Several years ago...
|Got bored after watching an episode of Hustle, thought I'd use the chance to flesh Father Torren out a bit more. |
"You're playing cards," Sebastian remarked incredulously, "with Father Toren?"
"Well why not?" the elderly priest replied, "The Emperor only frowns on irresponsible
gambling, not on gambling as a whole."
"Bet there's a few cardinals and whatnot out there who'd say otherwise." Jesebelle said as she shuffled the deck.
"Ah, they shut their traps pretty quick after I shove about twenty or so passages into their face saying it's okay to gamble responsibly." A wide grin spread across Toren's face as he spoke - the Morek siblings wouldn't be surprised if he'd literally shoved a slate full of such passages into a cardinal's face.
"Besides brother," Maximillian said, taking the deck from his sister to continue the shuffling, "we're not playing for real money. The good priest just got done trouncing ol' Jannus and Philbanks about an hour ago."
"Must have been why Jannus was in such a foul moon before," the youngest Morek said as he sat down, "I passed him in the corridor earlier, never seen him so distracted."
"Well that doesn't surprise me," Toren said as he started to deal the cards, "the two of them tried ganging up on me this time. Like they're the first people to try that stunt on me. He's probably just still shocked that it didn't work."
The foursome were all in one of the chapel's spare rooms - strictly-speaking it was a storage room for some of the lesser-used pieces of religious paraphernalia, the stuff only used once or twice a year, but there was far less of it than the designers had expected, leaving more than enough room for a decent-sized card table in the middle. As usual, whenever he wasn't actively giving a service, Toren was wearing an immaculately-tailored suit with a simple clerical collar replacing the suit's usual tie. The former grifter never liked the vestments of his station, finding them full of too much pomp and ceremony for everyday use. Not to say he was a bad priest - Father Toren was staunchly devout, almost fanatically so at times, but often did away with what he considered the more superfluous elements of the Ecclesiarchy. The fact that none of his superiors had corrected this behaviour was testament to either a stubborn streak or that he'd found plenty of evidence to support his own style of venerating Him On Terra. Both was also a possibility.
"So Father, something I've been meaning to ask you," Jesebelle said, trying (and failing) to keep her face passive at the sight of a poor hand, "you've given us a lot of stories about some of the cons you pulled before joining the priesthood, but what would you say are the real elements to a good con?"
"Why d'you ask?" he replied with a smile, "Don't tell me you're planning to become one of those nobles who goes on a crime spree out of boredom, are you? I think that plot's been considered cheesy for over a century now." His laugh was grandfatherly, but with this touch to it that made him seem like a far younger man.
"Well I doubt that's going to happen; Sebastian here's too straight-laced-"
Jesebelle continued, ignoring her brother's remark. "-Maximillian's too lazy-"
"-while I can't act to save my life as clearly evidenced by how all of you have called my bluff." She finished as she dramatically (and jokingly) tossed her cards to the centre of the table, mocking the act of a childish and petulant gambler. A terrible and over-done performance, but one that still managed to elicit a laugh from her brothers and a grin from the old priest. "I'm just curious what sort of basis you worked from."
Father Toren cleared his throat before answering her. "Well there's a lot that goes into a good long-con - it's as much a science as an art form. On the one hand - calm, rational thinking. Planning ahead, covering all the angles, leaving as little to chance as possible. On the other - instinct, an intuitive grasp of the Mark and the situation and knowing, on the fly, how to work both to the grifter's advantage. Of course, a true con has elements of both.
"Oh, most grifters'll tell you that it's the planning that counts and they're not wrong. But sometimes your plan falls through or unexpected developments turn up and you need to adapt to it in seconds. But above that are some cardinal rules - firstly; you can't-"
"-cheat an honest man." all three siblings interrupted in unison. The phrase had come up in a lot of the stories he'd told the three over the years.
"Exactly - an honest man won't fall for the bait, might be more suspicious of the deal. A real con-artist needs to be able to feed his Mark's greed. They want something for nothing, so you give them nothing for something. A lot of the cons we pulled put the Mark in a position where, if he went to the Arbites about us, they'd arrest him too for being willing to participate in illegal activities. A 'foolproof investment' scam often involves the Mark believing that they're willingly taking part in insider dealing. Besides - the greedier someone is, the easier it is to rope them into a con and keep them there til they've been stung. Now, it is possible to con an honest man, but it's difficult and breeds bad luck."
"Bad luck?!" Max asked. "Didn't take you for the superstitious sort, Father."
"Normally I'm not, but it's part of the Grifter's Code. Not every grifter follows it, of course. In fact, those who do are probably in the minority. But it's about maintaining certain standards. See the decent thing would be not to grift at all, but the Code is the next best thing - bad behavour breeds bad luck. And while a long-con is 95% planning and only 5% luck, it's the five percent that'll get you locked up. It's also about honour amongst thieves - a 'nodding appreciation for one's peers' as a friend once put it. After all; grifters deal in undermining people's trust day after day, if you can't trust your peers you'll go mad!"
"So did you rip off any fellow grifters, then?" Max asked.
"Oh, a few, now and again. One was very
sweet - he ripped off the grandmother of one of our friends. He must have been stealing from little old ladies for years before he got around to dear Mrs Rice. He got what he deserved in the end - we cleaned him out of almost everything he had. Left him his van, though. And the suit we got him as part of the con."
"You got him a suit?" Jesebelle asked.
"The whole con relied on letting him think we were letting him join the crew and were letting him help with a score - he needed the suit for one of the roles he had to play. It was a cheaper one, though - we didn't have the time to get him one properly tailored and the little shit wasn't worth spending too much on. Parasites like him are just in it for the money - give honest grifters a bad name."
"So there's more to a con than just the money?" Sebastian remarked.
"If you're just in it for the profit, you're doomed. It's all about the game - the challenge. You don't get that, you don't make it as a grifter. Grifting is the aristocracy of crime - you don't do it for the money and you don't take the cheap way out unless you know
it's going to go badly."
"Sounds like you really enjoyed it," Jesebelle said, "why did you get out of it."
"Well originally it was just because we felt like it was time to retire. I'm sure the others will get back at it one day but I think my grifting days are done. We conned a mark out of ten million
Thrones as our pension. The others used their shares in various ways mine... well I already had a bit of a gambling problem but I felt I had it under control. Having that much cash, though... still; all turned out for the best in the end, eh? Now come on, Scarface, you gonna call me or are ya chickening out?" Toren joked to Maximillian to try and raise everyone's spirits after the slight downer.