Some years ago I shared a flat with my friend Graeme. The accommodation came rent-free as part of the caretaker’s job I had at the time and, while this was pretty much Easy Street, my duties sometimes tied me to the flat. So it was one Saturday afternoon when I had to remain on the premises while a group of local ne’er-do-wells came to carry out their community service. Bless them.
As Graeme was going to the pub and I was to be home alone, I decided to coach him in an old con trick that I had come across years earlier. As this trick involved participation from me at home, it would relieve the monotony between horse races. So, in true Real Hustle style, here is how the trick, which certainly earns the description ‘simple but effective’ was played out.
Graeme would ask one of the regulars down at the pub to pick a card from a standard deck. He would then make a phone call and, when the phone was answered, he would ask to speak to a mysterious being known as The Phantom. When The Phantom came to the phone, my friend would then hand the receiver over to the guy who had chosen the card and a sinister robotic voice would immediately say what that card was.
The trick worked perfectly first time and there was consternation at the bar. People were almost queuing up to have a go so that they could maybe work out how it was done, but none did. I received about a dozen ‘Phantom’ calls that day but we didn’t make any money from it (they were our friends, you see). So how was it done?
It was very easy really. When I answered the phone I had to listen carefully to what my friend said in asking to speak to The Phantom, as this would tell me the suit of the chosen card. Check out the initial letter of the four requests he used.
Hello, could I speak to The Phantom please?
Sorry to bother you, but could I speak to The Phantom please?
Do you think I could speak to The Phantom, please?
Could I speak to The Phantom, please?
Get the picture? I knew immediately which suit I was on. Then it was simply a matter of whispering the values of the cards – ace (beat) two (beat) three etc to Graeme. When I came to the chosen card, Graeme would say ‘Hello?’ as though The Phantom had just come to the phone and then he’d hand the receiver to the dupe. With both value and suit now known I would confidently say which card had been chosen, then hang up.
As luck would have it we were in a band at that time and we had one of those voice-changing megaphone type things that we had been using for experimental vocals. It had a pretty cool robotic voice function that suited our purpose very well.
I came across this con plastered on the front page of the Sunday Post. Apparently, gangs were fleecing pub customers across Scotland using this trick, and so the newspaper decided to print the scam to alert potential dupes. I can’t help thinking, though, that printing precise details of the con would have had gangs in England marching to the pub to carry it out.
Fast-forward to another Saturday afternoon at the same pub. I hatched a plan with a different friend, Fez, that had people guessing for a while. Here’s the old chestnut of a scam we pulled..
I would line up five 2p pieces in a row on the table, and then I would invite someone sitting opposite to touch one of the coins while I wasn’t looking. After they had touched a coin, I would hover my index finger over each coin in turn, and then push the touched coin forward to identify it. This ruse had a 100% success rate, and here’s why.
While my eyes were closed, my confederate, Fez’s, were wide open. He was sitting casually at the next table, and he made a note of which coin had been touched. When I hovered over the coins with my finger, I watched Fez from the corner of my eye. When I hovered over the chosen coin, he would flick ash off his cigarette. It was that simple.
Of course, I played up to the audience. I knew exactly which coin had been touched, and when I hovered over that one I made my finger tremble for effect. After several people had been tricked (not out of money, I might add – again, these were our friends), the inevitable happened: someone touched two coins.
This presented no problem to me, as my associate was good at his job, and I saw the two separate ash-flicks. Again I played up to it, claiming that something was not quite right this time, even though I knew exactly which coins had been touched. Finally, just as I’d lured my audience into thinking I was beaten, I slid forward the two coins to the sound of laughter and gasps.
They knew that someone was tipping me the wink, but they never suspected Fez. After a while, interest in the trick waned, and the coins were put away. Still, it had injected a little fun into an ordinary Saturday afternoon down at the pub. I went home later that day, reflecting on a successful mission, and Fez went home with a finely honed smokers’ cough.