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In December 1925, guests at the swankiest hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, watched with interest as a mysterious man arrived in a Rolls-Royce driven by a chauffeur. Over the next days they studied this handsome man, who walked with an elegant cane, received telegrams at all hours, and only engaged in the briefest of conversations. He was a count, they heard, Count Victor Lustig, and he came from one of the wealthiest families in Europe–but this was all they could find out.

Imagine their amazement when Lustig one day walked up to one of the least distinguished guests in the hotel, a Mr. Herman Loller, head of an engineering company, and entered into conversation with him. Loller had made his fortune only recently, and forging social connections was very important to him. He felt honored and somewhat intimidated by this sophisticated man, who spoke perfect English with a hint of a foreign accent. Over the days to come, the two became friends.

Loller of course did most of the talking, and one night he confessed that his business was doing poorly, with more troubles ahead. In return, Lustig confided in his new friend that he too had serious money problems–Communists had seized his family estate and all it’s assets. He was too old to learn a trade and go to work. Luckily he had found an answer–“a money-making machine.” “You counterfeit?” Loller whispered in half-shock. No, Lustig replied explaining that through a secret chemical process, his machine could duplicate paper currency with complete accuracy. Put in a dollar bill and six hours later you had two, both perfect. He proceeded to explain how the machine had been smuggled out of Europe, how the Germans had developed it to undermine the British, how it had supported the count for several years, and on and on. When Loller insisted on a demonstration, the two men went to Lustig’s room, where the counted produced a magnificent mahogany box fitted with slots, cranks, and dials. Loller watched as Lustig inserted a dollar bill in the box. Sure enough, early the next morning Lustig pulled out two bills, still wet from the chemicals.

Lustig gave the notes to Loller, who immediately took the bills to a local bank–which accepted them as genuine. Now the businessman feverishly begged Lustig to sell him a machine. The count explained that there was only one in existence, so Loller made him a high offer: $25,000, then a considerable amount (more than $400,000 in today’s terms). Even so Lustig seemed reluctant: He did not feel right about making his friend pay so much. Yet finally he agreed to the sale. After all, he said, “I suppose it matters little what you pay me. You are, after all going to recover the amount within a few days by duplicating your own bills.” Making Loller swear never to reveal the machine’s existence to other people, Lustig accepted the money. Later the same day, he checked out of the hotel. A year later after many futile attempts at duplicating bills, Loller finally went to the police with the story of how Count Lustig had conned him with a pair of dollar bills, some chemicals, and a worthless mahogany box.

Count Lustig had an eagle eye for other people’s weaknesses. He saw them in the smallest gesture. Loller, for instance, over-tipped waiters, seemed nervous in conversation, talked loudly about his business. His weakness, Lustig knew, was his need for social acceptance and approval and for the respect that he thought his wealth had earned him. He was also chronically insecure. Lustig had come to the hotel to hunt for prey. In Loller he homed in on the perfect man. (The Forty-eight Laws of Power, Robert Greene, p. 275-277)

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