A man and a woman sat across the table from one another in a nondescript diner off the main highway. The man was older and grizzled-looking, while the woman was young and blonde, with the fresh-faced, innocent look of a high school cheerleader.
“I’ve been watching you, kid,” the man said. He saw her alarmed look and raised a hand. “Not like that. But I’ve seen you work. You’ve got instincts. You’ve got a real feel for what it takes to be a grifter, to work the big con. Once I teach you a few basic techniques, you could make a lot of money in this business. You interested?”
She leaned back in her chair, her eyes narrowed. “I’m listening,” she said.
The man ignored her cautious tone. “First,” he said, “You’ve got to show authority. People will believe anything if they think it’s coming from someone who knows. You can be wrong, dead wrong, but you can never look like you’re unsure. Never back down, never apologize, and make anyone who questions you seem like they’re the idiot. Get some guys on your crew with fancy degrees or some former military guys. Doesn’t matter if they have any idea what they’re talking about, as long as they can spin a good line of patter that supports your con.”
“Sounds expensive. And I don’t know if I want to cut that many people in on the job.”
“Kid,” the man said, “this is the big time. You can’t think small.”
The woman nodded. “OK. I guess you’re right.”
“Well, I am, but even if I wasn’t, you see how quick you were to agree with me? That’s because the key to being a confidence man — or woman — is, well, confidence.”
The woman laughed. The man noticed she was beginning to relax and smiled to himself. He was the best, and he knew what worked.
“Second,” he said, “you’ve got to use fear.”
“Fear,” he said. “You’ve got to know how to scare the rubes. Make them think that someone’s getting an advantage that they’re not getting. Or that someone’s going to get what’s theirs. Fortunately for you, it’s really easy. Most people live their lives terrified of just that. They’re like that squirrel-rat creature in those “Ice Age” movies, trying to hang on to his acorn. There’s a lot of money in fear for folks like us. Which brings me to my third point.”
He held up three fingers.
“Make the mark feel like he’s something special,” he said. “Make him feel like he’s getting information from you that no one else has. Stuff that anyone but the two of you is too dumb to know or too scared to talk about. You make the mark feel like he’s part of this special group. Combine that with the whole fear thing I just talked about, and pretty soon he’ll believe it’s the two of you against everyone else.”
“Yeah,” the woman said. “I get it. Make them seem like you’re their real friend and it’s everybody else who’s the con man. Then isolate them so that your voice is the only one they hear.”
“Exactly,” the man said. “You do that right, you can get the mark to turn against his own family if he thinks they’re trying to talk him out of listening to you. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to be a bully. Anyone tries to tell the rubes something different from what you want them to hear, cut them off. Don’t let them talk.”
“Wow,” she said. “That sounds kind of … I don’t know …”
“Kid,” the man said impatiently, “what did I tell you about thinking small? This is high stakes, big-money grifting we’re talking about here. You can’t afford to be soft. Don’t tell me I was wrong about you.”
The woman thought for a long moment. In his mind’s eye, the man could almost see the wheels turning in her head until all the windows in her mental slot machine came up in dollar signs.
“So,” the man said finally. “Whaddya think?”
The blonde woman smiled. “I’m in.”
“Great,” the man said. “I think you and me are going to make a lot of money in this business, kid.”
He stood up and extended a hand.
“Welcome to Fox News.”
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.