A Very rOugH Draft
Ellison Azell. He thought she was the one after. But she was The One.
Six years earlier: The most desperate people are also the most vulnerable. That parallel relationship greatly increases my odds of success. Basically, people believe what they want to believe, never more so when they feel loved, wanted and desired by someone infinitely more desirable than they are. And never more so when they’re lonely, dumped, insecure, or just plain unaccustomed to being desired. The unlikely-to-successfully-mate demographic. That’s where I come in: providing the love-desperate with the drug they crave, for a steep price. Hookers provide sex, we provide the illusion of romantic interest. We gauge vulnerability, bait it, feed it, nurture it and then lure a mark in. Months, maybe years, later we leave them emotionally gutted and financially scarred. We usually target middle-aged men, but we’ll swindle women too. Gay or straight, old or young, Asian, black or white. We’re equal opportunity scammers. Our median client is white, 30 lbs. too heavy, balding, and twice divorced. And once we can convince him he’s in love and it’s reciprocal, we get his bank account number, his debit card, PIN number, credit cards, cash, checks, sometimes his house. Often, we’ve taken a mark for five figures before he knows what’s hit him. And the triple-whammy hits him like a hurricane: his money is gone, his love interest is gone, and he was set up from the start to be victimized. Usually, a mark won’t report the crime to the authorities. He’s afraid they’ll laugh, and they might. Post-rip off shame is something we count on to remain in operation. The silence is golden.
The funny thing is that this work isn’t that lucrative and it is really involved. [Expenses are high and it takes time to bilk a mark. Selling drugs, for instance, would be faster and more lucrative in the short haul, but also more likely to end with a prison sentence. Besides, this is much more fun.] Stealing hearts is a game; a moving target, a chess match with human players squaring off. You have to be smart, lucky and good to pull this off for any length of time, avoiding prison and the caustic revenge of the bitter, jilted and swindled. I call it the “Kevin Bacon rule” of internet scamming – you need at least six levels of cover from your actual identity. But still, it’s cyber-space. It’s not like robbing a bank. Oh, I rob people, but I was never really there.
You have to keep track of them all, from the client you’re scamming, to every client you’ve ever scammed, to the authorities, the internet watchdog sites which are ran by men who’ve been scammed out of thousands of dollars by cagey 25-year-old Ukrainians or by beautiful women on the Personals who were ugly Nigerian men in reality, or more and more frequently, by me.
This idea came to me through Noel. He’s a “Facebook friend.” I like to say, “If you can’t have real friends, at least have Facebook friends.” It’s a motto to live by and Noel is the proof. We went to elementary school together. I remember all the kids I went to elementary school with. I couldn’t name six people from high school because I hated it, was bored by it, and was generally narcotized. But for elementary school, the lens is clear and I remembered Noel Soward and tracked him down on Facebook. He was a chubby, nervous, likable kid and as an adult he remained flabby, affable, and good company, willing to go along generally with whatever action might develop. After contacting him, re-introducing myself and catching up, Noel and I met at a bar called Zombies. I bought the first round and Noel began to weave a most interesting tale which eventually took several more rounds to unfold. It was no shock that Noel found himself single. He had recently been down-sized from his IT support job and his girlfriend had said adios as Noel wallowed in a certain amount of listless self-pity. Now alone, he turned to the means he knew best for romantic companionship: the computer. He tried various dating sites and met several women for coffee or dinner but they all turned into one-and-done scenarios. No magic. Then Noel thought he'd struck gold. A woman more than a dozen years younger than he began showing some definite online interest in Noel Soward. They emailed daily for two weeks, then “Mary” suggested that they use Yahoo’s instant messenger service for more interactive communication. Their chat quickly evolved into flirtation and “Mary,” who had purported to be from a northside suburb on her profile, mentioned she was currently in Lagos, "on business." Noel didn’t know where Lagos was at the time, or that Nigeria was notorious for a host of internet scams. Mary - young, blonde, green-eyed, serious rack - was absolutely head over heels for our middle-aged, pear-shaped, unemployed Noel. He felt 95 percent sure she was in love with him and 5 percent uncertain as to why in hell this would be the case. Mary spoke of the death of her mother, an abusive drug-abusing previous boyfriend, and her loneliness being so far from home. He thought she might be a mental case, a la the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction. But his doubts were assuaged by their nightly online chats from her “luxurious hotel” in Lagos, where she had traveled on business as an “arts dealer.” Occasionally, Noel wondered why an affluent American arts dealer had such a poor grasp of the English language, but he attributed that simply to poor typing skills. Love is blind. Lust sees even less. I became far more intoxicated by Noel's story than by the Canadian whiskey I was swilling.
Noel forged onward, explaining that they traded emails everyday and instant messages every night. Funny, he thought, but we never actually talk on the phone, although she texted him to set up their IM sessions. When he brought it up, she said that the reception was bad in Lagos, and then that she’d used all her minutes for the month. No matter. Mary promised she’d be home in a week and they could meet then and that she couldn’t wait and that Noel should delete his profile from all the personals sites he was on. She was his and he was spoken for. Noel liked that request and immediately complied. She was his and he was hers. Everyday his obsession for this woman grew. He couldn’t wait to meet her. Then she said, bad news, she had to stay in Lagos on business another week. But next week she’d be home. Or if not, the week after for sure. Their communication continued. Mary sent photo attachments on every email. Some of the pictures showed her in every day wear like jeans and sweaters, some at weddings in gowns, some in sexy black evening wear. Mary looked good even if she didn’t write very well and had some other quirky habits. Noel figured the time difference from Lagos and some of the times Mary communicated with him were from 2-5 a.m. her time. Maybe she had insomnia. And she never answered any of his direct questions in emails. Not about her neighborhood, her education, her favorite types of cuisine, where she lived growing up, not really even about her previous, abusive boyfriend, other than that his name was “Rob.” She seemed to be in her own world, Noel thought. Maybe she was even on drugs.
We ordered our fourth round in Zombies. The night’s band was hauling in their sound equipment through the back door, briefly allowing sunlight to violate the dark sanctuary.
Then the other shoe dropped, as Noel related. Instant messaging on Yahoo, Mary told Noel it was her birthday. Happy birthday, he said. She wanted a present, she said. He wondered if it might be sexy lingerie but before he could ask, she typed a request for money. She wanted him to wire her $300 for her birthday. At that moment, Noel’s five percent uncertainty rose to 100 percent. He knew he’d been had, but for some reason he wasn’t hurt, mad or even embarrassed. He was just plain scared. He wondered if “Mary” had somehow gained access to his accounts or identity since she knew his name, phone number and email address. He checked his accounts closely for the next few days and decided he was safe.
After her request for money, Noel hadn’t immediately disappeared. He had the presence of mind to ask her if she had a Facebook page. Nearly everyone below 50 had a Facebook page, it seemed, and an ultra-attractive, world-traveling 29-year-old certainly would have. But she said no, she did not. Then, keeping her off guard, he asked specific questions about Indianapolis that any young single would know: night life in Broad Ripple, sushi places on the northside. Again, nothing. She didn’t have a clue.
Noel took a deep swig from his Beam and Coke. “She texted me again the next two days asking me to go online. I blocked her from my phone and then from my email account. I just tried to forget Mary, if that was her name.”
“Not only wasn’t her name Mary,” I answered with Noel’s head snapping my direction, “but she was a black man. A Nigerian. It was a good scam. No offense.”
“None taken,” Noel countered. The ice rattled in his glass. And there Noel’s intriguing tale stayed for about a week, rattling around my brain. I couldn’t shake the details for some reason. And then I remembered Ellison and product improvement and thought, “Why not?”
Note: I wrote this in 2009. I just found it in an old file. Hope you like it. More to follow.