"I spent three days in the Field Museum,
eyeing the exhibits…"
This short story narrated by a con man starts slow, but since it’s a short story, it’s only 1,200 words or so, and it ends with a nice subtle twist where the con artist explains how he was caught.
The writer, Ben Hecht, was a prolific author and screenwriter who wrote or contributed to the early films Scarface, The Front Page, Wuthering Heights, Spellbound, Notorious, Monkey Business, Gone With the Wind, and Casino Royale.
Dapper Pete and the Sucker Play is from the book A Thousand And One Afternoons in Chicago, published in 1922.
Dapper Pete and the Sucker Play
Dapper Pete Handley, the veteran con man, shook hands all around with his old friends in the detective bureau and followed his captors into the basement. Another pinch for Dapper Pete; another jam to pry out of. The cell door closed and Pete composed his lean, gambler’s face, eyed his manicured nails and with a sigh sat down on the wooden cell bench to wait for his lawyer.
"Whether I’m guilty of this or not," said Dapper Pete, "it goes to show what a sucker a guy is – even a smart guy. This ain’t no sermon against a life of crime I’m pulling, mind you. I’m too old to do that and my sense of humor is workin’ too good. I’m only sayin’ what a sucker a guy is – sometimes. Take me."
Dapper Pete registered mock woe.
"Not that I’m guilty, mind you, or anything like that. But on general principles I usually keep out of the way of the coppers. Especially when there’s been a misunderstanding concerning some deal or other. Well, how I happen to be here just goes to show what a sucker a guy is – even me."
"I come straight here from Grand Island, Neb. I had a deal on in Grand Island and worked it for a couple of months. And after I finished there was trouble and I left. I knew there would be warrants and commotion, the deal having flopped and a lot of prominent citizens feeling as if they had been bilked. You know how them get-rich-quick investors are. If they don’t make 3,000 per cent profit over night they raise a squawk right away. And wanna arrest you.
"So I lit out and came to Chicago and when I got here some friends of mine tipped me off that there was considerable hunt for me. Well, I figured that the Nebraska coppers had let out a big holler and I thought it best to lay kind of low and keep out of trouble. That was only last week, you see.
"So I get the bright idea. Layin’ around town with nothin’ to do but keep out of sight ain’t the cinch it sounds. You get so sick and tired of your own company that you’re almost ready to throw your arms around the first harness bull you meet.
"But," smiled Dapper Pete, "I restrained myself."
There was time out while Pete discussed the irresponsibility, cruelty and selfishness of policemen in general. After which he continued with his original narrative:
"It was like this," he said. "I made up my mind that I would take in a few of the points of interest in the city I ain’t ever got around to. Being a Chicagoan, like most Chicagoans I ain’t ever seen any of our natural wonders at all. So first day out I figured that the place no copper would ever look for me would be like the Field Museum and in the zoo and on the beach and like that.
"So, first of all, I join a rubberneck crowd in one of the carryalls with a megaphone guy in charge. And I ride around all day. I got kind of nervous owing to the many coppers we kept passing and exchanging courtesies with. But I stuck all day, knowing that no sleuth was going looking for Dapper Pete on a rubberneck wagon.
"Well, then I spent three days in the Field Museum, eyeing the exhibits. Can you beat it? I walk around and walk around rubbering at mummies and bones and – well, I ain’t kiddin’, but they was among the three most interesting days I ever put in. And I felt pretty good, too, knowin’ that no copper would be thinking of Dapper Pete as being in the museums.
"Then after that I went to the zoo and, rubbered at the animals and birds. And I sat in the park and watched comical ball games and golf games and the like. And then I went on some of those boats that run between no place and nowhere–you get on at a pier and ride for a half hour and get off at a pier and have to call a taxi in order to find your way back to anywhere. You get me?
"I’m tellin’ you all this," said Dapper Pete cautiously, "with no reference to the charges involved and for which I am pinched and incarcerated for, see? But I thought you might make a story out of the way a guy like me with all my experience dogin’ coppers can play himself for a sucker.
"Well, pretty soon I pretty near run out of rube spots to take in. And then I think suddenly of the observation towers like on the Masonic Temple and the Wrigley Building. I headed for them right away, figuring to take a sandwich or so along and spend the day leisurely giving the city the once over from my eerie perch.
"And when I come home that night and told my friends about it they was all excited. They all agreed that I had made the discovery of the age and all claimed to feel sorry they wasn’t hiding out from the coppers, just for the sake of bein’ able to lay low on top of a loop building. It does sound pretty good, even now.
"I was on my fifth day and was just walking in on the Masonic Temple observation platform when things began to happen. You know how the city looks from high up. Like a lot of toys crawling around. And it’s nice and cool and on the whole as good a place to lay low in as you want. And there’s always kind of comical company, see? Rubes on their honeymoon and sightseers and old maids and finicky old parties afraid of fallin’ off, and gals and their Johns lookin’ for some quiet place to spoon."
Dapper Pete sighed in memory.
"I am sitting there nibbling a sandwich," he went on, "when a hick comes along and looks at me."
"’Hello, pardner,’ he says. ‘How’s the gas mine business?’
"And I look at him and pretend I don’t savvy at all. But this terrible looking rube grins and walks up to me, so help me God, and pulls back his lapel and shows me the big star.
"’You better come along peaceabul,’ he says. ‘I know you, Pete Handley,’ just like that. So I get up and follow this hick down the elevator and he turns me over to a cop on State Street and I am given the ride to the hoosegow. Can you beat it?"
"But who was the party with the star and why the pinch?" I asked Dapper Pete. That gentleman screwed his lean, gambler’s face into a ludicrous frown.
"Him," he sighed, "that was Jim Sloan, constable from Grand Island, Neb. And they sent him here about two weeks ago to find me. See? And all this rube does is ride around in rubberneck wagons and take in the museums and parks, having no idee where I was. He figured merely on enjoyin’ himself at Nebraska’s expense.
"And he was just on the observation tower lookin’ over the city in his rube way when I have to walk into him. Yes, sir, Pete Handley, and there ain’t no slicker guy in the country, walkin’ like a prize sucker right into the arms of a Grand Island, Neb., constable. It all goes to show," sighed Dapper Pete, "what a small world it is after all."
– Dapper Pete and the Sucker Play>>
– Ben Hecht at Wikipedia>>