In case you’re wondering, no, I am not sleeping with Griff, nor have we ever even slept in the same room. Although one may expect differently from a man who picks up fifteen year-old runaways and takes them across the country while teaching them the ways of a confidence man, he has always treated me like an absolute gentleman would.
That being said, if I knew then what I know now, I definitely wouldn’t have gone off with the man who offered to pay for my train ticket to New York on that fateful day two months ago. I would have kept on waiting at that train station for my intended ride out of town, which would have only taken me a few miles away, not across the country.
Instead, I’ve spent the last sixty days on quite the adventure while learning the ways of the scam. And Griff treats like I’m his daughter or something, but without all that judging and punishing or whatever. And he spoils me rotten, which is made really obvious by the room he’s set me up in here at the Waldorf Astoria. Sure, it’s not the Presidential Suite or anything like that. Not that he couldn’t get the Presidential Suite. He just hates being up any higher in a building than he has to be.
And even more important is all I’ve learned since I’ve met him, most specifically, the art of the con. I can’t say I’m interested in spending my life scamming people out of their hard-earned money and stuff, but there’s some great people skills which come along with the territory.
But here’s the real thing I’ve learned: You can’t trust anyone.
He walks through the luxurious hotel room interior and exits on the other side without another word. I’m left to follow behind him. I grab my backpack off the edge of the bed as I pass and pray he’s planning on returning soon to pick up the rest of my stuff.
I catch the door just before it closes and step into the hotel’s lush hallway.
I suppose now is as good of a time as any to mention how we didn’t pay for this room. Griff hasn’t even paid for lunch in years, unless it’s part of an In and In, you know, where he is certain to get a better payout in the end. I wasn’t around when he pulled the game he used to get us these rooms, but I would guess it’s one of his old favorites, like his supposedly patented version of the Badger Game.
The Badger Game is an old con man standard. Basically, you get a woman to approach a man, usually married, and convince him to go with her to a private location, a hotel room or something. From there, you can probably guess how things move forward. Somehow pictures end up appearing of the night, and the man finds himself being blackmailed. It’s a pretty easy scam to pull.
Griff’s version, which he likes to call the Bucky Badger, is designed in such a way that he doesn’t actually have to get people into compromising positions, but convinces them he caught them in one anyways.
Usually a few vague comments about recent nights out drinking can do the trick. He’ll go from manager to manager at one of these hotels until he finds someone who bites and gives out the comped rooms. If it’s really necessary, he finds one of the girls who work the bars in these places. They’re always good for pointing out the employees who get into the most trouble.
I step into the hall and there Griff is, arms as crossed as the look on his face. He loves this pose. He seems to think it will somehow get me to move faster. It never does. It’s really hard to manipulate someone in ways like this when you’ve already taught them all your tricks.
“You ready or what?” he asks, his smile returning.
“Jeez, Griff, just go already.”
He strides down the hallway to the elevators only fourteen feet away. He turns his back to the gleaming metal doors and opens the one marked STAIRS. Stupid coward can’t stand elevators. Another one of the reasons we’re on the second floor instead of lapping it up for real in one of those penthouses.
Griff bounds down the stairs with an extra bounce in his step. He’s not usually a slow man by any means, but he’s obviously eager to present me with whatever surprise he’s got. I have to admit, it brings my own anticipation to an even higher level.
Once we exit at the ground floor, he continues his driven path to the front exit of the building, choosing, of course, the standard-style doors to the left of the revolving glass doors in the center. Another one of his eccentricities. I’ve found he has quite a few. I decide to take the revolving ones, just to show him I am still my own woman.
Finally, we’re on the street and he’s hailing a cab. Of course, he gets one almost immediately, something which is unheard of in this city, unless you’re Griff. I’ve never seen the man even get asked for payment inside of a cab in this town and yet they’re always right there waiting for him.
We’re inside the vehicle and driving away before he speaks again.
“500 block of 13th street.” He almost seems to giggle.
“Sure thing, boss,” the cab driver of undeterminable ethnicity responds. “Have you there in a jiff.”
“13th Street?” I ask. “I know I’m still pretty new to New York and all, but couldn’t we have just walked? I don’t think it’s very far.”
“We could have,” Griff says, staring out the window, “but today is a special day and I don’t want to waste a minute of it.”
“Says the man who won’t take the elevator,” I mock.
“Oh, come on, the amount of time waiting for an elevator to arrive is way longer than going down a flight of stairs.”
“Whatever you say,” I reply, turning my focus outside.
I’ve been here for almost a month now, mostly on Manhattan, but I still can’t get enough of the city’s atmosphere. No matter what time of day you’re making your way around the island, there’s always something amazing happening just outside your window.
Like right now, the sidewalks are fairly empty, but there’s still so much to see. For example, there’s a man crossing the street at the light ahead. He’s got two small plastic bags tied together over his shoulder, filled with what looks to be just a couple of apples. He’s talking on his phone and animatedly waving his arms in front of his face. It may not seem like something worth noticing to you, but just think, this guy developed a method for not having to use his hands to carry those two apples, purely so he could wave his arms in order to communicate with someone who can’t even see him.
Or the Mormon standing outside of the pizza place on 2nd trying to proselytize to everyone passing by? Come on, you have to love that, right? Here’s some religion with your pizza!
This city never ceases to amuse me. That’s why I’m taken aback when Griff speaks his next sentence.
“I can hardly believe it’s already time to go.”
“What? Go where?” I ask.
“We’re done in New York. You’ve nearly finished your training, now it’s time to go off and find some bigger fish to fry.”
“Bigger fish to fry than here?”
“Yep,” he says resolutely.
“But,” I stammer, not sure how to disagree with everything I’m finding wrong here at once, “but—“
“Look, kid,” he says, draping an arm across my shoulder, “of course there will always be quality marks here in the Big Apple.” Do they even call it that anymore? “But there’s already more than enough barracudas in town to make it difficult for a couple of quality flimflammers like us to be able to craft our art in the right way, you know?”
He talks like this a lot and it took me a while to get used to it all. He’s not one to explain his language, so I usually have to figure it all out on context clues, or from what’s in the Scammer’s Bible. Barracudas refers to other con men. So does flimflammers. I’m not sure why he finds the need to use such archaic language to say, ‘There’s a lot of competition in New York.’
“But we just got here.”
“It’s simple, kid. You can’t go more than three blocks without seeing a monte game. Everyone’s working a pig-in-a-poke or a pigeon drop, or a white van. Hell, people still talk about George C. Parker’s ability to sell the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week. New York is the place to test your skills, not the place to make a living.”
“But, where are we going to go then?”
“The world’s your oyster, kid.”
The taxi slows to turn onto 13th Street.
“You can stop anywhere up here,” Griff shouts up to the driver.
“You’re the boss,” the driver says, pulling to the side of the road
“Thanks,” Griff says. He opens the door and steps out onto the curb.
“Yeah,” the cabbie says while I climb out. Griff’s grin has returned.
“Alright,” I begin, “so, if we’re leaving town, what are we doing in Alphabet City?” I’m still pretty new to the lingo of Manhattan, but I try to use it when I know it. Alphabet City is a neighborhood in the East Village containing Avenues A, B, C, and D.
“You’ll see,” he answers before walking away.
“I’m done with seeing,” I say, walking alongside him. “You’re telling me we’re done here because there’s no game left, so what could we possibly need in the East Village?”
“I didn’t say there wasn’t any game left.”
“I hate it when you’re cryptic.”
He turns right onto Avenue A, stops, and looks me deep in the eyes, a twinkle appearing in each of his own. “I already told you, New York is only good for training. Your training isn’t over yet.”
“I’ve already done countless scams in this town; I think I’ve got it pretty well nailed down by now.”
“Ah, mon chérie, but you’ve always played the shill, now it’s time for you to be the artist.”
Go to Chapter Three