1        Napa



Jess Jameson drove her rental car across the San Francisco Bay Golden Gate Bridge toward Napa, California. It was a familiar drive. Looking down at the water below, she saw sailboats racing with the wind billowing their sails. She speculated her friend, Dean Crain, was probably on the water today. Her friend loved the energy of the wind. Once Dean motored his boat away from the Oakland docks, he unfurled his sails, and the wind didn’t dare to not appear. Wishing she was on his pretty sleek boat, she left a message on his cell phone to remind him she was going to Napa for vacation. She took one last look at the beams of the bridge and liked the contrast. The International Orange paint was specifically chosen to create the color play. The orange blended well with the countryside. The bridge became an icon for its inhabitants and an enjoyable view while crossing to Marin County.

She was approaching the Marin County hills as she exited the bridge. It was an affluent area and popular with the tourists who came to visit Muir Woods, Stinson Beach, or the Point Reyes Lighthouse. She smiled, because the Point Reyes National Seashore was one of her favorite areas for taking photographs. The redwoods in Muir Woods were her second favorite attraction. She would save some of her vacation to visit one of the places, because Napa was her current focus. Napa was the main attraction on this trip.

Jess laughed remembering her friend. Dean Crain, an elderly gentleman and good friend, who showed her the sites of San Francisco.  He took her to the wharf, where they ate fresh seafood out of paper cups and watched seals on the rafts. Perusing the museums, they saw old, very large, beautiful oil paintings. He took her to the tourist shops and bought her jade jewelry. The diamond exchange was checked out. Using his poker winnings, a stunning gray single pearl necklace with diamonds was a surprise for her birthday. A ghost restaurant was exciting one evening when they drove south from San Francisco along the coast. They sat outside with covered blankets, sipping their after-dinner coffee. The evening sky dimmed, and the stars came out. Both were disappointed when no ghost appeared. Jess told him, “The ghost wasn’t there anymore.” She knew it disappeared.

Dean couldn’t help himself. The day with Jess had been good. He looked over at her snuggled in a wool blanket. The fringe surrounding her blonde hair made her look like a model in a cover magazine. He said, “No way.”

“Yes, believable. You must know?”

“Okay, I give, what must I know?” He waved his hands in the air like a wand, wishing the bewitched ghosts to appear. He glanced at the other restaurant patrons. They were wishing the same thing.

Jess scrunched up her face at him. “There’s an easy explanation. Ghosts couldn’t live forever on our earth. They ran into problems with our atmosphere. The laws of gravity broke down around a ghost body. The more remote the ghost body was from earth, the more it lost its hold. Then the ghost drifted away into the night much like the way a con artist vanishes.”

Dean told her, “You’re beyond the normal.” It was a complement. She made him laugh.

They wandered through gigantic redwood trees located north in Muir Woods. Jess brought her camera gear and was glued to her lenses the whole time. Dean didn’t think she saw the trees until she gave him three framed photos for his birthday. There were so much more than the trees. Light- and dark- colored leaves catching dew in between towering branches were the images. She captured the soul of the old trees. Dean was pleased. He saw the complicated woman in those photos. It was her signature.

Waiting patiently while she tried on soft pima cotton sundresses and matching sandals, he purchased them for her to leave on his sailboat. Then she could stay any time. She ordered him captain’s hats from around the world. He wore the hats when they cruised out of the bay. His crew knew all about Jess. Dean was happy whenever she was onboard. There was laughter, excitement, and fun. The chef knew to prepare vegetarian as part of the meal course. Dean’s crew treated all his guests with courtesy and professionalism, especially her.

Dean showed her the better eclectic dance bars his daughter frequented when she was alive. One of the bars was Caribbean calypso music. She went crazy dancing with one of the patrons putting on a fantastic show.  She matched the intricate dance steps with her partner so that people cleared the floor to watch. Dean dragged her the next day to a music store and let her find her perfect song. It was number six on his seventy-five-foot sailboat sound system. There was a number seven song, but most of the time on the sailboat cruise, she hit number six. His crew loved the sound, because Jess would let go and dance on the boat deck looking like a magical, ethereal free spirit. The crew started walking the calypso dance in their work routine.

Dean missed his daughter very much, having lost her to an overdose of drugs. He called Jess “darling” once. No one ever called her that name. She asked Dean about the word. He told her that’s what he called his daughter. It meant beloved. He felt the same way about her.

Jess lived through a little difficulty. She learned at an early age to trust no one. Her father disappeared from life after her mother’s death. Jess didn’t know how to help him. Being an only child made her lean more toward a self-sufficient nature. She became more independent and carried the weight of responsibility of the adult world upon her shoulders. That lack of trust would move her away from people. Jess would try to handle everything, except there were things she couldn’t do, and she must trust someone. Dean became the person she trusted.

Upon her arrival in Napa, she saw several wine stores. She thought it would be a good idea to check the local wineries she knew if there was time. Driving down the main thoroughfare of Napa, she turned the corner.  Seeing the jewelry in the window and then the large sign, she knew she arrived at her destination. The rental car was parked across the street.

First, she ordered a tuna salad sandwich and soda at the quaint restaurant as she sat at one of the outside tables. There was a slight warm summer breeze today as she watched tourists bustling in and out of the trinket and T-shirt shops. It made a parade of color in all sizes and shapes. Children were bouncing along the pavement from too much rainbow snow cones. She heard the vintage train whistle in the distance. It was the wine train tour that went to Helena and back.

Tossing her wrapper and empty containers in the garbage, she went across the street to the jewelry store to check the place out and see if the building blueprints matched. While in the store, she looked around until a man in his mid-twenties came up to her. He saw a pretty blonde woman and thought she looked like a good prospect to sell the store’s jewelry to. He noticed she was looking at diamond necklaces.

“Good afternoon, my name is Bill Barker. Can I help you find a diamond necklace?”

“Yes, I’m interested in the Fancy Violet Gray necklace.”

“You must know diamonds because most people would not have known the color name. It’s a perfect match to your beautiful eyes.” He pulled out the mist-colored necklace.

Jess looked at the small stoned necklace and told him. “It is lovely. Can I see the other two necklaces?”

Pretending to examine the necklaces within the sixteen-thousand-dollar range, she moved as close as she could to the two-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollar diamond necklace without attracting the salesperson’s attention to the priceless object. She quickly glanced at its case which was under a series of overhead light canisters.  The light was aimed at the gray velvet mannequin head to enhance the glitter fire sparkle of the precious cut stones.

The diamonds were matched exactly in size, color, and brilliance on each side from the center of the necklace. The original designer was an artist finding such perfectly matched stones. They looked better than she remembered in their platinum setting. The necklace’s interesting clasp design made it unique. The necklace was an exact match to the one she held briefly in her hands when an elderly lady brought it into a small shop in Los Angeles. It was the very same necklace.

Jess thanked the sales clerk, “I’ll be back.”

“I would be glad to welcome someone who obviously loves diamonds. You could always special order anything you desire. It is a pity we do not have any colored stones like the Darya-ye Noor.”

“The pink diamond, one of the largest in the world, is very beautiful in the pictures. It would be impossible to find a stone today with such colorful brilliance. But you never know what the earth can cough up or what has been secreted away for centuries,” said Jess.

“You are knowledgeable about diamonds, too. It is an interesting story. The stone has changed hands many times and not always willingly.”

“Yes, I know the story. Where large diamonds are involved, there is always a tale about any exchange. Some stories contain facts and some history gets lost, accidentally, of course.”

The clerk was suddenly very interested in this new tourist. She was bright, indeed. “Accidentally is probably an understatement. Do you need directions to your hotel?”

“No, it’s just a couple miles down the road.”

Returning the next day, she asked, “Can I see the Fancy Violet Gray diamond necklace once more?”

The same young sales clerk waited on her again.

“Which hotel did you say you’re staying? Was it the White Heron Hotel or The Old Gaslight Inn?”

Jess looked askance at the nosy young man. “I hadn’t really said which one.”

He saw her concern and hastily replied, “Oh, no problem. Both were good hotels. You should enjoy yourself in their excellent wine shops. I’m very familiar with the local wineries if you need any help there. Or if you want good food, I know exactly where the best restaurants are in town and can show you. All you need to do is say the word, and I’ll be available. I hope you will return to see the necklaces again. It’s nice to talk to you.”

Jess left the building and paused on the corner. “I didn’t mean to attract the man’s attention.” She had talked too much. Worrying about the sales clerk, she moved toward the restaurant.

Sitting across the street, she sat with her latte coffee watching everyone and everything. Taking a bite of her raisin scone, she annotated in her special shorthand code all the information on her small personal computer notebook. The keyboard was red which she liked very much. She wondered why they didn’t make the keyboard a swirly red with a touch of pink. The sales for that item would have been astronomical. Most women would compare the colorful keyboard to another favorite accessory, like super expensive and tall, absolutely must-have, six-inch heels. Jess laughed. She was riding the wave crest of her high thoughts. Her imagination always took her off to a different wavelength. Did other woman think the way she did? No, Jess knew that she was one of a kind.

If anyone stopped to ask what she was doing, she explained she was writing a book about the history of grapes. Talking about the mission fathers who brought the grapes to Sonoma around the 1800’s, she explained that the locals long ago called them mission grapes. Later there were the gold rush farmers who planted grapes because farming was more profitable than panning. The tourist would yawn and quickly leave because they came to Napa to drink the grape. History was a passé subject unless a person was on vacation on a bus tour in New York City. The appeal of her explanation to the Napa tourist was about as interesting as watching a gorilla crush a tin cup at the zoo. Jess crushed her empty paper cup and threw it in the trash.

“I made it, good shot today. I’ve missed the shot the last two times. It must be my lucky day.”

It was time to get serious. She noted all the in-store information and then the external such as security cameras, store owners, tourists, buses, cars, even how long the stoplights worked. This was her last jewelry heist, and then she could retire to this small group of islands. She already purchased a tiny and very old cottage there with a friend’s help under a different company name. Jess drove to the small hotel in Napa.

Everyday Jess ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the small restaurant across the street from the jewelry store. She did this routine for two more days repeating the same watchful lookout process. Then it would be time to hide the blueprints and dig up her tools and gear. Jess Jameson was there in Napa to steal a diamond necklace, a very specific diamond necklace. It was her family’s heirloom stolen from her mother years ago.

She entered the con artist game willingly. The game could be cloaked in deception and high danger. She knew the risks. It didn’t matter, Jess was determined to succeed. The diamond necklace was rightfully hers. Nothing and no one was going to stop this secret mission.

Her face and posture sitting at the small outside table reflected a young woman in deep writer’s concentration. Jess blended in with the crowd. People wouldn’t remember her face. It was her intention. She was ready for the robbery tonight. Her mask and costume would be worn. She would become someone else when she opened the door. Diamond obsession overtook her. Her misty eyes watered for a moment and she shook her head. Emotions weren’t allowed. Steel strength was required. She hardened her heart and told herself that everything would be fine. She would be in and out fast.

Jess looked thoroughly at the outside of the jewelry store and its heavy window glass the previous day. Right before the clerks left, she saw one of the store assistants turn off the store’s upper inside security cameras. She wondered about that action. Perhaps the manager wasn’t worried because the jewels were placed in a large safe and the glass cases were empty. It seemed a cheap mistake. The maintenance cost on those cameras was expensive. The store manager more than likely dropped his maintenance plan on them. It was an unwise decision.

The front and back door had alarms connected to a small, local security company. She knew how to disable those alarms. She had driven by the security company and the door was locked and no one was around. She figured that business was also a little lax in protection. It would seem like a hiccup in the security system door alarms due to the shortness of time off the grid. Jess knew how long it would take her to get into the safe. She also knew where jewelry stores kept the expensive stuff, top shelf always. Jess was confident in her abilities. Opening the safe was a no brainer. It was child’s play for her.

Once she stepped through the door of the con artist game, the door would be difficult to close. Everything would come through the door into her world. Jess unknowingly placed herself in harm’s way.