One of the best scams I ever heard about was one that I read in a Bennett Cerf(!) book many years ago when I was in junior high school. In the spirit of April Fools Day, I’ll tell it here. It goes like this:
A Texas oil biilionaire, compete with jeweled-studded belt, cigar, and cowboy hat, gets out of his chauffeured Porsche and walks into Tiffany’s jewelry store in New York City. He goes up to one of the swanky ladies at the counter and asks to see the manager. The saleswoman, suitably impressed by the high roller, calls in the manager.
The billionaire reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small velvet box. He opens it, and there it is: an exquisite diamond earring with small rubies around the 18k setting. The manager looks at it, and his trained eye knows right away, this is the real thing. “Lovely. Do you mind if I ask of its provenance?” the manager asks, with more than a touch of envy.
The Texan explains. “Given to me—or rather I should say to my beautiful wife—by a Saudi prince who appreciated her charms and my oil fields. He gave her two of them, of course, and somehow the little lady lost one. Three weeks ago, she came home from a party at the Governor’s mansion, and she only had one on when she got home. They looked high and low for it, but nada. Well, it’s insured, so I’m not too sad, but the missus has been inconsolable for the past three weeks. Truth is, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since she lost it. She keeps me awake every night moaning about it.”
The oil man puffs on his cigar thoughtfully. “Her birthday is coming up, so I thought to make her happy, and to get myself some rest, I’d replace the earring she lost. So what I need is an exact match to this one here. I figured if anyone would have such an item, it would be you folks.”
The manager used the opportunity to pick up the earring again and look at it even more closely. He called over his partner to take a look, and sure enough, he, too, was impressed by what he saw.
“Look, I’m going to cut to the chase here with this,” said the Texan. “I’m willing to pay two and half million for a perfect match. You got it or not? Otherwise I’m on my plane back to Texas.”
The manager smiled helplessly. He looked at his partner. He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry sir; that’s a beautiful piece and we’d love to sell you another one, but we simply don’t have anything like it. You—”
The manager’s partner, however, coughed, and interrupted. “Give us two weeks. We’ll find one for you.”
“Well, that’s what I like to hear!” said the Texan. “I’ll give you a call in two weeks.”
After the Texan left, the manager turned to his partner wondering how his partner could have made such a rash promise to the man. How were they going to find anything of this quality in two weeks? It was madness. But his partner was optimistic, and they advertised everywhere they could think of, and pulled out all the stops with their network of merchants. They spread the word that they were willing to pay a million dollars for a perfect match.
Two weeks passes, and the Texan calls and asks if they’ve found a match yet. The manager and his partner have to admit defeat. Unfortunately, even with their net cast wide, they had had no proper leads. They were sorry they told him. They had misjudged the situation.
“Look,” the billionaire insisted, “I am getting no sleep. She’s barking up my tree every day and night, twenty-four seven. I’m willing to pay five million for the damn thing, just get it for me, and it better look like my wife’s earring. I’ll give you two more weeks!” The manager and his partner just shake their heads ruefully. They are no longer optimistic.
But a week later, luck comes their way. They get a message through one of their contacts that a French woman they know of knows of another French woman who says she has a very similar earring. She’ll sell it for four million dollars. The jewelers are skeptical. It’s probably not the real thing, but finally the manager decides to fly to France to take a look.
The next day he arrives in France and is greeted by a very young, very attractive French woman at her estate in the rolling countryside outside of Paris. He is invited in, served expensive wine, and then finally she shows it to him—the earring. He looks at it, wondering if it is going to be a fake. From a quick look, it was clear that while not an exact match, it was very similar to the Texas oil man’s wife’s earring; with a little expert work, it could pass. The only problem was, was it real?
“May I?” he asks the woman. She nods her head, and he picks the earring up to examine it under a loupe. There’s no doubt. It’s genuine. He thanks her, and expresses his interest. Within the hour, he is giving her a cashier’s check for four million dollars, and walking off with the earring locked securely in his briefcase.
As soon as he arrives back in New York, the manager calls the Texan with the good news. The Texan is thrilled, and says he’ll fly in to pick up the ring that evening. How would they like to be paid—in cash, check, bank transfer, whatever? The manager talks it over with his partner, and they agree, that cash would be best. The Texan is amenable to this arrangement and says he looks forward to getting the earring tomorrow.
“It’s an exact match, right?” asks the Texan.
The manager panics for an instant. He realizes, it’s not exactly the same. It needs to be re-set to be a closer match to the other earring. He has to buy some time. “How about you come down here in a week to pick it up. This way we can give you the proper attention you deserve. We’ll show you around New York.”
“A week?’ says the Texan. “I’m not going to last another week. I’ll be down there in exactly a three days from today, and you had better have my earring!” He slams down the phone and the manager is rattled; but he regains his composure when he reminds himself that he knows a few good craftsmen who can do the necessary work in three days if need be.
Three days goes by, and the earring is re-set. But, oddly, the Texan doesn’t show up that day. Or the next day. Or the next. When they call his phone number, they find it has been disconnected.
And one day, perhaps the First of April, they realized what must have happened. There was always only one earring all along. The earring they bought was the same one the Texan had shown them originally. And so they also finally understood why the attractive young lady who they visited outside of Paris, spoke French with what could only be described as a Texan accent…