I thrust my hand deeper into my handbag, my fingers caressed the metal tube that held a cigar, a present Carlos had given me on our first meeting. I had joked what use would a cigar be to a girl like me and got no reply. His story unfolded with a claim he’d met Fidel Castro earlier in the year whilst visiting Cuba: a tale I refused to believe, though it made me laugh. Next, he would be telling me Che Guevara had dropped in for tea too.
From the outset I think I knew it was wrong accepting his help. However at the time it appeared to be the loan that our company was desperate to secure.
One year down the line I’ve got my old friend ‘Mr Hindsight’ thundering away inside my head: ‘You really shouldn’t have done that Kristina’.
My first impression was that Carlos was one of the good guys. Tall, slim, cheery smile and dressed in expensive suits. A business man in the dizzy world of finance. His advice was to sleep on any deal before signing up. But he was still someone who tricked me.
He set up the loan that at first appeared to offer low interest rates. However, I obviously didn’t study the small print well enough. The sting in the tail was that at the first anniversary, when the introductory interest charge came to an end, the rate was now about to escalate to an extortionate figure for the remaining two years. I can honestly say he never mentioned anything about a one year initial offer.
Carlos drew breath as he confirmed this was a perfectly legal agreement, I just hadn’t read the contract. It would appear there were numerous companies out there offering similar sky high charges.
It was then that Carlos offered me an unconventional alternative, a way out. He’d play me at cards over a three week period. We’d meet up every Wednesday and he’d give me a chance to scrap the higher repayment figures if I won. The worst scenario, if I lost, then my employer would be issued with an administration charge of one thousand pounds as well as having to pay back the new high interest rates. This didn’t worry me as I was confident I would win. I was great at cards, I rarely lost.
Every Wednesday I lied to the company that I had to be somewhere else, dreaming up a new excuse each time. My extended lunch hour was spent in a dingy room above a pub, aptly named the Prince and Thief, where Carlos and I battled over a deck of cards.
The deal was the best of three card games but I only got to week two and I was done. Carlos had won.
I lost every game - my lucky streak plummeted like a stone falling from on high. I took my punishment sitting down. This man was better than ace; I thought I was good; he was on another level.
After the game I was handed an invoice for the administration fee as if he knew all along I was going to lose. I shook his ice cool hand promising to make payment of the new bill within fourteen days. I went back to the office more amused than annoyed. The end of the world hadn’t arrived just yet.
I’d always thought of myself as a tough old bird. I had kicked the husband into touch some time ago. I should have won those games but believe Carlos must have been a card shark. But hey, hadn’t I cheated in the past, left a few people unhappy? Living on the edge has always thrilled me. The rent on my London pad hasn’t been paid for the last six months and I owe my ex-boyfriend big time. However, I have amassed a fair amount of savings; my nest egg is secure in a tax haven.
And now it seems the small company I work for is in for a big shock and I don’t care one iota. The finance deal I set up with Carlos was a bad one and, with the extra bill plus the crazy rates, my boss is not going to be pleased with me.
Thirty thousand feet up in the air, I settle back into my seat and press the call button for more champagne. I recline in the leather seat – it’s first class all the way, money no problem. Reaching down to my handbag, I pat the bulging brown envelope that contains the contents of the company’s safe. A large amount of cash that the boss asked me to lock away, only I’d removed it just before leaving the office for the last time.
Deeper down amidst the chaos of my bag I grasp the wafer-thin cylinder that held the cigar Carlos had given me and wonder what Cuba will hold for me.
A rather gorgeous looking air steward takes my order for a top up of the bubbly stuff and he asks me if everything is alright.
I tell him I think everything is just fine ...
Mark Laming is a local author with 3 published books - all available on Amazon.