Fraud involves the use of deception for personal gain. That deception can include a number of acts, such as falsely representing oneself, failing to disclose relevant information or abusing a position. It struck me, as I stood in the lobby waiting for the limousine, that I was engaging in all of the necessary requisites of the fraudster. For a start, personal gain was a favourite hobby of mine, for who can deny the pleasures of sipping dry martini atop a Las Vegas penthouse? To the casino I was a high-roller, someone who usually only stayed hours, but in that time was able to divest themselves of greenbacks as though they were merely bits of printed paper. As for failing to disclose information and abusing a position, I didn’t think it pertinent to mention to my hosts, that it was my bro – Stanford-Jones, SJ who had the bank account in the Caymans and not myself, Stanford-Jones, SK.
The Strip passed by in a slow-motion blue and pink neon blur as we traveled uptown, the twin arc wings of The Wynn behind us now. Soon we had passed the illuminated pyramid of The Luxor and were heading towards the airport. Across the designated airside lanes we slowly traveled until coming to a measured halt before a row of hangars. The usual number of Lear jets and private helicopters criss-crossed the airfield as I walked towards the hangar door. The driver had spouted the usual urban myth about service flights to Area 51 leaving from here, as if the place had its own personal aura of military intrigue. Danny had kept pretty quiet otherwise throughout the trip. He was used to suitcases of money being exchanged in cold white hangars, used to driving out into the wild desert around the Hoover Dam for covert meetings. I’m sure as he waited back in the limo he was already imagining the depravities his handsome tip would be attracting once we were done here.
I walked slowly into the vast darkness. Around the edges of the hangar I could just make out piles of crates and boxes. The outline of another, dark limo became distinct as I continued onwards. Silently a rear door opened.
“C’mon Sam, we don’t wanna spend all night here!”
I hesitated for an instant not responding to my brother’s name and then bent my head and stepped into the limo. As identical twins it was often hard for our own family to distinguish between us, so I didn’t expect this Yank to have any idea.
“No pinstripes ? You going casual all of a sudden Sam ?” He blew out a ring of cigar smoke as he asked, causally watching it traverse the space between us. That was the moment I knew I was a fraud. Samuel would never have traveled anywhere in jeans.
“Thought I’d blend in with the cowboys!” We shared the same warped humour so I hoped the guy would be used to it. There was silence. Silence for too long.
“Cowboys! Damnit Sam, they’re almost as extinct as the Reservations!”
So there we were. He didn’t suspect me for the fraud I was. I would happily have avoided this meeting altogether were it not for the terse message that had been left at my suite. Samuel had mentioned Signore Alvenzano on a number of occasions. They shared similar interests in Europe, enjoyed golf and clay-pigeon shooting. Samuel had hinted at other alliances too.
Alvenzano motioned to the silent, squat man sitting across from us. He removed the chain from his briefcase as though it were some kind of animal about to be unleashed and held it out towards me. I took it without word.
“This ends our association in North America Sam. If any of the other families realise you have this then even my life is forfeit. Be careful how you use it. I’ll see you in Florence in the fall, as before.”
I took that as my signal to leave. There was no point in thanking Alvenzano, I had no idea what he had just given me – but it sounded like something Samuel had been waiting a long time for. And it was heavy!
Back in the suite at The Wynn I looked down on The Strip. Much of its iconic heritage was disapearing. Already the Stardust had recently vanished. This place itself was built upon the bones of the Dunes. With the sidewalk shows and mix of exposed rollercoasters the place had erected a colourful facade over the harsh realities of the environment. That was all part of the attraction of Vegas though. Even back in the early days when atomic tests lit up the skies and everyone stopped to watch. Vegas had a way of distorting reality, cocooning you against the everyday. Right now I was happy to slip back into the soft warmth of that reality. Samuel had mentioned a girl that worked the tables at The Excalibur – I wondered how far I and Vegas could continue our fraudulent relationship.
That was when I heard a familar knock at the door.
I had only shared that secret knock with one other person. All through our childhood we would use whenever we were visiting each other. It was handy during those years when we reveled in our similarities, delighted in fooling others. Our secret knock. It was a harbinger of truth, of the moment that I knew I was a fraud. I opened the door, knowing already who stood there
True to form, he wore a dark pin-striped suit. To my eye he was always slightly taller than myself. To his eye, I was always the errant younger sibling.
“Well, well little brother, I hope you’ve been enjoying my suite.”
“I thought I was being discreet.” He walked in, heading straight towards the cognac bottle on the sideboard.
“At least I don’t see any sign of Marie-Lou!” I smiled. He chuckled and decanting the cognac into two glasses passed me one.
“So where is the briefcase?”. My original impression that he was in good mood passed away. “Surprised? Danny says you tip atrociously!”
I should have known Samuel was more circumspect than I had given him credit for. There was something about his tone now though that concerned me. I’d only rarely heard it before and never with good results.
“Its in the next room – on the conference table”.
He emptied his glass and strode through. Before reaching the briefcase however he entered a password on the nearby computer, scanned the account details and entered the confirm code. Then he picked up the still unopened briefcase and returned.
“You have to leave Vegas tonight Saul, otherwise this is one time you’ll regret being me. These are tickets for London together with something to tide you over. Give my love to mother.”
Deception and personal gain. That was the thrill of fraud. It was easy with Samuel. It seemed he would forever turn a blind eye to my theft of his identity. That was what had made it become all to easy, not at all exciting. As I walked out of the glassy tomb of the Louvre and into the chill Paris air I kept a tight grip on the original briefcase and looked forward to the illicit pleasures of Signora Alvenzano.