¨Qué triste, negro. What sadness,¨ she said to me over the phone. ¨All the 50,000 peso notes are false. Even the 20,000.¨
¨I went to buy the hangers and the Paisa told me the two 50,000 peso bills and the 20,000 were false. What sadness, negro. What sadness.¨
The hijo de puta malparido Paisa had switched the good bills for fakes, I thought. In the market in the centro, and at Christmas, it had to happen all the time. She must have missed what that ill-birthed, son of a whore had done. I didn´t say anything. It didn´t matter now.
¨I still had enough for the ganchos,¨ she said, ¨And for the yellow underwear that the Rolos have asked for.¨ It was believed in Bogotá that golden underwear brought prosperity in the new year.
¨Just come back,¨ I said calmly. ¨I´ll meet you at the shop.¨
I considered it and then I thought maybe it hadn´t been the Paisa. I went in the bedroom for the 50,000 peso note I had taken from the shop the day before. I compared it to a note withdrawn from the ATM and immediately I saw the difference. The paper was wrong. The ink bled at the edges of the bronze ¨50¨ in the corner.
I held both bills to the light as they do at the supermarkets. The forged note did not have the thin strip embedded in the paper that said 50 MIL COLOMBIA. It was also smaller than the real note. Someone was working the panty shop and had passed off a fake 50,000 peso note each of the four days we were open.
I hurriedly put on my shoes and left the apartment. No doubt they would try it again today. I had to get there in time. I hurried up the avenida in a rage, thinking about what I would do to him. I´d blind him first with the pepper spray and then drag him into the bathroom and beat him until the police arrived. Maybe I´d carve something on the fucking ladron with my knife.
But the pepper spray would make a mess of the shop. And what if it wasn´t a guy? There hadn´t been any guys in the shop that I remembered. Probably the counterfeiter was sending women. He was sending women with 50,000 peso notes and telling them to come back with the change and to keep the panties.
When I caught the woman I would keep the note and detain her until the police arrived. Or better I could tear up the fake and tell her to take the message back to the hijo de puta counterfeiter. That would make things clear.
¨¡El patron llega!¨ shouted Señor Roberto as I came up the block. He was putting out bicycles in front of the bicicleteria.
¨¿Qué más, amigo?¨ I shook his hand and then the little man hugged me tightly, his face pressed against my chest.
I went into the shop and told Ines to show me the false notes. The fake note I brought and the two of hers were identical. They had come from the same counterfeiter.
¨There will be another falso today, amor. Es cierto. The counterfeiter will send someone again.¨
I showed her the differences between the false and the real. She insisted it was the paper which made the difference but I explained a new bill might also appear too crisp. Then I held a fake and good note to the light and she picked the good note as the fake. I held two fakes to the light and she picked one of them as real. She wasn´t seeing it. I showed her the ink bleed around the bronze ¨50¨ on the fakes and she nodded that she understood, but I tested her and she missed that too. I would stay to catch the thief anyway. We could practice at home tonight.
¨But you cannot do anything to the one who comes with the falso,¨ Ines said. ¨They will send others to harm us or pay someone. What will happen when you leave and I am here alone?¨
She was right. I couldn´t do anything. It was the Colombian way to sneak up on someone, or hire a stranger. Colombians did not confront you. They were cautious and kept their distance. They even fought with belts instead of their fists. Anyway, the fault was ours. The thief had only acted in accordance with his nature and we had allowed it. We had given the papaya, as the Colombian expression goes.
In the afternoon a woman and a young girl came into the shop. They selected a top and panty set and two thongs. I watched the woman give Ines a 50 mil note and she came behind the display rack and gave it to me. It was a forgery, the same as the others. I came out and confronted her.
¨Es falso, mamí.¨ Her face was rough and she didn´t make eye contact with me. The young girl with her looked entirely innocent and unknowing.
I gave her the note and saw the tattoos on her hands. Then she rubbed the bill to show me the ink did not smudge.
¨That signifies nothing,¨ I said. I pointed at the ink bleed around the 50. ¨Mira. Look. It is badly done. And the strip inside the paper is missing.¨
The woman´s hands were shaking. It surprised her to be confronted by a gringo.
¨No más pendejada, mamí. You will have to do better next time.¨
The woman put the fake note in her pocket and turned to leave. But the young girl still wanted the thongs. She paid with 4,000 pesos of her own and they left.
That night we were walking home and Ines wanted to stop at the drycleaner to pick up the bed spread. She wanted to pay with one of the false notes. I didn´t say anything. The drycleaner was closed. Then she wanted to buy some nail polish. She wanted to pass a false note there. Again, I didn´t say anything.
I stood at the entrance of the shop and watched as she selected different bottles of nail polish and brought them to the woman at the counter. She passed the bill and the woman quickly pronounced it a fake and handed it back. She passed it back as if she had been receiving fakes all day. The counterfeiter had probably tried them at shops throughout the barrio. Ines paid with good money and we left.
¨Let´s just forget about using the false ones,¨ I told her.
¨Yes,¨ she said. ¨It doesn´t feel right.¨
¨It was our fault anyway,¨ I said.
¨Yes. We should have known.¨
¨Tonight we will practice so that you see clearly the difference. So that it does not happen again.¨
¨Nunca más de esa mariquera.¨
¨No, mi amor. Never again that faggotry.¨