A few sleigh bells are tied to the interior door handle and chime at my entrance. I look up from the door and am greeted with an assault to the eyes. Every single corner of this place is crammed full of items ranging from the weird to the just plain crazy. On one wall I notice the head of an elk mounted to a plaque stating, ‘Best Customer 2010’. Right below it I see a full human skeleton seated in an overstuffed red leather chair wearing sunglasses and giving me a thumbs-up with both of his bony hands. Directly above my head I see a ceiling fan where each of the blades are made to look like some sort of wide-bladed sword and the center of it, an ornate wooden shield.
A black cat lies just inside the door to the right and looks up at me before ultimately deciding to go back to sleep. I take care to not notice Griff off in the back of the room, inspecting a series of bottled skulls.
Surprisingly enough, there are actually several people currently within the store. I count four people other than myself who don’t appear to be employed here. The hipster currently chatting up the man I’m guessing is the store owner looks like he’s a regular. I’d guess he spends a lot of time but not a lot of money.
Stepping out of what looks like the restroom on the far back wall is a white-haired woman, I’m guessing she’s somewhere around 70, who is headed toward the collection of interesting snow globes in that region of the store.
The third is a middle-aged man who is looking at what appears to be a stamp collection that is laid out on the glass counter in the center of the room, using a loupe to inspect each of them in great detail.
The fourth is, of course, my partner in crime.
The only other person in the room is the man behind the counter, who, so far, has not even looked up from his conversation to see who has entered.
I stride to the counter confidently, feeling no need to hide how I’m here for business. The balding man behind the counter, wearing a black leather vest instead of a shirt, doesn’t break his discussion with the hipster at my arrival. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t even realize I’m here. I’m guessing it’s probably that he caught one glimpse of me and decided I wasn’t someone worthy of rushing to deal with. I can’t imagine they get too many teenaged girls in here ready to do serious business. The fact that I’m not white probably doesn’t help things either.
I notice a bell to the left of the cash register and hit it once and hard with the palm of my hand. A grunt comes from the rotund cashier before he finally excuses himself from his discussion and walks to the end of the counter I’m occupying, making sure to check on the stamp man before even looking at me.
“Hey, what’s up?” he says, plopping down on a stool behind the register.
“Hi,” I say cheerfully, attempting to do my best to ignore the lack of customer service provided by the man whose sleeve tattoo promises a potion to cure every ailment. “Do you buy old books here?” I ask.
“Depends on the book, sweetheart.”
Sweetheart? Ugh. Only my dad calls me sweetheart and I only let it slide because he’s been doing it for so long that I’m not sure I can change him.
I have to admit I was feeling a bit guilty about what I’m about to do before I entered, now I’m more of the inclination that he deserves what he’s about to get. Or lose, as the case may be.
I make sure to not notice Griff moving closer to us, keeping his focus on the shelves of creepy marionettes in his surrounding area.
“Oh, well, I know you’re going to like this one,” I say, continuing to keep as cheerful as possible while I place my backpack on the counter and unzip it.
I make a big deal of rooting within, wanting to build the suspense in this guy’s mind a little before finally displaying the ‘fiddle’. Just like Rule #30 says, ‘A little theatrics can go a long way’ and since this is my first scam, I’m going to use everything I can to make sure I do it right. Rule #16 also probably fits in here a bit, ‘A good con needs a good story’. Can’t tell a story without building a little suspense, right?
I finally pull out my copy of The Confidence Man by Herman Melville. Just between me and you, I had this thing printed special through one of those print on demand machines at the library. Cost me about six bucks. I couldn’t find a good print copy of it to save my life. Of course, me being the slave to detail that I am, I did everything I could to recreate the original printed version, including crafting a hard-cover to go over the paperback cover the machine printed. If it hadn’t been bouncing around in my bag for the past month, it would look pristine. I’m hoping the admittedly minor damage lends it a bit of credibility. There’s no chance a pro would mistake this for the real thing, but a sucker like this guy, with the added push from my shill, doesn’t stand a chance.
“What’s that?” the man asks gruffly.
“Ummm,” I say, using my most obnoxious noise to say that he should be more than aware of what this is, “The Confidence Man, by Herman Melville.”
“Yeah, I can read the cover, darling. My question is what do you want me to do with it?”
“Just checking to see if you’re interested. If you’re not, no big deal. My grandmother left it to me and I thought I’d look around to see if it was worth anything. I can definitely—“
“Your grandmother, eh?” he says. He lifts it up and begins paging through the book.
“Yeah, you familiar with the title?”
“Melville. He wrote Moby Dick, right?” I chuckle inwardly at that comment. Obviously this guy is not a book nerd. Should make it easier to work him than I had thought.
“Yeah, he wrote a bunch of stuff,” I say nonchalantly. “This was actually his last book before he gave up writing altogether. It was considered something of a flop so there weren’t many copies printed, I guess.”
“Sure, yeah, I’ve heard about that,” he nods. He is trying to look like he’s not interested, but I can already hear the cash register in his mind ding. “What you want for it?”
“I don’t know,” I shrug innocently. “I guess I was more interested to see what it was worth. It was one of my grandma’s favorite books, so I’m not even sure I’m willing to sell it.”
“Okay, sweetheart,” he says, tenderly returning the book to the counter, “I’ll have to do a little research to make sure this is the real deal. You mind if I hold onto it for a while?”
“I’d really rather not let it out of my sight, if that’s alright with you. How long would it take you to come up with a price?”
“I’ll have to make a few calls, could take a couple hours.”
“Oh,” I say in feigned surprise. “Well, my aunt drove me out here, so I’m not sure I could stay for quite that long. She said she was going to do a little shopping while I was here, so I’ve probably got a half hour or so. You think that might be enough time?”
“I’ll see what I can do, sweetie,” he says. His eyes look me over rather predatorily. I want to grin in excitement of the scam taking off so well. “I’ll take extra special care of it.”
“Thank you, sir.” I walk away from the counter, being extra careful to not notice Griff standing right behind me with a pair of stuffed lizards in his hands. “Sorry,” I mutter, sidestepping around him and make my way toward the section labeled B-Movie Memorabilia which has, as its center attraction, a large collection of pin cushions made to look like the antagonist from the Hellraiser movies. I’d call them cute, except for the fact that they are anything but.
I try my hardest to not overhear the conversation currently going on between Griff and the sucker. Unfortunately, the sound doesn’t carry very well in this merchandise-laden room. All the same, I can fairly well guess what’s going on.
I was Phase One, the Foundation. Now we move onto Phase Two, which is called The Approach. At this point in a Fiddle Game, the shill needs to appear to be well familiar with the fiddle. So, in this case, Griff comes to the counter, probably with some stupid question about the lizards he was holding and just happens to notice the ‘fiddle’ still lying out on the counter.
From there, he will become increasingly animated about how valuable the book is until he finally gets the man behind the counter to name a price that is well above the actual worth of the item in question. Of course, Griff will then pull out his wallet and find that it’s empty. All he has to do then is state something to the effect of, “Is there any way I can get you to hold it for me while I run out and grab my credit card from the car?” And then he bolts out the front door.
The sound of the clanging of the bells manages to make its way to me, meaning Phase Three, known as The Build Up, has just begun. In a Fiddle Game, Phase Three mostly happens inside the mark’s head. Now he’s got only minutes to make the deal before the shill walks in and tries to buy it off him. The rest of this phase is up to me. And if I want it to succeed, I have to play things extra cool.
You see, I know the sucker’s working out some crazy plan on how he can make me some incredibly lowballed offer. I can’t make it too easy for him. I’ve got to make him seek me out, force him to make the first move. I’ll get the payout either way, but this way I can ensure I get maximum payout, which is really what this is all about.
I walk further down the aisle toward a collection of unique timepieces and find myself immediately drawn to a spherical piece lying on its side. The exterior of the sphere has a small oval on the front with an image of an old man with a child on his back. The exterior of the oval says the words, “St. Christopher Protect Us”. There is a purple price sticker on it, but nothing printed to say how much it’s worth.
I pick the sphere up and find it’s actually a pendant, complete with bronze chain to put around my neck. On the top of the sphere, where the chain attaches, I notice a button, which I press, to find that the sphere pops open, into two halves held together by a simple hinge. On the inside is a complicated clock face.
Actually, looking at it closer, it’s not just a clock face; it also seems to be a compass. It seems like the clock and the compass have been combined into one measurement device. Or, maybe it’s just broken. The bottom of the device has another ring around the outside which spins easily.
I become so involved in trying to decipher the purpose of this interesting time piece that I’m startled back to reality by a hand on my shoulder.
“Sweetheart. Please don’t touch the merchandise!” the now-sweating bald man says from behind me, sounding like he’s already said the same thing several times.
I turn slowly to look at him, momentarily forgetting the entire reason I’m here. “Oh,” I say once reality finally returns. “I’m sorry.” I replace the sphere to the shelf. “That’s a really nice piece.”
“Yeah?” he says, disinterested. “Sure, whatever. Look, honey, about that book.”
“So, I did a little bit of hunting online and it looks like you’re right, it is a rare find.”
“Awesome,” I smile. “How much is it worth?”
“Well, because I’m feeling extra generous, I’m going to go ahead and offer you a hundred bucks for it. It won’t be easy to get that much off the thing, but I’m sure—“
“Oh,” I say, my gaze going to the floor. “Well, thanks for looking into it, but I’m not interested. You see, my mom died in the same car accident that took my grandma, and, well—“
“I didn’t know,” the man frowns. “Okay, well, you strike a hard bargain, but like I said, I’m feeling generous, and if it’s going to a good cause or whatever, I can probably stand to lose a few bucks on the deal. How about two hundred?”
“I don’t know,” I say, my eyes focused on a gap between two of the floorboards beneath me. “You see, it’s just that it was my grandma’s favorite book and—“
“I can’t do that to you, mister. I mean, you said it was only worth—“
“Look kid, you liked that round thing back there, right?”
“It looked kinda cool, sure,” I shrug.
“Howabout I throw that in as well.”
“Three hundred bucks and a watch?” I ask.
“Is it a deal?” he asks, holding his hand out in front of him.
I hesitate, knowing I’m already getting over 50 times what I spent on the thing in the first place and really don’t want to push the deal, even though I can tell he’s got a lot further he’s willing to go. The chiming of bells sounds from the door again and the man quickly says, “Four hundred and the watch, final offer.”
“Deal.” I reach out for the man’s hand and shake his sweaty palm.
I grab the time piece before he walks me back to the counter. His eyes glare at the door looking for whoever might have just entered. He and I both notice there’s no one new in the store.
Of course, he expects it to be Griff returning. If I had to guess, Griff had some homeless person shake the door a bit to get the mark to up the ante. I hear the sucker grumble as he slides behind the counter.
“Alright,” he says with a forced smile. “Three hundred dollars,” he says to himself before opening the cash register. He begins fishing within.
“Actually,” I disagree, “I believe we agreed on four hundred and the watch.”
“Oh, right,” he grumbles again, “four hundred.”
“And the watch,” I add. I slide the chain over my head to wear the piece out.
“Right. Three eighty, Three ninety, four hundred,” he says and plops a random assortment of bills on the counter. I’m surprised he has this much money in the register. I was expecting to have to fight him off cutting a check.
I pick up the money, count it quickly, and shoot the sucker one last look before I say, “Nice doing business with you.”
“Yeah,” the man says. He picks up the book and places it within a compartment under the counter. “Same to you.”
Go to Chapter Five