Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part III. ESCAPE
It was here, in the streets of Basseterre, where the debris of carnival rotted in the sun and teenage boys leaned against the same peeled-paint walls their fathers once did, that I would make my stand.
In the center of Market Street sat the office of Maxwell Webb and Partners. My entire plan rested solely on his shoulders—and, until just two hours earlier, I’d never even heard his name.
Maxwell greeted me at the door, alone in the office. He shouldn’t even have been there during carnival. He made sure to remind me of that. Several times.
I wanted to trust him, because I had to. But the diamond-encrusted ring on his middle finger, emblazoned with the initials MW, told me not to. It told me that he wanted to be respected, to be considered a player, to chase status and women. And in a poor town of fifteen thousand people, that wasn’t difficult. A ring like that was probably all it took.
And I was about to contribute $2,500 toward his next ring.
He sat down heavily in front of a large walnut desk covered with thick file folders. I tried to memorize the names on them—Bernard Hellick, Thomas Murgic—so I could do some independent research and see what kind of clients he dealt with.
He stared quietly at me, his egg-shaped face bearing the first signs of growing jowls, sweat stains materializing in his white button-down shirt. He knew why I was there. But it appeared I must tell him anyway.
“So how does the process work?” I asked.
When I’d first arrived in St. Kitts, Wendell had told me what needed to be done. But he’d sent me here, to this office, to this stranger with the expensive ring, to get it done. And I needed reassurance. I had no idea if this move was smart and prescient, ultimately saving my life and hopefully that of my family—or if it was the stupidest thing I’d ever done, a testament to paranoia that would end in my own bankruptcy.
“You’ll need some property,” Maxwell said. “You can call Victor Doche at St. Christopher Club, Ron Fish at Half Moon Bay, or Nicholas Brisbane at Calypso Bay.”
The office fan spun uselessly above his head, circulating heat, as he read their numbers to me from the local telephone directory. I asked about other options. I wanted to think carefully about this. But he told me I had no other options. He was right.
“Once you pay the twenty-five-hundred-dollar retainer fee, I’ll give you the papers you need to fill out.”
I didn’t like him. I wanted someone to hold my hand, to explain things rather than just tell me what to do. I like to understand something before committing to it. I don’t think that’s wrong.
But either Maxwell wasn’t the talkative type, or he saw that I was by no means the kind of person he’d want to align with. His walls were filled with framed letters, photographs, and certificates testifying to the high opinion he wanted others to have of him. But I didn’t smell like money and power and a thick file folder and a photograph to put boastfully on the wall. I smelled like the inside of an airplane, economy class, middle seat.
“How many of these cases do you take a year?” I asked him, looking for some reason—any reason—to have faith in him.
“Ten,” he said.
“And how many applications does the government take each year?”
“About a hundred. Ninety-nine percent of them get approved.”
So Maxwell handled 10 percent of the traffic. That was reason enough for me.
I wrote him a check for $2,500. He handed me a sheaf of papers. One was an application for citizenship. The other was an application for a passport. In six months, Maxwell told me, if all went well, I would officially be a citizen of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean Commonwealth.
Spencer’s words burned in my ears. I was buying insurance. Insurance against America, the country I was born in, the country my friends and family live in, the country I love.
This wasn’t supposed to happen in my lifetime.