I’d just turned eleven years old when my Daddy schooled my brother and me in the art of the con. While my schoolmates baked cakes in Easy-Bake Ovens and earning Eagle Scout badges, dad taught how to survive in an unfair world — the “magic” of the grift. From three-card Monte to the white van scam to small-scale Ponzi schemes, we learned every aspect of pulling off a successful con and we retained the lessons well.
Dad was a master. Street certified. He could charm a rattle from a snake and then sell it back to him at double price. My formative years were informed by his nefarious trade, one I secretly rejected. I never developed a taste for the con nor desired to practice the principles, but I acquired every skill he taught in the same way a sponge soaks up water–involuntarily and thoroughly.
“You must master the art of misdirection,” he instructed us during one of our many back-alley trainings in the streets of DC. “Distracting a mark’s attention at the most critical moments will seal your fate—for better or worse. It takes practice. Respect the craft.”
This turned out to be the easiest skill of all to learn because of the second rule.
“Learn their routine. This takes time, but this investment offers the biggest payoff.”
Introducing distractions was a piece of cake once you learned your mark inside and out. Habits bred false senses of security. Once the marks were yanked out of their comfort zones, disruptions caused havoc. Confusion festered; they stopped thinking with clarity and reason. Then they were primed to use bad judgment, to make mistakes – if we were lucky, big ones.
“Suckering a mark is all about gaining their trust and managing their perception of you.” Perception is everything. It took time to devise the persona that engendered the most trust. And trust proved to be the hardest thing to earn, but the easiest to abuse. The key to successfully achieving the latter was controlling the former. If you’re playing the game right, a mark will never see you for who you are. No, they will only see the caricature you create for the purpose of taking them for everything they’re worth.
“Read and analyze every situation. Focus. Cut and run if it doesn’t feel right. Instincts will save your life, just as ignoring them will end it.” Truer words had never been spoken. Any con game could go to the left in a relative instant, without warning. The best con men disappeared before that happened.
“The most successful grift results from the grain of an idea that you plant in your mark’s head. He believes it’s his idea when it was yours all along. Then he trusts it, falls for it, and loses.” I’d tripped up and learned this lesson the hardest way—and the fall nearly led to my undoing. Nearly.
“Don’t get greedy. Fly under the radar. Stick with the short con; even though the payout is massive on the long con, it’s dangerous and risky. The quicker you get out, the less you risk the past and your deeds catching up with you.” Greed has led even the smartest of people to make careless, stupid moves. Sadly, I proved to be no exception to this rule. Greed is the source of worry no con needs. It’s the fertile ground in which mistakes grow.
He only had one cardinal rule: “Never be an easy mark. That means always keeping your eyes open and your guard up and relying on your instincts.”
This was the single rule I’d never broken…at least not until I became a Special Agent for the FBI. There I rejected my childhood training, a mistake for which I’d pay with my reputation, my career—my life.
Playing the confidence game was never part of my plan, but neither was playing the fool. I tried to beat the consequences of both by standing on the right side of the law, by hustling my way into the safe haven of the world’s premier law enforcement agency. But I never saw the danger that was Parker Daniels coming. A sheep among wolves, I wore the uniform; he wore the costume. By my second year out of Quantico, my colleagues had taught me two lessons my father never could:
Cons existed in every walk of life – same games, different players.
Only two choices existed in the con game – play or get played.
There was no gray. Only black and white.
Ultimately, fate would successfully exploit the education gifted to me by my father, one I spurned. The only question that remained was whether it would save my life — or lead to my undoing.
On the day my troubles began, it appeared to be the latter.
S.D. Skye, an award-winning author and former Intelligence Operations Specialist/Analyst in the FBI’s counterintelligence program, supported many high-profile cases during her 12-year tenure at the Bureau. Skye has spent the last 8 years supporting the U.S. Intelligence Community as a senior intelligence analyst/editor with the DIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff J2 (Director of Intelligence), U.S. Coast Guard Intelligence, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Skye is a native Washingtonian (D.C.) and professed nerd-girl who loves all things Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Big Bang Theory. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, the Maryland Writers Association, and Sisters in Crime and lives to write novels, especially those involving 3-letter agencies and Beltway intrigue. Skye left her 20+ years in the intelligence business and now lives in the Washington suburbs with her son and works with a contractor. She is hard at work on the next installment of the series which promises to be a jaw dropper!