One of the closed doors off the entryway had a sign naming it as Azu’s office. The host opened the door, and gestured for Barney to enter.
Barney assessed the room. The wall paint and flooring was in no better condition than in the main area of the house, and a high, narrow rectangular window let in some light. A white grain wood table sat in the centre of the space, adorned with a fluorescent light, a notepad and a pen. A pair of slightly rusted filing drawers in the back corner, with a set of decrepit jewel analysis tools sitting atop them.
It looked like a barely functional office, let alone for someone in the precious jewels trade.
Barney looked to Azu with a raised eyebrow. “You do know presentation is important when it comes to people wanting your business, right?”
The man gave him a beaming smile. “My efforts are channelled into the presentation of the raw material brought to me. I may not do as much business as those down the road, but the quality trumps the quantity. Basic economics then determines the price of my work.”
“True enough. The less of a valuable good raises the price. But it wouldn’t let you have a more presentable house?”
“I only tell you this because I trust you. Claudio does not send just anyone to see me, so I shall do the same. It’s all for show. The people at DMC are extremely devious, and try to destroy their competition. Many other companies from other countries tried to establish a base here, but usually pulled out under unexplained circumstances. Because the house and office are very modest, they do not see me as competition.”
“Even with the quality of your work?”
“They go for quality and quantity. I don’t let greed cloud my work, or unsustainable supply practices. My work volume is not enough to threaten them.”
Azu went to the drawers, opened the top drawer of the left set. He flicked through the file dividers, finding a spot and reaching in. He quickly removed his arm and shut the drawer. The top half of the drawers separated slightly, just enough for a set of fingers to reach in between. Azu did so, and then braced himself as he pulled. The top half quietly slid along the wall, revealing a lighted panel hiding within the lower drawers of the set closest to the room’s corner.
“It’s a one person elevator. Watch your step, as it starts descending the moment weight is placed on it.”
Azu stepped over and onto the panel, a low hum starting immediately. He lowered slowly, disappearing into pitch black. Barney heard a click, and saw the glow of white light just before the panel returned to his level. As he descended, he was astounded at the difference between this underground room and those above as light flooded the room.
This room was the embodiment of the precious jewels maker. Fluorescent tube lights shone down from the ceiling, bathing every surface in a sanitising white light. A central bench had a jewellery lathe and a polishing wheel at its centre, and all the other machinery required for diamond cutting and polishing. The walls were covered in picture frames, some showing pictures of cut diamonds and others certificates or awards. Glass cases sat below them, with some unsightly cut diamonds within them, with dates and a number. The crudest looking item had number one.
Barney looked to Azu with shocked surprise. “I have to apologise.”
The African smiled that broad smile. “No need at all. That you reacted that way shows the effect I am attempting works well.”
“And those DMC people wouldn’t suspect this portion of the house exists?”
“They may, but they don’t know how to get in here. The old, decrepit tools I have above are what I show when I’m asked what I use. Though they are very old, they actually work. The only issue is the time it takes me to complete the process. I do use them every now and then.” After the pair sat opposite each other at the bench, Azu held out a hand. “May I have Claudio’s gift?”
Barney nodded, and handed over the container with the materials inside. “I must warn you though. Best you wear gloves, just in case.”
The man shrugged, and pulled out a pair of latex gloves from underneath the bench. Once he put them on, he removed the lid of the container. His expression did not give much away as he held the material, turning it in his hand to look at it from various angles.
He frowned as he looked back up to Barney. “And Claudio says this is Carbonado? I have never seen a raw diamond that looks like a clump of melted wax.”
Barney nodded. “He scanned it multiple times. It came up with same answer.”
Azu shrugged again. “He has the best assessment gear, so I’ll trust his word. They don’t give you unreliable work gear when they send you to another planet.”
He reached over and picked up a small hand-held diamond saw, and carefully sliced a small portion off the side of the clump of material. It was like a butcher cutting into a ham, saying that the saw was extremely sharp. He sliced again, removing the very thin portion with two flat edges. Placing it on the dark panel, he pushed a button that made the panel light up brighter than the lights above. He reached into a drawer under the panel, pulling out a little black eyepiece, through which he looked at the sliver of Carbonado. He sat back suddenly, speaking a word Barney did not know.
Barney looked at him concernedly. “What is it?”
Azu looked at him, shock on his face. “It is definitely Carbonado, but I’ve never seen something moving within a black diamond before.”
– X –