By The Hunger
Two unwanted Lebanese prostitutes and forced into a car with the local mafia. Welcome to Byblos, welcome to Lebanon.
The following happened while visiting Lebanon with a friend during the Eid holiday. This story should serve as a warning to those in search of Exotic Flags not to be blinded by potential Red Flags in your pursuit.
Two Saturdays ago, my buddy (who I’ll call Mr. M) and I were enjoying some much needed R&R away from Saudi Arabia, eager to remember what it’s like to feel human again.
Mr. M had met a local Beiruti named Omar when he bought some new Lebanese threads the first night. He dropped a small fortune there buying shoes and clothes to Omar’s delight. Mr. M told me they had discussed catching up for a drink in Beirut and that Omar said he could introduce us to some local girls.
From the beginning, I didn’t have a good feeling about this Omar character. Me: “I don’t like him, he’s shady.” Mr. M: “Maybe a little, but he’ll make some introductions for us.” They stayed in contact over the next two days. On the third night of partying, we’d been drinking at a local bar in Gemmayze – one of Beirut’s nightlife districts. Laughing and drinking, the night had started well, we were enjoying Beirut! An American guy who was working in Kuwait was drinking with us too. Good times all around for all. Then Omar turns up. It was all hugs and kisses when he arrived. Omar was going to take Mr. M to a club in Byblos, a town just outside of Beirut. Any history buff will tell you it’s one of the oldest inhabited cities on Earth, but that’s not why I’ll remember Byblos.
I never planned to go with them to the club, I intended on staying in Gemmayze, but I thought we were going nearby. The American left soon after we left the bar because he was already too drunk and was near his hostel. I remember Mr M saying to him, “You’re going to wish you came with us tomorrow.”
The three of us walk towards the end of Gemmayze where the smaller road spews out onto the main road. Like magic, there’s a car waiting for us: a late 90’s model Mercedes. As soon as I saw the driver and the car I knew something was off. It just seemed too easy, and no one is that nice. My instinct was sending up red flags. I passed on these sentiments to Mr. M, but he was oblivious to any possibility of danger. I assured him repeatedly that something is not right here, I couldn’t tell what exactly, but I knew something wasn’t right. He thought I was being paranoid, I thought he was being naive.
We didn’t talk much during the 30-minute trip to Byblos. We pulled up to an Arabic-style club that was part of an entertainment complex with other bars and restaurants with a reddish haze hovering about.
We went inside and sat at one of the best tables in the place, at the back of the club with the window to our left looking out over the Mediterranean Sea. We puffed on shisha, laughed and enjoyed a constant stream of vodka-Red Bull and beer for the next two hours. This was also met with plates of Arabic-style plates of fruit and vegetables that were even being hand fed to us at some points. Too good to be true? No, this is the famous Arabic hospitality I had read about. I even apologized to my friend for acting crazy and paranoid before in the car, relishing this most authentic Arabic experience. We moved down to a closer table that was right in front of the band and the dance floor. All parts of the Middle East were represented at the club: Saudi, Kuwaiti, Omani, you name it. Dancing, photos, more dancing, it was a lot of fun. (Even now as I type this I’m smiling.)
Two girls magically appeared when we returned to our table from the dance floor. Both had porn star dimensions, except one was brunette and the other was blonde. And yes, they were pros, another gift from Omar perhaps. And who was that unhappy bald man lurking 10 yards away?
Suddenly, two girls magically appeared when we returned to our table from the dance floor. Both had porn star dimensions, except one was brunette and the other was blonde. And yes, they were pros, another gift from Omar perhaps. And who was that unhappy bald man lurking 10 yards away? Everyone was having a nice enough time until the bill came. $575! Red Flag! That’s right people, five-hundred-and-seventy-five American dollars! But wait, Mr. M and I only had to pay $375 because Omar had paid $200 already, Omar’s words of course. Naturally, neither of us saw this invisible transaction take place. We demanded to see the bill itemized. “Five bottles of champagne,” I asked. “But mate, no one even drank champagne.” He gestured to the bottles of champagne sitting on the table. “We didn’t order them, plus they haven’t even been opened.” My response was met with a cork popping out of one of the bottles and a champagne flute thrust into my hand. “This is fucked,” I told Mr. M. I expected an inflated bill because of the place, but faced with black and white evidence of champagne no one had drunk or even ordered was tough to stomach.
Arguing ensued which led us outside. Angrily, I asked Omar about the champagne. Again, no response. Sensing my anger, Mr. M tried to calm me down so as not to escalate the situation. But with a negotiation process that would have made the UN blush, I had had enough. I gave him $100, Mr. M gave $175. We were still short, but Omar ended up paying the remainder (he wasn’t happy, but he “paid” it, again I didn’t physically see this happen).
Then the car pulled up, the two girls hop in, and Omar & Co demanded we hop in as well. Mr M and I look at each other; even he knew this wouldn’t be a good idea. I walked around the other side of the car. As Omar and his friend yell at us to hop in the car, I looked into the eyes of the valet; his eyes spoke six words in fast-motion: “get the fuck out of here.”
Realizing the seriousness of the situation, I recalibrated my approach, “Sorry guys we don’t have any money left, have a good night and we’ll find our own way home.” At that moment, I told Mr. M to “RUN”! And run we did as we took a hard right across a field and hid behind opposite bushes. After 10 minutes, I signaled to the beach. We ran across to the beach to rendezvous, talked earnestly about the situation, and devised a plan, mainly to escape Byblos ASAP.
We could have gone down via the beach but it was treacherous and some time had passed. They couldn’t still possibly be looking for us, could they? We walked up the road a bit and stayed in an alley, looking for a miracle cab to take us. By this stage there weren’t many cars on the road and it was nearly dawn… our dilemma was very sobering. After waiting for some time, I spied a taxi coming down the road. When I put half of my body in sight so the taxi could stop, out of nowhere the mafia car zoomed up behind and stopped. I felt my shit sink. They weren’t happy and they were coming to get me, and that burly bald guy was doing most of the shouting. I told Mr. M to run again, but he came out from his spot and said he was tired of running. All three of them were screaming and pushing, the bald guy grabbed him and threw in the car, sealing our fate. I came around the other side of the Merc and got in. People weren’t happy and there was a lot of yelling and arguing as we awaited our Byblos tour.
More arguing and blaming continued until we arrived at a local Bank. Mr. M was marched over to the ATM by Omar and his friend. I was babysat in the car by baldy. When the money spilled from the machine, the bald guy turned around and shook my hand, a wave of calm rolled over everyone. Then we drove off but not in the direction of Beirut. In those situations your brain starts to imagine the worst. I was all right until my imagination went wild: could they be linked to Hezbollah? Did they want to take us to their domicile and use us as Jewish fuck-puppets? We asked where we were going. “To hotel,” Omar said. We told him that our hotel is in Beirut when baldy piped up, “You don’t want the girls?” in some bizarre display of mobster ethics. “No, take us to Beirut.”
The car took a series of odd turns until finally arriving back to the club complex’s car park. It felt like a scene from The Sopranos, the car passed loads of mafia types smoking and loitering as the sun came up on Sunday morning. The three guys got out of the car and discussed their next plan at length, no doubt trying to think of more ways of extracting money. After some time, and more yelling, Omar and his friend hopped back in the car and finally we were heading back to Beirut.
It was an uncomfortable car ride as I was half-elated to be returning to civilization as well as half wanting to harm this Omar character to no end. He told us how if he hadn’t found us, the mafia guys would’ve done some harm. You see, the money wasn’t for the bill; the money was for the girls. He had promised the pimp guy that we – or at least Mr M – would take them, and when we refused, things got ugly.
In the end it was a valuable lesson: $575 for my friend, not nearly as much for me. I’m happy in a way that it happened though because it’ll remind me to always trust my instinct, especially in the pursuit of foreign beauties. Beware of any red flags; they aren’t worth the risk to wave.