What do you do when the Feds come a knockin’?

Me? I let them in.

Why? Because like so many other seemingly complicated mysteries, it started with a simple lie.

Four days ago at 10 am a gringo rang my bell. I threw on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts and went down and answered the gate.

He said, ‘People said there was a nice American guy living here.’ He had an award winning smile and an open demeanor so I automatically invited him in. I explained away the empty first floor saying that I only cooked there. As we walked up the steps to the second floor I said that the house was way too big for me but you’ll understand in a minute why I rented the place.

I ushered him out onto the 3rd floor terrace and he appropriately ooh’d and ahh’d over the spectacular view.

We drug a pair of chairs out into the shade and had a incredibly friendly chat that lasted until 11:30. We had the usual chitchat about life in Mexico then he opened with a slightly anti-Obama remark which I upped by saying that I thought the man was ‘dangerous,’ to which he nodded to the affirmative.

The conversation switched to a problem that he, Mike was having and that a buddy of his whose wife had recently died left him, Mike with all  the furniture. Really nice stuff that he had no use for. He said the guy shut down his house in Chapala  – a small town 40 miles away populated mostly by rich gringos on the north side of Lake Chapala – moved back to the states and gave Mike the furniture.

I was sympathetic and wished him luck. The conversation then switched to other topics. I learned that Mike has two sons both studying in Portugal. That they both speak 7 language fluently. Mike lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming where he drives a truck 7 months out of the year and takes the other 5 months off. Mike is 60 years old. Very fit, no fat. Speaks impeccable Spanish. He was dressed in pressed chinos with a nice button down shirt, wearing tan colored cowboy boots that were not fancy but well cared for. He had close-cropped hair and wore a small well-trimmed beard. His nice smile suggested that he never missed a single bi-annual dental visit.

The subject turned back to the problem of the furniture. And I agreed that it was a problem. And told him that it had been my experience that the reason that one couldn’t buy second hand furniture in Mexico was because there wasn’t any. Furniture was continually recycled by the family.

The conversation turned to sandals. And we had a long discussion on my efforts to make and sell sandals. I drug out several boxes of sandals and he told me that he liked what I was doing and that he wanted me to make him a pair (of the Italianos). I said you bet. I really liked this guy. He said that he was going to be in Mexico for the next 3-4 weeks and that we should hang out, maybe take a couple of short trips together. He had a Ford F250 up in Chapala and all he asked for was for a little help with gas. And he went on to say that he knew some people in Puerto Vallarta that could definitely give me some serious help on getting my sandals out there (as in marketed and sold).

I told him that I was working on getting a business visa and he said that what I really needed was a resident visa. To that I absolutely agreed but I told him that it had been my experience that getting a resident’s visa was almost impossible. He said, just the opposite. And that the process was very easy. You didn’t even need a lawyer. He told me that he’d hook me up with a couple of savvy old gringos in Chapala who’d show me how to do it.

The subject turned back to the problem of the furniture. (To which I still wasn’t biting). And finally he said, ‘Look, I’ll just give it to you. You don’t give me anything. Maybe just help out someone else along the line like people have done for my sons.’ To this I reluctantly agreed. Granted, my house was way under-furnished but did I really want more stuff? Even if it was the nice stuff that Mike was telling me it was? Sealy Posturepedic beds and a washer and dryer,  and tables and chairs were a few of the things that he mentioned. I mean the house doesn’t even have a washer hookup let alone an outlet for a dryer.

And then I did something that I didn’t do when the last gringo came knockin’ a year and a half ago; I offered him a room. I thought that if he was that generous then the least I could do was offer him a place to stay. Not that I really wanted company. But Mike was a pretty cool guy and so if I could put up with anybody it would be someone like Mike.

He thought that was great. By this time we were well on our way to becoming pretty good friends. He didn’t pry. He never asked me any embarrassing or personal questions. He didn’t talk about uncomfortable things like whoring in Mexico or talk like he had a sordid shameful past or that he was running from something. He had no discernible flaws. And I am pretty hip to picking up the most subtle clues. If someone is hiding something I am usually pretty good at picking up on it. But nope. In other words, Mike was the complete (un)idiosyncratic opposite of every other man his age – including yours truly. He was too perfect and I just didn’t see it at the time.

I walked him out and he mentioned again that all he asked for was a little help with the gas. And I was thinking, yeah with a Ford F-250 I’d want a little help too. So without hesitation I fished out a 500 peso note and asked if that would be enough. He said, yeah that should do it. He’d load up the furniture and be back in a few hours.

I never heard from him again.

PS – So what were the inconsistencies? What makes me so sure he was a fed? The fact that he was so damned good. A polished liar with a firm, dry  handshake. And he couldn’t hide the fact that he was educated. Not that he was quoting Shakespeare (which is something that an uneducated person would more likely do) but it was the cadence of his conversation. The words he used. His sentences. Nothing fancy. But it has been my experience that it is hard to hide a university education. So as a truck driver he was both too educated and too fit.  And an F-250? I should have caught that right off the bat. You can’t get a houseful of furniture on an F-250. Not more than a washer and dryer and a pair of beds.

So why the furniture ploy? Because he was a fast study and quickly saw when he entered my house that my lack of furniture could be a point of leverage.

So why the 500 pesos? He certainly didn’t need 500 pesos. And the furniture story would have had a completely different spin if he did. I know because I’ve been hustled by the best. It has been my experience that the hustler is always a little too greedy and always has a fatal flaw. And to spend an hour and a half in very pleasant conversation just to squeeze me for a measly 500 pesos also doesn’t add up. No, if it were money that he was after he would have been pushing the sales aspect of the furniture and the buy in would have been much higher.

So what was his angle? Why furniture and why the 500 pesos?  My guess is that the furniture was the conversational hook and perhaps a ploy to gauge my greed. And the opening anti-Obama gambit was put out there to test my loyalty (or degree of radicalness); after all I’ve been expatting it down in Mexico for 2 years. And the length of the conversation was there to measure my criminal factor.

I know if you give me 5-10 minutes with someone – especially if you let me lead the conversation – I can tell you if they’ve either done time or if they have an appetite for criminal activity. Most criminals think that they’re so much smarter than everyone else – when in fact it is usually the opposite – so they generally have very easy to spot ‘tells’.

Now Mike took an hour and a half. Why so long? Maybe I amused him. Maybe he had time to kill because it wouldn’t take an expert in criminology to quickly conclude that I have no criminal tendencies.

And then in true genius fashion he played the ‘have to go the pick up furniture’ angle to terminate the interview.

And the 500 pesos? Smoke, pure smoke. You could never (ever) imagine a federal agent asking for gas money. Nope. He wanted to leave me feeling like I had been scammed. Why? Because if you can get someone looking firmly in one direction then it is highly unlikely that they’ll look in another direction.


PPS – But the clincher? He said, ‘People said there was a nice American living in town.’ And that my friend was the lie. And it took me all this time – because the lie was so disarmingly simple – to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.

Example, when the other gringo, James Jessup rang the buzzer at my gate a year and a half ago, I was asked the same day – by at least a dozen people in town – if James, the gringo with the big beard had found me yet.

However in this case, not one person in these last 4 days have asked me anything about this gringo. Like did he find me? For that matter, not a single person in town even asked me if I’d seen some new gringo around town. Or was he a buddy of mine? Nada.

Which means that he knew exactly who I was and where to find me.

Kinda gives you the shivers doesn’t it?