Still not sure about the time of the appointment with the owner and, at the same time, trying to keep my anxiety to a minimum, I called Mr. J1 after lunch to confirm it. It was at 16 in the afternoon. A while after the phone call, I received another one from him, asking if I could make it around 15, instead. I was partially happy, because I would not have to endure another hour of suffering and could just walk my way through the tension.
I arrived at hotel X around the appointment time. I could see Mr. J1, from distance, entering the hotel and, as I walked in, I was greeted by all 3 of them and invited to take a seat in the hotel's lobby area. There, we waited about 15 minutes for the owner to show up. During that time I kept listening to them talking in Dutch, trying to make some sense of it in a hope of picking up something that would show this was a scheme. Either my understanding of the language was still very raw (and it is, I know), or most of what they talked about was somehow related to houses, rentals and, in general, stuff about their profession. From times to times one of them would briefly explain what they were talking about, and it all seemed to make sense to me. But what do I know? For all I knew they could have the conversation rehearsed in their heads and be just performing an act for me to see.
The owner showed up at last. His general appearance was that of a typical mafia middle man: short hair, unshaved, and the mannerisms of "the family". He started by saying that we would require a copy of my ID, which Mr. S forgot to bring from his place. As he walk to the hotel's reception desk to take the copy, I followed him and asked if I could have a copy of his own ID as well. He froze: "Why do you want a copy of my passport?", he said, with the looks of someone who has a lot to hide. I said "Well, since we are about to sign a mutual agreement, I think it's only fair that both of us get a copy of each other's IDs or passports, don't you agree?". He replied that I could not have it, with the same guilty look on his face, explaining that he was not the owner, that they were "a company" and that this company was the owner of the apartment. I insisted that he gave me, at least, his last name so I could know who I was dealing with, to which he also refused to comply. "You can call me F", he said, as he smiled in complicity with the receptionist lady. I was shocked. There I was, in a mafia hotel, about to become legally attached to "the family". We rejoined with the others and he proceeded to explain that he would take my ID and show it to the other members of the company, after which they would decide whether I was eligible to rent the apartment. Needless to say I was in shock by now. Me and the other 3 left the hotel and I stared at them with the most worried face I could come up with. They tried to reassure me, in particular Mr. J1, and kept saying that everything would be OK, and that they would make sure that everything was legal and correct. I was not happy. I started my walk back to work, under a lot of rain and wind, getting soaked each minute that passed. This day was not going well.
When I arrived, I was crushed. The world had turned upside down. The guys I thought were scamming me were actually the less of my problems, now I was about to get connected to "the family". Thoughts of wanting to leave the apartment and a couple of guys with guns showing up, explaining that I should consider it, kept crawling through my head. I called Mr. J1. I needed to let him know I was really not comfortable with this Mexican novel, at all. He tried once again to calm me down: "I know how you must feel. I don't think that's the way to do business either, it's definitely not the way I work. You can come to my office and we can check in this government website who is the owner of the apartment, so we can later check if the contract is correct or not". Once again, I left work to face the rain and wind.
The trip by metro to Mr. J1's office was pretty smooth. When I arrived, I was greeted by a lovely Persian cat which also seemed pleased to see me. I was offered some tea, I imagined, to calm me down a bit, and engaged in a casual conversation about agencies, ways of working in the Netherlands, other cultures' habits, basically small talk, with the occasional reference to my case in particular. He reassured me that he would check that everything was perfectly legal and that I would end up with a correct contract and the keys to the apartment. He suggested that we asked for the keys, checked the apartment again, and only then proceed with the payments (the deposit plus the first month of rent). I agreed. We left his office and drove through Amsterdam to pickup the other 2 fellows from their original "office", or should I say bedroom?
We were once again back at the hotel. This time, a bit more certain that Mr. J1 was the real deal, in terms of a real estate agent, and that he would look after my interests, I was ready for Mr. F. We sat down in the same table we had occupied earlier that afternoon, and he explained that everything was OK, that I could become the tenant of the apartment. Then he explained that I would need to pay the deposit and first month of rent, to what I replied that I would like to have the contract first. He retorted: "It's not like you met us on the street. I work here. If you have problems you can always find me here". This guy was getting on my nerves. I told him: "I didn't meet you on the streets, maybe you work here, but I don't know you. You wouldn't even give me your last name, or a copy of your passport". He tried to counter my statement but, watching my body language basically saying "Nothing you can say can refute this" he moved on to another - even more stupid - approach: "If you buy something at Albert Heijn, you don't get a copy of the clerk's passport, you get a receipt". While I must confess that this made me laugh inside, on the outside I had a dead serious look when I told him: "I'm not buying groceries, here. I'm renting an apartment. This is a lot of money". He said something like "Why are you suspicious of us?" and, as I replied "I am suspicious by nature", Mr. J1 interrupted by suggesting that if we could know the name of the company that owned the apartment and check if everything was OK before signing and paying, then that would be OK, right? Both me and Mr. F nodded in agreement.
We ended up settling that he would take my details to the company, they would write the contract, which would take a couple of days, and then they would give me an unsigned copy that I could use to check the validity of his claims. So, by Thursday I would know that everything was OK. We said goodbye and Mr. J1 again reassured me that everything was going to be alright and that, if at anytime I didn't feel comfortable with this, I would get back the money I had already paid as the agency's commission. I felt better. Not good, but a little better.
I went back to work, as Luis was still there, and we went out for some food at Burger King. We brought it into the office, I told him the rest of the story, and we discussed it in light of the recent events. It was not worth it. I had to decline this offer. I was not about to set sail in the mafia boat. I decided that I would sleep on the subject, just for the sake of closure and the next morning I would call Mr. J1 and tell him that I did not want to do business with this guy. We stayed at the office until closing time and then we set off to go home by foot.
Somewhere along the way, feeling miserable, I decided to cheer us up by joking with Luis that the events of that day would make a great story to tell girls; all we needed to do was add some fist fights to it, like 5 guys came after us and we took care of them all. We both laughed. A couple of streets ahead I noticed 3 guys, standing on one of the canal's bridges, who seemed to be discussing something together, or maybe passing something among themselves. It's not unusual to see people passing joints around in Amsterdam, so no big deal. They opened a way for us, two on the left, and one on the right who started to walk our way, picking up the pace so he would match our current speed. We accelerated a bit and he moved to my left, slightly behind me (I was standing left of Luis at the time). He gave me a small push which took me off balance for an instant and I almost rammed into Luis. I turned and asked what the hell was he doing, to which he replied "Hey, I just wanted to ask you something". I should have 5 Euro for every time I heard that one before. Luis promptly said that we had to go and we turned our backs and started walking again. Did I mention it was pouring and windy, and that this road had no lights whatsoever? No? Well, now you know. Needless to say that there were close to no people traveling there, not even cars. So, at that point, I uncovered my head to be able to see behind me more clearly and I noticed he was still chasing us. We kept walking and, at some point, he grabbed my left arm from behind. I reacted immediately, shaking and pushing his arm, forcing him back 2 steps to the sidewalk, while I yelled as hard as I could: "Let me go, sh**. What the f*** are you doing???". This seemed to have caught him a little off guard and he stood still for 1 or 2 seconds to assess the situation (meaning, to see if anyone close enough had heard me yell). During this fraction of time we started walking faster and moved to the middle of the street (yes, where the cars were supposed to come in our direction). I asked Luis "Do you want to make a run for it?" and, as I looked back, the 3 guys started running after us. Strangely enough, after an emotional roller coaster day like this one, I was not nervous at the situation. I turned to Luis and just said calmly "Luis... run", which he did.
He had this brilliant idea of starting to run in the direction of the cars that were coming towards us, to get their attention to what was happening. Apparently it worked, because as I gazed back while running, the guys were standing - considering whether or not to pursue the chase. A couple of streets ahead we were still running, but we had lost them for sure. I was laughing, because I could do nothing else.
As we arrived at Luis' place we could not believe what had happened. I, for one, was in deep emotional shock. I spent one year in this country, constantly bragging about how safe it made me feel and, in one day, the dream faded to reality. So much for perfect places to live. This episode only made me more certain that I would not become a mafia tenant the next day and, so, it was with some relief that I went to bed that night.
(to be continued...)