Some guy once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” You ask me, they were being nice.
I learned how to con from my dad. He would wink at me and say, “Cody, the trick is to learn that everyone wants to believe in something. I don’t care if it’s God, the government, or Michael Jordan; they’re looking for something to believe in. All you need to do is find out what that is.”
A lot of people wanna believe that they can be a “good guy”. You see a boy at the Greyhound station, talking about how he just needs $20 for a bus ticket to Cleveland to see his Momma, ‘cause he got on the wrong bus, what’re you gonna do? I tell ya what you’re gonna do: You’re gonna try and make the world a better place; reunite a boy with his Momma. Give him a little extra for food on the way…
Dad bought Tetris for my Gameboy with my first day’s take.
I know he wasn’t the best of fathers. Hell, I bet even so-so dads don’t teach their boys to slip a DVD into some other kid’s backpack, soon after they walk into a store. You keep an eye on ’em as they do their thing and check out. Then make your way out the door (with your own stash in the hidden pocket of your shirt that looks way too thin to have one) right at the same time. Alarm goes off–and you’re the one walking away, free as you like.
Still, he was my dad. And he loved me. Even during that time when some local sheriff managed to catch up with him. Dad called me from lock-up for my birthday. He never forgot.
Well, until the Pittsburgh job.
I don’t remember whether it was me or Dad who said we should try a Barcelona Three-Card Monte. Normally, Monte’s a pretty low-rent kinda game, but the Spanish version has the potential for a decent payoff. It’s kinda tricky, in that you’ve gotta have not only two who can do a convincing dealer-and-shill setup, but a third one who can sneak around the crowd, pocketing whatever they’ve got. I do know that it was me who suggested we use Squint as the third guy.
See, Squint’s really tricky. So average-looking he can walk past you a half dozen times before you recognize it’s the same guy. Blends in, no matter where he goes. I don’t care if you’re in Detroit or Cabo. Thing is, guy must have lost belief in something or other somewhere along the line. Carries a piece wherever he goes. If he’s not blending, he’ll whip that thing out faster than you can say, “Boo.” When things went south on Pittsburgh and the cops showed, he didn’t even wait that long.
I was the shill on this game and was able to take off with the crowd pretty quickly. So I got a good view of the cops shooting back. Even though Squint was the one with the gun, Dad was the one they hit. In the head. Squint took off; disappeared. Haven’t heard from him since.
They took Dad away in an ambulance. The one bright spot was that, since Squint had the gun, they didn’t find one on Dad. His record showed that he never had been caught with a gun on him, so no official charges were pressed, but he is still the only (known) witness of the situation. Of course, since Dad was in a coma, didn’t make much difference to him, either way.
Last I heard, he was still on life support. I’m his only family, but nobody really knows about me. Since he was turned into a vegetable by a cop, he’s on the government’s dime. That’s the funny part right there; the government wants to believe he’ll know something when he wakes up, so they’re giving him money – to keep him alive.
Me, I learned enough from Squint to stay in the general area without getting caught. Pulled a few jobs, here and there – big enough to get by; not big enough to get noticed.
Today, though, I got noticed. Big time.
I been making my way through Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, and was heading up to Erie for a bit when I stopped in this little podunk. Was sitting in a diner, getting ready for a dine-and-dash, when this guy walks up to my table. “Corey?” he said.
It was Dad. I’ll be damned if he didn’t look just like him. Even down to the dopey little mustache he keeps on his upper lip. I almost blurted out, “No, Dad, it’s Cody,” but I learned enough to keep my mouth shut if I’m not sure of something.
Dad–the guy looked at me again. “Wait, you’re not Corey, are you?” I shook my head, still keeping quiet. “I’m sorry. You like exactly like my son. I think.” The guy stepped away, looking around the rest of the diner. He glanced at the diner TV hanging in one corner. Some news story about suicide bombers somewhere. He looked lost. Confused.
At this point, my dine-and-dash plan was pretty well toast. No big. I cleared my throat and waved to the empty bench across from me. “Have a seat.” Guy looked startled, but nodded and sat down. As he did, I couldn’t help but size him up.
First off, guy was thin. Thinner than Dad had ever been; like he hadn’t eaten decently in a day over too long. Clothes didn’t fit quite right. His sleeves were rolled up to mid-arm, but the cuffs still hung loosely. Shoes were dusty over top of muddy, and really worn. Given that it hadn’t rained in at least three weeks, meant that either guy worked in a construction site, or had been walking a while. He shook my hand as he sat, and the question was answered. He didn’t have construction worker’s hands. Grip was loose and shaky.
Wallet in rear right pocket. Used to keep cell phone or something in front left, but didn’t have it anymore. No keys, pocket knife, nothing solid in front pockets, though right front might have had a couple of bills folded up. Couldn’t be many.
Pencil-thin mustache and temples graying. Eyes red. Guy hadn’t slept well recently, and hadn’t showered lately, either. Hair lanky and greasy-looking. And a scar. His hair fell over his forehead to cover it up pretty well, but there was a definite scar on his forehead. A recent one. That threw me off.
I must’ve been staring. Guy started to look uncomfortable, and casually ruffled his hair a little bit, hiding the scar. I mumbled an apology and figured I’d get him talking. “So, you supposed to meet your son here? Corey?”
Guy nodded, paused, then shrugged. “I think so. Just got a note that I was supposed to meet him here.” He reached into his right front pocket and pulled out two slips of paper. One looked like a doctor’s prescription. The other was a hand-written note on a page ripped out of a Gideon Bible. The handwriting was vaguely familiar, but shaky and barely legible: “Find Co__y. Son: can help. B___ Diner in GG.” After it was scrawled the day’s date and a time of about a half hour before.
I kept my voice as calm and casual as possible, and asked, “Who gave you this?”
Guy shook his head slowly. “Hell if I know. Found it in my pants, I think.” His voice got rough. “I got, um, memory problems,” he said as he absently rubbed the scar on his forehead.
This was too much. “Look,” I said, gathering my thoughts. “It sounds like you need to see a doctor or something.” I pointed to the prescription. “You need medicine or something?”
Guy looked at me. His eyes were getting redder. “Naw. Just need to find my son. Colby can help. He should be…here.”
As he was talking, a sedan pulled into the parking lot outside. Dark colored Crown Vic. Dude who got out was just a little too tall, hair was just a little too well-parted. Dark sunglasses. Darker suit and tie… Dammit.
I looked around; there were two other people in the diner, along with the waitress. None of them were looking our way. I reached into the liner pocket of my shirt and pulled out my main money clip and shoved it into the guy’s hand. He stared at it blankly. I pointed out the window and said quickly, “See the bus station across the street? Take that money and get a ticket as far away from here as possible. Seattle.”
Guy looked totally lost. Mister “I’m Not Really a Fed” walked in and sat down at the far end of the counter. Good vantage point of the rest of us in there. I lowered my voice even further. “Look, Colby or Corey or whatever sent me.” At this, his eyes focused on me. They were sharper; less lost and more like Dad’s. I grabbed a crayon from a cup on the table for kids to draw on the placemats, and started scribbling on the Bible page. “Take the money and head to Seattle. Find a doctor once you’re there. Hurry. Go now. But do it casually.”
He nodded quickly. Stood up, pocketing the money clip. He cleared his throat, took my hand firmly. Still a little shake, but much more controlled. “Sure, man,” he said in an easy, conversational tone. “Say ‘hi’ to Lisa and the kid for me.” He winked at the waitress, slyly catching sight of her name tag. “‘Later, Gwen.”
I watched him walk out the door and stroll across the street. Just before he walked into the station, he paused for a moment, looking lost again. Then he looked at the paper I had written on. Nodded to himself, then went inside.
I breathed a sigh of relief. The Fed looked like he was reading the paper, making no sign of standing up. Good.
Then the news on the TV caught my attention. Dad’s last mugshot was on the screen beside the anchor lady, who was saying, “…Pittsburgh police said the suspect died of a brain hemorrhage without waking up, leaving them just as in the dark about the March 11th shoot-out as when it happened. Again, suspect and coma patient Ethan Vardoger has died without giving police any further leads.”
I heard the Fed grunt something about the Pirates losing their last home game. Idiot still believed he was blending in.
I looked over at the Greyhound station again. I’m not sure what the guy wanted to believe. Or wanted me to believe.
But I’ll let him.