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Scenes From a Caper

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"Do you know what happens here after every game?"

Rusty glanced at the crowds on either side of them in the bleachers and came up with a few answers, none especially complimentary towards the denizens of Yankee Stadium. New York had never really been his town. He had nothing against the Big Apple, mind you. There'd been some great jobs here and plenty of names with the letters NY next to them in his little black book, but he didn't move through the crowds with the same ease as Danny. Of course, Danny was instantly comfortable anywhere and everywhere. He had Rahway wired, from the warden's office to solitary, two days after he got there.

Now he reached up in a nearly casual gesture. Within minutes, a vendor had appeared and Danny was scarfing a hot dog with the works while Rusty sipped a beer and contemplated Danny's question.

"A traffic jam?" he suggested mildly, knowing Danny's affection for the team and city itself.

"No," Danny replied in his `being patient' voice. "After every Yankee home game, they play New York, New York over the loudspeakers. If the Yankees win, they play Frank Sinatra. If they lose, it's Liza Minnelli."

"That's kind of harsh to Liza."

Danny shrugged and adjusted his well worn Yankees cap as Mike Mussina hit a line drive and two runners came in, sending the crowd into a frenzy of cheers and whistling and creating a snowstorm of popcorn, crackerjack, and who knew what else.

Rusty watched Danny grin through the deluge.

"You got money on this thing?" he shouted over the din.

"Never bet on your home team. You'll get your heart broken every time."

Things quieted down a bit when Kevin Brown struck out and turned downright ugly during the next inning. Joe Torres went out to have some dramatic words with the umpire over a close call at second base.

Danny's mood remained ebullient, while Rusty looked around for possible escape routes and allies in case of a full-blown riot.

"You're taking action, aren't you?"

He watched Danny's smile turn as coy as a teenage girl trying to deny her crush on the boy next door.

"Players?" he asked, whispering although it was unlikely that anyone around them was paying the slightest bit of attention to their conversation when there was such fun to be had booing and shouting obscenities at the field.

"Are you crazy? They're not allowed to bet on baseball. Just ask Pete Rose."

Rusty was nearly convinced by Danny's show of shocked outrage, but there was still an extra ounce of smug to account for and eventually an irrepressible wink.

"Of course, I can hardly say no if someone wants to make a friendly wager on who's going to sing New York, New York."

He returned his focus to the game, leaving Rusty to shake his head in admiration. Danny really had a pair on him.

"Smile," Danny advised, taking off his sunglasses.

"Why? Am I on Candid Camera?"

"You could say that."

He pointed across the stadium at their images on the aptly-named Jumbo-tron. Danny smiled and waved as though he were some kind of royalty. Rusty felt an elbow against his arm, and made his own presence known with a slightly less effusive wave as he realized exactly what they were doing here.

After all, he needed an alibi too.

-----

@@@@@@

"What's the matter with those guys? They're getting killed. Fuck, man!"

Basher did his best to stifle a sigh and kept his eyes on the screen. If this continued much longer, it wouldn't be the hapless White Sox in danger of losing their lives. He liked Linus well enough. Nice bloke. Good dukes. Great future in the game. But after being holed up in a luxury suite at the Ritz Carlton for nearly 24 hours, the kid was working his last good nerve.

If Danny said they had to wait here for the go-signal, than so be it. Rusty had called nearly an hour ago with instructions to turn on the game. Since then, Linus' already excessive energy level had kicked into overdrive until Basher was tempted to dose the kid's beer with Valium just to stop the pacing.

Basher couldn't care less about the game. His interest was in the outcome of a match between Chelsea and Westham at the weekend. If everything went according to plan, he'd be on a plane to London the next day and sitting in a box at the stadium on Saturday. A big if, of course, but Danny hadn't let him down yet. That was why he was here now, leaving behind a rather miffed girlfriend with evidence of the accusation that he'd go anywhere at the drop of a bloody hat if Danny Ocean so much as blew a kiss. Whatever that was supposed to mean. She'd pipe down if he brought home a pretty bauble for her.

"Hey, he was safe. Jesus! Did you see that, Bash?"

"Yeah, I saw it. You're making me tired trying not to watch you. Now park your arse and watch the telly, or I swear I'll put you down myself. Next time I'm going to work the game with Yen."

Linus stopped in his tracks, fixing Basher with what was probably supposed to a menacing glare. For a moment he wondered if he'd pushed too far and was going to have to back up the lip with some fisticuffs.

The crowd started going wild at the game and a quick look back at the replay showed that the White Sox had gotten a hit, allowing Linus to let out a hearty "whoooo-hoooo" and settle down on the sofa with no damage to his self-esteem or the hotel furnishings. Good job, that. They were there to rob the hotel, not trash it.

"What's the matter with you? It's a girl, isn't it?"

Linus appeared to be clutching his beer bottle extremely tightly.

"No. Nothing like that."

"Look, I see a bloke getting himself all tied up in knots, I figure it's either the Ali itself or you got some kind of problem with the missus."

"Who's Ali?"

"The job."

He looked into those light blue eyes and found nothing but incomprehension.

"Ali McGraw. The score. The Job!"

"Right. Well, I'm not worried about that. I mean, I'm a little worried about that. OK, I'm a little worried, but not worried worried, and I don't even have a girlfriend."

Basher gave that last statement a mental once-over before deciding there was nothing to be gained through this discussion, but Linus had suddenly developed a need to unburden himself.

"Hey, don't get me wrong. I like women. I love women. I'm just looking for someone special."

"I hate to break the news, but there ain't that much difference between one bird and another."

"What about Tess?"

"Tess? Danny's Tess? What about her?"

"She's special. We did the Vegas job because of her. And we're doing this one because Trump got that picture."

"Oh no!" He shook his head from side to side, trying to shake off what he was hearing. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no! You do not have a sneaker for Danny's old lady. Do you?"

"No. Of course not. Not really."

"Does Danny know about this?"

"There's nothing to ...hey!"

"Hey what? Oh, hey!"

On the telly, there were Danny and Rusty, bigger than life on the Jumbo-tron waving and smiling. That was what they'd been waiting for.

"You ready?" he asked smoothing down his suit trousers and straightening his tie.

Linus nodded and went into the W.C. for a final freshening up, giving Basher time to worry about the ramifications of the Face Man for the job wanting a piece of the boss' fork and knife. Could be a bit on the sketchy side, but what's a game without a wild card?

When he came out, Linus had his hair slicked back and was sporting wire-rimmed glasses along with a hefty dose of Paco Rabanne. It made things a bit close in the lift, but Yvonne, if her name tag could be believed, at the front desk seemed to be suitably entranced.

Whatever feelings Linus might have for Mrs. Ocean, he told the tale like a champ, keeping Yvonne so absorbed that she took no notice of what Basher was doing in the background as he waited for his "partner" to finish checking out.

While Yvonne simpered and giggled, Basher made what was intended to look like a bored, nearly distracted circuit of the Ritz Carlton's lavish lobby. Touching a cushion here and a pillar there, chatting up the doorman, a guy who'd been standing there wearing his uniform and a dead pan forever as he watched the rich folks go in and out. He wished he could tell him what was really going on.

"Can I call you a cab, sir?"

"Ain't gonna help if my bloody partner don't hurry up and get his arse over here. Everywhere we go, he's there chatting up the birds and I'm the one has to ring up the airlines 'cause we keep missing the flights."

"Perhaps our concierge can help you with that."

"Hong Kong. We're supposed to be going to Hong Kong."

"Indeed, sir." Great. Jeeves with a taxi whistle.

"Get us a cab, will ya. I'm going to try and drag him out of here."

With his task completed, he returned to the front desk and announced his presence with a loud throat clearing.

"Look, Benny, if we miss the flight, we're going to be stuck here another night."

"Aw, that wouldn't be the end of the world. Would it, Yvonne?"

"Ben!"

"Can't I just be friendly?" `Ben' grumbled, so aggrieved by the interruption that he managed to leave without his suitcase. Waste of a good Louis Vuitton, but it had to be convincing and they couldn't risk Yvonne noticing cheap, knock-off luggage.

They made a beeline for the front entrance. He flashed a grin at Marcus as they went through the revolving doors just in time to hear the satisfying "snap, crackle, pop" of the explosives going off. Nothing serious. Just a lot of noise and smoke leading to a suitable amount of chaos.

"Hello, fellows."

"Hey, Linus."

"Yo, Basher!"

They took a second to greet the Malloy brothers, who were attired in full bomb squad gear and had left the cab conveniently parked in the middle of Central Park South.

Basher got into the front seat, prepared to be Bengali if the cab was stopped on the way to the New York Palace.

Now all they had to deal with was traffic, cops, and the fact that the gas tank was almost empty.

@@@@@

"For it's one, two, three strikes you're out at the old ball game!"

Danny finished singing along with the crowd and sat down, glancing over at Rusty, who seemed to be wincing about something. Probably Danny's voice. OK, he'd never claimed to be much of a singer, but it wasn't like Rusty would ever have given Sinatra any competition, or Liza Minnelli for that matter. So it must be something else.

"You got something on your mind?" he asked while they were sitting down after the seventh inning stretch.

"It's Linus," Rusty sighed, clearly unhappy to be saying it.

"You think he can't do the job?"

"It's why he's doing the job."

"Why is anyone doing the job?"

"Why did you set it up?"

"For the money."

"Bullshit, Danny. You're doing it for Tess."

"So?"

"So, I think Linus would like to do something for Tess too."

"You think I don't know that?" Danny shrugged it off. Of course Linus wanted to do something for Tess. Who wouldn't? He changed the subject. "How about Frank?"

Shingo Takatsu was up at bat, facing Kevin Brown. Heat was building up on the field and in the stands.

"I don't know. I still think it could be Liza."

"Could be. What about our Frank? Is he OK with the gig?"

Now it was Rusty's turn to shrug.

Danny nodded, "Yeah, I know. Next time we'll give him something a little more glamorous."

"It's just weird not being out there with the guys."

"I know it is. But if Tess thinks we're involved in this...."

"Right. She'll go..."

"Exactly."

"So we can't leave."

"Nope."

Takatsu hit one to left field where all the fingers were made of butter.

"Damn," Danny said, shaking his head in disgust.

Rusty stood up.

"Where you going?"

"Need to get rid of some beers."

"Give me your phone."

"What?"

"No calls to see how things are going."

"I know that. Maybe I need to call Candy or Trixie or Felicia."

"Felicia?"

"She's a viola player with the New York Philharmonic. I think she's working the party tonight."

"You are definitely not calling Felicia. Give me the phone."

"Don't be trying to chat up Trixie."

"Wouldn't dream of it."

He tucked the phone into his breast pocket and turned his attention back to the game. Except it was hard to focus because he was wondering what was happening back in Manhattan, specifically in front of the Mandarin Oriental. He was a little worried about Frank and Yen, and especially Saul.

Maybe he'd asked a little too much this time.

@@@@@

This was definitely the life, Saul thought, pulling the spa robe a little tighter around his waist.

The girl massaging his feet had strong, supple hands. Another one was buffing his nails to a high sheen. They were both beautiful young girls with nothing better to do than pay attention to him while soft music played over the loud-speakers and Reuben Tishkoff told stories about the old days.

"So, they still won't give Frank credit, and he wakes up Carl Cohen at five in the morning. Cohen goes down to the restaurant and him and Frank get into it. Frank turns over one of the tables and Cohen pops Frank right in the kisser. Takes out two of his caps. Security comes in, breaks it up because you know, Frank would have killed the guy. On the way out, Frank says, `That's what I get for fighting a Jew in the desert.'"

Saul laughed heartily, nearly gasping for air as Reuben continued "And the next night on stage Dean says `You gotta give Frank credit...or he'll bust up your joint.'"

He paused and looked meaningfully at his own set of spa-girls, who obligingly filled in the silence with polite giggling, although they were probably too young to have any idea who Frank and Dean were.

"Good times," he said, meeting Reuben's eyes, guessing he was thinking the same thing. Not bad for a pair of alter kockers. The two of them, getting foot rubs from a couple of pretty Chinese girls. Getting ready to go downstairs and show those pishers that they could still play the game.

"Frank hated Trump, you know." Reuben remarked, nodding the girls out of earshot, but not before patting each one on the tuchus and telling them to look him up if they ever got to Vegas. "Said he had no class. He'd love this job."

"That Danny. He's got some baitsim on him."

"Brass balls," Reuben agreed. "I mean who else would ask us to do something like this?"

"And who else would I do such a thing for?"

The walked into the locker room where they dressed side by side, both carefully not looking where they shouldn't be, even though Reuben's patter had taken a turn for the racy with a comparative discussion of Sammy's and Frank's equipment. "And then Dean looks over at Frank and he tells Sammy, `you better hope Kim Novak never sees this or you'll be back to banging Hattie McDaniel.'"

Once suitably attired, they proceeded to the main lobby. As they came off the elevators, Reuben handed Sol the small plastic container of breath mints, reminding him of exactly what it was that Danny had convinced them was necessary to create the necessary diversion.

"Are you sure you can do this?" Reuben asked.

"Of course I can do this," Saul replied, expressing outrage that he might have the slightest trepidation about smooching another man in public during a complimentary wine bar at precisely three-fifteen on a Friday afternoon, when, as Danny had assured them, the lobby would be full of tourists exceptionally likely to be taken aback by the sight of two older gentleman in a full-blooded lip lock.

"Danny, are you sure?" Reuben had asked with a look of distaste when Danny presented the gig to both of them during half-time show at a UNLV game. "I mean, two guys like us....no offense, Saul."

"None taken," he'd assured.

"I'm sure," Danny said smoothly. "If it was me and Rusty, no one would notice. OK, some of the girls might try and scratch my eyes out, but for this to work it has to be absolutely jaw-dropping. Something that'll get Ma and Pa Kettle so stunned they won't even notice when two other guys come in and rob the joint."

Somehow, when Danny put it that way, it all made sense, and it certainly wouldn't be the strangest thing he'd ever done in his checkered career. There was the time he and his first wife had pulled the Dancing Doctor con on a corrupt magistrate in Majorca and he'd wound up performing surgery on the man's son, so this should be a piece of cake, especially considering the haul involved, the opportunity to humiliate Donald Trump and the chance to see that beautiful smile on the face of the lovely Tess.

So why were they both standing there not moving? The scene was set, down to the string quartet on one side of the room, a lobby full of potentially outraged onlookers and (hopefully) Linus and Basher ready to make their move, but like an actor going up on his lines holding up the production, nothing could happen until they did this thing and for all his bravado Reuben seemed unable to do anything.

It was up to Saul and Saul Bloom was not one to let the team down, ever. He took Reuben firmly by the arm and guided him firmly to the center of the lobby, knowingly blocking the line to the free Chardonnay, and without giving the other man (or himself) time to think, grabbed him by the padded shoulders of his Hugo Boss suit, and pulled him into a kiss worthy of the name.

Lips together and then opening and yes, even a bit of tongue, because they had to sell it, had to make it look good. Reuben's cologne and the taste of a good cigar and the rough aftertaste of scotch under the breath mints, his own hands firmly grasping Reuben until he was sure there was full co-operation and those carefully manicured fingers were in the vicinity of his own face. Where exactly, he wasn't sure, because he'd reflexively closed his eyes against the bulk of Reuben's glasses.

At first there was only the strangeness of what he was doing and what was being done to him as Reuben started playing his part, down to actually pawing at Sol's derriere, but then professionalism kicked in and he was able to focus on the action around him, which seemed to be proceeding exactly as Danny had predicted, starting with a few gasps, and "Oh my god, that's disgusting" in a distinctly Ozarkian accent, and finally two large security guards laying their meaty hands on them and pulling them forcibly out of the embrace, with a firm, "I'm afraid we'll have to ask you to leave immediately, sirs" from one and "Fucking perverts" from the other.

"Get your paws off me, you big bully. How dare you try and manhandle my august person," Reuben said, seemingly channeling Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, while Saul merely pretended to cower in fear as he noticed Basher and Linus walking right up to the front desk with big smiles and bigger guns, completely unstopped while the hotel's rent-a-cops were far more interested in threatening two men of a certain age who'd committed the sin of necking in public.

Upon reaching the sidewalk, each with one goon making sure they didn't hang around to further sully the walls of the Palace, they were satisfied to have left a near-riot going on inside as those who didn't find the spectacle objectionable took issue with those who did. Meanwhile Madison Avenue was even more chaotic than usual, seeing as there was a Yellow Checker cab parked crossways against traffic in the middle of the street, surrounded by three police cars and at least six stalwart NYPD officers trying to figure out what to do about it and presumably wondering how they were going to get a tow truck in through the havoc that had already been created.

"Now that's what I call gridlock," Saul shouted over the beeping horns, shouting pedestrians, and the conga drummers who had shown up to take advantage of the crowd.

"Yeah, that's Danny for you. He always puts on a show. Mike Todd would have loved him, although he'd have punched him out if he ever looked at Liz the wrong way." There was a pause and Saul really hoped they weren't going to talk about what they'd done inside the hotel lobby. For a second he thought Reuben was going to say something, but he ended up shaking his head and putting on a pair of sunglasses before heading uptown on Fifth. Just as well, he didn't want to hear Reuben's no doubt disgusted and possibly disgusting analysis of the whole thing, and anyway, he had less than ten minutes to get over to the Mandarin. Yen and Frank were waiting for him.

Besides, it really hadn't been that bad.

@@@@@

Frank didn't like this set-up one bit.

He was licensed to deal in casinos all over the world, including Monte Carlo, and here he was running a three-card monte game on a New York sidewalk. What kind of bullshit was that?

Furthermore, if he was going to do the short con, even as part of a bigger game, he was going to do it right. There should be a full crew that had drilled for weeks until they could run that baby to perfection. At the very least, it would be helpful to have a shill who actually spoke English, not to mention some muscle he could trust to keep the rubes in line and the law at bay until the right moment.

As it stood, Yen was playing his role a little too well and those two crackers were nowhere to be seen. If this didn't work, he was going to be having some serious words with Danny Ocean. It was one thing to pull off the greatest heist in the history of Vegas and happen to get his old lady back in the process, but putting the team back together just to get her a damn picture?

There was a lot of extra sugar to go around if the plan went off, but he still didn't like it. All he could do was keep up the patter, incorporating Yen's seemingly incomprehensible responses and wondering what the hell was holding up Turk and Virgil.

@@@@@

There she is. Just keep your eye on the lady. Is she here? Is she there? Just put your money down and find the lady. You, sir, yes, I see you looking. You know where she is. There or there? Step right up and put your money down.

How long could Frank keep doing that? Livingston felt like he'd been listening to it for nearly twenty minutes and he was going crazy. He had a room at the Mandarin with a camera pointing at the sidewalk. The job couldn't go ahead until the boys showed up and that should have been at least ten minutes ago.

Livingston could feel the perspiration breaking out on his forehead. The real cops were going to show up any moment and ruin everything.

He wished he could call Danny or Rusty, but that had been ruled out except in case of "utmost urgency" and despite his nervous leg and sweaty palms, he wasn't sure this qualified. Shit.

"What the 'ell's going on?"

It was Basher, followed closely by Linus, with the haul from the Palace.

"Virgil and Turk," he said helplessly.

"Where are they?" Linus demanded.

"I don't know."

"How about Saul?"

"I don't know, but he's not the one who..."

So tell me again, how you play this here game.

Virgil. Three sighs filled the room.

You find the queen, you win. Is she here, is she there? Take a chance. Double your money.

There. It's there. Right?

The queen is an elusive lady. Care to try again?

Are you pulling a fast one on me? I saw it. I know where that card was.

That's what you thought you saw.

What's going on here? You ripping off my brother? You black son of a...

Now, sir, there's no need for that kind of language.

The hell there ain't. Now why don't you give my brother back his money.

On the laptop, they could see the brouhaha developing until Turk pushed the card table over, Frank took a very broad swing, Virgil started shoving Frank, and Saul emerged almost magically from the crowd in a police uniform to "break up" the fracas, soon to be joined by security staff from inside the hotel, and completely missing Yen running back into the hotel, practically under their legs.

Basher had broken the seal on the mini-bar and sent Linus down the hallway for ice. Livingston had one task left to complete and it would require him to sound steady and sober.

"How much time we got?" Basher asked, glancing at his watch, and then at the door.

"Till we know Yen is out safely."

"Great. Look, Dell, I need to talk to you about something."

"Yeah? What?"

"It's about Linus."

"Make mine a double."

@@@@@

Linus peered carefully down the hallway, making sure that Basher or Dell hadn't followed him to the ice machine. He didn't know what to do. OK, he knew what to do with the ice machine, but he didn't know what to do about Tess. Well, he knew what he should do, which was nothing. His loyalty was to the team, to the job.

He'd never felt so confused. Mom and Dad would kill him...well, Dad anyway. Mom, maybe she'd understand. No, probably not. Mom and Dad had met while she was running a scam on him and he'd figured it out and run one on her instead and they'd both ended up in the Cooke County Jail or a hospital in Fresno or a cargo ship in the Gulf of Mexico depending on who was telling the story and how much alcohol was involved, but the one thing that neither of them had ever done was rat out a partner in crime, certainly not to their spouse.

But this was different; this was Tess. Ever since he'd first seen her coming down the stairs at the Bellagio in that red suit, she'd been somewhere in his thoughts or his dreams. It was crazy. Pathetic. Silly. She loved Danny, so much that she'd waited for him to get out of jail. Linus doubted she even knew his name, but it didn't matter because he knew hers. He knew what this whole caper was about, and if it went wrong...well she was going to get hurt and he couldn't let that happen.

The ice bucket was full and he had to get back before Dell and Basher noticed he'd been gone too long.

He took out his cell phone and dialed the number.

"Lowe Gallery, Tess Ocean speaking. "

At the sound of her voice, he sensed sweat breaking out on his upper lip. He grabbed an ice cube, feeling it melt inside his fist as he tried to get his breath.

"Um...Tess...Mrs. Ocean...I need to talk to you..."

"Linus? Is that you?"

@@@@@

Trump looked up from his laptop and peered through the window of his limousine. The scene outside hadn't changed one iota since the last time he'd looked, which was, by his reckoning, exactly ten minutes ago. They were stuck at 53rd and Lex and he had a meeting scheduled with Les Moonves at four-thirty.

"Hey, what's going on here? We're not moving."

"Sorry, Mr. Trump. Traffic's backed up."

"I can see that. Can you get us out of it?"

"Not without breaking about twelve laws and risking both our lives."

"What the hell do I pay you for. Get this thing moving. Or else."

"Yes, sir."

He sat back against the leather seat and poured a drink from the bar with a smile. He knew damn well the driver couldn't do anything. This was New York; traffic was traffic. It just amused him to get on the speaker and bellow a little. Burnish the reputation, as it were. He'd call Les and tell him he was running late. Or not. Let the little pipsqueak sweat a little.

Before he could pick up the Wall Street Journal, his cell phone went off. He glanced at the screen. Tiffany. He was tempted to ignore her. Third time since lunch. She and Marla were trying to drag him into some idiotic spat about whether or not Tiffany was going to Puerto Vallarta with some friends and he honestly did not have time or the energy to deal with it right now.

"Look, sweetheart," he said firmly, cutting off whatever cajoling she was about to launch into. "I'll be down there this weekend. If you and your mother can't figure this thing out by then..."

"Mr. Trump." That was most certainly not Tiffany. It was a man, slightly nervous sounding. Trump felt a momentary wave of panic. Marla was worried about Mexico, but these bastards could have snatched his little girl from a street in Miami.

"What the hell are you doing with my daughter's phone? Have you done something to her? Do you know who I am?" he bellowed.

"Your daughter's fine. We don't have her. We don't have her phone. I just wanted to make sure you'd take the call."

"But..."

"Don't worry. We're not kidnappers. We're thieves."

"That's a big relief. Who the hell are you? Why shouldn't I hang up on you and call the police right now?"

"Because they're going to be calling you, and you'll need to know what to tell them."

"Is this a joke? Am I on some show?"

He started looking for cameras. Was Moonves in on it? His driver? They were all going to pay. But if he was on camera...Damn! He tried to move a hand up to his head without being noticed. What if they had the camera in back of him? Shit!

"You can't use any footage without a release."

There was a sigh on the other end of the line.

"Mr. Trump. Please listen to me. This is very important. The Mandarin Oriental, The New York Palace and the Ritz Carlton Central Park have all been robbed in the last two hours."

"And you're calling to warn me that I'm next? That's big of you. I'll put my security on extra alert."

"We're not robbing you. Well, not your hotel. In fact, unless you co-operate, the other owners are going to be told that you weren't robbed."

"So....?"

"They might start to think you were part of it."

"Why would I do that? I don't need more money!"

"You always want more money and if you can humiliate your competitors, that just a cherry on top, isn't it? I think we can convince them."

"The hell you say."

"Because you're such a popular guy anyway. No one would believe something like that about you."

Trump fumed, trying to make sense of what he was hearing. He wasn't used to controlling his temper, but he couldn't see any cameras. If this shit-heel was telling the truth, he had to at least know what the stakes were.

"OK. OK. Let's say this is all true. What do you want?"

"The Degas."

"Oh no!"

"Oh yes."

"I paid five hundred grand for that little ballerina and she's going to stay in my office until I sell her for twice that. "

"No. You're going to have her wrapped up and delivered to the Hannah Lowe gallery on MacDougall Street."

"Wait a minute...that's where Tess Ocean works. That bitch got you guys to pull this off?"

"What the hell did you say?" That was a different voice, not nervous in the slightest, but younger and clearly angry. The first voice muttered, Shut up, Linus. Then there was a Cockney accent, Get away from there, and it was clear that whoever these jokers were, they did not have their act together at all.

"Uh...sorry 'bout that, Mr. Trump, as I was saying, the picture needs to be at the gallery by eight this evening, in time for Mrs. Ocean's birthday party. You're invited, of course. No police please, or else we'll be able to prove that you were involved in the other three unfortunate events."

Trump shook his head in disbelief. Whatever this was, it had gone far enough. He looked out the window. They were moving. Finally.

"This is bullshit. I'm not giving up my painting and I'm through talking."

He was half-tempted to announce "You're fired," before he disconnected the phone, even though it wasn't quite applicable.

"It's black tie, by the way."

The line went dead, depriving him of the opportunity for a pithy rejoinder. Whoever was responsible for this, they were really pissing him off and no one pissed off Donald Trump and got away with it.

He'd call the cops, he'd call the mayor; he'd call fucking George W. Bush if he had to. Send in an airborne division to take these guys down. Before he could do any of that, his phone rang again. George, if the phone could still be believed.

"George?"

"Boss...we've got a problem."

"No, those guys have a problem."

"Oh you know already?" George sounded nervous, which wasn't that unusual. Everyone who worked for him sounded nervous, but this was a bad nervous, like there was someone scarier than Trump himself. "Donald...I think you need to get back here. Now."

Trump ran his hand over his hair, heedless of the coif. It didn't matter anymore. This was a Crisis of Nixonian proportions. He downed the drink he'd poured earlier and made a decision. He rapped on the glass and picked up the intercom at the same time, (just in case someone was watching).

"Turn the car around, we're going back!"

@@@@@

Tess looked around the gallery, festooned with balloons, a giant "Happy Birthday" banner and at least thirty friends, some of whom were friends only in the art-world sense of the word, as in mortal enemies who couldn't turn down free booze.

"Happy birthday, sweetheart," Danny said, handing her a champagne glass and raising his own in tribute. On cue, at least 11 other glasses rose to attention waiting for her acknowledgement. Her husband certainly had an attractive roster of friends, but none matched up to Danny himself. He could wear a tuxedo like no man she'd ever known and melt her heart with his smile, not to mention the effect his voice had always had on her. She was a lucky woman, no doubt about that.

"How was the ball game?" she asked.

"What ball game?" he replied with his best fake-innocent look, the one she was meant to see through. "I was working on the Nabisco/Viacom merger."

"That's funny, because when Hannah called to tell me you were on television, I thought you were getting arrested again."

"OK, you got me. I went to the game so that I wouldn't get arrested on your birthday. Aren't I a good husband?"

"The best. Hannah wants Rusty's phone number."

"I don't think the viola player would appreciate it."

"Was it Frank or Liza?"

"Liza," he sighed.

"Awwwww," Tess teased. If she knew Danny, he hadn't walked away from Yankee Stadium empty-handed.

"I'll get over it."

"I'll bet you will. Let's say hello to our guests. Looks like the whole gang's here," she said pointedly, taking his arm.

"Do you mean my friends or that pack of culture vultures attacking the shrimp?"

She lowered her voice as she smiled at the horde of art critics and gallery owners who were, in fact, reducing a heap of prawns to a few sad pieces of shells at the buffet. "I need the vultures."

"I need my friends."

"What have you been up to, Danny?"

"Nothing. Just a nice innocent trip to the ball park, and then we came back and spruced up to celebrate the most beautiful woman in the world."

Tess nodded, trying to look as though she was buying this. The quartet struck up a lugubrious rendition of "All or Nothing at All," and Danny raised his eyebrows.

"They're playing our song. Shall we?"

She'd nearly relaxed into the music and Danny's graceful footwork and the tang of his aftershave when Rusty came up with a glass in one hand and a plate of toast points with pâté in the other. Danny shook his head in annoyance.

"Would you mind putting down the food before you try to cut in?"

"Thought you might like to know. Donald Trump just showed up."

"He can't cut in either."

"Donald Trump? Here! Really? Oh my god!"

Tess pulled away from Danny and ran past Rusty. Donald Trump at the Hannah Lowe gallery, started by her and her college roommate with an infusion of cash from Danny's "friend," but hardly in the first tier. Her attempt to get the Degas had been their biggest shot to move up and Trump had harpooned it. She knew he had a beef with Danny going back to the mid-eighties, but she'd never known how truly venal the man could be until he'd outbid her at the Southeby's auction and shot her that look of contempt.

Now he was here at her gallery, in a tuxedo, raising a glass and gesturing at his two side-goons who were bringing a covered picture on an easel. She felt her breath catch a little.

"Mr. Trump. Welcome to the gallery?"

"Mrs. Ocean."

He actually had the gall to kiss her hand.

"I've come to wish you a happy birthday."

"That's very sweet."

"And give you a little present on behalf of Mrs. Trump and myself."

She turned around to find Danny, Rusty, Linus and the rest of the gang doing the worst attempts at "innocent" she'd ever seen on 11 grown men. Yen was staring right at Trump as though Godzilla had just stomped in.

With that, the wrapping was pulled off and she, Tess Ocean, had the Degas for her gallery. She wanted to scream with happiness, grab her husband and stick her tongue down his threat and laugh in Donald Trump's face. Instead she smiled demurely.

"Thank you, Mr. Trump. Would you like some....shrimp?"

"No, I can't stay long. I'm catching a flight to Florida. Enjoy your..." Something over her shoulder seemed to catch his attention. Tess followed his eyes to the line-up behind her. Maybe he'd recognized Danny and gotten suspicious. But of course Danny had been at Yankee Stadium.

"Reuben? Reuben Tishkoff? I haven't seen you since we opened the Plaza. What are you doing out here?"

Reuben stepped forward and grabbed Trump's hand in his big paw.

"Donny. How you doing? Hey, that TV stuff. Way to go. This? Oh I'm the big art maven now, only you know, by mavens, I'm no maven. But I know what I like. And I certainly like this little lady," he said, leering and taking the opportunity to pat Tess's butt. She smiled tightly.

"Mr. Tishkoff is one of our biggest patrons."

It wasn't exactly a lie, and Trump looked convinced.

"OK. Well, good for you. Enjoy the party, everybody."

Trump left, followed by his associates and at least 13 sighs of relief when he was gone.

"You heard the man," Danny said loudly enough to get the attention of everyone in the room. "Enjoy the party."

She saw Basher and Frank attempting to sidle out toward a side entrance.

"Oh no you don't," she snapped. They stopped still. Then she went down the line, giving each one a hug and a kiss on the cheek, including Yen, for whom she practically had to bend over, and Linus, who seemed to be close to hyperventilating at her touch. With Reuben, she even let him get another grab of her ass. He'd earned it. When she got to Danny, she gave him the kiss he deserved, full on the lips with her hands slinking around to tease the fine hairs at the nape of his neck.

"Linus told you, didn't he?" Danny whispered, his own hands wrapping around her waist, pulling her close.

"You knew he would, didn't you?" she purred back, brushing her cheek against his.

"Should we punish him?" he asked, in his lowest voice, making her face flush.

"Or it could a reward for both for both of us."

She eased away from Danny and looked at Linus with the slightest gesture of her head. It took Rusty to notice what was happening and push him toward her. With a few whispered words and a carefully placed hand, she achieved the desired goal. He passed out.

"Oh dear," she exclaimed with a wink toward Danny. "Looks like he's had too much to drink. Why don't you take him upstairs to lie down a little."

Tess sighed contentedly, treating herself to another drink and a look at her beautiful Degas. It was so nice to have a husband who'd hated Donald Trump since he'd had him banned from the Taj for card-counting. All it took to set things in motion was a few sighs about how Trump had been mean to her and very, very rude.

Now she had a Degas for her gallery and a very nice night ahead of her.

That's what she called a happy birthday.

@@@@@

"The party's over...." Reuben sang.

"It's time to call it a day..." Saul chimed in.

"How can we call it a day?" Reuben asked. "It's the middle of the night."

"That's true," Saul replied, after a pause for reflection.

They were smoking cigars on the street outside the gallery, watching the limos pull away with the schtarkers and their bimbos, while the starving artists walked down MacDougall and into the darkness of the Village toward their lofts and garrets.

"Do artists still have lofts and garrets?" he wondered absently.

"Not around here," Saul replied. "Can't afford it. I hear the artists are all in Brooklyn and the writers have all moved to Queens."

"Queens? You wouldn't catch me dead in Queens."

It was late. Very late. Reuben was tired and he suspected he was too tipsy from all the champagne and maybe he shouldn't be out here talking to Saul at all. He had a plane back to Vegas in the morning and some new investment ideas for his share of today's little adventure. On the other hand, he was used to Vegas time, and still not completely comfortable with his part in the scheme. It wasn't something he could talk about, but it wouldn't quite let go either. Not that he was a fagele or anything, mind you. Just that...well...Oy. He shouldn't even be thinking this. He should finish his cigar, grab a cab and go.

"They've burst your pretty balloon and taken the moon away."

Saul didn't have a bad voice. Sweet. Like the guy himself. Almost too nice for the game and yet he'd survived this long.

"It's time to wind up the masquerade." His own voice was more of a croak. "When's your flight?"

"I'm taking the train."

"Good idea. I miss the trains. I was once on a train with Frank and Joe E. Lewis from LA to San Francisco and they did not draw a sober breath the whole time."

Reuben caught Saul nodding and wondered if he were boring him with his tales of the old days or if Saul was waiting for him to say something about the whole kiss thing, 'cause if he was waiting for that, it wasn't going to happen. It was nice having an audience that wasn't on the payroll. These kids didn't care about the stories and he liked sharing them with someone who did, even if it was just another old-timer like himself.

"Come on," he said, hailing a cab, trying to think of the late night spots that were still around and saying a silent Kaddish for Jillys and Toots Shors and those who had drunk there.

"Where are we going?"

"I don't know," he answered as a big Checker Cab pulled up.

"What are we going to do?"

"We'll think of something," he said getting in and smiling as the door closed. "So Frank and Joe have enough booze in 'em to drown a small battalion and they start a poker game with the porters..."

Some time later, they were sitting at a bar in the Hotel Pennsylvania, where the phone number was still Pennsylvania 6-5000, and the bartenders knew how to make a Manhattan worthy of the name. The Pullman porter story had segued into the one about the Clam Broth House and another one and maybe even another.

Saul had his own stories. Great cons and famous hustlers, all dead and buried. Dawn would be catching up to them soon, but Reuben didn't want the night to end. He signaled for another round and proposed a toast.

"To Danny!"

"To Tess," Saul responded gallantly.

"To all of us."

"L'Chaim"

"L'Chaim".

They clinked and drank, but he still wasn't ready to let go.

"I'm gonna miss everybody," he said, trying not to sound maudlin.

"What are you talking about?" Saul looked honestly bemused.

"We did the job, we got the money. We're all going home. It's over. What are you smiling about?"

Saul shook his head and raised his glass again, moving so close that Reuben was afraid there was another kiss coming.

"You dumb schmuck. This is Danny we're talking about."

Reuben considered and felt himself starting to smile before making the final toast of the night.

"To next time!"