Chapter 3

1245 Words
Sam picks up his backpack. “See you in class, crazy-man.” I raise my bandaged hand in farewell, then stop myself. “Hey, wait a sec.” Hand on the doorknob, he turns. “I was just thinking . . . if I’m gone. Do you think you could let people keep dropping off the money here?” It bothers me to ask, simultaneously putting me in his debt and making the whole kicked-out thing real, but I’m not ready to give up the one thing I’ve got going for me at Wallingford. He hesitates. “Forget it,” I say. “Pretend I never—” He interrupts me. “Do I get a percentage?” “Twenty-five,” I say. “Twenty-five percent. But you’re going to have to do more than just collect the money for that.” He nods slowly. “Yeah, okay.” I grin. “You’re the most trustworthy guy I know.” “Flattery will get you everywhere,” Sam says. “Except, apparently, off a roof.” “Nice,” I say with a groan. I push myself off the bed and take a clean pair of itchy black uniform pants out of the dresser. “So why would you be gone? They’re not kicking you out, right?” Pulling on the pants, I turn my face away, but I can’t keep the unease out of my voice. “No. I don’t know. Let me set you up.” He nods. “Okay. What do I do?” “I’ll give you my notebook on point spreads, tallies, everything, and you just fill in whatever bets you get.” I stand, pulling my desk chair over to the closet and hopping up on the seat. “Here.” My fingers close on the notebook I taped above the door. I rip it down. Another one from sophomore year is still up there, from when business got big enough I could no longer rely on my pretty-good-but-not-photographic memory. Sam half-smiles. I can tell he’s amazed that he never noticed my hiding spot. “I think I can manage that.” The pages he’s flipping through are records of all the bets made since the beginning of our junior year at Wallingford, and the odds on each. Bets on whether the mouse loose in Stanton Hall will be killed by Kevin Brown with his mallet, or by Dr. Milton with his bacon-baited traps, or be caught by Chaiyawat Terweil with his lettuce-filled and totally humane trap. (The odds favor the mallet.) On whether Amanda, Sharone, or Courtney would be cast as the female lead in Pippin and whether the lead would be taken down by her understudy. (Courtney got it; they’re still in rehearsals.) On how many times a week “nut brownies with no nuts” will be served in the cafeteria. Real bookies take a percentage, relying on a balanced book to guarantee a profit. Like, if someone puts down five bucks on a fight, they’re really putting down four fifty, and the other fifty cents is going to the bookie. The bookie doesn’t care who wins; he only cares that the odds work so he can use the money from the losers to pay the winners. I’m not a real bookie. Kids at Wallingford want to bet on silly stuff, stuff that might never come true. They have money to burn. So some of the time I calculate the odds the right way—the real bookie way—and some of the time I calculate the odds my way and just hope I get to pocket everything instead of paying out what I can’t afford. You could say that I’m gambling too. You’d be right. “Remember,” I say, “cash only. No credit cards; no watches.” He rolls his eyes. “Are you seriously telling me someone thinks you have a credit card machine up in here?” “No,” I say. “They want you to take their card and buy something that costs what they owe. Don’t do it; it looks like you stole their card, and believe me, that’s what they’ll tell their parents.” Sam hesitates. “Yeah,” he says finally. “Okay,” I say. “There’s a new envelope on the desk. Don’t forget to mark down everything.” I know I’m nagging, but I can’t tell him that I need the money I make. It’s not easy to go to a school like this without money. I’m the only seventeen-year-old at Wallingford without a car. I motion to him to hand me the book. Just as I’m taping it into place, someone raps loudly on the door, causing me to nearly topple over. Before I can say anything, it opens, and our hall master walks in. He looks at me like he’s half-expecting to find me threading a noose. I hop down from the chair. “I was just—” “Thanks for getting down my bag,” Sam says. “Samuel Yu,” says Mr. Valerio. “I’m fairly sure that breakfast is over and classes have started.” “I bet you’re right,” Sam says, with a smirk in my direction. I could con Sam if I wanted to. I’d do it just this way, asking for his help, offering him a little profit at the same time. Take him for a chunk of his parents’ cash. I could con Sam, but I won’t. Really, I won’t. As the door clicks shut behind Sam, Valerio turns to me. “Your brother can’t come until tomorrow morning, so you’re going to have to attend classes with the rest of the students. We’re still discussing where you’ll be spending the night.” “You can always tie me to the bedposts,” I say, but Valerio doesn’t find that very funny. My mother explained the basics of the con around the same time she explained about curse work. For her the curse was how she got what she wanted and the con was how she got away with it. I can’t make people love or hate instantly, like she can, turn their bodies against them like Philip can, or take their luck away like my other brother, Barron, but you don’t need to be a worker to be a con artist. For me the curse is a crutch, but the con is everything. It was my mother who taught me that if you’re going to screw someone over—with magic and wit, or wit alone—you have to know the mark better than he knows himself. The first thing you have to do is gain his confidence. Charm him. Just be sure he thinks he’s smarter than you are. Then you—or, ideally, your partner—suggest the score. Let your mark get something right up front the first time. In the business that’s called the “convincer.” When he knows he’s already got money in his pocket and can walk away, that’s when he relaxes his guard. The second go is when you introduce bigger stakes. The big score. This is the part my mother never has to worry about. As an emotion worker, she can make anyone trust her. But she still needs to go through the steps, so that later, when they think back on it, they don’t figure out she worked them.
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