“What the……….it was here only 30 minutes ago
Hans stared stupidly at the empty rectangle of worn-away gravel, weeds, and murky puddle in the middle.
Warned of such crimes he’d dismissed them as idle and unimportant. Outraged, feeling foolish, he churlishly kicked at the ground.
Scheisse! I’ve been………….
A few people had gathered after hearing the commotion. Quietly muttering and nodding in sympathy, they’d seen it before. Gringo, blond-haired, young, innocent and vulnerable to the oldest trick in the book.
Targeted as he parked and strolled into the shop, the ladrones on a busy Saturday afternoon had claimed another victim.
LA TIENDA CUERO where the most exotic indigenous animal skins, crafted into belts, luggage and such, at a fraction of the cost elsewhere, was always busy, especially on weekends.
Hans was going to select a particular alligator skin handbag. It was a bit more than his bonus, even with rock bottom prices! but Lisa had given birth earlier that morning in spite of their worries, to a healthy big baby boy. Still sleeping when he left, he couldn’t wait to see them both, she was worth ten handbags.
Striding back into the shop, Hans had to agree the busy staff had seen nothing, nor any of the shoppers.
Lots of hand wringing and useless clucking didn’t help as he phoned for a taxi.
………”Aye, no, Dios mio”……..they called as he left.
Not difficult to trace, the glove compartment had everything, name, age, place of business, etc.
The phone call came later that evening:
Business-like and short. An agent would contact him the following Monday at his office.
Living in a tiny upper east side apartment, Hans and Lisa Schmidt were typical young New Yorkers. Tennis in Central Park, rainy Saturday afternoons at the Metropolitan. Leisurely Sunday breakfasts at the local diner with friends, pages of the NYTimes scattered over the small tables for four.
……..” Everything’s changing,” was the first thing he said, walking in the door at home, repeating the bittersweet conversation he’d had that day with the boss.
……..”Hans, we’re satisfied with your progress., we’d like you to consider a promotion. Take over a small sales office in Bogoza, South America. Develop sales for the entire region, we’ll follow up with investments in chemical plants”
Flattered, he would normally have jumped at the offer, but the timing was terrible. Rejecting such an offer was troubling. The office was full of stories, management could be brutal. He’d have to resign.
Midnight still wide awake yet dog tired from worrying, he looked at Lisa fast asleep. Married barely two blissful years, they were having their first child… What a story they’d have to tell little he or she one day.
Meeting at the elevator on the 28th floor of 1 Wall St. New York City. He was a new hire in the junior executive trainee program and she, a new hire for the typing pool. They often laughed that his job was lower in rank than hers.
Friendly and funny, she smiled making a joke about keeping away from the windows. The first time either had worked in a skyscraper. Normally a serious buttoned-up German, he was soon spilling his life story. So much to learn about each other they got off the elevator as if preordained, still talking walked by Scotty’s a nearby sandwich shop.
………” Shall we,” he said
Packed to the rafters, standing room only, just another couple of busy New Yorkers grabbing lunch. Who could have foretold it was the first step in a lifetime together?
After a two-year stint as an engineer for a stuffy tire and sporting goods company, in Munich Germany. Hans made a momentous decision. Like millions of others, he landed in New York, with a temporary working visa determined to fulfill a lifelong dream.
Ecstatic to be hired by a major oil company with HQ in Oklahoma, he felt liberated and free.
On a leave of absence from her job as a radio announcer in New Zealand, Lisa liked what she saw of New York. Determined to take a chance on the endless possibilities in the greatest City on earth, she canceled her return ticket and found a modest efficient apartment. Needing to pay the rent, she took a temporary typing position in the same company
Never did two starry-eyed immigrants with nothing but dreams and untried survival skills, need each other.
With the joy of their newly confirmed first pregnancy, the prospect of hospitals, and living in a third-world country. made the recent job offer untenable, yet Hans liked his job and couldn’t imagine resigning.
Knowing Lisa neither would nor could ever fail him. added to his torment.
……….” Of course, we’ll go, she said, a bit shakily. Haven’t we shouldered and survived together so far? Babies are born everywhere, aren’t they?
That settled it. Hans accepted the job.
The first thing for both was a Berlitz-intensive course in Spanish. As a bilingual student, Hans easily mastered a third. Lisa struggled a bit, typical for most native English speakers
Hans immediately called his superiors in HQ. owners of the ten-year-old Buick. A sought-after vehicle at the time as the Government wouldn’t allow car imports.
First time in the staid Company’s history, this bizarre occurrence needed the immediate attention of the legal heads. Until a Company man could fly to SA, instructions were to go ahead with the meeting.
The plan was to allow the “agent” to enter the Office building, immediately lock the doors, and call the Police.
Already standing, Hans took stock as the “ agent” was shown into his office.
…….”Buenas Dias, Senor Schmidt”
Approaching, smiling with an outstretched hand.
Hans ignored the gesture, noting the visitor was about the same age and build. Dressed in a suit, no tie, but wearing indoor/outdoor glasses shading his eyes.
……..”How dare you come into my office, you are a thief.
I’m calling the police”.
……..”Oh, I wouldn’t do that, he said amiably, they’ll only release me. Besides I am not a thief, I’m a businessman, like you. I represent the people who found your car.”
Hans was rattled by the unmitigated gall. A Teutonic upbringing and ex-rugby player he was itching to punch the weasel.
……..” in my country you would be jailed.”
………”No, in your country I would be a success.”
In the face of blatant nationwide corruption yet mindful he was representing a well-respected American company, Hans felt helpless.
Sounding incredulously like a legitimate business proposal, they settled on the going rate of about 1000 American dollars. Many other victims had called him, the foreign nationals were always supportive of each other, and confirmed this amount.
……..”An agent will be in touch shortly” Weasel announced.
As he left, the decent local employees looked mortified with a Welcome to our World sigh.
Hiram Howie 1V, senior lawyer for the Company arrived at the Bogoza Airport as the light was fading. Never having seen him, Hans recognized the towering figure immediately. Loud checked green sports coat, light grey slacks, and white brogue shoes.
. ………”Good evening, Sir, I’m Hans Schmidt”
………..Say, Good to see ya, Heinz, Call me Hi”
Dropping him off at the best hotel in town, and escorting him to the desk, where everything was efficiently handled, Hans proposed dinner. With reluctance, and the late hour plus the effects of being nearly nine thousand feet above sea level, he declined.
…………”No need Heinz. I’ll order room service, Just need to sleep, See y’all tomorrow”
Promptly at 8 am, Hi was waiting, this time wearing a blue suit with brown shoes.
………”.Did you sleep well, Hi,”
……….”.Like a babe, Heinz. Had a bit of a hassle with the banana at breakfast though. Got to have one with Wheaties, the durn thang wouldn’t peel. Then I scooped a spoonful, tasted like crap.”
Oh, no, Hans demurred trying not to break up. He’d mistaken platano for banana. Not the first.
The day went well. Hiram Howie 1V had a razor sharp mind, clearly worthy of the title and position of Chief legal counsel.
The agent called as promised. Instructions were to meet at a coffee shop in a shopping mall on the furthest outskirts of the City. The money to be cashed in 100-dollar bills.
After a leisurely South American lunch, usually cooked with wine, plus the altitude, Hi was beginning to droop. Suggesting a rest at his hotel. he agreed. We’d meet at about seven.
Two cars left that evening. Hans drove, another vintage Buick. with Hi, his passenger, carrying the ransom money in a briefcase.
The other car with two armed guards provided by HQ followed.
Locating the coffee shop, two men came out right on cue. One was a heavy-set short fellow and the other was taller younger and smartly dressed. Hans got out to meet them
………… “the money?”……growled shortstop. “
Motioning to Hi, he approached and handed Hans the brief case.
…………” Follow me,” said the taller one quite politely.
Walking towards a dark alley behind the coffee shop, there was the car, lights on, engine running.
With a bit of bravado knowing somewhere was either the FBI or CIA, Hans asked to inspect the car before handing over the money.
Radio missing also hub caps he declared with a sinking feeling but showing apparent confidence. Peeling off two bills, and handing over 800 dollars, to cover the replacements be said firmly.
Grabbing the money tall guy strode off angrily. Hans calmly got in and drove to the front of the coffee shop. Hi, already in the driver’s seat, gave a thumbs up.
End of a long long day.