“Jesus Christ guys! All you had to do was sit there for the fucking flight and now you’re both piss drunk. Come on, we can’t show up with you two like this. Let’s get you two assholes some coffee.” Wil just hung his head low, in obvious shame, but Ralphie looked like he was trying to come up with something intelligent to retort. After it looked like he was gonna stroke out for lack of the comment, I just started to walk off.
There had to be some place close to get coffee, it was fucking Columbia after all. Unenlightened me thought their chief exports were Coffee and Cocaine but it turns out that just because they ship it everywhere it doesn’t mean that everyone there drank it. I could only scratch my head over that. After about ten minutes of looking and having to use my half drunk interpreter to get directions we finally found someplace for them to get some coffee and get their shit correct.
It didn’t matter anyway since our ride wasn’t going to be there for us for at least two more hours. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was with the customer picking us up at the airport, but it was gonna be better than trying to get wherever we needed to get on our own and with my entourage in no shape to drive me.
So two hours and countless cups of coffee later I was able to trade in a couple half-drunk shit heads for a couple of wired and twitchy shitheads. I didn’t know which pair was worse, but at least they were a little more focused. I suggested that we all take a moment to freshen up and then go looking for our ride, to which they happily concurred especially since it gave them the chance to piss away some of what had to be the gallon of coffee they’d consumed.
“So who are we looking for?” Wil never had told me.
“They’ll have a sign that says Pandora’s Box. I thought that would be better than using any of our names.” He used the fucking store name. Crist we might as well put this in our fucking yellow pages ad.
“Jesus dude, the store name?” He could immediately tell that I wasn’t happy.
“Told you he’d be pissed about it.” Why Ralpie took this moment to play the ‘I told you so’ card was anyone’s guess, but it did prompt another question.
“You knew he did it and you didn’t feel inclined to tell me? What the fuck? It doesn’t matter now, let’s just do this and get it over with.” And we headed in silence to the swarthy looking gentleman holding the sign bearing our stores name.
“Hola senor, do you speak English?” I had to hope, especially since I had all but exhausted my knowledge of the Spanish language. I was a little too pissed at Wil to use him as the interpreter he was meant to be.
“Si, I do, a little bit.”
“Excellent, I’m Mr. H and these are my associates. I believe we have a meeting with your boss.” Seemed a reasonable enough thing and I could see no reason to add names to Ralphie and Wil. Plus, fuck them, I thought. Let these shitheads wonder.
“This way senor, I parked the car out front. My name is Raoul.” And he started to exit the airport terminal.
I wish I could say that I paid more attention than I did on the trip to the meeting, so I had to hope the boys would pick up the slack for me. I was more preoccupied in trying to get myself into character so that I’d be ready to make a deal with a drug lord. All I kept thinking is that it couldn’t really be like it was in the movies and the only movie that kept coming to mind was Scarface, and as I recall that didn’t end well. I’d also never done cocaine and had no interest in starting now.
So, we all of us settled into what seemed to me a very long car ride. The only thing that made up for it was that the trip was made in a Rolls Royce. This trip would also be the first and last time I’d get to ride in one. Not that it really mattered it was just a car after all, a really cool car, but a car nonetheless.
It was maybe a half hour or so ride from the airport. I kept playing in my head the possible scenarios for the coming deal. It all came back to one thing, that being that I’d have to improvise based on the personality of the guy I was dealing with, and that was a variable I hated but yet somehow excelled at. I’m weird that way.
I was, however, able to take some comfort in the knowledge that I’d been solely responsible for keeping things headed in a forward direction, but of course that was another aspect of this that just didn’t matter. We were all but in league with the devil now and we were about to get in even deeper.
I kind of smiled a little at another thought that reared itself. So many things had gone the stereotypical way I’d have expected to see on the silver screen. Would this Paolo be the drug lord I had constructed in my mind, a flashy white suit with a dress shirt unbuttoned almost to his navel with a shag carpet of chest hair showing that looked almost greasy in all of glory.
About the time I started to think about that Raoul broke my train of thought.
“Mr. H, we are here.” And I felt the car start to slow down.
Only then did it dawn on me that I could still see the airport from where we were. We seemed to be perched on the side of a mountain. This wasn’t good if we needed to get the shit out of here, but I knew I’d work something out. I always did. If I didn’t live by the seat of my pants, I’d probably quit living.
I could see now that this was quite the cartel compound, not that I had any frame of reference. It was gated and had what looked to be a guard tower on every corner of the 12 to 14 foot wall. It looked to be the kind of wall that served a double purpose and kept as much inside as it did out.
The car came to a stop and Raoul honked the car’s horn twice, which just like everything else about this car had an element of opulent class to it. The frivolity of it struck me as very cool, but the money conscious prick in me could only think that it was completely unnecessary.
The gate started to slowly pull open, and a small contingent of armed gentlemen emerged. Well, calling them armed isn’t quite accurate. They all had some serious hardware, easily of the grade that we were here to barter over. And in retrospect gentlemen may not necessarily be the most appropriate description either. More like a bunch of sweat soaked armed goons, not that I’d have called them anything but gentlemen to any of their faces, cause they really looked ready to do some damage. We would probably do well to stay on this Paolo’s good side. I made a mental note to not lose my cool here. That crazy act would probably only end up getting us killed, and a quick look at my boys confirmed that they were thinking the same thing.
So once the five or so armed dudes had the car surrounded they let it into what I can only describe as a courtyard. Once inside the gates were once again shut and locked and it was both an elaborate and noisy process.
Then there came a voice from some hidden speaker. It was perfect and unaccented English, which confused me quite a bit.
“Mr. H, if you and your associates could exit the car slowly and keep your hands visible it would be greatly appreciated.” I looked at the boys who both looked more than a little concerned, mainly because it was very clear that the only reason we still lived and would continue to during our stay here was because our host allowed it. I didn’t like having my fate in another man’s hands, but there was nothing I could do about it at the time.
I went ahead and started to get out of the car. It seemed to me that the guys would be better about things if I took a good solid lead on this. Surprisingly, despite my confusion over all of this, I was just not afraid of the situation we found ourselves in. Maybe it was because it wasn’t the first time I’d had a gun pointed at me. Maybe it was because I was starting to realize I had what some would call the ability to shut down my moral center.
The guys followed my lead, though a bit more hesitantly and in no time at all we were standing in a walled courtyard somewhere in Columbia with our hands on our heads while some fairly grabby guys came and gave us such a thorough frisking that I kinda felt that I was owed a dinner for the groping I’d endured. It seems that there was some level of satisfaction over the nothing that was found. Once Mr. Grabby nodded towards the shadows of the nearest building I heard the voice I heard a minute before in the car.
“You can put your hands down gentlemen. I’m sure that you can understand my employer’s need for the safety and security of his operation and men.” The way this guy talked told me that he was probably a lawyer, and I thought that we were preparing to deal with the devil here. What kind of soulless bastard did a lawyer have to be to represent a drug lord?
“I can indeed Mr.?” I was hoping to get a read on this guy from his responses, and it helped that he took that moment to step out of the shadows.
This guy looked even shadier than the guys with the guns which I couldn’t help but smile about. He looked to be all of five foot nothing with a bit of a pudgy bit around his midsection, and the kind of baldness one looks for in a monk. That sort of shiny on top but the sides and back haven’t yet given up the ghost. He also had some serious five o’clock shadow and wore his necktie loose. This was a look I’d grown familiar with having worked with attorneys in the past.
“Liebowitz. Fredrick Liebowitz, personal counselor to Paolo.” He was a proud jackoff, which was funny only because everything that was happening was so very clichéd that I had to wonder if it was all a dream.
“A pleasure Mr. Liebowitz, but you’ll forgive me if I want to go ahead and get down to business. My associates and I have had a long flight and we have another plane to catch in a few hours. If we could just go ahead and meet with Paolo, I’m sure that we could come rather quickly to some sort of mutually agreeable situation and be on our way.”
“While I can appreciate your perspective, Paolo is unable to meet with you, but he has entrusted me with the task.” Awesome we had been passed off onto some flunky.
“You wouldn’t by chance be an attorney by trade would you?” I had one idea that could work out in our favor. Every attorney I’d ever met had a huge ego, something to do with thwarting justice or manipulating the legal system or some shit so I thought that maybe I could massage this guy’s ego and grease the wheels.
I could immediately tell by the look on his face that I’d hit it on the head. “How’d you know?” And now I wasn’t upset about having to work with this guy. He had just given me the upper hand in this deal by allowing me to have what can only be described as ‘the element of surprise’.
“You remind me of an attorney I knew back home is all. Well then Mr. Liebowitz, if we are to deal, then perhaps you’d be amicable to getting down to business.” He just smiled and nodded.
“Certainly Mr. H. If you gentlemen will follow me, there is a place where we can talk out of the sun.”
Now it wasn’t till he spoke of the sun that I realized that it had to be 90 degrees with a subtropical humidity. I was so distracted I didn’t even realize that I was really starting to sweat, and as I look at the guys they looked on the verge of a good old fashioned heat stroke. God did build them a little “stocky” which made weather like this a little harder for them to take.
As he turned to lead us away, the armed thugs went back to whatever they were doing when we’d first showed up, which appeared to be screwing off. Since we weren’t armed they didn’t seem the least bit interested in us anymore, which I found odd, until I noticed that there were now extra guns in the guard towers and they were aimed in our direction.
So the attorney led us between the buildings of Paolo’s compound to what appeared to be the only building on the grounds that had air conditioning. Suddenly I thought that would be a pleasant change to the suddenly oppressive heat. It also appeared from the direction that we were approaching from that this building would be best suited as the nerve center for the compound. It seemed to be in the center of the compound and had by way of all the windows enhanced visibility in all directions to walls, and probably the guard towers from the top floor of the building which was from the looks of things the third story.
As we got closer I noticed that each corner of the building had a camera at approximately the height of each floor, which made six cameras to a side, all of them slowly oscillating back and forth at slightly different speeds, which was a nice touch. That would make it harder for someone to defeat the cameras as a security system. I’d remember that trick for the shop.
We were led into the building and into one of the first floor offices. It was clearly the attorney’s personal office. It had the standard bullshit you’d expect in an attorney’s office, the diplomas and fairly common “couple pieces of fine art” to show that the attorney had culture and was just arrogant enough to flaunt that he had money.
I had to remind myself that I couldn’t bring my own prejudices against attorneys into this deal. If I was gonna hate this guy, it’d be because he’d need to go to the trouble of earning it. He sat down behind his desk and motioned for us to sit. There were only two chairs so I could only hope that they boys would do the logical thing and Wil would sit while Ralphie played the whole stoic guardian thing up. I thanked God for the first time that day when they finally did something that didn’t feel like they’d been purposefully fucking up for my benefit.
“First let me start by asking how you gentlemen happened upon our organization. Paolo goes to great lengths to ensure his privacy, and the fact that you gentlemen were able to pierce through that veil of privacy is cause for a bit of concern in our organization.” I couldn’t even begin to answer him on this. I only wanted results, and never bothered to ask how the Wills got them. That could be bad if I didn’t play this right. I knew that I’d lose a bit of leverage in this if I even looked at Wil for some hint of an answer. I’d have to make it up as I went along.
“How we heard about your organization’s needs is quite simple really. We take no little pride in knowing just what our potential customers are going to need, sometimes before even they themselves do. My organization came upon a specific piece of merchandise that we thought would be perfect for Paolo’s transportation needs, but if there is some doubt as to our intent here, then my associates and I are more than happy to take this deal elsewhere.”
I knew that I needed to play a little rough on this, but not push too hard or I’d make him walk away from the deal. So to back up my point, I put my hands on the arm rests of the chair as though readying myself to stand.
“Well, there’s not necessarily a need to call it off. We will just have to take greater measures in enforcing our security in the future. Now I believe that the piece of merchandise you refer to is the helicopter, correct?”
“The one and only, Mr. Liebowitz. It’s a classic piece of American engineering with all the guns still intact. The only thing we don’t have for the guns at the moment is ammunition, but we are in the process of acquiring that as we speak, and would easily have it in time for Paolo to take receipt of the merchandise. We’re currently tuning up the engine and cleaning all the on-board armaments. Now, does that sound like something that Paolo would be interested in purchasing?”
He just sat there looking at me. It was like he was waiting for something. Just then a little phone on his desk rang. The attorney answered it. It was in that moment that I realized that there was a camera mounted in a corner of this office.
“Yes, sir… Certainly, sir… Yes, Paolo.”
And with that I knew who was on the other end of the camera. He didn’t have business to attend to elsewhere he was just too much of a chicken shit to meet us face to face because of this supposed security issue.
I felt my ears start to burn as the blood rushed there. I don’t know why it pissed me off the way it did, but it didn’t matter. These Columbians were jerking us around like every other piece of trash we’d been dealing with. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were any better than the scumbags we were prepping to deal with.
And then the attorney hung up the phone. I figured I’d play off my frustration with a grin.
“Well, Mr. Liebowitz. Does Paolo wish to do business with my organization or not?”
“It would seem Mr. H., that Paolo would be most interested in purchasing your wares. His only concern is the price.”
Knowing what I did about the situation, the chopper and what it was capable of, I knew that a reasonable price would be upwards of at least half a million dollars. With ammunition for the guns, I knew that we could get the price to jump a bit.
“Shall we say half a one point five mill in U.S. currency then?” I could tell from the look on his face that he was happy with that price. Inside I thought that I could have gone higher, but there is no changing the past.
“That’s a more than acceptable price Mr. H. Per Paolo’s instructions, payment shall be made in two parts, with the first part to be before and the second part after the delivery of the merchandise.” There had to be a catch. A glorified drug dealer had to have some sort of trick up his sleeve, but I could only wait to find out.
“That’s acceptable. When can we accept the first half of the payment?”
“Would you like to take it with you?” My jaw dropped and I momentarily let my guard down as I looked at the guys. They were clearly as shocked as I was. Quickly I tried to regain my composure.
“That’ll work. I trust you won’t mind if we double check the count.” And with that Liebowitz just chuckled.
“Paolo thought you might feel that way and a room is already being prepared for just such an endeavor. I trust it will be to your satisfaction. In the meantime may I offer you gentlemen a drink?” I looked at the guys and they looked like they needed a drink about as much as I needed huge breasts, which is to say not very much.
“We’ve had such a long trip so far that I think maybe some coffee might be a better way to go.”
“Certainly Mr. H., I’ll have it brought in directly. Feel free to wait in my office while I go check on the status of the ‘count room’.” He got up and slowly strode out of the room. Once he was gone Ralphie decided to break the silence.
“Are we walking out of here with a three quarters of a million dollars?”
Wil answered Captain Obvious’s question with a bit more contempt than I’d have expected.
“Yes, dumbass, now shut the fuck up. We’re being watched on that camera right over there on the wall.” I thought I was the only one to notice, but it was nice to see someone else did. It made me feel a little worried that it wasn’t Ralphie. If he couldn’t see something as simple as a camera on the wall, how could I expect him to protect me, but maybe I was just being unnecessarily critical of the situation and I would just need to give him some time to prove himself a little more.
“Just chill big man.” And then I put my finger in front of my mouth the way you would when you’re trying to quiet a small child.
He grumbled something under his breath and went back to just standing there with his arms across his chest in that way I prefer. Just then there was a soft knock on the door and a stunningly beautiful latino woman came in with a tray and three steaming cups of coffee. She said something softly in what I could only assume to be Spanish and then left as quickly and quietly as she’d come in.
After that we just sat in silence and when what seemed like an eternity had passed, Liebowitz came back. I was a little curious just what his game was and why we were being given $750,000 dollars on our way out the door, when we hadn’t provided any real answers to his questions as to how we had even heard about their organization, but who was I to argue. I mean even after costs and giving Russ and Tom their cuts, we would each be walking away with somewhere around one hundred thousand dollars. I think that was more than we had made collectively the previous year, or was at least very close.
“If you gentlemen will follow me again, an area where you can count the money has been made available. Feel free to bring your coffee and just let me know if you need anything else.”
“I could use a bathroom if it’s not too much trouble.” This seemed like a strangely inappropriate time for Wil to have bladder issues, but I did make the both of them drink so much coffee before we left the airport, that I guessed I could just let it go.
The attorney just laughed and pointed at a door we hadn’t yet passed, which Wil quickly ducked into as we went by.
“I can come back for him after I take you two to start counting your money if that’s alright?”
“That seems reasonable to me, Mr. Liebowitz.” Because it did and there was no reason to make any kind of issue out of Wil and his need to piss.
He led us even farther down the hall to what appeared to be another office, but one that saw much less use. The paint was peeling and it had the faintest musty smell to it. This looked to be where they did this kind of thing and only this kind of thing. On the table there was a backpack and a pile of money. Now when I say pile of money I should clarify that three quarters of a million dollars in “strapped” twenties and fifties is a large pile of money, so very much more money that any of the three of us had ever seen up to this point in fact.
Around the table were a handful of chairs, and I went ahead and sat down to get started on the counting. As I did so Liebowitz exited and I presumed headed off to get Wil. Turns out I was right and about a minute later he came back looking clearly more relieved and upon seeing the money, ever so slightly shocked. He was thinking the same things I had I’d have guessed, and would later find out to be true.
Once again I just had Ralphie stand there looking like a big dumb wall, and that was how I needed him, regardless of my feelings on the subject.
Once Wil was seated, then the count proper began, and much the way we did inventory back in the store, we began to break down the pile of money in such a way that we were able to have the count done in about a half an hour. We were just finishing getting the money packed up into the bag when Liebowitz came back. It figures that they’d have some cameras in here, and as I looked around the room, it turned out that they had more in here than we had noticed in the attorney’s office. There were three that I could see, and I suspected that there were probably more that we couldn’t.
“I trust that you found everything to be in order.”
“I did, and I do appreciate that Paolo saw fit to pay half up front. Now, there is one point that we never discussed. When would Paolo like to take receipt of the helicopter?”
“Paolo would like to have it in his possession the week after next, and the exact day can be worked out after you’ve returned home. He would also like to have it delivered to one of his holdings in Florida if it’s not too much trouble.”
Now, less than two weeks could be problematic on getting it ship-shape to be ready, and there would be the travel time to get it delivered to Florida as well, which would take at least two days or so for transit. But for what we were expecting to make on this deal I think we could play a little bit of the hurry-up offense to get things ready to go.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. You can provide the address for delivery when we work out the time of delivery. Now, Mr. Liebowitz, I trust that Raoul will be available to drive my associates and I back to the airport shortly. We would like to be back in time to catch a flight back as soon as possible. We have much to attend to back in the states.”
“I already took the liberty of letting him know and he’s waiting outside. I assumed you’d want to leave when you were done so I put him on standby. He’s ready to leave whenever you gentlemen are.”
I got up and threw the newly loaded pack to Ralphie to carry for me and then went over and shook Liebiwitz’s hand.
“I think we have the beginnings of a most mutually beneficial business relationship.”
He just smiled and nodded and led us out to the waiting Raoul in that tricked out Rolls again.
As we were piling into the car I noticed now that it felt like it had to be a hundred degrees and I was suddenly glad to be in the air conditioned car.
“Good to see you again so soon Mr. H. I’ll have you back at the airport in no time at all.” And true to his word we were back before I had even begun to wonder how long it would take to get there.
I thanked him for the ride and wished him well as the three of us piled out of the car and into the airport. It only took a few minutes to track down the next flight stateside, even if it did mean going a little out of the way. I was just going to be glad to be headed back home. I was never a huge fan of traveling and even with all the money involved in this trip was no different. I decided that I’d just have Ralphie keep track of the pack until we were back in the store, and knew that he wouldn’t let the pack out of his sight. He even went so far as to use it as a pillow on the flight back so that he could keep it close to him.
And that’s how we first got into business with the Columbians. It looked as though all the hard work was finally bringing everything together perfectly and we were soon to be rolling in the money. At least that was the plan. First we had to make it home.