The den of thieves grew silent as the pair walked in. Their clean, simple robes, cut perfectly, contrasted with the unwashed peasants about them whose clothes were stained, patched, and well-worn. A blind beggar peaked out from under the dirty rag covering his clear eyes to see what had so impressed his jaded peers.
All eyes watched as the two approached the man shuffling shells.
“A game of luck? A little wager? Can you spot the bead?” the oft rehearsed words filled that quieted alley.
A boy, who was piteously thin, squatting next to the blind man, holding out a bowl containing three bright coins, whispered, “Are they going to kill him?”
The two men sat before the box.
“Spot the bead; double your wager.”
For some time no sound was heard but the shuffling shells scraping across the wood. Eventually, even this was overwhelmed by silence, and the three shells stood in a line before the two men. The three sat speaking not a word. Finally, one of the robed men pointed to a shell.
Without glancing up, the conman spoke, “You have to make a bet first.”
“We have no money,” came the reply.
“What?” came the mocking retort. “Oh yes. You have no possessions or attachments to this world, if I remember. And yet you’re fatter than most. On whose bread did you grow fat?”
“We carry only knowledge.”
“It seems a healthier diet on you than I found it.”
“Your father is dead.”
“Our father. . .” he repeated slowly. Turning over the shell, he tutted. “Empty.”
The second of the two pointed to the next shell.
“And what will you be betting?”
“His final words.”
The man’s quick hand reached for the shell. Hovering just above it, he said, “I assumed he would go quietly.” Letting his fingers touch the shell, he continued, “At least he said nothing when I told him I was going.” The shell was turned over, empty.
“He called for you. He said, ‘Van, Van, my son.’”
“How touching. One final sentiment he’d forgotten to purge. His only failure weighing on him, I suppose.”
The two men stood, and walking side by side left the sorry pit. The conman turned the last shell over, revealing nothing.