Direct mail operations and hard-sell phone rooms are a weird little subculture with some truly rough edges, and by "rough edges", I mean things like getting shot for a briefcase full of customer data, or arrested with a briefcase full of cash. Almost inevitably, if you stay in the life long enough, you’re going to have one of those special, special days, when you bump up against one of these rough edges. At which time, you usually need to get gone and stay gone.
It won’t necessarily be a big thing that gets you moving. Maybe there’s just some little misunderstanding with local law enforcement, or with a local businessperson of a certain stripe – some little thing you can patch up in a couple days if you’re left free to operate. Maybe you just need enough time to call a good lawyer, or locate a suitable stack of fifties.
Or maybe it really is something big, and you need to disappear on a permanent basis. Either way, if you want to save your sorry ass you have to go low profile.
I’m not stupid. By the time I’d worked for Jason for a few months, I’d noticed how chaotic my life was getting. Of course it had occurred to me that I needed an exit strategy. I’d even made a few half-assed efforts in that direction. But it was Zeetz’s guy Moon who really taught me what was what. Moon taught me how to pack.
Which may not mean what you think it means. If you’ve never been part of the particular show I’m talking about, packing probably sounds relatively innocuous, or like a phrase out of a movie, or maybe a detective novel.
So let’s define our terms, shall we? To be "packed" doesn’t just mean a ready-to-go suitcase or book bag – although it does partly mean that. Nor does it mean that you’re packing heat, although it could certainly mean that, too.
Being packed is knowing the way out.
It’s a habit you fall into – to always know the best way out of a space, and where everyone around you is, at all times. It isn’t as hard as it sounds. It becomes a kind of recreation, to plan these things out and mentally test various alternatives.
Some people explore restaurants, go to museums. Some test escape routes.
Being packed means you know where the escape hatch is, at all times, and you can get there in the dark, hopping on one leg. It means you’ve got all your exit strategy ducks in a row, and that you keep them in a row. It means you know what to do and where to go once you do use your escape hatch. It means having someone to call on the other side, after you make the jump, if it turns out you need help.
Pro tip? You always need help…
It was after one of my visits with Zeetz’s little boy Theseus that Moon brought it up with me. He was driving me back to our warehouse at the time.
"You ever think about getting out?" He asked. He kept his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel, but for just a flash his eyes met mine in the rear-view mirror.
After I got over being astonished, I nodded. Then, when I saw his eyes stayed on the road, I cleared my throat. "Yeah," I said. "Sure I do. I didn’t know what I was getting into when Jason hired me. Lots of stress going around."
"You got a plan?"
"Yeah. A plan. You packed?"
"No ‘sort of’. When it comes to this shit, you are or you aren’t."
"I’ve thought about it…"
"Zeetz wants me to set you up," Moon said.
"He told me to make sure you had an out. He appreciates what you do for Theseus."
"Don’t turn him down," Moon cautioned.
"Of course not," I said.
So it was Moon who first got me packed, and this was an important thing he did for me. Later, I figured out that he wasn’t doing me some big favor: he taught me so he could predict my moves, if he ever needed to. He was laying in an insurance policy, just in case he ever had to ice me, or even just find me. He was making me predictable, you see.
Which makes it less friendly, doesn’t it.
What’s more important, he was making me predictable only to him. Or to people like him – people in his "tradition".
Yes, there are traditions and lines of descent in this subculture. See, there are a lot of ways to get out of town. Everybody has a plan, and these plans fall into types, and to people in the know, your plan is like a signature. And even though everyone has their own unique take on the bug-out boogaloo, there are shared networks of contacts, and shared techniques. Moon’s tradition was well-established and well-known. For years after I left the biz, I ran into people who learned to pack from Moon. They all operate according to the same patterns, and will likely make the same moves, and I know them, because Moon taught me, too.
Predictability is the worst, when you’re trying to hide. Predictability makes you easier to find, but it can’t really be helped. I’m part of a lineage – a member of a tribe: the tribe of People Who Pack Like Moon.
Back in the good old days when Moon was learning to pack, his lineage was named after some other guy, who taught him. And before that guy, the tribe was the People Who Pack Like Al, and so on back into the depths… to like, the 1920s, when prohibition got everyone interested in breaking laws.
First thing you got to do when some kind of shit is going down is get mobile – use your escape hatch and get to the running part. This is the "go-bag" part of the game.
If anyone is going to hit you – cops or otherwise – you’re probably going to face it in one of your home places, either where you live or where you hang out. So make sure you have what you need wherever you are (usually by having a bag, or a case, or a duffel or something – something you always carry).
You want non-obvious stuff in your bag that can get you through a change of appearance, and a couple burner phones, plus the usual tools of self-preservation, which will be specific to the local turf. Moon taught me what to put in my ready-bag: cash, automatic and a couple clips, flashlight, candy, personal pharmacy with an emphasis on staying awake, change of clothes, sunglasses, and a hat.
He also recommended the usual serial killer stuff – duct tape, thirty feet or so of a nice rope, razor knife with extra blades, and a drowner, which is what Moon called a burlap sack. It isn’t just for drowning.
"This is what you grab when someone’s beating down the door," he told me, showing me his own. Moon’s ready bag was a nice-looking briefcase.
"What with the plane tickets and passport?" I asked, as I looked it over.
"That’s nothing," he said. "Fake. Just window dressing. I got a date tonight."
I didn’t want to think about that.
By the time I left the life, I had five ready bags in place. One at my apartment, one at work, one at Nestor’s place, one hidden one block over from our warehouse, and one in my car.
Two were briefcases, two were daypacks, and one was an old canvas mail bag.
Moon tended toward briefcases but at first, I preferred daypacks – they held more, and they left your hands free. When I put my first ready-bag together, I used a nice looking daypack.
But over the years, I learned that Moon was right – a briefcase puts you in a different social class, one less likely to get searched.
Not that I ever found out the hard way…