The AARP bumper sticker told Bobby all he needed to know, that and the goofy “proud grandparents” yard sign. Old folks, easy pickings. Ready to believe anything if you’re clean looking and can show some credentials.
He fingered his city employee ID badge, fresh from the printer, now laminated and clipped to his breast pocket, and then pulled out a business card, also fresh from the printer. “Call my supervisor if you have questions,” he’d say when he finished his pitch. “Her number’s on my card.”
Darlene liked it when they called, gave her something to do besides sit in the motel room and watch TV. “That’s right,” she’d say, “your utility bill will be cut in half if you let our employee install this device on your water heater, and all it costs you is one hundred dollars, payable in cash.” There’s no risk, she’d tell them. “The city will refund every cent if you change your mind.”
After Darlene finished, they’d usually take another look at the device he’d already shown them, just a little temperature gauge on a magnet, but with that fancy dial and the metal case, it looked high tech. If he got this far, they generally believed him when he said it sent electronic signals to the water heater to improve its efficiency. Hell, he would have believed it himself, what with all the things they can do with miniature computers these days.
It had been a good day, seven takers so far. One more and he could call it quits, go out for a bite with Darlene, maybe do some planning. Been here a week, and still nothing in the papers, nothing on TV. They could probably work the town for another week before moving on.
Too bad he couldn’t talk Darlene into going for a bigger payoff, something that paid a couple of thousand each time, maybe more. Look at the big guys, he’d always tell her, raking in millions, living in mansions.
“If we really hurt these old folks,” she’d say, “we’ll have people after us, but it’s smooth sailing if we only take a little, sort of like a mosquito that only takes a sip. Sure, the person who’s bitten gets annoyed, but that’s all. ”
That’s Darlene, thought Bobby, always playing it safe.
They came to the door right away, one behind the other, both smiling. Spry-looking old-timers, the kind you see walking around malls like their lives depended on it. Showed them his ID badge, gave them his card, made his pitch and the next thing you know, he’s inside.
“Clyde here will take you down to the basement,” the old lady said. “That’s where the water heater is.”
“You sure, Martha?” the old guy said. “We don’t want to make a mistake.”
“I think we’ve heard enough,” she said, “but I’ll call his supervisor anyway.”
They hadn’t been in the basement more than a couple of minutes before the old lady called down from the top of the stairs. “Go right ahead, Clyde.”
Martha stood at the top of the stairs, her little .25 Beretta Bobcat at her side. “What on earth took so long, Clyde?” she said. “I was starting to worry.”
“Well, it took him forever to notice the pit,” he said. “When he finally did, he was slow to walk over to get a closer look at it.”
“Good thing you waited,” she said. “Can you imagine dragging him all the way across the basement floor?”
“That would just do me in,” he said, wiping down the baseball bat with an old rag. “I’m tuckered out as it is.”
“You go on and rest, Clyde, I’ll finish up,” she said.
“By the way, how did your call to his supervisor turn out?” he said.
“Supervisor my foot,” she said, chuckling. “She didn’t even bother to turn off her TV. Must have thought I was deaf.”
He hesitated a moment, then said, “I sometimes wonder if it’s right, what we’re doing. They’re just trying to get by, like everyone else.”
“Don’t start getting soft on me, Clyde,” she said. “They’re nasty bloodsuckers and you know it, and now there’s one less of them.”