Greg was feeling confused, let down, lonely and lost; all new for him. He reminded himself that he had confided in someone. One person who would never come looking for him and never tell anyone. His ex-wife Sarah hated him, but she would protect Greg to his death. Twelve years of marriage had tied them together forever. He considered calling her to tell her he was about to become someone else. A part of him wanted her to know so that no matter what, there would be one person alive who knew the truth. Greg also knew that he’d be putting Sarah in danger by sharing his whereabouts. He had always admired her strength and tenacity; despite his better judgment, he’d give her a call tomorrow. For now, he had to get back to his room.
He meandered through the streets of Lisbon, ducking in and out of crowded cafés. He needed to return to his hotel room before 5:00 p.m. or he wouldn’t get the money to Slim in time. He realized he’d never know the names of these characters who were helping him. Greg had no choice then to give the guy what he asked for.
He counted out the $10,000 and wrapped the bills in a plastic grocery bag. Slim had asked for Euros, but he figured he’d take dollars; everyone wanted U.S. dollars. The exchange rate had never even occurred to him. He quickly wiped down the room with some disinfectant wipes he found at a store on his way back to the hotel. He hoped that he’d only have to spend one night in this filthy room. Greg locked the door and checked the knob twice.
He looked around the outside of the hotel to be sure he had not been followed and headed for the pawn shop. Pawn guy and Slim were watching the game when he entered the shop. He smiled and handed Slim the money. Slim did not smile back; he grabbed the bag and headed to the back room. Ten minutes later he returned looking extremely unhappy.
“I told you Euros. What am I going to do with your fucking dollars? You have any idea what the exchange rate is these days? This is 25 percent less than what I told you.”
The last thing I needed was to piss this guy off, but it occurred to me that it was time to play hardball.
“Take it or leave it. You’re not the only guy in Portugal with access to passports. I’m paying you more than enough. Give me back my money if it’s not good enough.”
Slim studies Greg for a solid minute. Pawn guy never takes his eyes off of the game. Slim motions Greg into the back room. Greg reluctantly follows, thinking perhaps he’d gone too far. Slim gets uncomfortably close to Greg’s face and whispers,
“Considering where you’re going, I guess I can settle for less.”
“What do you mean, where I’m going?”
“The best I can do is Morocco.”
It was like he’d been punched in the stomach and kicked in the head. He had to choose his words carefully or this wouldn’t end well. It was Casablanca or he’d be back at square one.
“Is it ready now?”
At this point Slim is incredulous. “Are you fucking crazy man? Tomorrow morning if you’re lucky.”
Greg turned around so he couldn’t see his rage and disappointment. He pulled it together and walked toward the door. He turned and spoke and his words were sharp.
“I’ll be back at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. If my passport isn’t waiting for me, there will be hell to pay. My connections in the States are not as forgiving as I am.”
Greg was so pissed off he’d forgotten to lose himself in the dinner crowd filling the streets. He stopped off at one of those international calling stores to telephone Sarah. The shop was packed with women in Hijabs, reminding him that he’d soon be in Morocco.
Sarah didn’t pick up on the first try. Not recognizing the number, she probably ignored the call. He hoped she’d realize it was him and answer the phone. He tried her again and this time she picked up.
“Who is this?”
“Sarah, it’s Greg, I’m in Portugal.”
“What the hell Greg, I told you to leave me alone. I’m gonna hang up.”
“No, no Sarah, please just give me two minutes. I’m not asking for anything.”
“Ninety seconds and I’m cutting you off.”
He’d be the worst husband and didn’t deserve ninety seconds. When they met, Sarah was naive and sweet and he’d made into a bitter woman. Greg didn’t cheat on Sarah. He didn’t physically abuse her. He didn’t stop her from buying things; he didn’t tell her she was worthless. What he did was inexcusable; He spent every penny Sarah had saved since she had her first job. There was always that business that was going to make them rich. Greg would focus on that next scheme and forget the rest of the world existed. It was a reckless way to live and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop himself. She watched him destroy his own life and take her down with him. Greg’s parents, friends and anyone he did business with tried to stop him, but he didn’t see it — he only saw green and more green until all the green ran out and than all he thought about was a way to get more. Sarah was the only one who stuck by him, until she’d had enough.
He knew that someday Sarah would be a force to be reckoned with, but today, she was done. He tried to soften her up a bit.
“You know how much you mean to me Sarah?”
“Greg, you asshole, you told me you were not going to ask for anything.”
“Alright, I only have a few seconds left so let me say something I need you to remember. As of tomorrow morning, I will no longer be Greg Torino. I’ll be leaving Portugal and hiding out for a while. I’m not going to tell you where I’m going because it’s better for you not to know. I don’t know how long it will be before we speak again so I wanted to tell you that I know I was a shitty husband. I never meant to hurt you, but I know that I hurt you badly and for that I am sorry. I hope to someday make it up to you Sarah. You’re a good woman and I never deserved you.”
“Greg, you didn’t have to say any of that, but for the first time in your fucking wasted life, you’re right, you were a shitty husband. I would wish you luck, but that would be a stretch.”
“Goodbye Sarah, I love you,” and he hangs up the phone.
He realizes a woman is banging on the phone booth door and trying to get his attention. He can only see her eyes and her fist pounding the glass. He turns away to wipe away tears. Greg cannot recall the last time he wept. He leaves the booth and walks toward his new life.
When he wakes the next morning after a fitful sleep, he recalls his conversation with Sarah. He feels good about apologizing; she deserved some closure and he was finally man enough to give it to her. He felt a little stronger and more resolute. He’d make a life for himself and perhaps someday he’d find a way to forgive himself as well. For now, he had to see if his passport was ready to be picked up.
Knowing that was his last night in that stuffy room made him smile for the first time in days. He locked the door and headed to see Slim. As he was leaving the hotel he notices someone watching him from across the street. He remains still for a moment to see if the man continues to look over at him. When he casually glances back that way, the man is lost in the crowd of street traffic. He wishes he’d left the hotel earlier; he’s made too many mistakes. He shrugs, chalks it up to paranoia and walks toward the pawn shop.
Greg immediately notices that Slim is not there. Pawn guy comes out of the back room and approaches Greg.
“He’ll be right back — you wait here.”
Greg doesn’t like it, however once again he’s at the mercy of these bottom feeders. He sits and considers his past. He has always been a near-do-well, but he wasn’t a crook. He’d never stolen from anyone or cheated anyone. He had taken a lot from those he loved, but he always asked for it. He had cheated himself out of a decent life. He could have had so much more than what he ended up with.
It’s twenty minutes before Slim walks in with the passport. He barely looks at Greg and offers no apology. Greg asks him if he has the passport. Slim takes it out of his jacket pocket and hands it over.
“I’d leave the country soon if I were you.”
I’m confused about the sense of urgency. I thought I would spend some time traveling around Portugal and Spain before going to Morocco. After all, I had years of hiding in front of me.
“It’s not safe here for you,” Slim adds.
Greg grabs the passport and opens it to see who he is. He checks out the photo first; that’s fine. He thinks to himself, this looks pretty real. He’s not sure he likes the name Joseph Campos.
Slim says, “You have Spanish relatives; it’s a good name — suits you.”
At this point Greg just wants to get out of the shop and away from these lowlifes. He thanks Slim and gives a thumbs up to Pawn guy.
He decides to leave the hotel with the money he has left and head for Morocco where he can blend in with the locals. He’ll book at flight to Casablanca or Marrakesh at the airport, pay with cash and start fresh. He realizes he’s smiling again, having been resourceful enough to accomplish his first big task. Greg finds himself almost giddy with excitement. He feels lighter and hopeful.
When he gets back to his hotel, his smile disappears. He finds his door ajar and there is no one in sight. He enters the room and everything is turned upside down. He goes right to the dresser which is on its side. His stash is gone. This is exactly what he feared might happen. Greg’s only thought is now what and he falls to his knees.
To be continued next week