Excerpts from books by Matthew Hughes
Excerpt from ‘To Hell and Back: Hell to Pay’
Arthur Wrigley was a truly awful little man.
He had started out as a truly awful little boy: willful, selfish, grasping even, to the despair of his parents and the frustration of his primary school teachers. But as the years rolled on, Arthur learned to disguise the worst parts of his nature, or at least to confine them to specific circumstances when they could get him what he wanted at negligible risk to his own comfort.
He was, in short, a psychopath, but of the intelligent variety. Broadly speaking, psychopaths come in two kinds: the smart ones and the dumb ones. The latter clog the lower levels of the criminal courts. They are the kind of offenders who commit crimes without much planning, often with no evidence of any forethought at all. They see what they want and they grab it, indiscriminately smashing a window or a skull if it’s in the way, and giving no more thought to the consequences than does any hungry predator leaping upon its prey.
Eventually, they end up tucked away for a long-term sentence. Or dead, because there comes a fateful day when the thing they impulsively crave turns out to be the property of someone capable of disputing ownership in the most forthright manner.
But the intelligent variety of psychopaths learn to control their impulses, at least when it really counts. They plan their approaches and their getaways in detail. They also learn how to mimic the attributes of normal people, and can fake compassion and friendship at a level that could land them on the red carpet at the Oscars, if their career choices led then in that direction — as occasionally does happen.
A substantial number of intelligent psychopaths go into politics or the corporate milieu. Their ability to connive and backstab one moment but to smile and glad-hand the next make them perfectly suited for an environment that rewards those who see the faces of those around them primarily as stepping-stones.
A small yet significant number of intelligent psychopaths — mostly men, but some women — choose the life of the confidence trickster. It’s a profession that particularly appeals to those who get no great thrill out of harming their fellow citizens, but just want to appropriate other people’s property and use it for their own pleasure. Arthur Wrigley was that kind of fraudster, and after more than twenty years’ practice, he had become very good at it.
He came to town just as the golf courses were drying out from the Midwest spring melt, rented a furnished apartment and leased a Lexus. He drove around and marked the locations of Protestant churches in affluent neighborhoods. Arthur generally preferred Baptists, but understood that in areas that historically had attracted substantial German immigration, Lutherans could offer substantial promise.
He attended Sunday services at each of the churches he identified, though he paid no attention to the sermons. Instead, he devoted himself to a close assessment of the parishioners, noting the quality of their clothes, the burnishings of the wives’ faces, the makes and age of the automobiles parked outside. After two weeks, he had selected his church of choice and began attending regularly.
He also became a regular at the most up-scale golf club in town, playing three times a week — often by himself, though he was always willing to make up a missing member of a foursome. He professed a modest handicap and played with moderate skill, winning as gracefully as he lost, never welshing, and accompanying everything he did with smiles, rueful shakes of the head, shrugs, winks and nods, as appropriate to the tenor of his game.
Within six weeks, he had become a recognizable part of the environment in the social circles that interconnected between the Praise Baptist Church and the Merivale Golf Club. People saw him shopping at Bonano’s, the upscale supermarket, and he was spotted eating lunch or dinner at Boardman’s Steak House and The Coq d’Or.
It was at Boardman’s that Praise Baptist’s deacons gathered once a month, ostensibly to deal with church business but mostly just to eat a good lunch and gossip. They dealt with the church’s affairs over the appetizers and were moving on to discussing Mayor Greeley’s proposed redevelopment of Canting Park when head deacon Pete Eberley spotted the maitre d’ leading Arthur Wrigley to a table for one.
“Hey, George!” Pete called. “Want to join us for lunch?”
Arthur, who was George Colville to these people, approached the group and said, with a carefully deferential smile, “If I’m not intruding.”
He had played golf with three of the six men at the table, and chatted briefly after church with two others. They assured him that he was welcome in their midst. He sat down and accepted a menu from the maitre d’ while the others made room and a waiter hurried over with a place setting.
Introductions were made. Arthur already knew all their names, and now they knew one of his. The discussion returned to Canting Park while he selected his steak and vegetables, but when he handed back the menu and rested his hands on the tablecloth, the group’s attention came back to him.
Pete Eberley noted the Rolex, the gold ring with the inlaid diamond — at least one carat — and the cut and quality of the new man’s suit and tie. Pete was a real estate developer who’d started small and become medium-large, and was used to assessing people’s net worth by their appearance. He put George Colville in the several-millions category. People like that were always of interest to a man who put together financing packages.
“So, George,” he said, “how’s business?”
A wink and a nod from Arthur. “Ups and downs,” he said, “but I’m not complaining.”
Terry Melchert, seated at Arthur’s left elbow, said, “What line are you in, George?”
Arthur turned his mild blue eyes on the questioner, let them crinkle a little at the edges. “Used to be banking.”
Arthur made a little noise of confirmation. “Now I mostly just manage my portfolio.”
“Retired?” said another of the deacons.
A gentle shrug. “Pretty much.”
Pete said, “But you still keep your hand in?”
Another shrug. “Now and then, if the glove fits.”
And so the hook was set.
Pete Eberley had got George Colville’s phone number before they rose from the table. A few days later, he called and invited him to lunch and a round of golf. They made it a foursome with a couple of Pete’s friends. Nobody talked business, and when one of the cronies mentioned the ninety-nine percenters occupying Wall Street, George just smiled and made a gesture that said all of that was behind him now.
Pete cultivated George. Over the next few weeks, they got together for a couple of lunches and a dinner. They played golf and had drinks at the club. They talked sports and politics and movies. The developer gradually came to realize that he and the retired Wall Streeter had a lot in common. They liked the same things, they saw the world the same way. That was particularly gratifying, because Pete was coming to understand, from remarks that George had dropped, that his new friend had moved in some pretty elevated circles.
“Really?” he said. “Donald Trump? What kind of deal was it?”
George gave a little shake of his head and showed Pete a pair of palms raised in denial. “I can’t say, Pete. Confidentiality.”
“But it was big, right?”
George’s eyes twinkled. “The Donald thought so.”
By now it was summer, and Praise Baptist was holding its annual picnic and social in the park down by the river. George came and everyone was glad to see him.
Especially glad was Jean Tappehorn, aged forty-something but clinging with increasing desperation to her thirties. She had been left financially comfortable after a divorce from the high-school sweetheart who’d thought that making it big in retail electronics entitled him to a blonde trophy. Jean was nobody’s idea of a trophy, plump and with her features somehow clumped into the middle of a too-round face. But lately, the new member of the congregation had been taking time to smile at her after services and say good morning. He was an odd little man, an inch shorter than she was if she wore heels, but he had a kindly, worldly smile, and she had the feeling he’d like to say more than good morning, but was just a tad too shy.
Jean Tappehorn intended to get the shyness out of the way so she could see what lay behind the leprechaun’s twinkles and nods. For the picnic she wore flat heels and a dress that made no effort to disguise her curves, two of which were augmented by the first push-up bra she’d ever owned. When she saw George talking to Pete Eberley by the punch-bowl table, she drifted over, picked up a cup and reached for the ladle.
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