Steve saw it lying on the ground next to that new-looking silver Audi. He glanced around to be sure he was alone. He was. Looking left and right as he crossed the parking bays, he kept going until he was close enough to the Audi to be sure. He was right! It was money! And it didn’t look like just a one-dollar bill, either. Leaning closer, Steve saw the markings more clearly – fifty bucks! That was more than he could have expected. Most people didn’t notice if they dropped a dollar or two. Some people didn’t notice a five or a ten, either. He’d even found a twenty once. But never fifty. Whoever dropped it must be doing well. He reached down, picked up the money, and straightened up again.
Just then, a voice behind him snarled, ‘Get the hell away from my car!’
Steve whirled around. ‘Sorry, man,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t touching your car.’
‘I saw you right there, bending over. God help you if you did any damage!’ The voice belonged to a man about six inches taller than Steve’s own five feet eleven. He had light brown, slicked back hair, and those had to be designer sunglasses. His dark pinstripe suit looked expensive, too. He pushed past Steve, glaring at him as he went, and checked the Audi carefully. Finally satisfied that his car was safe, he looked at Steve again.
‘So what were you doing anyway?’ he asked.
‘Nothing. No problem. I’m out of here.’
Steve turned to go. At least the guy hadn’t missed the fifty bucks. Anyway, he looked like he could afford to lose it. People like that usually could. And anyway, he didn’t need to treat Steve like that – as though he were something you scrape off your shoe. He had gotten about ten feet away when he heard the man’s voice again.
‘Come here a second.’ This time he wasn’t snarling.
Steve looked over his shoulder. ‘What?’
The other guy held his hands up to show he meant no harm. ‘I just want to talk to you. Honest.’
If this was going to be some kind of religious conversion thing, Steve wanted no part of it. He’d given up on the idea of God long ago. ‘What about?’
‘What do you do for a living?’
‘I’m not working right now.’ That was pretty obvious from the threadbare jeans, worn-out trainers and the ten-year-old jacket with the hole in the sleeve.
‘Thought so. Would you be interested in a job?’
‘What kind of job?’ He might be living in a homeless shelter, but he had his limits. He wasn’t interested in drug dealing or anything like that. He’d heard stories of what happened if you got involved with those people.
‘My name’s Brad – Brad Jamison. I run a sales business and I’m looking for some new people. You look like you could use a fresh start.’
Steve still wasn’t convinced. ‘What kind of sales?’
Brad read Steve’s facial expression. ‘Don’t worry, there’s nothing dangerous about it. I have a retirement property business. People looking for the right place to retire invest in one of my company’s properties. Then, when they’re ready, they move in – no need to burden their children. And my places are really terrific.’
‘I don’t know anything about real estate,’ Steve confessed.
‘You don’t have to. That’s where I come in. All you need to do is let people know about it.’
‘You mean getting leads? Something like that?’
‘That’s right. How about you get yourself cleaned up and meet me at this address in about an hour and a half.’ Brad pulled a business card out of his wallet and handed it to Steve, who nodded slowly and put it in his wallet.
‘I’m Steve Albright. I guess I’ll see you in an hour or so, then,’ he said.
‘Great!’ Brad watched Steve walk off with a slight smile. They always fell for the dropped money. He’d never failed yet with that. Used it whenever he needed a new sap.
Just under an hour and a half later, Steve walked up to the door at the address he’d been given. It was one of those offices in a larger building, with frosted letters on double glass doors: Elite Properties. This was the place. He pushed one of the doors open and walked in a little uncertainly. A beautiful young woman, complete with perfect suit and long, carefully arranged, blonde hair looked up at him. ‘May I help you?’ she asked.
‘I’m here to see Brad Jamison. He invited me to stop in.’ She’d never buy that, Steve thought.
‘Of course,’ she smiled. ‘Please have a seat, and he’ll be right with you.’
Five minutes later, Brad come out of his office into the reception area and walked right over to Steve. ‘You made it! That’s terrific! Come on in and let’s talk about what we do here and where you fit in.’
And that’s how it was for the first three weeks. Steve was pleasantly surprised at how well things were going. The work was easy, too. All he had to do was call people and send emails inviting them to come to Brad’s retirement seminars. That’s where Brad turned on the charm and showed them his properties. It almost always ended up in at least a few sales, and that’s where Steve earned his commission. Within a month he had enough money to move out of the shelter and into a small apartment. Soon he might even be able to buy a car.
One afternoon, he happened to be alone in the office. He was scrolling through his next list of clients when he heard the main office door open. Walking out into the reception area, he saw a couple who looked about sixty or so. When they saw him, the man said, ‘Is Brad Jamison here?’
‘No, I’m sorry, he’s not. Can I help you?’
‘I hope so. I think there’s been a horrible mistake. We went to one of his seminars, and, well, it all sounded great. So, we invested some money. Last week we drove to what’s supposed to be our new property. There was nothing there. Nothing but a vacant lot all covered with mud and trash. We even saw a sign warning people about toxic chemicals.’
‘I’m sure there’s been some mistake of some kind. Why don’t you have a seat, and as soon as Mr. Jamison comes back, we’ll straighten it out.’
The couple nodded and sat down.
Twenty minutes later, Brad came into the office. Steve was about to come out of his own mini-office when the man spoke up. ‘Mr. Jamison, we need to talk to you about our property.’ Steve waited by his door to see what would happen.
‘Is there a problem?’
‘There certainly is!’ Then the man told him exactly what he’d told Steve. He ended by saying, ‘I feel that we’ve been cheated!’ His wife nodded in agreement.
‘I’m sorry that you feel that way,’ Brad said. ‘Let’s talk about it in my office.’ He waved a hand towards his office and the couple preceded him there.
Steve couldn’t resist the chance to hear how Brad would deal with this. He stepped quietly to the door, and almost immediately wished he hadn’t.
‘…nothing you can do,’ Brad was saying. ‘You signed the contract, which is legally binding.’
‘So we’re stuck with a useless piece of toxic land?’
‘Sorry, but that’s how things work out sometimes.’
Steve didn’t hear what came next, but the couple soon rushed out of the office. The woman was close to tears, her husband trying to reassure her with promises of talking to a lawyer. When Brad came out of the office, Steve asked him, ‘What was that all about?’
‘The fruits of our effort.’ Brad smiled.
‘What do you mean?’
‘That’s how we make our money. We have to have some legitimate property, for the brochures and the government. But the rest, well, if people don’t bother to check things out before they sign on the dotted line, that’s not my fault. And don’t worry. I have a great lawyer just waiting to come to our rescue, so there’s no problem there.’
Steve’s stomach knotted. He hadn’t intended to cheat anyone, especially not people like that. ‘You can’t do that, Brad,’ he finally said. ‘It’s going to come back to you, and it’s not right.’
‘I don’t hear you complaining about your salary. And who knows?’ Brad patted him on the back, ‘If you play your cards right, you could earn some real money in this business. Real money. Besides, you don’t want to do anything stupid. You’re in this, too, and if you do say anything, you’re deep in it.’
Steve thought about that for a few minutes after he went back to his desk. Real money. Then he remembered what it was like at the shelter, sleeping on top of the few clothes you owned so nobody would steal them. Scrounging for food and a shower. Hoping you’d find a couple of dollars someone dropped. The thought of prison wasn’t any better. He stood up and went back to Brad’s office, getting there just in time to see Brad hang up his office ‘phone with a smile.
‘Problem, Steve?’ he asked as Steve walked in.
‘No, just a question or two. Was that another sale?’ he asked, gesturing towards the telephone.
‘Yeah. And a good one, too. We’re gonna do well this month.’
‘Wouldn’t we do better concentrating on people with a money? They’d miss it less.’
‘Steve, you don’t get it. We can’t sell dreams to people who already have it all. The best thing is to get people who don’t. Those are the ones you sell on luxury.’
Steve had had enough. He moved towards Brad’s desk, leaned across it and pushed his face close to Brad’s. ‘You can’t screw people out of money they don’t have!’
Brad half rose in his chair. ‘Why not? You do.’
‘Not any more.’ A second later, Brad slumped back in his chair, the fancy gold letter opener now sticking crazily out of his chest. Steve stood for a second, listening carefully. Good. There was nobody else there. The letter opener would be easy to get rid of in the creek that lay about a block from the building. And soon he’d be ready to take over Brad’s business for himself. Only this time, he’d go for people with three cars and two houses. They’d never miss a few thousands.