I’d seen fighting cocks rip each other to shreds in Manila. Drank the blood of a cobra in Patpong. Fended off ferocious frauleins in St Pauli. I’d seen some of the best gypmeisting there ever was.

I really thought I was something.

But these crooks. Their variant of the shell game. They were pretty damn good. They looked like fellow compatriots. Folks from Romeville to be exact, across the big puddle. Americans.

It all happened on the Ramblas. In front of the Champions grocery store.

I couldn’t figure out what the hell the gypmeister was saying.

Einzweidrei … weeeesvall?

He was a swart individual with a greased back hairdoo. About my height, half my width. Silver lycra sport jersey clung to him like cellophane.

A square red mat, frayed at the edges. Three little white cups. The kind you get with your machine-made coffee. And a small foam ball.

The operator laid a cup over the foam ball and began shuffling. His two mitts a blur. Concentric circles. Figure eights. Retraced the figure eight. Switched.

I followed the cup with the ball easily. A lot of superfluous moves. To trained eyes the con is obvious. Don’t follow the fancy shapes.

So I saw some shmuck place a bet. He was the typical tourist. Or so I thought. Yellow T-shirt with I Love California printed on it. Blue jeans. Fanny pack. White Reeboks. He went:

“How much?”

Of course, another American. I looked around me and there were at least four more of them. American tourists, I mean. I thought, their tour bus must have dropped ‘em off for a nice stroll down scam central. The Ramblas, that is.


Read the rest of this story in Larry Kovaks’ book, City of Crime, available now in print or in e-book format. You can also preview the book here.


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