The fortyish man in the dark suit pushed open the door of his Mercedes E-320 near the Liberty National Bank in the parking lot of a strip mall just off North Tenth Street in McAllen. Gilberto Martinez managed to get ten feet from the car before a pregnant blond woman he judged to be in her mid-twenties accosted him.
"Um, excuse me sir. I, I don't mean to bother you, but there's been an accident," she began. "I don't know what else to do."
"Hold on there. I don't understand," he said, a sincere look of concern fixed on his handsome face. "What accident? Where?"
"Oh mister, please. I've never done anything like this before. I just don't know what else to do. It's an emergency."
Gilberto thought he saw tears welling up in the woman's eyes. "What can I do to help? What's wrong?"
She turned and pointed to a nearby section of the parking lot. "See that new blue Dodge pickup. It's mine. I have only a quarter of a tank and that's enough to get me to payday on Friday, but I just got a phone call from relatives. My mother was seriously injured in an accident up in San Antonio. I don't have any money to fill up the tank to go and see her. They. oh Jeez. They told me she wasn't going to make it until Friday and, and." A deluge of tears washed out the rest of what she tried to say.
"Take it easy. Maybe I can help you. I'm going to San Antonio on business tomorrow morning. I can give you a ride if you."
She shook her head from side to side. "Oh thank you so much, but I can't wait until tomorrow. I have to get there tonight. We had an argument the last time I saw her. I need to tell her that I love her before. before she goes. The doctors say she doesn't have much time left. I don't know what I'll do if I get there late."
Gilberto felt something for her. Maybe it was the way the breeze toyed with her lustrous blond tresses, or the carefully chosen outfit of cut off blue jeans and peasant blouse she wore. It reminded him of a partner from a few years back. "Gee, I'd like to help, but all I have on me is a one hundred dollar bill. I came here to break it, but I see the bank is closed already."
"Oh mister. I'll go into the grocery store there and get all the change you want if you'll let me have ten dollars. It'll go far toward filling my truck's tank."
He laughed softly, remembering the way his old partner could plead the same way as this pregnant girl. "Yes, but if I give you the hundred, what's to stop you from keeping it and running off?"
"Well uh, I would never do anything like that. I mean, there's my.. Wait," she said as she reached into her jeans pocket. "Here. I'll give you the keys to my pickup. You hold them while I get your change."
"Hmm. I think I could do that. I was going to pick up some cigarettes anyway. Why don't you buy a carton of Marlboros? I'll give you a twenty from the change. That should get you all the way to San Antonio and part of the way back."
"Oh my. I'll never forget this," she said as she hugged him. She handed him the keys and he gave her the crisp new hundred-dollar bill. "I won't be a minute," she said as she turned and ran to the store.
It was actually five minutes later when she stepped out of the store carrying a plastic sack. She hurried over to Gilbert, handed him the sack and sixty-five dollars and coins.
"Not bad," he said. "You really came back. I'm impressed." He checked the change from the hundred in his hands and looked up. Over her shoulder, he spotted two men coming straight at them. Gilberto said, "You're very honorable. For that sterling trait, I'm going to let you keep all of the change."
"All?" Her face brightened as he returned the cash to her hand. "Did you say all of it?"
He didn't get a chance to answer the question because one of the two men from the store put a hand on her shoulder and said, "Ma'am. You'll have to come with us."
A look of horror replaced the elation that previously lit her young face. "What? What are you talking about?"
The other man answered by holding up the hundred-dollar bill. "I think you know this bill you gave the cashier was counterfeit. Come with us now. We have already called the police."
She opened her mouth to protest, but it was Gilberto whose next move made her jaw drop. He reached into an inside pocket in his suit jacket and pulled out a leather case. He flipped it open and a bright chrome badge caught their attention.
"Good work boys. Special Agent Martinez of the Secret Service. I'll take it from here. This is Patty 'The Passer' Smith. We've been watching her for weeks and waiting until she started moving phony bills again." With one hand, he put the badge back where it came from. With the other, he reached around under the back of his jacket and pulled out a pair of handcuffs he carried for such occasions as this. "Turn around Patty. We're going for a ride. You are under arrest again. You know the Miranda warning by heart, so I won't bother with that."
The man with the phony bill protested. "But sir, the police are on the way."
"Here, give me that bill," Gilberto said as he plucked it out of the man's hand. "Evidence. You tell the police that I already have her in custody. Wait here. They'll need your statements."
Wide-eyed and without a word, the pregnant woman was led away with her hands cuffed behind her. Gilberto opened the passenger door of the Mercedes and guided her into the seat. Four blocks away, she found her voice. "Who the hell are you?"
"Secret Service Special Agent Gilberto Martinez at your orders."
"Yeah, right," she smirked. "And I'm Patty 'The Passer' Smith if such a person really does exist. Since when does the Secret Service give fancy luxury cars like this to all their agents? You might fool the jerks from the supermarket, but I think I'm a lot smarter than they are." She tried to move to the side, but grimaced in pain. "Oh yeah. Get these damned cuffs off me."
Gilberto made a low chuckling noise as he pulled the car over to the curb on a dimly lit section of the street. He stopped the car, but left the keys in the ignition. "You're right. You are smarter than they are, but not by much. That 'Help me, I'm a pregnant woman con' is penny ante and you're too sloppy to pull it off. I mean, the pillow sticks out from under your blouse. Also, you sprinted to the store. Come on. What pregnant woman does that?" He put a hand to her shoulder and gave it a gentle push. "Lean forward."
She did as he requested and moved her manacled hands toward him. "Gee, thanks for the how-to tips. Anything else, oh great master?"
"Yeah, there is. These keys." He held up the keys to her new blue Dodge pickup. "When they didn't fit any vehicle in the parking lot, I knew I had a new partner," he said as he unlocked the cuffs.
"Partner? Unh-uh. I work alone. I don't need any man to boss me around. I do pretty good all by myself."
"Yes, I know. I saw your style only a few minutes ago. Look, when you're passing queer, you can't hand over a crisp bill. Before you present it, you fold it five or six times. You crumple it up. You even rub dirt on it to make it look like it's been around."
"Very interesting," she said. "I'll keep that in mind next time I pass, what'd you call it? Queer?"
"What's your daily take? Seventy, eighty bucks?"
"Yeah, something like that. It's easier than working. I only hit the street a few hours a day and."
"And you could be getting a hundred times that if you hooked up with a professional." His right hand reached back and pulled a stack of hundreds out of a black leather bag in the rear seat. After riffling through the stack for effect, he tossed it in her lap. "They're good, but not excellent. If I had a partner who followed my instructions, we could net fifty thousand here in the Rio Grande Valley. It's so strung out; we could hit McAllen, Harlingen, and Brownsville before the cops had the chance to spread the alert. After that, we'd move up to Corpus, over to Laredo and into San Antonio. The sky is the limit." He extended his hand as if to shake hers and said, "What do you say, partner?"
Before she could respond, a bright beam of light from behind illuminated the interior of the Mercedes like the noontime sun in July. She looked through the rear window and saw a spotlight plus a full complement of red and blue lights on top of a McAllen police cruiser. "You got big trouble, dude," she said as she slipped the stack of hundreds into her blouse under the pillow.
The officer who came up to Gilberto's window was young, but he was cautious. His right hand rested on his gun. "Sir, may I see your license and proof of insurance."
Gilberto complied with the officer's request as a second officer came up to the woman's raised window. In a low voice only she could hear, Gilberto told her, "Just keep cool. They can't know anything about that little incident at the supermarket. Don't worry about a thing." In a louder voice, he asked the first officer, "Is anything wrong? We just stopped here to do a little private talking if you know what I mean."
"Well sir, your license says your name is Gilberto Martinez, yet this car is registered to a Doctor Herman Wiedeman. He reported it stolen yesterday from where he works. Do you know Doctor Wiedeman?"
"Yes, I do. I'm his anesthesiologist when he performs surgeries. He must have forgotten that he loaned it to me so I could bring back medical supplies from San Antonio."
"Sir, I'll have to ask you to step out of the car. Dr. Wiedeman is a PhD. at Pan American University. He's not a medical doctor."
As Gilberto was being cuffed and led back to the cruiser, the second officer asked, "Miss, are you related to the driver or are you a friend of his?"
She looked up at him and said truthfully, "I never saw him before today. I met him just a few minutes ago. He said he was going to help me get to San Antonio to see my sick mother who was injured in a car accident."
"All right," said the officer. You'll have to get out of the car because it's going to be impounded and the driver is being arrested. Do you think you'll be able to get to San Antonio some other way?"
As she got out of the car, she reached into the back seat. She grabbed the black bag and pulled it out with her. "Oh, I think I'll do just fine," she said.
Copyright © 2005 Bob ClarkSend us your comments on this article