The Handsome Ferret
As I would learn, t'was essential to your success as a purveyor of "badge pledges" never, if at all possible, to identify your affiliation to the client for whom you were calling, on the messages that you left, especially that you were calling for the cops, not that is until the last moment: the business folk sensed an arm-twisting in the making and would never call you back. Being polite, they only called back if they thought there was a business proposition attached to that name that their secretary gave them or that they heard on their voice mail. "A Bob Able called." "What's he want?" "He wouldn't say." It was a telephone hold up, a blind-siding. "Once a year we call..." And once you had the mark on line, you would do all you could not to let it get off the line, you kept the fish hooked for dear life, you gave it no more than the requisite slack as you, grudging-obligingly, allowed your potential catch to, preferably, find the exact amount they could swim with happily thereafter on her or his own. You started with a full page ad, or if you were milking a steady supporter to a similar amount to last year's, you might say "You've given anywhere between 50 and 250 dollars during the past years" and ever so gradually allow yourself to be worked down into the standard abyss of the [appr. $ 125.00 to $ 175.00] business card sale, and occasionally, especially if you were "Rocky," manage to get him to go up. - I once overheard Bill extract five dollars from someone whose firm was going bankrupt and whose wife had just divorced him, persistence I shared except not in that particular realm. And so Bill kept pointing out to me over and over that "I didn't get it," or that "I still didn't get it." True enough: I refused to "get it" - I wanted the bleeding K.C.P.U. to do what we said they'd do, I wanted them to spend their share of the money that we raised for them on something approximating what they claimed they were doing. I was a "supporter of causes" from way back, that kind of jerk, and I hated Bill's awful truth that telemarketing badge deals had the sole purpose of keeping the tele-marketer in disposable untaxed cash, the better the telemarketer did, so might the however legitimate 10 % client. From sly Bill I learned the photogenic detail of always keeping your telephone cord wrapped around your arm, so that if you stepped away from the telephone the cord would unhook the receiver and alert Pavlov to make another call to support his hungry family, except that Bill did not have a family, he merely had one or the other hungry habit: it was a detail worthy of Glengarry Glenn Ross. No one had the Zen of the scam better down than Bill who claimed he could have gotten into Harvard hadn't it been that the University of Houston's golf program had been his yen; if he hadn't developed arthritic phenomena in the soggy Northwest he might be that kind of pro. It sounded as though he'd had the talent and the smarts. "Rocky" might be crude and extortionist and threatening or sometimes ["I'm just an old guy"] charming in his wonderful, hateful, dwarfish, pit bull way; Mike Mailor invariably utterly professional and serious, and in obvious need what with child support; the cackling alcoholic crackhead ex-Marine Ron Badger, the most successful of the lot, the best "writer," the most straight-forward and convincing on the phone, but Bill - reputed, enviously, never to have made a cold sale, and to be living off other's hard-earned talent, and certainly never sharing anything with anyone - had his way of ensuring that the sucker would feel good about parting with his funds: that was the art, to give once a year to that once a year call, to be left under the impression that you were supporting a worthwhile endeavor, for the "thank you" to register resoundingly... "Once a year we call..." My sweet aging ass! If you were on Cain+Able / Support Service's computer you would be called at least twice for each of their deals and that meant a minimum of six calls a year! And from a pool of Irish sounding names: the various Ables, "Rocky" at the Police Guild metamorphosed into Tim McCullough, an ex-King County sheriff of ill repute, at Cain+Able he had been Jim McLeary for cops and I forgot what for the Fire Fighters, Bill, Bob, John, Jim, innocuous, interchangeable first names were preferred, Hansens, Joneses, Johnsons, Smiths and Wilsons proliferated, Mailor turned into McGrath or McGraff, and I promoted him to detective-sergeant when I took a call on the call-back line for him. Bill Able, I concluded, would be a jewel to any worthwhile charitable drive, his voice transmitted a gravely, soft sandpaper intensity, if only also for his congested nasal passages. His "heartfelt thanks" [from the bottom of his ice-cold Barry Goldwater heart], the promised delivery of the "original" of the invoice [signed by "Leonardo da Vinci" himself] subsequent to the [of course!] immediately faxed copy for the preferred next day "pick" of the promised check, his pitch, too was worth recording for posterity, and certain proof that the suckers would not inherit the world. - Bill made up his rates as he went along, you could not quarrel with his assessment that most of the companies he approached were cash rich, the waste of cash was written all over them, it was a question of diverting some of it your way, and incidentally, to the client. Bill, as a day pro he called himself Bob, using his brother's name, both hailed from a part of Connecticut where when folks pick up the telephone at night they ask: "Cops or fire? 25 bucks, but don't dare you come pick it tonite." Like the owners of most of these deals, legal and illegal and inbetween, he and his brother boss were from out of town, like promoters of all kinds they all wore their kind of stylish clothes, in the case of Cain and the Able brothers suave soft leather jackets, well worn, or variously decaled or expensive shirtless sweaters, and casually drove Beamers [ B.M.W.]; in the case of Hector, high grunge punk, clean jeans, and derive from the characterology of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross ["First prize is a Cadillac, second prize a set of steak knives."] Cain and Able, who had made their nut, did not seem driven by excessively unslakeable greed, cruise control was their speed, the Beamer was meant to stay well tuned, as compared to a fellow like the somewhat discombobulated dumbed-out semi-sharpie Hector and his City of Troy promotions, who was benumbedly awash in a sea of cash that in the form of wads of one hundred dollar bills he kept sticking before his sales folks noses, but greedy for more, and driven, but unknowing as to what purpose, or "the Reverend" who took the faux-modest tack of "we don't want to get rich, I want to do a little good and make a little money, too" while he stole from his own sales folk. Like those who ran their subsidiary offices around the country, they were from the East Coast New York, Connecticut, Atlantic City, Hector was from Madison, Wisconsin where his father had done the same thing for the local police guild, and from Chicago, and having an easy time of it with the dolts of the North West. Ely the Scam, I hear, was an army brat, an adjustable smart-ass like Newt Gingrich. From one P.X. to the other, I wondered whether Roman outposts had been like that. Save for the unhappy disadvantage of the fact that Bill got himself all the "taps" that were still warm [of proven givers who were potentially still giving] from previous sales, you could make of a Cain+Able/Able Company Services badge deal what you wanted, you could warm up as many stiffs as you liked, develop your own ideas, there was gold in them thar hills and a bit of gold dust among the stingy. But a Seattle Fire Fighter depending on the good will of the businesses of Seattle, as compared to that of its inhabitants would not do well re-establishing their relief funds if their social safety net should disappear. Bill's habit of getting himself, and sitting on, most of and the best taps did not endear him to the rest of the day men, it justifiably struck them as an instance of unfair and ultimately counter-productive nepotism. Don Cain, Bob Able's partner in Cain+Able, took seriously these complaints of the other day men and, during an x-mas break, cleaned out Bill's desk. Without the least warning. Yet the only thing that seriously chagrined Bill about this untoward turn of events was that Don had also tossed some personal belongings of his, or had messed with them. It took Bill about a week to re-assemble his treasure trove. The stacks of computer generated three by five inch white 60-pound paper taps did not spare one single cubic millimeter of the various drawers of his desk. When Bill moved to his brother's Kent office, which fleeced the inhabitants of the South County not only for the King County Police Union but also for the Auburn and Kent Police Officers Association and Guild, Bill left his largesse spread out across three desks at the new Able Company Support Services room, and had Sabrina print out for him a brand new set of the thousands upon thousands of Cain+Able/ S.S.'s business taps. Having listened in on Bill, for some weeks, in the Cain+Able back-room [before Don disconnected the phones there and it turned into the Motel Cain+Able flop house] I kept being amazed at the seductiveness and persistence of Bill's spiel, who however preferred the by no means easy, definitely hard-earned, unregistered money of a commission man for a socially more productive enterprise, unless you regard, as you may and perhaps ought to regard, as being of inordinate overall benefit the employment of students and street people, of tinkerers and drifters and the down and out, and the purveyance of feel-good to the populace, and conviction to a goodly number of business folk that they were supporting a just cause in supporting the pseudo-police union K.C.P.U.'s various socially redemptive endeavors of "fighting" domestic violence, gangs, drug abuse, child neglect, of instituting community policing. Receiving a call back, Bill dragged the call back line, that and its fifty foot cord was located in the great vastness outside the day men's cubicles, into the flop house; he did not want to be interrupted, wanted to be free of the background noise and jokes, he wanted to have the victim, like a corpse, like a beloved, all to himself, for the fleecing and the devouring, and the intense expression that his handsome Ferret face assumed at those many times was reminiscent of that of a thief at work, a safe cracker whose laser was his voice; a kind of sexual excitement seemed to overcome him during the act of relieving the victim's pocket book checking account ["with all due respect"] of the highest possible amount; and Bill's face assumed an orgasmic glow of satisfaction upon a successful score, indeed Bill's memorably radiant smile, his exultation: Sotto voce Bill pitched, both sides of his neck raw from the punishing work of squeezing the telephone receiver against his shoulder while simultaneously writing out the invoice and taking notes: "Once a year we call... the right thing... the good guys," each sale a kind of squeeze play in more ways than one.
Showing this sketch to Bill, the only thing that seemed to elicit his interest was that he was called a "handsome ferret" & the description of the clothes he wears. The rest passed him by. Bill is rumored to be a cocaine addict, but I would not venture even a guess whether his various nasal problems derive thence, since he is obviously allergic to the infinity of molds and mites and pollens that thrive in this particular rain forest. Bob Able, who read the sketch, too, was interested whether I didn't also have something about him, but I didn't, at the time, not until Stumptooth Garzanti arrived on the scene, fresh out of Rikers Island in N.Y. Too much of a nice guy, Bob promised to do something outrageous some day to qualify for inclusion, the closest which he came to doing getting a severe case of bruised ribs from allegedly "horsing around" in a sandpit on an 18th hole! But my opinion of Bob Able holds, not that he is an innocuous nice fellow. He is as intent and intense about making money as Bill, but appeared, best as I could tell, to go about it without allowing himself the indulgence of anything as unprofessional and self-destructive as cynicism; working around him for a while you'd never guess at the depth of appallment that resounded from the voice of the A.G.'s Mary Beth Hagerty Shaw when she pronounced the name Bob Able. Mentioning to Bob that all it might take would be one story and the K.C.P.U. trough off which his firm was feeding might melt away like a block of ice on a hot summer's day, he got back to me somewhere down the line with the statement that now and then the K.C.P.U. threw a x-mas party for kids but didn't make much noise about it - perhaps that is why no one has heard of the K.C.P.U.'s $ 125,000 K x-mas party for the children of King County. Bob's fate was that he knew that of the $ 125,000 a year that his firm raised for the K.C.P.U. only one tenth, at most, went to the production of the "public safety journal," and another equal amount went into the union quagmire general fund and thence into the pockets of its two secretaries and lawyer while he himself kept the hard-earned rest and kept his brother, generously, in disposable cash. His fate was that he needed, or thought that he needed "pros," to beat the money out of the business community, and whatever fatal connection, it was an East Coast connection, existed between him and Stumptooth Garzanti, the dark angel with two skil-saw blades for a mustache, with black stumps for teeth. The business agent of the K.C.P.U. applies fairly constant monthly pressure on the S.S. to increase the flow of funds, which pressure, via Bob Able, is then transmitted "down through the ranks ."