The written art of the con

Another idea I had recently came midway through watching the brilliant The Brothers Bloom (by director of the equally brilliant Brick – a man who likes his ‘B’s in a title).

The Brothers Bloom is a story of con men, con men brothers. Not a particularly original idea, but the scale and artistry of the cons created by older brother Bloom lends a sometimes surreal tilt to the story, something furthered by dialogue and production design that is as distinctive and different as anything found in a Wes Anderson film (not that this is a Wes Anderson film).

The idea, which I meant to write down as soon as I thought of it, but didn’t, and still managed to remember it, which means that it’s probably an okay one, is . . . the perfect con.

Again, not that original.

I’ve seen a lot of con artist films in my time, and read a fair few books and articles on the art of the con, but the cons are always the same, or variations of a few classics cons, and inevitably end up with the mark shooting the conman with a fake gun, watching the squibs explode and then fleeing the scene, willingly giving up the cash in exchange for no-one ever knowing that he killed a man.

My first thought was, if I was to write a book about a conman, I’d want him to come up with the perfect con, then perform that con, revealing at the end how it was done.

My second thought was, I could sit at a table for a year and a half and still not come up with a perfect con.

So, I imagine a coffee house, think Paris, think wicker frame seats and plastic top tables set out on the street. I think that I visit it once in a while, and each time I go there is a man sitting at a table outside, scribbling into a pad, reading a paper, reading books and articles and making notes.

He’s writer, he’s writing a book about a con, the best most original perfect con imaginable. But he’s stuck because the perfect con is an impossible imagine; everything he thinks up is a mix of everything that’s been done before.

He sits at the table, at the cafe, six days a week, all through the summer. I talk to him every now and again, when I’m there and we strike up a cordial relationship. He tells me how the work is going; ‘nearly there’, ‘almost there’, so close to the perfect con.

I see him one day with two characters. (Stereotypes at the moment). A tall suave man in a suit, the other shorter, uglier, a fixer. Conman themselves. Inspiration for the book, helping him find the perfect act of trickery.

Then one day the man disappears. No more does he sit in the cafe, work on his book. I never see him again but once, on the television, local news, found dead, beaten, murdered.

The suave man and the fixer watch me from across the street, they loiter outside my office. They approach me. They threaten and cajole.  Where is the manuscript? The manuscript? I’m blank. He finished his book?

I don’t know him I explain, I threaten the police. They slink off.

My apartment is broken in to. My office is torn apart.

. . .

So that’s what I’ve got so far. A couple of things occur to me about it, the most obvious being that there is no ending. The second being that the jump from casual relationship to being haunted by two goons is far from believable. To take the first problem:

Perhaps, after avoiding the cafe fro months I visit it one last time, the day before I move cities, hounded away by the constant menace of the conmen. I drink a coffee, savour the creamy bitterness of flavour. The waiter brings the bill and says Ahh sir, you were friends with the writer were you not? So sad about him. he takes the bill and money I have laid out and leaves. Returning shortly after with change and a brown package that he has drawn from behind the till. The package is the size and shape of a manuscript, loose leaf, bound together. He left this for you. – Too pat perhaps, too . . . short story, twist ending.

Perhaps the entire thing is a con? The two conmen trying to get a pay off from me to stop the harassment, the writer also a conman, a set up. A pretty graceless con though, blackmail really. And a low pay off for the time spent laying the trap. I’m not rich. The relationship between the writer and I would also need to be stronger. Possibly also for the above scenario.

Perhaps I am a publisher, he a writer, mutual interests, the germ of conversation – a possible answer to problem two.

Or finally, perhaps the writer finally conceived his perfect con. Finished the novel and burnt the book. Maybe I see him on the news, years later. A towering figure in society, wealth, success.

After all, why compose the perfect con, just to write a book about it?

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