Teaser 272: An Offer to Omar


I made the phone call once we returned to the cottage from the storage unit. It was late in the evening, a perfect time to call California, when it would be about midday. I had to look up the number on the web since I never considered it necessary to save the phone for a close to fleabag motel in Gilroy. I knew it was him when the phone was answered but I asked anyway. It's the civil, courteous thing to do. “May I speak with Omar?”

“I am Omar. And you?”

“Al-Barrak is my name. How are you, Omar?”

“I am fine and if you have something to sell me you can hang up now. Not interested!”

“Wait Omar! This is how you greet the man who took your family and your cousin from West Hollywood and all his family to the finest restaurant in Beverly Hills and had the most fun at a restaurant probably in your life and I know you haven't eaten there since?”

“That was Gregory Hess, the famous writer, but you said you were Al-Barrak-”

“And now you don't know who I am,” I interrupted with a chuckle. “Sound familiar?”

There was a moment of silence. “I thought I read you changed your name. That is who you call yourself now? Al-Barrak?”

“The former Gregory Hess has been replaced by Al-Barrak, yes. He was the guy who stayed at your motel to write the famous screenplay at a cost of a hundred and thirty dollars.”
“Plus tax!” I heard Omar howling with laughter. “And you paid
that with a credit card!” More howling laughter.

“Although you did say with a credit card I could pay a hundred seventy-five dollars plus tax!” More laughter from both of us.

When it died I could hear a woman's voice in the background. Omar told her it was the man who took them to the restaurant in Beverly Hills. She said something and Omar came back to me. “My wife said she remembered. She was very impressed with everything but she was disappointed when the movie star left before we ordered. She wanted to talk with her. Serena is one of her favorite actresses.”

“There's a story behind it, Omar. Maybe I'll tell you and your family when we meet in India.”

“India? We have no intention of going to India soon. How would we do that, Al-Barrak, is it?”

“Al-Barrak, please, yes, although you may call me Al.”

“Al?” He laughed. “Al, then...What do you mean, India, Al?”

“You still have relatives in Punjab province, Omar?”

“My parents, yes. There are others, but it's difficult for them to get around, and the government makes it harder to get them here, too. Why do you ask, Al?”

“I am leaving for India soon, Punjab province to be exact. Once I reach India I will want a place to reside, probably for quite a while, years. I want this residence, the place where I live, to be big, large enough to accommodate many people. I want it to be both my residence and to serve as an investment, perhaps a real estate investment or a combination of ventures, perhaps using part of it as a hotel for tourists from all over the world, and you, Omar, have experience running a hotel, not exactly one at the top of the heap, but you are from Punjab province, still an Indian citizen. Is that correct?”

“I am still an Indian citizen, yes. What do you have in mind, Al? Put your cards on the table, as they say here.”

“Very good, Omar! You are assimilating. Here's what I propose. Come to Punjab province with the objective of finding a large and suitable commercial property. It doesn't matter whether it needs renovation or not. We'll take care of the renovating. We have to be able to move in once purchase is complete, using some of it as a residence and we'll renovate while we live there. You and I will co-own it. We'll work out the financial specifics and the tasks of operation of it as a hotel or as individual apartments. We'll keep our minds open about all of it, but that's my proposal. Become my business partner in Punjab province. As an Indian citizen, you make the purchase easier. As a hotel proprietor you have the experience. And, last, you get to take your family back to India to be close to your parents and other relatives with a stake in making a comfortable living which you may not have the means to do by yourself.”

“I have to think about it, Al. That's a big change. What do I do about this motel?”

“Sell it and bring the proceeds with you to India. I know you make a comfortable living there, but you're not burning up the wealth ladder with your modest property on seventh street. You and I both know it. Sell it and let the new owners worry about it. You worry about it all the time. I lived there for a week, remember?”

“How would we go about doing this? We have a lot of our lives invested here. This is like we did before, picking up and moving a long way, again. That is not easy to do, Al-Barrak.”

“Commit one month to me for which I will pay you in advance. Do you trust your son to operate the motel properly if you're away for two or three weeks?”

“Ravi can operate the motel. He is capable, but what you propose could take much longer than a month.”

“By then I will be in India, Omar, and together we can complete whatever needs to be finished. I only need you to find the right choices and we'll finish it together...If, for any reason, we cannot reach agreement about our arrangement, about the choices, anything, you can walk away from it, come back to Gilroy and keep the money I paid you. You have nothing to lose because I take all the risk. I'm willing to make this offer to you, Omar, because I think, deep down, you are a man of honor who will not string me along and take advantage of me. And if we can work it out, well, you're back where you came from, but with a little more prestige than when you left...And, I get to meet your parents. I have to meet the woman who would name her Hindu son, Omar. Cumon, Omar! I want to see the smile on her face when she tells me that story!” Omar was laughing again.

“How do we start this, Al-Barrak?”

“I want you to do two things first. Come up with an amount for your services for one month. I will pay for your plane travel so exclude it. You'll have to figure, once you get to India, expenses. I suggest you provide for a reasonable hotel, nothing extravagant, and I'll book it for you. If I'm not available, Magdalena, my wife, can arrange it for you and you'll have opportunity to talk with her soon. Second, take the time to research real-estate people in Punjab province to help you. Be diligent and skeptical with all of them, but I know it's in your nature anyway. Be wary of grandiose promises. They're all salespeople, too.”

“That I know!”

“Good. When you talk with any before you leave for India to hire one, present yourself honestly, your circumstances and intentions, you are going to sell this motel in Gilroy and move back to Punjab province. This is a joint venture with a silent partner who is not Indian. Do not tell them my name. It has no bearing. Pick one of them, give them a rough idea of the type of property we're interested in, and the range of worth can be between two million and ten million in U.S. dollars. Do all the rest of the negotiating you deem necessary, then go to India and start analyzing choices. I may have arrived soon after. We'll meet up, negotiate between ourselves with all the options we have, and go from there. Again, if we can't reach agreement, you can walk away, no strings attached. Think of the amount you feel you will need to do this tonight and I will call you tomorrow at about this time. You can tell me then whether you want to do it or not. Discuss it with your family. I'll call tomorrow.”

“I will await your call. I have some thinking to do, Al-Barrak, but, thank you for considering me. Why did you?”

“You're the only one I know from Punjab province, Omar. Besides the Indian government makes it difficult for non-Indians to do something like this. They mostly want to deal with corporations. This is what I've been told by others, including representatives here in the Indian embassy of Germany. They have all told me it's much easier to accomplish something like this with a partner who is an Indian citizen. That's why you're in, Omar. Your own government is trying to make it easier for you to return. Thank them.”

Omar laughed again. “Well, we shall see how generous their invitation really is.” Now I laughed, reminded him I would call the next day and we ended the call.

“Tell me about this Omar,” Lena requested when I put down the phone. I reminded her about the meeting—via a swinging door which I abruptly halted from smashing my nose—with John Drury, the talk about a screenplay called The True Cross, which did not exist at that precise moment, but John's interest in the story seemed genuine. Now I had to write the screenplay. I had to pick some place to write it. My choice, seemingly random, turned out to be the motel Omar and his family owned and operated in Gilroy. I told her the whole story, though she had heard bits and pieces before. “And, now, you've offered this Omar an opportunity to be your business partner? Do you trust him, Al?”

“Let's say, my beloved, I don't distrust him. I want to give him a chance to show me he wants to do it and if I can trust him enough from that conversation. I think it will depend on what the figure is he provides me. It will speak volumes, don't you think, Lena?”

“Well, my beloved, I always try to think you know what you're doing. I had my doubts—which I kept to myself because I never want you to think I'm negative—about the theatrical performance, but you pulled it off. It makes me think I should never doubt you, maybe no one should.”

...

When I called Omar the following day, he proposed for his one-month service a total of ten thousand in U.S. dollars, and I would be responsible for the plane ticket and hotel, which he had already discovered at a cost of around a hundred dollars a night. I considered it reasonable and Omar got started while I got started on my trip. Before the phone call concluded, I introduced Omar to Lena, he introduced his wife, Darshana, to Lena, and all exchanged phone numbers. I set the phone down and looked to Lena. “Now we discover, my beloved, the extent of Omar's business expertise or lack of.”

“He could still take your money and do nothing.”

“And I would then know I can't trust him and have nothing further to do with him, and do it all on my own, the hard way. I've done it before.”


- Just Desserts, Segment Thirty-ThreeJourney to India” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

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