My Life-Saving Lesson from a Hitman in Vegas
Disruptive Empathy can break in and change the vector of even the most dangerous cycles.
The story below is an adapted excerpt from my book Wanting, which has now been translated into nearly 20 languages.
Dave Romero had a thin ponytail and a sallow face. His narrow eyes and deep crow’s feet gave the impression that he could read your soul. He walked proudly, with the confidence of someone who never failed to even a score.
He showed up at the front door of my house in Vegas at seven o’clock in the morning as I was getting ready to take my dog for a walk. When I heard the doorbell, I thought it was the Mormon missionaries again. But they don’t come at seven a.m. What I found instead was Dave Romero, “Customer Relations Specialist” of Fyre Pharmaceutical (not its real name), come to collect a debt.
My e-commerce company was flailing after a buyout deal fell through thanks to the Great Recession. I’d already maxed out my credit to keep the company afloat while I figured out next steps. In an effort to buy myself some time, I made a list of the suppliers I would pay first, a sort of debt triage plan.
My decision to exclude Fyre Pharmaceutical from my list of priority payments would have been different had I known that the company’s founders were rumored to have connections with organized crime, that they were said to be involved in gun trafficking, and that one of my competitors mysteriously vanished after crossing them. (1)
I had interacted with Dave three times before. The first was an unpleasant phone call during which he informed me that my payment was late; offended, I snapped back with a full-throated defense of my excellent payment history. The second was an unannounced visit to my office, where he confronted me and told me that he wasn’t a patient man; he threw a pair of dice on my desk and left. The third was when he showed up at a local bar during Sunday football — no idea how he’d known I was there — and told me that he “means what he says” while beating one of his fists against his palm like he was tenderizing meat; the bouncers escorted Dave out. As he left, he made the figure of a pistol with his thumb and forefinger, and pointed it at me.