Abby studied the two women. They wore sneakers to take on the city’s sidewalks, and carried shopping bags from the Met. They looked like tourists, and that’s all they could be, if they were falling for the act in front of them. The shell man shuffled his paper cups and said, “Watch closely, now. Follow the pea. Tell me where it lands, and you double your money.”
He was dressed for the cold, with a knit cap pulled over his ears, and his jacket zipped, but no gloves, of course. He needed to feel his own fingers. He squatted on the ground, a blue mat spread in front of him for his cups, a fanny pack tied around his waist to hold his money. A faded army green satchel was slumped behind the trash can he used as a backrest.
One of the women clutched her purse protectively—no doubt she’d been warned about New York pickpockets. Abby snorted. There was no point in guarding her money if she was just going to give it away to a scam artist.
The late afternoon sun had turned pink on the horizon, and Abby knew she needed to start home. She’d lost her subway pass, and she didn’t have near enough money for a cab. Which meant she had twenty-two blocks to walk. But still she paused a moment, watching.
The man stopped sliding his cups, and said, “All right. What’ll it be ladies? Door number one?” He pointed to the cup on the far right. “Two? Or three?” His hand moved through the line. The women giggled. One whispered something to the other.
“Don’t do it.” Abby stepped forward, having seen this trick often enough. She knew there was no pea under any of the cups. “It’s not there.”
“Take off, little girl.” The shell man glared at her as one of the women gave her a curious look. Abby knew when to go, and she moved fast. No one could catch her if she didn’t want to be caught. She skipped off, calling back, “It’s a trick.”
Just then, she saw a dark blue sedan creeping around the corner. She knew what it was instantly, and so did the shell man. A quick pull of a drawstring to gather his cups and pea into the mat, a sling over his shoulder, and he was gone, leaving the two women standing there, confused. The whole thing hadn’t taken five seconds. Abby peeked around the corner of a doorway as the policemen eased up to the curb. The officer in the passenger seat rolled down the window and leaned out. “Everything all right here?”
“Um... yes.” One of the women nodded slowly, as if trying to convince herself that the situation had even happened.
“Okay, then. Enjoy your visit.”
The patch of sidewalk emptied as the cops pulled away, and the women continued down the street. One of the things Abby loved about New York was how the city moved like a kaleidoscope, always shifting. A place could be full of color and life one second, and then abandoned in the next. Like now. Except--
Suddenly, something caught her eye. The satchel. In his haste, the shell man had left it behind.
Abby darted forward to grab it, casting a quick glance around in case someone was watching. Then she retreated to her doorway, unbuckled the clasp of the satchel, and opened the flap.
Her heart skipped a beat when she looked inside.
If that guy was just a shell man, then he was the best one she’d ever seen. No street con made enough to fill a bag with hundred-dollar bills!
Quickly she closed the flap again, and that’s when it hit her. No one would have forgotten this, not even with cops chasing them.
She felt a tap on her shoulder and whirled around. One of the policemen stood there, a hard look on his face. “That guy a friend of yours?” he asked.
“N-n- no.” Abby stammered. “I’ve never seen him before.”
“Mm-hmm.” The cop’s gaze moved to the satchel. “What’ve you got there?” he asked.