Men at work, I assume (although I didn’t see this one in the highway code)
18:59 Friday 6th February 2578 , Ethan
To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction
Newton’s third law
The conference room had emptied after our meeting had finished several hours ago. Why had I simply signed over ‘my physical and intellectual property’ to Caleb without a second thought? I had candidly done what I was instructed to do and began to doubt my decision, still uncertain whether he could be trusted. ‘Physical and intellectual property’, those words continued to resonate in my mind.
‘Ethan, it’s important we do things in the right order and don’t change anything. Remember everything that happens. You’ll get the hang of it as time goes on, but it may seem a bit odd at first,’ Caleb’s voice came like thunder disturbing me mid thought, as he marched back in.
‘I’ve done everything you’ve asked without question,’ I said feeling totally enraged at another command from this damned fool, ‘you talk in circles. What are you trying to say?’ I had not realised that I had risen to my feet and my voice was without doubt a few decibels louder.
Caleb stared at me for a few moments before replying, ‘well you neglected to mention your temper tantrums. We need to run through the schedule that we’ve stuck to? You have to remember it so you can write it down.’
‘More riddles,’ I said lowering myself back to my seat holding my forehead in my hands. Lowering my hands over my eyes down to my chin and turning toward Caleb, ‘why is it so diffic..’.
He wasn’t there, in fact I wasn’t there – where I had been a second ago, a shift had occurred. The presence of my automated vision remained – the date had changed and now read ‘Monday 2nd February 2578’.
In front of me was an empty plate. I was sat at dining table in an open plan kitchen similar to mine. Looking to my right I noticed the familiar site of the black tile over which I placed my hand hoping for some sort of clue. I instantly noticed my hand did not fit the imprint on the tile, none the less a three dimensional screen appeared before me. ‘FOR FEATURE CHANGES CONTACT EVE THEOPHANY’
‘You finished with that?’ asked a woman’s voice. I turned to find a demur red-head with a sultry glower, approaching me.
‘Eve?’ I said. God knows I didn’t doubt it. She was the image of a heavenly creature, who would succumb to take a bite from the forbidden apple.
‘Yeah, so you finished?’ she asked while picking up my plate tossing her long cascading red curls back, to slide down her back and meet her figure hugging red strapless dress. I nodded. ‘Did something need changing on the table, you just looked like you were trying to alter…’
‘No, nothing,’ I interrupted, wanting to avoid further questioning along this path.
‘You sure you’re alright, you’re acting a little odd?’ she asked again with a hint of concern masking undercurrents of fire, ‘so what was it you wanted to ask me, babe?’
I had no idea. There were a lot of questions on my mind but would she be able to answer any of them. Staring blankly, I was momentarily joined by a familiar presence.
‘Why not just ask?’ I heard a voice say.
Looking round the room there was nobody else here apart from me, and an increasingly ferocious silent Eve. The presence left just as quickly as it had joined me, leaving me to face the music alone.
‘Sorry?’ I asked hoping for a clue of any description.
‘Earlier, at work. Remember?’ she asked sitting opposite me, looking hopefully.
‘Yes, at work earlier….’ I paused once again, ‘it was about Caleb,’ I continued, ‘and, well, his role in things?’ I asked, fairly certain this wasn’t the question she was expecting.
‘What?’ she asked vexed, ‘are you kidding? What’s the matter with you? Ever since I met you, you and Caleb have been the best of friends! Inseparable, and now, huh! Now you’re asking my opinion!’ She paused, sweeping her long red hair to the left, revealing sun-bronzed skin enveloping the defined curvature of her right collarbone traversing the way to her toned arm. ‘You know, I was crazy enough to think me and you had a future. For an apparent genius, you’re fairly deficient!’ She stood, and left the kitchen ablaze a screeching trail ‘I think you should leave!’
Having no idea of how to get back to my place I attempted to ask Eve before leaving, with little success. Walking out her apartment I couldn’t help but notice the contrast to my building – while there was an elevator opposite the door, the building was not glass lined but rather had a more homely feel with a welcoming stately character. It was beginning to darken outside. I left the building, to exit onto an impeccably clean brick path, that weaved its way between buildings, thinking to myself how handy a pair of ruby slippers would be. It struck me to find an answer to the conundrum that was my life was challenging enough, without adding the allure of women into the mix.
13:07 Monday 3rd October, 2005, Maya
Given the chauvinistic nature of our client, Riley and I had decided to work the inside together for this one. The inside man is the member of our crew who’s in charge of the magic. The secret to a good magic show is getting into character, and I was sure Walter and Riley would pull off their roles of Derek and John seamlessly. The morning had gone to plan – like clockwork our client had showed up at the gentleman’s club, where Walter had casually introduced Riley as his wayward nephew, who had apparently made a good living for himself from ‘investments’. When our client heard that investments came from horses, namely gambling, and that Riley apparently had inside tips he was predictably keen for some of the action. Walter had feigned that he couldn’t remember the tip that he had been given, after Riley had needed to leave for work. It was now time to find the name of a wining horse. After a ten minute period on hold to bookies, somebody with a hasty tone finally answered,
‘Thanks for calling, what can I help you with today,’ replied the Northern female voice.
‘I was wondering if you could tell me what won the last race?’ I asked.
‘Which course is that for?’
‘Anywhere,’ I replied.
‘Ummm, Maggie’s Golden Nugget at 1pm, on….’
‘Thanks,’ I replied, putting the phone down.
I sent Walter a text with the horses name – after which he would claim to have remembered the name of the horse. Our client, Albert, would naturally want to check if the horse won. There was our in.
‘What’s a nice place like this doing with a girl like you?’ Riley asked joining my table in our local pub.
‘Take it went well?’
‘You know me, I’m a real team player,’ Riley coyly replied.
‘Your round,’ I said, finishing off the last few drops of martini in my glass.
A few hours and rounds later we made our way back to the flat to find Matt working on the finer details of the con.
’So you found a place,’ I said looking over the building plans and estate agent brochures that Matt was studiously examining.
‘A shell of a place, the inside will need to be prepped,’ Matt answered, ‘Estate agents can’t shift it, as it’s a bit rough around the edges. I offered to do a free plastering service as part of a council rejuvenation scheme. We have it for the next week.’
‘Ok, but let’s make it good. How long?’
‘Couple of days, if I can get enough bodies,’ Matt said, clearly getting slightly irritated by the all the demands and little praise. Typical man.
Walter, a welcome disruption, had just arrived back from the gentleman’s club where he had been roping in our client.
‘Well, I think we have him hooked enough to give him the convincer,’ Walter informed us.
‘Perfect, can you set a meet up with Riley the day after tomorrow?’
‘Questions?, I asked to which nobody replied. ‘Right let’s do it.’
The first part of any good trick, is proving the magic is real. To prove this to our clients, we treat them to the convincer. To prove the con is real, the client is given money. It’s the only part of the con where the client is in pocket if he/she walks away. Fortunately, our clients are greedy, so they all come back for the final show.
‘Matt can we work out costs, if you have some time?’ I asked. We didn’t have a lot of cash available for expenses, which meant we may have to run a few short cons to generate cash.
‘Sure, we can go through it now,’ Matt replied, ‘building wise we are covered……..’
No, no, not now. Matt and my surroundings faded as my life again became shrouded by confusion. I was sat at a dining table, looking at a black tile to my right when a red head came in. As beautiful as she was, she had con artist written all over her. I hadn’t been paying particular attention to what she had been saying, but she finished with ‘So what was it you wanted to ask me, babe?’ The mind I was occupying felt full of questions, but unsure how to ask any of them. Why not just ask, I felt myself advising. I didn’t have time for this. I needed to get back to my World, not this fairytale land. In a blink I was back and thankfully Matt had not noticed my absence.
‘So what do you think?’ he asked within seconds of my return.
‘Could we just run through that last bit again?’
20:30 Friday 30th September 2005, Maya
Pulling a rabbit out of the hat isn’t as easy as it appears, trust me. First you have to find the right kind of hat. Rabbits are reasonably interchangeable, and so it is with marks. Anyone can be conned, but the scenario has to be just right. Finding the right hook, is the make or break point. As with any performance, the trick is in the preparation.
Sometimes the magician has to take a leap and learn to play with the big boys, the heavy weights to ever be taken seriously. Problem is, you never know if you’re punching above your weight until you’re crushed. The next client was a piece of work – a newspaper editor who was notorious amongst the industry for hacking personal e-mail accounts and mobile phones to eavesdrop of conversations. Having evaded numerous law suits for such hacking activities she seemed like the perfect mark. Problem was, if we got caught our life as con artists would be over. When conning a mark, anonymity is your best friend and if our pictures ended up on the front page of her paper we could wave goodbye to this life. As I finished the pitch, I could see the general lack of confidence in the plan.
‘Charlie O’Rooke? You’re kidding right?’ Matt asked staring at the picture that had remained on the projector, ‘If our pictures end up in the Daily News we’re done for.’
‘You know it’s not like me to agree with Jimmy Cricket over here,’ Riley answered gesturing toward Matt, ’but selling her a story that the Royal Family are impostors. Seriously? Haven’t the conspiracy theorists flogged that tale enough? Besides she’s one smart bitch, whose in with the politicians, really think she’ll jeopardise her golden girl position?’
‘I think greed is a powerful motivator, of which she has bucket loads. I don’t see why she wouldn’t go for the scoop of the century. Besides, it’s just a rough plan at the moment, obviously it needs polishing up,’ I defensively answered.
‘Perhaps Maya just needs time to iron out the creases. The mark, Charlie O’Rooke, is undoubtedly a challenge,’ Walter soothingly spoke. ‘Conning your average Joe Bloggs out of his only tuppence is easy work, which even the average street crook can do. Conning a couple of hundred thousand from a greedy and corrupt editor, now that’s hard work.’
‘Dimples, usually you can sell me anything,’ Riley paused staring at me, ‘but it feels like you’re selling me a seat in the slammer next to big brother and that’s just not happening. Besides I’m just too pretty for jail, I’d never get any sleep.’
As always, Riley had managed to diffuse the tension. That didn’t help with the plan, it just left me back at the drawing board. The con would have to break from our usual pattern of roping the mark to the inside man if we had any chance of conning her.
‘Walter, didn’t you say you had a mark? Just thinking, this place isn’t cheap and we’ll need rent soon,’ Matt pragmatically said.
‘I have been befriending a mark, Albert Smithe, who I met a few weeks ago. He’s a frequent attender at the gentleman’s club, whose earned himself quite a reputation. Recently left his employment at South West Rail with a million pound settlement and a golden handshake, after steadily increasing train fares, avoiding repair works and having mishandled company finances has lost thousands of workers pension schemes. Not that it bothers him, he feels the public, or ‘plebs’ as he calls them, deserve everything they get’ Walter said despisingly.
‘Sounds like he’s a lovely old chap,’ I sarcastically commented, ‘so what’s our in?’
‘Well he has two dirty little secrets he’s managed to keep out of the press. Prostitutes..’
‘Looks like you’re up, dimples. At least we don’t have to argue about whose going to play the inside, although I might come along to watch,’ Riley teased, sitting forward.
‘No, not another prostitute picture scam, where we’re threatening to tell the wife,’ I protested.
‘Don’t worry dear, it was actually his second vice that caught my attention. He has a hankering for the gee-gees. Horses, only problem for him is he doesn’t have much talent in predicting the winners’ Walter smirked, turning to look toward Matt.
‘Before you guys start pitching ideas, I should say that predicting the winner takes months of research and mathematical modelling of over 80 variables. I haven’t been keeping tabs on the races recently, given that bookies shut their doors if they just see me walking past,’ Matt pre-emtively said, ‘I have no better a chance of predicting the winner at the moment than the next person.’
’Well there’s nothing like the golden oldies. We could work the wire?’ Riley suggested.
‘The wire?’ I asked, ‘only problem nobody really relies on telegrams anymore to get the results across the country, well not since the advent of TV. Wire would only work if we could show we knew the results before they were broadcast.’
‘The principle still holds – no-one watches the races live. We just use video link instead of telegram,’ Riley reasoned.
‘I suppose,’ I answered. The wire is not a con that I had worked before, although The Sting did have a certain appeal (other than Paul Newman). ‘It’s doable, but it’ll need work. Big store?’
‘Walter, shall we reel him in?’ I asked.
‘Of course dear. He’s ready to go,’ Walter paused, ‘Monday mornings he is usually at the gentleman’s club. We can rope him in there.’
min jiqy jgu jiqu
(Translation: conquer your mind and conquer the World)
Old Punjabi saying
10:01 Friday 30th September 2005, Maya
I was crouching on the grit-covered floor. I began to feel the trickle of blood on my forehead. Worse were the small stones that cut into my palms like shards of glass. I rocked backwards to rest on my legs and then slowly rose to my feet. There was absolute desolation. Peering through the thick strand of hair that covered my face, I could barely take in the previously grand Primrose Hill that now was laden in thick black smog. There were sparks of igniting flames covering the floor. As I walked a few hundred yards I looked around at the consummate destruction and the many walking wounded. Stumbling forward I tripped over a shoe with flesh still in it. I closed my eyes and held my breath – this wasn’t real, this couldn’t be real. With a deep breath in, I opened my eyes and ended the nightmare. I was in my bed, awake.
The exact details of the night that had passed were blurry at best. Mixing potions is never a good idea, especially when the concoction created is more than 70% alcohol. I freshened up and made my way down to the hotel restaurant. The only brew I know to cure less than five hours sleep is an extra shot of morning opium. I took a seat in the overcrowded restaurant, sipped my latte and poured over my laptop. My brain was taking a little longer than usual to kick into gear this morning. After a good ten minutes of vigorous typing, I eventually managed to hack into the e-mail account of our next client. The magic words tend not to come to me as easily as they do to Riley.
‘Morning, sugar. Usually you’re sneaking in first thing in the morning. Sneaking out –now that’s a new trick,’ Walter calmly spoke, as he sat at my table. Walter proved that con artists come in all shapes and sizes – with his oiled white hair, sharp suit and waistcoat you would more easily believe him to be a company director than the man who cons the director.
‘Good to mix things up every now and then,’ I replied, glimpsing up from laptop screen.
‘Dare I ask what time you all came in this morning?’ Walter asked.
‘Past five I think. It all got a bit crazy. You cleaned up alright at the poker game.’
‘We all need our vices to make life bearable. I take it those aren’t you’re e-mails that you’re so intently scanning?’ he asked.
‘What can I say. I found a new client last night,’ I replied, strangely proud that my alcohol addled mind had managed to achieve something.
‘Sugar, you have to learn to take life easy sometimes. Take some time off. Learn to see people as more than potential next mark,’ Walter replied.
‘Maybe you’re right,’ I answered, closing my laptop and setting my phone to bluesnarf instead.
‘Always working, right?’ Walter sarcastically asked, not having missed the prestidigitation. It was difficult to get anything passed him.
‘I need another cup of coffee. Can I get you anything?’ I asked. My phone needed time to hijack bluetooth enabled phones and dial out a high rate call to my own company from the hijacked phone. The overcrowded restaurant provided a goldmine of bluetooth enabled phones – in thirty minutes I could easily make a couple of hundred quid. That gave me plenty of time for breakfast.
‘I’ve already ordered you another coffee and a bacon butty. The waiter will bring it over as soon as it’s ready,’ Walter said smugly.
I sometimes forget how well Walter knows me. He’s certainly spent more time with me than my father ever wanted to. Then he lost his chance – alcoholic wife-beater who walked out on my mum, leaving a string debts behind. Showed up some years later to see mum, screaming and shouting in the middle of the night. Wanted to teach her a lesson for believing she could make it in this world without him. Things got nasty and he ended up six feet under. I can barely even remember what he looks like.
‘You ever wonder how you ended up here?’ I asked.
‘Somedays. It’s best to avoid the big questions – they have a way of messing with your head.’
‘How do you do it? How do you stay sane?’ I questioned, feeling the weight of my past heavy on my shoulders.
‘It’s a skill. Knowing when to lie and when to tell the truth,’ he answered with a sigh.
‘Guess you’re not talking about the marks?’
‘Marks are easy. It’s your head you have to learn to con. At night you go to bed, knowing this isn’t a life you would choose,’ he said softly.
‘The lie’s the next morning?’ I pre-emptively asked.
‘Always – you wake believing the new sun can change everything. Hope you can re-claim what you lost, undo your mistakes,’ he paused, ‘and when the night comes bringing the truth back with it, you’re playing poker with a glass of single malt in your hand knowing you achieved something truly remarkable. You made it through another day.’
‘And if you’re really lucky you’re drawing live.’
‘Sugar, winning the game has nothing to do with luck,’ Walter smiled, ’your winning streak comes from what’s up your sleeve’. He winked, interrupted by the waiter.
Silence fell as we both tucked into our breakfast. The silence, like the food, didn’t last long. Walter had asked the waiter to bring over the latest copy of Cosmo and a classic car mag, which we reviewed over a cup of coffee.
‘Morning guys. Hey pretty girl, I’d put that away,’ said a friendly voice. Riley had joined the table, ‘Matt’s just behind me and you know he’ll give us the speech about morality and stealing, and my head really can’t take it.’
‘Awww, did we drink too much last night? While you guys were drinking, I was working and might have a lead,’ I replied disconnecting my phone, seeing Matt walking toward the table.
‘Walter looked like you did ok at that game,’ Riley said, changing the subject.
‘Last night was rough,’ Matt grunted joining Riley’s orchestra of self-pity, ‘are you actually cohesively reading anything?’ he asked gesturing at the magazine and pecking me on the cheek.
‘Yeah, it’s a fairly good read. You should try it some time, maybe when you’re less hungover,’ I recommended.
‘I believe a good old British fry up is called for,’ Walter advised, ‘might help with that pounding headache. The only other cure I know is good old hair of the dog.’
‘More alcohol is definitely the last thing that I need! Fry up it is then,’ Matt deduced.
‘Good plan, Matt when you up there could you order me a fry up’ Riley instructed.
‘Not your slave and the waiter’s on his way,’ Matt retorted.
We ordered our second round. We must have been in the restaurant for at least a few more hours, recounting the events of the night before. As the hours passed my mind slowly regained it’s momentum. Riley, as always, bragged about his latest conquest, to which Matt scoffed. Walter continued to peruse his car mag, followed by the morning paper, intermittently intervening to mediate a brewing argument. This may not be the perfect life, but it wasn’t bad.