His offer was a courtesy gesture sometimes accorded a deadheading pilot from a competing airline. I dropped my cap on the cabin floor and slid into the command seat, very much aware that I had been handed custody of 140 lives, my own included. Austin, who had taken the controls when Giles vacated his seat, surrendered them to me. "You got it, Captain," he said, grinning.
I promptly put the giant jet on automatic pilot and hoped to hell the gadget worked, because I couldn't fly a kite.
I wasn't a Pan Am pilot or any other kind of pilot. I was an impostor, one of the most wanted criminals on four continents, and at the moment I was doing my thing, putting a super hype on some nice people.
I WAS A MILLIONAIRE twice over and half again before I was twenty-one. I stole every nickel of it and blew the bulk of the bundle on fine threads, gourmet foods, luxurious lodgings, fantastic foxes, fine wheels and other sensual goodies. I partied in every capital in Europe, basked on all the famous beaches and good-timed it in South America, the South Seas, the Orient and the more palatable portions of Africa.
It wasn't altogether a relaxing life. I didn't exactly keep my finger on the panic button, but I put a lot of mileage on my running shoes. I made a lot of exits through side doors, down fire escapes or over rooftops. I abandoned more wardrobes in the course of five years than most men acquire in a lifetime. I was slipperier than a buttered escargot.
Oddly enough, I never felt like a criminal. I was one, of course, and I was aware of the fact. I've been described by authorities and news reporters as one of this century's cleverest bum-check passers, flimflam artists and crooks, a con man of Academy Award caliber. I was a swindler and poseur of astonishing ability. I sometimes astonished myself with some of my impersonations and shenanigans, but I never at any time deluded myself. I was always aware that I was Frank Abagnale, Jr., that I was a check swindler and a faker, and if and when I were caught I wasn't going to win any Oscars. I was going to jail.
I was right, too. I did time in a French poky, served a stint in a Swedish slammer and cleansed myself of all my American sins in the Petersburg, Virginia, federal jug. While in the last prison, I voluntarily subjected myself to a psychological evaluation by a University of Virginia criminologist-psychiatrist. He spent two years giving me various written and oral tests, using truth-serum injections and polygraph examinations on various occasions.
The shrink concluded that I had a very low criminal threshold. In other words, I had no business being a crook in the first place.
One of the New York cops who'd worked hardest to catch me read the report and snorted. "This head doctor's gotta be kiddin' us," he scoffed. "This phony rips off several hundred banks, hustles half the hotels in the world for everything but the sheets, screws every airline in the skies, including most of their stewardesses, passes enough bad checks to paper the walls of the Pentagon, runs his own goddamned colleges and universities, makes half the cops in twenty countries look like dumb-asses while he's stealing over $2 million, and he has a low criminal threshold? What the hell would he have done if he'd had a high criminal threshold, looted Fort Knox?"
The detective confronted me with the paper. We had become amiable adversaries. "You conned this shrink, didn't you, Frank?"
I told him I'd answered every question asked me as truthfully as possible, that I'd completed every test given me as honestly as I could. I didn't convince him. "Nah," he said. "You can fool these feds, but you can't fool me. You conned this couch turkey." He shook his head. "You'd con your own father, Frank."
Excerpted from Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding Copyright© 2000 by Frank Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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