“Anyway,” said Count Victor Justin, “Winter tends to make me sad. When the sky is as leaden and gray as an account manager’s heart, and the white stuff starts to cover the ground and mix with the horse apples to make a shitty brown slush, that’s when it gets so I start in to feeling pretty dog-tired of this wicked world and all its devious ways. And I’m sure you feel that same way too. I sense in you, m’lad, a certain ineffable melancholy. Y’know what they say: If you’re born to hang, you won’t drown. I also sense in you a certain spark of refinement that could be banked into a roaring fire, if given the proper stimulus. You don’t think with your belly, like a lot of the low-down loochers hereabouts. And you’re honest in your dealings with the local merchants, either because you don’t know any better or because you’re scared you’ll be sent to the reformatory. And, I must say, you are pretty good at keeping out of the way of the Truant Officer. Well, if you’re not going to go to school, I guess you better get to work. Maybe take a job as a cigar clerk. You can learn a lot from those ward- heelers. It’s better than a two-thousand dollar education!
“I think I know why you put up with all my guff and chaffing. It’s because maybe you think you’ll learn something that they don’t teach in the schools. It might be that you even think that it’s getting high time for me to pass along the schemes and tricks of the confidence trade to a young go-getter and would be grifter such as yourself. But I don’t know yet–if you are worthy. You do listen good. That’s a plus. And you do know how to save your ooftish. And I have little doubt that you are loyal to whoever’s kind to you, even if they don’t always have your best interests at heart. And all that is good. Except, maybe, the loyalty part. Because the sad fact is, some of your so-called friends will screw you in the ground. And so sometimes you got to know when to turn on your friends and do the old Cut and Run.
“But I will say this much: If you want to be a top-flight confidence man, the first thing you got to do is learn when are the best times to ply your trade. January and February are strictly from hunger. Nobody even wants to go out, let alone meet interesting strangers with a proposition that simply cannot be turned down. Still, a good grifter might be able to pull off some card sharp legerdemain on the Florida express t’ Tampa Bay and Points West. Just be sure not to get stranded in Georgia, unless you want to work ten years on a chain gang chopping cotton. Even though the darkies do sing mighty pretty.
“The summer months are the best when you want to play out a long con. But I must also mention yet again that Christmas is the grifter’s favorite time of year. It’s exactly the sort of holiday a wise gee can absolutely get behind.
“This may sound cynical, but most Yellofs are more like monkeys than people. They hoot and holler and make a fuss when they see something unfamiliar which frightens and excites them. Grandma is there to hand out sugar and dust the britches of the young’uns when they get out of hand. That’s the only reason they keep the useless old woman around. She hasn’t got a sensible thought in her dizzy head about anything that matters. Obviously. She ought to be grateful for any small favor you do for her, only she isn’t. But she’s good at raising cubs because her intellect is about on that level. Plus, she’s a dab hand at doing the cooking and the washing and the food shopping when the wifey is enceinte, or otherwise indisposed.
“At Christmas time, the days are growing shorter and shorter and everyone is convinced, in his secret heart of hearts, that the sun is going to disappear. Haww…. Superstitious brutes! So they light a candle and burn a couple of logs to propitiate their savage Sun God! Haw! No better than savages, the whole lot of ’em. And I don’t necessarily exempt myself from that harsh judgment. Many’s the time when I simply want to burrow deep and deeper inside of my beddo of a cold winter’s day and curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book. And maybe also a not-so-good young woman. But I usually manage to talk myself out of it. After all, suckers won’t swindle themselves. And for swindlers, like with any artist, practice makes perfect. It always pays to keep your hand in. Ideally, a good con man shouldn’t have to pay for anything he can’t be billed for.
“People are so full of the spirit of sharing come December. That comes from the tradition of the industrious cavemen of yore, who, when snow started to fall on the ground, would take to hunting down some mastodon. They would fall on the beast in a frenzy with arrows and spears and stone axes, and drag its body to their lair, and then they would gather round a big fire at the mouth of a cave and parcel out the steaming reeking meat to other members of the tribe. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, says I. No, we’re not so far removed from the spirit of the tribal hunt. And that goes across the board and all along the social spectrum. Do you think that the wealthy are all individuals of refined manners and tastes? Just ask that question to any saleslady at any of the big Department Stores–she’ll give you an earful, sure.
“The first thing that a grifter in this town has got to do is get in good with the Mayor. At first this may seem like a no-go, as Mayor Jonal Lobhar has very little to do with the day to day administration of Noxtown. Mostly, he sits in his wood-paneled office behind a dark brown mahogany desk big enough to house the earthly remains of President Grover Cleveland and spends his time in perfecting the fine art of laying back in a big ole wheelie chair with his feet up on that big ole desk smoking a cigar as fat as a baby’s arm and looking smug, like a genuine big shot, while he’s a-doin’ it. He ain’t worth a damn for anything except one big thing–he LOOKS like a Mayor, and will do anything the Gib Yellof wants. He has mastered the art of knowing exactly what that is, sometimes even before the Gib Yellof himself knows it. I hear tell that when word gets back to the Gib Yellof, he calls the Mayor into HIS outer office and browbeats him, saying ‘You decided…YOU decided….’ Then he leaves him alone to cool his heels for a spell, and sweat it out, and then he pokes his head around the corner and says, ‘You decided…correctly.’
“And yet, people say the Gib Yellof has no sense of humor. Nonsense! He’ll always be glad to raise a hearty guffaw and a big Haw Haw–provided it be at your expense.”