The Way It Is

by Willard Manus

"Police? I want to report a crime. My car has been stolen."

"Why are you calling us?"

"What do you mean? You're the--"

The voice at the other end of the phone was blunt, matter-of-fact. "If you want to get your car back, put an ad in the paper, giving your phone number. It's your only hope."

That was it, end of conversation.

So he took the policeman's advice, paid for a classified ad in Athens' largest daily.

A few days later the phone rang. It was the car thief, also sounding blunt and matter-of-fact. He named the price he wanted, to be paid in cash, of course.

"What's the condition of the car?" he asked.

"What kind of question is that?" Now the tone of voice had changed, become edgier, angrier. "I do business in a correct way. The car will be exactly as I found it--even better, because it was quite filthy inside. You ought to take better care of a fine vehicle like that."

The thief was waiting for him, late at night, at the designated meeting place, outside the Panathanaikos football stadium. He was a nondescript fellow, small, sallow, in his 40s or 50s, wearing shabby clothing: the kind of man you usually ignored in life. He said his name was Kostas, and he pointed to the car proudly.

"See? It's just as I told you it was. I even had it washed on my way here."

Kostas counted the money and nodded his thanks. Then he handed over a set of duplicate car keys and said, "It's been a pleasure dealing with you."

A few weeks later the phone rang. It was Kostas. "Everything all right? No problems with the car, I hope."

"The car was just as you said it would be."

"Good, I'm glad to hear you have no complaints, because I have a favor to ask of you."

"A favor?" He heard his voice becoming tight.

"Yes. Would it be all right if I gave your name as a reference?"

Kostas explained that the last man whose car he had "borrowed" was a very mistrustful fellow.

"He doesn't believe that he won't be harmed when we meet to complete the deal. He thinks I am going to take his money and hit him over the head, without giving the car back. Can you reassure him, tell him that I do business in a proper way?"

For a moment he was tempted to lash into Kostas, call him some ugly names, slam the phone down on him. But just as quickly he regained his equilibrium and heard himself saying, with just a tinge of resentment, "I'll be happy to speak to him, Kostas. Tell the gentleman to call me."