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The life coach from Horns & Halo nodded toward the PowerPoint screen and its photograph of a man in his mid-forties.

“This man calls himself Dr. Edgar Scattergood and he’s in some hot water,” began Katy Brown.  ”First of all, he’s in a losing battle with the District Attorney’s office. I say “losing” because he outright defrauded people. We like to talk about goals at Horns & Halo and Scattergood’s goal is to outright defraud people and their families after they die. After they die. Clever to try to scam this particularly defenseless group, but the fact that he does it through websites is not so awfully clever.”

Katy paused to look over her audience. She was in the second-floor conference room of ForeverPrized.com’s beachside offices. The bare windows to her left opened up to the Venice Beach boardwalk. Five people plus her co-worker were in attendance and her “outright defrauds people” opener had ripped everyone’s attention from the boardwalk, iPhones, and daydreams.

“We all die, don’t we,” she continued cheerfully, “but what evidence that goes up on the internet does not. It never dies, does it, and now a topnotch prosecutor has all of it.  In fact, the evidence–including witnesses–against Dr. Scattergood is so vast and well-secured that the judge issued a crippling preliminary injunction against Dr. Scattergood without a trial.  That means certain defeat at trial, and it means a lot of money.”

Katy glanced to the back of the room. “Next slide please.”

A red “X” appeared over Scattergood’s face.

She shook her head, “No, that’s not it. Glenn?”

Looking down at the laptop he manned, Glenn Wichman’s face was, for the moment, obscured by the brim of a large black cowboy hat he wore, but his chuckle could be heard throughout the room. He made a tap on the keyboard and Scattergood’s face behind the “X” was replaced by a money sign.

“Thank you,” Katy said. “That’s better. Meantime, the injunction itself has made it impossible for him to legally collect money from any new customers. Scattergood’s Posthumous Vanity Publishing business and his so-called “e-grave” business have themselves died.”

A tombstone appeared on the screen with “RIP PVP” engraved on it. Then “RIP PVP” fades and it was replaced by “”Edgar Scattergood.”" There were a couple of gasps in the room.

“Calm down everyone. Note that it’s his name that’s on the tombstone. In quotation marks. Scattergood’s name itself has become a liability.”

“Ohhhh.” someone said, relieved.

Katy continued, “His name was already ominous in a Dickensonian kind of way. But now, as you can see in the news coverage (A Los Angeles Times news headline reads, “Court Shuts Scattergood Down.”), it is now synonymous with modern cyber-fraud as well as e-mortuary fraud.  It’s so creepy, in fact, especially with the Doctor prefix, that in fact I’m going to use his first name—”

“Sorry,” interrupted Edgar, speaking for the first time since the life coaches from H&H had entered his conference room, “but I’m here in the room with you, aren’t I?   Are you going to always refer to me in the third person?”

Katy dropped her unused laser pointer on the table. Glenn’s loud key-tap exited them out of Power Point.

Me in the third person,” echoed Katy Brown. “Me in the third person, Edgar says. He has mild depression perpetuated by his evening walks along Venice Beach where the sound of the waves and the homeless remind him of a bad year in Liverpool. Edgar has always suffered from grave doubts about himself, but now he has seen people refer to him as a fake in the most existentially troubling sense; namely, that despite all the worrying he does and havoc he wreaks, he may not be real or just a “thieving fictional character.” So he’s in the kind of hot water that no one gets out of without a bad scalding. And on those lonely walks, he’ll suddenly veer from the white froth of the surf right into the cold Pacific for relief and in order to feel real.”

“You’ve been following me?”

“Me in the third person,” she said. “Edgar, you scam people like there’s no tomorrow. Tell us today in your own words, in the first person, why you do that. If you can explain that to us, I can coach you on how to break good from that career and becoming a trusted and accomplished businessman. At the same time, Glenn will show you how to break bad, or even badder that is. In other words, how to double-down on your dirty-dealing deeds to make even more money off dying writers and their grieving widows.”

She turned to him for the first time, “What you disclose here is completely confidential and completely essential. So, Edgar, what say you?

Everyone in the room turned to Dr. Edgar Scattergood, seated near the back next to the window. His face brightened at the attention. He raised his hand to his chin. “You know,” he said, “You would think it would have begun in the backstreets of Liverpool where I was growing up, but I have to take you off the streets and into a theatre I once snuck into to watch the movie Paper Moon. I loved that movie and it inspired me to become the artist I am today.”

Stay tuned to The Hayfield to read what Edgar has to say about Paper Moon and his rebirth as a well-meaning scam artist. Please also note that “paper moon” is from Line 100 of Demod Smith’s The Hayfield.

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