Back Seat Story
But George didn’t kill Fred. He didn’t even kick the shit outta him like everyone thought George would do. Fred obviously wasn’t the threat he must have thought he was. He was a nuisance and so the great George Heaton threw him out of that Nebraska motel room like yesterdays news and proceeded to muster his forces to deal with the real threat. Norfolk, Nebraska was a bust and George needed to make a move to save his operation, and so move he did. He ordered his entire gang into their fleet of cars and headed straight out of town.
And so I was in the back of a car again and on the road again. Only this time it was Guy’s car and the road was packed with not only all the cars of George’s roving band of predators and scammers, but also the squad cars of the entire Norfolk police department. It must have been quite a spectacle, like something out of a movie! I must have been aware of the scene outside and wondering why all this was happening but I don’t remember that at all now.
In the back seat of Guy’s Cadillac, all I could think about was Fred. I was thinking about Fred and looking at Guy. And Guy kept turning around to look at the others and me as he recounted the amazing story about his amazing boss Mr. George Heaton. Guy wasn’t about to describe why he’d been arrested or how he got caught, or even how George had almost killed Fred. No, what Guy was so excited to recount, was how George had scammed the cops. He told it over and over again. It was the story of the century in his book and even though I wasn’t really listening, I can remember a lot because he told it so many times.
Yes, Guy was caught and he was sweating bullets in that Norfolk jail wondering what would happen next. But then George came to get him. And then they threw George in jail too but the great George Heaton, George the master manipulator of all those suckers out there in the world just talked his way right out of that jail.
Apparently George was wanted in several states for multiple counts of fraud and who knows what else but as Guy told it, the amazing George Heaton played them cops like the chumps they had to have been. He warned them that if they tried to keep him there, he was going to lawyer up and it was going to cost that town a BUNCH of money to convict him of anything. All they had on him right this moment was a petty crime committed by an employee. And not even that since Guy was actually a “private contractor”.
The story Guy didn’t tell was that he had been in the entryway of a mark that made the mistake of letting him in the house. She then compounded her mistake by leaving him alone while she went to answer the phone and returned sooner than expected to find him going through her purse. I had to imagine how the rest of that drama unfolded since I never heard any more details about that part. Guy never spoke of it so it must have made him look pretty bad.
But in the back of that Cadillac I was only barely hearing Guy go on and on about the great George Heaton. Not because of any blurry haze. That was gone. I was thinking clearly and I was thinking about Fred. I was thinking about what Fred had said to me and I was thinking about what I’d seen after he’d made his play. Driving his Cadillac behind the great man’s newer Cadillac, Guy spoke of how one day he would be as great as his mentor, as cool as George Heaton. What a joke! The last thing George was to me now, was cool.
As we left the city limits, the Sherriff’s department and the Nebraska State Police replaced our Norfolk city police escort and Guy was now on what was probably the third telling of the magnificent story of how his cool boss had talked his way out of that jail. He told of how the cops knew that they had nothing on George himself. Not in Nebraska. They had overreached their authority by tossing him in jail and he was going to sue them!
And then (according to Guy) George reminded the Norfolk police that all this time they would be trying to prosecute him, George’s small army of little criminals would overrun their town of what, twenty thousand people? Perhaps a hundred smart young predators and scam artists roving around making trouble. Imagine that!
But… and I do remember that when Guy told this part of the story his tone changed for dramatic effect… but, if the cops would just let George and Guy go. If they would just pretend nothing ever happened, he would pull up his stakes and not only get out of their town but out of their entire state!
And they fell for it!!
Fortunately, I would not see George again till we were at our destination. As soon as we were clear of Nebraska his Cadillac continued straight through Kansas to Enid, Oklahoma while the rest of us did some canvasing along the way.
I was now no longer a part of this thing called George Heaton’s crew. In my mind, I was a prisoner contemplating only escape. Going through the motions, I didn’t care about selling books but I still had to try and canvas the houses they took me to. At least I thought I had to try. I wasn’t trying to learn the trade anymore of course, but trying to sell books was what was expected of me and I was still afraid.
No one spoke to me except for Guy. I was under suspicion for possibly being in league with Fred the traitor. And indeed I was a traitor as well as a prisoner, looking for any opportunity to get out. Every time I knocked on a door, I looked for clues as to how, but I found nothing.
My captors were very good at what they did. They canvased all the way from Norfolk to Enid but much less thoroughly now. They went for the fast score, the grab n go… I can only imagine the kinds of shenanigans some of the boys must have been up to as we blew through the sad, poor countryside and small towns of rural Kansas. They also kept an eye on me so I tried as hard as I could to sell as much as possible. I actually didn’t do too badly, but I didn’t feel good about it.
I recall quite clearly, standing outside the humble shack of a country house somewhere, unenthusiastically speaking to this poor middle-aged woman (she might have been forty but looked twenty years older) about my opportunity to win a trip to Hawaii. I have a clear image in my adult mind of this woman’s blank expression, staring at me as the cockroaches crawled over the screen door between us.
At another, similar country home, a pretty young southern girl (she must have been about fourteen) home alone, greeted me with the excitement of hopeful youth. Obviously smitten by the good-looking nineteen-year-old mid-western boy who came knocking on the door from exotic places unknown. This naive young country girl then went and got her little sister’s piggy bank (I shit you not) to add to her own hard-saved money. She then ordered a subscription to some teen mag that I knew full well by then, she would never get.
And I let it happen. I let it happen like I’d let George nearly choke Fred to death. I let it happen like I let my fellow new recruits (once nice kids from the Midwest and elsewhere) harden and become the predators and scammers they were being trained to be. I told myself that I wasn’t a part of it but I was a part of it because I let it happen. I didn’t do what someone with a spine and the wherewithal could have done to put these assholes out of business for good. Or at least just get out. They were like blight; a plague among the people and I just plodded along in my self-pity and let it happen.
I plodded along all the way to Enid.
I was now a thousand miles from home.