The world is full of con-people, and sometimes you can never be sure who to trust. For this year’s blogging I am posting some pieces called Cautionary Tales, partly because I’m not sure where I can send them for publication. They are all quirky, a touch whimsical in places, and, with meagre moralistic stance, contain little message.
Each is around 500 words long, and flash fiction – if nothing else – is an excellent discipline for a writer. The initial prompt was the call for submissions to the Antisocial Writer’s annual zine. This month’s Tale was published in the Circus Antizine, along with the title-story of this set. It is about a sweet old dear called Melinda who turned out to be a con-woman with a flaw. But she had the last laugh.
Or did she?
from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales
Melinda the Launderer
Millie laundered money. She quarrelled with the cashpoint, fiddled and diddled the lottery, and haggled with the hole-in-the-wall.
I asked for two-hundred, not twenty; no, I haven’t forgotten my PIN; I want a statement – service unavailable? I want five quid, not ten.
She terrorised the checkout staff by placing fewer, not less, than ten items in her trolley, then queuing in the baskets-only line.
The she argued and debated with the self-service tills.
That is not an unexpected item in the bagging area: it’s my bag – I put it there; no I don’t need your approval, and I don’t have a Nectar Card at all. Not at all – no – not even a little bit.
She never checked her change at the Post Office Counter; mistakes could always be rectified; and when the bus instructed her ‘Exact change required’ in the absence of a conductor she simply threw in exactly what change she had.
I’ve paid my fare; it’s not enough? That’s unfair – okay, I’ll get off one stop early.
No-one ever challenged her, or asked for proof of purchase.
I’ve got my goods, what more proof do you need?
And if she ever needed a refund, you can be sure the product never came in its original packaging, so why should she return it in the condition that she bought it?
It came that way, that was how it was in the shop; this shop? Of course; it was ex-display! What do you mean, you don’t even sell it; are you accusing me; how dare you; who’d have thought it!
She became a friend of Paypal, travelled East with Western Union, and docked her ship in E-Bay; kept her pocket-money in a sock, and phished the internet for plastic cash. She cracked more codes than an enigma, learned more passwords than a Russian Spy; cyphered and deciphered those illegible spam-filters quicker than a coffee pot can percolate a caffeinated scam.
Melinda was a con-woman, a fiddler, a daylight-robber; a launderette, and a scamstress. At eighty-four, she thought was above suspicion – well sort of – more or less.
There was one thing Millie hadn’t bargained for: that her brain might let her down in the end. She had a good mind for figures; knowledge of numbers, an unquenchable thirst for ready cash.
But when she got home with her stash, she could never be sure of the street-name, let alone the colour of her front door. Every day Colin the Constable found her trying every lock; more often than not on a different street.
He’d take her home, never suspecting the millionaire granny was anything other than sweet.
I’ll remember you in my will, dear – no I’ll not forget.
And she didn’t.
But sadly for Colin the Constable, she pulled off her greatest con-trick. All the money she left him was hookie, and he, being bent as a ten-bob note, himself ended up in the nick.