said goodbye to all of their relatives, letting them know that they would come back for visits. For Miguel, he didn’t want to leave his hometown, and he decided to become a buyer of Emeralds.


    Joseph Ollivier
    May 2014

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