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Excerpt from

Web of Diamonds
by
Keith Rutledge

The first real job that I ever had was working in a jewelry studio, doing metalwork. Engraving, setting stones, and some casting. Normally, I' m a wood guy; give me a few big blocks of hardwood and I' ll make you something pretty, or furniture, or both. That said, I' m not exactly unskilled when it comes to smithing, and I knew a guy who knew a guy who needed a silversmith; out of humble beginnings, and you know the rest. I met the shop owner at his store for an interview and we hit it off immediately, even though he was so much more professional than I was. Slicked-back black hair, sunglasses indoors. Dapper-ass silk vest buttoned over a crisp white shirt. No jewelry except for a little silver and emerald tie tack. Two bodyguards who sat around playing cribbage and looking tough. That was the Spider.

I really should have known better. The Spider had a reputation around town for being a real tough guy. He also had a reputation for almost, but not quite, getting into deep trouble; arrested trouble, legal trouble. Gambling, mostly, horseraces. I' d never gambled before in my life and didn' t really intend to start, but things got a little more complicated. I got a lot more stupid.

Because of who he was, the Spider always had the radio on in the studio, tuned to the horse races. Most of the time it was just me, the Spider, and Ralph in the studio. Ralph was the guy one rung above me. He' d been working for the Spider for years. He was an older guy, really quiet, just sat there and worked on his projects in silence. Sometimes someone would come in and walk through the studio and into the back room to place a bet, and more rarely someone would actually want some jewelry. Most of the time it was just me and Ralph sitting across from each other working, while the Spider walked the studio.

The Spider was intense about his horse races. He' d pace back and forth across the floor, listening intently, his hands behind his back, as the announcers gave the play-by-play. The man could work up a good sweat just listening to a horse race.

Listening to all those races, and watching the Spider get so excited, I got a little interested in it myself. I read the racing forms that the Spider left around the shop, and did a little research of my own whenever I thought I' d found a good bet. I' d throw down a hundred, maybe two hundred sometimes. It was easy and fun to walk up to the Spider and tell him I wanted to put down a hundred on Papa' s Moustache in the third. Sometimes I lost, but most of the time, I won. I found that I had a knack for it.

One of the Spider' s customers came in one morning, all smiles and carrying a briefcase. He went into the back room and came out a little bit later without the briefcase. "Hey, kid," he said. "I just put down fifty grand on a horse. Best feeling in the world."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, kid. It' s a sure thing, Edsel Muffler in the third at Belmont, to win."

"Win' s a sucker bet, but good luck," I said.

"Don' t need it." He grinned.

I sat at my table across from Ralph and thought. I drummed my fingers on the table and played with the jeweler' s loupe and looked through the racing form for Edsel' s Muffler, in the third, at Belmont. She was the favorite.

"Bad idea, kid," said Ralph. He still had his loupe in, and was working on some intricate chain attached to a silver disc. Ralph never talked about his work. Hell, Ralph never talked period.

"What?"

Ralph shook his head. He put down the loupe, stood up, and walked into the back room where the Spider was. That was the most Ralph had ever said to me.

I drummed my fingers on the table some more. Then I called a friend of mine down at the track, who said that it looked like a sure deal. I called another guy I knew at the newspaper, and he said he had five thousand riding on her. I still wasn' t sure, so I called my sister.

"It looks like a sure thing?" she asked.

"As sure as it can get," I said. "I' m sure."

"Well, baby brother, go ahead and do it," she said.


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