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Thursday, Mar. 07, 2002
We had reason to pay a social call last night.

For some weeks Stu has been engaged in an ongoing relationship with the Filipino Mafia. There happen to be many, many folks who originally hail from the Philippines in this area, a small cadre of which are jewelers by trade. My corporate pal has befriended a couple of them through the attentions of Chef Ike and is now doing a brisk trade involving jewelry and furniture.

Which is to say, we make the furniture and swap it for jewelry. I suppose everybody wins.

The last such transaction involved a grim little man known only as "the Governor". Working out of a corner of his garage, he does masterful work with gold and precious stones. This being my first visit to the inner sanctum of Mafia jewelers, Stu parked the truck, cautioned me to hang back and act with a reasonable amount of courtesy and knocked on the garage door with a 'shave and a haircut' rap.

Have to tell you, it was the first time I'd seen anyone try to access a garage with a coded knock.

The door opened and a half dozen slightly sinister looking Filipinos glared back at the two paunchy white men. The Governor relaxed when he recognized Stu, but I got the distinct impression that if I'd broke into a little song and dance routine about then that my bullet ridden corpse would have never left the driveway. Stu bowed slightly and asked if the Governor was ready for his furniture.

We hauled in the entertainment center which we had spent a couple of days (and a profound amount of libations) casually knocking together in the shop. The Governor ran his hand over the sleek oak surfaces and nodded. His cronies grouped around critiquing and kibitzing and making sounds of admiration, no longer quite so suspicious. In fact, they got decidedly friendly. One of them went so far as to pull out a solid silver flask and offer a snort, which I politely refused.

We were in. The Fellowship of the Mings.

After handshakes all around Stu and I got back in the truck and I asked, belatedly, what that had been all about. He grinned, slipped a hand in his jacket pocket, pulled out a cloth bag and handed it over.

The Governor had been busy. He had fused an amethyst the size of an acorn to a solid gold ring and inlaid some diamonds around the perimeter. Further shakes of the bag revealed a gold necklace that was at least twice as heavy as any I'd seen, given its' size. Three Sacawajea gold dollars (which were real gold, not that cheap US Mint stuff) strung on finely beaded chains.

I felt like an Aztec chieftain, sitting there with all that booty.

And granted, any jeweler can get his hands on some spare gold and crank out whatever he wants. Perks of the trade, so to speak. Just as we could use up some of the scrap wood around our shop and turn out works of art with only our labor time involved. We had stumbled onto a situation where each set of artisans could benefit from the others' largesse. And both sides believing that they were getting the better end of the deal.

I dunno. Seems like five grand worth of jewelry beats five grand worth of wood furniture. Even if it is very nice wood.

Fast forward to last night, our social call. The entire Mafia having signed up for our mutual exchange program by now, we were invited to an anniversary party for one of the jewelers and his wife. We had made the 'essential' list on the local Filipino party circuit.

Tomorrow - the story continues.

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