THE CON GAME
By Bob Liter
I slouched on a chair in The Hole in the Wall, a small, dimly lit joint with a bar beyond mismatched tables and chairs. A blonde waitress, dark-haired roots and all, strolled to my table and said, "What would you like?"
"What I would like is you," I said, "but for now I'll take a shot of Lord Calvert and a glass of beer."
She smiled, returned to the bar, held an animated conversation with the bartender, a husky bald guy who wore red suspenders, and returned with the order.
Three days later, after I'd stopped by every afternoon, Roxie -- her name was embroidered on her blouse -- got real friendly. She hitched up her brassiere and called me Jay. I'd told her my name was Jay Winthrop.
While she got my usual order I adjusted my Armani shirt and Gleason slacks and made sure my scuffed loafers were out of sight. She returned and placed the order in front of me, offering me a close, revealing view of her chest.
"My feet hurt," she said. "They always hurt this time of day."
"Sit down, Roxie," I said.
"Would you mind, Jay? I won't stay long."
I pushed the glass of beer her way. "Have some if you want."
It was time to make my move.
"I'm staying at the Roosevelt. It's a cab trip away. Been working on this business deal for three days now. Wish I had a closer place to take an afternoon nap," I said.
She removed a shoe, wiggled her foot, replaced the shoe and said, "You could flop at my place. I live above this joint. Good enough to catch a nap if you want."
I sipped whiskey, looked over the rim of the glass and said, "Gee, that's awfully nice of you. If I wouldn't be intruding I'd go up there after I finish this drink and sleep."
"Well, why not?" She removed the other shoe, wiggled her toes, replaced the shoe, and said, "Soon as you're ready."
"Can you just leave?"
She nodded toward the bartender and said, "He can wait on anyone that comes in while I'm gone. Do him good to get off his duff."
Her round bottom bobbed as she climbed the stairs ahead of me. Her living room included a couch, a couple of chairs and a television set. The window looked out on a roof across the way and an alley below. The cluttered kitchen had worn oil paper on the counter and a rusty sink.
"The bedroom's in here," she said.
An ash try on the dresser was near to overflowing with cigarette butts.
"If I didn't have to work I wouldn't mind joining you."
I put my coat on the back of a tired chair and lay on my side on the bed. She hesitated and then lay close beside me. She kissed me. She put her arm around my shoulder, moved closer and kissed me again.
"Well, that's all I can do for you now. I've got to get back to work."
An hour later I went back down to the bar, ordered a beer, gulped it, smiled at her and said, "I'll be back tomorrow for sure."
I returned the next afternoon, sat at my usual table, and ordered a glass of beer. Roxie seemed nervous. The bartender brought the beer and a manila envelope and sat down across from me.
"You know Roxie's my wife?" he asked.
"Yeah I kinda figured that's the way it was, or at least that's what you'd claim. Nothing serious happened between us, if that's what you're worried about."
"You're the one ought to be worried. Look at these. And don't get any ideas. I've got the negatives."
He pulled three eight-by-ten photos from the envelope and flipped them across the table. They showed me and Roxie in bed kissing.
I glanced at them and said, "All we did was kiss."
He pointed at me and said, "Look, mister. Nobody fools with my wife. You pay or I'll find out where you live, give the pictures to your wife, maybe your boss, too. I can find out where you work, Mister Winthrop."
"What makes you think I'm married?"
"You ain't too smart, wearing a wedding ring when you plan to fool around."
Roxie was behind the bar. She glanced at me and glanced away.
"So what do you want me to do?" I asked, as if I didn't know.
"You pay me ten thousand dollars, I give you the photos and negatives," he said.
"Ha. Where am I gonna get ten thousand dollars? Think I carry that kinda money around with me?"
He scrapped the chair on the floor as he stood and said, "You be back here tomorrow with the money or I start looking for your wife or anybody else who would be interested."
"Damn," I said. "Look at all the money I spent in here. Just trying to relax after a big deal, and you pull this. I been set up. Damn you and your wife."
"That's right, Mister Winthrop, you've been set up. You should know better."
I pushed myself away from the table, stood, scowled at him and said, "I'll be back tomorrow."
The next afternoon Roxie didn't seem to be around. The bartender, his thumbs on the inside of his suspenders, marched to my table. I ordered a glass of beer.
He poured the beer from the customer side of the bar, placed it in front of me and said, "Got the money?"
I reached into my inside coat pocket and handed him a tape recording.
"What's this crap?" he said.
"You listen to that. You'll hear a guy sounds just like you trying to blackmail me."
"But I got the pictures. I'll expose you if you don't pay up."
"No you won't. Not unless you're stupider than you look."
He snapped one of his suspenders against his chest and said, "Who are you?"
"My real name's Nick Bancroft. One of your blackmailed suckers hired me. Never mind which one. If you continue to squeeze him I'll turn a copy of the tape over to the police. Roxie came down the stairs. I waved at her as I left and headed back to Central City and the quieter life.