If you want to know who was responsible for the rather unusual events that you and millions of others watched live on national TV last night in place of the ordinary Academy Awards broadcast you were expecting … well, both modesty and my desire to stay out of jail demand that I remain anonymous.
But in a larger sense, indirect credit goes to the man (name unknown) who, on November 14, 1935, walked out on Elsa Woodthorpe and the fetus in her womb (both of Columbus, Ohio). That fetus would grow up to be Doc Woodthorpe, and he'd always have a thing about single mothers, and, especially, single-mothers-to-be. It would get him into trouble most of his life.
It resulted, for example, in his dishonorable discharge from the United States Military. As an army doctor in Vietnam, he had no qualms about saving the lives of young boys so they could go back out and get killed again. But if a pregnant Vietnamese woman somehow found her way into the operating room, he was going to deliver her baby, no matter how many soldiers were waiting for his attention. He got away with it once; Doc was the unit's unofficial problem solver, and his ability to find necessary supplies through non-approved channels, or to whip them up out of spare parts, made him hard to replace. But then word spread among the local population. When he started spending half his time off sneaking off base to tend to unborn civilians, the Army had had enough, and Doc found himself back home with no reputable employment prospects.
That's when he decided. He had been an amateur problem solver all his life. It was time to turn pro.
His first job was for an Encino restauranteur who was tired of paying protection money to Legless Mahoney, a small-time local hood. Mahoney had a remarkable knack for covering up the evidence of his crimes, but Doc had learned something in Vietnam from watching the slow defeat of the world's strongest military power. "Sometimes," Doc liked to say, "your greatest strength is actually your greatest weakness."
Legless's greatest strength was, without a doubt, his ability to construct an ironclad alibi. At the time Doc started in on the case, for example, Legless was arranging for a liquor store robbery in Sherman Oaks, and had therefore prepared in advance irrefutable evidence establishing his presence at a particular nightclub in Pasadena the evening the robbery was to take place. Doc noticed there was a bank next door to the nightclub.
While Legless was in Sherman Oaks robbing the liquor store, Doc was in Pasadena robbing the bank. The next morning, acting on an anonymous tip, the cops showed up at Legless's door and demanded to know where he had been at 3AM. Legless proudly produced a ream of evidence-- a parking stub, a nightclub ticket, even a carefully staged photograph-- all proving beyond a shadow of doubt that he had been at the 3400 block of East Villa Street, Pasadena, CA. The cops exchanged disbelieving looks and got out their handcuffs.
Three months later, Legless had a 20-year jail term; Doc was living comfortably off a suitcase full of hundred-dollar bills held together by Wells Fargo wrappers; and the restaurateur was free to keep his own profits.
Which was well and good for everybody except those of us who would later end up working for Doc, because your first job is the formative one, and for the rest of his professional life, Doc would use a restaurant metaphor for everything. There's nothing more degrading for a smooth-talking professional grifter than being described by your boss as "Front of House." Karla, our expert in weaponry and other hardware, has it worse. Doc refers to her as "Cookware Acquistion Specialist," and insists on using the full title, even when time is of the essence and just saying "Karla" would save several precious seconds.
I'm always pushing Doc to take the easy, lucrative gigs. The same week Peggy came to us, we had our pick of two straightforward bait-and-switch scams and a simple reverse blackmail. (Or, as Doc insisted on calling them, "two soups-of-the-day and an eggs-over-easy.") But then Peggy came in. Karla and I took one look at her swollen belly, and we knew who Doc was picking as our next client.
There was absolutely nothing unusual about most of Peggy's life story, from her early days as the most beautiful girl in a small Midwestern town, through her discovery that she was roughly the 1,342,492nd most beautiful girl in Los Angeles, all the way up to the point where her desperation led her to sleep with a producer who promised her a part. But that's where it did become unusual, because that producer was Claude de Mausset, Hollywood's golden boy of the moment.
De Mausset had started off running a small-time security company in San Jose. In the late 80s, he lucked into a contract providing rent-a-cops for the offices of a couple of local tech companies. As the dotcom market boomed, so did his business. When the dotcom market crashed, he bought out an online security company at bargain-basement prices and moved to LA, where he rebranded himself as an all-services anti-piracy expert. Pay him enough money, and his flesh-and-blood private army would bust up a warehouse full of black market DVDs, while his online security professionals brought down the pirate website that made those DVDs possible.
After shutting down a ring that had moved a hundred million dollars worth of fake Disney movies, de Mausset became a very popular man at the studios. Within five years, he was providing security for every film premiere, every glitzy private party -- even for the Oscars themselves.
Eventually, like every piano salesman, personal trainer, or pediatrician who has ever lived in Los Angeles, de Mausset had an idea for a movie. But unlike your average piano salesman, de Mausset was owed favors by every studio head in town. In March 2007, de Mausset had the idea for a period film about a humble French jeweler who makes a present for Louis XIV. By April 2008, The Diamond Stickpin of Calais was in pre-production with an all-star cast and a prestige director. By September 2010, it was a box office smash. By January 2011, it had a dozen Academy Award nominations -- including a Best Picture nod for its executive producer, one Claude de Mausset.
And yet, no matter how busy he had been expanding his empire, Claude still found the time for the important things, like impregnating and then discarding a small-time actress. When Peggy asked him for help, he made her a generous offer. "I'm happy to pay for one of two things," he said. "Either an abortion, or an army of lawyers who will not only convince a jury to ignore any paternity test you get, they will make you internationally famous as a lying slut. What'll it be-- Option 1 or Option 2?"
Peggy cried for roughly six months straight, and finally chose Option 3: a guy named Doc who, she had heard, solved difficult problems on a strictly contingency basis.
When she had finished telling us her story, and Doc had hugged her and assured her that everything would be all right, and she had left us, sniffling as she went, I turn to Doc and Karla. "She's not the only one crying. We're marking Claude de Maussett? It can't be done."
Doc says what I knew he would say. "His greatest strength is his greatest weakness."
"Then we're in luck, because he's got greatest strengths up the wazoo. Which weakness shall we exploit, I wonder? His vast wealth and powerful friends? His incredible first-hand knowledge of crime detection and prevention? The private army that surrounds him at all times?"
"At most times," Doc says. "If you win an Oscar, you can't take guards up on stage. He's had somebody make up a real-life version of the King's diamond stickpin from the film. It's worth a million dollars, and he's going to be wearing it to--"
"No," I say.
"No way," Karla says.
"No fucking way," I say.
"No fucking way," Karla agrees, and then adds, "Fuck!" That secondary "fuck" worries me, because it means she's thought of a way of pulling it off. I give her a look that says, "For God's sake, keep it to yourself."
Unfortunately, when Karla has figured out how to solve a problem, she is constitutionally incapable of shutting up. "The theater where they have the awards, it's got three balconies. And if somebody was on the top balcony with a long enough rope, you could swing down to the stage."
"Oh, that's brilliant," I say. "That's just great. Now you're on stage in front of God, the LAPD, and one billion viewers--"
"That's the point," Doc says. "We prove, on live television, that de Mausset's security firm can't even keep his own jewels safe. We don't just take his money -- we take his reputation."
I ignore Doc, which is a skill I have perfected over many years, and finish my sentence. "--and now you have to smuggle the most recognizable diamond necklace in the world out of one of the highest-security events in the country."
"I didn't say I had perfected the recipe. I'm just telling you what the menu needs to look like,"
"I know what you're doing," I tell him. "You're throwing in yet another goddamn restaurant metaphor because you know they drive me crazy, and you're hoping if I get worked up enough I'll forget how stupid this goddamned project is and come up with a way to get the goddamned diamond out of-- oh, fuck."
If it was humanly possible to shoot myself a look that said "Keep it to yourself," I would. But Karla isn't the only one who can't keep a good brainstorm quiet. I sigh and go on."We need to (a) steal the Jewel of Calais, and (b) make the world think we stole it at the Oscars. But we don't need to do both at once. What was that stuff we used in the Akron job? Looked exactly like diamond?"
Karla blushes. Two years later, this is still a sore spot. "It was a mix of micro-ground carbon particulate and unflavored jello. I called it 'karlacite' but the problem was--"
"Believe me, I remember the problem. I've still got a bullet scar on the inside of my left thigh because of that particular problem. But on this job--"
"Ahhhhh!" Doc is all smiles. "I see where you're going. Then we're set."
"Wait. No. Because the whole thing still depends on getting de Mausset up on stage, which means he has to win. So, what, we're going to rig the Oscars?"
Doc shrugs. "I've done it before."
"No you haven't."
"1994. Honestly, I couldn't believe I got away with it. I mean, I liked Forrest Gump, but over The Shawshank Redemption? Over Pulp Fiction?"
"Bullshit," I say. "Who was the mark? Who was the client?"
"You weren't part of my team at the time, so professional ethics forbid me from divulging too much information. All I'll say is, look closely at the press photographs. I think you'll find that the 'Gary Sinese' of the day before the Oscars is half an inch shorter, and has slightly different bone structure, than the 'Gary Sinese' of the day after."
"Are you trying to tell me--"
"I'm not trying to tell you anything, except: leave the Oscar results to me."
Doc gets up and exits the room dramatically. I am so busy trying to work out which Gary Sinese would have been the real one that it takes me a few minutes to realize what I just agreed to.
"Fuck," I say.
Karla nods. "Fuck."
Karla and I tend to disagree about most things. It's nice to have a moment of unity.
While Doc does whatever he's doing to fix the Oscars (or, in his words, "write the day's special on the board"), Karla goes off to get the necessary equipment ("prep the mise en place"), and all I have to do is swap a genuine million-dollar diamond for a substitute made out of unflavored jello. (Doc calls this "plating the main." I point out that "jello" is already a food term, making his metaphor as redundant as it is annoying. He pretends to be too busy studying a blueprint of the Kodak Theater to hear me.)
So. The swap.
Three nights before the ceremony, there's a dinner for the nominees. It is, by all accounts, a relaxed and collegial affair, where the nominees forget about trying to impress each other and just hang out. Of course de Mausset wears his million-dollar stickpin to it.
By this point, Doc has been a justice-dispenser of last resort for nearly thirty years, and he's always taken his payment from the mark, never from the client. This means that pretty much every poor person in Los Angeles is, at the very least, a friend of a friend of somebody who owes Doc a massive favor. And every event in Los Angeles -- no matter how glitzy -- is staffed by an army of immigrants, parking cars and serving food. Finding a waiter who will take sick at the last minute and let me swap in for him is the easiest part of the whole affair.
After that, it gets a little trickier, because although the dinner is, in theory, a no-personal-bodyguard zone, overall security for the event is being provided by De Mausset Safety Incorporated (An Integrated Digital And Physical Security Company). And the guards ringing the room have clearly been told to ignore everybody else and keep their eyes focused on Claude's diamond-laden lapel.
Fortunately, as I stand there pouring champaign for Charlize Theron, I look across the table and see Ann Hathaway. And why is this fortunate? Because -- well, first of all, because I get to look at Charlize Thieron and Ann Hathaway at the same time. Admittedly, they aren't doing the sorts of things to each other they tend to do when I see them together in my imagination, but it is nonetheless a pleasurable experience.
More importantly, I realize that Ann Hathaway looks like a rich man's Peggy. And if de Mausset is interested in the poor man's version, he's certainly going to be interested in the real thing.
Step 1: In the process of serving Ms. Hathaway some Oven-Baked Baby Heirloom Beets With Caramelized Belgian Endive, Sierra Beauty Apples, and Candied Walnuts, I discreetly borrow the Escada pearl brooch that adorns her left bosom.
Step 2. I bump the left side of her plate with my serving fork, directing her attention downward and to the left. She notices the missing brooch. Her hand flies to her chest and she lets out a small scream.
"Have you lost something, ma'am?" I politely enquire.
"I'll alert security. I'm sure they'll -- wait, is that it?"
I point towards where Claude de Mausset is sitting. "I see something on the floor."
Step 3. I glide over to Claude's table, stand behind his chair, and bend down. As I am straightening up, I whisper to Claude, "Ms. Hathaway asked if you could meet her in the supply closet. Alone."
As Claude glances over towards Anne, I produce the brooch and hold it up, just behind his head. Anne's face breaks out into a huge smile. She mimes blowing a kiss, then holds her hand to her chest and smiles.
Claude, of course, thinks this display is for him. He leaps to his feet. "Where's this closet?"
"This way, sir. Third door on the left. She said she'd be there in five minutes."
His burly goon starts to follow, but Claude shakes his head curtly, and exits, alone.
Step 4: I head towards the kitchen, stopping only to return Anne's brooch. She kisses me on the cheek, and I suddenly recall that she has a documented history of dating con men. For one moment, in my head, I take her to a Claude-free supply closet and ravish her so thoroughly that she proposes to me on the spot. I'll say "yes." We'll have two children-- a boy named "Montgomery" and a girl named "Anne, Jr." We'll live to a ripe old age, with an eternally active sex life, and-- No. Focus. Eyes on the prize. Back to reality. With a heroic act of will, I smile politely to her and walk on, forsaking our future bliss. Sorry, little Montgomery and Anne, Jr.
Step 5: Now pushing a dessert cart, I open the door to Claude's supply closet and barrel in. I have a brief glimpse of him anxiously fiddling with his diamond stickpin before I knock him over in a flurry of crashing trays and shattering china.
"What the fuck!" he yells.
"I'm so sorry, sir."
He glares at me, and this is a crucial moment, because if he recognizes me as the guy who just told him to wait in the closet, then everything is over. But I'm betting that Claude de Mausset can't be bothered to remember the face of anybody who makes less than a hundred grand a year.
I win the bet. He doesn't call for one of his goons. Instead, he yells something generic and expletive-filled about having me fired. I don't pay too much attention, because I've already won.
"I think you dropped this, sir," I say, handing him the stickpin. Or, perhaps I should say, the "stickpin," in quotes, since what I'm offering him is actually one-tenth jello. He grabs it, lets out another expletive-filled rant, and then starts to storm out.
Then he stops, storms back into the closet, and slaps me, before once again stomping off, this time for good.
And now, suddenly, I'm very worried. I'm partly worried on behalf of men everywhere, because let's face it, whenever one of us decides to slap another, the overall machismo level of our gender drops precipitously. But mostly I'm worried because of the faint residue his hand left on my cheeks.
He has sweaty palms.
See, the thing about karlacite is that it looks and feels just like a genuine diamond, until you get it wet enough. Then it fizzes for exactly thirty-six seconds and dissolves into a small handful of powder. We discovered the phenomenon, at the climax of a complex scheme, in the parking lot of a convenience store in Akron, Ohio, where the sudden dissolution of a previously convincing gemstone resulted in me getting shot and a truly evil man named Marcellio Goldfarb getting away scot-free.
Here, though, a diamond that can be dissolved in water is exactly what we want. Except if the mark's palms get sweaty when he gets emotional, and if he fiddles with his diamond when he's anxious and anticipatory, we are going to risk premature dissolution.
I sneak outside and call Doc.
He is annoyed. "What is it? I'm kind of busy. I'm sourcing organic vegetables." In the background, I can hear a man's voice, vaguely familiar, although I can't quite place it.
"We need some kind of distraction for the mark at the ceremony."
"For the who at the what?"
I sigh. "For the patron at the buffet."
"Hmm…" His voice fades a bit, and he must have turned to whoever else is in the room with him. "Gary, on top of everything else, can you arrange two seats in eyeshot of Claude at the ceremony? I know I'm asking a lot."
"For you, Doc, nothing is too much," says the other voice, and suddenly I recognize that faintly nasal Midwestern twang.
"Doc, are we sourcing organic vegetables from Gary Sinise?"
"Not as far as you know. I gotta go. Oh, and buy a new tux.." He hangs up.
(Why, you might wonder, does a smooth talking professional confidence man not have a tux on hand? Because the old one has bloodstains on it left over from another job that went awry , this one only two months ago, when a mark named Jayson Oates showed up three minutes early to a fake wedding we had arranged, and things rapidly went bad. Don't get the wrong idea, though-- in the thirty years Doc had been in the problem-solving business, Jayson Oates and Marcellio Goldfarb are the only two marks who ever got away.
But as I think about Oates and Goldfarb, it occurs to me that maybe I should be worried. No mistakes for thirty years; then a mistake two years ago;
then another mistake two months ago. It's not that Doc is getting sloppy in his old age; he's just getting more sentimental, and in our line of work,
that's a huge weakness. )
So. Here are the players, as of February 27, Oscar day, as showtime approaches:
Doc is in a utility closet in the Kodak Theater, wired into every video feed in the building, from the security cameras in the access-only hallways to the TV cameras focused on the stage. He's going to stay there directing traffic (or, as he insists, "sending orders to the kitchen"). It's the safest place for him; although he's managed to avoid conviction, he's been a suspect in dozens of heists over the decades. If he shows his face at the scene of a heist this big, he's pretty much guaranteed to spend the rest of his life in jail.
Karla is in the theater's rafters, blending in with the various gaffers and crewmen. Only while they're setting up legitimate lights and microphones, Karla is anxiously checking and rechecking an illicit system of ropes and pulleys.
Meanwhile, taking his seat on the third balcony with the less-loved children and in-laws of the lesser nominees is Flip, whom you haven't met yet. Suffice it to say that Flip is the kind of guy who (a) is willing to catapult off a third-floor balcony in the middle of the Academy Awards, and (b) can actually do it, and (c) will never talk about it after it happens.
And me? I'm escorting Doc's idea of a distraction and silently cursing him, because our distraction is very pregnant and slightly reminiscent of Anne Hathaway. Peggy is, I admit, easy on the eyes, but she is 8 months pregnant and wearing very high heels, which does not make her easy on the arm; it feels as though I am supporting her entire weight as we trip down the narrow aisle to our seats.
Nor is she easy on the ears. Here's a small sample, which occurred during the space of about three seconds:
"Oh, goodness, is that Dennis Hopper? No, wait, he died, didn't he? I was a big fan of his, what was that movie, um, Bus Go Faster ? With Keanu Reeves? Oh! Oh! Do you think Keanu Reeves will be here? He's not dead, is he? Do you think there's a curse of Bus Go Faster? Because Dennis Hopper was in it and he's dead! I hope Keanu Reeves is OK."
But most importantly, you do not bring the client along when you're ready to serve the mark. You just don't. It never ends well. Doc knows this, and I know he knows this, but, again: it's that sentimentality. He must want Peggy to see justice being done, and he's convinced himself that it's an entirely rational part of his plan.
Fortunately Gary Sinese-- or, maybe "Gary Sinese," in quotes-- has come through for us, because there's only four seats between us and Claude de Mausset. Unfortunately, all four seats are filled with huge and very serious men who clearly work for him. If it weren't for them, I'd be tempted to grab the necklace right now, because Claude's sweaty fingers are fiddling nervously with his Jell-o brand diamond necklace.
Instead, I clear my throat loudly. He glances our way and does a double take. He doesn't recognize me as either the guy who lied to him about Anne Hathaway or the guy who rammed a dessert cart into him, but he certainly recognizes Peggy.
"What are you doing here?" he hisses.
"Oh, hello Claudie!" she says. "Are you up for an Oscar, too?"
I lean over and offer my hand. "Cormac O'Donnell," I say. "Two-time winner for sound design."
He ignores me, although, just to annoy him, I stay leaning forward with my hand out while he keeps hissing at Peggy. "This is my moment."
"Oooh, how wonderful!" She pats her tummy. "Did you hear that, Claude Junior? We're sharing daddy's moment!"
Unable to speak, Claude turns bright red with fury. His sweaty hands clutch the side of his seat, safely away from the necklace. I begin to suspect that Peggy is not so ditzy as she likes to pretend.
Whether it's intentional or not, Peggy is clearly going to do all the annoying for me, so I stop holding out my hand and I lean back.
The lights dim. The show starts. Or, as far as I'm concerned, the pre-show, because the real show isn't going to start until Claude goes up on stage thinking he's going to get a statue, when what he's really going to get is shorn.
We are about two and three-quarter hours into the broadcast, and I am growing more and more fond of Peggy, because every time Claude's hand drifts up to touch the "diamond," she coughs, or shifts her leg, or sings a lullaby to little Claude Junior, and Claude Senior begins to seethe and forgets all about fiddling with his stickpin.
But just as I'm beginning to relax and feel that everything is going to go according to plan, she leans over and taps me on the shoulder."We have a problem. My waters just broke."
I look down. I can just make out that her seat is damp, but nobody else seems to have noticed anything amiss. "No worries. I've been reading up on this. If you can just sit tight, we've got a couple of hours before anything happens, especially with a first child--"
"This isn't my first child. I had this high school boyfriend, he got me pregnant, and I was so young, adoption seemed like the best--"
"OK. So a previous baby would have stretched you out a little bit. Things'll go faster. But even with a second child--"
"I had triplets."
I've got a small mic hidden in my sleeve, but it's only for emergency use. I use it. "Doc? We may have a problem."
I tell him what Peggy told me. He thinks about it for a moment, then says, through the receiver hidden in my ear,"The ceremony is only supposed to be three hours. As long as it doesn't go long--"
"Doc. Listen to yourself. As long as the Oscars don't go long?"
On stage, Annette Benning is saying, "The epic film is a Hollywood tradition. That's why this montage of epic--"
On my mic, Doc says, "Crap. Crappity crap."
Suddenly, Peggy lets out a loud moan that echoes across the entire theater. Annette Benning gamely keeps going, but when Peggy moans again, even louder, she stops, then improvises. "Sounds like epic movies do for her what Warren does for me."The audience chuckles.
Peggy tries to whisper to me, but it comes out as a shout."I'M ABOUT TO HAVE THE BABY!"
All the heads that were not turned our way suddenly turn our way.
"I'm coming down there," Doc says.
"Forget it," I say. "You can't show your face. An event like this, they'll have dozen doctors on hand--"
"How many obstetricians?" he says, and even over the ear piece, I recognize a tone of voice that brooks no disagreement. "Help her lie down in the aisle. Raise her legs. On my way."
I see a cameraman coming down the aisle towards us; whoever is directing the show obviously knows live drama when he sees it.
All around us, people are pulling out cellphones. I can hear three short tones repeated over and over. Everybody is dialing 911.
There's no point in being discreet any more, so I follow instructions, leading Peggy into the aisle. Doc is there within seconds -- he can move surprisingly fast for an old guy. A phalanx of security guards have arrived at the same time, but he pushes them aside, yelling "I'm a doctor. Let me through!" They hang back, waiting at the top of the aisle, while he strides down.
"Does anybody have Purell?" Doc asks, and every single person in ear shot pulls out a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer.
His hands sanitized, he kneels down in front of her. "My name's Doctor Woodthorpe," he says, and I realize what he's doing. He knows he's going to be recognized, so he's not bothering to give a fake name. And he's pretending they've never met, so she won't be implicated. He starts sliding off her high heels. "You're going to be fine. You're going to be great. "
Then he lifts up his sleeve and whispers, "Time to serve dinner," Doc says.
On my ear piece, Flip says, "What are you talking about? You hired me to swing onto the stage. Swinging into the audience? I haven't done the calculations--"
"Listen," Doc says, and at first I think he's about to make a point, but, no, he means listen. In the distance, we can hear the wail of sirens. All those 911 calls have had an effect. In a few minutes, the place is going to be swarming with emergency personnel -- not just ambulance drivers, but all the cops who were stationed outside the theater, plus any bonus cops the dispatcher felt like throwing in.
Somebody is bound to ID Doc, and at that point, it's all over.
I don't bother talking into my sleeve. "It's a moot point. We can't. He's surrounded by goons."
"We don't have a choice--" Doc starts to say, but he's interrupted by Peggy, who has been in earshot of our exchange.
"I have epilepsy," she shouts. We look at her, perplexed, as does the rest of the Kodak Theater, and, presumably, one billion home viewers. "I feel a fit coming on right now!" She starts twitching her legs. "It could be cataclysmic for the baby! I need four strong men to hold me down!"
Doc and I realize the same thing at the same time: Peggy is definitely less ditzy than she lets on.
Surpressing his grin, Doc straightens up. "Right. I need the four strongest men here." He gestures towards Claude's goons. "You'll do."
Uncertain, they look at Claude. Claude's lip curls and he's clearly about to say "No!" when he realizes that the eyes of the world are upon him. He smiles as sincerely as he can, which is not very. "Of course. Be my guest. I insist! Help that lovely young woman! It's the miracle of birth!"
The goons troop obediently into the aisle.
I take advantage of the distraction to disappear up the aisle and into the lobby, where I slip on the stocking mask I had tucked in my tuxedo pockets just in case. Then I start running up stairs.
In minutes, I'm in the dark corner of the third balcony where Flip is now crouching, surveying the scene below.
"I'm not doing it," he says.
The sirens are getting closer.
I look him right in the eye. "You see that pregnant lady? If we don't do this now, she and her baby won't get the justice they deserve."
Flip looks back at me, unimpressed. That argument doesn't carry much weight. He's not Doc.
And neither am I. Doc would offer his share of the take to get things moving, but I'm not Doc. I'm in this for the money. You start getting sentimental, and you start screwing things up.
The sirens are getting closer.
Down below, Peggy is breathing and crying more. I can see Doc nodding encouragement.
Then I make the mistake of looking up at the big screens they've got around the theater. On them, I can see Peggy's face, and Doc's face, and the face of everybody around them. And I know from their expression that the baby is coming out.
God damn it. I shouldn't have looked.
Somebody has gotten a mic close enough to pick up Doc's voice, because what he says next echoes over the theater's public address system: "Congratulations. It's a boy!"
The theater erupts in cheers.
God damn it. I shouldn't have listened.
But I did.
I mutter "Fuck," because I know what I'm about to do. Then I take a deep breath and I do it. "Flip, do it now and you can have half my share."
I guess that makes me half as bad as Doc.
Flip does the math in his head and slips on his own stocking mask. Just before it goes on, I see his huge grin, and I realize I could have gotten away with offering much less. Ah, well. Easy come, easy go.
He clips the guide rope on his belt. "I calculated the length of the rope and the placement of the pulley based on a swing to the stage. You want me in the audience, you're going to have to puppet me over there manually."
I grab the other end of the rope. He salutes me, then dives over the edge.
As he plummets towards the audience, I flash back to a childhood spent pumping coins into those amusement park games where you control a claw. I never managed to get the hang of picking up a prize. For Flip's sake, I hope I'm better at this version of it.
Then the rope goes taut, and I'm hopping and jumping and running with no time to think. Flip swings wildly towards a 20-foot-tall Oscar statue by the side of the stage. I run in the other direction, which involves leaping up out of the balcony aisle and across the laps of a half-dozen seated strangers; fortunately, Flip's weight counterbalances my own, so I'm treading lightly as I dash across their intimate parts.
Now Flip is right above Claude. Here in the third balcony, all eyes are obviously on the nutcase running across people's laps, but down below, nobody notices the black-clad stocking-mask wearing jewel thief hovering two stories above them. They're still cheering Doc's announcement of the gender, and it looks like Peggy's baby is about to become the youngest person ever to receive a standing ovation at the Academy Awards
I let the rope slip through my hands. Flip drops down. I tighten the rope at the last minute, but my timing isn't exactly right, and he bounces off one of the empty seats where one of the bodyguards had been sitting. Sweating and stumbling, I get him right next to Claude.
People are starting to notice Flip, but Claude's back is still to him. So Flip taps him on the shoulder.
Claude turns around.
Flip plucks the stickpin off his lapel and then jumps, trusting me to pull the rope--
--but he's too damn heavy. My arms aren't strong enough. There's a reason I work front of house instead of waiting tables-- I mean, there's a reason I don't do the really physical work on a scam.
So Flip's jump takes him about two inches into the air. It's a much less dramatic effect than he might have hoped, and it leaves me with no choice. I take a deep breath and run forward towards the edge of the balcony.
Holding tight to my end of the rope, I jump off.
My weight jerks Flip upwards, and my forward momentum swings me around in a downard spiral-- which means Flip goes in an upward spiral. It's moderately terrifying, but the laws of physics dictate that Flip will end up on the third balcony and I'll end up safely on the ground.
Or, at least, that's what the laws of physics would have dictated, if Flip didn't glance up at the third balcony and see that it was filling up with security personnel -- summoned, presumably, by Philistines who failed to appreciate my impromptu lap tapdance.
So, instead, Flip unclips himself as he shoots up past the second balcony. He goes flying forward, and I go flying downward, right into the seats below.
Fortunately, the row has been vacated; I'm guessing everybody in it has gotten up to see the excitement taking place in the far aisle. And it's only a drop of ten feet, so as I crash into the plush seat, I don't do much more than twist my ankle, crash into the seat back in front of me, and land on the ground.
And as I lie there, catching my breath, it occurs to me that this is actually a good place to be. True, everybody's attention is still on either the pregnant lady, or the guy who just stole a million-dollar stickpin and flew up into the balcony. But there are cameras everywhere, and I can't risk being captured on one of them taking off my mask.
So, staying safely tucked on the ground in amongst the seats, I take off my mask and leave it behind.
As I'm standing up, I hear the fire alarm go off. That means that Flip has safely made it to the bathroom and flushed the "diamond" down the toilet. As the crowd starts streaming towards the door, I catch a glimpse of Peggy leaning on Doc with one arm and holding the baby with the other. Doc catches my eye and nods, so I melt into the crowd.
Outside, I can see that there's already a ring of police cars forming a perimeter. If they're smart, they'll search everybody before they let anybody go. But they won't find anything. The real diamond is already out of the country, and the fake one is already dissolved into its constituent parts, which are rapidly gurgling their way towards the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in lovely Santa Monica Bay.
The next day, I am sitting on my couch, nursing my various bruises and sprains, watching the morning news.
"Police continue to hold Charles 'Doc' Woodthorpe for his involvement in last night's spectacular jewel theft," perks the perky anchor perkily, as though this is something I don't know. Then she says something that actually is a surprise to me: "Authorities say Woodthorpe is cooperating and has made a full confession. We take you live to Jane Woo at the LAPD headquarters. Jane?"
"Thanks, Anita. Apparently, Woodthorpe was just one part of a massive insurance fraud operation perpetrated by Hollywood producer-slash-security expert Claude de Mausset, who arranged for the theft of his own diamond."
I shouldn't laugh. After all, Doc is in jail. But I can't help it; it's perfect. It's so perfect that I wonder whether Doc planned on getting caught all along, just so he could spin it this way.
But perky Anita has a different question in mind. "Jane, any word on the identities of those two masked men, caught on film assisting in the theft?"
The scene cuts to footage of Flip and my little aerialistic dance. "That's right, Anita. Apparently, Woodthorpe has conclusively identified them both." Jane's answer stops my laughter dead. But then she continues: "Their names are Marcellio Goldfarb and Jayson Oates, and although they've been prime suspects in a number of previous murder and assault cases, police have never been able to make the charges stick. Until now. With Woodthorpe's evidence, they'll be--"
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Jane, but I'm getting a report from Carlos Sanchez, reporting live from downtown LA , where there's been a surprising development. Carlos?"
"Anita, I spoke to Michael Sellars, driver of a police van that, only an hour ago, crashed coming round this corner."
In the video clip, Sellars still looks dazed and bloodied. He also looks vaguely familiar, but right now, I'm more interested in what he has to say. "Yeah, I just lost control. Shattered the windows. Back door cracked right open. When I came to Woodthorpe was gone. I dunno, old guy like that? Probably with a concussion? I'm betting he dies in a ditch somewhere and they never find his body."
The clip ends and Carlos comes back live. His lips are moving, but I don't hear what he's saying. Poor Doc.
But I realize why Sellars looks familiar. I've never seen him before, but I've met his sister, when she was being stalked by a psychotic ex-husband. I had argued against taking the case -- there was no money to be made. But Doc had insisted.
And now, five years later, here was her brother. Conveniently crashing a van at exactly the right moment to let Doc escape.
Doc, obviously, had no way of knowing he'd ever get paid back for helping her out. It was had just been his sentimentality doing the thinking for him. His biggest weakness.
But as I watch the news, I finally realize an important corralary to Doc's motto: sometimes, your biggest weakness is also your biggest strength.
Now I'm no longer worried about Doc-- but I do know I'll never see him again. He's got hundreds -- thousands? -- of people who will help him until he can smuggle himself some place with beautiful weather and no extradition treaties, there to live out his retirement in peace and safety.
I smile. Then I stand up and start to get dressed, because I have to go to the hospital and drive Peggy home with her baby.
She named him "Oscar." I thought it was a little on the nose, but what do I know?
About the Author
Jacob Sager Weinstein has written for HBO, the BBC, and NBC. His next book — a parody of pregnancy and parenting manuals called How Not To Kill Your Baby — comes out in spring 2012. Jacob has been nominated for two WGA Awards. He won one of them. He lost the other one to Conan O'Brien's writing staff, most likely because Conan O'Brien's writing staff was actually a ragtag band of loveable criminals engaged in an elaborate heist.