Everyone goes through a hard patch at some point. Even if you watch every penny, all it takes is an unexpected layoff or a sudden medical crisis, and before you know it, you've got bill collectors breathing down your neck. I'm very fortunate, though, because whenever I find myself in a jam, I have a strong support system I can turn to for help. Every day I'm thankful to be surrounded by a group of people who have grown close to me, revealed their most intimate secrets, and made it possible for me to extort large sums of money from them at will.

It's a social safety net I know will always be there to catch me if I fall.

Who are they, these generous folks who have opened their hearts and homes to me, inadvertently disclosing compromising information that enables me to fleece them for all they're worth?

They're people like my friend David, who makes half a million dollars a year, has a sexual compulsion that leads to constant affairs with the women in his office, and is utterly dependent on me maintaining my silence so that he can stay in his mother-in-law's will. If it weren't for the bond we share, he'd have been cut out of those millions years ago, and his wife's whole family would know that, despite his large salary, he's practically broke.

Friendships like this are important to me, because you're nothing in this world without people you can really put the screws to and manipulate for cash, cash, cash.

Take my former coworker Deborah, who started embezzling money from her employer about—oh, gosh, has it really been 10 years already? I'll always be grateful I found out about her situation early on, because now, for every 10 grand she embezzles, five goes right to me. It just goes to show that, in life, the best investment you can make is in real, lasting partnerships that stand the test of time.

There are so many of these people, and they all have so much to lose.

I'm truly humbled when I think of everything they've given me over the years: small denomination bills, Krugerrands, shares in high-yield offshore oil rigs, the occasional unregulated over-the-counter derivative. They are my inner circle. I know them better than anyone else, and boy, does it cost them.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. They've gotten me through some real tight spots, and in return, I've kept them out of all sorts of trouble, be it divorce, federal indictment, or plain old jail time.

When I accept a briefcase full of currency and see that look of gratitude on the face of someone who knows I'm going to keep my mouth shut—at least for the time being—I get a little a lump in my throat. It's such a relief knowing that I won't have to follow through on any of the truly brutal things I've threatened to do to them and their reputations. And I'm sure they sleep easier, too, knowing their terrible secrets are safe with me.

Let's be frank: It's a dog eat dog world out there, and it'd be a pretty cruel place if we couldn't rely on other people to let us blackmail them into total submission. So I don't just take it for granted when some local judge who killed a teenage girl while driving drunk hands me $100,000 worth of savings bonds. I appreciate it from the depths of my heart.

In the end, where would we be without other people? In the poorhouse, that's where.