“Do you speak Spanish?” asked a voice from the shadows.
It is not often that I get a chance to show off my unilingualism, so despite every alarm bell going off in my head, and every scene from Taken flashing before my eyes, I was eager to reply, “Yes.”
It was then that the voice from the shadows tried to con us.
I was with a small group of friends in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. We were debating buying a six-pack of bagged sangria when the voice, and the whole man for that matter, entered stage left.
He was well dressed and clean-shaven, but he was a little battered looking. His right eye was blackened, giving him the popular “smoky eyes” look, and his hand was swollen, giving him the less popular, but still sexy, “I just broke my fist” look.
According to him, though, that is exactly what happened. Upon learning that we knew English, he jumped into his story. He kept a robotic calmness and paused at appropriate times to gain his audience’s sympathy. His pseudo-monologue was well rehearsed, and its script went something like this:
He and his 78-year-old father were mugged in a bad part of town. The police were no help, but the Sheraton Hotel was amazing, and got his dad to a hospital. However, for some reason or another, perhaps to hail a cab, he desperately needed six dollars. Ultimately, he gave us his email, and promised to return the cash in full once he made it back home.
I was unnerved by the situation. Not so much because I thought he was lying to us— I was more freaked out by the fact that he only asked for six dollars. How could he possibly survive off of this? What kind of con artist was he? He must have been a beginner. I was almost tempted to give him six dollars and lead him to the nearest Red Box, so he could rent that con artist movie starring Nicholas Cage and develop some better techniques.
Then, I saw a pack of Marlboros in his breast pocket and I could not justify donating to his cause. I knew that he would just spend all of the money on cigarettes.
We said sorry and he returned to the alley from which he originally emerged. Eventually, we decided to head back home, splitting an overpriced $15 dollar cab ride—finally, some con men who knew what they were doing.