“Hey, fancy supporting a truly great artist?”
“Aw come on, this is my summer job and I’m working on commission what’s the big deal and rush?”
“Ash it’s me, Max. Remember, Max “Colorado” Ying? You’ve been pulling the long-short con all the week here now?”
Ashia “Ash” Cox grinned at that. She sat back down on the steps of Trafalgar Square, watching as Colorado made his way towards some tourists. He, probably, had a scam of his own lined up for them. It showed business was poor in London, that she hadn’t recognised a fellow con artist let alone good friend. It made it worse that she’d probably be the butt of some teasing when she went out tonight.
Ash grunted at that thought as well as a buzz in her pocket, alerting her to a text. Ash allowed for an annoyed groan to slip out at the interruption and half expecting it to be some notification from her Social Media account she pulled it out and scrutinized it. Much to her disappointment it was a text from one of her crew, namely Dee – asking if there had been marks as so far on their first foray into the art of the long con. According to her, it wouldn’t be worth it as they’d barely broke even.
Ash knew that Dee didn’t like the scheme; she didn’t have the patience for it. She preferred the short cons like the pigeon drop or the wine drop. But as she came to think of it, there was something in the mind of her mentor, Luke Gaines, she was sure of it. But there again it came down to patience.
“Con artistry gives a clue in the title,” Luke would say with that small patient smile and cool look. “So many different art forms and patience is the key to it all.”
Ash had it seen if often. That paternal grin. That ‘trust me I know what I’m doing’ smile. Hell, she would buy into that smile just like the other marks in this world would and could buy his bull. The bull that he was a vicar raising his cash for his church roof, or that he was an investment banker with a deal just too good to be true.
Ash sat back on her bench, trying to spot some sort of mark that she could use. She sighed, feeling her fingers twitch as she looked at their jangling wallets. She’d first started picking pockets at the tender age of thirteen, after running away from another foster home. She’d been pretty good at it too – earning near £500 in her first three days. She’d been heading back to her hostel, and decided to pick on a camera hugger as she fondly termed tourists. The guy had been perfect, tall, with greying blonde hair and looking lost in his own world. She’d gone to pick his wallet and she’d felt a hand grip around her wrist... that’s how she’d met Luke Gaines. The man had somehow conned his way into her heart and through social service and gained custody of her, taken her under his wing. He’d taught her mostly everything she knew.
“You know The National Gallery is full of the bourgeois sense of class that reeks of the patriarchy and I am afraid that The Tate is going the same way!”
That got her attention.
Hipsters were a God-given gift as far as Ash was concerned. They tried so hard to be different, yet here they were wearing the same styles with phones outstretched in front of them.... they all became the same.
“Need some help, Ash?”
She turned to see Colorado approaching her, and smirked. “What happened to your little con?”
“Saw one of your hipsters push a kid in the fountain when they were trying to get a shot of Nelson. No need. Plus, I get to say I run the first ‘art gallery’ scam outside of Beijing... that’ll impress the folks back home.”
“Colorado, you were born in the sound of Bow Bells... think you can pull it off quick?” A nod from him and Ash noticed the police beginning to circle the neck of the woods he’d been trying to con. Obviously the kitchen had gotten a bit too hot for Colorados liking. “Got a slider?”
Ash nodded, and immediately got to work. She played on all the innocence that her sixteen year old face could muster. She waited as the waiters passed to make her play.
“Yeah, mister, I’m telling you, it’s a genuine Paul Eyrie exhibition, y’know the artist that makes some sort of a social commentary with each artwork? He’s big pals with Banksy?”
Max’s cockney tone was immediately switched out for a more cultured one. “You mean it?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be standing here otherwise; I’m doing some work for my art gallery...”
Ash waited impatiently, she was sure the mark had gone but spotted Colorado giving a slight motion with his fingers, mimicking texting. They were checking online. They weren’t as stupid as she thought and she thanked God that there was no photograph of Paul Eyrie on his Wikipedia page and that Paul Eyrie was an assumed name.
“But it’s such a small gallery?”
“Yeah said he was sick of the pretensions of modern society, or some nonsense?” she sighed, as she believed every Saturday girl or underpaid intern had the right to do. “So you interested or not?”
“Definitely.” Another hand gesture from Max now, although this time his index finger was moving in a circular motion, mimicking a reel on a fishing line turning. One more line and they’d hook them. “So the gallery? New?”
“Brand new, hosts a lot of unknowns,” she sighed. “Reasonable all over, except the wages, can’t wait for my GCSE’s to come in.”
Max snorted. That was genuine. He was about to make another comment when a young man wearing a beanie shoved him out of the way. “Move it. You have Paul Eyrie pieces?”
From the way Max tensed, this was the young man that had shoved the kid into the fountains. So it helped her performance more than a little. “Where’d you get off listening in, mate? I was talking to a-?”
“If you don’t want me to report your foul attitude to your manager, you’ll tell me where the art gallery is.”
Ash smirked. “You don’t know where. And I don’t care. You can’t afford anything. Bunch of modern day beatniks as my grandfather would say.”
“Looks can be deceptive,” smirked the young man. “Now I’m willing to pay out. Even pay for me and my friends to get in. So are you in or not?”
Ash took a deep breath and looked heavenward. “Hope my good deed pays off,” she said to herself then looked at the group of hipsters who all wore looks of equal smug satisfaction. She dipped her head in defeat. “Fine. Follow me.”
They were so smug they didn’t see the smile on her face.
Hook, line and sinker.
The art gallery was actually an old office building that had been leased from Cyclops, the local fixer. There were plenty of paintings on the wall, or leaning against the wall looking to be set up.
Dee showed the group around, as Ash leant on the wall ostensibly watching, informing them about the lesser known artists also on display. She was at least not lying about that, although the names had been changed. They’d been bought in bulk for the total amount of £90 from the local art class by Gaines. He promised to make a further donation if the con had gone well. After all Vilde, the art teacher, had been more than fair in her pricing... and it was an unwritten law of ‘honest’ con work you couldn’t cheat a honest person. The ones who ignored that fundamental rule, normally ended up inside. Let alone, it just invited bad luck.
“This work was painted by Paul Eyrie, it sums up the chaos of the social media age,” Dee was saying. How anybody could say that about a painting of a dog dancing on the spot while a kid filmed it was beyond Ash. Colorado was looking appreciative and nodding, just like the rest of them. “This is one of the artists lesser favourite works so we’re selling this at £1,000.”
Again there came the head nodding. The young man who was standing next to Colorado and earned his vehement dislike was smiling; it wasn’t a smile though, more like a predator when they had prey in their sights.
“I know that kid’s face,” whispered a voice from beside her. Ash jumped and slapped the shoulder of the older man who’d appeared from apparently nowhere. “Sorry kiddo, didn’t mean to startle you none... was getting some papers for you.”
“Newspapers? Hell Luke, I can read my news online,” scoffed the sixteen year old. She soon felt a light bump to the head. “Hey?”
“I meant passport, nimrod.”
“Passport? What’re you up to?”
“Tell you later... how’s it going?”
“Got some good marks from the looks of things, Col says he’ll buy a piece too... thinks his grandma might like it for Christmas.” Ash smiled and returned to admiring the action. “It’s been fun using the big store.”
A small smile, a genuine one, crossed his features. “Yeah kid. It sure has.”
There was something about the look and tone of voice, which made it feel like a lingering farewell. Ash was about to push further when she spotted Dee approaching. “What’s wrong?”
“The boy wants to buy one piece for each of his friends, and there are eight of them! All from Eyrie’s collection. You were fantastic as the roper, Ashy.” Dee was the only one permitted to call her that. “Well done.”
Ash grinned, and was about to thank her when she spotted the expression on Gaines’s face as he looked across the scene. He was preparing to cut and run. “Oh come on, perhaps his maiden aunt croaked.”
“And perhaps he’s somebody we don’t want to be meeting in a dark alley or the son of somebody... I know the face, Ash.”
“Perhaps he’s been on the telly? I saw that guy from Game of Thrones come in yesterday, but we didn’t take any payment. I was kind of glad, I felt kind of guilty about how his character ended up,” Ash pleaded. “We can even say that Eyrie’s lawyers got us closed down because of us doing this deal... please? I mean that’s a cut of £2000 each?!”
“£1500 for me, I’m taking my cut smaller for the art class.” Gaines flashed a tense smile. “Fine. Dee, sell Max his painting for twenty. I’ll deal with the rest personally, if it goes wrong they’ve only got a real good description of me that way.”
Excited nods abound. “Where shall we meet up afterwards?” asked Dee.
“Usual spot in the West End, classier joint, now a con’s not over until it’s over. I’ll use this cut to cover costs... Dee.”
Dee was already in the office, taking the money out of the safe and sharing it between everyone. £2000 in cash readies already felt good in the back pocket. She smiled to herself and opened it fully in its wallet.
“You have any intentions with that?” teased Colorado as Ash tucked her share into pocket. “Or is it top secret?”
“Top secret from you Colorado,” scoffed Ash, smiling at them all. “I’ll see you later.”