Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SKULDUGGERY (09/01/16)
TITLE: A Decent Guy with Boyish Charm
By Jan Ackerson
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When you think about it, I’m not much different from the buskers who work the city parks. Instead of music, I have a huge repertoire of scenes to play, all with the same goal: a few bucks passing from them to me.
Here’s one of my favorites: I dress like a tourist and start walking toward one of the many touristy attractions. When I get close, I reach into my (empty) pocket, then slap all my pockets as if looking for my cell phone. I mutter a little bit, sounding increasingly distressed. This works particularly well if kind-hearted locals are nearby, and I have a gift for spotting those.
After a few moments, my mark typically approaches me and asks if something’s wrong. Forgot my darn cell phone, I say. Left it in the hotel room. My wallet, too. Guess I’ll have to walk back… I arrange my face to elicit the greatest sympathy, and more often than not, I get enough money for cab fare back to my non-existent hotel.
You know who falls for that one? Middle-aged ladies. My face has the sort of boyish charm they can’t resist.
Here’s one that works well with girls. I sit on a bench with a leash on my lap, looking downhearted and lonely. She watches for a minute, then comes and sits beside me. I give her a shy smile. Let her speak first.
-Did you lose your dog?
No, I say. Then a big sigh. She died. She just … Lucy really loved this park.
-That’s so sad!
Yeah. I was gonna get another one—there was a pup just like her on Craigslist. But I’m an actor, y’know? Or I want to be. And the auditions just aren’t coming my way…
After five minutes or so like that, she always gives me some puppy money. Sometimes even her phone number. And she’s happy to do it, too.
So. Now you know all about me, what I am. Small time con man, but a decent guy. Maybe you can help me figure this out, then.
Two days ago, I worked the “collecting for inner city kids” scenario with a sweet old lady. She gave me a fiver and a bless you. Nice old gal.
Yesterday, I saw her again—I was surprised, because I had her pegged as a tourist who wouldn’t be back. I turned away; I was working a different angle, and she was bound to realize something was fishy. But she tapped me on the back.
-Young man, I want to give you this. She held out a twenty.
No, ma’am, I said. You’ve done plenty. The, ummm, the inner city kids definitely thank you. At that, I got a startled look from the guy I was working the other angle on, and he skedaddled away, cussing. But the old lady took my hand and pressed the bill into it.
-Take it. I insist.
I felt kind of bad about taking her money—but not that bad. I actually leaned down and kissed her cheek. She blushed; probably hadn’t been kissed in years. Not bad for twenty bucks. Bit of a thrill for her, even.
And darn me if a few minutes ago she didn’t find me again. I should have gone to a different park to avoid her, but there’s a preschool teachers’ convention near here, and there’s nothing more naïve than a preschool teacher. I really didn’t think the old lady would come back again.
But there she was, with another twenty-dollar bill for the children. This was getting ridiculous; I felt itchy. Sweaty. Ma’am, we made our goal. The children will be fine. I patted her hand and pushed it gently away. They don’t need your money.
-No, she said, I believe you’re right. But you do, don’t you?
Well, that’s the thing. I don’t need her money. You’d be surprised how much money I make. But then she answered her own question.
-No, it’s not money you need. She reached up, touched my forehead, blessed me.
I’ve told you I’m a con man, and also a good judge of people. I figure she’s a con, too, with her smiles and her bless yous. I’m just trying to figure it out—what’s her game?
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