Friday, June 02, 2006

Shady Characters 2

As I wrote in part 1 of this series, my very first encounter with a shady character occurred when I was still in secondary school. I had just gotten off a schoolbus taking me from my home village to the nearest large city for a school trip.

A more recent encounter occurred in 2004, when I had just gotten off the Dubai Transport #14 bus at the stop near the clocktower. It was 5:30 p.m., and I had a 6:00 p.m. appointment in front of the old Dubai Cinema, once a universally recognized landmark in the Hor al Anz section of Deira, but today a small triangle of sand with a few bits of rubble scattered about.

As I walked (as briskly as I can manage), a young man stepped right in front of me and leaned over. I managed to stop just in time to avoid an actual collision. He stood up, and was holding a roll of money with a US one hundred dollar bill on the outside. Assuming, as one would, that it was a roll of US hundred dollar bills, the roll must have contained several thousand dollars.

'Wow. This is my lucky day. You know, under Dubai law, we must turn this into the police, but you are the only one who saw me, so, if you agree, we can split this money.'

I deeply regret that it takes me almost half an hour to walk from the clock tower to the old Dubai Cinema site, and I could not be late for my appointment, so all I could say was,

'Go ahead, you keep it. I've really got to be off.'

I would like to have seen the second act (I'm afraid I already knew I couldn't remain for Act III).

Had I not rushed off, the young man would point out that either the police or the rightful owners would soon be coming by, and that we must move away from the area immediately and rendezvous later. I would be entrusted with the loot, since I looked much more respectable (or at least much older and fatter) than the young man, but he'd need some assurance that I'd meet him at the rendezvous. Since the roll was obviously worth thousands of dollars, I shouldn't mind giving the young man a deposit worth a few hundred. For safety, the young man would have a black, plastic sack in which to place the roll of money so it wouldn't be obvious. It was much too large to be stuck in a pocket or billfold.

Most people would figure the young man for a fool, take the money, and plan never to meet up with him. Others would plan on 'honestly' going to the rendezvous at the specified time. In either case, when opened, the black, plastic sack would contain only pieces of paper cut in the shape of dollars. The young man would have managed some sleight of hand to switch the bag containing the roll of money with the hundred dollar bill with another bag containing only paper.

At best (after a deposit worth several hundred dollars) the roll would have a single one hundred dollar bill on the outside wrapped around newspaper cut in the shape of money.

This game is so famous, they made a movie about it called The Sting.

I would have liked to have heard his actual proposal for splitting the roll of money, but I didn't have time, so I assume it would be identical to the one Robert Redford used in the movie. This assumption is almost certainly wrong, as the young man would have his own idiosyncratic script.

Of course, this script might have involved my getting my 'deposit' from a nearby ATM, and the young man then reliving me of the deposit by force (in which case, I'm glad I had the appointment), but, again, I'm not sure of the details of what he would have done next had I not had to rush off.

I met a reporter from one of the local newspapers and told him the story, but the newspaper only publishes local stories if they are official government press releases, and I wasn't wearing my khandoura (actually, I don't even have a khandoura, being neither an official nor even a Citizen), so the reporter told me they couldn't use the story until they got it as an official release from the Dubai police.

But I'm telling it for the benefit of anyone else who has the good fortune to come across a huge roll of hundred dollar bills.

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