"Slick" Martin, Knife Hustler
Man could catch not fish without bait to hide the hook, nor could a confidence man land his sucker without bait. In some instances the confidence man proceeds upon the theory that the sucker has a little larcency in his makeup, and at other times he uses his victim's vanity as an aid in separating him from his money.
The confidence man—the real confidence man—enjoys an enviable reputation in the underworld and is generally looked up to by men and women engaged in minor rackets requiring less mental ability and productive of smaller profits. But the "short con" men as an equal, for they are known chiselers and resort to any racket which might yield them any sum from five dollars upward.
One popular short-con racket is known as the trick-knife game. This racket has been widely publicized, but it has so many variations that many persons who have read of others being victimized often become victims themselves. This racket is not confined to rural districts; in fact, most of the "knife hustlers" operate in the larger cities. Their "take" is not large, but they believe in a new variation of an old adage to the effect that: "A sucker a day keeps the wolf away."
Let us follow "Slick" Martin, knife hustler, as he goes about his day's work … . When Martin seated himself in a chair in a hotel lobby, he had chosen his seat with care. The man occupying the chair next to him, he had learned, was a visiting contractor from a small town upstate. He had not yet ascertained the size of the other's bank roll, but he was pretty well convinced that it contained at least fifty dollars, and this was about the maximum amount this particular racket would yield.
"Nice weather we're having," Slick commented to the man in the other seat.
"Indeed it is," the out-of-town man replied. "Looks like an early spring."
"Yes," Slick agreed, "I've noticed in the past few days that there is considerable new building going on in the city."
"Is that so?" the other asked. "That's my line; that is, I'm a building contractor. Barber's the name."
"Glad to know you, Mr. Barber," returned Slick, extending his hand. "My name's Martin. Hardware's my line. Are you acquainted in the city?"
"Not too well," answered Barber. "I get in here a couple times a year, but as a rule I don't get out of the business district."
"I'm pretty well acquainted all over the city," Slick said. "If you have nothing important to do perhaps you'd like to take a walk about the city. I'd be glad to show you some of the new building being done."
The visiting contractor assented, and fifteen or twenty minutes later the two men were walking down a street on the edge of the business district. They paused in front of a lot where excavating had been started. But apparently no work was being done that day, as only one man was there. He was gray-mustached and wore striped overalls. He was writing on a small pad when the two men stopped.
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The Trick-Knife Game
Slick was explaining to his companion about the building to be erected there, and in gesturing, his hand struck the overalled man's elbow. The latter turned and regarded Slick over his steel- rimmed glasses.
"Doggone it," he said reproachfully, "you made me break my pencil."
"Sorry, Dad," Slick apologized. "I'll lend you my knife."
As he thrust a hand into his pocket and brought forth a knife, he winked at his companion. He handed it to the old man.
"There you are, Dad," he said. "Sharpen her up."
The old man tugged at the knife blade, but it failed to open.
"Doggone it," he said, "I can't open the blamed thing."
"Let me have it," Slick said, extending his hand. "It's very simple," he said, when the other had handed him the knife. "See there?"
He opened the knife without any effort, closed it and gave it back to the old man. The latter again failed to open it.
"Let me have it again," Slick said, apparently a little exasperated. "Now watch me open it. See? I hold it between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand, then raise the blade with the right hand. Just like this."
He opened it and again handed it to the old man.
"Now," he asked, "do you think you can open it?"
"I've never seen anything yet I couldn't do," the old man said testily, "once I've seen how it's done."
"Well, then," Slick offered, "I'll bet you a cigar you can't open that knife in two minutes."
The old man looked at Slick, then at the knife.
"Mister," he said, "I ain't what you'd call a gambling man, but I'll just take you up on that. I'll bet you a cigar I can open that knife in two minutes. A nickel cigar," he added.
"Okay," Slick smiled, pulling out his watch, "go ahead."
The old man pulled and tugged at the knife blade, but it refused to budge. He placed the knife between his knees and pulled, but he had no success.
"Time's up," Slick called. "In fact, I gave you ten seconds over two minutes."
The old man relinquished the knife.
"First knife I ever see that I couldn't open," he said. "You wait right here, and I'll go across the street and buy you a cigar—a nickel one."
"Oh, let it go, Dad," Slick said.
"Nosiree," the old man returned. "When I lose, I pay."
He walked across the street and entered a cigar store. Slick turned to his companion.
"I guess losing that nickel cigar just about broke his heart," he laughed. "And I don't suppose he has tumbled yet that it's a trick knife. Did you see how I opened it?"
"Not exactly," Barber answered. "Here," Slick explained, holding the knife in his hand. "You see that little round piece of nickel on the end of the knife. It looks like a rivet, but you have to push on it or you can't open the knife. Try it."
The contractor accepted the knife and opened it without difficulty.
"Pretty clever," he said, returning it.
"When the old fellow comes back," Slick suggested, "you try to get him to bet you that you can't open it. Maybe you can win one of his nickel cigars."
The contractor chuckled. "I'll try it," he promised.
The old man returned and extended a cigar to Slick.
"There you are, mister," he said, "the best five-cent cigar in town. Now, would you mind letting me see that knife again?"
"Not at all," Slick replied, handing him the knife.
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A Sucker A Day Keeps The Wolf Away
The old man pulled gingerly at the blade, then turned the knife over and over in his hand carefully, wonderingly.
"That sure is very peculiar," he said.
"You don't catch on very quick, do you, Dad?" the contractor asked.
The old man raised his head quickly.
"I suppose you think you can open it," he said.
"Why, yes," the contractor returned, "I believe I can."
"For how much?" the old man depended.
The contractor's eyes twinkled.
"Well," he said, "for a good nickel cigar, anyway."
"If you're so much smarter than I am," the old man snapped, "why don't you bet something?"
He closed his fist on the knife and struck the palm of his other hand.
"By golly," he exclaimed, "I'll bet you fifty dollars you can't open that knife in two minutes."
The contractor hesitated, but Slick nudged him with an elbow.
"I'll just take you up on that," the contractor said.
The old man handed the knife to Slick and pulled out a worn billfold. He extracted two twenty-dollar bills and a ten and started to give them to Slick as stakeholder, but he pulled his hand back.
"Say," he said, "did you show this fellow how to open this knife?"
"He hasn't seen any more than you have," Slick assured him. "You saw me open it at the same time he did."
"All right, then," the old man said, passing the money to Slick. "You hold stakes, and if he don't open the knife in two minutes I win. Is that right?"
The contractor nodded and placed fifty dollars in Slick's hand. The old man pulled out an old-fashioned watch, and at his command, the contractor began tugging at the blade. His fingers pressed on the little nickel button until his knuckles were white, but the blade did not yield. He glanced helplessly at Slick, but the latter had his eyes on his watch, apparently checking the time with the old man.
"Time's up!" the old man shouted gleefully. "I even gave you a few seconds over." He turned to Slick. "I'll take the money, mister," he said, "and I hope you enjoy that cigar."
Slick handed him the money without a word, and the old man walked away chuckling to himself. Apparently he was no longer interested in sharpening his pencil or in the notes he had apparently been making when the two men first appeared on the scene. The contractor was still fumbling with the knife.
"Give me that," Slick snapped, snatching the knife from the other's hands. "Why didn't you do as I told you?" he demanded, knocking the knife against the palm of his hand. "Instead of doing this?" He imitated the other's futile efforts. "You were yanking and pulling on that blade," he went on, "like it was hard to open. All you had to do was press gently on this little button and pull the blade open. Now do it."
The contractor followed instructions and the knife opened easily. He handed it back to Slick.
"I guess I don't catch on very quick," he said.
Slick dropped the knife in a pocket. "Well," he said, "I guess that's one time a working man got the best of a contractor, and fifty dollars will buy a lot of nickel cigars."
That night Slick Martin and the old man, who was no longer overalled, were talking in the latter's room.
"Doggone if I wasn't afraid," the old man chuckled, "the way that fellow was manhandling that knife, that he would dislodge the 'gimmick'."
"Not a chance," Slick smiled. "When you once knock that knife on your hand, and that little shot slips behind the spring, it'll take another sharp blow to release it. Oh, well," he yawned, "a sucker a day keeps the wolf away."
~ The End ~