A confidence man
May third, 2009
A lady I know from church called from church last night with a pressing problem. A Swedish businessman desperately needed to meet with a Christian businessman. I was the only one she knew who might fit that description. Could I see him?
I was an interruptible position. I was doing some data analysis and the computers were busy but I was not. I have dangerous curiosity and wanted to see what it was about. Olga put the businessman on the phone and I gave him my address. He had some difficulty getting it, so he put his chauffeur on to take it accurately. The chauffeur gave a short confirmation that he understood. In about five minutes I got a phone call that he was downstairs.
Very odd looking specimen. He was wearing a black suit that is out of style today, so far so that I can't imagine any time and place in which it would have been in style. It had a very fussy sort of a cut, seemed a little bit tight and short in the cuffs, and had a very narrow stripes and a little bit of shine to it. The guy within the suit was to match. A puffy man, not very tall, reeking of cologne with his thinning blond hair absolutely greased to his head with pomade. He introduced himself as Karl.
Karl was intense. He told me that what he had to say was in absolute confidence and we needed to go someplace where there would be no danger of being overheard. The first place on my block, Cupidon, is a beer cellar. I told him it was so noisy we would not have been overheard. Right next door is a bakery where one can get a glass of beer. He rejected both of these. Far too public. We walked 100 m down the street to a restaurant that is very seldom busy and sure enough, there were lots of empty tables. Even at that he was very concerned at the risk of being overheard. We sat across the aisle from a family of four who were quite occupied with the kids. On top of that, we spoke French because it is far less common here than English.
Karl explained that he had been brought up in England and educated in France, which is how he acquired his excellent knowledge of both languages. But that is history. He is alone in the world. The only person he can really turn to this is this trusted, never seen chauffeur, who is waiting faithfully outside, knowing that he will be paid later. Aside from that -- everybody in life has turned away from Karl. He has no family he can rely on. No business associates. For all that he claimed he was looking for a Christian businessman to help him, he never mentioned any church association of his own. He had walked into our church not knowing a soul, simply knowing that the Christian church is a refuge for people in need, and he was in desperate need. He was so lucky to have actually found somebody there after dark on Saturday night!
He insisted again on the absolute confidentiality of our conversation. Under no circumstance could I ever, ever tell anybody about it. Businessmen must have their secrets. In deference to his wishes, the reader will note that I have put this on a very private corner of the Internet.
We spent a little while chatting about me, giving an opportunity, no doubt, to let him know what a man of substance I was. I did not oblige, instead using the opportunity to prepare a defense against the coming touch. In telling my story, I explained that I was not a businessman anymore, simply a retiree living in Kiev where my meager income would go farther. Olga had been mistaken. I also let him down about Christianity. I told him that Anglicans are not the most fervent Christians in the world, and that my beliefs are feeble even for an Anglican.
Karl's story was interesting in its simplicity. He needed to leave the country tonight. It was absolutely urgent that he get out. Why, he did not explain. What means? Train or airplane? He did not go into any detail. He had some supposedly urgent business on the morrow, but did not describe it. He needed to get money to pay his chauffeur, but provided no detail on that. But would I help him? WOULD I HELP HIM? He demanded an answer.
I told him that I could conceive of only two kinds of help he could be seeking from me, and I was short on both. Time and money. I had only enough in my wallet to get through the weekend and only a few hundred in the bank that I could not get until Tuesday in any case. More or less true, and it is interesting how her I wrestled with the obligation to be honest to a man who was clearly telling a whopping story in order to exploit my honesty and good nature. I stayed as close to the truth as I could while still making a case.
At long last, after this elaborate build up, came the touch. Karl needed $200. No explanation of where the figure came from. A train out of the country would cost less; an airplane would cost more. I told him what he already knew, that I was not going to come up with it. He had been nursing the beer that I was buying, but all of a sudden he got thirsty. He finished the beer quite abruptly, told me that he absolutely had to find another Christian businessman, presumably somebody better heeled than myself, and excused himself to join his chauffeur.
I finished my beer and paid the tab. His beer had cost me a dollar and a half. The price of a movie. They do not make movies this interesting.