Someone once said there's no such thing as an honest man. He was probably a con man. It's the favorite rationale of the pigeon dropper. I think a lot of people do fantasize about being a supercriminal, an international diamond thief or something like that, but they confine their larceny to daydreams. I also think a lot of other people are actually tempted now and then to commit a crime, especially if there's a nice bundle to be had and they think they won't be connected with the caper. Such people usually reject the temptation. They have an innate perception of right and wrong, and common sense prevails.
But there's also a type of person whose competitive instincts override reason. They are challenged by a given situation in much the same manner a climber is challenged by a tall peak: because it's there. Right or wrong are not factors, nor are consequences. These people look on crime as a game, and the goal is not just the loot; it's the success of the venture that counts. Of course, if the booty is bountiful, that's nice, too.
These people are the chess players of the criminal world. They generally have a genius-level IQ and their mental knights and bishops are always on the attack. They never anticipate being checkmated. They are always astonished when a cop with average intelligence rooks them, and the cop is always astonished at their motives. Crime as a challenge? Jesus.
But it was the challenge that led me to put down my first scam. I needed money, all right. Anyone with a chronic case of girl crazies needs all the financial assistance that's available. However, I really wasn't dwelling on my lack of funds when I stopped at a Mobil station one afternoon and spotted a large sign in front of the station's tire display racks. "put a set on your mobil card-we'll put the set on your car" the sign read. It was the first inkling I'd had that the Mobil card was good for more than gas or oil. I didn't need any tires-the ones on the Ford were practically new-but as I studied the sign I was suddenly possessed by a four-ply scheme. Hell, it might even work, I thought.
I got out and approached the attendant, who was also the owner of the station. We were casual acquaintances from the many pit stops I'd made at the station. It was not a busy gas stop. "I'd make more money holding up filling stations than running one," he'd once complained.
"How much would it cost me for a set of whitewalls?" I asked.
"For this car, $160, but you got a good set of treads," the man said.
He looked at me and I knew he sensed he was about to be propositioned. "Yeah, I don't really need any tires," I agreed. "But I got a bad case of the shorts. Tell you what I'll do. I'll buy a set of those tires and charge them on this card. Only I don't take the tires. You give me $100 instead. You've still got the tires, and when my dad pays Mobil for them, you get your cut. You're ahead to start with, and when you do sell the tires, the whole $160 goes into your pocket. What do you say? You'll make out like a dragon, man."
He studied me, and I could see the speculative greed in his eyes. "What about your old man?" he asked cautiously.
I shrugged. "He never looks at my car. I told him I needed some new tires and he told me to charge them."
He was still doubtful. "Lemme see your driver's license. This could be a stolen card," he said. I handed him my junior driver's license, which bore the same name as the card. "You're only fifteen? You look ten years older," the station owner said as he handed it back.
I smiled. "I got a lot of miles on me," I said.
He nodded. "I'll have to call into Mobil and get an approval--we have to do that on any big purchase," he said. "If I get an okay, we got a deal."
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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