For a brief time in 1997 my name was Drew Peterson.
After a couple months of living in Orlando, Florida and working a series of short-term temporary jobs in warehouses and the like, I was finally able to land what appeared to be a well-paying gig that had the potential to turn into more than just a temporary passage. The pay rate was well beyond anything being offered for comparable work, and despite my skills and experience, the truth was I had been a mail carrier for a decade and getting into another field wasn't a simple matter.
It was a temporary job through an agency, and I was told it could turn into a full time job if the head of the company decided he liked me. That had a lot to do with his involvement in a variety of "Christian" organizations, including a television station run by his wife. Basically, getting hired on full time involved convincing President Bob that I was a devoted, practicing Christian. Well, that and being able to perform up to expectations in my role with the company of course.
The company in question was involved in the resale of timeshares. Timeshares is a huge business in Florida and one that developed an industry devoted to managing the fallout from high pressure sales that convinced people they were a good investment. Many of those people later came to realize they did not have the time, money or inclination to spend a week in what was basically the same hotel room every year. That realization began the timeshare resale business, which reminded me of something Humphrey Bogart was heard to say in his portrayal of Rick in the film Casablanca. He did not object to a parasite. It was the cut-rate parasites he objected to.
I worked for a wonderful woman named Heather who was raising a young son alone after being left by her husband, who then disappeared and left her chasing him for child support for many years. She warned me when I started that there would be things about the job that might bother me, the first of which she told me about up front. President Bob owned a real estate company that handled the timeshare resales. He also owned the company employing Heather and myself. We did the appraisals for the timeshares that were being resold. Our company wasn't in his name officially, but he was there pretty much every day and we knew he was our boss. He had put the ownership of the company in the name of someone else, the secretary that handled his appointment book and his donations to the political campaigns of various candidates and office holders who supported his true love, the ideals and causes of the Christian Right. I later learned he was having an affair with the secretary and that giving her ownership of the appraisal company had to do with more than just crafty paperwork, but that is a red herring.
The fact that he was overseeing the appraisals of properties he was overseeing the sale of did not really bother me all that much. It was shady, but I had seen worse. My job was to process requests for appraisals and to send out the billing once they were approved by Heather. People would pay $400 for an appraisal of their timeshare property, which they usually had overpaid for to begin with, in the hopes that they could recover some of what they had lost. The properties were rarely worth what anyone had paid for them, and on the resale market they were worth even less. We had a twelve page document we sent out with the breakdown of the property's value based on a number of variables.
The thing was, the $400 appraisal made it look as if someone, a qualified appraiser, had gone out and looked at the property and made an informed decision based on upkeep, amenities and so forth. In reality, it involved me going on the internet and pulling up records of the sale of three similar properties and averaging them and then filling in a lot of blanks on a Word document and mailing it to the client. In reality, a mailman was using an RCI book and the internet to guess.
We did not answer our telephone line.
It was a rule.
Not that you'd actually want to answer our telephone. It was usually someone screaming about how we were fucking them over. We had voicemail.
And then the property was listed with President Bob's real estate company and they would earn a commission when the undervalued property was sold, usually to another timeshare resale company who knew they could sell it for more. You know, it is all about the investment and investing is what makes the system work. Free market, baby.
I was willing to take the money and run, like any good true blue American, but then something happened that made me change my mind.
The reason I had gone to Orlando in the first place was to follow a path. I was to discover why my life was worth reclaiming after I tried to end it with suicide three years earlier. I was there to help people, to guide them, and to give my life a deeper meaning that would invalidate the reasons for my efforts at an early departure. I had brushed this all aside until Denise, the receptionist for both the appraisal company and the real estate company, walked up to me and said...
"I knew there was something about you that was different. You're dead, aren't you?"
Denise was a crazy chick. She was one of those people who is strangely wired and picks up on things no one else bothers to notice. She wore long, flowing skirts and bracelets and earrings with big stars and moons hanging from them. She had been an actress out in Los Angeles, doing bit parts in television shows, but had come back to Florida because it was her birthplace. She was looking for something as well, but she never told me what it was. I'm not sure she knew. At least not at that point.
Something about Denise and what she had said to me made me stop. I started evaluating everything I was doing. For a while I started drinking much more heavily than I normally did. And then I came to work and announced that in order to continue working there I was going to have to start going by the name Drew Peterson.
Drew Peterson had a different personality and a different lifestyle than I did. He was like a used car salesman, talked a big game and chewed gum all the time. He didn't mind this job. It was right up his alley. Everyone else thought it was amusing, including President Bob. Denise gave me a hit of acid and took me to see City of Angels, which disappointed me but I got her point.
And then President Bob dropped a file on my desk. There were two elderly women from somewhere in Minnesota. They both owned timeshares that were located in a Disney resort. The only timeshares in Orlando worth any money at all are Disney resort properties. President Bob wanted to buy them himself and sell them for a big payday.
"Lowball these like you've never lowballed anything in your life, Drew."
I took Heather out for a drink and told her I couldn't do it any longer. Drew Peterson died that day, killed by two little old ladies who had bought Disney timeshares as presents for their grandkids and then found out their grandkids didn't want them. Drew Peterson called one of them and found out she had spent a big chunk of her life savings on the timeshare and was upset about her grandchild's family not wanting it. She told him her late husband always handled financial matters and she had probably screwed up because of his absence. Drew Peterson promised to try to help her out. She said goodbye and added, "God bless you, son."
Over drinks, Heather asked me to stay until she could bring someone else in to take over my job. She told me she was trapped, that no other job could pay her as well and she was supporting a child with special needs on her salary without any help from his deadbeat father. She couldn't handle it alone and she never felt clean. She just convinced herself she was doing what she had to in order to provide the best possible life for her son.
They hired a woman to take Drew Peterson's place. She was a middle-aged African American woman, and the first thing she did after Drew finished training her was to walk over to the telephone and answer it. The room fell silent. She talked to the man on the other line for several minutes and when President Bob walked past, she said, "Help the man," in her exaggerated accent, and handed the phone to President Bob.
They eventually found a suitable replacement.