The first time I saw this crooked kitten she was falling into a cab, oiled to the gills, blathering something in French. She was a dream. A deluxe hustler whose tomatoes got my motor racing every time I peeped them. I watched this all go down in front of a bar near the Liceu subway stop.

It was early evening and getting nippy, but she was wearing a teeny lamé dress and large oval-shaped shades. The kind uptown sharpies wear. She had long wavy cornflower-blue hair, mussed up by the breeze from the Med. Sidling in after her was a little bit of a man in his early thirties. Shaved dome to dissimulate his bald spot, sharp-looking plastic framed glasses, brown suit. He was chinning something in American.

“You just tell me where you wanna go …”

“Izz too much. It izz too much. Monsieur, are you sure?”

She pronounced “sure” with a hard “s”. I knew something was wrong. This sweet-looking jane and this young sprout without clout. Takes no genius to tumble to it. Before the hackie shut the door I heard: “Merci, merci monsieur. How can I ever repay you?” I made a mental note. I remembered that figure.

The second time I saw her she was near the Drassenes subway stop. She had a bleach-job or some kind of blonde hair piece on, a zebra-patterned charmeuse dress with one of the shoulder straps loose. I recognized her by her oversized shades and those mesmerizing curves.

I was leafing through some girlie mags in the kiosk. Next to me this forty-ish English tourist with a Liverpool football jersey. She wedged herself between me and the Englishman and went into her spiel. This time she shed her French accent for a German one.

Entschuldigung, sir … entschuldigung sprechen Sie Deutsch … no? You speak English?” She had a weird drawl when she jawed in German.

“Why … why yes, certainly,” he stammered.

“I am so sorry to bother you, but you look like a nice man and something terrible has happened. The Moroccans …”

She sobbed a story about how she got fleeced by members of the Track Suit Mafia. She was cleaned out until she could go to the embassy tomorrow morning. Her encantos were in full view. A bird flying over would’ve gotten vertigo and crashed just looking at that cleavage. The Englishman walked off with her. I had a date with Magic Hands that day. Otherwise I would’ve shadowed them.

The third time I saw her I was in a joint near the Parallel subway stop. One of those typical tourist traps with Spanish trappings and hooks on the wall for tourists to hang their Mexican sombreros. I was near the back corner, lighting fire to a Ducado and waiting for the camarero to bring my rye when this flustered tourist came in. You take a textbook example of what a perfect target would be for a gypmeister and he would be it: unwieldy “love” handles on the sides of his waist – which were obvious despite his blazer and baggy pants – and map in hand. Yup, this town is full of sheep ripe for sheering.

He ordered in some kind of Spanish. A “sir-vay-za”. Pulled the barstool out and plopped his fat derriere on it. Laid his map out on the worn varnished counter to study it. I blew out a plume of gray haze and tapped ash. A dame wearing big shades walked in at this moment. She had curves that could give an entire geriatric ward cardiac arrest. It was her all right, except this time she had a short bob hairpiece, jet-black, and she was wearing a navy-blue airline stewardess uniform. Walked right up to the tourist fellow and shimmied her fine behind onto the barstool next to him. Then she started weeping gently.

The tourist gent stopped studying his Rand-McNally and looked at her. Seeing her teary expression he asked:

“I … I’m sorry … is anything wrong? Oh … how terribly rude of me … tu … tu hablo ingles?”

“Yes … yes I do … I’m American.”

I was starting to get ill. The camarero brought my drink and I knocked it back and took a deep drag. Instead wringing her gold-digging neck I clenched my teeth. Blew out another long gray plume.

“Oh really? I … I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to assume … Heh heh … what on earth is the matter?”

With tears streaking down, making grayish trails on her mascara, she replied:

“Oh I feel so silly. I really don’t want to bother you …”

“No .. no …”

“I just flew in from New York with a two-day layover. I left the airport and took the train and everything was fine until I got to Plaça Catalunya. Then, when I was leaving the train I was distracted by this Spanish guy. Maybe he was a gypsy or a Moroccan, I don’t know! He kept pestering me for directions to the Sagrada Familia, and he was like really insistent, with this map that he kept shoving in my face. I kept telling him I didn’t know and finally he left, but by that time the train had left and I was standing on the platform like a total idiot! My travel bag was stolen. Everything, my laptop and even my personal diary …”

“Oh dear …”

Her story got better. She was booked in this fashion boutique hotel nearby in the Raval. Fashion boutique being a modest hotel outfitted with expensive gear and a catchy looking logo. Some pricey dump called Hotel El Cool. The poor tourist asked her if she couldn’t call the American Embassy, and she said it was too late. She would have to try first-thing tomorrow morning.

He said this situation was “absolutely disgraceful” and agreed to help her out with some scratch until tomorrow. At least, he insisted, she should have a good night’s rest in her hotel after this “terrible ordeal”. They pushed off their barstools and he left a couple euros on the bar. I dropped my cig and stamped it out. I threw three euros in shinies on the bar and set out after them.

They didn’t have far to walk. Past the usual miscreants and the paki food joints there was this nondescript building with “Boutique Hotel El Cool” on the door buzzer list. They hit the buzzer and waited while I loafed around like a drunken louse at the street corner. Seconds later they pushed the door and went up. In five minutes I was accosted by a churriana and saw two JDLRs. They still hadn’t come out. I beat it.

That night in my room I couldn’t get this multi-faced frail out of my thoughts. It needled me something bad that she was pulling fast ones on tourists in my jurisdiction. I couldn’t even send her to the sneezer because legally she wasn’t doing anything wrong.

I needed a slant on this case. I had glow on and my dome wasn’t 100%, but slowly a pattern emerged. I had seen her as a French mademoiselle near the Liceu stop, a German fraulein near the Drassanes stop, and as an American flight attendant near the Parallel stop. Then I remembered the camarero complaining about all the tourists in town because of the big 3GSM convention. That meant fellows with moola and a free night on the town who had no clue whatsoever about the dangerous criminal underbelly.

I knew just where and how this dish was going to strike next. I couldn’t wait to put the sock to her pretty yapper!


Read the rest of this story in Larry Kovaks’ book, City of Crime, available now in print or in e-book format. You can also preview the book here.

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