“I’m in!” I said with unreserved relish. “Can’t wait to start.”
What I was so damned excited about was—of course—an opportunity to write something that was, for me, unexplored. It was my lasting hope that once completed, it would be as compelling to an audience as it was to me from the absolute start.
It had begun with an overseas phone call from my friend and collaborator Florent Siri, the director of Hostage. A property had come across his desk. An autobiography by famed French con man, Christophe Rocancourt. If I was willing to eyeball it, he’d send me the English translation. It was an easy yes for me. I’d always been fascinated by con artists and their games. I’d certainly seen most of the movies in the genre and had read as much as I could get my hands on. Florent promised to have the producer overnight it to me from Paris.
In the meantime, I couldn’t help but want to investigate more about the subject, instantly careening over to the Internet with Google searches. Of course, I’d heard of Christophe Rocancourt before. In the nineties, he’d been famous—or more accurately, infamous—for having scammed his way around Los Angeles and New York City posing as everyone including the sons of Sophia Loren and Dino De Laurentiis, and even the European offspring of the Rockefellers.
The web didn’t disappoint. It bloomed with information on Rocancourt, including various network news magazine reports on the con man’s misadventures. I vacuumed up what I could on the man and, by the following day, ripped into the overnight package containing Christophe’s personal accounts of his multi-million dollar schemes. I’d like to say I read the translation in a single sitting. Only that would be a lie. There were moments when I had to get off my fat ass to retrieve the hand-bound bio from across the room.
That’s because moments earlier I’d flung it in frustration, disgust, and disbelief.
“What is this crock of shit!” I complained the next morning once I’d connected long-distance with Florent. “There’s nothing here!”
Florent agreed. The book, which had been purchased by French producer Thomas Langmann, was little more than a pile of excuses, blaming everyone from the LAPD to the FBI to a litany of ex-paramours for his incarceration. Nowhere did Rocancourt admit to a single scam, scheme, or impropriety beyond a parking ticket. Let alone give up his motives or a single inner-working to his deviously clever ploys. Because according to the FBI, he’d conned people out of millions upon millions of dollars.
“To read it you’d think he was locked up in federal prison for being too generous to people,” I complained.
“This eez why eez a con man,” replied Florent. “It makes heem interesting, no?”
“Why do we need the book if there’s nothing in it?” I explained. “There’s more information in the public domain as to his crimes.”
“Thees eez why you need to meet with heem,” suggested Florent.
“He’s out of prison?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes. Eez in Paris. I will ‘ave Langmann send you a plane teekit if you like.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’d like very very much.”
To say I was chuffed is a gross understatement. I going to have the chance to meet the con man face to face and perhaps find the opportunity to climb underneath his skin for a look at the real Christophe Rocancourt. Because so far, between what I’d researched and his lame autobiography, there was little if anything I could believe as fact beyond his incarceration and the reams of paparazzi photos documenting his every entry and exit from Hollywood nightclubs on the arms of various movie stars and centerfolds.
On my behalf, a plane ticket was cut for me to fly to Paris. First-class, no less. This was neither lure nor diva behavior. It was per WGA dictum for writers traveling on a signatory’s dime. At that time, I hadn’t a glimmer how my Writer’s Guild credentials would come back to bite me in my ass. And why would I? I was buckled into a seat on my own giddy-up research roller coaster. And despite knowing both Florent and Christophe spoke fluent English, I gave up sleeping on the Air France red-eye in lieu of brushing up on my near non-existent French. Time, I might add, which was totally wasted but for the five minutes I spent on a mission to find Tylenol in a Montmartre pharmacy.
No sooner had I checked into my hotel than Florent swung by for a short cab ride to the restaurant where I was to meet Christophe and Thomas Langmann. There, my jetlag and lack of slumber were quickly cured with doses of both adrenalin and fine whiskey. Langmann, a short man who appeared manicured to his molars, stiffly handled the introductions once Christophe finally arrived. The con man was lackadaisical and indifferent in his tardiness and offered me a soft and small hand as a delicate complement to his rodent-like features.
This is the one and only Christophe Rocancourt? I asked myself. I’d watched the interviews and scanned through over a hundred photos. The suave and rakish con man was as slight as a featherweight and the antithesis of the lady-killer I’d fully expected. Yet he sat down and leaned into me with a remarkable confidence.
“I miss Los Angeles,” he started. “Tell me where you live.”
“Sherman Oaks,” I replied.
“I know it!” he grinned.
“How long since you were in LA?” I asked.
Christophe counted backward in his head.
“Six, seven years,” he summed up. “Plus the four months since I was released from prison.”
“Only four months?” I was somehow stunned. For all I’d studied, I hadn’t quite done the math. His five-year stretch in the federal lockup had only just ended. “How’s it feel to be out?” I asked, feeling as lame as my question sounded.
“Still finding my feet,” he said. “Learning to speak my own language again. I went from prison to a first-class seat back to Paris.”
“First-class?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. “I might’ve been in prison. But I’m still me. I still have millions in safety deposit boxes all over your country.”
This is when I suspected Chris was already lying—playing me to see how much fishing line I’d give him.
“The U.S. Government flew you first-class back to France?” I pressed.
“Do you know nothing about me?” Chris asked, looking astonished at both Florent and Langmann. “Did you send Doug my book?”
“Oh, I read your book,” I admitted. “I just think it’s a big load of bullshit.”
“My book? Bullshit?”
“Yes,” I said. “A total and complete crock of shit.”
Next week, PART 2 of CON JOB.