Strolling the streets of Budapest at 11pm at night in a semi-conscious state is a very surreal experience—one I do not reccomend. As I walked away from the club I was thinking to my self “I am in real trouble”—which I was, based on my feeling the physical pain of having just been beaten unconscious coupled with the mental pain of not knowing where I was. But as I walked my mind began to clear and I started to recognize my surroundings to the point of being able to direct myself back to the private apartment I had rented.
Opening the door to my pleasantly decorated one bedroom apartment I felt a real sense of relief as I sat on the couch and gathered my thoughts. Being knocked out cold in a strange place (or any place for that matter) is a very disquieting experience to say the least. I then rapped on my manager’s next door apartment. She was a pleasant 40 something woman who spoke broken english and could quickly see that I had had a problem which needed a little nursing. As she lightly pressed an ice filled cloth against my cut and swollen mouth I explained as best I could how I had been injured. She dramatically apologized for what had happened and assured me that her boss would help me achieve some justice in the morning.
My landlord, Laslo, was a tall slim, honest appearing Hungarian man in his mid 40’s and a very nice guy. I had met him two days before, standing on the sidewalk near his apartment, pictures in hand, pitching his apartments to potential renters. A common practice among other landlords in this neighborhood who were looking for business. Like his manager the night before he was very apologistic and wanted to help me any way he could. This “help” took the form of an immediate visit to local Budapest police station.
I had not seen the inside of many police stations, either in America or any third world countries, so this was a real eye opener for me. To say that this place was in a state of disheaval would be an understatement. It had only been about 5 years since “perestroika” had led to the Hungarians cutting down the barb wire fence on their Austrian border. This allowed the most adventuresome citizens to flee to the opportunities offered by rest of the free world. What remained in their wake left much to be desired in the eyes of this westerner. The recently constructed touristy “retail” shopping area was one thing. The remaining buildings that I saw in Budapest in 1994 were in a state of disrepair reflecting the striking difference between Western and Eastern Europe—Capitalism vs Communism.
I found myself and Laslo sitting in the very humble office of two plain clothes detectives. After a few brief words I was instructed to take a urine test down the hall. They wanted to see what or if I had been drugged as I was still feeling woozy 12 hours later. When the results came back the detectives said I had been drugged—confirming my story and validating my credibility.
The detectives, now feeling confident that a crime had taken place, were very nice and quite professional. With Laslo’s translating I was able to relate the event’s of the previous night in great detail. They actually were aware of this club and wanted to close it down. I was not the first tourist to report a similar problem. Places like this were not helping the tourist industry which was becoming an important part of the local economy. “The Russian mafia” they said actually ran and operated this club and other clubs like it.
The more we talked the more enthusiastic the detectives became. They really wanted to give these criminals a problem so they proposed a plan to do just that. They wanted me to meet them that night about 10:30. Then accompany them back to the club where I would identify the bald headed guy who had cold cocked me the night before. They would then arrest him on charges of assalt and haul him off to jail. I really wanted this bastard to experience some form of pain so I gladly agreed to their proposal.
As it turns out this and similar scams, in the early 90’s, were actually in their infancy. These newly formed Russian mafias were being fueled by the recruiting of unemployed KGB agents and officers. Following the disruptive influence of “perestroika” they were well on their way to developing a network of far reaching criminal activities both at home and abroad. In the years to come I personally encountered this “buy me a cocktail scam” in several countries including Las Vegas, America. A friend of mine, Mark Sanchez, actually encountered exactly the same scam in Budapest about 5 years later. By then the price had risen and the collection procedure had been refined. His bill was $650 and instead of knocking him out he was escorted to two ATM’s by 3 very large bouncers.
It was 2pm by the time Laslo and I arrived back at the apartment. I thanked him and agreed to meet again around 10pm. Once again I sat on the couch and reflected on the situation. No longer feeling that great about Budapest considering the events of my last 15 hours I thought about my options:
1) Meet the detectives and maybe Laslo tonight and go execute the plan against baldy and the club. I really wanted that guy to suffer. But on the negative side: . a) I don’t speak the language. . b) I don’t really know or understand the rules these guys play by.
2) I still have time to catch the 3:30pm train to Vienna.
“Good bye Budapest”—“Vienna here I come.”