The pitch was a simple one: ”How would you like more money, more broads, and more booze than you can handle?” For Peter Fenton, a smart but shy high school sophomore at the time, his friend Jackie’s invitation was irresistible. So they started a casino in Jackie’s basement, where they succeeded in emptying their classmates’ wallets. When that fizzled out, the small-town Michigan teens up and joined a traveling carnival. In his memoir Eyeing the Flash, Fenton, 55, recounts how he grew into a carny con man who would easily (and happily) scam a mark out of everything but the one dollar they needed to buy gas, drive home, and put a hurting on the mailbox rather than him.
Fenton had a talent for carnival grifting, convincing some hapless bystanders to drop wads of money on a game they’d never win. He never felt bad about it. ”When a con man approaches you, he usually offers you a deal that’s too great to believe,” he says. ”Many people think that they can take advantage of the con man, so the victim’s not entirely innocent — he’s complicit in the whole thing.” In a way, Fenton says, his youthful experience prepared him for the National Enquirer, where he worked as a reporter for 15 years. ”The Enquirer was one of the few places where having worked for a carnival would look good on your résumé.”