Getting Half-Arrested

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It's been dead here lately with the NBA on break. Not so for Irish, a cross-town bookie who called to pass along that he was “half-arrested”. I kind of thought that getting half-arrested was like getting half-pregnant, so I asked for details.

Two plainclothes city cops knocked on his door mid-morning: could he please come down to the precinct at 3 p.m. to answer some questions? So Irish dutifully showed up with our lawyer. (Yeah, most of us here use the same lawyer. He's something of a specialist. It's our version of Group Medical.)

The cops wanted Irish to talk all about all his customers, but nobody specific. Wanted Irish's stream-of-consciousness or whatever. Our lawyer summed up all the righteous indignation $300-an-hour can buy and said that first, Irish wasn't admitting making book. Second, if he was a bookie, idly chatting about clients' lives would kill his business. Last, being a customer is never a crime, ever.

The cops let Irish go, no charges. It was agreed that if, as any other ordinary citizen, Irish was witness to a crime, he'd certainly help. And that was that.

Irish wanted to know if I'd ever had the same thing happen to me or heard of it.

Sort of, yeah. Three weeks after 9/11 I was working in Costa Rica when two polite FBI agents showed up and asked for our customer list in the interests of National Security. 9/11 hit our office hard. Nearly all the Gringos (and, surprisingly, two of the Costa Ricans) had acquaintances who worked in the Towers. Our accountant had worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in the 90s. Tough as it was, we couldn't just hand over the list. But these things have a way of working out.

I explained to the FBI that after 9/11, there were no sports for a week. We could only bear watching so much of the news on TV. Some people wanted to fly home, but that wasn't immediately practical, so we tried to keep busy with housekeeping.

We sniffed around our files, and discovered that one of our marketing guys was stealing from us. He fessed up and snivelled for a second chance. We fired him, pulled his work visa, and sent him back to the States. The dirtbag took a copy of our customer database with him. About every two days since, we were getting a courtesy call from another online shop that this thief was trying to whore out our customer list to them. We had already notified our customer base that we knew our list had been sold at least twice.

One of the FBI agents then muttered aloud that, if they paid this fellow a visit, the FBI might be able to get itself a complimentary copy and incidentally discourage further selling. I urged them to drop in at 4 a.m., just to make sure the little shit was home.

I should have felt better, but I didn't right away. Some of our customers trusted us with their real names and addresses and we had let this guy walk out the door with them. E-mails and calls started trickling in from customers that they had been solicited by so-and-so at another book who bought our list. (We never heard that anyone was ever contacted by the FBI.) We apologized repeatedly and our customers largely told us not to worry about it—the Internet was the Internet after all, and some of them had had employees steal customers from their own landscaping/plumbing/whatever business.

This whole depressing story somehow helped Irish put his day in perspective. We've both resolved to not take on any clients that the City's Finest would have a disproportionate amount of interest in. We joked that who we really needed as customers were cops themselves. We've never had any, or, more accurately, any we know of.

So Irish bought a new bunch of cell phones and is back in business. He lays off into me sometimes, which is action I can use. He's lost a couple spooked clients over this episode, at least temporarily, because he told everybody what happened.

There a conspiracy theorist making the rounds. I guess there's always one. Out of one side of his mouth he's saying that Irish told the police everything and will keep doing so to avoid arrest. Well, that's not Irish. Out of the other side of his mouth, he's saying the that the whole thing was a plan by the cops to get Irish out of the office, so they could bug the place up like a hotel room waiting for OJ Simpson. That won't be an issue.

March Madness is coming—that first weekend is exciting and I can't wait. Irish's kind of excitement, though, I can do without.

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