quote:They say you can't con an honest man, but that isn't true. It is a self-deception ordinary people invented to feel better about themselves. Conning an honest man is easy because he isn't devious or suspicious by nature. What's nearly impossible is to con another grifter.
I recognized the scam the moment the kid who'd ordered scrambled eggs and hash finished his food, walked up, and plopped a violin case on the service counter of my greasy spoon diner. He was gangly, barely out of his teens, and had that look of being smug but trying to hide it.
"I'm terribly sorry," he said. "I seem to have left my wallet at home. I live on Tyson Street, so I'll run and get it, and come back to pay my tab. Fifteen minutes, tops." The kid flashed me his best smile. "Here, you can hang on to my violin as collateral." He opened the case, revealing the instrument within.
I ignored the violin and looked the kid up and down instead. Aside from an ugly tattoo on his arm that he'll probably live to regret in a decade, I found nothing of note. The kid was ordinary. Mundane. None of the charms and talismans I'd painstakingly placed around the diner were set off by his arrival. Ergo, he possessed no magic and was apparently attempting to challenge me armed with his wits alone, a duel to which he arrived supremely underprepared.
The little punk was trying to run the Fiddle Game on me. That's the oldest scam in the book, but still good enough to work on most people in this backwater town.
He could never have anticipated that the balding, overweight diner proprietor he pegged for an easy mark was once known as Maurice the Ghost, the legendary art thief and confidence trickster, wanted by an alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies around the world. Wanted, but never caught.
Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. Over 60 of his short stories have appeared in Nature, Galaxy's Edge, Daily Science Fiction, and many other venues. He's the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series of humorous SF/F. His fiction is linked at www.alexshvartsman.com
This is Alex's third story at IGMS. You can read "Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma," the 2013 Reader Poll finalist, in issue 33 and its sequel, "High-Tech Fairies and the Pandora Perplexity" in issue 37.