I arrived at the cafe at just after four thirty that afternoon and looked for Philip. He was sitting at his regular table in the far corner.
‘How are things?’
He looked up; ‘Ah James, hello. How are you?’
‘Very well thank you, and the work?’
‘Oh you know, rattling along’. He closed his book and shuffled a bunch of loose sheets of paper together into his notebook. He called for another coffee and then turned to me, ‘James, you’re a publisher, a man interested in stories, let me tell you something fascinating’.
I sat at the table next to him. It was my pleasure to sit in the cafe every once in a while, usually after a day spent proofing manuscripts, and over the summer we had moved from strangers frequenting the same cafe to casual acquaintances. His work as a writer and mine at Hackforth-Newman Publishers meant that our worlds intersected somewhat, though we did not publish any of his work.
‘There is a con, a very simple con’, he began, ‘Where a man at a station approaches a waiting traveler with a story that he has lost his credit cards, his wallet, his identification cards, and all he needs is ninety Euros to get home.
It is not very sophisticated granted; there are itinerants doing the very same thing each evening across London, but this man has a talent to convince and he succeeds more than he fails. There are reports of him in Munich, Paris, Amsterdam. And the thing that catches the attention is that this man always gives the same name. One Francis George Bechitour. A strange thing to do’.
‘Perhaps it is many people giving the same name’, I suggest, a front used by all conmen.
‘Perhaps, but I think not. The descriptions of him fit each time. It is strange no? He could be whoever he wants, but each time he remains the same’.
‘Dangerous in his profession’.
‘Something for the book?’
‘Oh no, no I don’t think so. It’s too simple a con. Though the idea of a conman choosing to expose himself like that, it’s intriguing’.
I agreed that it was and we probed the idea of this man until my coffee was gone and Philip had filled another page and half with notes.
* * *
‘He’s a little closer to it’, I told my wife when I arrived home. She had already eaten and was sitting in the lounge reading. I poured a glass of red wine and joined her. ‘He thinks he is closer anyway’.
She laid her book down and said with a small laugh, ‘To his perfect con? He won’t do it’. It was an argument we had every once in a while.
‘Not yet’, I said, exchanging the glass of wine I had poured for her empty glass. I moved to the kitchen to refill the glass for myself. I brought a second glass back with me, and the bottle, ‘But he may get there soon’.
‘Impossible. There are too many stories already of con men and confidence tricksters; everything he will think up will be a mix of everything that’s been done before’.
‘The right thought, the right prompt’, I argued, ‘Who knows what a fertile imagination may come up with?’
‘A completely original, and perfectly devised, confidence trick? It’s an impossible imagine’.
‘You don’t give enough credit to writers’.
‘Perhaps’, said my wife, she turned a page, ‘But no doubt in the end the mark will shoot the conman with a fake gun and then, thinking him dead, flee the scene, willingly giving up the cash in exchange for no-one ever knowing that he killed a man’.
‘You’re a cynic,’ I said.