Title: How to Draw out the Bluff
Characters: Rusty, Danny & Tess mainly
Summary: The history books are full of stories of women causing the downfall of great men.
The history books are full of stories of women causing the downfall of great men. Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden, Delilah cut off Sampson’s hair, Helen brought down the entire Trojan empire; the list goes on and on. Danny Ocean, the best con man in the United States, had just been added to that list, much to the dismay of his best friend and partner in crime, Rusty Ryan.
If he was honest with himself, Rusty would admit he wasn’t that surprised. He knew from the moment he set eyes on Tess that she was nothing but trouble. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to convince Danny of that.
“Frank called and said everything is set on his end. We’re just waiting for Livingston to check in about the alarm system.” Rusty was going over the plans for their upcoming job but he realized that Danny wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to him. He followed Danny’s gaze to a lovely redhead who had walked into the bar.
He slugged Danny’s arm.
“Ouch. What did you do that for?”
Rusty gave him his best ‘give me a break’ look. “If you lose focus in this game for one minute…” he started the platitude that they’d heard for years from Ruben and Saul.
Danny rolled his eyes and finished, “someone will get hurt. I know, I know. That still doesn’t explain why you hit me.”
Rusty’s glance darted from his friend to the redhead and back again. Danny managed to look slightly guilty.
“All right,” Danny said with a sigh, turning his back so the redhead was out of his line of sight. “So what is Livingston’s time table on the alarm system?”
“Well, he’s tried hacking directly into the system several different ways and hasn’t been successful. But, he did manage to hack into the security company’s system and get the access code. He wants us to go over there tonight after hours and do some recon.”
Danny rolled his eyes again. “We need to get him on something for those nerves. I don’t know how he’s managed to be a criminal for this long.”
The friends shared a laugh. Rusty drained his beer and glanced at his watch. “Let’s go.”
Danny laughed as he watched his best friend fumbling with his neck tie.
“Here, let me,” he finally said, walking over to Rusty and smoothly tying a fancy knot in the outlandish green and purple tie. He shook his head slightly at Rusty’s lack of fashion sense.
“Hey, it matches my shirt,” Rusty said, reading Danny’s thoughts. Danny chuckled and took a few steps back. Rusty appraised his best friend. He had never met a man who could wear a tux like Danny Ocean. He was muscular in all the right places and the expensive garment hung like it was designed for him.
“Stop it,” Danny said, eliciting a confused look from Rusty. “Don’t look at me like that. We don’t have time.”
Rusty made puppy dog eyes but Danny just laughed. They had an odd relationship. They were best friends always and lovers occasionally. Neither one would classify himself as a homosexual. Actually, neither would classify himself as a bisexual. Until they’d met each other, they’d both only had experiences with women. And neither had ever found himself attracted to any other man.
In Rusty’s mind, it was about more than sex. It wasn’t love though. Danny was his soul mate, the piece that made him whole. They had tried to talk about it but were never able to come up with words to adequately explain their relationship. It just was and it worked for them.
“Livingston, we’re a go,” Rusty said discretely into his ear piece as his gaze swept across the room. Everyone was in place and the timing was critical to the success of their plan.
“Frank, we’re a go,” Livingston said a moment later, presumably after he’d flipped the necessary switches to turn off the alarm system guarding their goal.
Rusty sauntered casually to the buffet table and began filling a plate as he kept one eye on Frank slipping through the emergency exit. He liked pulling jobs that involved attending fancy gigs with gourmet food.
“Danny’s not here,” Frank’s voice came over the ear piece, causing Rusty to drop his plate. His sharp gaze scanned the room and he groaned inwardly.
“I see him,” Rusty said. “Hang on a second.”
“Rusty, we have a very small window of opportunity here,” Livingston’s panic was obvious in his words.
Rusty ignored him and walked past where Danny was engaged in an animated conversation with the red head they had seen in the bar the previous week. He resisted the urge to throttle his best friend in public, opting for a casual approach instead.
“Excuse me, Mr. Ocean, right?” he said, looking Danny straight in the eye, communicating without words that Danny was on the verge of fucking up all their planning.
“Yes,” Danny said confidently. “And you are?”
“Robert Ryan, of Frederick, Lowe, and Young,” Rusty responded, holding a hand out. Danny took it and shook, a glimmer of surprise flickered in his eyes when Rusty squeezed tighter than socially acceptable.
“If you’ll excuse me for a moment, Ms. Dawson, I have some business to discuss with Mr. Ryan here. But I’ve very much enjoyed our conversation,” he said to the woman, flashing his thousand watt smile.
The woman offered a smile of her own. “No problem, Mr. Ocean,” she said, nodding at Rusty and taking her leave of the two men.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Danny apologized. “Sorry, I lost track of time. I’m on my way right now,” he said, hurrying away before Rusty could harangue him.
“Danny’s on his way,” Rusty said into the ear piece.
“Well, you guys better move fast,” Livingston said, “you’re down to three minutes and forty five seconds.”
Two weeks later, Rusty knew that Danny was up to something and he was willing to bet big money that it involved that woman. Danny claimed that he was working on plans for a new job, but Rusty didn’t believe it for one second. Danny had always had a weakness for red heads, but Rusty had never seen Danny jeopardize a job because of a woman. There must have been something about this particular woman that had Danny incredibly intrigued and, whatever it was, he wasn’t sharing it with his best friend.
So Rusty called Livingston and had him hack into a database and search for the name Dawson on the party guest list. He didn’t explain why he wanted the information and Livingston, being the soul of discretion, didn’t ask.
Tess Dawson. Graduate student in Art History at Barnard. Livingston had shown up to lunch with a folder full of information about the lovely Ms. Dawson, including a photograph that confirmed she was the woman Danny had been chatting up that night.
Rusty read the information in the file three times before deciding that he had to do something to draw out Danny’s bluff.
“Ms. Dawson, right?”
She turned around and scrutinized him.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Mr. Ryan, I saw you at the gala last week, speaking with Mr. Ocean, but we weren’t properly introduced.” Rusty flashed the smile that had been making girls’ panties wet since he was thirteen and held out his hand.
She took it tentatively and shook. “Ah right,” she said with a slight frown. “Oddly enough, I’m supposed to be meeting Danny here tonight,” she confided. “But he’s almost a half an hour late.”
Rusty managed a look of surprise. “That seems very unlike him, though I only know him professionally,” he lied glibly. “May I buy you a drink while you wait? I’m also waiting for my date to arrive.”
She looked uneasy but apparently decided there was no harm and nodded. “I’m drinking dry martinis,” she informed him.
Rusty was regretting his plan. He was currently pressed against Tess’s front door and she was currently pressed against him, tongue frantically exploring his mouth, hands clutching the front of his pink silk shirt, making wrinkles he knew he’d never get out.
He didn’t want to sleep with her. He just wanted to get her to leave Danny alone so that Danny would forget about her and things could go back to normal between Rusty and Danny.
“Want to come in for a drink?” Tess asked, her words slightly slurred from the four martinis she’d consumed at the bar.
“I think I should probably be heading home,” he said with an apologetic grin. “I have a meeting early tomorrow that I can’t miss,” he explained when her face fell.
“Well if you see that Danny Ocean, you tell him to forget my name because I’m planning to forget his,” she declared as she fumbled in her purse for her keys.
Danny was sitting in Rusty’s chair when Rusty got home. Rusty tried not to react too much to his friend’s presence but he knew he was busted.
One word. One word that said so much more coming from Danny in that tone of voice with that look on his face. The look like Rusty had kicked his puppy. It was not a look that Danny used very often.
Much to his surprise, he felt guilty. He thought about justifying his actions, of berating Danny for allowing a woman to come between them and almost screw up their last job. But that look on Danny’s face made all the words die in his throat.
“I had to,” he finally choked out, his eyes asking, no, begging, for Danny’s forgiveness.
Danny nodded and held out his hand. It was all the invitation Rusty needed. He sank to the floor on his knees in front of Danny and unbuckled his belt. Everyone taunted Rusty about having an oral fixation because he was always eating. Only Danny knew how deep that oral fixation ran.
He wasn’t aware of anything except Danny’s hands in his hair, Danny’s soft pants, and the taste of Danny filling his mouth in a way that nothing else could. It didn’t take long for Danny to find his release. Rusty rocked back on his heels and met Danny’s eyes.
“Don’t be, I’m taking her to dinner tomorrow night.”
Danny laughed at the shock on Rusty’s face. “But…” Rusty trailed off, not sure how much Danny knew about what happened that evening.
Danny shrugged and stood up. He grabbed Rusty’s hand and pulled him up from the floor. “Don’t ask,” he said, pulling Rusty toward the bedroom.
Rusty was fidgeting.
“Can’t you stand still for five minutes?” Danny hissed at him.
Rusty rolled his eyes but did his best to stand still. Just as he was getting too anxious and was going to smooth his shirt or fiddle with his necktie again, the music swelled and the doors opened. Rusty gently placed his hand under Danny’s elbow while Danny watched, open mouthed, as Tess made her way slowly down the aisle in her gorgeous white dress.
Rusty still couldn’t quite believe that Danny Ocean, ladies man extraordinaire and Rusty’s sometimes lover, was taking the plunge, tying the knot, strapping on the old ball and chain. He also couldn’t believe that he had been reduced to thinking in clichés.
He and Tess had an awkward relationship. When Danny had insisted that he was serious about Tess and intended to propose, Rusty made the effort to accept her and Tess made the effort to forgive Rusty for his shenanigans early in Tess and Danny’s relationship.
It took every ounce of self control that Rusty possessed not to open his mouth when the minister asked if anyone present had just cause why this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony. Rusty had lots of just cause. The groom was still screwing his best friend, the groom was a professional con man but the bride thought he worked in imports and exports, and his personal favorite, the bride had come on to the best man at the rehearsal dinner last night.
The minister pronounced them man and wife and told Danny to kiss his bride. Rusty couldn’t watch.
Danny had managed to keep his true profession a secret from Tess for almost three years. Rusty was impressed with his ability to weave such compelling and believable falsehoods to explain his unusual activities, his frequent business trips, and his friends equally unusual activities.
They had been pulling one big job a year to finance their lifestyles and working small jobs as they presented themselves. It was working for both of them and it kept Danny from having to lie to Tess too much.
Needless to say, Rusty was surprised when Danny brought up a big job only three months after their last huge heist. He was even more surprised when he found out what Danny wanted to steal and from where.
“It’s perfect,” Danny concluded, ignoring Rusty’s open mouthed stare of disbelief. “She already told me all the details about the security. We won’t even need to get Livingston involved. We’d just need to find two guys to actually remove them and they’d need to be two guys Tess hasn’t met. Do you have any contacts that might work?”
Rusty shook his head. “I don’t like it, Danny. It seems too close to home. And how are we going to fence them? It’s not like Incan Matrimonial Head Masks show up on the black market every day.”
Danny gave him a sly smile. “I already have a lead on someone who will buy them from me.”
“Who? And where did you get this lead?” Rusty had a very uneasy feeling about this whole job. Danny seemed to have all the details worked out and that was usually Rusty’s job. Danny came up with the ideas.
“A private art collector from Brazil who tried to purchase them but got out-bid by the museum.”
“Where’d you find him?” Rusty asked again.
“I called him,” Danny admitted. “Tess had talked about the auction and about how persistent and angry the one bidder was. I remembered his name and contacted him.”
Rusty put his hand to his forehead and groaned. “I have a bad feeling about this Danny.”
“Do you know anyone who can get them out for me? You don’t have to be involved any more than that.”
With a sigh, Rusty nodded. “I’ll call the Malloys. Tess has never met them since they don’t usually work on the east coast.”
Rusty’s reverie was ended by his timer going off. He dragged himself from the couch, where he’d been thinking about Danny and Tess and this whole mess, and went to the kitchen.
He peered in the oven without opening it and smiled. They were perfect. He opened the oven door, grabbed a mitt and pulled the tray of cookies out. Oatmeal Chocolate Chip. Danny’s favorite. A weird combination, but Rusty wasn’t one to question anyone’s eating habits.
He packed the cookies in layers of wax paper and sealed the tin, hoping that they’d make it to Danny relatively in one piece. He still couldn’t believe that Danny had gotten busted selling the masks. That night had been bad for so many reasons.
He opened his door, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and was shocked to find a crying and disheveled Tess standing there.
“What is it?”
“It’s Danny,” she sobbed, falling into Rusty’s arms.
Unconsciously, he began to stroke her hair as his heart started racing. “What about Danny?”
“He… he… he’s a criminal!” she finally got out. “He was the one that organized the heist of those Incan Matrimonial Head Masks from my museum a few weeks ago. They caught him selling them to the guy that had tried to out bid us.”
Rusty closed his eyes and leaned forward, resting his forehead on the top of Tess’s head. He knew they shouldn’t have pulled that job. He’d have to call the Malloys and tell them to destroy any evidence that they’d been involved.
Tess’s sobs subsided and she pulled back from Rusty, looking at him with sad eyes. As much as he hadn’t liked her when Danny started dating her, he felt bad for her in that moment.
“Want some tea?”
She nodded and sat on his couch while he puttered around his kitchen. He joined her on the couch and she sipped the tea carefully.
“Thanks for being so understanding, Rusty. I can’t believe he duped me like that! And the worst thing is he apparently has been under investigation for pulling things like this before. All that stuff about being in the import/export business was a total lie.”
Rusty didn’t say anything, but was a little startled when Tess rested her head against his chest. He allowed his arm to drape around her, but he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation.
“He even duped you and I don’t understand how,” she continued. Rusty felt himself stiffen. Tess’s head shot up and she looked him in the eye. “Oh my god,” she said.
“Tess, listen…” Rusty began, not even sure what to say.
Her eyes grew hard and she cut him off. “You knew all along.” He winced slightly and she noticed. “You pull jobs with him! How could I not have seen it! No wonder you tried everything to split us up.”
He sighed. “Tess, I’m sorry.”
“How long, Rusty?”
“As long as we’ve known each other.”
She closed her eyes. “You know what?”
“It was because of me that he got caught.”
Her words took Rusty by surprise.
“The police asked me if there was anyone I suspected and I told them about the guy from Brazil. They tapped his phone and heard Danny call to arrange a meeting. I was shocked when Danny called me and told me he’d been arrested. I assumed he’d done something minor, like a traffic violation or a bar fight. I almost died when I found out the truth. And now I find out that my husband has been lying to me for our entire relationship and his best friend is his accomplice!” She reached for her phone but Rusty stopped her by covering her hand.
“Tess, I told Danny not to do it.”
She searched his eyes and realized he was telling the truth.
“Because I knew it was wrong for him to use you like that. But, as usual, he wouldn’t listen to me. He’s never really listened to me when he got his mind set on something.”
Tess regarded him critically. Something in Rusty’s voice or his eyes gave him away.
“Were you two…” she trailed off, not able to ask the question.
Rusty bit his lower lip and nodded.
She stood up. “Thanks for the tea, Rusty. Please tell Danny that he should expect to hear from my lawyer regarding a divorce. I would appreciate it if you would also tell your other criminal friends that I don’t expect to ever hear from any of you again.”
He nodded again. He wanted to reach out for her and help her, but he couldn’t. She was the reason his best friend was going to jail.
Rusty swore as a tear fell and smeared his third attempt at a note to include with the cookies. What does one say to his best friend/partner in crime/lover when he’s in prison? They’d spoken exactly once since Danny’s arrest, the day that Rusty told him about Tess’s involvement in the arrest and her plans to file for divorce.
Another great man brought down because of a woman, he mused as he finally decided to leave out the note. Danny would know who they were from.
He grabbed the package and headed to the post office, wondering how he was going to live his life without Danny in it.