The Fiddle Game
by Alex Shvartsman
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They say you can't con an honest man, but that isn't true. It is a self-deception ordinary people
invented to feel better about themselves. Conning an honest man is easy because he isn't devious
or suspicious by nature. What's nearly impossible is to con another grifter.
I recognized the scam the moment the kid who'd ordered scrambled eggs and hash finished his
food, walked up, and plopped a violin case on the service counter of my greasy spoon diner. He
was gangly, barely out of his teens, and had that look of being smug but trying to hide it.
"I'm terribly sorry," he said. "I seem to have left my wallet at home. I live on Tyson Street, so I'll
run and get it, and come back to pay my tab. Fifteen minutes, tops." The kid flashed me his best
smile. "Here, you can hang on to my violin as collateral." He opened the case, revealing the
I ignored the violin and looked the kid up and down instead. Aside from an ugly tattoo on his
arm that he'll probably live to regret in a decade, I found nothing of note. The kid was ordinary.
Mundane. None of the charms and talismans I'd painstakingly placed around the diner were set
off by his arrival. Ergo, he possessed no magic and was apparently attempting to challenge me
armed with his wits alone, a duel to which he arrived supremely underprepared.
The little punk was trying to run the Fiddle Game on me. That's the oldest scam in the book, but
still good enough to work on most people in this backwater town.
He could never have anticipated that the balding, overweight diner proprietor he pegged for an
easy mark was once known as Maurice the Ghost, the legendary art thief and confidence
trickster, wanted by an alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies around the world. Wanted, but