Archive | April, 2010

Of “Matchstick Men” by Eric Garcia

4 Apr

“Roy from Des Moines, today could be your lucky day.” The man flips over the three cards on his table. Two aces, one queen in the middle. “Your job,” he says, “is to find the queen. You find that beautiful, foxy lady, I double your money.”

This one isn’t meant to be hard. As he expected to, Roy wins the first few hands. Watches the cards, watches the kid’s machinations. He needs work. His fingers are too stiff, the palms too loose. Good natural style, but he needs lessons.

“How ‘bout a hundred?” asks Roy. The crowd oohs and aahs.

“A hundred it is,” says the kid. Here’s where Roy really pays attention. He knows he won’t find the queen on the felt when the cards are all down. There won’t be a queen. The kid will pocket the card, or palm it, or shove it up his sleeve, substituting a third ace. That’s the trick to three-card-monte. There’s no way to win.

Unless you’re Roy.

*****

I’ve just been conned by a hustler of a storyteller, and I can’t get this smug smile off my face.

For master con man Roy, life is a perpetual tightrope walk between risk and caution, delivery and diversion. His is a profession that allows no room for mistakes –- the simplest slip-up could cost you your life savings, or hell, even your life. But as Roy soon discovers, earning one’s bread and butter at the expense of the hapless (if gullible) citizenry does little to enhance good karma. Fate pulls a fast one on him in the person of Angela, his daughter from a failed marriage who comes a-knocking after fourteen years.

Roy quickly warms up to Angela — much to the ire of his partner in crime Frankie, who cried indignant over their latest liability. Things turn messy when Angela tries her hand at the family business and suffers the consequences, prompting Roy to choose between the fast-fade life he’s come to know and the joys of the simple life he could yet live. Author Eric Garcia pulls off his literary sleight-of-hand with minimal fuss, nimble dialogue, and a steady supply of tricks straight out of a con man’s bible. Like an authentic flimflam story, however, truth and trust are hard to come by in “Matchstick Men.” Apparently, it ain’t enough to be on the lookout and forever be on the move — because when the stakes are high, no lucky bastard can ever really have it all.