By Dennis Nichols
My articles occasionally take a detour from current reality – the harsh kind many of us endure twenty-four-seven, or even three-sixty-five. A few are incorrigibly romantic, because that’s what we need sometimes on the retreat road. Others mix fiction with sobering fact. This is one such tale, pulled from anecdotes of Guyanese lives, real and imagined.
Monty Greene lived by his wits. He wasn’t a businessman, but his friend Gordy was. So it was Monty who dreamed a dream to make himself a temporary millionaire (his words) – a scheme in which his friend would either knowingly or unwittingly assist. How a man with about $1,000 to his name planned to add three more zeroes to it is surely an imaginative tale. It started out mundanely.
Gordon Welcome owned and operated a bakery, which after the turn of the millennium, was doing bright business in Georgetown. Bread, tennis rolls, buns, and salara were standard fare, but he also did cakes – Birthday, Christmas, and the occasional wedding special. It was a popular and thriving business.
Mid-December 2001, the world is still trying to wrap its mind around 9/11, and the surreal sight of two towering structures reduced to rubble and ash. Younger Americans are still mourning the death of singer Aaliyah two weeks earlier. And in Guyana, a passing story in the newspapers about a half-million dollar ‘theft’ catches the eye of Montale Greene. It’s a decidedly green eye.
The story is about a man, a woman, a hotel room, and $500,000 worth of diamonds cleverly hidden in an inhaler. Not clever enough though. After a jolly good time, (assumption) the woman visits the washroom, then the hotel room door, then the street, (fact) while the world’s most ‘expensive’ inhaler nestles beside a buxom bosom (allegation). The man in the hotel room gets dressed in a hurry. The police intervene but the woman vanishes, from the earth it seems.
The story quickly faded from the news, and the public’s interest. It was upstaged by a robbery at a cambio dealer’s residence the day before, after which one of the alleged robbers, said to be a former member of Linden ‘Blackie’ London’s gang, was shot and killed by the police.
But the story didn’t fade from Monty Greene’s mind; in fact, it planted the seed of a plan there, and began to gestate.
Monty’s mind was a factory for devious schemes but he hid it well from others, except for a couple of drinking buddies who periodically gambled and ‘played’ each other. Raucous outbursts were frequent but seldom consequential. They were birds of a feather, and their friendship remained intact. Benny Bacchus was a feather in the flock, and the only one of some means, financially. He worked on a gold dredge ‘somewhere in Barama’.
Monty was his closest pal, and once or twice Benny wondered if his buddy or any of the others would ever try to rob him when he came to Georgetown. Since Benny was a generous guy, and it had never happened, he thought it never would. Just before Christmas 2001, he didn’t have to wonder any longer; well kind of.
After nearly two months in ‘the backdam’, Benny came to town loaded. Slightly high on Hennessy, he confided in Monty that he had on him two ounces of gold and, to the latter’s surprise and envy, almost a million dollars worth of rough diamonds. How he’d gotten them, he would not say, and he told no one else. Monty’s mind raced back to the hotel room story.
Benny lived with (or rather entertained) a woman and her daughter at his home, neither of whom he trusted with his backdam treasures. It was a source of constant displeasure to them that most of what he gleaned from the earth he appeared to spend on liquor, other women, and his ‘scrungy buddy dem’.
Even though she got her share first, his reputed wife wondered how and where he kept and spent the rest, since he was always almost broke when he headed back to the goldfields or so he said.
Monty wasn’t really trying to rob his friend; he more or less wanted to test a scheme. He knew Benny, often highly-strung, was afraid of the Gold Board authorities and would likely keep the gems hidden until he could arrange sale with a Brazilian ‘dealer’ who was then out of the country. In Georgetown, Benny preferred cash to gold in his hands.
Monty also knew Benny wouldn’t walk around with them or leave them at home. So he graciously volunteered safe storage at his friend’s bakery until the Brazilian dealer restarted business in the new year. With no feasible alternative, and after taking out eight pennyweights of gold, Benny handed over the rest, and three days before Christmas, Monty launched into his scheme.
Through his acquaintance with his baker friend Gordy, Monty knew of another dealer, a Guyanese who operated from Lethem but had an office in Georgetown. He showed the minerals to Gordy who, after recovering from his initial shock, promised to keep them hidden in a sack of flour until the other dealer resumed business on Boxing Day. Then he would arrange a sale on behalf of his friend.
Monty had told him that he was doing the transaction for Benny who was sick with malaria. Gordy had nodded, but being both shrewd and suspicious, he said nothing; only that he didn’t expect any benefit from the deal; he was happy to do it for a friend. And despite Monty’s cunning, he knew at heart the man wasn’t a criminal or a ‘cut-throat’.
On Boxing Day, the deal went through. Monty held a bag with exactly one million dollars in it. His hand trembled as he shook the dealer’s own. His heart thumped heavily as guilt washed over him, although he knew he would turn every dollar over to Benny, and receive a tidy commission for completing a transaction, which would have left his friend a nervous wreck. For about one week, he would at least feel he was a millionaire.
Life in Guyana, as in any other place, can take a sudden and fateful turn. On Old Year’s Night, Monty, in high spirits after overcoming his initial unwarranted guilt, left home to meet with his pals for their customary ‘Auld Lang Syne’ drink. Everyone was there on the Orange Walk strip, except Benny.
Unbeknownst to his friends, reputed wife, and stepdaughter, the body of Benny Bacchus, middle-aged male, of Mixed Race, lay on a morgue slab at the Georgetown Hospital. He’d earlier been struck down by a vehicle on Durban Street, a few blocks from where his friends were gathering. A witness to the accident said it looked like a bread delivery van, similar to one occasionally driven by the owner of a popular city bakery.
Benny Bacchus was buried during the first week of January 2002. Montale Greene grieved for weeks after the funeral, then disappeared from the capital. A month later as Guyanese prepared for Mash’ celebrations, Gordy Welcome closed his bakery down and bought a reconditioned Toyota Carina. It is said that no one likes being a temporary millionaire.
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