“So what are you reading?” asked the near elderly man of the taller, ill-suited traveler, who’s posture was horrible. He slouched along the wooden seat, his posterior parked in a corner, one foot up on the seating, the other planted on the floor to keep himself from sliding down the seat on his shiny suit pants. At least a hundred pounds overweight, most people would take him for being a slovenly abuser of the railways, too lazy to operate his own vehicle, or much of anything else.
But his shoes were a dead giveaway. They gave the elderly man an electrifying jolt of greed. Costing at least a couple of hundred dollars, they marked the slouch as having money, or at least ready to part with it if he was given a good reason. Shoes apparently were a good enough cause for him. The elderly looking man was hoping to give him another good reason. The money the man was going to spend was going to go into his own pocket if he had his way. He turned sideways to talk across the aisle in the railroad’s passenger waiting area, one foot in the aisle pointing at the slovenly seeming man.
“A Book.” The man answered quite shortly, then continued reading. The thief noted another sign of his having money, or at least not as lazy as he appeared; his ability to fend off someone bothering him so intentionally. The answer was concise, just one line, and almost offensive. It was short of words as well as politeness. The title of his book was another sign that his appearance was deceiving, nearly unpronounceable by the con man. So not much of a conversation could be begun from that aspect.
“I see you are going to Pennsylvania too.” The short man tried again, not put off at all by the abrupt answer he had received. He was a professional after all, and impatience was never helpful to his cause. In his business, the more effort he put into opening a conversation with a victim, the higher the pay at the end. Looking over the man’s shoulder, or rather around it due to his lack of height, was also another way to engage him in conversation. He gained information about what to talk about that way, such as his destination.
It wasn’t like there wasn’t anyone better to talk to than this guy. He had been standing in the ticket line right next to him, and couldn’t help but notice his clothes. Aside from his shoes, his uniform was a sloppy suit, pushed out of shape by his gigantic stomach. His answer was the second offensive aspect of the man he’d gotten in just a few minutes. He had gasped when he leaned too near him looking for information and was nearly choked by his body odor. His weight alone disclosed that the slightest effort to move would cause such a vulgar distinction.
He continued talking while his eyes burned and he quickly took a sudden step away from him. This man was quickly becoming a challenge to his skills. He tried to make it seem like he had moved in order to talk to him without entering his personal space. The man was also much taller than him, and it made it easier to talk without straining either of their necks.
He always needed to talk to someone anyway, never able to keep silent for very long, even if his eyes were filled with tearful water. He said to himself while working his butt into the hard bench. His gift of gab was a luxury by which he made his income. In actual fact, it was what caused him to get into this chancy occupation; talking to almost everyone he met, pleasant or not. Yes, he was a salesman of sorts, just a little this side of illegal. At least he justified himself as much as he could this way.
Partly, his ability to talk was taking a chance, sometimes it was successful, receiving a go ahead to continue his palaver, other times he risked being punched in the face. He’d sent more than one potential client to jail for taking a little too much offence at his selling technique. He’d also taken more than one punch to the face and chest. He wasn’t even slightly intimidating physically, and his body paid for it many times. He absentmindedly straightened his little round glasses. Getting into their faces, getting their attention was sometimes the hardest part. After that it was just more talking until they opened their wallet or pockets to him. It was a well taught skill after a while.
“Actually,” he admitted to himself, “it was really not what he sold that made him a criminal, but the fact that most of the property he sold wasn’t his to sell.” Yes, he was a con artist, a thief. He spent plenty of time in jail already, and hardly any of it was just visiting friends. He knew if he was forced to go to jail one more time, he’d have a free parking spot in prison instead.
His main venue was the Atlantic coast, moving up and down through states like North Carolina, Virginia, even up into Vermont and Connecticut once in a while (to let the heat on his trail cool off a bit). But he actually started in the mid-country states like Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and even as far north as Illinois once. It wasn’t long though before he realized he didn’t like the colder weather and moved to the coast.
He travelled through Pennsylvania and New York, barely making enough to live on as he worked his various confidence games on ignorant or slow-witted victims. One time he had resorted to pushing some guy named Ventnor into a public bathroom and running away with his wallet. It was actually a very good, quick little assault. He grabbed his wallet from his rear pants pocket as he was going through the door and gave him a hard shove in the back. That was when he was young and fast. He came away with train fare for several trips between places like Boston and Washington D.C.
He hadn’t been an upstanding member of the community since he was small, ah, in age that is, rather than height. His father, also not inclined to fit into his community, had raised him to live on the wrong side of the law. He learned cons while most kids were thrusting out their chests to impress the girls of their communities. His chest was inflated only to other thieves like him when he recited his long record. It was a chance to take, getting knocked in the head by another thief for your stolen money, but he had longed learned to accept the various members of the criminal community, just never to trust them too much.
But of course no thief is always successful. His trip to the Pacific Coast was one step ahead of the law, as was his trip to the Mediterranean region in Europe. But even there he had gotten into trouble, and it had cost too much money for the trip, even if it was considered a vacation. He expected that from there he would have to go to some third world Baltic country near Russia to cool his trail. He would also expect to have to take an extra stash of money with him if it was ever necessary. It was harder making a con work when you didn’t speak the language, or didn’t know the monetary unit of a particular country. His confidence of himself was high, but he was somewhat realistic as well.
“Saints Charles and James!” he squealed silently as he saw the police coming towards him. It was like an old movie, both of them wore ill-fitting suits, cheap, with fedora’s on their heads. His watchful eye spotted them as cops the moment he spied them coming through the outside door of the railroad building.
Apologizing to the fat man who was largely ignoring him anyway, he got up quickly and headed for the nearby door. There was always a side entrance, even if it was through a bathroom window. It had been a while since he’d been even this close to being trapped by the police. A couple of quick steps and he was through his escape door.
Crossing the street quickly, he ducked into a place called Marvins’. He immediately saw a travel poster offering to whisk you off to the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. He grinned to himself about this bar being so close to the railroad, “Probably owned by the railroad too” he chuckled. Besides that sign was another one, for this establishment. It was hoping that you’d park your butt and stay a while in their Oriental Garden, right out back as the arrow indicated.
He moved quickly to the rear of the building, hoping that his visit to the Far East would allow him to escape the officers that were already coming through the front. In his haste to fleece his victim, he had failed to plan an escape route other than ducking out of that side door. The street had been too wide, and he apparently hadn’t gotten across it before the eyes of the two officers spotted him entering the bar.
Taking a drink off the bar and putting it in his hand as if to look like a patron. He glanced left and right, but his fate had been secured. There would be no trip to Europe, or to the Baltic States. His vision to both sides was blocked by a solid wooden fence, seven feet high at least. Directly in front of him was the back side of an old brick building, rising at least ten feet higher than the fences that ran up to it from either side. The windows had been bricked in a long time ago, but not so long that the bricks would be loose enough to wiggle free. He wouldn’t have had the time to attempt it anyway.
His arms were grabbed from behind as he studied the walled enclosure, stunned that he had finally ran into a dead end. It was an end that seemingly had been planned for him. From here he wasn’t going to pass go, and he surely wasn’t going to collect his two hundred dollars from the chump back in the depot either. He was going where prisoners were the majority, and the warden would head the Monopoly.
His hat was knocked to the floor, at the feet of the policemen arresting him, making him wonder if his wearing a top hat had anything to do with his being recognized and fingered so quickly? “But after all, what else would a very short man with round glasses wear to complete his suit and tie ensemble?” thinking as he shrugged his shoulders, “At least they didn’t send anyone to the electric chair for being a con artist, just to jail.” He thought resolutely.
The fat man was leaning against a pole inside of the bar inside Marvin’s. His book tucked under his arm, a notepad replacing it in his hands. He jotted something down while the prisoner was escorted towards the entrance. The short man flexed his arms in anger and the police gripped his biceps tighter, almost lifting him off of the ground. He wasn’t angry at the policemen, but rather at himself. He should have known the mark was too easy, too available; just too fat and slovenly to be real.
An End to the Game.