What Pam Carey is working on

A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR PEOPLE WHO TRAVEL TOGETHER

 Chapter title:  BEGGARS, GYPSIES, SCAM ARTISTS

 

Rule #5:  Don't trust any stranger who comes within three feet of your personal space, unless you want to shake his hand or lose your wallet. 

     After meandering through the crumbling buildings, faded paintwork, and glittering mosaics on the labyrinthine streets of medieval Trastevere in Rome, Charley and I found the Ponte Sisto footbridge.  We crossed the Tiber and strolled along its banks before heading into the heart of the city for lunch.  Alongside us on the thoroughfare a long black Mercedes pulled up and a middle-aged man jumped out dressed in a white shirt, thin black tie, black pants, and pointy black leather shoes.  The shine on his shoes matched the shine on his hair, which was slicked to his scalp with gel.

     “Scuzi,” he said.  “I lost.  Can you tell me where il Colosseo?”

     I actually knew where we were and where the man wanted to go.  Being a do-gooder, I gave instructions in a couple of English sentences mixed with Italian.  On the sidewalk Charley was tugging at my sleeve to get going.  He took my elbow and steered me away from the curb down the sidewalk.

     The man followed.  “I need to meet business.  Please!  Look, my company make leather.”

     He reached into the backseat of his Mercedes and followed us down the sidewalk, waving two leather handbags.  I recognized the interlocking G’s of Gucci and the two Fendi F’s facing each other head to toe.

     “No!” Charley said.  As he brushed the man aside he kept me moving with one hand on my elbow.

     “Half price!.  For direction to my meet!”  He pointed at his car, now ten yards back against the curb of the thoroughfare.  Cars careened around the Mercedes as though in a race at Indianapolis, their horns screeching.  The man continued to follow us.

     I glanced sideways at the leather he was waving.  The purses looked soft as butter, but they were no doubt knock-offs.  “Get away!” Charley said.

     By now we were almost running down the sidewalk.  The man was running after us.  “You no like, signora?  Half price!”

     It became a foot race.  After a few more yards, we outdistanced him in our sneakers.  He retreated to his car in his pointy Italian shoes.

     When I wrote about the incident on my blog, a friend responded that she and her husband had been accosted by a man matching the description in the same location.  But there was an added twist to her story.  After the guy thrust a “freebie” into her hands and asked for gas money, a second official-looking black Mercedes pulled up behind the first.  The crook took off and a burly 6’ agent-type in white shirt similar to the scam artist's but with navy pants, jacket, and billed hat jumped out of the second car.  “Documentazione, per favore,” he said, asking our friends for their identifications.  They produced drivers’ licenses and were instructed not to pay anyone who stopped in a car…including him?  After all, he was the one holding their drivers’ licenses!  Was he part of the scam?  

     Apparently not.  The couple received their licenses back, the agent/police drove away, and my friend ended up with a handbag that looked and felt like creamy butterscotch pudding.  “I carry it with every outfit I own,” she told me.

 

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