Unlike any of my previous blogs, this is a work of fiction.
He gazed out the window of the 757 and could think of nothing save what he was leaving behind. He pondered how many people he had hurt and how much of his life he had squandered. Greg had never been one for remorse. He plowed through life showing little or no concern for anyone but himself. The world was fucked up and until now, he was going to grab his piece of the pie in whatever way he could get it.
Having angered and alienated everyone who ever cared about him, he needed to escape to a place where no one knew him; Portugal seemed like a good place to start over. He exited the plane with a carry-on and his American passport. Walking toward Customs he worked up a sweat. Concerned about calling attention to himself, he ducked into a restroom to splash cold water on his face. Greg had $30,000 U.S. dollars to his name and it was all in his carry-on. If he were to be stopped, he’d be screwed. He knew about the cash limit, but he needed to close his U.S. bank account before his business practices caught up with him. That cash was all he had to live on until he could figure something out. Having gambled away his 401K, the tax penalties alone would wipe out any real estate equity he had in New York. His plan was to never have to deal with the U.S. government again.
As he walked through Customs he smiled and avoided eye contact with the officers. To his surprise there were no documents and no papers to sign; he was going to like this country. He checked into a 50 Euro a night hotel in a questionable Lisbon neighborhood. He needed a secure place to hide his cash and a halfway decent bed. This was not the way he usually travelled; maxing out his credit cards was his usual MO and he couldn’t remember the last time he paid off any of his balances. Before long, the creditors would be after him too. He knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Still, a survivor survives and Greg was hell-bent on starting a new life.
He sat in the dark in his small hotel room. He could smell the past and he could see that this was a place no one cared about. Finding a place to hide the money wasn’t easy. He lifted the dresser and taped the bills to the bottom. Clearly, no one had moved the dresser in years. Greg had avoided the bathroom, knowing he’d eventually have to use it. He was a bit of a germophobe and he had not had time to buy some disinfectant to wipe it down. He’d grab something at the market down the street. The overhead lighting was way too bright and the lamp was too far from the only chair in the room. He did a bit of rearranging and decided this situation was short-term and he’d have to let it go. At least he had a decent mattress and his room faced a small courtyard; at least he would have to listen to street noise.
The first order of business was to get a new passport. They’d be able to trace him to Lisbon, but with a new name and a Portuguese passport, he could hide out in a small seaside town. The money would run out quickly, so he had to work fast. Finding someone who could give him a new identity wouldn’t be easy. He knew he’d have to part with some cash and make several changes to his appearance. Shedding some of that excess weight would help; he’d cut out the alcohol and the junk food he often ate on the run. He told himself that the new Greg would be healthy and more conscientious about his spending. He also knew he had to stick to his plan or he’d end up behind bars; an option he couldn’t fathom.
Although he had never had to consider changing his identity, he recalled from movies that pawn shops were a good place to start. There happen to be one fairly close to his hotel and he didn’t want to carry cash further than he had to. Two thoughts dogged him as he circled the shop; would the language thing be an issue and how would he know who to trust. He knew how to read a poker face from his past and money talks, so he walked in and looked for someone to proposition. A short, seedy looking character wearing far too much cologne, came out of what appeared to be a back room.
“I’m Greg, do you speak any English.”
“Are you the owner?”
“What do you need.”
“I need to speak to someone who can help me with some papers.”
“What kinda of papers?”
Greg was wondering if this was a mistake. He hated himself for not having a contact in Lisbon. He couldn’t risk sharing his plan with anyone in New York; he had too many enemies. He changed his tactic.
“I’m Canadian and I lost my passport. I have time to wait for one from the Canadian Embassy and I was hoping you might be able to help.”
Pawn shop guy gives him a half-smile and says, “Give me a minute.”
The shop is a mess and he hasn’t seen another customer since he walked in. Soccer is playing on a big screen above the register and a mix of tobacco and cologne is making him sick to his stomach. He pretends to look around the shop, but he’s feeling anxious knows that he’s taking a big risk. Without an alternative plan, he waits.
He hears the pawn guy on the phone and five minutes later, he steps back into the front of the shop.
“Cinco minutos.” He walks over to chair, pats it and motions for Greg to sit.
Greg’s thinking, I either bolt or I wait. He says, “That’s okay, I’ll stand.”
Pawn guy shrugs and watches the game. Greg waits a good 45 minutes and in walks a very tall, very confident, very non-Portuguese fella. Greg thinks he might be a Swede, but he’s not certain. The guy walks right up to him, says nothing about being late, and asks:
“Miguel tells me that you need something?”
“I’m looking for a passport.”
“A passport for you or a friend?”
“A friend,” I say, thinking this is code.
“I mean the passport.”
“Good because I don’t think you speak Portuguese so it would be a little strange, yes?”
“Yes,” I say, “I mean no, I don’t speak Portuguese.”
“Ten thousand Euros cash and you can have it tomorrow.”
That’s a lot more than I expected to pay; although it seems like a small price for freedom.
“How do I know it’s authentic?”
“Oh you want a guarantee too. That will cost you extra.”
Slim smirks as he walks toward Greg. Greg backs up and reaches out with his six-foot long arms to grab his shoulder.
“Look, I think I would have been out of business a long time ago if I couldn’t make this work. You either trust me or you take your business elsewhere.”
Greg had done some shady things in his life, but none were as risky as this. He thought they might follow him and find out where he was staying. Well he could easily fix that by moving to a new hotel; an out-of-the-way hotel. He thought he might get scammed; could he trust a thief? He was confused and conflicted and what he really wanted was a drink. He was ten feet away from a bar and a scotch on the rocks; he’d have to ignore the temptation.
His mind wandered to a situation ten years ago in Istanbul. He had hired an escort for what he thought would be a quick release. He ended up being chased through the streets and had to give up a gold watch and all of his cash. At the time he swore to himself that he’d stay away from the dark side. He’s broken that promise a number of times and he knew, he was about to break it again.
“When do you want the money?”
“When do you want your ticket to freedom?”
“Give me an hour,” Greg needed a little time to think.
To be continued . . .