In the dangerous world of rare gem hunting, two brothers attempt to fulfill their father’s dream of finding the rarest diamond on earth.
Chapter 6 “East Berlin’s Buried Treasure”
East Berlin, Germany – 1967
THE STREETS OF EAST BERLIN were blanketed by sheaths of rain. Lawrence, Marc and Klaus tried to stay dry in their standard issue gray raincoats. Lawrence raised his arm to hail a cab but Klaus immediately forced it back down. Marc tensed.
“Do not draw attention to yourself! Do not speak English to anyone,” Klaus instructed. “Avoid eye contact at all times. And most importantly, keep your raincoat on.”
Marc shot Lawrence a look, “Easy Marc, keep your cool.”
The odd threesome entered the cab and drove through the dreary streets for hours. When they reached their destination, another cab was waiting. Klaus paid the first driver. “Lawrence, we must switch cars.” Twenty minutes later, they switched cars again. One hour after that, they switched once more. At this point, Lawrence began to share Marc’s concerns. The third cab came to a halt in front a dilapidated apartment complex. Lawrence and Marc followed Klaus to a rusted, splintered door. Klaus pounded three times, paused then pounded twice more. Silence. Suddenly, a large German slowly opened the door. He easily dwarfed Marc’s frame by half a foot. “Welche Unternehmen haben Sie hier zu haben.”
Klaus replied in German. Tension began to build until finally the large German pointed at Lawrence and said, “You. Enter.” Lawrence walked through the doorway, but the German planted his tree trunk sized arm on Marc’s shoulder. “Who is zis?”
“My attorney,” Lawrence smirked. Marc smirked then brushed the German’s arm off his shoulder.
The stale apartment had only a single light bulb hanging from the crumbling ceiling. They followed the German to a set of stairs. Marc stepped protectively in front of Lawrence.
“Come please,” said Klaus. As they descended into a dark, musty under dwelling, the sounds of men arguing grew louder. At the bottom, Lawrence and Marc could not believe what they saw: men from around the world trading rare gems, lost paintings and exquisite sculptures. This was a living, breathing bazaar beneath the streets of East Berlin.
Klaus smiled grandly, “Like what you see?” The brothers were at a loss for words. This was capitalism at its greatest in the most controversially communist faction in the world.
Lawrence spoke up, “These stones, those sculptures. They should be in a museum. In fact, they wouldn’t even be safe enough there.”
An older gentleman wearing street urchin garb approached Lawrence, smiling from ear to ear. “Hendersons! Welcome, welcome. So long I wait!”
“You know us?” asked Marc.
The old man laughed, “Ja! You are famous. Welcome to my house of trade.”
Lawrence looked over to Marc who was equally confused. “Sir, what you have here is extraordinary. How are you able to do this?” Lawrence asked.
“Ah, all men have their price, yes?”
These were words Lawrence and Marc had heard all too often. “As impressive as all this is, I must remind you that we are legitimate businessmen.”
“We don’t deal with contraband,” added Marc. An eerie silence filled the air. Klaus shot Marc a warning look.
The old man broke the silence, “Soso, soso. We have the right men.” The old man brought Lawrence over to a booth of fine gems. “Please, tell us their value.”
Lawrence paused for a moment. How could he give them an honest evaluation of something that had never been seen on the open market before? The old man grew impatient, “You must give us value.”
The big German put his hand inside his coat. Marc pulled Lawrence aside. “If you tell them what they want, we might lose our only bargaining chip to get out of here.”
“I have to believe that we were brought here for a greater purpose. Besides, if they intend to kill us, it doesn’t matter what I say.” As Lawrence reached into his coat, the big German pulled out his gun! Marc was quicker on the draw; his gun already aimed squarely at the old man.
“Wait, wait!” Lawrence slowly revealed his eye loupe.
The old man laughed again. “Es tut mir leid. I apologize for my bodyguard. We are not used to Americans. Please, proceed.” The two men slowly stowed their guns. Beads of sweat spattered Klaus’s forehead.
The silence was deafening. Lawrence examined brilliant rubies, starred sapphires and five carat diamonds. “From what I can tell, you have around ten million dollars in merchandise here.”
The old man held his thought for moment then said, “I need your eyes once more.” The old man then handed Lawrence a carefully wrapped item, “This is for you.” Lawrence carefully opened the small package. A tarnished, antique silver figurine fell into his hand.
“Silver is not my area of expertise…”
“Nicht, nicht!” the old man interrupted. “This is gift.” The old man wasn’t the only one showing interest in the object. The big German shifted uneasily as did Klaus, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Marc.
Lawrence bowed respectfully. “Thank you, I will treasure it.” The old man clasped Lawrence’s hand in an extended good-bye and left the room. Marc leaned into Lawrence’s ear, “Time to go before we overstay our welcome.” Lawrence agreed.
Klaus walked them back out to the cab. “Marc, Lawrence. I thank you for your assistance.”
“You’re welcome,” replied Lawrence. “And thank you for showing us a part of East Germany that I would have never imagined existed.”
Klaus continued to smile, and then said sternly, “Do not speak of this place. It would be a grave mistake to do so.”
Marc interjected, “Yeah, we get the picture. Let’s go, Lawrence.” Klaus stood watching as their cab pulled away.
Marc kept his eyes on the driver and their surroundings while Lawrence inspected the silver figurine. “Of all the exquisite items in that hole in the wall, I’m still trying to understand the significance of this piece. It’s late nineteenth century, poorly composited, about as valuable as an average piece of pyrite.”
Marc spotted the driver’s eyes from the rearview mirror staring at the silver object. Suddenly, the cab took a sharp right turn. Marc clenched his teeth while discreetly unlocking the back door. Marc grabbed Lawrence’s arm and whispered, “Jump out!” Lawrence thought he was joking. But Marc had never been more serious. “Now!” Marc swung open the door and the two of them tumbled out of the moving car. They rolled into a grassy park. Marc helped Lawrence up, “Those trees, run!” Neither of them wasted a second, they were now acting on pure instinct.
They reached the trees. Gasping for breath, Lawrence asked, “What the hell is going on!”
Marc pointed to the cab. It had pulled over to a gang of thugs. “Those aren’t the types to let us go.” Clearly, they aimed to rob them.
“But we have nothing except this old silver…” Then it dawned on Lawrence. “Klaus set us up. Whatever this silver figurine means to them, Klaus couldn’t get his hands on it himself. That cab driver was in on the plan.”
“Then give it to them. You said it yourself, it’s worthless.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Lawrence, you’re going to risk our lives over a piece of junk!?”
“The old man entrusted it to me. And I think I understand why. If we keep this, we open up a new trading opportunity built on respect and honesty. Someone has to take a stand against the corruption in this business. If we give it to those criminals, Klaus wins and everyone else loses.”
Marc took a deep breath and sighed. “All right then.” He then raised his raincoat’s collar to hide his face and whistled for the cab. “Kommen!”
“What are you doing!?” declared Lawrence.
“What Klaus said to do. Blend in.” The cab turned around and headed for them. Keeping his head down, Marc altered his voice and shouted to the cabby. “Hotel Adlon.” They both got into the car. Marc then shoved his gun to the back of the driver’s head. “Get us out of here and you’ll live to see your family.”
“Who needs Klaus when you’re holding the real universal translator,” Lawrence said with a smirk.