Tony left them in a small rented house located at the outskirts of a quiet neighborhood. All was paid for with provisions of food that could last for weeks. Everything was arranged according to the explicit instructions of Father Joe.
Andy was overwhelmed by the priest’s all out support. He took a mental note to bring him a modest gift later.
“You are not walking around with those clothes?” Tony’s words the night before kept ringing on Andy’s ears. The man was right: adapt to the terrain so as not to stand out as a newcomer.
“Let’s go to the shop at the corner,” Andy invited the still sleepy Jane. “We should wear something light.”
The second hand store had a handful of early customers digging and sorting from small mountains of assorted pants, shirts and shorts. Wherever the clothes came from, no one could guess.
Andy and Jane grabbed those that fit well. They were in a hurry to come back home and change.
“Let’s take a stroll,” he suggested after finishing a short breakfast.
Jane was still undecided whether to wear shorts, which was in fashion, or settle for the safer denim pants. Her modesty won after a few minutes of thinking things over.
“You look great in shorts,” Andy baited. “Your legs will turn heads.”
“Don’t start,” she warned, adjusting the loose-fitting jeans. “I might change and you’ll be sorry.”
He considered her words carefully. The place was totally different from their hometown.
Outside, the air began to accumulate the exhausts from motor vehicles, the air pollution that slowly choked the city of its fresh air. For the locals, who day in and day out, suffered such conditions, there were always the malls as air-conditioned refuges.
The couple walked in the shadows of tall buildings to escape the emerging heat from the mid-morning sun. Seeing an underground tunnel crossing used by pedestrians, they proceeded toward the area where the malls were.
Hawkers and peddlers lined up the peripheries of the crossing. Their cheap and imitation wares tempted bargain hunters to gobble up the goods before the same buyers reached the malls where they sold the genuine products.
Andy knew that Jane was interested because she kept asking for prices. In turn, the sellers tried to convince her thoroughly to take the best deal they offered.
“Can we buy some?” she asked him, holding several miniature plastic toy cars and look-alike guns. “I can sell these for a profit.”
“We can come back later,” he lied, trying to ease her away from the persistent peddlers. It was one of the best tricks to move away from making a rash decision: get a distance from the temptation.
“We’re coming back,” Andy smiled at the old man offering the toys. He held her by the arm and led her toward the stairway exit up the main boulevard.
Then, he made a mistake.
What surprised them was the strangeness of the streets. Suspicious-looking characters lurked everywhere. Even the children looked juvenile delinquents.
“I am afraid,” Jane muttered softly, her voice bore instant fear.
“Walk faster,” he ordered, the urgency in him was visible to those watching them.
A knife-wielding character suddenly blocked their path, His spotty-clean denim jacket looked alien in the seedy environment. Looks were that deceiving.
“Give me your wallet, quick!” he announced, his shifty eyes were alert for any eventualities.
Andy obeyed without a sound. If he was alone, he could fight it out but with his girlfriend, he would not risk her getting hurt.
The robber took the thick wallet in a frenzy. He was so excited for his loot that his greediness got the better of him.
“The watch, too,” he said, thrusting the sharp instrument toward Jane.
“Don’t harm us,” Andy requested, handing over the gold watch he owed since he was in high school. Even though it has a sentimental value, he parted with it with a heavy heart.
Running steps could be heard coming their way.
“Thank you, suckers!” the robber shouted as he sprinted toward an alley. His run became quicker when stray dogs decided that he earned to be bitten.
Andy and Jane hastily ran forward, escaping the questions of the oncoming deputized patrolmen. It was an uncommon action of victims but the aggravation of going to the station to file a complaint case could take more time than necessary. Besides, almost everyone accepted the fact that criminals were not apprehended for a long time.
– o –
Roger slumped on the side of an abandoned warehouse. His morning adventure could be considered as one of his most memorable in his criminal history.
He smiled wryly about the whole episode. Eluding the dogs after climbing the cyclone fence forced him to jump the other side. Sadly, his legs scraped the barbed wire atop the fence, landing on a wooden box which he thought was hollow but filled with empty bottles. He was fortunate the broken glasses did not lacerate his feet.
If that was not enough, he skidded on a pool of discarded used oil which he initially guessed as dirty water. Luckily, when he fell down, he missed injuring his face within inches from a stockpile of wooden planks stuck with protruding rusty nails.
After counting his blessings, he decided to count the contents of his loot.
The wallet was made from cheap leather but more importantly, it was thickened by crisp bills.
Roger began to plan what to buy when he noticed an irregularity. At closer inspection, what were supposed to be crisp currencies, the other sides had no prints.
“Nooooooooo!” he yelled in utter dismay. “Damn you!”
His nervousness grew when the watch he thought of as expensive was now also suspect. He raised it to his right ear to listen to the sound of money ticking. There was none.
He threw it to the concrete wall with great force that it shattered into so many pieces. It was worthless anyway with the hour arm missing, perhaps a long time ago.
Roger could only punch his head for being a fool. He was the real sucker.
(to be continued)