I rolled out of the station with five twenties in my wallet.
I was heady with happiness. Since I hadn't yet had my first taste of alcohol, I couldn't compare the feeling to a champagne high, say, but it was the most delightful sensation I'd ever experienced in the front seat of a car.
In fact, my cleverness overwhelmed me. If it worked once, why wouldn't it work twice? It did. It worked so many times in the next several weeks, I lost count. I can't remember how many sets of tires, how many batteries, how many other automobile accessories I bought with that charge card and then sold back for a fraction of value. I hit every Mobil station in the Bronx. Sometimes I'd just con the guy on the pumps into giving me $10 and sign a ticket for $20 worth of gas and oil. I wore that Mobil card thin with the scam.
I blew it all on the broads, naturally. At first I operated on the premise that Mobil was underwriting my pleasures, so what the hell? Then the first month's bill landed in the mailbox. The envelope was stuffed fuller than a Christmas goose with charge receipts. I looked at the total due and briefly contemplated entering the priesthood, for I realized Mobil expected Dad to pay the bill. It hadn't occurred to me that Dad would be the patsy in the game.
I threw the bill into the wastebasket. A second notice mailed two weeks later also went into the trash. I thought about facing up to Dad and confessing, but I didn't have the courage. I knew he'd find out, sooner or later, but I decided someone other than me would have to tell him.
Amazingly, I didn't pull up while awaiting a summit session between my father and Mobil. I continued to work the credit-card con and spend the loot on lovely women, even though I was aware I was also diddling my dad. An inflamed sex drive has no conscience.
Eventually, a Mobil investigator sought Dad out in his store. The man was apologetic.
"Mr. Abagnale, you've had a card with us for fifteen years and we prize your account. You've got a top credit rating, you've never been late with a payment and I'm not here to harass you about your bill," said the agent as Dad listened with a puzzled expression. "We are curious, sir, and would like to know one thing. Just how in the hell can you run up a $3,400 bill for gas, oil, batteries and tires for one 1952 Ford in the space of three months? You've put fourteen sets of tires on that car in the past sixty days, bought twenty-two batteries in the past ninety days and you can't be getting over two miles to the gallon on gas. We figure you don't even have an oil pan on the damned thing. . . . Have you given any thought to trading that car in on a new one, Mr. Abagnale?"
Dad was stunned. "Why, I don't even use my Mobil card--my son does," he said when he recovered. "There must be some mistake."
The Mobil investigator placed several hundred Mobil charge receipts in front of Dad. Each bore his signature in my handwriting. "How did he do this? And why?" Dad exclaimed.
"I don't know," replied the Mobil agent. "Why don't we ask him?"
They did. I said I didn't know a thing about the swindle. I didn't convince either of them. I had expected Dad to be furious. But he was more confused than angry. "Look, son, if you'll tell us how you did this, and why, we'll forget it. There'll be no punishment and I'll pay the bills," he offered.
My dad was a great guy in my book. He never lied to me in his life. I promptly copped out. "It's the girls, Dad," I sighed. "They do funny things to me. I can't explain it."
Dad and the Mobil investigator nodded understandingly. Dad laid a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry about it, boy. Einstein couldn't explain it, either," he said.
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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