Laura, the confidence artist

02Oct08

Kansas City, I wind up playing blackjack next to Laura at an underground casino. I was up about a grand, because I know the game and the limits of my own luck. She was up twice that, because she was counting cards. When I realized what she was doing, I leaned in and whispered, “Listen dollface, when the house gets wise to your math skills, they’re gonna do more then ask for their money back.” She played if off cool – lost the next couple of games on purpose, then headed to the teller to cash out.

A couple of days later, I ran into her at my hotel bar, waiting for some out-of-town businessman to offer her a drink. Over a bottle of rye up in my suite, we traded life stories. She’d fallen in love with a Chicago pool hustler at 16, ran away with him, worked for three years as the bait to his marks, watched as some local mobsters beat the life out of him and had been a road agent ever since. I had been working for the last couple of years as a traveling art appraiser for an insurance company and thought I had a pretty good angle ready, soon as I found the right wingman.

I’d kept a record of every mansion I’d visited, specifically those with male teenage progeny. It was a pretty simple arrangement. Laura looked young and was a natural with accents, so when she met the young heirs at various ice cream shops or high school football games, they had no reason to believe she wasn’t a French exchange student, studying at a different school. Two dates later, she’d wind up back at the kids house, invariably watching some teen movie in the den or playing Xbox and would shoot me a text message to say no one was home and the door was open. I’d walk in, pull the most fence-able, high value painting off the wall and we’d high-tail it to a new city.

I’d admired her natural grace at the con from the first time I met her, but it wasn’t until the eighth or ninth city that I fell hard. We were smoking cigarettes outside a dive bar in Cincinnati when she got friendly with a couple of bums. “I’ll be right back Knox,” she said. Fifteen minutes later, she comes back with two handles of bourbon and a bag of fast food burgers and tells me we’re gonna go down underneath the overpass with her new friends. Most any other grifters I’d known were cold to their core, but Laura had a heart. That night, as we drank like we were homeless (which essentially, we were) by the light of a steel-drum-fire, I looked at her with new eyes.

Anyways, that must have been what she was waiting for, for me to trust her. She cleaned out 3 million dollars from my account in the Caymans. Disappeared herself. Hell, I don’t know if Laura was even her name.



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