Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Fri Jun 30 08:46:54 UTC 2000

Barry cites the following from THE GIRL FROM RECTOR'S (Doubleday, Page &
Co., Garden CIty, NY, 1927) by George Rector:

> Pg. 68:  In this case, "tub worker" did not mean bending over the week's wash in the back of a Chinese laundry.  This group of tourists worked the tubs. The tubs were ocean liners.  Their polish  was as false as the sheen on an oiled apple.  It could be dropped readily, and in passing their tables I often overheard such sinister words as "the mouthpiece," "the big store," "the mob," "the iron theatre," and "the rap."
>      This may mean nothing to you unless I explain that the mouthpiece was a lawyer, the big store was the district attorney's office, the mob was a gang of crooks, the iron theatre was a jail, and the rap was either an accusation or a term in jail.  They were not nice lads, but there was no way of excluding them provided they behaved themselves.  And they always acted very well in Rector's.

OK, that's a legitimate cite -- but wrong, nonetheless.

"The big store" was a term of art among con men, but it did NOT mean
"the D.A.'s office". My published authority is David Maurer, in his
__The Big Con__. In this case, I can claim unpublished verification
direct from my own interviews.

As it happens, I used to hang out in a bar a few oldtime con men used
for a home base when they were in Chicago. At various times, one or
another of them would try to rope me into some kind of short con.  I
would turn off their approaches with phrases I had learned from con men
and carnies when I was a kid.  They finally accepted me into their
conversations when I mentioned my father's Depression-era tire store. It
was across Western Avenue from Chicago's old Riverview Park, and they
remembered the place well. The game concessions at Riverview were all
run by carnies who were taking a rest from the rigors of road travel. To
keep their cars running, they would buy used tires from my father, who
always gave them good deals because they provided a steady source of

Concession games at Riverview, and at traveling carnivals, were all
rigged. Running those games was a way of breaking into the world of con
men.  Even the game boys who ran the tents in the afternoons, when
business was slow, quickly learned how to size up a mark and fleece him
for enough to make a difference but not so much as to trigger a
complaint or a call for the cops.  Running a game tent  was a good deal
for a con man who had to lay low after a good score.
Several of the con men at my old hangout had worked at Riverview during
the Depression. A couple of them even remembered me, back when I was six
or seven.

When dad took me to his store for a visit, he'd take me across the
street and let me wander all over Riverview. The guys at the game tents
never let me use my own money to pay for a game. They'd slip me some
change, and I would "spend" it all on the game whose operator gave me
the money.  Then they'd let me win -- and give me the big prizes, not
the flash.  (I knew I was supposed to get those prizes back to the guys
who gave them to me, without being obvious about it.) They used my wins
as bait for their victims.  I couldn't have told you what a "shill" was,
back then, but I played the role without understanding the implications.

When the con men at my favorite bar loosened up while I was around, they
would tell each other -- and me -- stories about some of their old
scores, and about some of the great con men of the past.  That's how I
learned about "the big store": a false-front operation set up for the
purpose of separating a wealthy victim from a lot of cash.

One form of the big store would be set up to look like a bookie parlor.
The mark would meet someone claiming to be a clerk in that bookie joint
who was mad at his boss.  The supposed disgruntled employee would say
that he saw a chance to pay back his boss by hitting him with an
unbeatable bet.  Then he would feed the mark a story about his friend, a
Western Union employee. The mark would then be set up to meet the
supposed Western Union guy.  The second con man would propose to pass
the telegaphed results of a race to the mark, but delay delivery of
those results to the bookies. The mark would then be able to make a bet
that couldn't lose.  The con men would let the mark win a series of
these sure bets to convince him that the fix was in. Then they'd send
him to fetch a big chunk of his own cash, thinking he could bet it and
make a killing. Once the mark's big money was on the table, there would
be some kind of "error" in transmission, and the mark would lose the big
bet he thought was going to make him rich.

What kind of error would lead to that?  Maurer cites a classic.  The
mark is told "Place the money on horse number 5 in the fourth race."
The mark would bet his wad on the horse to win; the results would
announce that his horse came in third.  In race results, the first horse
wins, the second "shows", and the third "places".

Those of you who remember "The Sting", the Robert Redford movie, saw how
a big store is set up, complete with a cast of actors (i.e., characters
in the film who take on roles to play in the fake betting parlor)
playing bettors, clerks, and all the others who might be seen in a real
bookie joint.  I remember the first time I saw that film, too.  I
recognized that great chunks of the screenplay had been plagiarized from
David Maurer's __The Big Con__, and it was a lot of fun to "predict" the
next turn in the story for the folks I was with.

Barry, the quotes from THE GIRL FROM RECTOR'S were a lot of fun to
read.  I'm glad you sent them.  The miss on "the big store", however,
suggests that Mr. Rector's ability to tell his stories well may not
necessarily say much about how well those stories mirror the reality
they're supposed to represent.

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at>

P.S.:  Maurer's __The big con: the story of the confidence man and the
confidence game__ was originally published in 1940 by Bobbs- Merrill
(Indianapolis). Pocket Books brought it out in paperback in 1949, and
Anchor Books republished it in 1999.  I suspect that the same material
was published in 1974 by Thomas (Springfield, Ill.) as __The American
confidence man__, but I haven't had a chance to compare that edition
with the others.

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