“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Friday afternoon, 4 September 2015
Emmett: He considers calling back. No. He may have lost everything but he’s kept his pride this long. So he runs, without thinking, without breathing. He hasn’t hit the gym in years, used to scoff at the kids that did, but now he understands, he can feel the burning, and his steps clack to a beat—
He finds himself at his apartment before he realizes he’s headed there.
GM: Passersby in the street stare, gawk, or simple grumble at Emmet as he pushes through crowds. After several minutes, the grifter arrives back outside the blue doors to Café Soulé, and the next-door ones to the St. Louis Apartments where he dwells. Once a fantastic deal at a killer location, to the distraught Emmett they now seem all-too close to Talal al-Saud.
Emmett: There’s not much to pack. Clothes, thrown in his one suitcase. His laptop. A few pictures of Benjamin Franklin get pressed into his wallet. In less than ten minutes, he’s tearing out the door.
GM: This late in the afternoon, the apartment complex seems largely empty. No scents of coffee or cigarette smoke emit from the nearby units. Just next door, patrons peacefully eat their lunches. He can even hear Madeline casually asking, “And what’ll it be for you, sir?”
“Hey, misser, whassa hurry!” cackles an old black man with a gold tooth as he dashes off.
Emmett: He starts walking, quick, backpack across his shoulders and suitcase dragging. He does his best to look like a tourist while he’s at it; it helps that he’s never felt quite so lost. The day, he has to admit, has not gone to plan.
Shit. Shitshitshit. One phone call. One fucking phone call.
He hails the first taxi he sees. He feels too dizzy to walk.
GM: The yellow cab pulls up. Too-loud, distinctly foreign-sounding discothèque music blares out, as does the pungent smell of left-out hummus and other, less identifiable dishes that look maybe like burritos. The driver has tanned, dusky skin and Middle Eastern features. He grins widely at the distressed “tourist” as he asks in an accented voice not dissimilar from Mohammed’s,
Emmett: An hour ago, if you can get me there. “Marigny.” He gives the name of a place he’s stayed the night before, under better circumstances. Not that that’s saying much.
Friday afternoon, 4 September 2015
GM: Emmett searches his phone during the cab ride over. To his distress, he finds that the roach motel he last stayed at in Marigny has closed. There are a few hotels in the bohemian district, but they’re mostly of the three stars and up variety, and Emmett won’t be able to afford much more than a single night on his budget. He also finds several lower-budget places in Tremé, Mid-City, and the CBD, where he could stay for longer. Further, increasingly cheap places, can also be found further away from the city’s central hub.
Emmett: He pinches his nose in frustration. “Change of plans.”
GM: The blare of overloud music from the car’s speakers is Em’s only immediate answer.
The cabbie drums his free hand along the dashboard in tune to the screaming stereos.
Emmett: Em leans forward and raps the driver lightly on his arm. “Oi.”
GM: The dusky-skinned, scraggly-bearded man glances over his seat. “Eh?”
Emmett: “Can you head towards the CBD?”
GM: The hummus-smelling driver nods along, though whether in tune to the music or Emmett’s request is hard to say. The cab, however, changes direction.
Emmett: Em leans back as it does. He hates to think, but he finds it an unfortunate necessity. He’s been scared of the police, first and foremost, but he doubts they’ll be involved. Possible, but unlikely. Saud will either ignore him or deal with him privately.
GM: The Warwick Hotel is a twelve-story high-rise located just by City Hall, Tulane Medical Center, and the Orpheum Theater. Despite its size and stately neighbors, however, the hotel seems to lurk in their collective shadows. Em’s first tipoff is the poorly-designed website. The nearly solid canvas of pink background dotted with white text looks like it was put together in the ‘90s. Unlike the glass castle that was the Ritz-Carlton, the Warwick looks more like a solid concrete block that’s had holes poked in its flank for windows.
The front doors aren’t defaced by graffiti, nor do any homeless sleep by them, but there’s nothing that particularly impresses visitors with the place either. No hanging multinational flags, no doorman who surveys Em with a silent air of disapproval. This is the sort of place where traveling businessmen resigned to staying at lower-middle management and tourists on a budget go to stay.
The lobby is clean and tidy enough, but virtually deserted. A bored-looking receptionist, just as low-paid as her Ritz-Carlton counterparts but less expected to hide it, awaits to check Em in.
Emmett: He rubs his neck as he approaches the receptionists, and asks if they have any openings. Lip trembling: “Do, uh, do you take cash?”
GM: Em registers clear suspicion on the receptionist’s face as she answers that they do. There is also a $100 deposit on top of the room fee for cash-paying guests.
Emmett: Em spins a yarn in a voice that unravels as it gets longer. His wife’s kicked him out of the house, and she froze his card, and it’s fucking humiliating, but he knows he deserves it…
GM: The receptionist skeptically looks the young man over for a moment… he doesn’t look the age of your typical married homeowner. She still accepts the cash, though, albeit with a $100 deposit that won’t be refunded if the room gets trashed or cops get involved.
Emmett: On the bright side, if either comes to pass, the deposit will be the least of his problems. He gives his name as Albert Marlowe and moves on upstairs.
GM: Em makes his way to his room on the 6th floor. It is a plain and functional affair. Cyan carpet floor, white comforter that covers all of the single-sized bed, TV just across from it. A desk and two chairs sit in the corner by the bathroom door. The bedside table has the usual lamp, phone, and bible.
Emmett: He checks his watch.
Emmett: That’s excellent. He’s lost himself a home in three hours. Hopefully a temporary situation, but even so, it stings. He unpacks, or at least unzips his bag, before collapsing onto the bed, squeezing his eyes. He becomes aware of something in his pocket, probably stuffed blindly there at the apartment. He pulls it out, scowls, and drops the pink envelope by the bible. Should have left the damn thing.
He glances at the bible.
GM: He finds it in the cabinet of his bedside table.
Emmett: It’s been a long time since he’s been in a room with one. He flips through the Good Book. Any words, God? Any advice? I’ve been waiting a long time.
GM: Opening a few random pages takes Emmett to the following verses.
“God blesses those who realize their need for Him; and who mourn will be comforted.” Matthew 5:3-4.
“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Timothy 5:8.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15.
Emmett: “Yeah. Fuck you too.” He puckers and spits on the page, aiming for the Big Guy’s name, before dropping the book by the bed. He hopes Clarice is watching.
He lays his head down for a minute. He’s got to get to work soon, but for now…
GM: Sleep comes easily enough to the harried young man. He awakens from his nap several hours later, the clouds dark and purple against the early evening sky.
Emmett: Much like the morning, he finds himself staring at the ceiling. Wondering. Still lying prone, he pulls out his phone and places a call.
GM: Numerous rings sound before the phone finally speaks up. Em can hear muffled noises in the background, some of which sound like they come from young children.
“Eveline Merinelli speaking,” sounds a woman’s voice.
Emmett: “Hey, Lena. It’s me.”
GM: “Oh, hi Em. I didn’t recognize this number. How’s things?”
Emmett: “Great,” he lies. “Just went to an audition today. Went well.”
GM: “Emmett, that’s…” Lena’s voice sounds pleasantly at first, then tapers off. “Look, you’re not a teenager anymore. You can’t get in trouble from Mom and Dad if I tattle you aren’t looking for a job.”
Emmett: “Maybe I just aim to please,” he says. “How’re the little bastards, huh?”
GM: “Try aiming for being honest to me then. I’d find that more pleasing than hearing about an audition that didn’t happen.” Lena’s tone is more sad than angry. This is far from the first time her little brother has lied to her—though one of the few times she’s actually caught him.
Em wonders how she’d sound if it was one of many times instead. Maybe less sad and more angry.
Emmett: Ok, sis. I’ve actually been a conman for the last five years while you were getting your medical degree and raising a family. It’s more fun than being an actor and probably pays better, too, until recently, since I just pissed off a literal Saudi prince—I know!— who may or may not be willing to get NOPD involved, making me the center of a diplomatic and legal shitstorm. Or, you know, just getting me killed. And Dad said I wouldn’t go anywhere without a college degree, amirite?
GM: Seemingly not in the mood to dwell on that subject further, Em’s older sister continues, “Maya and Noah are doing good. They started Pre-K and first grade not too long ago. Maya came home with her ‘first homework assignment’ actually excited to be doing it. The teacher made it like a scavenger hunt, counting up objects around the house.”
Emmett: He smiles. “That’s nice, Lena. Really, it is.”
GM: “Nicer memories than I have of doing homework during my school years, at least.”
Emmett: “Maybe not as nice as my memories of getting you to do mine.”
GM: “Yes, you enjoyed that while it lasted. You were around Maya’s age when I went off to college, but I don’t think you ever forgot that someone else had been around to do it for you.” Em can hear her smile. He can also hear childrens’ indistinct voices in the background, but louder. Along with what sounds like a dull clinking.
“Listen, the family and I are just sitting down to dinner. You doing much for the rest of tonight?”
Emmett: He hesitates. “I don’t know if you want me there tonight. Not looking my best, lately.”
And there is the distinct possibility somebody will look for me there.
GM: “Well, invite’s open if you change your mind. It’s a weekend, so we’ll be watching a movie with the kids before going to bed.”
Emmett: “Sounds cute. Might be I’ll show.”
GM: “Okay, dinner’s on the table, I gotta go.” There’s a pause. “Mom and Dad send their love.”
Emmett: “You—brea—up. Bye.”
GM: “What? All right, bye Em. Love you.”
Emmett: He tosses the phone back on the bed and runs his hands through his hair. Then he starts to change. Time to make some money.
Friday evening, 4 September 2015
Emmett: Roberts called him petty. She wasn’t wrong about that.
But he’s not just any grifter.
Emmett’s an artist.
Emmett: He works his way through the CBD, then through the Quarter and Marigny as the night drags on, paving his road with broken promises and a smile. He slides from bar to lounge to park. He decides on a mark, and waits. He wears a suit, too. White men in suits have been stealing ages longer than anybody else.
It was equal parts terrifying and hilarious when he first realized how easy it was to separate people from their common sense. A smile gets you far, and the right words get you farther. People feel grateful for the silliest reasons.
“Want to take my place? You look like you need it…”
“Don’t look now, but I think I saw that guy slip something…”
“I think you dropped your wallet… are you sure?”
Then comes conversation. Most people rarely say anything important at all. A conversation’s a dance, and it doesn’t take much to make people think you’re their new best friend as long as you make the right gestures and take the right steps. Especially when you make yourself sound a lot like them.
“Dude. You don’t even know…”
“…I know, it’s awful. I’ll never understand how somebody could…”
“…act like an ass, but you’re better off without him.”
Then you make them feel powerful. For most people, that means feeling needed. Trusted.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“I hate to ask…”
“…rock and a hard place…”
Sam—Samantha—once asked him how he could make people behave like idiots. He had told her that that was the thing; he didn’t. Most people are idiots anyway, and they believe a world of bullshit long before he gets to them, and it doesn’t matter how rich or soft they’ve had it. Businessmen believe in God. Scientists believe in politicians. College professors believe in the human spirit.
People believe in what they want to, Em told her, tracing her hair with his finger. And all I do is give them something they want to be true.
“I could probably hook you up, yeah…”
“…know her—yeah, seriously. Free tickets, every tour.”
“The guy at the door knows me. You just have to tell him my name…”
“…I just need a little help, first.”
All the world is Em’s stage, and all the boys and girls the played.
Several hours later, Em counts his “winnings” in Hamiltons and Jacksons and Franklins.
GM: Life, the young scam artist concludes, is good. It’s probably not a conclusion shared by the people parted from their money. But life is also a game, and it’s a zero-sum game. You can play to win or you can sit out and lose.
Em knows which he’s doing.