Is the curse of death and murder one and the same?
Can an inanimate object hold such power?
… or is she really alive?
“The Black Widow of India”
By Stephen James
I am one who believes in the theory that; to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. This may or may not be true. Either way, fear of unknown powers has always haunted mankind. The mystic supernatural and spectral paranormal beliefs and disbeliefs have been ever-present throughout time, in all the fetching four corners of global society. What has always intrigued me, is the odd fact that a person who can enter a dark forest alone under the blackened cover of night, can be the same person who freezes at the sight of a mouse. Or an individual who can go into battle wielding a sword, facing the highly-possible chances of certain death, can wince at the sight of a spider…
Such is life. Go figure?
A poorly-paid Hindu miner swung his pick at the wall, deep down in the oil-lamp-lit chamber of the Ramji Bangla-Masood diamond mine in the Rayalaseema region in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It was a lucky strike, missing the enormous rough gemstone by millimetres. At his feet, but yet difficult to discern in the poor light, lay the largest black diamond ever discovered. Still clinging to a house brick of worthless ore, the near-spherical back of the widow offered a faint glint of her ravenous beauty. Then, his well-trained eyes caught the immense crude shape leaning against his ankle forcing a shriek of exasperation. It challenged a cricket ball for size supremacy. He knew he would be rewarded for the find. A mere pittance compared to the rock’s true value, but to Shamata, it was more than he could have ever have prayed for. He summoned his foreman. The unusual stone, totally opaque in appearance, was brought to the surface. Unfortunately for Shamata, he died in an obscure undisclosed circumstance the following day ─ never receiving a solitary rupee from Ramji Bangla-Masood Diamond Mine Company for his remarkable discovery. Was it murder?
It had just turned 1893. The country, known then as British India was in the middle of its crown rule period known as British Raj. This century-long rule which terminated in 1947, followed immediately after the country’s pillage by the East-India Company, 1757 ─ 1858. This financial giant of a company was an ugly autocratic organization funded on the back of the opium industry, trading mainly to China. After the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British government assumed full control, dissolving the trading company. Queen Victoria’s Imperial rule destroyed India’s local handloom industry to fund its own industrialization. India finally gained her own independence in 1948. And the rest, as they say, is history…
Even back then this flawless coal-coloured stone was worth a fortune. Carefully revised ready for cutting, the uniquely-shaped jewel had a main pear-shaped section with eight auxiliary stumps attached ─ hence the name. The gemstone’s enchantment grew when it was seen to have the need for very little cutting-waste. Only a fool would have cut it down to a more traditional shape. Within a year of delicate and intricate fashioning, its pendeloque-cut contained over four-hundred facets, and boasted nearly five-hundred carats. The ‘legs’ each contained thirty facets. The Black Widow was immediately implemented for sale, in an attempt to recuperate the mining company’s losses, which had steadily built-up as the mine began to run dry of stones. She fetched £125,000, the equivalent of roughly £13,000,000 in today’s money. Traditionally, opaque stones are not as valuable as clear one’s, however, her unique shape and size forced the value up.
Now proudly owned by Sir Riley Pompous-Stwitt, and worn by his wife on occasion like an imitation-paste fake, the prized bauble was never taken seriously because many believed it to be too large to be real. Sir Riley Pompous-Stwitt was the owner of a merchant shipping company containing twenty-eight cargo vessels of varying sizes. In an obscure turn of events, fifty-two-year-old Riley passed away in the arms of his lovely wife Mildred in 1903. At the time he was in perfect health. According to Mildred, now the owner of the twenty-eight-strong steamship fleet, the last thing he heard was an eerie whisper. She described it as obscure. This bizarre phenomenon continued, with the unique diamond going missing the following day. Rumours surfaced about her selling it on cheaply to fuel her gambling habits. This she categorically denied. Fourth and final chapter of the ill-fated Pompous-Stwitt’s saga, was the regular monthly sinking of her fleet. Tee-totalling Mildred committed suicide as a pauper…
Lost for over three decades, the rare gem turns up in Turkey. It was during the winter of 1936 when a Russian diplomat, on appointment to Ankara, discovered the Black Widow in a second-hand shop sitting on a window shelf, flanked by two snow-globes, a tardy historical ashtray and a chunky dolphin-shaped paperweight. At first sight, Ambassador Trikarchstrov who was with his wife, strolling past at the time, stopped to admire the ashtray. It was engraved with a Gallipoli memorabilia poem in brass, but appeared to have not been polished since Armistice Day. She drew his attention to the black jewel which had a price tag of fifteen lire on it, saying the necklace would be nice to wear when she accompanied him to the next conference. They purchased it without knowledge of the gemstone’s true value. She wore it to the symposium, getting compliments in abundance, only to have suffered a dreadful car accident when being driven home. Adding venom to the VIP’s twin deaths at the hands of a speeding truck driver, was the callous stealing of the necklace from around Mrs Trikarchstrov’s throat by their chauffeur. This man, an Afghani by birth, now working for the Turkish government, had emerged unscathed after the truck T-boned the car’s rear section. He fled the scene with it in his keeping. So enigmatically dramatic were the circumstances, including the hostile accusation of an assassination conspiracy, that the missing rare diamond was completely overlooked.
Time, as we all are aware, waits for nobody…
A further nineteen years which included World War Two’s intense theatre, slipped by, without the rock showing its beautiful alluring charm to society. Thought to have been missing for over forty years, the once-legendary Indian treasure unexplainably turns up in France during 1956. Popular actress Amelia Bourgeon juá Aqua purchases it by auction for the sum of 260,000,000 francs. The glamour-queen, beehive-wearing, superstar managed to wear the prized neckless on several occasions. Her pizzazz completely stole the gem’s attention. When shooting a movie on location at Switzerland’s Jungfraujoch, an accident happened. Soaring views over Aletsch Glacier from the railway station, which is carved into Mt Jungfrau Mt Mönch and the Eiger north face, attracts thousands of sightseers annually. The waterfall scene became too much for Amelia Bourgeon juá Aqua who plummeted to her death in tragic circumstances, swallowed by the passion of the moment. Her irretrievable body, now part of the mysterious web of legends that encompasses this unusual place. She was not the first.
The jewel, housed nearby, was nowhere to be found when her premises were searched. The fortress-like security had everything locked like Knox. It had not been stolen. The Black Widow of India disappeared again for just shy of twenty years…
The tabloids couldn’t keep a lid on things. Media-hype blew out of all proportion. ‘The black phantom diamond’ was more popular when it was missing than it was when it was around. Rewards were offered but nothing surfaced, until, private antique collector Astropheles Contropholous, found a pottery tea kettle he liked. It was three-hundred-years old and its lid was jammed firmly shut tight. He got it cheaply because of this fact. In his excitement to draw pleasure from glaring soulfully at his teapot, the Greek billionaire accidentally broke the pot on his kitchen table. His house, on Lake Chesapeake, erupted when the big black widow spilt out onto the table. He knew what it was the moment it rotated to a standstill and faced him straight in the eye. Its chain trailing out the back resembling a thickish thread of interwoven spider’s silk.
Now on permanent display, guarded by the very latest 1973 technological devices available at the time, the enraged carbon arachnid sits in his armoured basement. It is set up for privately invited guests only. Behind a series of glass windows, were glass shelves, each one adorned by a magnificent piece. Astropheles would visit his collection daily, every piece had a story attached, and each meant far more than whatever it was that he’d paid for the item. The extraordinary amount of money he spent on security was not to protect the monetary value, it was to safe keep their stories. Astropheles donated most of the contributions from visitors who offered money for his time and efforts, to the local special school. He loved all his treasures and said the widow seems to move about at night. He maintains it has been caught on infra-red CCTV. He never showed his legend-fluffing promotional video-footage to anybody, simply because, he never would part with any, therefore all their secrets were locked inside his heart. The new accidental-owner was not a greedy man, therefore did not deserve to be punished, nor was he a flaunting type. He wasn’t a womaniser. He had no enemies.
Well… that certainly would be the case in fairy-tale-land…
Sixteen months later, after a wonderful journey of sharing his wealth and joy with the world, everything changed. Winter of 1974 brought a new twist in the spider’s tale. For no reason other than plain outright daredevil, gentleman thief; Bamberg Astmoton had decided he must go for the legendary rock before spring has turned, to prove to himself that he was indeed, the finest jewel thief in the country. What brash young Canadian, Bamberg Astmoton had no idea of, was that, at exactly the same time, not five miles away, Joanna Chase was planning an identical heist. On the identical day. Both had chosen Saturday 7th December to hit the Contropholous stronghold. Astropheles had a much-publicized trip to Las Vegas planned. He would be away for forty-eight hours.
The few remaining guards were to Bamberg simply pawns to make his job more exciting. Joanna Chase had other ideas. Her plans were quieter, lighter, one step behind, to become one step in front, less visible… a smaller cat.
Bamberg scaled the walls easily without being seen. It was midnight. The ruggedly attractive thief wore complete black. He felt the guards’ presence as if by sixth-sense. He moved silently and cleverly, out of view of the CCTV cameras. His briefcase of high-tech tools flashed in the moonlight. The door locks were like a child’s toys, as were the alarm systems and laser-protected shelves’ control systems. Bamberg needed very little light to see. Joanna watched his every move. She was already there. Joanna was completely at home with these magician-like moves. Her shadow was even smaller than his. The last thing he knew was, by replacing the identical weight of the stone with his dummy weight, when he had his hands on it, the rest would be simple. Without this, an alarm was sent by micro-code to the head guard, now outside, smoking. His escape route was planned to perfection. He just can’t afford any mistakes. There it was in front of him, staring back saying ‘Please steal me!’
The gem was lifted with surgeon-like care – the dummy slipped into position as though it were alive. Eyes snap-frozen. Ears wide-open. No sounds or mistakes. Time to leave. Bamberg Astmoton knew that the laser light web, which crisscrossed the entire home would change its code in fifteen minutes. It would be reinstated. The alarm’s disablement was only a temporary one. His gloat had to be a momentary one and there was no such thing as a ‘selfie’ back then. He whisked his way towards the rear where waiting, was the famous glass elevator shaft, which followed down the cliff to Chesapeake Bay. It was where only two guards were placed and where he had a small boat waiting.
But he didn’t get there…
Waiting at the top of the see-through glass shaft was Joanna. “Put it back,” she said, firmly.
“Are you mad? Where did you come from?”
“Put it back!” she said, a sterner reinforcement in her tone.
“Why should I? Are you the police? We both have to be gone in…” He checked his Rolex. “In less than eight minutes, or…”
“Look. I’ve caught you red-handed. You don’t know who I am,” said the woman, her voice melting with an ambient glow through the glass walls, into a spell. “If you try to escape, I may be forced to shoot you. If you put it back, then, I may be enticed to fall in love with you!” She stepped closer. He stopped completely. A small gold revolver sat firmly as a gravestone in her shapely hand.
“Now, that’s very flattering miss?” he waggled the priceless gem like a pebble. Its chain flopped, resembling a swing below his wrist. He noticed her suffocating beauty in what light there was. “I may not want your love!”
“You’re wasting time, Bamberg, I have you in a catch-twenty-two situation. Put it back and I’ll let you go. I’ll even give you my number. I think you are breathless!” Joanna’s nitro-glycerine body formed an alluring focus. “You don’t want to get caught.” She already had him at; Put it back!
The charming thief had no plan B here. He had no time to stall. He indulged himself with twenty-more-seconds of her beauty, turned and replaced the black diamond on its podium. Their paths crossed, she winked, placing a card in his gloved hand. Her face could stop a tornado.
“Miss Chase,” she said. “Miss Joanna Chase… Now, say nothing and go!”
Stunned by it all, Bamberg scampered towards the elevator shaft and dropped his nylon rope. He secured it, just as planned, minus the gem. He waved. “Au revoir!” In a way, he had stolen it. And gotten away with it. For a few seconds at least. He puttered off into the night.
Upon return, Astropheles was distraught. He couldn’t handle the drama of the reported intrusion. For three days he festered. The muddled-minded Grecian jumped into Chesapeake’s freezing bay, in the height of winter.
Three weeks later, the Canadian dials the number next to her name…
“Yes, hello… Who is this?” her voice still like Swiss chocolate.
“It’s me, Astmoton.”
“Oh, I’m so glad you have called. Christmas is spent but I can see you for New Year’s Eve?”
“I’ll come at seven. Where?”
“45 Dear Lake Pass Drive. Come at five…” Joanna had a wicked laugh. She hung up.
At precisely five, he stood in her doorway. The buzzer enticed a reply through a speaker. “Is that you Bamberg? I might keep my word.”
“It is I,” he said, a little trapped by it all. Was she a cop? Was this her clever way?
“Good. It is now unlocked.” Her tone through the speaker warm and inviting. “Please come and make yourself at home. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
Sequestered by her timbre, he pushes the door and proceeds, his footfalls still feline. In his mind, he hoped she was some book writer, after the ultimate thrill story. In his heart, he hoped it wasn’t the FBI or similar. She met him in the lounge, seated. A magnificent lacy dress with tight satin midriff pleats washed down the leather chair like a waterfall. He started at the bottom, where her shoes rivalled a dancer’s and worked his way up to her neck. Her hands clasped together in her lap. He strode up closer. She lifted the pendant around her neck and revealed its widow bauble. Her significant smile nearly knocked him over. “I couldn’t steal it. If it wasn’t there now, could I? No offence meant or anything.”
“You spicy little minx. You had me put that back. Just so that you could steal it as well?”
“Kiss me you fool! What does it matter which one is the cleverer thief!” Joanna stood up like she meant business here. “It is ours now.”
Bamberg leapt into her arms, attracted by everything about her. They hugged so tight that in a strange turn of the wrong page, both somehow choked to death on the chain, there and then. Again the widow vanishes from the scene. In July 2018 the stone was discovered by accident in a diamond mine in India called Ramji Bangla-Masood. Long since closed, the mine is now a theme park for the daring cave-loving types. It sat in the same rock wall, covered with rubble-mud, back to where it came from over a hundred millennia ago. A New Zealand girl on tour picked it up.
Released again, against its spidery will…
What bloodshed will she inflict during her next century’s travels?