Romero came to realize that, though Kaiser could be an insufferable pain, he was worth keeping around during liberty call. Kaiser brought a special fanfare all his own. His nice clothes and discerning tastes made it obvious that he was the one with the platinum account in tow. Fortunately, he had a head on his shoulders, and knew how to handle the vast power of his credit. His expensive tastes brought the shopkeepers, vendors, and every other merchant in the city out like a swarm of flies.
Normally, it would be foolish for a bunch of Americans to walk aimlessly around a strange African city flaunting that they had money to burn. Dangerous things happen to people like that. They, being Marines, were confident that they could handle any threat with ease, however. It wasn’t their training that kept them safe in these streets, however. The people of Accra had learned to recognize their types with their short haircuts and distinctive foreign currency. They’d learned very quickly to love them and their dollars every time a US ship made port. Every time the Marines invaded Accra, it was treated like they held the power of a minor economic stimulus for the nation.
What surprised Romero about being with rich people was the way people gave them so much for free. He was given free samples of the food, African traditional souvenirs, a pair of sunglasses, and even a new shirt. At first, Romero thought it was because they all just loved Americans, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It wasn’t that the people of Ghana had any special resentment of Americans. It was just their money that they really wanted. Romero quickly wised up after realizing they were all just wooing his friend, whom they’d affectionately named, “Fancy Shirt.” They all knew that if they impressed Fancy Shirt, then he might drop more money in a single afternoon than they would see in the rest of a month.
When a purchase did come around, it was never very much. Romero could afford most anything he wanted at the Accra prices, but Kaiser with scores more, haggled with the vendors anyway. Who knows what he could have had, but he would still talk down a five-dollar pair of glasses for half. It was like a game for him. Romero guessed the drive must be something in his blood, or maybe a trait he inherited by watching his dad do the same thing with companies or two thousand dollar wines. There had to be some reason why people who had money found themselves that way, probably by developing the skills around getting the stuff you want and not paying for it.
As Nathaniel examined exotic oddities along the market, he chanced upon a girl wandering about the streets of Accra. Seeing Westerners, it’s hard to miss an American for what they are, she had to stop them and say “bonjour.” She was a French student on holiday and, like Romero’s curiosity in eclectic artwork, she was into the exotic things. That’s how she found herself touring Sub-Saharan Africa when others she studied with were in Cannes. Bagging a US Marine while she was there would have served as just what excitement seeking girls like her needed. Romero was willing to be used, if that was what was needed of him.
He and the girl talked about their mutual travels over the last year. As they did, the lot passed a jeweler who called out to them, “Hey there pretty lady. How about a pretty necklace?”
The necklace seemed extravagant. Kaiser leaned in and whispered to Romero.
“Dude, that’s your chance.”
“I can’t afford that thing.” Nathaniel said with a shocked look on his face.
Kaiser gave his smirk again. “Wait here a sec.”
He strolled over to the vendor, whose face lit up upon gaining the attention of Fancy Shirt. Kaiser examined the piece and a few others, pointed down the street to a few stands down and the two argued for a few minutes. Then they seemed to come to an agreement and he shook the vendor’s hand before Kaiser walked back to the group. He pulled Romero to the side.
“You can have it for thirty dollars.”
“Thirty dollars? How did you get it so low? Are you doing anything illegal?” Romero asked.
“Nah, man. Jewelry is cheap here. It used to be called the Gold Coast when it was a European colony, after all. Learn your history. Besides, it’s probably fake, but even then, you’d still pay at least four times that in the states, not to mention she won’t realize that for at least another week. By then, we’ll be back in the Atlantic. Just think of this as an investment into tonight. Take it for her or I will. Don’t have me redo Havana.”
Romero walked over with the French girl to the vendor who was eager to make the sale. Shocked, he took the piece, which he could have probably never afforded if it came from a respectable American establishment.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” said the girl. “C’est magnifique. Please, put it on me.”
Romero unclasp the chain and placed the necklace around her. His fingers delicately touched her soft skin. It was the first intimate moment he’d really had in months. She turned to a mirror on the vendor’s cart, admiring her new trinket, and the Marine who gave it to her. As the group turned to leave, she took Romero’s arm to walk as his escort through the city.
Kaiser and Lolo laughed. “Oh yeah. That worked,” he chuckled to Lolo.
Kaiser cried out to the others, “Hey you guys head on and find somewhere to eat. I’ll catch up with you in a while.” He and Lolo went back to talking to the vendor. He looked back to the group and yelled out. “And Romero! Now we’re even for Havana!”
You know that guy in the platoon who can get with anyone, has weird connections everywhere, and can magically seem to epiphany stuff out of nowhere? That’s Kaiser. Once you get over him, you’ll learn to love him.
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