Regards, Oluwa Matumbo

by Grey Bard
Written for: Andraste in the Yuletide 2005 Challenge

"Dear friend, my letter may come to you as a surprise. Though I know that a transaction of this magnitude will make anyone apprehensive and worried, but I am assuring you that all will be well at the end of the day."

"Oh, god," Mickey Bricks says, and makes his newspaper more like a wall than usual.

Danny is, of course, unrepentant, smirking at his borrowed laptop and continuing to read. "We are top official of the federal government contract review panel who are interested in importation of goods into our country with funds which are presently trapped in Nigeria. In order to commence this business we solicit your assistance to enable us transfer into your account the said trapped funds."

He sighs behind the international edition of the Times. "Not this again..."

This works about as well as it usually does on Daniel - that is to say, not at all. "But we stand to make thirty five to sixty percent of eleven point five million dollars, after hotel bills and expenses! What do you say? I think the good Mrs. Oluwa Matumbo at least deserves the honor of our reply, the old dear."

Mickey puts down his paper and draws himself up to his full seated height. "Don't bait the Nigerians, Danny, they can't help that they're hopelessly incompetent."

I shake my head and go back to reading the society page. Do you see what I have to put up with?

The most important rule of the con, as our Mickey can - and will - tell you, is that you can't cheat an honest man. You can't do it. It simply won't work. A con works best when the other fellow thinks he's in on the game, or better still, when he thinks that he's conning you. No one can be as stupid as a man who is sure that he's being clever, and there's no one as easy to slip something by as someone with a very big secret of his own.

Which leads to the question, of course, of who do they think they're fooling?

If you haven't figured it out by now - and I doubt this is the case - allow me to explain. I am speaking of my own dear protégé, Mickey Bricks, and his protégé, Danny Blue. Regardless of my bluff man-about-town exterior, I assure you, I am not without some experience in matters of the heart.

Instead of taking full advantage of the wide range of varied and dubious pleasures Dubai can offer, two young and temporarily rich men are spending yet another afternoon drinking coffee and reading 419 scams. One needn't be an expert to see there is more here than meets the unwary eye.

Personally, I blame myself.

When Michael Stone alias Mickey Bricks, my student and partner in crime, was getting out of prison, I decided to give him a gift. Two years of hard time are hardly easy at the best of times and his marriage was obviously ending, a bad business. I admit, I was afraid it might have taken its toll upon him and lead him to some rash decisions. Going straight was never in Mickey's nature, not in any sense of the word, no matter how tempting the lovely and faithless Rachel Stone might be. As a good mentor, I naturally wanted only the best for him, which Rachel quite clearly was not. Therefore, I logically made some inquiries for a suitable replacement.

Nothing gladdens a grifter's heart so much as an able student - teaching lends spice to the con, gives you a renewed sense of the excitement of it all. Taking Mickey on was the best decision of my life, and I've never regretted it. Con artists such as ourselves tend to be something of an incestuous bunch, your crew is your family and your world, and no one else really understands. Mickey has always been like a son to me, but that's hardly the only kind of relationship that is possible. I admit, I was trying to get him back into the game, so killing two birds with one stone only made sense.

Danny Blue was every reason anyone would need not to go straight, in any sense of the word. The minute I saw him, playing short cons and loving every minute of it, I knew he was perfect. He was just admiring enough to make Mickey feel like a big fish, but enough of his own man to be interesting and actually good at the game. Huge trusting eyes and style to spare, in his own rough sort of way. His little authority issues actually served to make him a better fit - I'm sure you're not surprised that my protégé has an equal and opposite set of personal foibles, sure to lend a certain frisson. True, Danny chased everything in a skirt, but he never bothered to keep what he caught, and on closer inspection there were other indications. Suffice to say that not all of his prior liaisons were entirely discreet.

Being a straightforward man myself, I arranged Danny's entrance into our little den of crime and thought matters would take care of themselves. I entirely failed to take into account the natural ability of high strung young men such as they to complicate even the simplest of human arrangements. The fact that both men in question were highly skilled professional liars only made things worse.

If you're looking for some more concrete examples, I need only look at the past few days. Having quit our criminal haunts in London and the charming confines of Eddie's Bar in, I admit, a less than leisurely manner, a certain amount of shopping was unavoidable upon reaching the sunny climes of Jumireh Beach. Hence exhibit A, the Bricks/Blue fashion parade.

Daniel waves an unremarkable blue and white striped swimming suit, still attached to the hanger, in Mickey's face. "What do you think of these swim trunks, eh?"

For his part, Mickey doesn't pause in his own inspection of the racks or need a second look, to make a flat assessment of the garment. "They're dreadful and they'll fall off your hips." This is said with such assurance that there can be very little doubt that when the suit is actually tried on, he will be proven right.

For the record, it was dreadful and did fall off his hips, but back to our lads.

Danny stares, momentarily thrown, as well he might be. Mickey, of course, appears bored and perfectly unperturbed.

He shakes his head and raises his eyebrows. "How many times have I outfitted you for a job? I must know your measurements better than your tailor."

I have to hand it to Michael, there isn't a better excuse possible for knowing another man's hips quite that well. Why, it might even have been true - except for the fact that, of course, it wasn't.

Of course, these little misdirections are hardly a one-way proposition. Take, for example, exhibit B - the other night when we had all retired to a bar. Mickey was allowing himself to be chatted up by a perfectly lovely and perfectly boring young vacationing broker.

He smiles that reserved little smile as he swirls his wine around his glass. "I never imagined commodities trading was so interesting," Mickey says to her with an absolutely straight face.

This is precisely when Danny comes steaming over to the bar, drink in hand, and practically throws himself between them. "Mickey, mate, there you are! And who is this absolutely gorgeous bird? Far too good for you, isn't she?" He grins at her and the poor girl is dazzled. "Here, what's your name, have I seen you somewhere?"

"Sheila," she manages to say, before he grabs her hand and starts shaking it vigorously.

Danny claps her on the shoulder, pressing his glass into her hand. "Listen, Sheila, it's been real. Sadly, Mick here and me, we've got some business to discuss, yeah? So you take this drink, I haven't touched it, and we'll see you around, okay?"

Mickey, like any good member of a grifting crew, knows when to play along. This doesn't stop him, as well it shouldn't from turning on Danny as soon as they're a safe distance away. "What, exactly, do you think you're you doing?"

He snaps to the defensive. "Hey, what was that about being low profile? I thought we were on vacation 'til the heat wears off? The last thing we need is for you to get back in the game because some financial mastermind in a cocktail dress gives you an idea too good to resist."

Yes, of course Danny was worried about her financial incentives. Really, he was. Although, to be honest, it would have been far more likely than what he actual feared - Mickey had had that acquisitive look in his eye, you can't miss it.

And then, of course, there are the times when they're both fooling each other at the same time, in something of a tour de force of youthful stupidity. Exhibit c, yesterday afternoon when Mickey was out.

"I need to get something for Mickey, on account of my Nan," Danny says, out of nowhere, in the middle of a hand of poker. It's certainly a novel way of starting a conversation.

I, of course, have to ask. "Forgive me, but on account of your grandmother, how?"

He shrugs and stares at his cards. "He brought her tickets to Tom Jones the day before we left. You know, 'It's not unusual' and all that stuff. Right in the middle of the con and everything, said it was from me. This, in fact, happened to be a life-saver, because her birthday is this week, and you know how fast we left and all. Said he won 'em off someone and thought Nan might like them."

Not one of Danny's brighter moments. Tom Jones tickets don't grow on trees, particularly the week before someone's grandmother's birthday. If Mickey won them off of someone, it was a ticket scalper who he specifically targeted. But wait, it gets better.

Stacie beams at him. Smart girl. "Oh, Danny, how sweet of him! Of course you have to get him something. A bottle of something good, perhaps?" She looks at Ash, who rightly takes this as a cue to lend his experience.

Ash shrugs. "I've always found a nice bit of Johnnie Walker green label does nicely, myself."

Danny scowls at his cards harder. "I dunno. I was thinking more, something. You know. Special. It's Mickey, isn't it?"

We all share a highly significant look. You can't hide things from your crew for very long, in this game.

Danny looks up, earnestly. "And my Nan. I mean, nothing's too good for that, right?"

Oh, brother.

The younger generation, honestly. I suppose there's nothing for it. If you want something done right, do it yourself.

There's something to be said for the power of suggestion. Hmm. Call me psychic, but when we get back to Britain, I feel a sudden need coming for a new variation on the wedding scam. Something more in line with the times, perhaps?



Grey Bard