FROM THE INSIDE

★ ★ ★ ★

THE SWITCH

Image by Gift Habeshaw

By Ryan M. Moser

My second-hand Brooks Brothers suit smelled musky, its Good Will scent wrapping my body like a constrictor. I had an old pair of Ray Bans on my head and a fake Rolex around my wrist. I carried myself like I had money, but to any discerning eye, my shoes would have given me away. I no longer wore Prada loafers since the divorce, only fifteen-dollar Walmart specials. My feet hurt and my heartbeat raced, blood rushing to my ears. The suit and new haircut were an investment—a tool of the trade to complete the ruse—but I didn’t feel important inside. That confidence had left me some time ago. Maybe when I moved into the motel. Or lost my truck. Who knows, it could have been after buying crack for the first time.

A bead of sweat ran down my cheek as I stood there evaluating the engagement ring. It didn’t seem big enough to warrant an $11,000 price tag, but who was I to appraise it. A short tag curled around the band and unraveled to display the magnificence of its owner: 1.3 carat white diamond, B Color, marquise cut, high clarity, 8.8 rating on the G.I.A. index. The diamond sparkled brilliantly under the fluorescent light as an eager, bland saleswoman handed me a jeweler’s loupe.

“Take a closer look. It’s one of my favorite pieces,” she gushed. “This is a great example of exquisite fire. And you can see the lack of salt and pepper spots.”

“Stunning.”

I was sweating under my dress shirt as I held the overpriced token of love in between my right thumb and forefinger, twisting it slowly under the loupe. It was a dazzling marvel of science. The carbon atoms had crystallized over millions of years to form a geometric wonder deep in the Earth, unaware of how extraordinary they had become. The precious stone was probably found in South Africa by some poor, haggard laborer, shipped across 5000 miles of cobalt sea to a gem cutter in New York, polished into a fine work of art, and finally sold to the very Zales Jewelers that I stood inside of now, waiting for the perfect moment to steal it.

“The setting is fourteen-carat white gold with clusters surrounding the solitaire. We can resize it and offer a one-year repair warranty plus complimentary cleaning.”

I tried to act casual while scanning the glass case in front of me. I had to strike up more of a conversation to distract her, but Margaret seemed all business. I held the loupe in one handand the ring in the other, scanning the many engagement rings lying on a bed of red velvet. Their luminescence was blinding.

“Your hair looks nice, by the way,” I said studying the case. “I wish my girlfriend would get highlights like that.”

The average thirty-something blushed and flipped a curl over her ear. “Well, thank you. Flattery will get you everywhere. So… what do you think?”

I held the expensive diamond under the loupe one more time for show and decided it was time. I tried to act natural: a loving but nervous boyfriend choosing a gift for his life partner.

“l actually adore it, but I’m torn between this and the emerald cut we looked at before.” After placing the loupe on the glass counter, I gestured inside the case, making a point to glance at the security guard by the door. The saleswoman bent over to retrieve the one I was pointing at and her attention was momentarily diverted—that was all I needed. I expertly cuffed the ring in my right palm and dropped it into my pants pocket, then pulled a fake ring from my left pocket, holding it out noticeably. The switch took two seconds. As she stood upright and began to give me the next ring, Margaret paused while looking at my hand, and a jolt of fear went through my stiff body.

“Oh, I’ m sorry. Only one ring can be out of the case at a time.” I looked at the cubic zirconia dummy pinched in between my shaky fingers and nonchalantly passed it over, immediately distracting her with a question about insurance. My technique was as flawless as the rare jewel in my pocket. The saleswoman explained the insurance plan as I watched her place the fake in its new cushioned home; a wave of relief came over me. I felt electric and invincible.

“l don’t know. It’s so hard to choose.” I looked down into the case one last time at the ten-dollar, faux diamond engagement ring from Spencers, bought in the mall less than an hour ago. The replica was close, but still looked like costume jewelry to me. I wondered how long it would take for the retailer to find the counterfeit. “Why don’t I think it over tonight and come back to see you tomorrow?”

Seeing her commission slowly slip from her grasp, the go-getter sighed imperceptibly as I handed her the last option back. “Okay, I’m in at noon. Just be sure to ask for me,” she said, pointing at her stylish name plate.

“I sure will, Margaret,” I replied, already thinking about my next heist. “I sure will.”

Ryan M. Moser is a recovering addict serving a ten-year sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections for a nonviolent property crime. Previous publications include Evening Street Press, Storyteller, Santa Fe Literary Review, The Progressive, themarshallproject.org, medium.com, thewildword.com, thestartup.com, and more. In 2020, his essay “Injuries Incompatible with Life” received an Honorable Mention award from PEN America, including publication on pen.org. Ryan is a Philadelphia native who enjoys yoga, playing chess, and performing live music. He is a proud father of two beautiful sons.

This column was made possible with the help of Exchange for Change, a non-profit based in Florida that teaches writing in prisons and runs letter exchanges between incarcerated students and writers studying on the outside.

Exchange for Change believes in the value of every voice, and gives their students an opportunity to express themselves without the fear of being stigmatized. Their work is based on the belief that when everyone has the ability to listen and be heard, strong and safe communities are formed, and that with a pen and paper, students can become agents of change across different communities in ways they may otherwise have never encountered.

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