sam_storyteller: (White Collar)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2011-01-23 01:46 pm
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The Seven Man Con: Story Notes

The Seven Man Con - Story Notes

Chapter One
Chapter Two

Neal: Before you get your badge back, there's a seven-man con that I've been meaning to --
Peter: No. The Burke's Seven is hereby disbanded.

As soon as the words were out of Neal's mouth, I started thinking about it. What kind of heist requires seven people?

The problem is that if you need seven people, you have to be willing to split the take seven ways. We've seen Neal knock over a bank single-handedly; most art isn't well-protected enough to need seven people, and even if it were, most art isn't worth more than a couple million dollars on the black market, which is not a lot to split seven ways. Gems are usually worth even less than art; they might need seven people, but they wouldn't get you more than a million, if that, and they're hard to sell, and these days reasonably easy to trace. You could rob multiple banks at once and thereby mess with the currency system somehow, turning it to a later bigger financial advantage, but that borders on terrorism, and I think Neal would find it too number-y. You could rob a casino but, well, it's been done.

I formulated a combination land speculation, phishing, and mine-salting con that required four people, but even then the take was only a couple of million stolen out of someone's bank account, and the whole thing was clumsy.

Incidentally, yes, I did worry about just how much knowledge I have of these things and how much thought I was putting into it.

I kept coming back around to gems, and why someone would go after them. What if, I thought, the gem took seven people to steal, but wasn't the ultimate goal of the con? What if there was information you could get from the gem theft that would lead to bigger fish? You could invent a museum where the circumstances were right for that; my invention was the Cultural Preservation Institute Museum, which doesn't actually exist (though I think the architectural setup is pretty neat). I imagine it as one of those terribly stuffy "we arbitrate what is valued in American culture" type places that is mired in its own weird hegemonic history and never recognises valid cultural contributions until twenty years after everyone else has.

I "installed" two objects in the museum: a vault containing something of great value, and the Equinox. The Equinox doesn't exist either; carbonados or "black diamonds" aren't found in the United States (although if, as some scientists believe, the carbonado form of diamond comes from asteroid strikes with Earth, it could be that they do exist and simply haven't been discovered yet). The largest diamond ever found in the US is the forty-carat Uncle Sam, which was eventually faceted into a fairly hideous 12 carat emerald cut. I feel there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Anyway, what if you tried to steal the diamond in order to get access to the vault? And what was in the vault that was so valuable?

I'd been reading lately about the 1933 Double Eagle, one of the most valuable coins in existence. There's something intrinsically magical, to me, about coins; stealing a Double Eagle would be good fun. The story of the 1933 Double Eagle coin that I present here is mostly true, though I've bent it a bit. The only legal (but still non-monetized) Double Eagles in existence are two that were given to the Numismatic Society; the rest were stolen or "somehow" made it into circulation, and are now either in custody of the government or in the hands of private citizens who are fighting to keep them from being confiscated.

Selling a Double Eagle would be difficult, though, and still only get you ten million or so. So how do we sell and resell it? Well, a combination of Neal's multiple-fakes con from Copycat Caffrey and a trick old Lustig pulled. Victor Lustig is a legendary con man, who did indeed sell the Eiffel Tower twice, making use of the first buyer's humiliation and fear of being caught to keep the sale quiet while he pitched it a second time, a trick now informally known as "A Lustig". (He died in Alcatraz; under "occupation", on his death certificate, the prison officials listed "Apprentice Salesman".)

I had the heist in place; to make it fun, I messed up the second heist, mostly using what I know about RFID keycards. These are plastic cards the size of a credit card, with a circuit inside them that interacts with a reader and transmits a serial number. The reader connects the serial number to an individual in a database and either allows or disallows access. They're very popular for secure buildings; we use them in my building, and I've been doing a lot of work with them lately because of that. An RFID emulator is, indeed, not at all hard to build. (I wouldn't need one; I have access to every card in the system and can change RFIDs at will. It's scary how much power they give the receptionist.)

Because it was complicated and twisty, the first thing I did was write a Proof Of Concept, a conversation between Neal and Peter where Neal outlines the con rather than anyone acting it out. It was amusing enough, but unsatisfying; lots of talking heads. Still, I thought I'd include it here, so you could see the original. I tried to keep the spirit of it as I modulated it into the new piece -- Neal curled up with Satchmo, Neal's casual and ill-hidden attraction to Elizabeth in skintight black, certain turns of phrase and sentiments. So you've read Version Two, which is like the fireworks-and-roses version; here's Version One, which is a little more...Socratic.

***

"So," Peter said, sitting down in the living-room chair, stretching his legs out and leaning back. "Tell me about your seven-man con."

Neal, who was curled up with Satchmo on the sofa and looking overly pleased with himself, glanced up. "I thought you didn't want to hear it."

"I don't want to pull it. I wouldn't mind getting inside that twisty brain of yours," Peter replied.

"You're interested," Neal said, laughing.

"For days I've been thinking, who needs seven people for a con? Outside of Ocean's Eleven, it just seems like bunk," Peter said.

"Well, yeah, mostly it would be. If you've got a seven man team there's plenty you can do, but most of the time at least two of them are going to be window-dressing," Neal admitted. "I can steal a painting with one skilled accomplice. Gems aren't worth it for splitting seven ways. You've seen me knock over a bank solo. Yeah, to con a casino maybe you'd need more, but Ocean's Eleven is kind of a hack job, professionally speaking. I mean, it's all drama, y'know, it's a good movie but it's not very realistic. I bet I could do it with nine."

"So," Peter reminded him, "seven-man con. What's the story?"

"Are you familiar with the phrase can't go to jail for what you're thinking?" Neal asked.

"Come on, Neal. I'm not going to arrest you for an imaginary crime."

"Good to know," Neal said placidly. "Just covering my bases. Besides, if I tell you about it, I can't ever pull it."

"Would that be such a shame?"

Neal shot him a smile. "Maybe. Fine. If I can't do it, I can brag about it," he said, untangling his legs from Satchmo and swinging them around, feet on the floor, elbows on his knees. "Initially it's just a heist."

"What's the take?"

"For the first heist? The Equinox," Neal said.

"The biggest diamond ever found in American soil," Peter breathed.

"More than that, it's a carbonado," Neal said. "A perfect oval-cut about yea big," he said, holding up his thumb and pointing to the last knuckle of it. "Forty-one carats. Deep black hue. Ever seen it?"

Peter nodded. "It's in the Cultural Preservation Institute Museum. Right here in New York. I thought you said gems weren't worth it," he added.

"Oh, they're not," Neal answered. "The Equinox is the MacGuffin."

"Alfred Hitchcock," Peter said.

"Very good, young apprentice," Neal smiled at him, wide and sneaky.

"So what's the real angle?"

"Patience," Neal answered. "You can't move the Equinox, it's too visible. Gem collectors want to show off their loot, not stash it away. You could cut it, but you wouldn't get as much. And anyway, destroying the Equinox would be a sin."

"So, what, steal and ransom?" Peter said.

"You're thinking too linear. You don't steal the Equinox, you just make people think you're going to. You need two people to get into the Institute and three to go in. One of them is camera-bait. He's the shiny thing people want to see. He goes in and cases the Equinox. Meanwhile, his two companions are setting cameras and bugs around the vault doors, staying in the blind spots, guided by someone back at home base. Once they're clear, Camera Bait goes for the Equinox and sets off the alarms. He books it without the diamond."

"That's six people."

"Wheelman," Neal reminded him.

"Fine, seven. So far it sounds boring," Peter said.

"It's not boring when you're the guy being chased out of the CPI Museum," Neal retorted.

"I get it, you're the bait. Then what?"

"The CPI knows someone's after the Equinox. They move it into the vault. In order to do that -- "

"They have to open the vault," Peter finished. "Which you now have eyes and ears on."

"Got it in one. The job's still too hot while the Equinox is in the vault, so you send in one of your backstage men, someone they don't know, to convince them the Equinox should be removed to a more secure secret location and duplicated, so that a fake can be put on display. Once the Equinox is clear, there's no reason for tight security on the vault. You've got the codes, you've got the passwords -- all you need is a team of two to go back in."

"What's in the vault?" Peter asked.

"Lots of things. You don't need to take much, though. Most of it's too heavy or bulky, or worth more as a historical artifact than as an actual cash commodity."

"So what would you take?"

Neal held up his hands, thumbs and forefingers rounded, making a circle between his palms.

"Do you know what a 1933 Double Eagle is?" he asked. Peter shook his head. "It's a twenty-dollar gold coin."

"I got twenty bucks in my wallet right now," Peter said. "It'd just about buy lunch tomorrow."

"I'll hold you to that," Neal replied. "This one is special. In 1933, Roosevelt outlawed the circulation of gold coins. The 1933 Double Eagle is a gold coin, but it was struck after the Executive Order was made, so most of them were melted down. Two of them, presented to the National Numismatic Society, were supposed to be the only two in existence."

"I'm guessing that's not the case," Peter said.

"Some enterprising person interested in preserving the numismatic arts may have taken a few coins out of the run before they were melted down," Neal said. "About twenty have been recovered. Nobody knows for sure how many are still out there, but they're rare. Here's the trick: only two of the coins were legally issued as money, through a back-door scheme between the Mint Cashier and a local jeweler. They're legal tender. Even the coins the Numismatic Society has aren't legal tender."

"So?" Peter said.

"One of two monetized 1933 Double Eagles in existence is in that vault," Neal continued, peering through the circle of his fingers at Peter. "A non-monetized Double Eagle is worth about eight million dollars, or was in 2002 when the last one went up for auction. A monetized Double Eagle, with provenance -- which in this case means video footage of the theft -- could get ten mil easy on the black market." He settled back, spreading his hands. "Coin collectors are freaks. They don't care if anyone else ever sees the coin. It's a completism thing. They just want to know they have it."

"Know your mark?" Peter asked.

"Know your buyer. Here's where it gets sexy," Neal said. "Remember the copycats we arrested?"

Peter groaned. "You forge a handful of Double Eagles -- "

" -- and send them overseas before the coin is stolen. If you have two agents from the Equinox job, say the wheelman and one of the break-in guys, you send them abroad with six Double Eagles each. Once word gets out, they go on the sell," Neal said. "Email them the video, they bundle it with each coin as provenance. A hundred and twenty million dollars, give or take. Split seven ways, that's a little more than seventeen mil each. You could buy the Yankees, Peter."

"I think the IRS might question an FBI agent buying the Yankees," Peter said drily.

Neal shrugged. "You got seventeen million dollars, you can afford to live somewhere without extradition."

"The Yankees are worth one point three billion dollars."

"For a baseball team?" Neal asked, mocking outrage.

"I just report the news," Peter told him solemnly.

"Peter, tell me honestly," Neal said. "Are they even any good?"

Peter held up his hand, palm flat, and wiggled it.

"Whatever, you can buy a skybox," Neal said.

"I like the bleachers."

Neal sighed. "The point is, each of those collectors has a provenance. Even if they find out the coin is fake, they've knowingly received stolen property. They're accessories to grand theft, smuggling, and fraud. Nobody's going to talk."

"That's a Lustig," Peter said. Neal widened his eyes.

"Very good," he said. "Personal hero of mine."

"Victor Lustig died in Alcatraz," Peter pointed out.

"Yeah, but he had a hell of a time first," Neal grinned.

"So let's see," Peter said, ticking the count off on his fingers. "Wheelman. Two break-in agents. Two technology whizzes to plant the bugs. Camera Bait. Home Base."

"Mozzie, Jones and Elizabeth, Diana and Sara, me, and you," Neal said.

"How come I'm home base?"

"Your commanding presence and air of authority," Neal said, and Peter rolled his eyes. "Listen, I never liked group work in school. You're good at it. If we pulled this, you'd be calling the shots. Then we send Mozzie and Jones off to Europe, and you go in as the guy who convinces them to ditch the Equinox out of the vault. I go in to get the coin with Elizabeth -- Diana is wheelman this time, and Sara needs to run the technology -- "

"You're taking my wife on a catburglary expedition."

"Imaginary," Neal said. "Don't deny me my rich fantasy life, Peter. Think of Elizabeth in black skintight..." Neal trailed off. Peter was glaring. "Not that I have ever done that," he said hastily. Peter scowled.

"You know the hitch in this plan," Peter said.

"Five of the seven people involved are law abiding citizens," Neal sighed. Peter leaned over and tapped him on the nose. "Still. It could work."

"Keep it theoretical, Lustig," Peter said. Neal snorted. "What would you do with seventeen million dollars, anyway?"

Neal shrugged. "Put it in a Swiss bank and forget about it. It's not about the money, for me. It's the pageant. It's the power."

"If you had a choice between pulling this con and saving Lindsey Gless's life, which would you choose?" Peter asked.

Neal frowned at him. "Is this a trick question?"

"Nope. Con, cash, and power, against Lindsey Gless's life."

"Lindsey," Neal said. "Of course. Why would you even..." he trailed off, eyes unfocusing. "Great. Peter Burke Makes A Point."

"This is better power," Peter said.

They sat in silence for a moment, until Neal shook his head.

"Yeah, but it'd be fun though," he said. "Admit it. It'd be fun."

"Black skintight catburglary suit, huh?" Peter asked. Neal shrugged. "Okay. Maybe it's fun in the abstract."

"I'm fond of abstract."

"I noticed," Peter drawled. "Make sure that fantasy life of yours stays a fantasy."

Neal smiled. "Tip of the iceberg, Peter. No Titanic jokes, I promise," he added, holding up his hands innocently.

"I shudder to think," Peter told him. "I'm going to bed. Couch is yours if you want it."

"Think it over!" Neal called after him, as Peter climbed the stairs. "Seventeen million!"

"I like the bleachers!" Peter yelled back, and Neal laughed.

***

So that's my seven-man con. Hope you've enjoyed it. :)

[personal profile] beege 2011-01-27 07:12 pm (UTC)(link)
I think the only reason it works at all is because it's not *really* a 7 man job - it's two smaller jobs strung together (three if you count the actual selling of the coins).