Sanka Ashtray

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[Bidding on this Significant Object, with story by Luc Sante, has ended. Original price: $1. Final price: $17.79.]

Only now do I feel free to tell my part in the theft of the famed Light of the East diamond from the home of Roscoe and Mindy Furgarden in Beverly Hills in the summer of 1979. The 517-carat colorless gem, one of the world’s largest, had disappeared and reappeared many times in its tangled history. Its latest reemergence, among the effects of the Marquis of Glendale, had occasioned a crowded and contentious Sotheby’s auction that was won, to the dismay of all, by an anonymous telephone bid placed on behalf of the Furgardens.

The identity of the winner was sufficiently well concealed that the Furgardens felt no hurry to stow the diamond in a vault. Mindy needed to spend time staring at it, in her boudoir, where the illuminated five-part dressing mirror enhanced and multiplied its splendors. She couldn’t keep her mouth shut, though, and happened to tell her very best friend, Sheila Showpony, all about it on the terrace of Sheila’s Elizabethan cottage in the Hollywood Hills, right when my friend Craig was crouched nearby, cleaning out the pool filter.

Craig wasted no time organizing a crew of four to heist the rock. Sully was driver and lookout, Rat the lock specialist, and Craig and I were set to penetrate the boudoir. We frankly had no idea how to go about fencing the thing, but it was too rich a score to pass up. We learned that the Furgardens would be attending a charity polo match on the evening of June 18th, leaving the house in the care of their housekeeper, Mildred Swing, who was known to suffer from narcolepsy, and a retired cop named McDrain who acted as majordomo and security guard. McDrain’s weakness was the dog track, so we faked a hot tip on the sixth race to get him out of the house.

As we pulled into the driveway, the night was clear and we felt confident. Rat eased open the rear service entrance and we were in. We tiptoed up the stairs and found Mildred watching The Rockford Files in her room, her eyelids drooping. We easily found the master suite; within, the second door we tried led to Mindy’s boudoir. And there on the vanity lay the biggest diamond any of us had ever seen, lying casually on a chamois cloth like a naked movie star sprawled on a satin sheet.

Then the lights went out. We never found out what happened — had we cut an electric-eye beam? But we went into action mode. I wrapped the stone in its cloth, secreted it in a pocket of my jumpsuit, and we ran, bent low, down the carpeted hall and the carpeted stairs. We jumped into the car and made straight for our safehouse on the outskirts of Burbank, listening for sirens.

We yanked all the shades down and turned on a single light. I pulled the package out of my pocket. With slow, dramatic gestures I unwrapped it, only to discover… a Sanka ashtray. It was about the same size. In the dark I must have — I didn’t want to think about it. The others left me bleeding in an alley with the ashtray jammed into my mouth. I hung on to it for years as a bitter reminder, but eventually I drove to the nearest Goodwill box and shoved it in. And the stone? It disappeared that night and was never seen again.



Luc Sante's books include Low Life, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, and Kill All Your Darlings.

17 thoughts on “Sanka Ashtray

  1. You fool! Look closely inside the iconic font – Reninga OT(?) – used to push this revolutionary, decaffeinated drink of leisure. Can’t you see the crystals? That’s how the Furgardens tried to hide the Light of the East diamond. And you dumped it into a Goodwill box. Good enough for you. Now a priceless gem is likely residing in my cousin Murray’s room at the YMCA. Bollocks.

  2. I’m sorry about your broken teeth. Contact me c/o General Delivery, George Town, Grand Cayman Island for full restitution.

  3. Since the story is about metamorphosis, I believe McDrain became McGruff, the crime dog.

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  6. With just under 3 days left to go, this item is now selling for $10.50 — starting price $1. So Luc Sante’s narrative has multiplied the item’s value ten-fold, so far. Pretty cool! Get your bids in…

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