Back in the 1960s, our “acquaintance” John, friend, would be too suggestive a term, considered himself an ethical con artist. John believed in fleecing, not taking fleece, and hide from his “customers.”
He argued that ” a careful fleecing in the spring allowed the fleeced a chance to recuperate. Then, if you worked your con right, you could enroll the Mark – I mean customer – and have a repeat and sweet deal.”
John had nothing but disgust and disdain for the racketeers who worked numbers, ponies, wires, and other extractive schemes that took the fleece and hide. People were seriously injured, ruined, and even died through the rackets. But, to those of us who had gotten suckered and watched John sucker others through the years, we agreed that his cons were minor, and most of those taken had only their greed or cupidity to blame for their losses.
We weren’t surprised when he went into a rage over what happened to Mrs. Mancuso with this history in mind. Mrs. Mancuso was an elderly neighbor who lived on a small pension and a Social Security payment. Mrs. Mancuso was a frequent contributor to some of John’s nickel and dime cons. Today, she was tearfully telling us how a lovely young man had sold her an insurance policy for five hundred dollars plus the monthly premiums over the past year. That was half of everything she had saved.
When she realized that the address on the policy was wrong, she had called the insurance company. But, unfortunately, the insurance company insisted that no young man named Mooney worked for them, and they had no record of her policy.
Mooney! that name seemed to send John into a further spasm of rage. Mooney! Mooney was not a con artist. He was a cheap racketeer from Dorchester who usually worked protection rackets and was a known dip ( pickpocket) on Washington Street. How dare he cut in on John’s territory and customers. John swore to get Mrs. Mancuso’s money back to her.
John only knew Mooney by reputation and said it was not a good one. Then, over beers at the Harvard Gardens, John laid out his plan. Mooney was not a con man, didn’t know the trade, and wasn’t even the brightest bulb in a poorly lit chandelier. In ten minutes, John outlined the counter con.
It was going to be a classic Pigeon Drop. Mooney was into rackets and didn’t know real cons, so he was not familiar with the classics. And he was said to be greedy too.
The con would require John and a clean, neat-suited accomplice. My only role was to stand by, look dumb and provide a distraction if needed. The Teahead of the August Moon, the Folkie Palace’s leader, was an advertising account manager by day and had a closet of suits, a valise, and the confidence needed for the job.
A Pigeon Drop requires the con artist, the accomplice, and a fat wallet. John spotted Mooney while doing his Bag Man rounds for the local numbers runners. John bent over and pretended to pick up the wallet. Acting excited, he calls out to Mooney, asking him if he dropped something. Mooney, in a hurry, says no. John whistles loudly, ” Wow, look at this; it’s stuffed with money, Benjamins, and Franklins!”
Hearing the names of his favorite presidents, Mooney walks over to where John is rifling through the wallet. John looks inquiringly at Mooney, ” man, we could split this, and no one would be the wiser!”
Up walks, the Teahead of the August Moon decked out in a three-piece suit and looking like a young bank vice president. Looking over Johns’s shoulder, he exclaims, “There has to be five grand in there. We should report to this the police!” both John and Mooney shush the Teahead. John looks around and then suggests that no one would be the wiser if they just split the cash and left the wallet. Mooney eagerly nodded in agreement, but the Teahead continued to be dubious. ” that could be someone’s savings. At least let me take it to the bank where I work and have one of the tellers count it. That way, we’d know how much there is precisely.”
John shot Mooney a look that seemed to say, “he’s honest but so dumb.” then he asked Mooney, “What do you say we let him count it up, and then split it three ways.” He silenced The Teahead when he seemed to protest, not wanting a share. Mooney slowly agreed to the plan. Then the Teahead looked intently at the other two, ” How do I know I can trust your both? You could be con artists! No, I’d like some surety of your intent. I suggest you both put up some money as an earnest of your good intent.”
John nodded at this, and Mooney mentally stumbled over the words and intent of the Teaheads suggestion. John was the first to dip into his pocket and pull out a stuffed bank envelope. ” Look, I’m moving to Portland. I had to take all my money out for the move. So here it is, fifteen hundred, all that I have and enough to suggest that I’m honest. I’ll trust you.” Mooney thought it over. The only money he had on him was the money from the numbers runners. Loose that, and he’d lose more than his fingers. But Mooney was greedy. Reaching into his cash bag, he drew out fifteen hundred and gave it to the Teahead. The Teahead had been officiously writing out receipts for the money. He then took the money and went into the bank.
John and Mooney stood around and talked for a while. Then, finally, Mooney said to John, ” the pencil neck won’t take a share; we should be both good for 2 thousand apiece or more.” They smiled broadly at each other. After ten minutes, John looked at Mooney and mentioned that their banker had not returned yet. John suggested that he go into the bank and look for him, and Mooney wait where he was in case he came out another way and was looking for them. Mooney reluctantly agreed, and John went into the bank.
Mooney waited and waited, then waited a bit longer. Then, at last, he ran into the bank and asked about the young banker and John. Nobody here answers to that description he was told.
In a panic, Mooney ran out the other entrance. But John and the Teahead were long gone, gone with the wallet, the bank envelope full of Monopoly money, and Mooney’s fifteen hundred dollars.
Mrs. Mancuso was pleased to get her five hundred dollars back, with the monthly premiums and a bit extra too. That evening, John shared the excess with his confederates and bought several rounds for the house.
At last call, he raised a toast to the Golden Fleece.
The last we heard, Mooney was seen at the Grayhound terminal getting on a bus to Scranton. He was never seen in Boston again.