King Con

King Con

4.3 29
by Stephen J. Cannell

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There have always been and there always will be charming, slyly clever con men. But a Master of the Game as charismatic, ingenious, elusive, and irresistible as Beano X. Bates comes along only once in a generation. His exploits are so legendary as to have earned him the highest accolade in the realm of confidence art: the title King Con. But the King's reign is…  See more details below


There have always been and there always will be charming, slyly clever con men. But a Master of the Game as charismatic, ingenious, elusive, and irresistible as Beano X. Bates comes along only once in a generation. His exploits are so legendary as to have earned him the highest accolade in the realm of confidence art: the title King Con. But the King's reign is threatened when he crosses Joe "Dancer" Rina, a New Jersey crime boss who doesn't take kindly to being cheated at high-stakes poker. Rina beats Beano nearly to death, and the grifter is so shaken that he seriously considers quitting the hustle. But when his beloved cousin Carol is brutally murdered just before testifying against Rina, Beano masterminds one final Mother of All Scams: a Byzantine and diabolical "big-store" con that will destroy Joe Rina and his Mob family. There's just one problem: Beano needs Rina's FBI file. The only person who can get it to him is Federal Prosecutor "Tricky Vicky" Hart - and she won't help unless he takes her along. An inexperienced partner is the last thing a con artist needs, but Beano has no choice. The unlikely pair trek from Atlantic City to the Bahamas to the California coast, implementing the Master Plan leading to the Big Sting, setting the traps and laying the bait, ensnaring the Rina crew by using their own greed - and money. Along the way they enlist the aid of the extended Bates family - all of them expert con artists in their own right.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Smart, fast, funny and teeming with appealing characters, this thriller by novelist (Final Victory) and TV writer (The Rockford Files, etc.) Cannell has all the marks of a hit. Beano X. Bates, a member of a clan of "nomads" (not gypsies) whose "family business" has long been con games, received a serious setback when New Jersey mobster Joe Rina used a nine-iron to put him in the hospital after a crooked card game. Beano retaliated with a criminal complaint (using the alias Frank Lemay), but his scheme backfired. Named "King Con" on America's Most Wanted, Beano sensibly eloped from the hospital and slipped off to Florida, where he is now hiding out, appropriately selling used cars. Back in New Jersey, however, Assistant Attorney General Victoria Hart has a surprise eyewitness to the beating. But an antiseptic hit (no bodies, blood or clues) wipes out Victoria's case, and she's just about fired by her smarmy, ambitious boss. Eager to get revenge against the Rinas and seeing a chance to pull off a multimillion-dollar scam, Beano enlists Victoria's aid, using his formidable grifter's charm. With help from dozens of Bateses, the pair run an escalating series of cons (including "The Most Valuable Dog in the World" scam). In a plot that never stops for breath, Vicky learns a great deal: dressed as a bimbo, for example, she discovers why "girls in five-inch platform shoes all looked stupid. It was impossible to walk." Major ad/promo; author tour. (May) FYI: Cannell is to write and co-produce an MGM film production of King Con, starring John Travolta.
Library Journal
New Jersey mobsters Tommy and Joe Rina kill the star witness in the state's case against them, and "King Con" Beano X. Bates plots revenge in the form of an elaborate "sting." Aiding him is former New Jersey prosecutor Victoria Hart, prim, upstanding, and dedicated, who's drawn into the sting unwillingly, then takes glee in committing felonies and telling lies right and left. Screen- and TV writer Cannell's second novel (following Final Victim, LJ 4/15/96) is pure delight; its well-developed plot line has nice detours here and there so the reader cannot quite foresee the conclusion. The entire Bates family, criminals all, are wonderful characters, and although some of the action is far-fetched and the sting dialog gets boring in its technicality, the wry humor will keep readers enthralled. Great summer reading for all libraries. (Cannell is making this into an MGM movie with John Travolta as Beano.) [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/97.]Alice DiNizo, Raritan P.L., N.J.
Kirkus Reviews
Breezy, novelized screenplay from TV screenwriter Cannell (Final Victim, 1996, etc.) almost makes crime cute.

When charming card cheat and confidence man Beano X. Bates takes too much money out of the pocket of Armani-draped New Jersey mafia boss Joseph Rina, Rina nearly beats him to death with a golf club. Rather than testify against Rina in an upcoming trial, Bates leaves the hospital and disappears, leaving feisty, terminally beautiful state prosecutor Victoria Hart without much of a case. Then Carol Sesnick, a protected witness in the Rina trial, is found murdered, along with her two state-police bodyguards, at the bottom of an elevator shaft in a Trenton apartment building. Hiding out as a used-car salesman in Florida, Beano, who's also on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, feels bad seeing his face flashed on television. He wants to quit being a con man and live easy with his cute terrier Roger-the-Dodger, but, having descended from a family of grifters, Bates can't quite ignore the calling of his blood. The murder of Sesnick, who's descended from a family of gypsies that has intermarried with the Bates clan, gives him the excuse to use his nefarious skills to bring Rina to justice. He teams up with Hart and teaches her a thing or two about small-time scams and the joys of preying on the deservingly dishonest. The two fall in love and wind up sufficiently imperiled (having successfully duped Tommy "Two Times" Rina, Joe's homicidal brother) to justify a slam-bang, ultraviolent finish just before the wedding bells ring.

Cannell shows off his skill at Elmore Leonardstyle plot twists and slangy street dialogue, but his blend of cinematically detailed violence and pointless Hollywood fairy-tale scenes fails to convince.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.74(w) x 4.06(h) x 1.15(d)

Read an Excerpt

"You been getting good at cards," Joe Rina said with out emotion, his movie-star face revealing no hint of danger.

"Sometimes the cards run that way," Beano replied as he watched his urine mix with Joe's and flow into a drain full Or bar ice and black pepper.

"You call a lot of six-card optional," Joe said, refer ring to a dealer's choice game that Beano preferred be cause, after the fifth card was dealt, the players could exchange any one of their cards for a sixth card before betting commenced. Beano liked the game because it gave him more cards to scope with his money clip shiner.

"Yeah," Beano grinned, "that's game's been working pretty good for me."

"You ever hear about Soapy Smith?" Joe said softly.

"Don't think I have," Beano replied, dreading the story, which he correctly assumed would be some kind of ghastly warning.

"They called him Soapy because he marked cards with soap. Kept a little sliver between his index and middle fingers, used it to stripe the cards. Soapy did real good in Atlantic City when I was growing up . . . drove a big, black Cadillac. All us kids wanted to be like him . . . lotsa women, great clothes. Always wore the ltalian or French designers. Everything was great till Saturday, June eighteenth, 1978.... That was the day we all changed our minds about being like Soapy."

"Really?" Beano said, his smile passed on his face, his puckering dick hanging forgotten in his hand. He put it away, zipped up, and moved to the washbasin, wishing he didn't have to hear the end of the tale.

In a minute, Joe Dancer's reflection joined his in the mirror. "Yeah. Poor Soapy got caught jammin' some players at the Purple Tiger, which was a little card club downon the wharf, by the pier. Those guys he was cheatin' were serious players, and they were real mad 'cause they trusted Soapy, so they held him down and jointed the poor guy while he was still alive."

"I beg your pardon?" Beano said.

"One guy, I think he'd been a medic in 'Nam, amputated Soapy a section at a time, while the others held him down. They had a plumber clamping off veins and arteries so he wouldn't bleed out. Kept him alive for about fifteen or twenty minutes. By the time they took off his left arm, poor Soapy's heart stopped."

Somebody flushed a toilet in the stall behind them.

"That's a damn good reason not to cheat," Beano managed, his insides now frozen like his smile.

"I always thought so," Joe said. And without any expression crossing his gorgeous aquiline face, he walked away from the sink.

The story made its point. Beano figured eighty-six grand was plenty. He decided to just hold even, maybe give some of it back, until the game time limit.

The game was called at exactly midnight, and Beano cashed in seventy-eight thousand in chips. Joe Rina left without saying another word. Beano stayed in the bar talking the losers down for about an hour, drinking and telling everybody it had been the best card night of his life.

At a few minutes past one, Beano walked out of the almost deserted country club and headed to his rental car.

What happened to Beano in the parking lot wasn't as bad as what had happened to Soapy Smith in Atlantic City, but it certainly made the same point.

He had just arrived at his car and was putting his briefcase into the trunk when he was staggered by a massive blow from behind. It hit him with such devastating force at the back of his skull that Beano instantly dropped to his knees, splitting open his forehead on the back bumper. He spun awkwardly around in time to see a nine-iron flying out of the darkness, right into his face. It was a chip shot from hell that broke all his front teeth and shattered his jaw, skewing it terribly. Beano fell to the pavement, then grunted in horrible, unendurable pain as four more horrendous blows from the golf club broke the third, fifth, and seventh ribs along his spinal column, also shattering his clavicle and sinus cavity.

Beano was barely conscious when Joe Rina stuck his handsome face down so close that Beano could smell his breath and mint aftershave.

"You look pretty bad, Mr. Lemay," the mobster said. "You might be able to pull this stuff on that buncha buffaloes in there, but you should know better than to try and cheat Joseph Rina."

Beano couldn't talk. His jaw was locked by bone chips and a break that knocked it badly out of alignment.

"Now I'm gonna take my money back. But let me assure you this has been very helpful," Joe Dancer said with exaggerated politeness. "I've been having trouble with my short game. I think I wasn't keeping my head down and following through like my guy keeps telling me. Thanks for the practice." Joe stood up; then Beano felt pure agony as two more blows rained down onto his body for good measure. He started to cough up blood. Beano knew he was badly wounded, but more important, in that instant he felt something die inside him. It was as if the most critical piece of Beano Bates, his charming confidence had left him like smoke out of an open window. It was his confidence and ego that allowed him to be the best. As he lost consciousness, he somehow knew that if he survived he would never be the same again.

He woke up in New Jersey, at the Mercer County Hospital. He was in ICU. The nurses told him he'd had ten hours of surgery, that three teams of orthopedists and neurosurgeons had spent the night putting his busted face and body back in place. His jaw was wired shut. There was a large pair of wire clippers next to his bed. When he was conscious enough to understand, the trauma nurse told him that if he felt like vomiting from the surgical anesthesia or antibiotics, he should get the clippers and cut his wired jaw open, so that he wouldn't vomit back into his trachea and lungs and choke to death. It was sobering advice. He lay in agony for weeks, feeling every inch of his body throb. Even the impressive list of meds he was taking couldn't completely mask the pain.

The New Jersey State Police transcribed his statement from his hospital room. He talked to them through his wired mouth, forming the words like an amateur ventriloquist. Beano gave his statement under his assumed name, Frank Lemay, because there were three Federal warrants out on him for criminal fraud and various other sophisticated con games. He was also currently on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. It was better if the authorities thought it was Frank Lemay who had been beaten up by Joe Rina. He also didn't tell them that he had no intention of ever testifying against the handsome mob boss.

His old friend and fellow card sharper "Three Finger" Freddy Feinberg came to visit him in the hospital. The gray-haired card shark looked down in shock at Beano, who was still swollen and discolored like rotting fruit. "Jeez, man, you look like a fucking typhoid victim," he said. It had been Freddy who arranged for Beano to get in the game. "I told ya, Beano, I told ya, 'Be careful of that guy Joe Rina.' " And then Three Finger Freddy told him about a rumor that was buzzing around in the street. The word was that Joe Dancer was still pissed and had put out a contract on Frank Lemay, because he had not shown the grace and good sense to die in the country club parking lot like he was supposed to. Three Finger Freddy also told him about how the Rina brothers had taken care of disposal of bodies in the old days. It was another story Beano could have done without hearing. The police told him that a New Jersey prosecutor named Victoria Hart was coming down to interview him prior to filing the assault-with-intent-to-commit-murder charges against Joseph Rina. Because Joe Rina was a popular tabloid star, the press was swarming to get a story. It was only a matter of time until Beano's alias would be penetrated, so he disconnected himself from the tangle of electrodes and I.V. bottles and limped out of the hospital. It was a move that saved his life, but he was now poised on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a landscape of revenge and violence that would change him forever.

Copyright ) 1998 by

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Meet the Author

Stephen J. Cannell is the bestselling author of the political thriller The Plan and the psychothriller Final Victim, as well as the creator or co-creator of over forty television shows, including The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Wiseguy, andSilk Stalkings. He currently heads the Cannell Studios.

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