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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Never a Dull Moment With Local Racketeers

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- There isn't much to commend Baku at this time of year. Outside it is gray and miserable, the trees bent double from winds whipped up over the Caspian Sea.

Inside it isn't much better: There's no central heating in our house, and on wet days the rain comes through the bathroom ceiling and every saucepan in the house is used to catch the drips.

Even Gulya, our enormous, rosy-cheeked neighbor, has stopped wishing passersby a good day from her window ledge. She now sits dejectedly indoors eating jars of fig jam and wishing spring would hurry up.

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Still, I haven't had time to mope. Every morning for the last month, a man who calls himself Misha has telephoned me to tell me he has my wallet: How much am I going to give him for finding it?

My wallet was stolen at the end of last year in a posh Italian restaurant full of oil executives and thick cigar smoke. I wrote off the $150 cash I'd had inside it, canceled the credit cards and sent off for a new driving license. Then I went home for Christmas.

"Someone called Misha's been ringing," the landlord said when I got back. "He sounded desperate to speak to you."

He was. At 10 o'clock every morning the telephone would ring and Misha would ask me whether I had come up with a figure yet. I told him I'd give him something when he brought my wallet back, but that this was blackmail. After that he hung up.

Then last week a man called Kasan, who said he was Misha's neighbor, rang instead.

"Misha has five children and he is unemployed," Kasan shouted at me. "You are very cruel and heartless."

"Could you call me back on my mobile, Kasan," I said.

So the dim-witted Kasan called my mobile and his telephone number appeared on the screen.

"I'm afraid if you call me again, I'm going to call the police," I told him, jotting down his number. Kasan swore at me and hung up.

The British Embassy in Baku wasn't at all surprised when I called them. Another British citizen had had his passport stolen and was getting nuisance calls every day, too.

"We'll just tell Kasan that keeping stolen property is a crime and if they don't return your wallet we'll contact the police," the girl at the embassy told me.

I haven't heard from Misha or Kasan since. The local police station rang on Friday to say my wallet had been handed in, and would I come and collect it?

"The man who brought it in has left his telephone number," the police chief said. "I think he's expecting a reward."

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.