“And last, but certainly not least…”
Just get it over with already.
“Actually, pretty much the farthest thing from least ever, really…”
In fifty years, when he finishes this sentence, where will I be? Probably dead. Maybe of boredom. Fitting.
Connor Morton liked to hear himself talk. As a trait for a crew-leader, it was distressingly normal. Even the great Jack Burton, as he called himself, shared this quality, but when Jack Burton spoke, he at least had the benefit of being interesting. Connor Morton fell several very important steps short of that. He was also full of himself, thought he was god’s gift to mankind, and was four inches shorter than Sarah Walker, as she called herself for this one last and final con. Three strikes, Sarah thought, and you’re out.
She kept her face pleasant, her expression thoughtful, her eyes guarded, as Connor continued to lead staff meeting after staff meeting. It was like he didn’t even trust the team he’d gathered, though Sarah knew that they were the best. She was the best, after all, and she’d selected this final con with care. It didn’t involve actually conning anybody to his or her face, which she liked. Just a simple bit of thievery, deep cover. And since she was the best, she knew everybody sitting around the fancy conference room table in the offices of Morton, Platte and Gideon was the best at whatever he or she did.
Even Connor is the best, unfortunately. He was a good crew-leader, despite being something of a milquetoast. Oh, and constantly wanting to get into her pants. That was a little less than cool.
She caught the wallet—a buff-colored, streamlined, feminine wallet—that slid across the table. As she did so, she happened to catch the eye of Ben Arnold. He gave her a wink. Since it was Ben, she gave him a tiny smile back.
That smile faded when she opened the wallet. What the hell? “Are you kidding?” she asked.
Connor had been waiting for it. He exploded into manfully-muffled snickering. Pervert.
“This is a joke, right?”
Her neighbor, Terrence, leaned over to get a look at her new identity, and began giggling as well. He was a reedy man, slender as a whip. She imagined she could fit one hand around his neck and squeeze, and the world might be a better place. If only.
“What’s the matter, Walker?” Connor asked. “Something wrong with the new name?”
“Yes, something’s wrong with the new name! I’m an office manager, not a prostitute!” Sarah tossed the wallet away in disgust. “Candace Galore? Really? That’s what you brain donors came up with? I bet you think she goes by Candy!”
“You have to admit, Candy Galore does have a ring to it,” the computer nerd in the back mumbled.
“Shut up, Scopes,” Sarah said.
That set off a new round of giggling. Last con, Sarah reminded herself. In less than two months, she would be somewhere with her brand new—and last—identity, no longer trading on the name she’d stolen from the government. All of this would be nothing but a very annoying memory. In the meantime, she glowered. “Change it,” she said.
“IDs are the responsibility of the crew-leader,” Connor reminded her, his nasally voice almost a sing-song. “You have to take what you get. That’s the rules.”
There weren’t technically rules. They were law-breakers and criminals, even surrounded by the opulence of the law offices that Connor had set up for the con headquarters as they were. Sure, they looked like an average law staff. Ben Arnold had on a lawyer suit, Sarah had dressed in a business suit for the day, Scopes would always look like an anemic computer nerd, Terrence was young enough to play a first-year associate, and Connor looked oily and snaky enough to be any dirtbag type of lawyer. But this group was just another crew of scoundrels and thieves, picked because they were the best at what they did, like her.
Her father would approve of this crew, she knew. Enough of the old-school con beliefs present in Ben Arnold and her legacy, with an infusion of new technology from Terrence and Scopes. Connor had all the makings of a classic crew-leader. Even if he is a perverted creep. Sarah would have picked another woman to be on the crew, but that was just her and her desire not to be surrounded by so much stupid testosterone and Candy Galore jokes all the time.
“Those may be ‘the rules,’“ she said, making air-quotes, “but I’m not following them. Give me a new ID or I walk, right now, and you find another stuntman.”
Connor’s face turned ugly very fast. It wasn’t that surprising, given that his face—pointy, kind of pale, with milky blue eyes—was pretty ugly to start.
“Boys,” Ben finally spoke, his gravelly voice quiet and authoritative, stopping a Connor tantrum before it could start. “Give her the real ID now, please.”
Connor’s scowl rose to childish levels.
Ben simply gave him such a mild look that Connor sighed and pulled out an identical wallet to the first. He tossed this across. The second ID wasn’t as bad. They had still used a weird spelling for Stacee, but Sarah could live with that. Stacee Kemp, she thought, studying her own picture on the faked ID. They had added a couple of years to her real age—thank you for that, Connor—but she was no longer a porn star. She could deal with that.
“Now, that that little drama is out of the way,” Connor said, glaring pointedly at Sarah, who shrugged back at him, “time for some bad news.”
Everybody at the table groaned.
“Yes, that’s right. Tomorrow morning, Morton, Platte and Gideon goes into full operation, which means that everybody will have to put in something resembling regular office hours. We’ve got a whole building to fool, people.” Connor crossed his arms over his chest and stared out the windows. Vidalia Park spread out below their building like a green blanket. The water of the surprisingly deep waters of Holdman Pond actually looked blue for once in the morning sunlight. “It won’t be so bad,” he said over his shoulder, almost absently. “We’re getting internet and an XBox set up this afternoon, so there will be something to do. And we can take long lunches.”
Since cons were 90% waiting anyway, that didn’t bother Sarah. The others, particularly Terence, grumbled, though. She knew how fond they were of two-bit dive bars. Hauling themselves out of bed before eleven in the morning usually took a miracle, whereas she was awake by 5:30 every morning, and on her run by 5:42.
“Speaking of which,” Connor went on, “Sarah, I’ll need you back at the office at two to meet with the computer tech installing everything for us.”
“What?” Sarah straightened. “Computers are Scopes’s job.”
“Normally, yes. But Scopes has a prior engagement—”
With a porn website, no doubt.
“And you are the secretary for the law offices, so this falls under your jurisdiction.” Connor smirked. “It’s for the cover, Stacee.”
I hate you. Sarah let that comfort her. “Fine. What time is this technician arriving?”
“Appointment’s set for two. The rest of you are at liberty for the day. See you tomorrow morning, bright and early.” Connor’s smirk widened to a smile. “Whoever’s late has to pay for the first round after work, remember that.”
Because she didn’t actually want to spend any more time with her coworkers than she had to, Sarah slipped out the door before Connor could catch her up in conversation, or Terrence could hit on her, or Scopes could stare at her with those weird, unfocused eyes. She made it to the elevator before the others and pushed the “Close Door” button a few times to make sure she had the cart to herself. The offices were on the fifth floor of the Petersen Building between Burbank and Van Nuys, but she stared at the fourth floor button all the way down. Less than two months.
When she exited the elevator, she smiled at the guard and joined the crowd pounding the pavement on the way to lunch. She had to be careful not to stay out in the August heat for too long, otherwise her nice clothes—Stacee Kemp’s nice clothes—would start to wilt. Can’t have that now, can we?
“Ahem,” said a voice at her elbow, and Sarah turned slightly. Ben must have taken the stairs down. He was taller than her, grizzled but fit, comfortably in his mid-sixties. Fittingly, he even looked a bit like Robert Redford. One of the few old conmen left. He’d told her once, when she had come to him after her father’s arrest, that there were bold conmen, and there were old conmen, but there were no bold, old conmen. “Buy you lunch?”
“Sure,” Sarah said. “But how does Mary feel about you taking younger women to lunch?”
“She sends her love, as always.” Ben’s eyes twinkled. “She’s on a job in Barcelona, otherwise she would probably come to lunch. She’s excited that you’re on my team.”
“And how are Matt and Allie?”
“They’re good. Allie’s wedding’s in a couple of months, and Matt’s in his final year of medical school.”
“Does it hurt that your kids went straight?”
“Not at all. I’m proud of them, misguided decisions and all. Matt’s still single, you know.” This was said with a nudge.
Sarah laughed. She liked Matt Arnold well enough, but there had never been a spark there for them. Plus, he’d seen her as Jenny Burton, and the fewer people that remembered that stage, the better. “Don’t get started on that. This is my last job. I’m going straight, and I’m not sure the world is ready for two ex-con artists in a relationship.”
“Ah, well.” They headed across a crosswalk together. “You and Matt would make such beautiful babies, and if you think I’m the only one saying so, call your father. He’ll set you straight.”
Sarah shook head. She and Matt Arnold were a year apart in age, so the idea that they would eventually marry and form the ultimate con-artist dynasty was not new. Matt had surprised everybody, however, by declaring at eighteen that he wanted to be a veterinarian.
And now Sarah Walker, Jenny Burton, Rebecca Frankel, she with one face and a thousand identities, was going to follow in Matt’s deserter footsteps. She didn’t want to be a veterinarian. She had no idea what she wanted to do. All she knew was what she didn’t want to do: she didn’t want to spend the next few years dealing with people like Terrence, Scopes, and Connor.
Ben seemed to read her thoughts as they headed toward a sushi place. “Don’t let them get to you,” he said, holding the door open for her. “They’re young, puppies, at the most. Before long, they’ll learn the value of teamwork, or they won’t. If it’s the former, then good for us. The latter? Well, good for us because it means they’ll probably get caught soon.”
“Hopefully after this job is over,” Sarah said.
“Obviously. But in the meantime, don’t let them get to you.”
“Yes, Uncle Ben.”
Ben scowled, letting Sarah lead as they were directed to their table at the back of the restaurant. “I hate it when you call me that. It makes me feel old.”
“Weren’t you just pining for grandchildren?”
Ben glared. Sarah laughed and nodded at the hostess as the two of them took their seats. “Sorry,” she said, picking up her menu. “I’ll stop messing with you. Do you think it’s too early to get some Sake? After that meeting, I could use some.” Maybe they could leave the bottle.
“Well, I can’t let you drink alone.” Ben smiled and waved the waitress over.
Her lunch with Ben ran over, mostly because they got caught up in stories from the old days. Even if Sarah had heard them all before, she enjoyed hearing about the things her father had gotten up to as a young man in the world of confidence men and crooked cops. He had always had so much fun, she thought as she rushed back into the lobby of the Petersen Building at 2:05. She hadn’t had nearly that much fun working cons since she was ten and there was the promise of ice cream at the end of the job.
This was her last job; maybe she would have a scoop of Cherry Garcia at the end to celebrate. And it will be delicious.
“Ma’am.” The security guard recognized her, if not by name, by face at least. Not that hard to do, not with a face like mine. He waved her over, as Sarah fought back the instinct to run away from him. People in security and police uniforms always made her nervous. Even when she had to don a cop’s uniform for a job, she was never fully at ease. But the security guard smiled at her. “There’s somebody here from the Nerd Herd, looking for a representative from your office. I sent him up to the fifth floor.”
“Nerd Herd?” Sarah asked, her brow wrinkling.
“Yes, the computer repair and installation people? From Buy More?” The security guard looked confused. He was young, barely out of high school, but he was also burly. He had arms like tree trunks. No question how he got the job. “He said he had an appointment?”
“Oh, right, I forgot.” Sarah blasted the guard with her megabolt smile, the one she usually saved for desperate situations. He probably wouldn’t be able to think straight for a couple of hours. “Thanks for doing that, ah,” she searched for his name tag, “Wes.”
“No problem, ma’am.” Instead of getting flustered, he returned her smile. Might be gay. Sarah headed for the elevator.
Connor had gotten a the Nerd Herd to install the system in the office? How cheap. Sarah stepped off of the elevator and hurried down the hall. She rounded the corner, expecting to see perhaps the twin brother of Scopes (though hopefully the less Euro-trash brother) waiting outside the office.
She was wrong, she saw. The Nerd Herd technician wore a tie, for one thing. Scopes had never worn a tie in his life, nor had he ever donned a shirt with fewer than three stains. This technician seemed reasonably-well put together: his clothes weren’t wrinkled, his hair had at least been combed, and he had a silver suitcase by his feet that made him look professional. He straightened when he saw her approach, and he had to straighten quite a bit, since he looked well over six feet tall. Wonder how long it took him to grow into that. “Hi, I’m looking for a representative from, uh,” and he glanced down at a clipboard in his hand, “Morton, Platte and Gideon?”
“That’s us. I’m guessing you’re my…Nerd Herd guy?” Computer guy? Technician? Nerd?
“Nerd Herder, yeah.” Said Nerd Herder smiled as he held out a hand to introduce himself. “Hi, I’m Chuck.”