THE INFORMATION #850
Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left. –Victor Hugo
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER TEN: PART THIRTY-TWO: KINGDOM COME
The Count found himself holding court to a distracted Tipsy Smith the Barkeep, me, and an increasingly dozey-looking Pappy O’Day; but it was as if he had gotten all coked up; he couldn’t stop spieling.
“Nowadays I find myself tearing out what little hair I still do have because I can’t help but have strange dreams of what could have been. And I start to go loco. I could have gone to college; I could have been somebody. I might have been a doctor or a lawyer or even, God damn it, a newspaperman; at the very least I could have been a businessman in a small way–perhaps in real estate and insurance, If I had elected to spend the last 30 years in building a fortune the honest way, I might, with a little luck, have built up a nice nest egg and I wouldn’t have to be looking over my shoulder every fifteen minutes for the harness bulls to show up and clap the darbies on me.
“But who am I fooling? I couldn’t not go on the grift; anymore than Caruso could stop singing. It’s a sickness, this con game. It’s like a gamble every time you light a rag, and you never know what the outcome is going to be–whether the sucker might fetch the boys in blue or maybe take after you with a shooting iron.
“I had quite a few confederates back in the early days. I always used three sticks. There was Strong Boy, ‘America’s Mightiest Midget,’ a blackhearted rogue who, as you might expect, had a black spit curl and a leotard–with a big ‘S’ on it–but…he wasn’t very bright. At one time he was my back-yard boy. I used him strictly for muscle, in case a mark got rangy. Then there was Bertha Moss the Dip; pickpocket extraordinaire. She could prig your ticker faster than you could sneeze. There was also Chicago Gus from New Orleans or maybe Indiana; I disremember which; he was an expert roper and shill. Stood six foot six in his stocking feet; you practically had to climb a ladder to talk to him. Then there was me. My handle back then wasn’t Count Justin; I was known thereabouts in my early days as Waxey; back then I dyed my hair platinum blonde to give me that needed air of gravitas. But it kind of gave some people the whim-whams so I stopped doing it. Come to find out it wasn’t long before my hair turned white all on its own. I was the inside man. We only worked established shows; no barnstorming outfits unless it was the off-season and we were desperate. I was king of the grass castle with that lot. We would travel to carnivals and county fairs to ply our trade. If the carnival was a clean one, we would give ’em the Boston Version and play the old hanky-pank or the alibi store and I would be the agent. If it was slightly crooked, we might work the Put-n-Take, the Add-’em-up or the Razzle Dazzle in the count store. If it was wide open, and the town clowns had been well greased with patch money, and the bag man was well-iced and feeling fat and sassy, then we could bat away, open up a flat joint, and trot out our whole arsenal of short cons. Once we duped a sucker to come into our tent–and it wasn’t too hard–Bertha Moss was a comely red-haired wench, a bit on the brawny side, with blubbery lips, and with quite an affecting pout–it was all over for the mark. Maybe we would pull the shell game and maybe it would be the three card monte or even the fast and loose or the strap or the old gold brick.
“You always tried not to get too greedy and burn the lot. The shot-caller don’t like that. No sense in getting a rep as a heat merchant. And you never worked under the blue if you could help it. Also, we didn’t like to pull the same cute stunts in the same area more than once every five years or so. So every year we would switch it around, and change our appearance, too–I’d shave off my beard, or grow one, and wear a hat; and Bertha would dye her hair, and Strong Boy would comb back his spit curl and wear a pair of smoked glasses. There was no disguising Chicago Gus; he was a tall drink of water. Sometimes we billed him as ‘The World’s Tallest Man’. And sometimes we’d put him on a stool; have him kneel there and act as a clerk. That was about the best we could do with him.
“Our tools were as intricate and involved as those of any craftsman who was on the up-and-up. They were the wallet filled with newspaper; the marked card; the gaffed wheel, and the good faith of the born sucker. An ace con man is all front. You certainly don’t want to look like a grifter, nor draw undue attention to yourself. A respectable, even dull suit, a pearl-gray derby hat to go along with it. Nothing so vulgar as red suspenders. Also: To this very day I don’t drink except on rare occasions and I only take but one cup of coffee a day, and that in the early early morning. The only thing worse then wising up a chump is a sharper with the jitters. Being jinky throws you off your game. And if you’re off your game, the lot manager might stick you with a shitty line-up joint on the left-hand side next to the kiddie rides–and there goes your potential to make a fat profit.
“The mechanics of the carny were simple. If it was a wide open store, meaning anything goes, we would all of us flash our Michigan bankrolls and use our grift sense to stoke the thirsty interest of the greedy Savage to a state of intoxicated fury over the notion that he might be letting a potential fortune slip right through his fidgety fat fingers. Sure, he might be losing after a few initial wins. But–he tells himself–you hardly even have to suggest it–all he has to do to recoup his losses is play double-up catch-up, right? But it was allus impossible for the mark to win, no matter what he did. Even if he was better at the math than I was, the game was rigged from the start. On many of the games, it was all profit for us. We never laid out so much as one thin dime. The only outlay or expenditure of funds were strictly his own.”
IF MY CAR COULD ONLY TALK
SINCE I DON’T HAVE YOU
I’M GONNA MAKE YOU MINE
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