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Chasing the Pearl of Lao Tzu

追寻老子宝珠(二)

Barbish claimed to be the son of Al Capone, and he dressed the part, wearing open jackets, his bare chest heaped with gold chains. Whenever he happened to be near Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois, he’d place a Cuban cigar on Capone’s grave site, a tribute to “Dad.” In fact, his father was a butcher named Lester Barbish, who married Helen Ruben and had a boy, Lawry Barbish, in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

巴尔比什声称自己是艾尔·卡彭(绰号疤面,是一名美国黑帮成员,他在禁酒时期声名大噪,成为芝加哥犯罪集团的联合创始人和老大)的儿子,他穿着暴露的夹克,赤裸的胸膛上挂满了金链子。每当他出现在伊利诺斯州位于山坡上的卡梅尔山公墓时,他就会在卡彭的墓地上放上一支古巴雪茄,这是他对这位“父亲”的致敬。事实上,他真正的父亲是一个名叫莱斯特·巴尔比什的屠夫,他曲了海伦·鲁本,并在宾夕法尼亚州的纽卡斯尔有一个名叫劳瑞·巴尔比什的男孩。

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He moved to San Bernardino and founded the Church of All Faiths in a former five-and-dime store, using religious exemptions to start a bingo game there. Now he was Reverend Vic Barbish, ordained by the Universal Life Church of Modesto, a mail-order service. He published apocalyptic sermons in the local newspaper, while his bingo games took in about $80,000 a month. The city government finally realized he’d been investigated before, and revoked his gambling license.

他搬到了圣伯纳迪诺,在一家过去的廉价品商店里建立了全信仰教会,并利用宗教豁免权在那里开了一个宾果游戏场。现在他是维克·巴尔比什牧师,是由莫德斯托宇宙生命教会——一家邮购服务公司——任命的。他在当地报纸上发表了关于世界末日的布道,而他的宾果游戏场每个月的收入约为8万美元。市政府最终意识到他曾遭到过调查,于是吊销了他的菠菜执照。

No matter what Barbish tried, he couldn’t shake a scent of the illicit; the people of San Bernardino thought he had ties to the Mafia. He needed something to legitimize him, something solid. He found that something in 1979, when word came to him that Wilburn Cobb had died. The world’s largest pearl was for sale. The price of becoming a respectable citizen: $200,000.

不管巴尔比什怎么努力,他都无法摆脱这种非法的气质;圣伯纳迪诺的居民认为他与黑手党有联系。他需要一些东西——一些可靠的东西——来让自己合法化。他在1979年发现了一些东西,当时有消息说威尔伯恩·科布已经死了。世界上最大的珍珠正在出售。于是成为一个受人尊敬的公民的价码是:20万美元。

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“Victor was constantly saying, ‘I’m working on a $20 million loan on the pearl, and it’s going to be coming any minute,’?” one of his marks told me. Or he’d say he had a buyer: Ferdinand Marcos, Whoopi Goldberg. But at the last possible moment, the deal would fall through—if not from some calamity, then because Barbish was just too principled. In the mid-’80s, he said, an excommunicated Iranian princess had brokered a $40 million sale on behalf of a group in Europe. But when Barbish learned that the buyers were “all of a criminal, unscrupulous origin,” he called it off.

他的一个受骗者告诉我:“维克多一直在说,我正在为一颗价值2000万美元的珍珠贷款,它马上就要到我手中了”。或者,他会说他有了一个买家:费迪南德·马科斯、乌比·戈德堡。但到最后一刻,这笔交易将会落空——如果不是因为某场灾难,那么就是因为巴尔比什太有原则了。他说,在80年代中期,一位被逐出教会的伊朗公主代表欧洲的一个团体要促成一笔4000万美元的交易。但是,当巴利斯得知买家是“各种各样毫无道德水准的罪犯”时,他就取消了这笔交易。



Victor Barbish in 1984, not long before he moved to Colorado Springs and established the World’s Largest Pearl Co. (Laura Lintner-Horn)

1984年的维克多·巴尔比什,不久他搬到科罗拉多斯普林斯,建立了“全球最大珍珠公司”。

At other times, fate would intervene to protect the sanctity of Lao Tzu’s pearl. In 2004, Barbish told Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily that he’d received a $60 million offer on behalf of a foreign buyer named Osama bin Laden back in 1999. According to Barbish, bin Laden had intended to purchase the pearl as a gift for Saddam Hussein, “to unite the Arab cultures.” The deal was in place, but bin Laden’s representatives were stopped at the Canadian border.

在其他一些时候,命运则会介入其中,以保护老子宝珠的神圣性。早在2004年,巴尔比什就告诉《世界网络日报》的亚伦·克莱因说,他曾在1999年收到了一个叫奥萨马·本·拉登的外国买家的6000万美元出价。据巴尔比什说,本·拉登曾打算购买珍珠作为礼物送给萨达姆·侯赛因,祝贺他“统一了阿拉伯文化”。协议已经达成,但是本·拉登的代表在加拿大边境被拦住了。

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A constant presence in the legal saga was Peter Hoffman, the Beverly Hills jeweler who’d brokered the purchase from Wilburn Cobb’s estate in 1979. When a Colorado judge, fed up with all the legal wrangling, ordered the pearl to be sold at auction by August 1990 to settle the debts, Hoffman went to work. The bidding would begin at $10 million.

在这场法律纠纷中经常出现的一个人物是彼得霍夫曼,他是比佛利山庄的珠宝商,在1979年巴尔比什购买威尔伯恩·科布的遗产的过程中促成了这笔交易。当科罗拉多州的一名法官厌倦了各种的法律纠纷,下令在1990年8月前拍卖这颗珍珠来偿还债务时,霍夫曼就致力于达成这笔交易。当时的出价将从1000万美元开始。

Hoffman still owns a one-third stake in the pearl, and he’s always seen himself as the pearl’s rightful guardian, the only one who could successfully market it. Wilburn Cobb, he once told a reporter, “saw me in a dream with the three sages, Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tzu, who said I would be the next caretaker of the pearl.”

霍夫曼仍然拥有这颗珍珠三分之一的所有权,他一直认为自己是珍珠的合法监护人,是唯一能够成功推销它的人。他曾经对记者说:“我在梦中看到了三位圣人:佛陀、孔子和老子,他们说我将成为下一代的珍珠守护者”。

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For more than 20 years, the Pearl of Lao Tzu has remained in Colorado Springs. There, its secret is kept safely out of sight: It isn’t worth what the owners claim. In fact, it isn’t even a real pearl—at least, not as you might think.

20多年来,老子宝珠一直留在科罗拉多的斯普林斯。在那里,它的秘密被安全地藏在了人们的视线之外:它没有其主人所声称的价值。事实上,它甚至不是真正的珍珠——至少,不是你所想的那样。

If someone says he owns a 14-pound pearl, you’ll probably picture one of those familiar, very precious little gems, and multiply the value out of all proportion. Seemingly to generate such warped calculations, the appraisal prepared by Lee Sparrow in 1967—$40 million to $42 million—cherry-picked from the 1939 letter written by Roy Waldo Miner, the Museum of Natural History curator. Miner had asserted that the specimen “can truly be called a pearl.” With this established, Sparrow proceeded to calculate the object’s value as though it were one of those tiny round gems blown up to Guinness-record size.

如果有人说他拥有一颗14磅重的珍珠,你可能会想到一颗熟悉的、非常珍贵的宝石,并按照各种比例计算其价值。似乎是为了制造这种扭曲的计算结果,李·斯派洛在1967年的估价——4000万到4200万美元——是从1939年由自然历史博物馆馆长罗伊·沃尔多·迈纳所写的信中挑选出最好的内容来做出的。迈纳声称这个标本“可以真正地被称为一颗珍珠”。有了这个断言,斯派洛就开始计算这件物体的价值,就好像它是要冲击吉尼斯世界纪录的众多宝石之一似的。

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What was Sparrow doing? I located a colleague of his, who worked with him for 20 years (Sparrow passed away in 1990), and she recalls him as credible, even admirable. But with the Pearl of Lao Tzu, he was pulling a stunt. “I laughed my way through that whole thing,” she told me. She described how Sparrow was egged on by excited colleagues to inflate the number, until, in a collective frenzy, they reached $40 million to $42 million. If the pearl could attract a buyer at that price, then surely Cobb wouldn’t refuse to sell (and Sparrow would get a handsome commission). “It’s not like you’re breaking the law,” she added. “It just makes you look silly.”

斯派洛当时在做什么?我找到了一个和他共事了20年的同事,(斯派洛在1990年去世了),她回忆说他是一个可信的,甚至是令人钦佩的人。但在老子宝珠这件事上,他却耍了一个花招。“这整件事都让我大笑不已”,她告诉我。她描述了斯派洛是如何被兴奋的同事们怂恿去夸大这个数字的,直到陷入到一种集体的狂热当中,这一估价达到了4000万到4200万美元。如果珍珠能以这样的价格吸引买家,那么科布肯定不会拒绝出售(而麻雀也会得到一笔漂亮的佣金)。“这并不是说你违反了法律”,她补充道,“这只是会让你看起来很傻”。

The Sparrow appraisal left room for the pearl’s “historical significance” as well, claiming that the pearl had been “carbon dated to be ±600 years old.” But Michael Krzemnicki, who directs the Swiss Gemmological Institute and has written extensively on techniques for dating pearls, told me there’s no record of the pearl’s ever having been subjected to radiocarbon dating.

斯派洛的评价也为珍珠的“历史意义”留下了余地,他还声称这颗珍珠“通过放射性碳定年法测定已经有600年的历史了”。但是,瑞士宝石学研究所所长迈克尔·克泽米尼——他曾写过大量关于测定珍珠年代的技术的文章——告诉我,没有任何记录表明这颗珍珠曾经进行过放射性碳年代测定。

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Victor Barbish knew where the real money was—not in actual clams, but imaginary oysters.

维克多·巴尔比什知道真正的价值在哪里——不在真正的牡蛎,而在于想象中的牡蛎。

On no one did the spell work so well, or last so long, as Laura Lintner-Horn. She was the perfect candidate for life in Barbish’s hall of mirrors. Born in 1953 in Maywood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Laura was adopted by her grandparents at the age of 3. Her parents had divorced, and it was considered seemlier for Laura’s mother to give her up, the better to attract another husband in their conservative, Italian Catholic neighborhood. Rather than being candid about the arrangement, however, Laura’s grandparents presented themselves as her parents, while her biological mother and aunt became her older sisters. Laura never doubted these relations, even as her classmates taunted her: “Your mother has gray hair! Your mother’s an old woman!”

没有人能够像劳拉·林特纳-霍恩那样让这个魔咒发挥这么好的作用——不管时间长还是短。她是巴尔比什的镜厅里最完美的人选。劳拉1953年出生在伊利诺斯州的梅伍德市,这里位于芝加哥的郊区。她3岁时被祖父母收养。她的父母离婚了,劳拉的母亲把她送了出来,这被认为是一个更合理的选择,这样她在保守的意大利天主教社区里就能更好地钓到另一个丈夫了。然而,劳拉的祖父母并没有对这种安排表示不满,而是把自己当作了她的父母,而她的亲生母亲和阿姨则成了她的姐姐。劳拉从来没有怀疑过这些关系,即便是在她的同学嘲笑她的时候:“你妈妈的头发是灰色的!你妈妈是个老女人!”

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And so she didn’t. Barbish wielded such supreme authority, she didn’t even doubt his live performances of alien abduction. He’d be driving down the highway, and his head would suddenly wrench back and his eyes would roll: The aliens had snatched his body. Laura would grab the wheel and shake him—“Please, Vic, wake up, wake up!”—and in the nick of time, he’d come to his senses, with no memory of his latest close encounter.

所以她照做了。巴尔比什拥有如此至高无上的权威,以至于她甚至都不怀疑他的关于外星人绑架的现场表演。他曾经在高速公路上开车,当时他的头突然扭来扭去,他的眼睛也在转动:外星人控制了他的身体。劳拉会抓住方向盘,摇晃着他——“求求你,维克,醒醒,醒醒!”——到最后一刻,他终于醒了过来,对他最后的行为没有任何记忆。