Title: The Number One Rule
Written for: Yuletide Treasure
His first con changed his life.
He was twelve and had been picking pockets for three years. His mother was an alcoholic and his father was a figment of his imagination. He had vague recollections of a large man with a loud voice who hit him and his mother a lot. The old man had taken off before Rusty turned three and since then his mother had worked as a waitress in an all-night diner; the rest of the time, she drank.
So Rusty learned to be self sufficient. He got himself up and dressed in the morning. He walked to school alone and came home to an empty house. He scrounged meals whenever and wherever he could, and learned to pick pockets for some spending money.
But when he turned twelve all that changed.
He met a group of street kids, a gang you’d call it now, and they talked of doing bigger and better things than just picking pockets. They told him that they could score enough money in one night to last them all a month.
The kids had been staking out a run down liquor store for a few weeks when they brought Rusty into the fold. The man who ran the place was careless when he took his deposits to the bank and they planned to distract him and steal the deposit bag.
Rusty was chosen as the distraction.
When the night came to pull the job, Rusty felt sick. This was way bigger than stealing some guy’s wallet and he was afraid that someone would get hurt. But there was no way he was backing out and ruining his rep with the other street kids.
Rusty checked his watch when the man walked out of the liquor store and locked the door. It was exactly 9:05, the same time he left every night. He put the large key ring in his pocket and walked toward the spot where Rusty waited, the deposit bag tucked firmly in the inside pocket of his coat.
When he got to the darkened area between streetlights, Rusty stepped out of the doorway and blocked the man’s path.
“Excuse me, sir?” he said in a tentative voice. He hoped his nerves worked for his part.
“Yes, son?” the man questioned, his voice and manner wary.
“Could you spare a dollar so I can get something to eat?”
The man gave Rusty the once over. Before he had a chance to answer, the other guys snuck up behind him. One of them swung a baseball bat at the man’s head. Rusty grabbed the man’s arm and pulled him out of the way and the bat landed its blow on his shoulder. Confusion shone in the man’s eyes as he swung around to protect himself. Rusty’s eyes widened when the man pulled a gun from his pants, hidden in the small of his back and aimed it at the other kids in the gang.
“Do you still wish to rob me?” he asked in a frighteningly calm voice. The boys scattered and ran. The man turned back to Rusty, who was frozen in place and unable to run.
“You’ll come with me,” the man instructed, grabbing Rusty’s arm and dragging him down the street. Rusty thought for sure he was going to end up in jail or in a home for wayward boys.
Rusty had been wrong. Saul didn’t turn him in for his stunt. Instead, he took Rusty home with him, cleaned him up and said he’d teach him to be a successful con man.
“Anyone can be a street hustler, Rusty, but it takes a man with special talents to run a good con.”
Rusty rushed to Saul’s house every day after school for his lessons and, when his mother ended up dying from liver failure when he was fifteen, Saul took him in.
“Never con a con man,” was Saul’s number one rule. Rusty kept a small notebook under his pillow where he kept track of all of Saul’s rules, tips, and tricks of the trade.
“The success of a con is in the details,” was the second rule. Rusty was a detail man. He had a photographic memory and kept meticulous notes in a short hand that only he understood. As the years passed, Rusty became Saul’s right hand man. By the age of twenty-two, Rusty was one of the most respected con men on the east coast.
When Rusty turned twenty-five, he and Saul planned a daring con at one of the prestigious auction houses in New York. Saul was tipped off to a shipment of very expensive Incan Matrimonial Head Masks that was to be delivered from South America. The gentleman who gave Saul the tip was interested in purchasing the entire shipment, but had a strong dislike for the manager of the auction house. He offered to pay quite handsomely if Saul could deliver the masks without going through the auction house.
Rusty did the research and came up with a brilliant plan to replace the masks with fakes while they waited in a hanger at the airport to be delivered to the auction house. Saul was impressed with the plan and agreed to let Rusty run the con himself.
Rusty’s friends, Virgil and Turk, were working at the airport as baggage handlers. They got Rusty access to the hanger, where he waited for the shipment. He waited for hours and was relieved when the shipment was finally delivered and the workmen left the hanger for the night.
He crept out of his hiding place silently and began to open the crates containing the masks.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing?” a voice boomed through the darkness, chilling Rusty’s blood as he realized he was caught.
Then the young man came into view in the faint moon light that was streaming through the high windows in the hanger. He was dressed in all black, like Rusty, and wasn’t holding a badge or a gun.
“I could ask you the same question,” Rusty responded with a confidence he didn’t feel.
Saul’s third rule - “Con means Confidence and you won’t pull off a job without it.”
The two stared at each other, neither wanting to back down or admit why they were there.
The other man finally broke the impasse with an impish grin. “Danny Ocean,” he said, holding out his hand.
Rusty was skeptical, but shook the proffered hand. “Rusty Ryan.”
Recognition flooded Danny’s eyes. “I’ve heard of you. You pulled the Mason job,” he said - a touch of awe creeping into his voice.
Rusty finally flashed a grin. “So my reputation precedes me.”
“It sure does. I guess you’re here to steal the Incan masks, too.”
“Yeah,” Rusty admitted. “It’s the first job I’m pulling on my own.”
“Same here,” Danny said. “Ruben is going to be pissed when he finds out I wasn’t the only one here.”
“Ruben?” Rusty said. “You’re not talking about Ruben Tishcoff are you?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“That’s who hired Saul to pull this job.”
“Saul? Saul Bloom?”
“He’s my mentor,” Rusty explained.
“Ruben told me that’s who hired us to do this job.”
Both young men were confused by the conflicting stories and began to wonder if they had been set up. They decided that they’d each take half of the masks and see what Ruben and Saul said. They made arrangements to meet for lunch the following day.
As it turned out, Ruben and Saul had set up Danny and Rusty. They wanted to test the two and see if they’d be able to work together. The shipment of masks was phony, but the job forged a strong friendship between the two young men.
It was another turning point in Rusty’s life.
Rusty and Danny became an unstoppable team. Danny had great ideas and Rusty had the experience to pull them off. Between them, and because of their friendships with Saul and Ruben, they had a network of contacts all over the country and were always able to find willing participants in their schemes.
Their life of crime financed a penthouse apartment in New York, a time share at a condo in West Palm Beach and frequent trips to Vegas. They were young, good looking and rich.
The only think lacking in their lives were girlfriends.
Rusty could never understand why neither of them was able to maintain a long term relationship with a woman. Any time they went to clubs, they had women throwing themselves at them. They’d take them out for expensive dinners, jet them away for a long weekend on a balmy beach or buy them jewelry. But no woman lasted very long in either Rusty or Danny’s life, much to their mutual chagrin.
“Do you think it’s because we’re criminals?” Danny asked one night when they stayed in to finalize plans for a big heist the following week.
“They don’t know we’re criminals,” Rusty pointed out.
“Then why do you think they lose interest so soon?”
“I don’t know. Why is it so important?”
“Because I don’t want to be alone anymore,” Danny admitted.
Rusty was surprised. Danny seldom showed emotion. He knew that Danny had lost his parents young; it was one of the things that had bonded them so quickly. But Danny had never come across as anything less than confident and independent.
“You’re not alone,” Rusty said, the words escaping before he had time to consider their implications. “You have me.”
Their gazes locked across the table. Tension crackled in the room as they both suddenly became aware of the mutual attraction. Both were shocked by the power of their emotions and desires and neither could figure out what the next move should be.
Finally, Danny pushed back his chair and stood up, his eyes never leaving Rusty. He turned and headed to the mini bar in the corner of the living room where he expertly fixed two neat scotches. He returned to the table, setting one glass in front of Rusty and taking a long drink from the other before taking his seat again. Rusty looked from Danny to the drink and back several times before grabbing the glass and downing the drink in one gulp.
A smile played at the corners of Danny’s mouth as he finished his own drink more slowly.
The silence in the room had become palpable. Both men were at a loss to express themselves for what seemed like the first time in their lives. They’d both grown up to become glib, self-assured, fast-talking con men and they were both speechless. Danny went back to the bar to fix another round of drinks, this time bringing the bottle of scotch back to the table with him. They sat in silence, downing glass after glass of the amber liquid, just watching each other as they tried to wrap their minds around what could happen between them.
After three glasses of scotch, Rusty felt woozy. He knew he was well on his way to being drunk and his confusion over his feelings for Danny only added to his feeling of dizziness. He shakily pushed his chair back from the table and stumbled to the bathroom. When he was finished, he splashed cold water on his face and tried to pull himself together to face Danny again.
Rusty barely made it out of the bathroom before he found himself in Danny’s arms. Before he could even process the ramifications of what was going on, Danny’s lips were crushing against his, his tongue prodding and opening Rusty’s mouth, sliding in deep and exploring. Instinctively, Rusty returned the kiss, his arms wrapping themselves around Danny like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.
Rusty felt Danny pushing him backwards gently, guiding him to Danny’s bedroom, their hands and lips frantically exploring each other. Rusty soon found himself on his back on Danny’s bed, the silence punctuated only by soft gasps and moans as they continued their exploration of each other’s bodies.
Their clothing soon ended up on the floor and they spent the rest of the night finding pleasure in ways they had never dreamed possible.
The next morning, Rusty awoke alone in Danny’s bed with a splitting headache. He remembered everything they had done the night before and he braced himself for an awkward morning-after scene. They hadn’t discussed what they were doing or how it might change their relationship. He fumbled on the floor for his boxers, gathered up the rest of his clothing, and walked out of Danny’s room.
He was greeted by the scent of coffee and the sound of bacon sizzling. Danny was in the kitchen, showered and dressed, preparing breakfast.
“You should have just enough time to grab a shower before breakfast is ready,” Danny said.
“Okay.” Rusty went into his own room and gathered what he needed for a shower. He felt a little more human by the time he joined Danny in the kitchen.
“Here you go,” Danny said, serving him a plate with bacon, eggs and toast. A mug of steaming coffee sat in front of him. Rusty was confused by Danny’s actions and knew they really needed to talk about what had occurred the night before.
“Danny -” he began.
“Don’t,” Danny cut him off.
Rusty shrugged and began to eat his breakfast. Danny prepared himself a plate and sat down across from Rusty.
“We still have a lot of details to finalize before our trip,” Danny said.
The heist went off without a hitch and they never spoke of their one night of passion. A week after they returned from the trip, Danny introduced Rusty to his new girlfriend, Tess. Within months, Danny moved out of their penthouse and in with Tess, putting a diamond engagement ring on her finger.
Rusty threw himself into his work and tried to forget how it had felt to have Danny’s lips pressed against his. He knew that Danny was only fooling himself with Tess and it was only a matter of time before Danny realized it too.
After all, Rusty remembered Saul’s number one rule: Never con a con man.