1. It hurts because it mattered

2. But if anyone asks, tell them we’re fine.

3. That’s weird, thought Cupid. I’ve never hit the wrong person before.


His name wasn’t really Cardinal, this small insignificant man who presented himself at the Altons’ doorstep. He’d simply chosen it because he felt it provided a certain degree of respectability, an absolute necessity when one was begging.

“My name’s John Cardinal,” he said to the young woman who answered his knock. “I’m just passing through your lovely town and I’ve had a small misfortune with my vehicle.” Jenny Alton looked skeptical, as she had every right to be.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I know nothing about cars and my husband isn’t home.” In a flash she remembered the rules—never say you’re alone. “Well,” she amended, “he’s home, but he’s not available right now. Why don’t you ask at the garage?” She started to close the door before he could say anything else, but somehow he managed to forestall the action. He’d practiced the maneuver so many times it was second nature to him.

“I tried that, but the man there, a big roughneck kind of person, wouldn’t even look at my car without a deposit in advance. I have plenty of money to pay for repairs at my hotel in Benton City, but I didn’t bring it with me on this little day trip. If you could see your way clear to lending me a few dollars—“

His sentence was cut short as Jenny slammed the door with a disgusted grunt.

Cardinal stood for a moment, then shrugged and turned back down the sidewalk toward the street. Oh, well, you can’t win them all.

The difference was that this time it hurt, because it mattered. He’d never been stone broke before, at least not to the point that a little schmooze with the locals couldn’t get him back on his feet, and back on the road. It didn’t pay to stay very long in one area.

Cardinal’s life hadn’t always been this this, but he’d found out early in the game that there was satisfaction to be had in playing the suckers, and the suckers abounded from Maine to California.

Little towns were certainly the best pickings. Cardinal always figured that doors were left open in the Podunk-type villages because they didn’t have enough crime to need locks. Open doors were not his style, though. The sense of accomplishment only kicked in when he was able to talk his way into a score.

Once in a while he found himself giving up the pursuit as soon as a door opened. He had great luck with ladies, but the husbands of those ladies were an entirely different thing.


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