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STORYLINE - 22: THE SWORD, A Salutary Tale of Misfortune

Updated on June 5, 2017

"What am I bid? Twenty - thirty - forty - fifty thousand at the back. Do I hear sixty thousand? Do I hear seventy thousand? Yes, on my left, thankyou. Eighty?..

Honjo Masamune sword, created when the Mongols invaded Japan...
Honjo Masamune sword, created when the Mongols invaded Japan... | Source

The auctioneer rattles off more amounts until the figure resembles telephone numbers. A million - and a half, two, three... five million Pounds Sterling, not US Dollars. One final bid is put in over the Net, anonymous, at six million. The gavel goes down, "Sold to an unknown bidder in Galveston. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Now, onto our next lot..."

An elderly gentleman rises from his chair at the back of the saleroom and totters, rights himself with the help of an aide and leaves the room.

"Are you well, Lord?" the aide asks as they make their way slowly through the door to the foyer. "You did not make a bid".

"You heard how the bidding leapt", the old man answers gruffly.

"Yes Lord", the aide walks stiffly beside his employer, giving support when needed. No more is said between them until they reach the street and the aide hails as black cab.

"Where is Masters?" the old man demands to know.

"You let him go a month ago, Lord", the aide answers apologetically, to which the old man merely grunts his answer.

"I know, I know!" His grey suit is threadbare, although well tailored, Savile Row 1939. A wing-collared shirt has a grey shadow to its collar from many generations of starching and laundering. A pins-nez rests on the bony bridge of his nose, worn long ago by his father at the time Germany was forced to yield its Pacific island colonies to Japan as a reward for siding with the western Allies after the Great War.

The sword he had come to bid for was a family heirloom, yielded to the Americans after the next word war in accordance with General Douglas MacArthur's ruling on such swords. The Japanese High Command had made a grave error of judgement and now - since the post-War era - here he was in London to take his ancestral sword home. But funds did not allow for even the low bid he was prepared to make.

At his mansion in the north-western suburbs of London the old man sighs. He is alone here in Britain aside from his aide. His father's friends and once his own sworn enemies. The wife he brought with him after King George's untimely death had herself long since passed away, her ashes in an urn on the mantlepiece of his Victorian mansion. It will be his turn before his homecoming to Kyoto, and he has little to show for his time as a diplomat in London before retirement a couple of decades earlier. Only an honorary title separates him from his erstwhile embassy colleagues.

At his desk in a twentieth floor office on an uptown Galveston avenue, billionaire Corby Baymore stretches and closes the laptop before him.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi painting of the lost Honjo Masamune sword,  lost Samurai sword of power
Utagawa Kuniyoshi painting of the lost Honjo Masamune sword, lost Samurai sword of power | Source

"Raymond, break open the Jeroboam", he tells his male secretary.

"You know what Doctor Feynman said about your taste for the bubbly -"

"Don't fuss, Raymond! I'm not going to empty the bottle on my own, you know that! You and the rest of the staff here will help me - and don't give me that business of bubbles getting up your nose. That's half the fun! Come on, boy, pop the stopper and I'll call in the others. You know, sometimes I wonder why I employ my grandson as secretary when I could hire something in short skirts with a better figure than yours... that doesn't answer back. Stella", he calls on his intercom, "Bring everyone in here for a glass of Moet".

"You got the sword, sir?" she asks by return.

"I did, Stella, so come in and get some!" The office buzzed with anticipation as everyone filtered through the glass doors to hear his speech.

"Friends", Baymore begins, glass in hand as Raymond circulates and pours. "Friends, as surely you all are, you all heard the story I told you a while ago about the sword I brought back from Japan in Forty-six. I told you how, when I landed here in the States it was stolen from my kit bag. I told you how I read it finished up in someone else's office in New York, then Birmingham, England. Now you will see the sword here on my office wall!"

He raises his glass with the staff of Baymore Investment Inc., and drinks.

The attack came days later at his home in the suburbs, well away from town. What brought it on?

The swordsmith Masamune, who created the sword at a time of stress for the Japanese when the Mongols invaded
The swordsmith Masamune, who created the sword at a time of stress for the Japanese when the Mongols invaded | Source

The attack came days later at his home in the northern suburbs, well away from his office in town. What could have brought it on at a time when he was on top of the world, having secured the sword with his winning bid?

The news came by e-mail from Raymond at the airport where he'd gone to airfreight deliveries, to claim the package from Sotheby's of London. It was well insured and packaged, but nowhere to be seen. The clerks and manager were baffled. The paperwork tallied well enough, as did the image on Sotheby's website against the documentation details Raymond held for the manager to check on his database. Everything was right, only the package was missing!

At ninety-five Corby Baymore was no spring chicken, but he was spry. He'd eaten what was best for him, cooked by his Chinese chef at home. He'd steered clear of red meat and enjoyed fish as well as other seafood. The odd beer appeared at the dinner table and life-sized card cut-out of his dear departed wife took pride of place at the other end of the long dining table. his family thought him a bit 'rare' for that, but there was no harm in it. He knew she was no longer about. But the sudden shock of shelling out all that cash, for the sword he'd considered his in the first place - and just vanishing into thin air - was just too much for him to bear.

Raymond, as his thorough-going secretary and loyal grandson saw to the funeral arrangements. The family came far and wide across the States and beyond. Everyone toasted Corby Baymore's memory, and there was no mention by Raymond of the sword.

After the lavish funeral Alex Baymore Junior, Corby's grandson by his third daughter and husband Alex, left his downtown Houston office in the family's black Mercedes for an address he'd never been to before. By his side he had a four-and-a-half foot long package. The drive took him to a large Frank Lloyd Wright architect-designed house in the middle of nowhere. It looked more like a hunting lodge than a mansion, but that was Frank Lloyd Wright for you.

A sombrely dressed Latino servant took him to a cool, darkened office on the east side of the mansion, and told him to wait.

"You have the goods?" A deep voice came from the far side of the room. A man wearing Ray-ban sunglasses appeared from nowhere, almost scaring Alex Junior out of his skin. He nodded back when Alex answered with a mute nod. The man bade him sit, "As long as you don't wear out the upholstery by fidgeting, as you did the last time you came".

Alex grinned out of habit but the wit was lost on him. He waited to be asked, "That is the package you spoke of, by your side Mister Baymore?" before fidgeting with it. The Latino lifted it swiftly from his hands and handed it to his employer.

"Careful with that", Alex muttered, hi outbreak met with a baleful stare from the bearer. He shut up and sat forward, on edge.

"We know the value of much here, Mister Baymore", the deep voice came again, stressing the 'mister'. He made a point, hoping for it to be understood. That at least wasn't lost on Alex, "unlike some".

He took off the Ray-bans and donned a pair of designer glasses, half-lenses. He raised the package, weighed it in both hands and proceeded to cut through the stiffened brown card casing, removing the bubble-wrap and then the brown manila paper from the contents. What he then held in the pale light the Venetian blinds let in was a thing of great artistic merit - a Japanese aristocrat's sword passed down through generations from the Fifteenth Century. The man drew the hilt so far but no further, enough for him to see that the contents were what Alex Junior said it would be: an heirloom worth almost eleven million US Dollars.

"You are sure you want me to set this against your gambling debt, Mister Baymore?" The man spoke to him only as 'Mister' to keep his distance. He did not want to be associated with the likes of common thieves. "You have no other collateral?"

Alex Junior cleared his burning throat and answered weakly that he was sure. The man couldn't mean the family car, surely? That was never worth eleven million big ones? The hilt was gently pushed back into the ornamented dark leather scabbard.

"I'll tell you what, Mister Baymore", the man took off the half lenses and smiled thinly. "This sort of artefact is of little interest to me. I'd probably put it up for auction and make a loss on the commission and tax. I'm doing you a big favour here in taking ten million off your account. You've got to find the other three million by the New Year - understand?"

Standing behind his boss, hands clasped low in front of him, the Latino stared balefully. Alex felt a shiver run down his back. At the desk the man put on the Ray-bans again and stretched his arms out in front of him, over the sword. The gesture said, 'You still owe me'. Then he took out an expensive-looking pen from an inside pocket.

"I will use your name to sell the sword, Mister Baymore", the man said and made notes in a handsome, crocodile skin diary with stainless steel hinges. "I shall contact you through channels, as and when - yes?"

"Yes", Alex swallowed. The Latino escorted him back to the main door, almost pushing him out, and the young fellow dissolutely swung open the car door, thumped down into the driver;'s seat and gunned the engine. He left the mansion drive in a cloud of brown dust, fingers pressed against the steering wheel. He drove like that back to Houston, fingers white where they gripped the wheel as if he were trying to wrench it from its housing. Where would he get three million Dollars by New Year - five weeks away! He could sell the Mercedes without his father knowing, but that would only raise a few thousand - tops... And his father's hackles. Another almighty row loomed over his gambling habits. How could he tell his family about stealing the sword from the bonded warehouse, that he held keys to without being entitled? That would bring more questions, and not just from the family. Stealing the sword brought about his grandfather's heart attack. The act of selling his father's favourite automobile would not bring the old man back. Gambling away the money he was given for college fees did not stand him in good stead with the family. And moreover where would it all end?

The sword was put up for auction at the New York office of Sotheby's in the name of Alex Baymore Junr, but as 'anonymous vendor' in the catalogue

General Douglas MacArthur takes the Japanese unconditional surrender aboard USS 'Missouri', September 2nd, 1945
General Douglas MacArthur takes the Japanese unconditional surrender aboard USS 'Missouri', September 2nd, 1945 | Source

It didn't matter to Alex Baymore Junior any more either. He'd driven the Mercedes into the side of a thirty ton tanker laden with volatile kerosene. End of Alex. End of story? Well, not quite.

Michael Summerbee saw the entry in the catalogue. He couldn't believe his eyes. It was the same sword put up for sale according to the vendor as "family decision to go to sale". The 'family' was Henry Oakes, Proprietor of the Golden Nugget casino in Houston, closed by order of the City Police Department for city and state tax evasion.

"My Lord", Summerbee addressed the urn on the mantlepiece, "perhaps your family heirloom will go home with you after all". A bid was put in through the London office of Sotheby's for eight million on the estate of Lord Kagasawa Masamune. The Gospel Oak mansion had been sold according to the wishes of Summerbee's former employer and a container was shipped to Osaka containing the priceless furniture and belongings, including two well-packed urns and a 'secret package'. Only customs at Tilbury Docks and Osaka were party to the actual particulars.

Summerbee's retirement fund was gilt-edged.


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Wonderful twist at the end. What goes around comes around, as we say in the States....perhaps crime doesn't pay but then it really did pay, didn't it, for many of the parties? Oh well, a very entertaining tale.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      An enthralling story, Alan. Expertly penned. Interesting photos too.

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 2 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Bill and John, glad you liked this offering. It comes from watching programmes on the 'Box' such as 'Flog It', showing people selling their family heirlooms at auction; and on the 'Yesterday' channel there was a documentary about the disappearance of another family heirloom, the Honjo Masamune. A Japanese police sergeant wrote down in his language what he thought he heard when a US Army sergeant gave his name on collecting the sword. Nobody in the said regiment recognised the name by what was written down. I've modified it (on a likelihood) to put this story together. Hey Presto!

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