The first thing any magician learns is that hiding in plain sight is often the best way to pull off an illusion: hence, Manhattan.
Scratch that. The first thing any magician learns is patience. It takes daily practice, often for hours at a time to learn any of the base skills. Cardistry, for instance, it can take months to master one of the elaborate shuffles, and if a magician is going to really control a deck, then he or she probably knows a dozen or more shuffles. Pickpocketing, whether someone goes old school with the suit of bells, which Jack swears is how he learned, or some of the newer methods will take at least a year -- more if the magician is also learning how to plant, not just remove, items.
Then, it’s hiding in plain sight. Give the audience a “logical” way for the illusion to happen, and they’ll never see how it’s actually being done.
Which brings us back to Manhattan. I admit it. I’m not one of the people who sings I Love New York in the shower. For Danny and Jack, it’s home. Merritt, well, Merritt doesn’t care where the roof over his head exists. Merritt is a lot more zen than you might think.
Me, I’m a west coast girl. I want sunshine. I want days that don’t drop to what-the-fuck cold without warning. I want my feet to get wet because I stuck them in the ocean, not because I didn’t dodge in time when a wino decided to relieve himself.
All the fabled energy of New York, makes me long for a place to meditate under a jacaranda.
“This place Dylan found for us isn’t exactly tiny,” Merritt said. “And it’s not like we can’t go out.”
“Occasionally, in disguise, better at night,” Henley said.
“We’re the lucky ones, Jack and your boy have whole sections of the city they can’t go into because someone might recognize them. You and me can go to a movie without having to do more than don sunglasses or a wig.”
“Talk to me, sweetheart. Tell uncle Merritt all your problems.”
“The rest of you can work -- I mean, I know you don’t, but you could and the others…”
“Aren’t entirely adhering to our agreement with Dylan?”
Henley snorted. “I was thinking that they could practice on their own. I can’t risk asking anyone to build my apparatus or getting old ones out of storage.”
“Can’t J. Daniel help with that?”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “It hasn’t been easy to talk to him, y’know.”
“Since I avoid talking to Danny any time it’s feasible, I really wouldn’t know.” He smiled when he saw Henley begin to smile, too. “Look, just tell me when to put in earplugs and have hate sex with him. You’ll both be easier to live with.”
“Why do men always think that tension comes from a lack of sex?”
“Because tension usually comes from a lack of sex.”
Henley rolled her eyes. “Trust me, this is coming from… I have no work I can do. I miss it.”
“You could have taken the biggest bedroom. At least you’d have had more workout space.”
“I get enough of a workout.”
Merritt waggled his eyebrows. “You have, indeed, kept your girlish figure.”
The sounds of someone coming into the apartment stopped the conversation. “Just me,” Jack said.
“You’re never a ‘just,’” said Henley.
“Danny and I ended up on the same elevator.”
“Now he’s a just,” Merritt said.
“Yeah, yeah, easy swipe,” Danny said as he came in. He tossed each of them an orange and said, “I know it’s not your strength, Merritt, but you have to work on your reflexes.”
“Maybe Henley could help me.” He dimpled at her.
Danny stopped dead and then picked back up again. “Maybe she could. It’s up to her.”
“Thank you for acknowledging that I’m allowed to make my own decisions.”
Danny spread out his hands and closed his eyes. He took two deep breaths and said, “I didn’t mean to start a fight. I wanted to share an idea I’ve been pursuing.”
He waited until he was sure she was interested before he sat down. “Blood diamonds keep being sold as legitimate.”
“I think I read a story in the New Yorker about them six months ago.”
“Stop being sarcastic for a minute, Merritt, and listen. Most of the diamond district won’t touch anything they think has the faintest whiff of blood on it.”
Henley said, “Well, it wouldn’t be kosher.”
Danny grinned. “I’m impressed, shiksa.” The old Yiddish insult had been an endearment between them, and Henley smiled at its use. He continued, “Leaving aside the probable religious affiliation of diamond merchants, most decent people are working on trying to cut down on the trade, right?”
“Sure, Danny,” Jack said.
“Except this guy.” Danny opened the messenger bag he’d taken out with him and started handing out photos and other pieces of a dossier. “It’s taken me months of research, but I’m positive this guy is up to his elbows in the blood diamond trade. I think we should take him down.”
“I don’t know,” Jack said, “Dylan doesn’t want us to…”
“Screw Dylan!” All three men were surprised that it was Henley saying it. “Seriously, this apartment is great, but it’s a prison.”
“No, it isn’t, sweetheart. I’ve been in one and their options for Thai delivery are a lot more limited.”
“I know that we can’t reappear in public, not until the time’s right, but, Merritt, I need to breathe.”
Jack glanced at Danny who gave a tight nod. “Henley has a point, not about the prison thing, but we’re going to lose our skills if we don’t get out.”
Merritt watched the byplay and said, “You’ve been practicing yours Jack. I know you didn’t have such a vast watch collection when we moved in.”
“And I’ve been earning pocket money in a floating poker game,” Danny said. “It’s still not really a life. I don’t have plans, not like Dylan does, but I’ve got the city records for this guy’s building and the ones on either side. I can get more, but it would probably be better…”
“If I got off my shapely derriere and requested a couple,” Merritt said.
“Or Henley, if she wants.”
“The key thing is not to let them know Jack’s alive,” Henley said.
“The key thing,” Danny corrected, “is pulling it off.”
The tension in the apartment eased over the next couple of weeks. Everyone had jobs to do, from Jack pickpocketing keys and getting them copied quickly so they wouldn’t be missed, to Henley working for a dog walking service so that she had an excuse to walk down that block of 47th Street multiple times a day. Danny practiced his Yiddish and even some Hebrew. (“I read the longest passage the rabbi had ever seen at my bar mitzvah.” “Of course you did,” Merritt had replied.)
Merritt was organizing the results of their research in various ways, so that each of them had the information in his or her optimal learning format. (“Hey, prison gives you a lot of time to read. I read about brains and psychology.”)
At the end of the second month, they began plotting out potential methods for cleaning their mark out.
“Who’re we gonna give the money to,” Jack asked.
“We’ll have some expenses,” Merritt said.
Danny nodded. “Yeah, but, if we do it at the right time on the right day, our expenses will take less than a quarter of the total.”
“Have we heard whether Dylan’s going to keep paying for this place once the lease runs out?”
Danny said, “Miraculously, it turns out that it’s a two year lease and the total has been entirely paid in advance.”
Henley said, “Miraculously?”
“I did slip them some money that I’d hidden in a sock, so they’re not losing a whole year’s worth of rent.”
“How big a sock?” Merritt asked.
Danny looked away. “Not quite half a million.”
Jack goggled at him and Henley explained, “Danny's not exactly from poor people directly out of the shtetl. How much did your trust fund give you when you turned 18?”
“Half a million. I got another half million for completing my Bachelor’s. That’s the one that I translated into gold, jewels, and other movable valuables.”
“Your sock,” Merritt said.
“Only my lucky sock. The money’s mine and it’s not traceable back to me. At most the building loses three months' rent, but that’s about what they’d have credited if it really was a two year lease.”
“You still have this fund?” Jack asked.
“It doesn’t pay out until I’m thirty-five, but there are other benchmarks I can hit for bonus payments, like graduating college was.”
“So we’ll need the heist itself to cover the main expenses,” Merritt said.
“Exactly. If we want to keep another hundred thou for anything that comes up in the next year, we can. Everything else, and my guess is that it will be well over ten million, needs to go somewhere that it can do some good.”
“Somewhere the authorities can’t pull it back,” Merritt said.
Jack added, “Or someplace that it would embarrass this guy to have to take it back from.”
“I can research African charities,” Henley offered.
Merritt said, “I suppose we should try to make it charities that help areas where blood diamonds come from?”
“If at all possible,” Daniel said.
Jack grinned. “All right. So what’s the next step and how long before we can do this?”
It took them another month of planning and a month after that of practice in handoffs, prestidigitation, and, for Jack and Henley, a death defying stunt that would serve as their “look this way” distraction. That section was the hardest because Jack was essential to the illusion, but couldn’t be recognized.
Merritt’s part was the most straightforward, but that also made him the most likely to get caught. Danny hadn’t argued with him, though everyone could see his internal struggle at keeping his mouth shut, because he recognized the value of Merritt using his mentalism on the people behind the counter. Researching the counter clerks, had been their last, and most difficult, piece of the puzzle.
Danny had let his hair grow out so he could wear side curls. He had the full orthodox outfit as well, mostly second hand, each item purchased at a different store. At that point, he started going to the diamond district every day, using an introduction from a childhood friend who’d never put together his real name with the stage persona of J. Daniel Atlas.
Once everything was in place, the hardest part was waiting. As with all the shops, the deliveries were irregular and often unscheduled, especially the big ones. It took a further three weeks -- and they were all snapping at each other -- before the signs pointed to a big delivery. They went into action.
Research had shown that deliveries were most likely to come during lunch hour, so Merritt entered the shop about fifteen minutes before noon, flashing a roll of cash that would keep even the hungriest person helping the customer. He was using subtler NLP techniques than his usual.
Daniel had been on the street for over an hour at that point, blending in with the wholesalers who did most of their business on the street. He’d learned enough about the business that he was grudgingly accepted by the men. When he’d started, Daniel had told them he was in New York learning the business for three months. Unless he wanted to be associated with the robbery, he’d have to keep coming to the street until that time was up.
Henley, looking very different from her dog-walking persona, appeared perched on a high enough ledge that people feared a suicide. She and Jack were poised for her to disappear, as soon as the hand-off had been made, which meant for the next 10 or more minutes, she was alone. In the meantime, traffic stopped and several policemen were trying to communicate with her. With a tug, she pulled a cable across, and began a simple high wire routine over the stopped traffic.
Danny saw the delivery people and briefly made eye contact with Merritt through the window. He passed on a signal to Jack via an earwig, and Jack did the first distraction for the delivery. It took two minutes and four hand-offs before Jack could be where he needed to be to keep Henley from getting arrested. Merritt was stopped, but convinced the nice security guard that he had nothing to do with the brouhaha.
Just before sundown, Danny left the group of wholesalers he’d been working with, wishing them “Gut Shabbos” as they all hurried to their respective transportation. Six more weeks, he’d have to face them for this to come off correctly. In the meantime, he’d learned more than a little about the diamond trade.
“What were you thinking?”
A month later, Danny heard the dulcet tones of Dylan Rhodes coming from the apartment. He debated whether to go in, but decided he needed to be a mensch.
“We were thinking,” he said mildly removing his garb, “that boredom is a terrible way to die.”
“Where’s Henley?” Dylan asked.
He glanced at the other two who made tiny gestures of negation. Danny said, “Why do you need her?”
“It shouldn’t just be you three who get to hear this. That high wire act could’ve…”
“No, it couldn’t, Dylan,” Danny snapped. “We all know she’s fearless, so that wouldn’t have created an issue. She’s great at high wire, but, and this is the important part, she’s never done it professionally: not once, not with me, not as a street performer in the years before we worked together, not in her own act. The hair and outfit were different enough, and I’ve seen the videos on YouTube. I couldn’t tell it was her, and I knew that it was her. She didn’t talk, so her voice wasn’t going to be recognized. The only thing that could remotely link the mysterious daredevil girl, as they’re calling her, to the Four Horsemen is that she vanished at the end.” He turned to Jack, “The effect was better than I could have hoped. You both did a great job with it.”
Dylan shook his head. “You think no one noticed Merritt?”
“I hope they noticed me. What would I be without my public?” Merritt dropped the mockery and said, “All they have on me is that someone purchased a pair of diamond earrings for his wife. That it was for cash, is not going to make the transaction stand out in any way, not in the diamond district. They did a bait and switch while they bagged them, by the way. The stones aren’t bad, but they’re not the ones I paid for.”
“What’s the world coming to?” Jack said.
“Maybe some of mine or Jack’s on the money, if they got it in time to do those checks, which is doubtful. Merritt wore gloves.”
Dylan glared at all of them. “It was reckless and stupid.”
Merritt said, “Isn’t that why you got us together?”
Dylan started to say something and then subsided. Finally he asked, “Seriously, where’s Henley?”
The other three exchanged looks. Danny said, “Vanuatu. It’s warm, has nice beaches…”
“And no U.S. extradition,” Merritt added.
“Yeah, Dylan,” Jack said, “She was going nuts. At some point, maybe she’ll feel good enough to come back. I’d like to be Four Horsemen, again.”
“Did you drive her away,” Dylan asked Danny.
“I drove her to the airport, but, no, all I did was help finance her choice. I’m with Jack, maybe she’ll come back one day.”
Merritt said, “The situation was too much, not Danny, pain in the ass though he is.”
“I’m touched,” Danny said and Merritt’s lips twitched at the old joke between them.
“All right then,” Dylan said, “It’s too dangerous for you to live here any more. You’ll be happy to know that I got your extra money back,” he nodded to Daniel. “There are three separate apartments for you. I’m sorry, Jack, but yours isn’t exactly…”
He shrugged. “It’s a roof over my head.”
“I assume we’re allowed to keep in contact with each other?” Danny asked.
Dylan nodded. “Yeah. I think… It’s a couple of months out, but I think I’ve got a good gig for the Horsemen.”
“All right, then. When do we need to be out?”
“End of the week’s fine,” Dylan said. “Leave your keys, and don’t be surprised if the FBI ‘finds’ this spot.”
Merritt said, “Along with clues suggesting we’re in Argentina?”
“Something like that.” Dylan sighed. “I’ll keep in touch.”
Danny said, “You do that.”
No one said anything more, and Dylan finally lifted himself heavily out of the chair and headed for the door. He turned before he left and said, “Where did the money for the heist go?”
Danny answered for all of them. “It kitted out a mercy ship off the west coast of Africa. They should have enough for a year.”
For the first time since he’d come in, Dylan smiled. “Good plan. The whole thing was a really good plan.” He closed the door gently behind him.