The story of how journalist Roberto Franchi was kidnapped and robbed in Caracas the other night. This is why I absolutely dread living here. No one is safe from this; it’s only a matter of time.
A Tuesday evening, one of those in which you think life is passing by while stuck in a rut, served as an excuse to accept an invitation from three friends to meet at El Alazán [a restaurant in Caracas], to drink a few whiskies, tell stories, and remember past times of friendship, anger, sadness, and a few complaints and criticisms about the times we’re living in the country.
Leaving, after the goodbye hugs and the “we’ll see each other soon”, I got in my car to go home, sleep, and continue my life according to my routine — or so I thought.
Near the Altamira offramp in the Cota Mil [one of Caracas’s main highways], a car tried to pass me on my left. I thought I was one of those guys in a hurry we’re used to seeing in Caracas, who just have to arrive before anyone else to wherever they’re going. Since I’m a relaxed person, I veered right to let him through without difficulties. Once ahead of me, the car began to brake inches away from me to block me off.
My desperate attempts to pass him or do magic and try to squeeze through the minuscule space left to escape from the unexpected event, were in vain. Five young apes appeared dressed in jackets and sweaters, and waving guns started to rain insults on me, demanding me to get out of the car. Once outside, they grabbed be and took me to theirs. That’s when I realized I had lost the battle, and that my life depended on whatever they decided.
A blow to the head, another to my ribs. “So, cocksucker, you thought you were going to escape”. The copilot turned around, pointing his gun to my head, and while he hit me he proclaimed himself the leader of the mission. “I’m in charge here, don’t forget it, you’re weren’t going to escape, who the fuck do you think you are? I’m in charge here.”
"Stop hitting me, I’m not an animal, what do you want?", I asked them, before they break my skull with their guns. "What do you have? Gold, where is the gold? We want gold and dollars." I tried to explain that I didn’t have gold, and trying to pacify them I told them "I wish I had gold; I wouldn’t be here with you if I did."
We kept driving through the Cota Mil while they took away my cellphone and asked me what I did for a living. Proudly, and thinking I could somehow save myself I told them I was a journalist, and that if they didn’t kill me that nicht I would write a chronicle of the events. (Here it is, as promised. Now return my computer.)
They kept asking about the gold, and decided they were going to my home to look for it, and if they didn’t find me they would shoot me dead. I tried to convince them that it wasn’t necessary to go there, because they would definitely not find any gold, but they’d find my mom asleep. Everything could end in chaos. Lost cause. In five minutes we were at my home without me having said the address. I couldn’t stop asking how they knew where I lived. “Do you think we’re rookie idiots?”, said one of them, smiling. That’s when I smiled and asked myself “what did I get myself into?”
We spent a few minutes outside my house; they were somehow planning their entry and getaway. One of them, trying to make conversation, tells me “are you nuts, why did you try to escape like that, I could have killed you.” That’s when I tried to act cool and tried to earn their trust so that when we were inside my house nothing regrettable happened, and answered “put yourself in my shoes, if you run into a car like that with armed people inside you would have done the same”. He nodded and agreed. At least we agree on something, I thought.
The time comes, they decided to go in, they opened the garage door and entered as if they had lived there for years. We got off, the dog barked, they threatened to kill him, I told them no, just play with him. I opened the door and entered. They follow me. We got to the living room and they asked for my mom. I told them she’s in her room, asleep, and I’ll wake her up. One of them, riled up, told me he’d wake her up with his gun. I stopped him with my arm and told him “no, I’ll wake her up”. They accept.
From then they started to search for the gold, which they never found. They took a handful of dollars, and when they were leaving they told me to go with them. My mother was a bundle of nerves at that point, while I calmed her telling her I at least had to recover the car.
I left the house with them, and we got to the car, which was waiting on the street. The guy leading me entered first, and then told me to get it. The driver gets angry and askedthe other “what’s the matter with you? Are you a rookie? Why did you get in first? He could have escaped and we could get caught. Pay attention.”
At that moment I asked them not to kill me, to just take me to my car and leave it at that. They laughed while they threatened to tie me up and execute me. The other ones inside the house arrived. One was carrying a microwave, the other a painting. They couldn’t fit the painting in the car.
My car was two blocks away. They let me out. When I tried to get it I found a fat guy in the driver’s seat, carrying my computer. Yes, the computer where I have all my life, projects, books, and scripts (and no, I don’t have backups.) I asked him, please, don’t take it. “Shut your mouth”, was all I heard.
I went home. My mom had called all the neighbors. I had to tell the story over and over again, and all I wanted was to go to sleep or make myself a sandwich even though the microwave was gone.