Awake for the Midwatch

Daily writing prompt
What time do you go to bed and wake up currently?

So I bet you have never heard of Mr. Wakey Wakey, have you? It was a Naval boogyman; a story told you young sailors on their first deployment. 
You were in a vast, cavernous ship built during the Second World War. Just full of dark or half-lit corners, the usual hazing was going on with the newbies, “Get me a left-handed wind-shifter” or other impossible gear from the farthest compartment in the ship.

Then there were the stories you got told by senior enlisted that meant as cautionary tales. Onboard my ship; there was one that stood out. A particularly sadistic bosun’s mate had been given Jonah’s Lift one night ( tossed overboard). His ghost came back looking for revenge. He walks the ship just before the mid-watch ( midnight till four AM), waking people from sleep. He lays his corpse cold hands on you and says, “Wakey Wakey, beautiful dreamer, you have the mid-watch!” The time is always exactly the time he was jettisoned overboard. So you ask, what the hell’s so scary about that? Well, you get told with a straight face; some of those he lays his hand on don’t wake, ever. They’re found in their bunks with horrible looks on their faces. The people going around waking watchstanders for the mid-watch find them that way. Of course, being worldly and wise, sophisticated 18 and nineteen-year-olds, you believe none of this.

Then that night, some sadistic jerk starts walking around with a bucket of ice water. He gets to a newbie’s bunk, makes sure his hands are cold and wet, grabs the newb by some bare part of the body, and whispers, “Wakey Wakey, beautiful dreamer. You have the midwatch!” The new shipmate had been laughing at the story just two hours before, and now he was screaming in terror.
Then one night, some kid from New York, barely free of the umbilical cord to his family, woke up, grabbed a bosun mate by the neck, and pounded him into the deck. The investigation by the Masters at Arms found that the bosun had assaulted the kid, and the kid waking from a deep sleep, merely defended himself. The bosun had gotten his own medicine back in a bad way; he spent months in sickbay recovering. After that, the Wakey Wakey tale was told, but the ice buckets and cold wet hands were forbidden.

Well, you see now that waking and sleeping are a bit sensitive issue for me. My wife never touches me on the neck or arm, always from the foot of the bed, and never says, “Wakey Wakey.” As to what time I get up. Anytime I please, but never for the mid-watch.

Cheaters Monopoly

Describe the last difficult “goodbye” you said.

In my days on the road, I lived out of a backpack. If I was in transit, there was a guitar case in my left hand, a pack on my back, and my right thumb jauntily positioned to get a ride.
Timing is everything on the road. Unless prompted by dire need, you left in the light of day. But the night my girlfriend, Charlotte, tossed me out, I found myself on the street at two AM. The dispute was over a game of Cheater’s Monopoly.
My friend John, a petty officer in the Navy, introduced me to the game. For us, neither poker nor dice held any appeal. So Cheater’s Monopoly was the game with its intricate strategy, banker cheats, and ledger de main with cards.
John had shown up at our digs needing a place to stay. That evening Charlotte was having a few friends over for a game night. After a few rounds of cribbage, John suggested Monopoly. There were groans at first until he told them about the changes in the game that made it more challenging, just a bit dangerous. Charlotte was reluctant, but the rest of the group was interested, and a party atmosphere developed.
John started them out slowly, but about half an hour into the game, I caught the signal that we should double down. I began to lose deliberately. At last, John looked at me, smiled, and said, ” you don’t have a chance of staying in the game another three turns.” I quipped back – ” wanna bet on that?” And that started the slow descent of a merely twisted game of Monopoly into a crooked game where the marks never stood a chance. Charlotte’s guests, Tom and Elaine, took this as an opportunity to bet against the man they assumed was a bad influence on sweet Charlotte. They seemed grateful for the chance to do well and victimize poor me. I saw it as an opportunity to get back at some of my girlfriend’s snotty cliques. They were all at university; I wasn’t, and dammed if Charlotte didn’t deserve better!
Over the next two hours, the game went from a friendly game night into a casino atmosphere where real money was placed on phony properties, houses, and hotels. Charlotte smelled a rat early on but could never catch me stealing. But, of course, that was because I wasn’t stealing. I was just the Dummy in John’s team – he did all the cheating, and I looked like the fumbling idiot who couldn’t play right.
After a few hours, John cleaned the guests out of their available cash and asked if he could stay the night. This tipped Charlotte over the edge, and the board games went flying as she accused both John and me, rightfully, of taking her friends in a con. While she had never caught me cheating, I drew most of her wrath, and soon my pack and guitar, followed by me, were on the landing outside the apartment.

That was how I landed on the streets of Georgetown at two in the morning. John split the take with me, and we went our separate ways to find shelter and rides out of town. It was sunrise before I caught a ride heading toward Baltimore, and I was grateful for the heater in the car.
Didn’t see Charlotte and her friends for ten years; I was presenting a paper at an Anthropological society meeting. They sat in the audience with that look on their faces that seemed to say, ” No! It can’t be!”

The Devil


You’d be hard-pressed to find any family of seafarers, fisherfolk, or plain coastal types without some horror tale on the water. It just goes with the territory; salt water envelopes most of the world and is dangerous. 

Lurking beneath that calm tropical paradise you’ve vacationed in are currents, tides, rips, rocks, tidal flats, and reefs – these might all be known hazards, but that doesn’t mean that they are less deadly. Circumstances and bad luck can be the dividing line between inconvenience and tragedy. And that’s just the stuff you can make plans to avoid or correct.

There’s just a ton of stuff you can’t plan for; rogue waves, sudden squalls, engine failures that put you at risk on lee shores, collisions with unseen objects, and illness at sea. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. It’s no wonder that hidden in every sailor is a tiny little superstitious knot. It might not be as apparent as a refusal to sail on a Friday, no bananas on board, or not whistling while you set sail, but it’s there. But without a doubt, the most dangerous element at sea will always be the human element.

Where I lived on the coast, it was considered bad luck to change the name of a boat. But, if you did, many boatyards followed procedures that seemed more like heathen rituals than practices you find in any of the local Baptist, Congregationalist, or Methodist church.

Libations would be poured to Neptunas Rex and Davy Jones. Coins under the masts would be added to, carefully put back in the exact locations after repair, or eliminated in exchange for a completely new set, and of course, the boat would be thoroughly cleaned fore and aft. Sometimes this would not be enough.


One of the Allens from over to the cape purchased a very smart lobster boat third-hand. He did this against his wife, father, and brother’s wishes. He’d been thrice warned.

The boat had started life as a workhorse lobster boat built by a well-known builder out of Boothbay. She’d worked the waters of the mid-coast for years as the Hattie Carroll. Then, about 1974, she’d been sold to a New York City Banker who had her gutted and fixed up as a fancy boat to tour clients around during the summer; what we call a lobster yacht these days. 

Then, without any to do, he’d had a signmaker slap some vinyl letters on her, and her new name was ” The Cheek Of The Devil” in a fancy script. The boatyard had suggested that a bit of ceremony would be nice, but he wanted what he wanted, so he got it. No ceremony, but it was the talk of the harbor. Using the Devil in a boat’s name was not typical and not thought lucky.

He didn’t enjoy his boat long. A fire started offshore, and all aboard went into the bay. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been enough floatation devices aboard for all the guests, so he yielded his floatation vest and drowned. 

The boat survived with severe fire damage but was salvaged and put up for sale.

She lay in Spinney’s yard for two years before being sold. I wouldn’t know if the reason was the fire, the owner’s death, the name, or a combination of all three. But sit in the back of the yard, she did. To locals, it was the Devil when someone referred to that boat. That should have been enough to discourage any local from buying it. 

History and name suggested that nothing but ill luck was involved in that boat. Wash it in a bathtub of holy water from Saint Jerome’s, pour libations all day long, and do whatever hocus pocus you wish, and none of that would help. My father-in-law, the Cap’n, put it succinctly enough when offered the boat at a bargain rate, ” I wouldn’t allow any of my kin to sit in its shadow, much less step aboard.”


The Devil sat there until Jacob Allen went looking for a cheap boat with fast lines that he could pour a high-power engine into for lobster boat racing. The Devil fit the bill. And over a long Maine winter, he worked to rebuild the boat into his dream of a fast racer. 

During the spring, his trial runs seemed to indicate that he’d be a contender in any race he entered. Unfortunately, Jacob was not the type to go full speed ahead, only at a race. He’d run circles around other lobster boats in the local harbor gang he belonged to. Jacob took pleasure in almost swamping small craft he considered to be in his way. Jacob wasn’t well-liked.

Jacob was known to infringe on the territories of nearby lobstermen and was closely watched until, one day, he was caught. The first time you get caught, you will likely pull your traps and find a half hitch in your line. It’s a warning that your trespass has been noted. Do it again, and the penalties will go up. 

The Devil proved as successful as Jacob believed it would, and victory was frequent. Now I do not know how plush the prizes are these days, but back then, it was peanuts. You raced for the joy and pleasure of it. Jacob also raced because he loved to rub other skippers’ noses in how fast the Devil was. In a family of quiet Mainers, he inherited all the ego.


I was helping out at Spinney’s boat yard that September hauling out summer people’s boats, and overheard Spinney talking to my father-in-law, the Cap’n. They both agreed that Jacob was heading for a fall. they quieted down when I walked up, but it was common knowledge that Jacob had been robbing traps, and something was bound to happen.

Things get slower as the weather gets colder; lobstermen spend more time repairing and making new lobster pots ( or traps), repairing their gear, and taking care of their boats. But on Halloween evening, the blast rocked the entire harbor as the Devil blew up with Jacob Allen aboard. The official report said Jacob had ignited a puddle of gasoline while starting his boat. A death by misadventure, I guess. But knowing people understood that Jacob Allen had been a scrupulous man in caring for his boat.

Murder was suspected but never proven. There wasn’t much of the Devil or Jacob Allen left for an inquest, just the mutterings of people about the enemies he’d had and someone finally canceling a grudge hard.

At the coffee shop in the morning, there were comments about how the boat had been ill-fated from the start, and then, more quietly, someone muttered that the Devil had certainly known his own.


The Golden One was a large motor sailor with exquisite appointments. The fixtures in the master cabins bath were gold or at least perfect gold plate. It seemed nothing was too good for the master of the Golden One. Today she sat in a cradle at Spinney’s boatyard, having her lower stem surveyed after a mishap with a reef near the Widows. Typically something as posh as the Golden One would never be seen at Spinney’s; Smith and Farmer’s Boatyard, or East Harbor Marine maybe, but not Spinney’s. Spinney’s was more of a “Townie” sort of operation. But Spinney had availability and capacity to haul out on short notice, so there sat the Golden One in all its resplendent beauty.
Spinney seemed to think that was the semblance of resplendent beauty, not the actuality. A brief survey of the hull brought to mind the old saying that ” fresh paint and varnish can hide a multitude of sins.” While the recent incident had not created any significant new damage, the survey revealed a pattern of bare minimum maintenance that told a story of miserly spending on repair that was at odds with the Midas reputation of the Golden Ones’s owner.

The elite soirees that seemed to be held nightly were the talk of all the young women in town. Afterward, there always seemed to be the need for an extensive cleaning, which was as close as locals got to invitations aboard. The tales of what got cleaned up ranged from intimate apparel to birth control devices. Most of the harbor, and members of the local churches, were grateful that the local young men and women did not attract the attention of the master of the Golden One.
At Spinney’s, the nickname of the owner and vessel was twisted into the “Golden Masterbator.” A token of disapproval and a bit of jealousy all tied into one. Because even while in the cradle at the marine railroad, the onboard parties continued. This location away from the usual location of the yacht club allowed locals to see much more of the goings on than was normal.

The night of the raid was moonless and other than a few security lights the yard was lit by the doings onboard the Golden One. A small fleet of black cars descended on the entrance, and a tight knot of young men in dark suits emerged. Into the yard, they walked, and up to the Golden One. Then, citing their warrants, they pushed past the well-dressed toughs with bulges under their arms.

When Spinney and the local police arrived on the scene, a long line of scantily clad males and females were seen getting herded into station wagons. Boxes of suspicious goods and records also flowed. An older man identified himself to our police chief as FBI and mentioned that the Golden One, its master, and all its goods were arrested and confiscated. The minor sins involved male and female trafficking, prostitution, drugs, racketeering, and a long list of priors.

Things did not settle for a long while. The topic of conversation at the local diner was the raid. The Salacious details of activities imagined to have happened became embroidered until fact and fancy blended into one.

The Golden One, on a cradle, was moved to a storage area. One evening Spinney caught the yard’s night watchman giving tours for a dollar a pop. Spinney, a deacon of his church, was said to be outraged. Still, being that he was famously tight about money, there were divergent opinions on whether he was furious because of the scandalous nature of what had happened or that he wasn’t cut in on the take. Those of us who knew Spinney well realized that it was the former.

The Golden One was sold at auction after a thorough stripping removed gold fittings and hidden compartments. She was towed for refit over to East Harbor Marine and emerged some months later as the much more modest Tilley’s Two.
But like many small embroglios, the ongoing development of the legend of the Golden One continued to entertain the community for years. The truth, wonder, or fiction of the event, mattered much less than it was an outstanding story, and it had happened right here.


Apartments, even whole houses, are replaceable. So you can move from one city to the next with little apparent effect: the events that happened there and our reactions to them are what mattered.
When we visit an old neighborhood, there is a sort of expectation. We know that we haven’t been there for ten years, we know that our old friends don’t live there anymore, but as we turn the corner, our eyes are prepared for what should not be there: a sort of time-melting effect that takes us back. And it hardly matters if the events were good or truly awful.

Sometimes we wind up dealing with the aftermath of our actions. So it’s emotional cleanup time in aisle 11. I had this problem about twelve years ago. I finally got the courage to revisit the coastal town I had inhabited in another world and time. An entire development had replaced the house on the property overlooking the cove. The fishing pier was now a crowded restaurant, and the 34-foot ketch was no longer swinging insouciantly from her mooring.

All the individuals I had loved, disputed with, and known intimately rested in the little cemetery overlooking the water. I couldn’t go; instead, I later confirmed their locations on the internet. Coward. There had been much angst, anger, and desire. All so hollow and empty now. What had it all been about, anyway?

I knew that memory tends to be like rolling tides smoothing the rocks and moving the sands into new patterns. That’s why years later, all the boiling anger seems so empty. One thing I know about myself is that I rarely leave off. It’s never really goodbye. I hang onto things for years. So I have trouble making real the facts that I’ll never see you again – even if I hate you. I’ll cross the street thirty years from now and see you, just as you were – young.

I avoid going back to old neighborhoods, houses, and lost dreams—full of shadows, reflections, and chimeras.

Kendrick’s Gold

It was the barest glimmer of gold. Barely a speck. I took the empty cup and dug into the coarse sand, trying to recapture that gleam.
When I found it, it was surprisingly large, more the size of a half dollar, and gleaming brightly in the setting sun. I held it up to show Georgia. “Oh, Wes, that will look good on a chain around my neck.” But, feeling more than a bit possessive, I told her, “only if I find its mate so we can both have one.” We used empty cups to filter the coarse sand but found no mates to the doubloon. With a sharp eye, the Cap’n told us that it was that.
“Best to throw it back.” We had no intention of throwing it back. “Some of Kendrick’s gold, I expect. It’s best to throw it back now rather than curse it and throw it back later.
Over the next hour, the story came out. The pirate Kendrick’s had lost the sloop Belle Isle offshore on the Widows, he and the crew had gotten off, but the Belle Isle was lost with all the proceeds from raiding along the coast that season. A week of salvaging had brought almost no results, and Kendrick cursed the wreck and whoever salvaged her cargo.

“So better to toss it back now than later; it’s done nobody good in the past. Others have found it, and none have kept it. Sooner or later, it winds up back here being sifted in the sands near the Widows. They had a doubloon up to the town Historical Society when I was a boy. They had a program on Kendrick and his gold, and then the building burned to the ground. The doubloon was there in the middle of the wreckage, unmelted. They were smart and tossed it back here where it belongs.”

There was no way either Georgia or I would toss it back into the tide. Over the next two days, we spent every spare moment sifting sand, looking for a matching piece. I held onto the original. Georgia looked at it with envy, and every time I allowed her to hold it, I felt a bit bereft for not having its solid weight in my palm.

On day three, the car broke down, and we walked to the little shingle and sand beach. Unfortunately, Georgia fell and sprained her ankle hopping from stone to stone on day four. However, the Cap’n maintained that it was not mere misfortune. Day five was marred by food poisoning. It was Sunday, and I ate what everyone else ate; lobster. But only I got sick. My dreams were marred by Kendricks visiting me and demanding his gold back.

On Monday, I woke from food poisoning to find the gold gone. Georgia had taken it to a jeweler for fitting into a necklace. That evening we had the worst fight ever, and I almost struck her. With an insane fervor, I raged at how stupid she was to leave the gold with a complete stranger. I immediately drove over town and retrieved the coin from a bewildered jeweler.

When I returned, I found the Captain and Georgia talking to a reporter from the local paper about how we had found the coin. I refused to speak or allow the coin to be photographed. Later the Cap’n found me down by the float replacing a worn line. “Give it up now, Wes; this is how it starts. It’s just small stuff, and then it builds until something fatal happens, or it gets returned to the tides.”

I stood up and made to hop aboard the ketch. I slipped and, in catching myself, wrenched my arm and fell between the float and the boat. A swell first moved the ketch away and then crushed me against the float. I saw nothing for a long while.

When I woke, I was in the emergency room. I reached for my pants on the chair but found the pocket empty. I began yelling. The Cap’n was the first to appear. ” you can quit hollering. It’s gone. I deep-sixed it in the tide not long after bringing you in.”
Something about the term deep-six brought back memories of my father talking to me about Davy Jones and how lost sailors and possessions gone overboard all belonged to Davy. Sometimes, the tides tossed up Davy Jones’s Locker items, but they were on loan only. So sooner or later, they would find their way back to the sea.
Speaking to the Cap’n, I found that agreement on this was a rare time my Marine Engineer father and Master Mariner father-in-law were in agreement: cursed items belonged to Davy, and it was best to leave them where found. Or return them ASAP.

After that, Georgia and I stayed away from the little shingle and sand beach. It took me several weeks to recover from my mishap, and after that, I have been careful regarding what I remove from the sea.

Last month there was an article in a glossy New England-themed magazine. They now think that they’ve located the Belle Isle and her cargo using exceptional underwater imaging technology. So I took a chance and wrote to the head of the expedition, explaining my experience. I received a thank you note and an invitation to the exhibition opening.

I instead think that I won’t go.

Night Trip

I don’t know about you, but my mind can drift into fertile territory on long nighttime drives. Anything is game; from the reasonably assumed, what if I stop working the day job and concentrate on my business? Or, if the time is late, and I’m on my way back from the Carolinas in one fast maneuver, what would a Zombie apocalypse actually look like?

Typically it’s somewhere in the middle, imagining halcyon days on the coast if I had stayed in Maine or my stylish presentation if I had practiced harder and become a successful folksinger. But, as one of my sensei says, ” shoulda been, could have been, and wanna been…get back to practice.” And with that, I snap back to whatever is playing on the radio at two AM in the morning.

The outside temperature has a role in this, I don’t think much about coastal Maine in wintertime drive with snow on the road, and I’m more likely to think about road trips with friends on lush springtime nights.

Oh, there we go again. Springtime, getting off from a ride at some all-night juke joint and grabbing a burger and fries at the bar. Then, going into the club for more entertainment, maybe ask some lady to dance. Hey, what a great band tonight, right?

Then I look up at the clock on the wall and notice that it reads 3 AM; the bartender looks at me weird as his jaw unhinges, and he lunges at me. My dance partner is no longer nibbling delightfully at my ear. Instead, she’s reared back for a chomp. All around me, Zombies are tearing up innocent dancers.

Suddenly, a blaring noise and a bright light snap me back to awareness. I swerve back into my lane. Once I calm down and take some deep breaths, I start looking for a safe place to pull over and nap. But no, I’m still in the grip of that dream.

What if They’re out there lying in wait for me?


The argument was the supreme form of discourse between Josh and John. They’d come to our gatherings prepared with topics, rebuttals, and reinforcing evidence. You had to do very little to get them going. Ask about the limits of copyright in the United States, and they’d roll on for hours; what made a substance waxy resulted in several trips to dictionaries, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and a biochemistry text. It was fun to get quizzical and ask seemingly innocent questions to get them wound up.

Their wives both certainly deserved diadems and sainthood because they related that at least twice a week, telephone calls lasted past midnight as they argued. But our monthly meetups were when we pulled out the saved ammunition of absurdities. The two seemed unaware that they were a primary form of entertainment. The potluck food was terrific, the company exquisite, but the ongoing kitchen debates were outrageous.

One night Ted decided to pull out an old chestnut and asked how many angels could dance on the top of a pin. To our surprise, neither fell for the bait. Instead, they dismissed the issue, saying there was no evidence anyone had debated this in the middle ages. Then Josh said, ” Yes, but there is the interesting commentary regarding the learned scholars debating this while the Turks breached the walls of Constantinople.” “Just folklore from the Crusaders!” argued John. ” I think it was a fabrication designed to discredit philosophy by materialists!” So back and forth it went until Ted piped up and asked, “All that is well and good, but how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
Slowly they turned, “who the hell cares.” stated Josh, with an agreeing harrumph from John. ” The historiography of the debate is what’s important.” After this, the entertainment value declined, and we all moved into the living room for coffee.

Not too long afterward, online encyclopedias became a thing, and John and Josh took to editing entries. You can find their work online almost any day. Just look in the sections of posts labeled debate, history, or edits, and you’ll find them arguing about how many jewels in the George the IV Diadem, The antiquity of the Procession of Saints, and the cost of watermelons in Philadelphia’s Italian Market on July 4th.

The old group scattered to the winds year ago; divorces, relocations, and changes in interests knocked us off one by one. Only those two continue in their senseless debate of ephemera. As Epictetus said, “First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.”


Arthur was an unsuccessful writer of dramatic tales. His plotlines involved so much obfuscation that you needed a guide to wade through the story.
He sat in the darkest recess of the coffeehouse, drinking espresso and scribbling ferociously on legal pads. Steer clear of his corner or be dragooned into listening to his latest attempt. One night It was my misfortune to get caught. After fifteen minutes, I struggled to get away only to have my sleeve grabbed, ” hold on, I’m getting to the good part now.” It was another ten minutes before I was able to depart.
Nobody knew what his day job was. This particular corner was his demesne, territorially his and undisturbed.
Arthur appeared late every afternoon and departed just before closing. Except for Sunday, he arrived at noon Sunday carrying the air of sanctity associated with the newly churched. Most regulars were good agnostics or atheists and let slip a slight whiffle of a laugh.

It seemed as though this pattern would go on forever. The most senior employees only knew that Arthur seemed to be some tail end leftover from when the coffeehouse had been a favored spot for literary luminaries. The others had moved on to Paris and San Francisco, only Arthur sat here becalmed in Greenwich Village.

One day one of the cats in the alley behind the kitchen snuck in. A waiter went after it with a broom only to have it leap onto Arthur’s table. In second, it was swept into his arms and disappeared into the large old overcoat he wore. Two eyes peered out at the waiter and seemed to be saying, “there, see? I’m an expected guest. Be about your business, churl!”

The cat became Arthur’s new muse. The owners allowed the cat to be smuggled in as long as it was out of plain sight. Arthur became more sociable. Patrons and staff visited the corner to pet the cat and allowed themselves to be sat down to listen to the adventures that featured Snip, the Greenwich Village cat as told to Arthur.

That year the owners were looking for something unique to do in the evenings leading up to Christmas. One of the regulars looked over at Arthur and Snip and jokingly suggested that they commission Arthur to write a Christmas adventure with Snip. It could be a special family evening. The suggestion was meant as a joke. But several of us sitting at the table liked the idea. It got put to the vote, and a deputation of us wandered over to suggest it to Arthur. Arthur seriously asked Snip, and after consultation, he stated that Snip agreed that it might be fun.

So the week before Christmas, Arthur, resplendent in a red Santa suit, white hair, and beard freshly combed, sat on the small stage and told the tale of how Snip had saved Santa one Christmas Eve and won the friendship of all the elves and reindeer. Throughout this Snip sat cleaning himself at Arthur’s feet. The evening was a great success and was repeated for years afterward.

I left the Village, but when I went back years later, Arthur still sat in his corner with a cup of espresso, legal pad, and supervisory cat. Only now, instead of being the peculiar relic of literary days past, he was the literary lion of the establishment. The ongoing tales of Snip selling well at bookstores and Arthur getting pointed out to visiting tourists.

The Golden Fleece

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.

%d bloggers like this: