The Collector (Part 2)
I had just finished an hour-long Skype session with Franz and sat down in the reclining seat. A loveseat a friend of mine calls it. I sighed. It was Friday early evening and Ann was here. She heard me and asked you okay mai? Yes, I replied, I need a drink. Ann checked the time on her smartphone and smiled approvingly. I smiled back. She knows my routine. I do not consume alcoholic drinks during the day. The threshold into the drink-free zone is 6 PM. Pastys or Ricard? Any will do and go easy on the water I replied. Made myself comfortable in the recliner and added: Ann I have to think!
Sipping my drink nibbling on stuffed green olives she sat next to me with a bottle of water. Ann’s a lovely and sweet girl and knows me quite well by now. Apart from a few everyday phrases, her English is almost non-existent. We converse almost exclusively in Thai. When my son died accidentally last year Ann was a big help get me back on my feet. She is sensitive to my moods and feelings. Pen array? What’s wrong she wanted to know. I started to explain about Franz’s problem with the stamp collection but did not get far. Oh, the satemp man with Thai fan, she cut me off. Yes, I said and let it be at that for the moment. How, I wondered, could a 25-year old Thai girl who’s world centers around her smartphone, talking with friends, playing games, sending texts, taking pictures, be interested let alone understand the joys and sorrows a book of old stamps could bring to a grown man.
When I next talked to Franz another week later, he had met with the guys in possession of the stamp collection. They were 2, both from Pakistan. I have a confession to make. Call me a racist but Pakistanis are not my favorite people. There is a reason. In my early days in LOS I had to obtain a work permit by order of the Thai Consulate in Kota-Bharu. It was urgent. My next visa was on hold. At the time they issued 3 months non-immigrant visa, twice renewable on a THAI turn around flight to Penang. All done in an afternoon. Easy times, yes! I was referred to a Pakistani-Thai guy in Phuket. He did it but it took much longer than expected and an extra journey to Malaysia for me. He also charged me the exorbitant sum of 35K baht, half of it paid in advance. What really bugged me was the day he took me to the hospital for a medical. Not that I ever saw a medic or had any tests. But the piece of paper that supposedly stated I had no contagious disease cost him 50 Baht. He argued with the cashier lady because she charged him 50 instead of 30 Baht. The regular price, he said, for that sort of document.
Franz met with the Pakistanis, in the meantime I googled myself a few sites about stamps, collectors, forgeries and other. The first and most important thing I learned was that expertly done forgeries are difficult to detect and expose. Particularly stamp-seals or similar overprint-stamps that are often used in passports or official documents. Even personal lettering seems to be easy to forge. Personally, I have zero faith in so-called font or handwriting experts. Here is a prime example I remember from way back in the 1980’s.
In 1983 German forger Kujau and freelance journalist Heidemann produced and sold Hitler’s Tagebücher to the renowned German magazine Stern for millions of Deutsch Marks. They were to be serialized in the magazine and later the world over after having been officially authenticated by eminent English historian and WW2 expert Hugh Trevor-Roper. Only when it was proven later that the diaries had been written on paper produced long after the war and Hitler’s death was the forgery exposed. Most of Stern’s money was never recouped and the magazine’s publication not only nose-dived but the whole affair became the laughingstock of much of the world during the trial that I followed at the time. The forger & journalist served relatively moderate prison sentences.
Lek had sold the Pakistanis the 2 stamp collection books for a mere 100 CHF a piece. They obviously had the books appraised later, thus learning the real value of the collection. They proposed to sell them back to Franz for an astronomical sum. When he refused, they pulled another rabbit out of their hat or dirty trick box.
Franz continued: Lek had told them that I was in possession of some homemade stamp-seals to overprint the yet uncancelled stamps in the small envelope they were also holding along with the books. Thankfully, I had kept them apart and they were still in my possession. But that is not what I told the Pakistanis. I threw them away is what I said. They did not believe me. Think it over, they suggested, we’ll meet again in three days.
That gave me time to do some enquiries. What I found out was not encouraging at first. The two bogeymen were part of a larger group of scammers and possibly not unknown to authorities. I gathered as much information as possible including the name of one of the 2 thugs. And a yet unsolved break-in in a master villa along Lake Zurich. Strong suspicion of the group’s involvement pointed in their direction including some possible and circumstantial evidence. When I met with the 2 guys again it was soon clear that they wanted to find an agreement rapidly. More so when I showed them part of my hand of what I had discovered about their unsavory doings. Now their attitude changed. We can clear this up and terminate today. Just give us the overprint seals. I repeated that they were no longer in my possession. If they continued to pester me, I would not hesitate to inform on them.
Police matters are no problem, we will deal with it our way, they said. I laughed that one off. Guys, I said: This is not Pakistan or Thailand, not even Nigeria, home of the scam letter artists. Or any other countries where all sorts of officials can be bribed and bought with money. Not so here, I continued giving them a short lecture. Together with one or two Scandinavian countries, Singapore, and New Zealand, this country’s institutions top the worldwide list of incorruptibility year after year. Try and bribe a policeman or any government authority and you will immediately double the sentence that awaits you for the break-in and other offences in my country that may come to light in an investigation I have yet no knowledge off.
Days ago, my last call with Franz I learned of the latest developments. It was hopefully my last meeting with the two fish-eyed bogeymen, he said. If it were a sporting event, I would have to call it a draw. A compromise more realistically he continued. Obviously intimidated by my resistance to submit to their demands and my dimly-veiled threat to involve police they would renounce any further demands and return one of the collector’s volumes for what was their nominal price of 100 CHF. My assurance not to take it any further as they intended to leave the country in the foreseeable future. They agreed to return the first, completed volume which was the more important to me in monetary value plus the obvious sentimental value to my father’s memory. The additional envelopes with stamps were not mentioned but remained also part of their loot. The overprint stamp-seals also were not mentioned again. It may not have been the best outcome or compromise but having to deal with thugs as Franz called them, one has to accept losses. In truth, despite my threat to involve police I would have been reluctant to do so for obvious reasons but they didn’t know that.
We continued our conversation but turning to more pleasant things. You still coming to LOS next year? Yes, sure as soon as the stringent travel restrictions are lifted. And I will stop-over a day in Bangkok before going on to my favorite island. What about Lek? Not to worry, the stamp story behind it saves me going to that forlorn village all the way up north or northeast.
Ann is here again tonight. Pointing on her smartwatch she indicated that it was aperitif time. She was impatient and I knew why. Earlier on I had started to prepare ingredients for a meal that she actually likes. Among her many qualities, cooking is not one of them. Mostly I cook or we go out. She likes a typical “Swiss Berner Platte.” A favorite of mine too. To her it’s an exotic farang style dish. Most of my other culinary creations usually just get a lukewarm okay, can eat, dai! To me it’s a piece of home in these difficult times we’re living through.
I took the first sip of Ricard but Franz was still on Skype. Before goodbyes I remembered something I wanted to say. My congratulations on the way you handled the thugs and especially your lecture on the difference of government officials or civil servant in corruptible and in clean countries to the two phonis. That was spot on. It certainly impressed them. I suggest there is now a well-qualified other nation to add to the first. Cyprus. A recent report of an investigating unit on Al Jazeera TV. They discovered that criminal elements could have their past completely erased there. Get a new name, a new identity and to top it all, a brand-new Cyprus passport allowing unrestricted travel in all EU (European Union) countries. For a steep price of course.
I concluded our chat saying: Good job that we (meaning our country) never joined that ill-fated club. Franz happily agreed!
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