The couple looks at me with a mixture of shock and pity. I don’t blame them. It’s not every grey January day that someone dressed in nothing but a bathrobe accosts you in the street, waving a clipboard and a forced grin.
Although it’s not, my features are pulled exactly the way I want them. The way I need them to move my scam forward. I started today naked, in a strange town, unable to trick. Now I’m not quite so exposed, and I have some items to help me. It’s good to be on my way back to myself. A little shiver runs up my spine, and it’s not just because of how the wind is whipping at my bare legs.
“Folks,” I start, “how would you like to win a jacuzzi?” They look even more apprehensive. “The store I work for, Baths, Bubbles and Beyond, is offering one person the chance to land a hot tub worth over $5,000, plus next day delivery. All you have to do is sign up for our mailing list.” I present the clipboard, a hastily knocked up prize sheet sitting above a page with a table of empty spaces pinned to it.
“I don’t think so…” the man begins, his hand tightening around his lady’s arm.
“What’s to think about?” I demand, inching closer. “Can’t you spare an email address?”
“It’s not really for us.” He shifts, trying to slip past me.
“Look, I’ll be honest with you, okay?” This is anything but the truth. “My boss has sent me out in this ridiculous getup. I can’t go back to the store until I have a whole sheet full of registrations. Can’t you help me out? I just need a name and email. It doesn’t even have to be real, does it? If you just write something, anything, you get me a little closer to warming up.” She gives in first and takes the board from me, scribbling something. I don’t care what. She then nudges her other half, and he reluctantly does the same. I thank them profusely as they scuttle away, a disagreement brewing.
I continue my patter. Some are taken in straight away. Others are more reluctant, but each and every person adds to my list. My feet are cold enough after the first page is filled, but I hold out until the second one is too. If the next part of my plan is to work, this needs to look real.
With authority, I push open the door of the sandwich shop. The gaudy displays of the franchise seem to add to the much-needed warmth I feel radiating at me. The welcoming smile of the large man behind the counter quickly disappears as he first notices my outfit and then the steely look in my eyes. “You disgust me. Do you know that?”
“Sorry?” Frank, as his name badge identifies him, practically shakes his jowly cheeks at me.
“You disgust me.”
“Don’t you know?”
He leans meaningly forward, confusion turning to annoyance.
“Fella, I haven’t got any idea what you’re talking about. Do you want a sandwich or not?”
“Do I want a sandwich? Do I want a sandwich?” I look positively offended. Inside, I’m so delighted with myself, but I can’t lose focus. “Why would I want one of those cruelty-filled monstrosities?” My clipboard sweeps over the slices of meat that are neatly arranged in containers.
“If you’re not going to buy anything, you better get out. Company policy.”
“So not only do you inhumanly slaughter animals, but you don’t let people stand in your shops, either?”
“What are you talking about?” The colour is slowly draining from his face.
“The murder of animals by cruel practices.”
“I don’t do anything of the sort.”
“But you’re happy to sell the result in between bread, aren’t you?”
“You do! And I have a huge petition of people who want you to stop it.” I wave my clipboard around, and his eyes follow it. He tries to recover and assert some authority.
“If you have beef with…well…our beef, you need to speak to corporate.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“That’s how it is.” He draws himself up, looking like he considers the matter closed.
“Not to all these people,” I retort, brandishing the sign-up sheet at him. “Everyone who has signed my petition wants you to stop these barbaric practices.”
He glances down at the details, just long enough to realise there’s no Mickey Mouse or Daffy Duck there.
“You think you can threaten me with a few signatures?”
“Don’t you know what this is? It’s a petition against you and your shop. People want you to cut it out. Or I’ll have to take this further. All of this support isn’t going away, is it?”
“Look, buddy.” He’s clearly flustered, trying to think on his feet, and failing. “I’m not here to debate what’s right or wrong. I’m just trying to get by and earn a living. If you got a problem, take it up with the guys in charge.”
“You know that’s the problem with America these days, right?” I gesture to the heavens. “Why, when people get behind a cause, won’t those in charge listen? All these people,” I slam the board down on the counter with a loud slap, “demand you stop.”
“I don’t need this hippie-dippie rubbish. Just get out, will you? I’m going to have the evening rush to deal with soon.”
“Okay, so you’ve got a decent number of people to sign a bit of paper. But that’s not my customers. They wouldn’t. They are happy coming here. No complaints.”
“Then I’m going to have to convince others not to come in, aren’t I?” I fiddle with the cord around my robe suggestively. He looks from it to my face, then back again.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Why don’t I just promise you that I won’t put away my meat until you do?”
His eyes go very wide.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Want to bet?”
He’s panicked, his mind whirling. Finally, he dredges up his best attempt to placate me.
“Look, guy, you need to talk to corporate. What can I do about this stuff? I’m just trying to get by. You wouldn’t deprive me of my living, would you?”
“What do you want me to do? If you won’t pay any attention to my petition, why will they?”
“Because that’s what they’re paid to do. Talk to them.”
“You want me to sit on the phone, on hold, all day or send an email that will never get a reply?”
“You need to speak to them.”
“They’ll refuse to speak to me properly, won’t they?”
He’s floundering, and I push my advantage, unknotting my robe.
“Not if you’re outside their building. Like that.”
“And where’s that?”
“Do you think I can afford to get there? Do I look like I’m a hippie with enough money to travel? Wouldn’t I be there with my petition already?”
“Take a bus. They aren’t that expensive.”
I fumble in the robe pockets, letting the front twitch. His eyes flick with each movement, sweat appearing on his brow.
“Doesn’t matter how affordable it is. If I haven’t got the money, I can’t go, can I?” He thinks for a lot longer than I expect him to. Eventually, I turn my back, loosening my covering as I do. “Got any chores to catch up on? I don’t think you’re going to be busy, do you?”
“Wait!” I turn back, my hands just holding the material close. “What if I could help you get there?” I keep quiet, waiting for him to continue. I want him to think I’m not bought that easily. Finally, he walks across to the till, and it pings open. He pulls out three twenties and places them on the counter. “That should get you there on the bus.”
He sighs, properly defeated, and pulls out one more bill. I reach out, and his hand clasps around mine.
“Just promise me I’m not going to see you, any part of you, around here again.” I slip the notes into my pocket and leave. I hold it long enough to be out of his eyesight and then grin a very genuine smile. I enjoyed that immensely and got more than I expected from him. My issue seems to be behind me now. I’m tricking like I want to. With ease. Even a little flair. Now it’s time to get some proper clothes on my back, ones that befit the great trickster that I am.