(aka: THEY CALL HIM THE STREAK)
Heyes and Curry, both carrying travel grips, dismount from a cab pulled up before an elaborate – and somewhat familiar – mansion within one of San Francisco’s most desirable residential areas.
“That’ll be a dollar.” The driver’s hand is held out.
A dimpled smile indicates Curry should pay the man. A hand moves to a pocket, then… Sheepish look from beneath blond curls. Rolling his eyes, Heyes reaches into his own vest and settles up. Two ex-outlaws mount the steps.
“You had money when we got off the train.” Heyes rat-a-tats the gleaming brass on the front door, “…You can’t have gotten in a game, ‘cos I only left you for ten minutes while I telegraphed Lom.”
“There was this lady at the station…”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” grins Heyes, evidently in excellent humor on this fine sunny day.
“One flutter from a set of pretty lashes and…”
“NO! Nothing like that! She was a poor widow, real distressed ‘cos she needed to get to…”
The door is opened by a smart butler.
“Is Mister Saunders home?” asks Heyes.
“If you care to wait, sir, I will ascertain.” The boys, removing their hats, are ushered into a spacious foyer. “Whom shall I say is calling?”
“…And Mister Jones. We’re expected,” chips in Curry.
“Mister Smith and,” the hint of a disbelieving lift to one well-groomed eyebrow, “…Mister Jones.”
The butler departs.
“Anyhow, this widow needed the fare to Chicago and she’d lost…”
“Save it for the long winter evenings, Kid.”
“You’da done the same, Heyes!” mutters Curry, still with a flush on his cheeks.
A sceptical look from the brown eyes.
“Well,” concedes the Kid, “YOU might not. But, any fella not larcenous enough to charge his own teeth rent woulda!”
A delighted cry forestalls anything Heyes has to say. “Boys! Boys! You made it!”
Beaming all over his genial face, Soapy Saunders hurries out into the foyer. Heyes grasped the former con-man’s hand warmly between both of his.
“Course we made it!” exclaims Heyes.
“You didn’t think we’d miss the celebration for your seventieth birthday, did ya?” The Kid took his turn at pumping the little man’s hand, affectionately.
“You’re early! The party’s not until tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sorry about that, Soapy, we had to leave our last town kinda sudden,” says Heyes.
“No need to apologize, boys. First I’m going to fix you an appropriate drink…”
“And we’re gonna accept it,” grins the Kid, as they follow him towards the sunroom.
“Then, tonight you’ll dine with me; the best meal Anatole’s magic can conjure!”
Happy smiles from two ex-outlaws who have had a few too many all-bean meals.
“It’ll be good to have a quiet evening with such dear old friends. Just the five of us.”
“Five of us?” queries Heyes, as the door of the sunroom opens.
A seated figure is admiring the view of Soapy’s glorious garden from the terrace beyond the open French windows. At the sound of arrivals, he stands, turns. The slanting morning sunshine means that, from the boys’ – and our – point of view, he is a silhouette only.
“You two remember each other, don’t you?” Soapy beams from Heyes to the shadowed profile and back.
The figure steps into the room. Well-dressed, tall, dark, handsome, brown eyes, dimples, charming smile. More specifically: better dressed, taller, darker, arguably – just as handsome in his own way.
A deep voice purrs, “Hello, Hannibal. It’s been a long time.”
Curry casts a curious glance at his partner who, while keeping a poker-face, has a certain ‘frozen’ quality to his smile.
“Adrian Stone,” Heyes says, as – after a moment of hesitation – he takes the offered hand. “I thought you were busy relieving rich folk of their money in Chicago.”
“THE Shady Adey Stone!” exclaims the Kid, impressed. We gather he does not know the man, but he sure has heard of him.
“Please!” A deprecating palm is raised. A smile, of such dazzling white charm that the Kid blinks, is flashed. “I prefer ‘Honest Adrian’.”
“I remember,” grunts Heyes, “…These days, I prefer Joshua Smith.”
“Your wish is my command.” Not even such a cliché can sound lame when delivered in so silken a voice. The well-manicured hand is held out to Curry, “This must be your partner, Ki…?”
“Thaddeus Jones,” supplies the Kid, firmly.
“Got it!” winks the smooth one. “Thaddeus, how would you like to hear a few stories about your best friend when he was eighteen, green as grass and trying his level best to out-talk golden-tongued Honest Adrian?”
The four men, all now with drinks in their hands, sit out on the terrace. Shady Adey is in full flow.
“So, I’d got him wearing a saloon gal’s bloomers, covered in maple syrup…”
“You said we’d be five for dinner, Soapy,” interrupts Heyes, clearly not enjoying the story one bit. “Who’s the fifth?”
“Adrian’s partner, Alec,” Soapy fills in, briefly. “Known as Smart-Alec to the inside. Go on! Heyes was dripping syrup and singing the Cowboys’ Lament…”
“Outta key, I’ll bet,” grins Curry. Unlike Heyes, HE is thoroughly enjoying this stroll down memory lane.
“Heyes and Adrian were the best two pupils I ever had,” beams a nostalgic Soapy. “They were like brothers – weren’t you boys?”
“Sure,” says Heyes. Perfectly timed pause, “Cain and Abel.”
A good-humored snort of laughter from Adrian, “It was never that bad, Hanni… I mean, Joshua.” To Curry, “Merely a little friendly sibling rivalry. Back then, both of us were desperate to prove to Soapy who was the best con artist.” An eyebrow is raised. “I guess that argument got settled, huh?”
Heyes bristles. “I guess it did!” he agrees. The implication is clear.
“Oh, come. You gave up the beautiful art of grifting for the blunt instrument of armed robbery. And now, I understand, you’re on the straight and narrow. Admirable of course, but,” a dismissive shrug, “…Can an artist keep his touch if he never picks up a brush? Besides, the true con is a team game. Now, Thaddeus here clearly has a myriad of talents – but is that one of them?”
“Adrian, the cons me and Thaddeus hadta work over the past two years just to stay outta jail would make anything YOU’VE done look like – like…” Heyes outruns his eloquence. A frustrated scowl.
“Like bouncing $50,000 down a mountain into a lake?” Adrian lights a fine cigar and offers his case first to Curry – who takes one, then to the chagrined dimpled one – who does not. “Word gets around,” he smiles, “…No offense.”
“Well, that wasn’t exactly our best day,” demurs the Kid.
“Now, now, Adrian,” reproves Soapy, with a twinkle suggesting he enjoys watching his old proteges replay former bickering. “These boys HAVE worked some pretty good cons. Heyes pulled off a $10,000 Big Store not two years past…”
Reluctantly impressed smoke ring from Adey.
“As for the Kid not being a trained grifter, that may be true – but he sure held his end up swindling a banker with a salted diamond field play.”
“Nice!” acknowledges Adey, tipping Curry a salute with his cigar. The Kid, who is untroubled by the competitiveness eating at Heyes, returns the courtesy.
“However smart this Smart-Alec of yours is – Thaddeus could run rings round him!” declares Heyes.
The Kid gives a discomfited wriggle at this. All the same, his face suggests he is touched.
“Awww!” Shady Adey teases, “…I’m misting up!”
Noises off suggest a new arrival out in the foyer.
“That’ll be Alec back from the shops,” smiles Soapy.
The boys look over as the door opens.
“Gentlemen,” says Adrian, “Let me introduce my most invaluable cohort, colleague and collaborator, Alexandra North. Alec, come and meet a guy from my misspent youth; Joshua Smith.”
Heyes’ face registers first surprise, then hair-smoothing, shoulder-squaring masculine interest as Alec – shapely, sinuous, sexy with a capital ‘S’ – comes forward, a tip-tilted smile lifting one creamy cheek. He gets, hastily, to his feet.
“…And his partner, Thaddeus Jones, who can, apparently, run rings around YOU, though, he might like to finish his cigar first.”
Curry’s face registers more than just surprise. A flush mounts from chin to brow, as he meets a pair of knowing green eyes, currently crinkling with amusement.
“We meet again! Believe me, Mister Jones, if I had any idea you were a friend of Soapy, I never would have…” While speaking, Alec opens her reticule and leafs through a roll of dollars. “…I think that was the amount?”
Refusing to meet his partner’s eyes, the Kid takes back his money.
“And – here’s your watch.”
“But, ma’am, I haven’t lost my…” Curry’s fingers check his vest. He shuts up and takes his watch.
“When we reran the Shady Acres con out at Silver Springs, we had to get everything in place in just…”
Heyes’ turn to be in full flow. He and Adrian sit forward, deep in one-upmanship. Curry, Alec and Soapy slump in their seats wearing ‘please-stop-before-my-ears-start-to-bleed’ expressions.
“So, Diamond Jim should arrive tomorrow around…” tries Alec.
“Joshua,” Adrian’s voice now has an edge of tetchiness, “Bringing off a con is like making love to a beautiful woman…”
Alec gives up trying to change the subject. She catches first the Kid’s, then Soapy’s eyes, lifts her own to the ceiling and gives a tiny shake of the head. Curry checks the time on his returned watch. Soapy raises a hand to cover a yawn. For the audience, the Heyes versus Shady Adey willy-waving competition has lost its novelty.
“…An artist governs the pace. He certainly never boasts of a hasty conclusion.”
“C’mon! We both know that to succeed – a con artist has to react…” Slim fingers snap. “…Like that!”
Surreptitiously, Soapy lowers the jug of delicious-looking mint julep to the side of his chair, then tips it into a handy potted palm.
“Sure! When I took the Chairman of the Chicago Pork Belly Processors for …”
“Adrian, we’re running dry here. Will you go tell Anatole we need a refill?”
Adrian stops, mid-boast. There is genuine affection in his gaze as he looks at the old man, “Sure, Soapy.” He leaves.
Heyes comes over to Curry, apparently to pass a dish of delicious tidbits, in reality to lean in and breathe, “Sheesh! Have you ever heard such a blow-hard?”
“Heyes,” the Kid is also sotto-voce; Heyes leans closer confident of confirmation, “…Why’d’ya never tell me you were a twin separated at birth?”
This sinks in. Affronted blink.
“Joshua,” Soapy again, “I forgot to tell Adrian we need more crushed ice. Would you…?”
Heyes’ gaze, too, mellows, as he looks at his kindly old mentor. “Sure, Soapy.” He leaves.
The remaining three exchange something so close to the ‘look’, that we may as well call it, the ‘look’.
Heyes and Adrian, one carrying a full jug, one carrying a bucket of crushed ice, approach the terrace.
“Listen, I could beat you back in ’69, and I can beat you…”
“You been having these memory problems long? I was always two steps ahead of…”
As the bickering – seemingly uninterrupted – returns, the threesome on the terrace exchange resigned smiles.
“…As I was saying, my dear,” Soapy gives Alec’s hand a paternal squeeze, “…The two finest pupils I ever had; always jostling to be top dog. But, there’s only one sure-fire way to decide who’s the best out of a pair of hustlers and I never dared… Oh!” Soapy gives a small start indicating he has just realised Heyes and Adrian are back. “Thank you, boys.”
“A sure-fire way to decide who’s the best hustler?” A quizzical smile dimples Heyes’ cheeks.
“Alec, my dear, will you oblige by pouring the drinks?” Soapy feigns deafness to Heyes’ question.
“A sure-fire way to decide who’s the best hustler?” echoes Adrian.
“Thaddeus, would you move that parasol a little to the left – we cannot have our lovely Alec sitting in a glare, can we?”
As the Kid complies with Soapy’s request, two dark-haired combatants quiver with ill-concealed curiosity.
“A sure-fire way…?” Heyes starts?
“…To decide who’s the best hustler?” finishes Adrian.
They exchange a quick ‘hey, I’m talking’ scowl, and then switch back to warm ‘do go on’ smiles aimed at their old mentor.
“You never told us!” In unison.
“Look fellas,” Soapy lays a fatherly hand on each of the questioners’ shoulders, “the reason I never told you, back then, is because I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist trying it.” A genial smile over at Curry and Alec, “You two wouldn’t believe how competitive your partners were when they were eighteen!” Back to Heyes and Adrian, “But it’s all different now. Neither of you has anything to prove. Do you?”
“Of course not.”
A pause. Heyes clears his throat. “Though – now we’ve grown outta all that, there’s no reason not to fill us in on this sure-fire decider, huh?”
“Well…” Soapy is hesitant.
“Oh, go on Soapy,” Alec curls her feet under herself and settles back, “I’d like to hear.”
“Yeah, tell us,” chips in Kid Curry, linking his hands behind his head and tilting his face up to the sun. “We’ve got a whole day to fill. And, like Joshua says, him an’ Adrian ain’t dumb an’ eighteen anymore.” A pause. “Well, they ain’t eighteen.”
“That’s right,” urges Heyes. A frown, “Hey!”
“It’s called the Anderson Challenge,” begins Soapy, settling back and steepling his fingers, “It dates from the 1840s when a hustler called JJ Devlin ran a crew back East in New York. He was the best. BUT, it’s the natural order of things that eventually a young lion will come along to challenge the pride leader. One day, one of the crew, a fella by the name of Anderson, got to thinking, he ought to be running things. He issued a challenge…”
“The Anderson Challenge…” deduces Curry.
“That’s right! Both men were to be dropped off in the middle of New York at noon,” Soapy takes a sip of his drink, “…Stark naked!”
“Naked?!” A spurt of laughter from Alec. Blinks from two sets of deep brown eyes.
“As the day they were born, my dear! They were to meet six hours later, and whoever had accumulated the most…”
“He won the challenge!” Adrian realises that came out both too high and too loud. With studied casualness he goes on. “Of course, I don’t have to prove who’s the better grifter – I know how good I am.”
“You took the words outta my mouth,” says Heyes, “‘cept I’m better’n good. I’m a genius!”
Exchange of the ‘look’ between Alec and Curry. Two sets of eyes roll.
The five-some are gathered around a table in the sunroom; the youngsters all face Soapy who is speaking.
“Okay. We’ve an hour until noon; let’s set the rules. You’re dropped together. You both return here by six. Whoever shows the biggest gain wins.”
“Who counts?” checks Adrian.
“I do,” says Soapy. “And I estimate the value of any non-cash items you’ve acquired – jewelery, clothes, etcetera.”
“Can we use anyone else?” puts in Heyes.
“Yes. Alec and Thaddeus will be in a prearranged pickup spot an hour in. But, you only ask for help when you’re ready to work a con – and they can only assist – not initiate a play. Questions?”
Adrian and Heyes lock eyes; classic stand-off stare. Two heads shake.
A closed carriage, windows blacked out, pulls up in a bustling, mid-city San Francisco square. Kid Curry is up front at the reins; Alec and Soapy beside him. He jumps down, offers a hand to help first her, then the old man. She takes a new-fangled hand-held camera from the seat and positions herself carefully to one side.
“Where are we?” It is Adrian’s voice from inside the carriage.
“Don’t worry, I found a nice quiet little spot,” reassures Curry.
Heyes’ voice, “And, Alec’s not looking?”
“Would we do that to you?!” scathes Soapy. “Gentlemen, you have six hours!”
In one swift seamless movement Curry throws open the door and lets down the step. Adrian and Heyes are revealed, poised to climb out, both mother-naked. They see the milling crowds. Both within and without the carriage eyes widen, mouths gape. A moment of frozen horror. Unseen by them, Alec clicks.
“**!” yells Heyes.
“**!” agrees Adrian.
Ignoring the step, two nekkid combatants launch a magnificent flying leap into the centre of the street. One hand waving folk aside, one hand vainly trying to preserve a PG13 rating, the pair take to their heels, one east, one west, racing past shocked, amused and just plain stunned observers.
We watch the delighted grins of Curry and Soapy as two lily-white backsides glint in the sun and two sets of swift legs weave, agile as eels, through the crowd. Our point of view switches swiftly from Adrian to Heyes – and again. We linger on Heyes for a moment because – hey, why not?
We follow Adrian’s rear as it turns into a side alley and he spots… Swift as a streak (pun intended) of lightning, a pair of dimpled buttocks attached to an over-confident conman disappear into a workman’s tent next to a hole in the sidewalk and a set of parts from an unassembled street gaslight. Almost instantaneously, an extremely calm Adrian remerges, clad in filthy and baggy coveralls. With the nonchalance of a prince, and seemingly oblivious to the still bare feet to which we pan, he strolls away.
Back to Heyes, also heading down a side street where he encounters – nuns. He raises both hands in mute apology, realises this exposes himself (another pun intended) to yet more embarrassment and dives head first into some handy ornamental bushes fronting an impressive building.
Switch to Adrian, striding casually along the perimeter of Golden Gate Park. He passes an open-air café, doing good trade on this fine day. Without breaking stride a mustard pot is lifted, and dropped into a capacious pocket.
Heyes is still doing his ‘Adam among the fig leaves’ act. A furtive pair of brown eyes watch a noisy wagon marked ‘City Gas-Lighting Extension Program’, appropriately loaded with disassembled street lights, digging equipment and a pair of laborers. Heyes explodes from the bushes and leaps among the astounded workmen all the while yelling, “Go! Go! Get going! He’s coming!”
“Jaysus, Mary an’…”
“Go! Her old man’s coming! Sure and he’s got a shotgun! DRIVE!” By now Heyes has managed to inject the very subtlest hint of a brogue to his own voice, as he scrambles to hide, the picture of fright, under a tarpaulin.
“He caught us in bed! Didn’t I hafta shimmy down a fire escape! GO! He’s coming!”
The astonishment cedes to affable masculine laughter. The reins are slapped. The wagon rumbles off at the best pace such a clumsy vehicle can manage.
Adrian stands before a fancy department store watching well-dressed folk go by. His eyes note a particularly prosperous-looking gentleman, who with a curt word and scowl, waves aside an eager shoeshine boy. As the mark passes, a quick flick of hand from pocket to the suited back…
“Excuse me,” a shoulder is tapped, “I reckon a pigeon’s got you.”
“Down your back,” Adrian points.
The gentleman twists, looks, sees the splat of viscous yellow, “D*** it! This is a $100 suit!”
“Take it off, take it off,” urges Adrian, in fervently obliging mode. He helps the man out of the satin lined jacket, holds it up, tuts at the stain. “My old grandma was wonderful at this stuff. What you have to do is soak it in soda water, then run it under a cold tap for at least ten minutes. Look!” A finger indicates a building opposite, scowling eyes follow. “The hotel over there’ll have soda.” He hands the jacket back. “Don’t let it sit on the cloth – it bleaches!”
As the mark hurries away, Adrian turns to enter the department store’s revolving door, leafing through a well-stuffed wallet. After one revolution, he remerges – immaculate from head to toe – suave fingers giving a final tweak to an already perfectly knotted silk necktie.
In a much less salubrious part of town, Heyes pulls on a disgusting old jersey and an even more disgusting pair of tattered and too-short pants.
“I’ll bring ’em back…”
“Not at all! I only keep ’em for when we’re on sewer work. They’re ready for the rag-bag, so they are.”
“As for those…” This is Laborer Two speaking, we pan to a pair of comically huge boots from which Heyes’ ankles emerge daintily slender. “Haven’t I been meaning to cut ’em up and use ’em for patching these six months? It’s not a drop of water they’re keeping out!”
“This is real kind. I’ll come pay yo…”
“Pshaw! Hasn’t he given us a story we can drink on for days, Pat?”
“To be sure he has, Michael!” Huge grin, “Don’t we usually have to be making them up!”
Adrian enters a saloon and scans the place. A jar of boiled eggs stand on the counter. He dips his head to hide a smile as he walks up and discretely shakes a little salt into his palm.
Our point of view pulls back. In dumb show we see our guest charmer hold aloft an egg before the eyes of the barkeep. We see a sceptical customer standing an egg by breaking the shell. Currency is produced and laid on the counter. More interested customers sidle up. More notes join the pile.
From a discreet distance, Heyes observes the open-air café from which Adrian purloined the mustard. Customers are enjoying lunchtime refreshments in the glorious sunshine. A sidewalk artist is chalking pictures. As Heyes watches, a couple stop to examine his work. The young lady points admiringly, the young man flips a silver coin into the upturned hat. They stroll on to the café. We focus on Heyes, still short-panted and huge-booted. A musing expression settles on his face. He mooches over.
The sidewalk artist glances up at the scruffy object before him.
A dimpled, endearing smile, “Let me have a piece of chalk, huh?”
Thinking. Innocent enough request. With a shrug, a piece is handed over.
Squaring his shoulders, Heyes marches over to the café. He stoops to place a large ‘X’ before one table. Straightening, he paces five yard-length steps – visibly counting under his breath. Another ‘X’ is chalked. Curious eyes watch. He pivots ninety degrees on his heel, marches between the tables – still counting. Customers are – with apologetic smiles – made to shift their chairs to let him pass. A few sharply drawn-back heads indicate Heyes’ clothes are distasteful to the nose as well as the eye. Ripples of annoyance. A third X is inscribed. Heyes is now pushing, still exuding affability, through the centre of the tables. A plump man, quite possibly the owner, scurries over.
“Do you mind telling me what you’re doing?”
“Top o’ the morning to you, soir.” Whereas before Heyes used a hint of brogue to win over Pat and Michael, now he displays an Oirish accent so thick you could use it to keep out the draught. “You shouldn’t have to move more than foive or six tables. Oi’m going to work all around you, so I am.”
“Don’t you worry about me, soir. Oi’ll have this done in two or three hours, just as soon as the boys gets here. Moind you,” twinkling grin, “A cup o’ tay would not go amiss!”
Heyes is still pacing out a square, shifting customers as he goes. The man scuttles after him.
“We’ll be digging down three or four feet… You moight want to move, ma’am, it’ll be a mite dusty there, so it will.”
“You can’t dig here. I’ve people eating.”
Heyes is deaf to him. “No, no, ma’am,” reacting to the lady’s irritation as he lifts her plate and places it the other side of her table, “…No need to leave. Won’t we be quiet as a mouse? Well,” cheery laugh, “…A herd o’ mouses the soize of elephants an’ wearing clogs!” To the distressed owner, trying but failing to get a word in as the silver tongue runs on without intermission, “You moight want to warn folk not to have the soup. Sure and there’s nothing worse than grit in your soup. It gets stuck in your teeth, so it does.” Heyes finally reacts to the jigging owner, “Did you not get the letter, soir?”
“No, I didn’t get a letter.”
“Sure and those fellas in the city office couldn’t organize the proverbial in a brewery! Though it’s not for the loikes o’ me to say so. Could it not be lost in the post and all? Oi’ll have a copy with my work order in the wagon, soir, when the gang arrive. If you could give me a hand, soir, we’ll shift these good folk…”
More confused annoyance as meals are interrupted and chairs bumped. One pair of customers leave.
“Look!” The owner grasps Heyes’ arm. “Just explain what you are doing!”
“It’s effluent, soir.” Nice and loud so every diner can hear.
“More shi… More poo than you can shake a stick at!” Again, full volume. Murmurs of distaste. More customers rise to leave. “Raw sewage backing up from here to Nob Hill. The street plan shows two access points; one here…” Heyes stoops, chalks a final huge X, “…And one round the corner.” He points.
“Can’t you use that one?”
“Oh no, soir, as that’s only a minor access point, so it is. This is much bigger. We’ll open up – get right down to where the poo is!”
He grins happily at a lady who, hearing what she is sitting over, covers her mouth with a handkerchief and pushes away her desert.
“Please,” pleads the owner, “…Use the other access point.”
“No, no, soir. I can’t do that. I can’t use the other access point.” The dark head is shaking, firmly, “Oh, no. Can’t do that!”
The owner leans in, “I could make it worth your while.”
The head stops shaking. Dimples appear.
Heyes walks away from the café, counting his money. He looks up. A smart open carriage bowls by. Heyes’ jaw drops as he recognises the occupant. Adrian raises his top hat, with a charming, if smug – smile.
Kid Curry and Alec sit in another part of the park, listening to the music from the bandstand.
“Has it been an hour yet?” asks Alec.
Curry reaches into his vest. He sighs and holds out his hand. Alec gives him his watch back.
“You’re not funny, y’know!”
“Maybe not from where you’re sitting. Well – has it been an hour?”
“Do you think they’re dressed yet?”
“I sure hope so. That was NOT a pretty sight.”
Curry gets to his feet. “I guess we better get to our pickup spots.”
They move off to obviously pre-arranged spots. We accompany Curry. Alec waits by a water fountain, too far off to overhear, but still visible in long-shot. Curry finds himself a handy tree to lean against. He spots a very, very scruffy, though somehow familiar, figure coming toward him.
“Sheesh, Heyes. Is that you?” A grin, “Not that it ain’t a huge improvement on last time I saw ya!” He unpeels himself from the trunk. “You’re first to the pick up, anyhow.”
“Where is she?”
Curry points to the distant Alec. As he does, the carriage we saw earlier drives smartly into view. It is the Kid’s turn to gape as he watches the driver lets down the step and Alec join the top-hatted Adrian.
“Did you see…?”
“He only hired that to make it look as if he’s doin’ better’n me,” scowls Heyes.
Curry draws in his breath, “I’d say it worked, Heyes!”
“You don’t wanna let that worry you, Kid.”
“Don’t worry ME none,” deadpans his partner, “I’m a neutral. Remember?” A pause. He looks at the tension on Heyes’ face. “Why do you wanna beat him so bad, Heyes?”
“Because… Because…” Silence. A deep breath. A determined look in the brown eyes. “I have to beat him, Kid. Because – he’s there!”
Adrian is behind an upturned barrel in a busy, though less up-market, thoroughfare. Three cards are being swished, swooshed, switched, swapped, quicker than a human eye can follow. His (allegedly) golden tongue is in full flow.
“Keep your eye on the lady – there she is – and over she goes and – there she is again – follow the lady – follow the lady – where’s the lady?”
A dainty fingertip taps the middle card.
“There? Are you sure, ma’am? You don’t want to change your mind? No? We’ve a lady who knows her own mind here, folks!”
He flicks over the chosen card. The Queen. Two tiny hands clap in delight. A trill of feminine laughter as a twenty dollar note is scooped up.
“You’re killing me, ma’am! That’s three times in a row you’ve won! She’s too quick for me folks! Who else wants to take my money off me?”
We pan back. The winner is of course – Alec. She steps aside and lets the now enthralled crowd of punters convinced Adrian is a pushover take her place.
“You, sir! You want to take my money? It’s easy. All you have to do is keep your eye on the pretty lady. There she is – and over she goes – and round and round and…”
Kid Curry emerges from a gentlemen’s ready-to-wear establishment carrying brown paper parcels.
Alec is now some yards from the bunko stand and, while maintaining an innocent face, doing a thoroughly professional job as look-out. She spots two uniformed men approaching. Her fingers go to her mouth and…
Adrian reacts to the piercing whistle like lightning. A pile of notes is scooped into his pocket. The table is abandoned. He grabs Alec’s hand and they take to their heels.
Kid Curry waits by fancy wrought-iron railings sign-posted ‘Gentlemen’. A dapperly-suited Heyes, adjusting a spanking new derby, runs lightly up the steps.
He holds out his hand. A pause. “Change?” he prompts.
“What change?” scathes the Kid. “Heyes, the money you made so far, you’re wearing it!”
Alec is inside a plush hotel bedroom. She is also in the embrace of a rumpled, nondescript, balding businessman who – not unsurprisingly – cannot believe his good luck.
“Oh, Vernon!” she gasps, apparently in mounting excitement.
“Oh, Laura!” Unpractised fingers – one wearing a wedding band, the rat! – fumble, incompetently, with her buttons. A creamy shoulder is uncovered – and kissed. Wetly.
“Oh, Vernon – I can’t believe I’m behaving this way. I’ve never done anything like…”
The door slams open, crashing and reverberating against the wall. Adrian, the picture of righteous wrath explodes into the room, exuding all the physical danger of which a six-foot, broad-shouldered, well-built man in prime physical condition is capable.
“My husband!” Terrified squeal.
“Laura!” Flashing dark eyes turn on a petrified Vernon, “You snake!”
Vernon’s lips are still puckered to a smooch as he goggles at the approaching, swift-striding retribution.
“No, Frank! No! Think of the children! What will become of them when their father is hanged for murder?”
At the word ‘murder’ the trembling Vernon’s eyes bulge in sheer horror.
“Must our darling boys suffer for their mother’s moment of frailty? Must they pay the price of her yielding to – almost irresistible – passion? Is it not enough that we can no longer afford the fees to keep them at the school they love so much?”
Heyes and the Kid are in the saloon previously visited by an ovoid-balancing Adrian.
“Hey,” Heyes beams at a glum barkeep, “…Whaddya think the odds are I can make an egg stand on its end?”
In the street outside the saloon, our two boys straighten their rumpled jackets and dust off the hats thrown out after them.
“HE taught YOU that?” Curry’s expression indicates he is impressed.
“Yeah. And the five pat hands trick.” Musing. “Maybe I could get in a poker game.”
“What kinda game starts mid-day?”
“Not the kind that’s gonna make me rich by six,” acknowledges Heyes, ruefully. A pause. “Nah. I don’t wanna just beat him, I wanna beat him at his own game. A long con.”
“A short long con,” amends Heyes. Thinking hard.
“Where are you gonna find a mark?”
More thinking. The brown eyes light up. “There IS someone I wanna con,” breathes Heyes, “Someone I’ve been saving for a rainy day.”
Outside the tradesmen’s exit of a plush hotel, Adrian stuffs a bundle of notes inside his jacket. Alec, tucking in her blouse, rolls her eyes and follows as he strides off.
“A stamp?” checks a half-disbelieving Kid Curry, “You mean – the kind you put on a letter?”
“Yup.” Heyes ignores the scepticism. “Who’s the best ‘Frisco forger we know?”
“At short notice… Er…”
Blue eyes meet brown. Both boys smile and, in unison, decide: “Danny Blue.”
“Okay,” says Heyes, “I’ll go see him. You go find a hotel and set up the background. This what I want…”
Horses clip-clop by between us and the boys, obscuring the briefing Heyes gives the Kid. We hear the end only.
“…This mark, he loves to deal – so the fact we haven’t much time should work in our favor.”
The boys part and stride off in different directions.
A different plush hotel room.
“My husband! No, Albert! NO!”
A diminutive man behind the counter of a second-hand book shop, leafs through an old volume, surrounded by shelves, groaning under the weight of his wares. A shadow falls over him.
We hear Heyes’ voice, warm with affection: “Danny!”
Danny Blue looks up. A smile of delighted recognition lights the kindly, old face.
Outside yet another hotel, the Felton, Kid Curry is watching suited arrivals mounting the steps. He goes into the lounge, which houses men talking business in twos and threes. Curry takes a seat and unfolds a newspaper.
Heyes exits the bookshop, escorted by Danny Blue. Both smiling, they shake hands.
Through the front entrance of the Felton Hotel, we see Kid Curry in conversation with the desk clerk. He exits the hotel and runs lightly down the steps. As he does the shot widens. We see the hotel is a few hundred yards from the open-air café so recently threatened with effluent problems.
Outside the tradesman’s exit from yet another plush hotel, Adrian counts yet more money. Behind him, Alec’s eyes widen. She taps him on the shoulder. He looks up to see… It is like a reflection from a distorting mirror. A much sleazier and meaner version of himself next to a hard-faced beauty with eyes like gimlets. Adrian keeps his poker-face, but his Adam’s apple bobs, nervously.
“Is you’se working dah badger on MY patch? Scumbag!”
“No! No! In fact,” Adrian flips back his lapel, “…I’m from the Police. Working undercover on suppression of vic…”
“You’re no lawman.”
“Yeah? How d’you know that?”
“‘Cos dat,” indicating the glint of silver behind the lapel, “…Is a brooch.” He is right. It is. A fist emerges from a pocket, strengthened with a serviceable knuckle-duster.
“Well,” recovers Adrian, “if I’m not the law,” he points, “…Why are four officers coming round the corner?”
Knuckle-Duster and Hard-Face both look over their shoulders. Adrian knees Knuckle-Duster, hard as he can, in an unmentionable spot, grabs Alec’s hand and sprints like the wind. We follow them through a maze of back alleys, until, both panting for breath, they stop.
“Adey!” Alec bends double, clutching her side, “…That woman looked like she wanted to hurt me!”
“Don’t worry,” gasps Adrian, “…They charge extra for that!”
Heyes and Curry meet on the park side of the open-air café. They walk and talk…
“I’ve found one, Heyes. But, you could do with a convincer…”
As Heyes walks past the tables he notes two businessmen talking shop. One opens a fancy gold card-case, hands over his credentials. The case is left by the saucer holding the bill and a few notes to settle it. Without breaking step, Heyes taps Curry’s sleeve and directs his eyes to the case. The boys walk around the side of the café. In one swift, seamless movement Curry grasps Heyes’ jacket, Heyes pivots and walks out of it, striding back in his shirt sleeves. Still without breaking step a napkin is draped over one arm. In dumb show we see ‘Waiter-Heyes’ ask if the gentleman is ready to pay and be waved away carrying the saucer with the card case deftly tucked beneath. He strides back, pockets the case, takes his jacket, hands the saucer to Curry, keeps walking. After one tiny, tempted, look at the money, Curry empties it into the staff jar and follows Heyes.
A few yards distant, reproachful voice: “We’re supposed to be straight, Heyes.”
“Relax. Not as if we don’t know who…” Heyes checks out the name on one of the fancy cards. “…Ashley Morgan of Whittiker & Sons Limited, is and where he works, huh? We can get it back to him.”
“Okay,” accepts Curry. “Now what?”
“Now we rustle up some seed money for props.”
Heyes’ gaze lingers on a bank on the other side of the street.
“No, Heyes! Borrowin’s one thing. But, we’ve given up stealin’! Remember?”
Brown puppy dog eyes.
The tip of a Heyesian shoe kicks the dirt, sulkily. Thinking. The toe traces a squiggle. Idea. The Kid receives a broad dimpled grin, “Yeah! We’ve gone straight!”
Heyes stands on an upturned soapbox. His collar is rotated through 180 degrees, transforming him into a minister. A chalkboard propped against the wall announces: “Mission to Support Reformed Ex-Criminals”. He has already gathered a small crowd.
“Doesn’t the Good Book say; there’s more rejoicing over one lost sheep returned, than over 99 who never stray? Is it not the duty of us all – once a man has reformed – to support his efforts to stay on the narrow path? Indeed it is, brothers and sisters! Look at this youth…” A sweeping gesture indicates the blond fella, hat humbly rotating in his fingers, who stands before Heyes. “…Tell them, brother – how you were lost and then found!”
“I was a sinner!” declares Kid Curry. “I drank. I gambled. I…” He drops his gaze, “I let myself be led astray by scarlet women…”
Tuts from several of the middle-aged ladies who make up most of the audience.
“I was even…” the Kid is the picture of shame, his feet shuffle, “A thief! Yes! I broke the Eighth Commandment for many years. But, THIS man…” his voice swells in joy, his hand lifts to indicate Heyes, his face shines with veneration, “The fine, fine man you see here, HE persuaded me there was another way! And – whenever I faltered – THIS man was always there, reminding me of my good resolve!”
Heyes gives a simper of modest self-deprecation before he carries on the plea, “All I ask is for any money you can spare – out of your generous hearts – to keep lost sheep like this…”
Curry smiles entreatingly at two particularly rapt-looking ladies.
“…Safe in the fold. Look at him, ladies! Still so young!”
Curry gives them the classic big blue-eyed look.
“I can swear to you, with my hand on my heart, every penny you good folk give today will help prevent young men – like him – being once again tempted to turn to crime!”
The ladies open their purses.
“Don’t you feel – y’know – a bit guilty, Heyes?”
“Guilty? Kid – I didn’t even tell lies!”
Adrian is at the counter of a pharmacist’s shop clutching two large brown paper parcels. The pharmacist adds a third. Adrian can just stretch his chin on top to balance the load. We pan left to see Alec, similarly encumbered. A white-aproned boy holds the door open and the pair totter out.
“That’ll be – whew – eight dollars an’ fifty cents.” The telegraph operator sticks his pencil behind his ear.
Money is laid down by the blue-eyed customer, “Here’s the address.”
The clerk looks up from the paper he has been handed, disbelievingly. “You sure you wanna send this?”
“It’s two blocks away. You could go leave a note for nothing.”
“My boots hurt,” deadpans the Kid.
With a shake of his head at the folly of mankind, the clerk starts to tap.
Back in the lounge of the Felton Hotel, a many-buttoned bell-hop delivers a telegram to a stocky, pleasant-faced man. He reads it, purses his lips and nods, thoughtfully.
Heyes and Curry look in the window of a store displaying leather goods. Heyes points to a slim leather case; a small version of what an artist might use to carry sketches. It is marked at ten dollars. He counts and hands over ten dollars to Kid Curry, who tucks it away. This leaves him with a single silver dollar in his palm.
“This stamp thing,” Curry’s brow furrows, “…You really think it’ll work?”
Smug dimples, “This mark simply won’t be able to resist!”
The Kid is not fully convinced, but – hey – he is only a neutral. “So what do we do now?”
“It don’t bother you that now you sent a wire and set aside money for that,” pointing at the portfolio, “…Four hours into this challenge, you’ve one measly dollar left?”
“Kid, you worry too much. This is a Hannibal Heyes plan!”
“That’s why I worry,” deadpans Curry.
On a busy thoroughfare on the perimeter of Golden Gate Park, it is Adrian’s turn to be mounted on an upturned box.
“…Not only will the unique emollients cure every disorder of the skin known to man and render the complexion of the user clearer than that of lovely Cleopatra in her bath of asses’ milk…”
A makeshift stall before him holds piles of garden-variety bars of soap.
“But – because I am SO desirous of you good folks sampling its manifest rewards, I’m going to add a little incentive. You see this?” A wad of five-dollar bills is waved. “And THIS…?” Three hundred-dollar bills are held aloft. Coos from younger members of the crowd. “Check them, sir, are they not the genuine article? What I do is…” Adrian’s dextrous fingers work mid-air, “…Wrap some bars in five-dollar notes, wrap three in the hundred-dollar notes – watch closely, keep your eyes on the bars – and wrap them ALL in brown paper. Which is which nobody knows! Unless folks, your eyes were too quick for me? Now, who’s going to take them off my hands for a dollar a bar? You, sir?”
In another part of the park, Heyes and Curry lean on a handy railing watching a couple of pretty girls listen to the music from the bandstand and enjoying the sun.
“The hotel’s perfect,” says Curry. “That open-air café’s only half a street away; you can do the business there.”
A fleeting concerned reaction flits across Heyes’ face. But – nah – it is gone.
“Danny’ll have the stamp ready at five thirty,” he says.
“Cutting it fine, aren’t ya?”
Cheshire cat grin, “Makes it more fun.”
A few bars of soap are bought. One young fella chirps happily that he has found a five-dollar bill. Sales pick up somewhat, when…
An overjoyed exclamation rings out, “A hundred dollars! Look! My bar had a hundred dollars inside!”
“That is ONE lucky lady, folks…”
Well, she possibly did not rely just on luck. It is Alec after all.
“Not only will she become still more beautiful – if that’s possible – with every application of the secret recipe passed down from the time of Aphrodite herself; she’s up 99 dollars. Remember, there’s still two hundreds out there and so many five-dollar bills I’ll end my days in the poorhouse! I’m a fool to myself!”
“Should we check on Danny?” asks Curry.
“No, no, Danny’ll be fine,” reassures Heyes. A pause. A grin, “It’s time to check on Adrian.” He nods over to the far distance where there appears to be quite a crowd gathering.
Trade in soap is exceedingly brisk. Strangely, no one else seems to be winning.
Adrian, tongue still in full flow, takes a dollar from another sucker, looks up and sees a pair of very familiar dark eyes. Heyes smiles, touches his hat and strolls away tucking the exorbitantly priced purchase in his pocket. Adrian’s patter does not falter, but…
“Who’s going to be the next person to unwrap the brown paper and see Honest Abe with $100 in fancy script looking back at him? And THAT is the last bar I’m selling today, folks. You’ve robbed me long enough. No, no! All done here!” His eyes follow Heyes. With an almost imperceptible signal he summons Alec.
In the background, Heyes and Curry sit at the open-air café, sipping coffee. In the foreground, Adrian lurks behind a handy tree, watching. Alec, not bothering to lurk, is beside him.
“We made…” counting, “…Nearly $600. Add that to what we’ve already got – there’s no way he’s got me beat!” Lip chewing as Adrian stares at the very cool Heyes in the distance. “I reckon Joshua’ll want to beat me with a long con. But, nah…” Thinking. “There’s no way he can find a mark, hook him and close the deal in six hours.” Pause. “Is there?”
A shrug from Alec. “He must be good, or you wouldn’t be so fired up to beat him.”
“He’s better than good.”
“Is he better than you?”
“No!” Less certainly, “No.” Much less certainly, “No?” Pause. “What would you do?”
“Hey, it’s your game, Adey! Thaddeus and I are neutral – remember?”
“He came to find me. He knows I’d follow. He wants me to go over, so he can check out how I’m doing.” More thinking. Adrian squares his shoulders, “C’mon. Let’s not disappoint him.” He strides towards the café.
“Howdy,” Heyes greets him, “Thaddeus and I are relaxing – shame to waste the sun, huh? – care to join us?” He orders two more coffees with a smile and hand signal to a waiter.
“Sure. I was thinking of taking a break anyhow. It’s kinda hard on the back carrying this much money.”
“You’ve made that much?”
A confident look. “Yup!” Pause. “And you?”
“Nothing,” says Heyes.
“Nothing?” repeats an incredulous Adrian.
“Well, you’ve not got much time left, have you?”
“I’ve enough.” Pause. “Enough to beat you that is.”
A sceptical eyebrow is raised. “I think that’s unlikely, because I’ve made $4,000 easy.”
Impressed – and worried – reaction from Kid Curry, which he quickly suppresses. Slight freezing of Heyes’ poker face. We gather – that is more than they expected.
The plump café owner delivers the bill on a saucer. He does a double-take at Heyes, but, is met with such a bland, unrecognising smile from the dapperly-suited gentleman that he shrugs and walks away shaking his head at the tricks the eyes can play.
“And – you think $4,000 has me beat?” says Heyes, dimpling.
“Don’t pull that ‘I-know-something-you-don’t-know’ on me, Joshua. You can’t kid a kidder!”
“If you say so.” Heyes sips his coffee. “You see, while you’ve been running around like a headless chicken, I’ve simply been sitting here, with a coffee, waiting for the big one.”
“The big one?” disbelieving tone.
“If you say so.” Heyes checks the clock, “Sorry, we have to go.” His hand reaches for the bill.
“No.” Adrian stays his wrist. “I’ll get this. After all, I’ve more money than you.”
“So do I.”
“Flip for it?” suggests Heyes.
A nod. Heyes searches in his vest pocket. Then the other side. Then the pants. It is clear he has no money. Adrian gives a smile and reaches into his own pocket; he passes Heyes a silver dollar to flip.
“Tails,” he calls as the coin spins.
“Tails it is,” says Heyes, lifting his hand. He hands back the dollar.
“Why don’t you keep this?” Adrian pats Heyes’ shoulder kindly and drops the coin into his rival’s vest pocket. “After all,” he is LOVING this, “…Your need is greater than mine!”
Heyes stands, “C’mon, Thaddeus.”
Our boys leave. Adrian watches the departing backs.
“He’s bluffing,” he tells Alec. She shrugs. Pause. He leaves money to pay the bill, “C’mon – I’m going to follow him.”
“What d’you think?” asks Curry as they walk away from the café.
“I think putting all my eggs in one basket mighta been a bad idea,” responds Heyes. Again, we see he had not expected quite such a high level of success from Adrian. “Anyhow, there’s not much time. Let’s reel in this mark.”
Adrian’s head cautiously peers around a street corner. Sharing his point of view, we see (but do not hear) Heyes mount the steps of the Felton Hotel and engage the uniformed commissionaire in conversation.
“What ARE you doing?” asks Alec.
“Wouldn’t you do better just grifting more money?”
“He’s up to something.”
“Of course he’s up to something,” Alec says, patiently. “That’s the general idea!”
Heyes is still talking to the commissionaire, when the stocky gentleman who received the boys’ telegram emerges from the hotel. Heyes steps up, speaks, presents a business card from the fancy gold case. The two men shake hands, smilingly.
“Who’s he?” breaths Adrian.
Heyes points over to the open-air café. He and Stocky descend the steps engaged in friendly conversation.
“He must be the mark,” deduces the spying one.
Kid Curry appears at the bottom of the steps. Heyes pauses for a brief word with him, then trots to catch up with Stocky; they are definitely making for the café. Curry strides off, purposefully, in the opposite direction.
Adrian turns to Alec, “Follow Thaddeus. See where he’s going.”
He gives her a gentle push. “Just do it! Meet me back here when you know!”
Stealthily, and with hat tilted forward just in case Heyes looks back, Adrian sidles up to the commissionaire. He – and we – can see Heyes and Stocky now sitting at a table in the café in the middle distance. They are, apparently, talking business.
“That man over there,” Adrian begins, “the one in the gray suit and broad hat – sitting with the dark-haired fella in the derby – do you know who he is?”
Stiffly, the commissionaire asks, “Are you a guest, sir?”
Adrian treats the commissionaire to a charming smile, and – more pertinently – tucks a five-dollar bill into his pocket. It works.
“That is a Mister Penning, sir. From Chicago, sir.”
“I believe so.”
“What’s he do? Do you know?”
The commissionaire does not answer. His eyes flick, indicatively, to his pocket. Another five dollars is donated.
“I understand he is a philatelist, sir.”
Blank look from Adrian.
“He collects rare and valuable stamps, sir. As – I believe – does the dark-haired gentleman.”
Alec is competently tailing Kid Curry. He walks into a store and exits with the small leather portfolio we saw the boys pick out earlier. Curry extends his arm and examines the case appraisingly, so Alec gets a good clear view.
Alec sets off at a trot back to Adrian.
“A portfolio case?” checks Adrian. “On the small side?”
“Portfolio. Stamps.” Adrian rubs his brow. “Think. Think.” Idea. “If Joshua were looking for a moody stamp, where would he go?”
Both musing. Brown eyes and green eyes light at the same time. In unison: “Danny Blue!”
Adrian approaches Danny Blue’s bookshop at a run, pulling Alec along with him.
“It’s shut!” His hand hammers on the door. Nothing. He yells through the keyhole. “Danny! It’s Adrian! Adrian Stone! Shady Adey!” Still nothing. In despair to Alec, “Where else could he be?”
They stare at each other, then both have the same idea at the same time.
Inside a synagogue, we see Danny Blue walk to a seat towards the rear. A cantor fills the air with solemn song. Adrian half-enters and stops, torn between a reluctance to do anything which will cause genuine offence and an utter need to close a deal. The need is too strong. He enters removing his hat, respectfully. Puzzled looks. He remembers, hastily puts his hat back on. Hands folded and wearing the best reverent expression he can muster, he slides into a seat behind Danny. Leaning forward, he breathes, “Hello, Danny.”
Surprised recognition – and fondness – as Danny breathes back, “Adrian!”
“That deal you’re doing with Heyes. I’m here to do the pick up.”
“Not now! Minchah is about to start.”
“It’s really important, Danny.”
“Business is forbidden in the synagogue.”
Adrian opens his mouth to let his persuasive tongue loose, remembers he risks treading on dodgy ground and casts a self-conscious and half-guilty glance around. We realise if anyone wanted to choose a place where he would be working at a disadvantage – this is a pretty good pick.
But the deal! He has to go on!
Keeping to a whisper, he tries, “But this ISN’T business, is it? You’ve already done the deal. It’s just a pick up.”
“Heyes said I could expect a Mister Jones to pick up.”
“Oh, Thaddeus? He’s been held up.”
“He definitely said to wait for Mister Jones.”
“That’s the problem you see, there’s been a change of plan. I’m taking his place.”
Danny’s demeanour suggests he is pretty much convinced by Adrian, but – more than anything – he would like to get this over.
“Did you…?” Another embarrassed glance round to check no one will overhear the wholly secular – indeed – mercenary subject under discussion. “…Bring the money?”
“Of course I brought your money.”
“Do you mind if I have a little look first?”
“Please, Adey! The service is about to start!”
“I’ll be quick!”
Danny pulls out a small muslin package. He turns a fold of the snowy material to reveal a square of card covered in black velvet and bearing a stamp.
“What is it?” breathes Adrian.
“It’s a Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill, 1868.” Pause, reverent lowering of tone, “…WITH invert.”
“Did it take you long to knock up?”
“I do not knock things up, Adey, I am an artist!” An offended Danny rises above a whisper. Disapproving glances. Both men subside, apologetically.
“What’s something like that worth,” murmurs Adrian.
“To the right buyer,” musing shrug, “…$15,000.”
Impressed blink from Adrian. He returns to poker face so quickly, perhaps we imagined it?
“So, what did Heyes say he’d give you?”
Suspicious, “Don’t you know?”
“I – er – forgot.”
“Three thousand dollars.”
“Three thousand,” repeats Adrian – too loud. More disapproving glances. More contrite wriggling. He takes a breath, “I’ll give you two.”
Danny folds the muslin back over the stamp. “I’ll wait for Mister Jones.”
“Alright, alright…” Danny hands over a wad of money, “There’s two…” Rummaging in an inner pocket, a less pristine wad is produced, “And there’s three.” He takes the stamp. With apologetic half smiles at the disapproving looks, and politely raising his hat to a bemused Rabbi, Adrian exits and rejoins Alec in the street.
“Adrian,” she urges, “…Quick!”
She has spotted Kid Curry, portfolio case in hand.
They scurry away. Adrian looks back over his shoulder to see Curry take up a waiting position outside the synagogue and check his watch.
“Yes!” triumphs Adrian. “I’ve got him!”
Adrian is once again peering around a street corner. From his point of view we see Heyes and Stocky, drinking wine, still talking.
“I need to get rid of Joshua so I can get to the mark.”
“How?” asks Alec.
“I don’t know.”
“Why not just go back. If Joshua doesn’t get the stamp, he can’t collect, you’ve probably beaten him.”
“Probably’s not good enough.”
Kid Curry is approaching Heyes. He politely tips his hat to Heyes’ companion and – in dumb show – asks for a private word. Our boys walk away, out of view.
“Yes!” exults Adrian. “YES! He’s telling Joshua I got to Danny first. I’m in!”
Adrian races across the street towards the stocky gentleman. Slowing to a business-like walk, he approaches the table and sits down.
“Good afternoon, Mister Penning.”
Not surprisingly, Penning looks confused. “Do I know you?”
“No, not yet. But I believe you’ve been dealing with a colleague of mine.”
“A colleague of mine – the man who was just called away.”
“Ashley Morgan?” checks Penning.
“That’s right, Ashley Morgan. He’s been called away – urgent business – he’s asked me to fill in and take over the transaction.”
Rather offended surprise from Penning, “I see.”
Adrian reaches into his jacket pocket, “Are you excited? You should be. Your friends back in Chicago are going to be green with envy. Sorry I haven’t got a presentation portfolio – but, hey, that’s just gilding the lily, huh? Right…” The muslin is unfolded. “Here it is!”
Penning stares, now even more confused, at the stamp.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” prompts Adrian, filling his voice with awe.
“What is it?”
“It’s a stamp.”
“I can see that. What’s it for?”
“It’s for you. It’s the Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill, 1868, WITH invert, you ordered from my colleague.”
Penning scratches his head, “I’m really not with you.”
“Alright.” Adrian decides Penning is a shade dim; he uses short – slow – sentences. “You ordered a stamp. This stamp. I’m delivering it. And,” big smile, “…I’m collecting the money.”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You collect stamps…”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do,” persists Adrian, “…You’re a philatelist.”
“What gave you that idea?”
“Because you have a deal to buy this rare stamp from my colleague, Ashley Morgan…”
“I’m selling him hides. I’m a leather dealer.”
Adrian opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He looks up to see Heyes, leaning nonchalantly against the café wall. Heyes touches his hat and smiles.
We flash back to the scene of Heyes telling Curry he wanted to beat Adrian using a long con.
“Where are you gonna find a mark?”
The brown eyes light up. “There IS someone I wanna con. Someone I’ve been saving for a rainy day.”
A grin splits Heyes’ face, “Adrian!”
Flashback to the scene of Curry entering the lobby of the Felton Hotel:
Curry takes a seat and unfolds a newspaper; perfect cover for a little eavesdropping. We pan to his left where a stocky gentleman – Mister Penning – is chatting to a new acquaintance:
“Horace Penning, pleased to meet you. My firm – that’s Stroller & Stroller – sent me to meet with a coupla ‘Frisco saddle-makers. If you’re looking for hides, I’m telling you, sir – our prices and quality can’t be beat…”
We pan back to the Kid’s satisfied smile.
Flashback to the scene of Heyes in Danny Blue’s bookshop:
A smile of delighted recognition lights Danny’s kindly, old face.
“Danny,” smiles Heyes, “I need a favour – a stamp. Anything’ll do, but I need it in three hours…”
Flashback to the scene of Curry’s wire being delivered:
A many-buttoned bell-hop delivers a telegram to Horace Penning.
We zoom in on the text:
From: Stroller & Stroller, Chicago.
Have been approached by Whittiker & Sons – major manufacturers of leather furniture.
Could be big order for us. Their representative in ‘Frisco will contact you. Treat him good.”
Flashback to the scene of Adrian spying on Heyes. This time we hear Heyes and see what he sees.
Heyes strolls before the Felton Hotel. He – and we – can see Curry in the lobby. Penning comes from the lounge, goes to reception. Curry discretely points him out to Heyes and leaves.
In the background, Adrian’s head cautiously peers around a street corner.
Heyes mounts the steps and engages the uniformed commissionaire in conversation. “I’m looking for one of your guests; a Mister Penning. He’s a philatelist,” Heyes dons a puppyishly confiding demeanor, “…We’re both going to a stamp auction.”
“Really, sir?” The commissionaire feigns polite interest. “If you go to the desk, they’ll call him for you.”
“Ah! No need,” smiles Heyes, “…Here he is!” He approaches Penning, “Mister Penning?”
“Ashley Morgan of Whittiker & Sons,” Heyes presents a business card from the fancy gold case. Penning realizes: important customer. He shakes hands, smilingly. They continue down the steps out of earshot of the commissionaire.
“How did you know who I was?
Heyes twinkles, “You have the look of a man who understands fine leather.”
Penning preens, then moves into sales mode, “Can I buy you a drink while we discuss business, Mister Morgan?”
Heyes points over to the open-air café. “It’s a shame to waste the sunshine; how about there?”
Flashback to the scene of Adrian exiting the synagogue:
Alec has spotted Kid Curry, portfolio case in hand.
Adrian looks back over his shoulder as he and Alec scurry away, “Yes! I’ve got him!”
A moment later, Danny exits the synagogue, sees the portfolio case, approaches Curry.
Danny Blue hands over the $3000. “I don’t know what all this is about.”
“You don’t want to!” Grinning, Kid Curry hands back a couple of notes.
We return to the open-mouthed Adrian, staring at the nonchalant dimpled one, as Heyes touches his hat and smiles.
Adrian’s eyes fall to the worthless stamp for which he paid $3,000; back to Heyes. Heyes checks the wall clock, rejoins Curry and strolls off.
Adrian checks the clock himself. Ten minutes to six.
Soapy Saunders grins broadly as a smug Heyes and a disgruntled Adrian stride into the sunroom with their partners.
“I hope you boys had a successful day?”
“Wonderful, thank you, apart from the last ten minutes when Joshua here played dirty!” snaps Adrian.
“What happened?” asks Soapy.
“Joshua conned Adey,” explains Alec, with a wry smile.
“Yes! I was his dang mark!”
“Imaginative,” admires Soapy.
“I knew he’d follow me,” crows Heyes.
“Yeah?” Adrian’s hands go to his hips, “Well – I still beat you!”
“Well, let’s work it out,” smugs Heyes, “you had $4,000 and I took three, so…”
“Hmm? Thinking back – maybe I lied about the four,” interrupts Adey. “I do do that!” His hand comes from his pocket holding a wad. Mock surprise: “What’s this?”
Heyes’ face freezes.
“And this?” Another wad from another pocket.
Heyes and Curry exchange a mute conversation.
“Let’s reckon it up, shall we?” smiles Soapy, flexing his fingers.
He takes a seat at the table. On either side, stand-off stares in place, Adrian and Heyes unload their pockets. Cash, gold card-case, leather portfolio on one side. On the other: cash, a couple of wallets, the odd watch – Curry retrieves his with a glare at Alec – hotel desk bell, silver brooch, silk pocket squares…
Adrian and Heyes both pace as Alec and the Kid watch Soapy’s pencil work.
“That’s it!” Soapy declares. “My dear,” he hands the notebook to Alec, “Would you like to declare the results?”
She looks. A tip-tilted grin crinkles the green eyes as she declares, “Unbelievable! Joshua: Three thousand and thirty dollars. Adey: Three thousand and thirty…” She twinkles teasingly at her tenterhooked partner. “…ONE dollars!” she finishes.
“I won?” It comes out as a question. Adrian takes a deep, deep breath, “I won. I WON!”
Heyes looks stunned. “He beat me?”
There is a pucker on Curry’s face. “Joshua, check your vest.”
“No. He didn’t! Check your vest.”
Heyes does and produces – the silver dollar Adrian gave him while gloating after the coin flip. He holds it aloft. Then, grinning, adds it to his pile.
“That’s mine!” protests Adrian. “I gave it to him!”
“Well, if you gave it to him, it’s his!” declares Soapy. “That makes it a draw.”
“You mean I could have won – but for one lousy dollar? And MY dollar at that?!”
“It serves you right for being so slick!” says Alec.
“Friends?” checks Heyes.
Deep breaths from Adrian. A rueful smile. “Friends,” he decides, shaking hands.
“So,” grins Curry, “Are you gonna tell ’em, Soapy?”
“Tell us what?” asks Heyes.
“Well,” begins Soapy, “I must admit to a degree of misrepresentation…”
“Go on,” prompts Adrian.
“The Anderson Challenge never happened…”
“There never was a Anderson,” laughs Alec.
“Or a Devlin,” joins in Kid Curry. “Not in New York, or anywhere else!”
“I don’t understand,” says Heyes.
“If you recall,” grins Soapy, “I interrupted your fascinating discussion of prior successful cons by asking you, Adrian to tell Anatole we needed refills, and had you, Heyes follow to get more ice. While you were gone, I made a small wager that I could get both of you to the centre of San Francisco, naked as the day you each were born, by twelve noon. And,” Soapy produces a photograph which he has had framed, “…As a bonus, I have this birthday present from Alec and Thaddeus, which I will treasure always – though strictly in private of course!”
“Sheesh!” laughs Kid Curry, “You really got Adrian’s best side there, Alec!”
“Nice dimples, Joshua,” she teases, taking the photograph from Soapy and holding it out to admire from a distance. “Shame we can’t see your face.”
“You set us up!” gasps Heyes. “But, we thought…”
“I know what you thought,” interrupts Soapy, “but you boys still have a lot to learn. Nothing is so sweet as the art of the con, but the sweetest con of all is to con another conman, someone who should…”
“Who should know better…” finish Heyes and Adrian in rueful unison.
“So,” Adrian’s hands go back to his hips, “I got conned twice.”
“Hey,” says Heyes, “No one could have hustled what you hustled today, Adey. I knew I wouldn’t beat you on the streets. That’s why I did what I did.”
“But what you did, Joshua,” acknowledges Adrian, “…That was genius.”
“Aww! They’re makin’ up,” Curry grins to Alec. “I’m getting’ a lump – right here!”
“And, I think we have, finally, settled who is the best conman,” says Soapy.
Two pairs of newly-competitive brown eyes fix on him.
“We have?” prompts Heyes.
“We have?” hopes Adrian.
“Yes,” declares Soapy. The genial old face lights up, “Me!”