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.''