Plaça Universitat. Three girls, arms a flurry of wild gesticulation. One of them sputtered raw choking sounds and shoved a clipboard with papers in my face. On the top sheet – next to a handicap symbol – it said:
Certificate of Regional Association
For Dumb Discapacitado Deaf Person
And for the Poor Children
We want to obtain to a national center the internet
Help please thank you very much?
Below that, fields for filling out your name, postal code and city of residence. The footer at the very bottom of the page had an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I should have told those janes to dangle the moment I read their poorly written plea for charity. But I was oiled to the gills and feeling good. Had I been sober their shady operation would have been obvious.
They each had a clipboard with the same gibberish printed on it. Each had long wavy brown black hair, tied back. The jane who handed me the clipboard wore camouflage cargo pants and a striped purple t-shirt. Her helpers wore jeans and blue and red t-shirts respectively. Their clothes looked two sizes too big. Rumpled, like they had slept in them.
Like a sap I reached into my pocket for some loose change. Nada. The problem was I’d blown all my jack on slugs of rye and a dancer in a go go club. I said, “Lo siento, señoritas,” and handed the clipboard back. “No dinero.” Her hard black eyes wrinkled into two Vs, and the corner of her lip trembled. I thought I heard her mumble cabrón, but I wasn’t sure. She shot over to an obvious tourist who was walking by – her helpers in tow.
I forgot about it until the next day when I saw three other kittens pulling the same stunt in Plaça Catalunya, near the double decker tour bus stop. They had the same sartorial style: baggy clothes, hair tied back, clipboards in hand. I was cold sober and broke, but it was so hot that day I had to get out of my cramped hotel room and walk around. I’d taken off my hat and had my gabardine draped over my arm. I was taking shade, leaning against a balustrade leading up to the center of the plaza, when I saw this go down.
While I burned through a Reig I watched the girls bounce from tourist to tourist like pinballs until they got one to stop. Easily half the tourists they stopped took a pen and wrote out personal details on the clipboard before forking out cash. I saw blue bills, pink bills and plenty of small change. In the 15 minutes I stood there these three girls pulled in at least 50 smackers. That comes to 200 euros an hour. Not bad for a day’s work.
Then the tour bus took off, and with it most of the tourists.
Something miraculous happened.
These Discapacitado Deaf Persons sat down on a cement embankment next to a fountain. Two of them started jawing and guffawing. The third put on headphones. Some deaf & dumb charity. The Charity of Gypmeisters!
I shadowed these deaf dumb posers while they conned tourist after tourist around the plaza. Around 3 o’clock they headed for the subway on Passeig de Gràcia.
I followed them underground and hopped on the purple line subway after them, half a car down. They were laughing the whole ride. None of our fellow passengers could have guessed these lively kittens had the sharpest claws of all. A voracious appetite for conning tourists out of their hard-earned scratch!
They rode all the way to the end of the line at Pep Ventura and I followed them out. When they reached surface level they stopped at the mouth of the subway entrance. I walked past and took a plant in a bar facing them. 8 minutes later a mold-green Ford 131 with busted rims pulled up. They piled in and the car peeled out and shot down Marquès avenue.
That night I resolved to track the Charity Con Artists wherever they went. So far I’d seen them at Plaça Catalunya and Plaça Universitat, two tourist hotspots. I decided to hit the rest of the hotspots over the next few days.
I went to Parc Guell and the Sagrada Familia, took the stretch of Paseo de Gracia. I waded through a sea of beer-swilling tourists on the Ramblas. I cased the Gotic, made my way to the La Catedral and La Palau de Musica. There are more tourist hotspots, but I’d peeped enough.
My ticker almost went blooey.
This thing was much bigger than I thought. The Charity Con Artists had multiplied like a dangerous virus and were all over this burg! I couldn’t believe their cunning. And the tourists. Instincts of troglodytes! Those gypmeisters were roping them in like docile cows.
There were several groups of girls. All donning the same rumply threads, all using the same paraphernalia. I tracked them back to the end of the purple line every afternoon. Different cars, different groups of girls. They always got off at Pep Ventura at the end of their “workdays”.
I called my contact, Falcó. He’s a desk sergeant in the mossos who’s been around and respects my implacable drive to fight crime against tourists. He said las carpeteras, as they’re called in police terminology, are a growing problem. Since they are minors, and the amount they swindle is usually less than 300 euros, they can’t be thrown in the cooler. Falcó told me they have to release the kids to their folks the same day they’re nabbed. The next day the kids are back on the streets.
Their folks, says Falcó, are the criminal masterminds behind the Charity Con. Since they are nowhere around the girls when they’re scamming, they can claim innocence.
So it works like that. Tourists end up giving their money away to some dead beat padres. Boy it wound me up tighter than a ten euro watch from a topmanta, and I was going to bust!
Finally I got my chance. Just yesterday they accosted me over by Plaça Catalunya and Portal de l’Angel. It was about 11 in the morning, tourists were everywhere. I was dressed casual with my Hawaiian shirt and my straw hat.
Three janes with clipboards jumped in front of me. They made those raw choking sounds and stuck a clipboard out. I took it and squinted my eyes. I shook my head.
“No puedo leer. No can read! Illiterate!”
Another girl showed me a grimy coffee can filled with small change and bills. She pointed to the handicapped sign on the clipboard I was holding. I rubbed my chin like I still didn’t get it. I grabbed the clipboard and started furiously flipping through the sheets of paper. Signature after signature of duped tourists.
“Poor children! Ha! Dumb Discapacitados!”
I raised the clipboard high and brought it down on my knee. It shattered into pieces and sheets of paper fluttered off. The girls started wailing and shaking their fists. A young tourist woman with dreadlocks snatched up one of the papers and shot the girls a glance. Then she turned to me with righteous indignation.
“You fat racist pig! How dare you treat these poor helpless children this way! How dare you! How dare you!”
A crowd of tourists had formed around us. They looked at me and shook their heads.
Then something unbelievable happened.
They started consoling the gypmeisters and giving them money! Then they walked off in a group. An old lady hissed and shook her fist at me. One of the gypmeisters turned and stuck her tongue out. I kicked part of the broken clipboard and walked down Fontanella to the first bar I saw. I swear this burg is a one stop fraud shop. And they got the best customers of all. Clueless tourists.