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Jock Sturgeon
Prologue
The Lamplighter


Lost Haven
2:30 PM


Everybody needs an outlet. Crooks aren't any different. I once knew a hitman who loved to collect stamps. Most violent guy I ever knew, but he was as delicate as a surgeon when it came to those little pieces of paper. He always wore a dust mask and latex gloves, the whole nine yards, whenever he handled his stamps. Someone once made fun of him for the hobby. The smartass soon regretted it, as the hitman took an entire book of stamps and made the guy eat them all. And you thought licking stamps was awful? Other guys do other things. Mob capo Gary Gigliello is known to play in like a dozen fantasy sports leagues, most of them with teams ran by other wiseguys. It's only natural in a career where you have a ton of downtime between jobs.

I was currently in that downtime portion. After bilking Sean Dunmoore out of over half a million dollars, I decided to lay low for a while. I mean, the money alone would ensure that I didn't need to do another hustle for at least a few years. I'd still pull a con before the money ran out, but the money meant that I could afford to be picky about the mark and the con. So that explained why I was currently in the middle of the Lamplighter's mystery section.

So my thing is books.

I love them. I know I haven't opened up much about my past. That's more of a choice on my part instead of poor storytelling. When I was growing up, books were the closest thing I had to actual school. I never went to school thanks to my mom. I followed her around the country as she went from one scam to another, always with another man I was told was my uncle. One of those uncles, short-con grifter named Chicago Mo, taught me to read when I was seven. "Books are how you escape," he told me with a wink. A pissed off crooked cop broke both Mo's kneecaps the next day.

He was right, though. Those books were how I got away from the harsh reality that was my mom and I outrunning cops, crooks, and anyone else she happened to have irked at that particular time. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were better companions than Chicago Mo and One-Thumb Dave that's for sure. And it was from books that I learned about different people -- both real and fictional -- and different places and different experiences. When I was a teenager I found history books and poetry.

I was fifteen when I discovered crime fiction and really fell head over heels. The classics like Chandler, Hammett, and Christie were amazing, but there was also the new giants like Elmore Leonard, Ellroy, Connelly, and Block. Shortly after discovering all these works I announced to my mom that I wanted to be a detective. She slapped me so hard I could taste color for the next few days. The slap ended that notion for the most part. I think that's why I enjoy my side business of private eye for crooks so much.

Mom killed my law enforcement notions, but not my love of books. I still make time to read during the middle of jobs. I always have a fiction and a non-fiction book I'm rotating between. Right now I've got Slayground by Richard Stark and Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland on my nightstand. I was close to the end with both books, which is why I was back at the Lamplighter with some of that Dunmoore money burning a hole in my pocket.

"That can't be all of it?"

"It's books, Milo. I make enough to feed my family, but that's it. I'm not exactly rolling in it."

"Bullshit!"

The sound of argument a scant aisle away drew me from whatever mystery Hercule Poirot was in the middle of to my own. I peeked around the corner and saw Saul, the Lamplighter's owner, pressed against a shelf of books while a taller man crowded him. I assumed the taller man was Milo. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and no tie. I put his height at about six one, an inch above myself, but plenty of room to tower over tiny Saul. His swarthy complexion and thick eyebrows put him as either Mediterranean or Easter European. Milo had a thick finger in Saul's face. Both men were too engrossed in their conversation to notice me, but I still backed up out of sight.

"Have the rest of my money or I will burn this goddamn place down. Paper books make the best kindling, Saul. Remember that."

A loud smack cut through the air. I heard Saul gasp, followed by Milo's heavy footsteps as he walked away towards where I had been earlier. I waited a good thirty seconds before turning the corner. Saul was on his feet, but on the verge of tears. A large red welt was already forming on his right cheek.

"Jock," he said in a voice that was too high and too full of false enthusiasm. "How are you today, sir?"

"Saul, who's Milo?"

"You heard that?" Saul was back on the verge of tears. "He is... no one."

"He's either an extortionist or a loan shark, Saul. Which is he?"

Saul started to weep. On instinct, I put an arm around his shoulder and let him lead me to the back room. It was there that he told me the story.

"I needed money, Jock. To open this place with. The bank wouldn't give me a loan. A bookstore was a bad investment, they said. It was too risky to borrow the cash."

"So you went to Milo," I said with a nod. "And he gave you the cash no problem."

"Yes," Saul said with a sob. "He gave me all I needed, he said he loved books too and he wanted to help out a fellow Armenian. I didn't know..."

I frowned. "The interest. That's how these guys get you. What's the interest?"

"Too high! It's so high, I'm still just paying off the interest after five years in business. And business has been slow, Jock. The past two months I haven't been able to afford to pay Milo and provide for my family. He's been coming by. Today was the first time he threatened to burn the store down, the first time he hit me."

I thought of this store catching fire. All these books, all these stories and people and different worlds that are within their covers. All of it turned to cinders and ash. I thought about it. And I found that the thought made me mad. The maddest I've been in a long time. And when I get mad, I start to scheme.

"Saul. Tell me all that you can about Milo. I think I may have a way to save the store and get him off your back."
That font is kinda hard to read.
The mask helped.

For Joe, the thin little ski mask went a long way to curing his first time jitters. It reminded him that this job was simply a heist, the kind he'd pulled hundreds of times over the years. Fuck the military planes, fuck the Rangers jumping out the sky, fuck it all. When it got down to basics, Joe and the rest of the group were just a bunch of crooks looking to make a score.

"I got point," Joe said after the dazed cop was restrained and the German cocksucker got iced.

Joe cradled a pump action shotgun in his hands. True to his word, Dan had tossed it at Joe just before the embarked for the mission. Out in in the field at distance it wouldn't be effective, but inside the corridors of the communications center it was poised to do some damage. A state trooper came out of a doorway with his gun out and in the process of raising it. Joe brought the stock of his shotgun across the cop's head and dropped him hard to the floor. He caught the trooper with a free arm and eased him to the floor before kicking the pistol away from him.

Jock Sturgeon
Part V:
The Sting


Lost Haven Financial District
10:28 AM


"Something wrong, Mr. Dunmoore?"

Sean didn't realize his hands were shaking until he saw Blomkamp looking down at them. In his right hand was the small key to a safety deposit box. He stood with Blomkamp in the basement of his bank among the hundreds of other safety deposit box. The bank president escorted them down and handed Sean the key before quietly excusing himself to go back upstairs. Blomkamp carried an empty briefcase to carry the cash.

"I'm fine," said Sean. "I just... never had anyone else with me to do this before."

Blomkamp nodded. Sean hopped he bought it. The wire on his chest was aided by a button camera on the lapel of his suit. The FBI agents wanted to see the con man take the cash. After they had in on film, they would be waiting outside the bank to with a pair of cuffs to escort him to jail.

"I'll help," Blomkamp said with a sly grin.

The two men pulled the long lock box from its place on the shelf and carried it over to a table. Sean opened the box with his key and pulled it open. Stacks of cash were nestled in it along with legal documents, loose jewelry, and a pistol. Sean pushed the pistol to the side and grabbed for the cash. Hundreds bundled in ten thousand dollar stacks began to quickly fill the briefcase until a cool half million sat in Blomkamp's briefcase. By Sean's quick count, at least another fifty thousand dollars was left after this raid.

"Mr. Dunmoore," said Blomkamp with a sheepish grin. "If I may be so bold. In the event of overages or underestimates, would it be possible to get the rest of the cash from this box? Whatever we don't need shall be safely returned to you in either cash or investment."

Sean almost laughed out loud. The nerve of this man! He was already robbing him of a half million, and he was asking for more? The greedy son of a--

"Sure," Sean said with a grin. "I trust you, Jackob."

What the hell, thought Sean. He was about to be arrested and all this money would go back in his lock box where it belonged. He'd think he got one over on Sean, at least until the FBI agents showed up with their guns and badges. Then Sean would have the last laugh.

"So kind," Blomkamp said as he grabbed the rest of the cash and stuffed it into his now full case. "If it is alright will you, I will go upstairs and get the manager to come down here and be on my way. I will be on a plane tonight back to Africa and call you once I am safely on the ground. Know that your investment is in safe hands."

The two men shook and Dunmoore smiled. If he had a mirror he would see that it was a smile with no humor in it.

"Of course. I look forward to our long and fruitful partnership, Jackob."

Blomkamp bowed graciously and started upstairs with the case. Sean took his time locking his safe deposit box and placing it back on the shelf. When he was sure enough time had elapsed he started back upstairs. The confident smile on his face disappeared when he entered the lobby and saw... nothing.

"All done, Mr. Dunmoore?" asked the bank manager.

"Where's..." Sean started before trailing off.

"The gentleman you went down with left a few minutes ago. He said you would be up shortly. Is th--"

Sean cut him off as he ran through the lobby and out the door. Blomkamp was nowhere to be found, neither were the two FBI agents. Cursing, Sean pulled out his phone and dialed the number Special Agent Marks had given him. It rang a few times before it picked up.

"FBI Lost Haven office, how may I direct your call."

"I need Special Agent Marks' cell phone."

"I'm sorry, sir, who?"

"Special Agent Marks. I'm Sean Dunmoore. I need to talk to him right now."

"I'm sorry, sir, but there's no agent by that name in this office."

"Are you serious?!," he growled. "He's an FBI agent, partner is Agent Robb. He--"

Sean stopped talking. He almost dropped his cell phone when it hit him like a ton of bricks. Special Agent Robb. Special Agent Marks. Robb. Marks. Rob marks. The receptionist tried to talk, but she couldn't hear anything except Sean's loud and crazed laughter.

----

Lost Haven Financial District
11:08 AM


"Stick 'em up!" Joey Baggs groweled, his right finger in the shape of a gun.

I let out polite applause as he and Harry the Hat slid into the coffeeshop booth across from me. Both men were still in their fake FBI windbreakers and suits while I had shucked my Blomkamp disguise off as soon as I got away from Dunmoore.

"Bravo," I said with a slight bow. "My two star players. I've got something for you."

Two stacks of twenty-five thousand dollars seemed to appear on the table in front of me.

"That looks like more than twenty grand," said Harry the Hat.

"It is," I shrugged. "But not much more. I was able to squeeze a few extra bucks out of the mark. Take it while I'm generous, fellas."

The two con men grabbed the money and stuffed it into their clothes.

"What did I tell you," Joey said to his partner. "Easiest money you'll ever make, working with Sturgeon."

Harry the Hat nodded and looked at me expectantly. "You'll let us when you got another con going on, Jock?"

"If I'm in need of your services, I shall call."

I slid the check from my coffee and breakfast sandwich towards the two men and started to stand.

"Now pay my bill. It's the least you can do."

"Where you going?" Joey asked. "We pulled off a hell of a score, Jock. You don't wanna celebrate."

"No can do, fellas," I sighed. "I gotta go solve a murder."

---

Little Ulster
2:39 PM


I caught Jerry Lonnegan in between three-card hustles. He had the card table tucked under his arm and was waiting for a bus by himself. Jerry walked the same route on alternative days. If you knew Jerry as long as I had, you knew about where he'd be at any given day.

"Jock," Jerry said with a wink. "How's tricks?"

"Tricky," I said. "How's running the short grift?"

"Tricker still."

"Why'd you do it, Jerry?"

His big grin disappeared. He started to shake his head in denial, but I held a hand up to stop him.

"I found the list Fat Ricky Fat hid in his apartment. You two were part of the same chain in the Ambulance Chaser's last hit. Not only that, you two two links together. Whose idea was it to break into Fitzwaller's office and steal the paperwork?"

Jerry looked from left to right, stopped when he saw a cheesy ad for Fitzwaller on the side of the bus stop. Someone had drawn a cartoon dick right next to his mouth. Under normal circumstances, I would have laughed my ass off.

"Me," he sighed. "I've been thinking about it since I heard from one of the Stafford twins that the lawyer writes it all down. So, when a burglar turned out to be my contact in the chain... how could I resist, Jock?"

"So Ricky breaks into the office, makes it obvious he broke in, and steals the paperwork that Fitzwaller would give anything to keep. But Ricky doesn't share, does he? He hides it and tries to blackmail Fitzwaller by himself so, you did what you did to him."

"Had he told me where they were, he wouldn't be dead," Jerry said coldly. "It's his own fault, the fat fuck."

"You've got two options, Jerry. Option 1: You leave town, I tell the Ambulance Chaser I found the paperwork in Fat Ricky Fat's apartment but don't mention you, as far as Fitzwaller is concerned he'll be none the wiser. Option 2: You stay in town, I tell the Ambulance Chaser I found the paperwork in Fat Ricky Fat's apartment but don't mention you, as far as Fitzwaller is concerned he'll be none the wiser... but I tell Irish Tom what you did. And he's not gonna take too kindly with you being so careless with papers that have his name on it."

It was a hell of a thing, seeing someone as dark as Jerry going pale from fright.

"You're a motherfucker, Jock, I--"

"I'm a friend, Jerry," I spoke over him to drown him out. "That's the only reason I'm giving you a choice. Any other crook, I tell Fitzwaller the whole tale and sleep soundly while you sleep with the fishes. This is me at my most generous, Jerry. What's it gonna be?"

Jerry stared at his feet for a long moment before shrugging.

"Fuck it. There's marks all over the country."

"I hear LA is lovely this time of year."

"One more question: How did it go with Dunmoore?"

"I cleared a half a million."

His grin was back and he clapped his hands together.

"My man!"

I nodded and turned away from my friend and disappeared into the night.

End
Andy,



The list of cool guys, that is. I'm interested.
Jock Sturgeon
Part IV:
Clip Joint


The Pepper Mill
9:04 PM


I walked through the loud music and flashing lights of the strip club with something approaching envy. Not envy towards the men and the beautiful women in their laps, but to the women sitting on the men's laps. Flashing a little bit of their flesh got these men to empty their wallets on dances were they could not touch them, a rule that was violently enforced in the club, and pay for watered down drinks that cost twenty dollars a pop. There's a con that you can run out of these places called the clip joint, but it just involves jacking up prices on dances and drinks and making up fees to charge marks. It was a needlessly greedy con in my opinion. These places were licences to print money if you could work them right.

I found the Ambulance Chaser in the back of the club, mid-motorboat in a private booth. The Stafford Twins sat off to the side of the booth, both of them on their phones so they wouldn't have spotted me even if I had come in leading a marching band. The stripper spotted me, though. She paused in the middle of grinding on Fitzwaller's lap to star at me. I liked to say that I kept eye contact with her... but that would be a lie.

"If you're gonna watch, it's gonna you twenty bucks," said the stripper. "No free previews, hun."

"What are you doing here, Sturgeon?" Fitzwaller asked.

"Looking for the future ex-Mrs. Sturgeon," I said before smiling at the stripper. "Hi, I'm Jock. I have a lot of money, very weak impulse control, and I don't like pre-nups."

The twins were back on the job before she could respond. Two sets of arms, one strong and the other not so much, found themselves wrapped around my arms and were pushing me away from the booth.

"I just got a few questions," I tried to yell over the music.

"Stop," said Fitzwaller.

He nudged the stripper off his lap and started to stand, until he realized he was in no physical position to stand and not show off his -- what's a good legal pun? -- gavel, there we go. Yeah, standing would show me and the rest of the club his gavel.

"Be brief, Sturgeon."

The twins let me go and I looked at them with the smuggest look I was capable of before turning back to their boss.

"When you set up a... asset liquidation."

"What?" asked Johnny Stafford. "What's that mean?"

"He's talking in code, dumbass," said Jimmy Stafford. "When the boss sets up a hit."

"Way to crack the code," I said with a sigh. "Fitzwaller, how many go-betweens deep is the chain when you... set up a hit."

"Five or six deep," said Fitzwaller. "Well insulated."

"Okay," I said with a nod. "And one more thing, did you take pictures of the burglary?"

"Yes, with my phone. Why couldn't this wait until the morning, Sturgeon?"

"Because I have an idea. Just... text me those photos and I think I'll have an answer by the morning."

I started to leave, but pulled up short.

"On more thing," I said as I produced a card and handed it to the stripper. "If you ever want to make real money, give me a call."

---

Chinatown
11:40 AM


Back to the scene of the crime. I mean that in the most technical sense since there is in fact crime scene tape on Fat Ricky Fat's apartment door. The door was unlocked, but a large red piece of tape ran down the door as a seal. I cut it with a box knife I always carried and slipped inside. The smell of blood and death were still heavy in the apartment and the clutter from the ransack was a little more tidy. I assumed the cops had cleaned up after processing the scene.

It was in the middle of the apartment that I tried to put the puzzle pieces together. Fat Ricky Fat breaks into the Ambulance Chaser's office. A sloppy job from the pictures Fitzwaller sent me. Door was left open, the safe was wide open. He takes off with all of Fitzwaller's incriminating documents and... ends up dead. He was tortured so it seems that he wasn't prepared to give the papers up to whoever was the torturing him. Soon after Ricky Fat's death, our handsome hero Jock Sturgeon breaks in and finds Ricky Fat dead just as the possible killer returns to look through the apartment. The lack of time they spent here in the second time meant that they either found what they were looking for quickly, or they knew someone had been here and high-tailed it.

I decided to bet on the latter assumption and go through the apartment to see what I could find. It's highly unlikely Ricky kept his burglar stash in the apartment, but I look in all the conventional places like bookcases and under mattresses. I found a couple grand in hidden money and some very weird porn that I'm sure Ricky would have destroyed before he died.

Nothing in the living room worth mentioning. The kitchen had a sink full of dirty dishes and a fridge filled with old takeout containers. The cabinets were stocked with snacks and sodas and, I guess for the hell of it, a box of granola bars. I started to close the cabinet door before I stopped suddenly.

Wait.

Granola bars?

Fat Ricky Fat's nickname wasn't one of the ironic ones. He was a four hundred pounder, the textbook definition of morbidly obese. Why in the hell would a guy who inhaled Little Debbie cakes have a box or health food? I reached up and plucked the box from the cabinet. It was crudely opened and heavy, heavier than a box should be. I flipped it open and found pay dirt inside. Paper rolled up tightly with a rubber band and stuffed inside the box.

I took the papers out of the box and unrolled them. On top was the network Fitzwaller used in his most recent job. He was right, there were six cut-outs between himself and Irish Tom at the very bottom. The client nor the victim were listed on the paper. But that didn't matter. Because there were two names in the middle of the chain that told me all I needed to know.

It all clicked into place and just like that, I knew who Fat Ricky Fat had stolen the documents for, and who had killed him. I sighed and rolled them back up and stuffed them into my pocket. It would all have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. I had an appointment bright and early tomorrow morning to steal half a million dollars from out under Sean Dunmoore's nose.
"Talk about a step up," Joe said under his breath.

Running down back alley deals and whacking guys was no sweat to Joe. He was going to be doing it anyway, for Christ's sake, he might as well be doing and helping his country out at the same time. But this? This was something else. Assaults and tactics and shit. He'd had a taste of that in his old life. As Billy Boyle's chief hitter, Joe could sweep a room and outflank targets well enough. His training with the rest of the group had vastly improved it, but still. Fuck.

"Okay," he said after the meeting had broken down into smaller groups. He looked at Morse. "If it goes sideways on us, what's the back up plan? We fall back or is this gonna be a come-home-with-your shield-or-on-it type of operation?"
Jock Sturgeon
Part III:
The Touch


Lost Haven Financial District
9:34 AM


Sean Dunmoore knew right away that the two men coming into his office were cops. It was in how they carried themselves. Like they owned the world and they were doing him a favor by being here. He'd been around enough of them to know exactly how they acted and how they looked down their nose at guys like him.

"Mister Dunmoore," the cop in the lead said. He was tall with silver hair and a Roman nose. His suit was nice, but definitely off the rack. Too much for a city cop. His partner, shorter and bald, wore a similar cut suit.

"FBI," said Sean. "Am I right?"

"Special Agent Marks," said the one in front. Both men pulled out ID cards and flashed them at Sean. "My partner is Special Agent Robb."

Sean stood up from behind his desk and pointed a finger towards the two men. "Unless you've got a warrant I want you the fuck out of here!"

"We're here to help you," Robb growled at him.

Before Sean could utter another word, Marks plopped a manila folder on his desk.

"Read it and weep," said Marks. "Literally."

Sean picked it up and looked inside. There were photos, black and white surveillance glossies of Jackob Blomkamp on the street. Other photos showed the same man, but dressed differently. Time stamps in the corner dated the photographs as haven been taken over the last two years.

"The man you know as Blomkamp is a con artist," said Robb. "And damn good one, too. He's been in Lost Haven for at least two years now, pulling scams on stockbrokers and hedge fund managers all over the city."

"Bullshit," said Sean. "I'm as plugged into the financial scene as anyone, better than most. How come I haven't heard about it?"

A soft chuckle came from Marks' throat. He said, "If you were taken by this guy for a cool hundred grand, would you advertise it all over town?"

"That's how he gets away with it," said Robb. "The people he rips off are too embarrassed, or maybe too scared, to come to us. He ties people up in vaguely shady business enterprises and runs away with their money."

"What did he sell you on," Marks asked with raised eyebrows. "Dutch land grants?"

"African diamond," Sean mumbled.

"You're a smart guy," Marks continued. "I'm sure you had already seen through his bullshit. A guy comes out of the blue with a can't miss, pseudo-legal business enterprise. He butters you up with compliments, strokes your ego while he appeals to your greed. I bet you've already did some homework into his company, yeah?"

"Yeah," Sean nodded. "It's not on any Department of Commerce lists for diamond or jewel importers."

"See," said Robb. "And I bet he'll have a perfectly good excuse as to why that is when you meet him this afternoon."

Sean raised his eyebrow. "You know about that?"

Marks clucked his tongue. "We know about it all, Sean. Like I said before, we've been on this guy for a while. And we're closer. Closer than we've ever been. I know you've had trouble with the Bureau before, but that was with a different division. We're different. We want to put him away. And we need your help."

Sean nodded slowly before gesturing to the two chairs in front of him.

"Take a seat. Let's talk about this."

----

Little Ulster
10:24 AM


"Sturgeon, give me one good reason I don't kill you."

"There's no money in it."

Irish Tom Cafferty looked at me from over the rim of his pint glass and nodded.

"Fair enough, yea."

Irish Tom is, you guessed it, Irish. Ex-pat, ex-IRA, ex-con, ex... something else snappy. He's also one of the rare hitters for hire in Haven that is both affordable and good at his job. You know, for the blue collar man who wants to arrange a murder.

"You ever do any work for the Ambulance Chaser?" I asked as I grabbed a handful of peanuts from a bowl on the bar.

It was early morning still, but the bar was open and had enough people inside to justify staying open. I'd been here a few times before and knew the crowd that came and went were among the criminal fraternity of Lost Haven. It stayed open twenty-four hours to accommodate the crooks who worked nights and got plastered in the early morning.

"Here and there," Irish Tom said with a belch. "His money spends like the rest of 'em so I take it."

"How did you know it was him if he works with cut-outs?"

"Bloody envelopes," he said after a deep swig of his beer. "Only one who does it. He always puts the money in them envelopes like the Russian dolls, bigger envelopes with smaller ones inside and cash inside each one. I always get the last envelope with my cash and the target inside of it."

"Yep. You're the lethal pot 'o gold at the end of the lawyer's criminal rainbow. Jerry Lonnegan was your usual contact on these jobs, right?"

Irish Tom gave me a long, hard look that could have set me on fire if he had a magnifying glass.

"He told me, Jerry, I mean. He said he handed off an envelope to you last week. The Ambulance Chaser was stupid enough to write all his contacts down and someone stole it. He hired me to find it."

If Irish Tom's scowl was hard before, this new look was fossilized. The pint glass he was holding cracked from the grip he was giving it. I imagine he was picturing that glass as the Ambulance Chaser's head.

"The guy who stole it got whacked last night. He was tortured to death first, I'm thinking that whoever you killed found out about The Ambulance Chaser and his contacts, hired the thief for those contacts, and is now getting revenge. Jerry took the hint and got out of town. You might want to do the same."

Irish Tom grunted. "Anyone comes for me, I'll be waiting with my gun and a bottle of Jameson."

I admired Irish Tom. A lot of people complain about how they were born in the wrong decade or time or whatever, but in Tom's case it was true. He was an Irish killer who belonged in the wild west as a gunslinger. I sometimes thought the same about myself. I would have been right at home in the court of some European king in the 1600's, pretending to be a long lost relative and grifting him for every piece of gold. I could have made millions.

"Before you get too many sheets in the wind, Tom. How about you tell me all you can about this hit you did last week. And let's hurry it up, I gotta become a South African diamond executive in a half hour."

----

Le Cigare Volant
12:10 PM


Sean saw Blomkamp's mouth moving, bits of crumb were attached to his lips from the fine French meal the two men had just partaken of. But while Blomkamp spoke, Sean wasn't paying attention to anything he said. His thoughts were still on the meeting with the FBI agents. They laid out their plan clearly, including the trap that would be set here at the lunch meeting. Yes. It was perfect.

"Mr. Dunmoore," Blomkamp said with a puzzled look on his face. "Are you listening?"

"Yes," said Sean. "Your board of directors agreed to my counter proposal and will go into business with me to sell off their diamonds."

"Correct," Blomkamp said with a smile. "It's a matter of logistics. You see--"

Blomkamp, or whatever his name was, continued to talk but Sean was starting to tune him out. Instead of his words, he focused on the man. It was so obvious that he was a phony from the start. The mustache looked like the fake that it was, his clothes seemed a bit disheveled. He was far from the put together executive Sean had met yesterday. Was there a difference, or had Sean just been blinded by the money to pay attention to what he saw?

"I had one question," Sean interrupted Blomkamp mid-sentence about customs regulations in maritime Africa. "I am curious. I did some research into you, Mr. Blomkamp, but it seems as if your company is not listed among known diamond importers and exporters of Africa. Care to explain?"

"Ah, yes." Blomkamp laced his fingers together and sighed. "You see, sir... I have to come clean. My company has only existed... for two weeks."

Blomkamp took off his glasses and wiped at the sweat on his forehead. Jesus, thought Sean, this guy is really good.

"The truth is, Afrikaans Tool and Mining is... what you would call a shell company. Yes. The diamonds are real, but who I work for is not that fictional company, but instead the president of South Africa himself. This plan to smuggle diamonds out of the country and sell them is part of his plan to secure monies for him and his family in the event of an uprising that needs him to flee the country. There. I've said it."

Yes, thought Sean, you sure had. The FBI agents were right. A story that would conveniently explain away the paper-thin nature of his company, and a story that Sean could not verify. It's not like he could call the president of South Africa, could he?

"Here," Blomkamp handed Sean a cell phone. "President Zuma is on the line. Speak to him."

Sean had to suppress a laugh when he heard the man on the other side of the phone. Somebody doing a piss poor imitation of Blomkamp's more believable South African accent introduced himself as the president and explained that he was happy to work with Sean and looked forward to a long and prosperous business arrangement before they quickly ended the call.

"How much do you need to start with?" Sean asked after handing the phone back to Blomkamp.

"Estimates are from two to five hundred thousand US dollars. Can that be arraigned?"

"Yes," Sean said with a grin. "Easiest thing in the world to write you a check."

"Cash," Blomkamp said with a frown. "It needs to be cash, sir. Cashing a check here or in South Africa will leave a paper trail."

"You getting busted at the airport will lead to a bigger paper trail," said Sean. This was part of it, the FBI agents said. Don't be too eager to say yes. Raise questions and make him work for it. If Sean went along too easy he might become suspicious.

Blomkamp smiled. "I have diplomatic immunity, so they will never search my luggage when I fly home. No need to worry about that."

"Fine," said Sean. "Let me call my broker and accountant, see how much cash I can get my hands on and we'll do the deal."

"Very good," Blomkamp said with a bow of his head. "The more the better, sir. Guards and custom officials do not come cheap."

"I doubt they do."

The two men shared a laugh, Blomkamp at the mild joke and Sean at the fact that their entire conversation had just been recorded thanks to the wire taped to his chest. Blomkamp ordered two glasses of champagne and the two men toasted.

"To the success of our task," said Blomkamp.

Sean clinked glasses with him and laughed before adding his own toast.

"To both of us getting just what we deserve."
I'm interested.
Jock Sturgeon
Part II:
Three-Card Stud


Lost Haven
6:34 PM


The tall, skinny black man stood in front of a small crowd of people in the alleyway. He had in front of him a makeshift table made from a cardboard box and his long, thin fingers shuffled three cards overturned cards with lightning speed. For his part, the man looked straight ahead at the crowd while his hands did the work, moving so fast it seemed that they were blurring.

"One, two, three, keep your eyes on the cards and not me."

He stopped just as quickly as he started and looked at the half dozen people in front of him, grinning wildly.

"It's two bucks to play, winner triples their money. Find the ace and you can put me in my place. Even shove it in my face!"

Titters went out from the crowd. A few threw down their money, a total of eight dollars.

"Teamwork, y'all," the man said with a wink. "You gotta pick the winner as a team."

The bettors argued and debated on which card was the one hiding the ace. After a few minutes of back and forth disagreement, one man put a hand down on the middle card of the three.

"This one," the man said, flipping it over and revealing a three of clubs.

"No such luck," the dealer said with another grin.

He flipped over the card on the far right, revealing a red ace. He laughed and scooped up their money amidst the grumbles. He stopped and looked deadly serious.

"Look... I like you all, I do. What about double or nothing?"

The men threw down their money and he went back to work, shuffling and spinning the cards. I made my way into the small crowd and watched, getting close enough to catch the sleight of hand as he palmed the ace and replaced it with another card. The dealer made eye contact with me and allowed his head to bend in just the slightest nods. In our world that passed as a hail-fellow-well-met. Like myself, Jerry Lonnegan was a grifter who prayed upon the stupidity and greed of people. Whereas I tried to con them out of thousands of dollars at a time, Jerry was strictly short cons with his three-card stud and change raising hustles. He probably made about as much money as I did a year, but Jerry was out in the streets every day running his scams. That type of work ethic exhausted me. Jerry was way too talented for the quick scams he pulled. In the past he'd sign on with me to pull a few grifts, but whenever I had offered to bring him in as a partner full-time he always politely declined.

Five minutes later Jerry was folding up his card table and making up excuses to leave while the ones he'd grifted were walking away with annoyance. Another downside to the short con is that the mark is always right there when you pull the scam. In my games, usually the mark is angry enough to kill but I'm very rarely within killing distance when they figure out they've been had.

"What do you say, Jerry?"

"Jock, my man," he said with a smile. The hood accent from the card game had vanished. "What's going on?"

"Buy you a cup of coffee?"

"I'll buy my own. I can afford it."

We made our way to a diner down the street. I ordered a black coffee while Jerry ordered a caffè macchiato. It made the waitress pause and arch an eyebrow. Jerry winked at her and shrugged.

"So, Jock, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

I sipped coffee that tasted like it had been brewed sometime during the Reagan administration and tried not to make a face.

"What do you know about east side burglars?"

"A little." Jerry sipped his macchiato with a pinkie out. To his credit, he didn't get foam on his upper lip. That was eighty percent of why I never drank the damn things. "You working a job?"

"Something like that. A job was pulled over on east side recently. If a pro was contracted out, chances are good that it was someone who works the area. It would have been an office break-in. Know of any specialist who do offices?"

"Maybe," Jerry said with a scowl. "And maybe I can let you know what I know, but only if you tell me why you want to know."

"You ever work as link in one of the Ambulance Chaser's chain?"

"Once or twice. Why?"

"What if I told you he was dumb enough to write it all down, everyone he used as a go-between in his jobs... and what if I told you someone broke into his office and stole it all those papers."

The color disappeared from Jerry's face. He stayed silent and sipped his macchiato. "I'd say that a lot of people are fucked."

I nodded and finished off my cup of caffeinated swamp water. "Right. And the only thing that stops them from being truly fucked is if I get those papers back... or at least destroy them. So, where do I start?"

----

Chinatown
11:09 PM


The apartment door's lock gave it up like a drunk cheerleader on homecoming. In thirty seconds I had popped it open, which was surprising since I hadn't used my picks in almost six months. It spoke less of my abilities and more to the cheap nature of the lock. It was funny since Fat Ricky Fat had a reputation as a smart thief.

I quickly opened the door and went inside. It was apparent that shit was sideways from the second I walked in. The living room was ransacked and furniture was overturned. The smell of something burning filled my nostrils. It was times like this that I regretted never carrying a gun. With a penlight as my only guide, I walked into the bedroom and found Fat Ricky Fat.

His corpulent body was sprawled across the bed. The source of the burning smell became apparent as soon as I saw his shirtless torso. Burn marks covered his chest and stomach, compliments of a hotplate that was resting on the bed and still burning away red hot. I crept towards him to try to find some clue as to how he died. No other wounds on his body besides the burns, nothing on his face like a bullet hole or stab wound. The only thing I could think of was heart attack. Fat Ricky Fat topped the scales at a good four hundred pounds. Working him over with the hot plate probably caused his heart to kick over. That meant that whatever they had been torturing him for, he hadn't given in.

The sound of the door opening caused my head to snap away from Ricky's body and towards the door. Someone was walking through the apartment. Their steady footsteps meant that whoever it was, the chaos in the apartment didn't deter them. Their footsteps were coming closer to the bedroom. Cursing, I rushed over to the window and opened it. I ducked out into the fire escape and closed the window just as a silhouette came into view in the room. I pressed tightly against the wall to hide from the unknown person while they walked through the bedroom. Even from outside, I could hear their footsteps in the apartment and hear them recede.

I took my chance and started down the fire escape. The apartment had an elevator and Ricky's apartment was on the sixth floor. If I could hurry I could see whoever it was just as they were coming out the building. I arrived at the bottom just as a black sedan raced from the building and into the dark.

"Son of a bitch," I said aloud and wiped sweat from my face.

Breathing heavily, I jumped the five feet from the fire escape to the ground and tried to catch my breath. The downside to cons over robberies is that cons don't provide nearly enough cardio. The brick wall of the alley was firm enough for me to prop against it and take an inventory of the night's actions. I was tired as hell, my one lead to this job dead and tortured, and some mysterious person pulling strings. I was back at square one. And worse, I had to be up early tomorrow morning for the next part of the Dunmoore game.
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