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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

SMALL TIME CROOKS

I was nursing an infernal hangover when I heard a knock at my hotel room door. The clock on the nightstand said 10:06 am. I growled, “Who is it?”

A young woman’s voice answered, “Hello … uh Mr. Kovaks? This is Elsa Bauer … They tell me I can find you here.”

I kicked an empty rye bottle under the bed where it found a home between my girlie mags and my dirty choners. I threw on my bathrobe and opened the door. “Come in, darling. Please excuse my untidy quarters, the butler has the day off.”

She was Alpine sunshine, one hundred and ten pounds of rosy-faced radiance. Her blond mane was slightly tussled and crazy looking, and even though she donned casual gray sweats, I could tell she had a killer bod. She batted her green eyes at me and took a seat at my desk chair. I sat opposite her on my unmade bed.

“I was robbed, and my mother, she will kill me!”

I set fire to a Ducado and patted one up and offered it to her. She declined. I threw the deck on my cluttered nightstand.

“I arrive yesterday to Barcelona from Zurich, by bus. I am only here to visit because my sister, she is getting married and I am here for the wedding. When I first arrive everything seems okay, I mean I did not recognize anything strange, no missing things. But when I get back to my hotel I recognize my baggage was opened. Someone, some criminal, stealed my great grandmother’s wedding ring! The ring I need to give to my sister!”

I took another drag on my Ducado. She continued:

“They also steal my iPod and my camera, but those things, they do not matter. This ring is special from my family. It is a mystery. Everything was in my baggage the whole time, Mr. Kovaks. But somehow it disappeared in the voyage …”

I was weary of her intentions. Perhaps it was my booze-brained paranoia, but a saucy dame barging into my hotel in need of some sleuthing wasn’t normal. I pumped her for more information. She told me she had found out about me after reporting the theft to the mossos. One of the bulls took her aside and said they knew all about the mysterious thefts at the bus depot, but couldn’t do anything about them. He told her about me and how to contact me. He said I was the only tourist crime specialist in this burg.

“It ain’t hard to dope out, sister. Your valuables were looted in transit. Could be an inside job. Someone handling the baggage for the bus company.”

“Yes, I thought about it, and I even tell the police my suspicions. They say this is happening for many months. So many tourists come to them with the same complaints, so they make some investigations, but nothing. They did not find anything suspicious.”

I tapped ash and continued, “Did you see anything out of the ordinary during your journey? Any folks that just didn’t look right?”

“There is one thing I remember, Mr. Kovaks. It happened two hours before we arrive to Barcelona. We make a stop in Girona for a twenty minute rest and everybody went out of the bus to take some air. Before we go in the bus again I see two new passengers speak very loudly and aggressively with the bus driver. It was strange because they wanted to load their bag by themselves, and they argued with the driver when he tried to do it. It was a large bag. For a short trip, I thought it strange.”

She said when they arrived at the Sants Estació bus depot, the two men quickly hauled the bag off and disappeared. She had watched them the whole time and never once saw them come near any one else’s baggage. She forgot about it until she got to her hotel. That’s when she realized someone had ganked her goods.

“Those gypmeisters could be melting your precious family heirloom as we speak.”

“Yes I know, Mr. Kovaks. I’m so desperate. My mother is going to kill me!”

“I can nab these yeggs like duck soup, babe. This is the deal. I charge one hundred and fifty euros a day plus ex’s. I don’t tumble to dame no matter how sleek she is, and I can beat a jackhammer in a fistfight. Ain’t no gypmeister in this burg bested me yet. So, you got that kind of scratch?”

She left and came back from the cash machine twenty minutes later with a c-note and a half for a retainer.

It was about noon when I set off to Estacio Sants and took a plant near a churro and frankfurt stand. I needed some grease to sop up the excess alcohol in my system, so I scarfed down a couple dogs with fried cheese. The whole time I was on the look out for JDLRs, and there were plenty. All kinds of shady characters, but none working in pairs, none that fit the description of the fellows little Elsa described.

After I finished the dogs I ordered a big cream-filled churro covered in chocolate and a cup of joe to wash it down. This was a bad idea.

Twenty minutes passed. Three buses had pulled through and nothing. Just when a bus pulled in and two JDLRs fitting Elsa’s description got off, I felt a rumbling in my bowels. The mix of churro, cheese, frankfurt and coffee was doing evil things to my guts. I couldn’t wait any longer. I dashed inside the main station and made a beeline for the men’s bathroom. The last stall on the left was unoccupied and I burst in and plopped down on the can. About five minutes later something very strange happened right after I dropped a heavy-duty deuce.

The bathroom had emptied out and I heard two sets of footsteps and two different voices speaking in urgent tones.

Venga hombre, ábrelo ya ... no hay nadie.”

The sound of something being set on the ground.

Then I heard a zipper, then a third voice gasping for air. A high-pitched voice:

Joder … joder … tenemos algo gordo esta vez!”

¡Si lo has hecho bien Romagnoli nos llevará esta noche de putas para celebrarlo, seguro!”

I braced my arms on the side of the stall and peered under. What I saw was unbelievable! Three pairs of legs, each wearing polyester trousers and running shoes, standing next to a large, unzipped sports bag. Two of those legs were stubby, real stubby. They belonged to a midget! He was pulling things out of the bag. MP3 players, purses, a laptop.

I’d seen similar things in the orient when I was a young man in the merchant marines. It was called the Chinese Trunk Man Con. Pint-sized punks would hide in the trunk of a taxi and rifle through the passenger’s goods mid-transit.

So this bantam burglar and his gypmeister pals thought they had the scam of the century. This was obviously some kind of midget mafia, and some creep named Romagnoli was running it. I waited until the three crooks left before I exited the bathroom.

***

The next day I planked down a c-note for a Mercedes CL rental. I put on my track suit disguise and some large shades. I pulled up behind the taxi stand between the bus depot and the main station. Burned through a half a deck of Ducados and finished half a flask of Mascaró when I finally saw the perps.

The two JDLRs from the day before were walking from the depot towards the main station, carrying a large sports bag between them. Undoubtedly the sports bag containing their little friend and the pilfered goods. I ignited the heap and rolled towards them, cutting them off. I rolled down the window and said:

“Hey … hey … peligroso dentro … there are police, policia dentro!

I threw a monkey wrench in their gypmeisting machine all right. I popped the trunk and got out and held it open. They looked at each other, then down at the sports bag containing the looting lilliputian.

“Come on! Romagnoli … he’s waiting!”

Quien eres? Tu … how you know Romagnoli?”

I’m his cousin … me primo de Romagnoli. C’mon! Fast!”

They hoisted the bag into the trunk and I shut it. They took the back seat and one of them pulled out a cell phone. Before he had a chance to punch a number I rolled up the volume on the radio and gunned the motor. I mashed the pedal all the way down and forced that luxury heap to 11,000 rpms. Then I shifted that mother into first and popped it. The tires screamed and smoked. The raw g forces threw them back and the cell phone went flying. The radio was blaring some infernal teen pop music:

Booooooommmmba!

I laughed like a whacko in the booby hatch. I clutched the wheel and shot down Tarragona towards Plaça Espanya. I zig-zagged through traffic, blew through three lights milliseconds before they turned red. I rocketed into the roundabout at Plaça Espanya and took the bend. The two weak sisters cried as the centrifugal force of the turn smashed them both against the right back seat door. I shot out of the roundabout and into Gran Via. I turned the radio up even louder:

Una mano en la cabeza

I put a hand on my head.

Otra mano en la cabeza.

I recklessly put my other hand on my head. Acting like a loon is a great tactic to break down a gypmeister's resistance. I gripped the wheel and yanked it just as we were coming up on car. We served around just in time. One of the gypmeisters blew chunks all over himself, his friend screamed over the noise:

Estas loco! Estas loco!”

Una mano en la cintura

Otra mano en la cintura

No lo hagas, no lo hagas!”

It sure stunk in that heap! It smelled like gypmeister breakfast! My laughter was olympian. They were hyperventilating with mortal fear, hugging each other. I gunned it through four yellow lights in a row, barely missed half a dozen heaps with wide-eyed drivers. I couldn’t imagine what the pint-sized punk was going through in the trunk!

Haaaaaa haaha haaahahahahahaha!”

I took a sharp turn on Pau Claris, the tires screeched and groaned. I steadied the heap and punched the gas.

Suavesito para abajo, para abajo, para abajo

“Almost home boys!”

I hit a green in Plaça Urquinaona and barreled down Via Laietana towards the Med. Just past the bingo parlor I slammed on the brakes and swerved to the right. Pedestrians screamed and jumped out of the way as I brought the heap to a full stop in front of the central police station. A couple bulls came running out just as the two gypmeisters stumbled out weak-kneed. It smelled like burnt clutch. The two gypmeisters pointed at me and cried like little babies:

Este tio esta loco, esta loco!”

The bulls looked at me.

Loco? Moi?”

These guys are never short of ideas! I stepped to the back of the heap and popped the trunk and hoisted the bag out.

I tossed it to the ground and something in it yelped in pain. I unzipped it and sure enough, their puny partner in crime was in there.

“I’ve had it up to here with midgets! I mean, up to … here” I said, leveling my mitt at the bottom of my beer paunch.

I got a slap on the wrist for reckless driving, and the three members of the midget mafia got thrown in the clink. Those weak sisters spilled their guts the moment they were under the lights. They told everything, even sent their boss Romagnoli to the big house. When they searched their digs they found thousands of euros in stolen property, all from that dastardly depot of deception.

They recovered Elsa’s ring just in time for her sister’s wedding. Elsa practically wept with joy when I returned it to her. She even tried to put the charm on me, but I resisted. Poor kid.

I left her hotel three c-notes richer and went down to a joint near my place, Bar La Plata. Ate some pescaditos and downed three ice cold brews. This burg. Full of lousy thieving palookas, but the grub is damn good.