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Menachem's Story Blog

The Conned Con Artist
or "He who laughs last laughs best"

Working with Henry was always exciting and enjoyable. We were only business partners for a few months, over twenty years ago now, but looking back, it really was a fun time. Henry always walks into a room, and no matter what the mood or conversation, or whatever else is happening, his cheery "Good morning everyone!" brings gaiety to the air and puts a smile to everyone's face, "How it going Henry?"

Before we joined forces with Henry, he ran a business call Total Computer Services, T.C.S., where he mainly sold what we then called I.B.M. compatible personal computers. Additionally he provided computer based services, including typesetting on the "new" laser printer technology. His base business sort of "died" with the steep and sudden drop in the price of the compatibles. These once sold for around $3,000 (at least 25% cheaper than the "real" IBM thing) and the markup was between $800 and $1,000 per unit. Retail prices dropped very quickly, to under $1,500, but the markup now was barely $100!

Our speciality was typesetting, so we combined our business with the remainder of his, to form a new entity, the Automated Office. Henry believed a business in Israel, especially one run by new immigrants who did not have access to the old-boys network, needed to have constant access to a good lawyer. Not having any experience in these matters, we agreed to engage Henry's attorney, a gentlemen of North African extraction. I was never overly impressed by Reuven, but Henry thought highly of him and told us that his legal counsel had saved him many thousands of dollars in the past.

Though our business was now in the service area, Henry still loved the thrill and exhilaration of the hunt and of closing a sale. It moved adrenalin around his body, it gave him a high, and it put money into the bank. So if he could move a computer for a markup greater than the $200, he would sell one. We sold one here and there occasionally.

Henry reads a person, especially a potential customer, "like a book". One day, as we were preparing to move offices, a elderly gentleman walks in. So and so had recommended Henry to him as an honest salesman (sic). He was originally Hungarian and had recently come to Israel following many years in New York City. He wore a black kippa (so does Henry) and sported a grey goatee (Henry has a full beard). He and his partner were starting a new business to develop some kind of intelligent system for the U.S. intelligence community, and they needed a powerful new computer. Henry's price was a little high, but, as usual, he was promising the world in order to make the sale.

The goatee said he would think about it. He returned the next day, also at a very inconvenient time. Yes he was interested, but could we throw in a this and that to sweeten the deal? Yes we could, but it would cost another $200. O.K., I'll think about it.

When he returned again the next day, Henry knew he was going to close a deal. The adrenalin rush was starting. He was salivating. Would we throw in free delivery? Sure, no problem.

We delivered the computer to an office in a Jaffa Road serviced apartment. I didn't like the stark nature of the office, but Henry was cool. Goatee said his company had just been registered and he was opening a bank account later that very day -- he would only have a cheque book next week. Yakir and I didn't like this storyline, but Henry was cool.

When it came to sales, we trusted Henry. His natural friendliness and his ability to apply it to close deals was one of the reasons we went into this partnership in the first place. Yakir and I are techies -- Henry a salesman. We knew we had a winning combination.

Goatee was full of polite apologies, always a different reason for the money not arriving. Yakir and I paid a visit to his office one day. Our computer was there, being used by goatee's super genius partner. He seemed a strange one to me. Their product was coming on well. They were applying for patents. We left empty-handed.

But we kept trying. Then we found out the two had moved out of their Jaffa Road office with no forwarding address. It didn't smell too good.

Through contacts, Henry found out where goatee lived. In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Yerushalayim. Henry suggested that he and I pay goatee a visit. And so we did -- one evening, around 7 p.m. Henry's intelligence was perfect. We had the right house. We rang the door bell, then knocked on the wooden door. We weren't yet sure what we were going to say nor do -- we did not even know if our machine was inside.

No-one answered -- no-one that is other than the barking of two rather large sounding dogs. We couldn't hear anything coming from inside other than these two animals.

Henry said, "Look for keys." Keys, what keys? And there they were, a whole keyring, sitting on the bathroom window sill. "You find the machine and I'll take care of the dogs." What was he going to do to the German Shepherd and the Labrador? Put them to sleep? Just for a little while? Henry went in first and started patting the dogs. This guy's charm is amazing, and not just with fellow humans. He had the dogs lying, belly up with laughter, as he continued to tickle their undersides. He must have worked as a dogcatcher or at the R.S.P.C.A. during his school holidays.

I located the computer, picked up all the pieces, including our printer, and we were out of there in short order. His keys back on the window sill, and off to the car with "ours".

Henry said that was "cool", but we have to go and tell Reuven what we've done. It was already eight o'clock by the time we got to our attorney's office in the city. He was still there, working back late, preparing someone's case for court the following day. We walked in. We told what we'd just done. He broke out into a cold sweat. He was lost for words. Henry was ginning from ear to ear like the cat who had just swallowed the goldfish in front of the entire family.

"You guys are crazy. You can't just walk in to someone's house . . . ." Henry's standard answer, "We've done it already -- now it's your problem to inform us of the next move."

Needless to say, we never saw hide nor hair of goatee again.


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