In a meeting hall full of people, two men in particular stand out. The first notable is the head of the Thieves' Guild, a surprisingly respectable man, dressed flawlessly and with a bit of high class snobbery in his manner. The second is a mere member of the guild, and though neatly dressed is as different in manner from the Chairman as it is possible to be. He has his feet propped up on the polished oaken table, and as he leans back in his chair he pops a cigar into his mouth. His thick mustache and eyebrows seem more a caricature of facial hair than an actual part of him - mainly because they actually are painted on. This is Maxwell Quincy, a black sheep among thieves.

The Chairman gets to his feet with a slow, self-important deliberation that draws all eyes (except Quincy's) to him. In a rumbling baritone, he announces, "This meeting of the Thieves' Guild is called to order."

"Two orders of french-fried potatoes, coming right up," Quincy calls out, giving his cigar a tap with his forefinger. Ash from the stogie tumbles onto the polished table, drawing aghast stares from neighboring thieves.

Glancing reproachfully at Quincy, the Chairman tugs his coat lapels huffily and draws himself up to begin again. "As I say, the meeting is called to order. Mr. Secretary, may we have a report on the next assignment?"

"Sure, but it'll cost you more," says Quincy.

"Certainly, sir." The Secretary's response follows and he, too, shoots a reproachful glare at Quincy. He then clears his throat and, getting to his feet, lifts a piece of paper up to his nose. He begins to read from it in a high, grating voice.

"The best thieves have been summoned here tonight to discuss and make plans for the retrieval of a certain very large diamond in the possession of a Mr. Roy Dupris. In the home of Dupris--"

"And the land of da Brave."

"Mr. Quincy, please!" the Chairman snaps.

"You're right, I had it backwards. Well, next time I'll put it foreword, and I'll even write an introduction." Leaning forward, he takes his feet off the table and begins to gesture with his cigar. "That'll have five words instead of four words, or maybe it was towards I was thinking of. That's right, two Wards and a Macy's right across the street. Ah, they have a wonderful selection of attire. Speaking of which, I'm a-tiring of this nonsense, let's get it on with."

"Well, I never!" the Secretary exclaims, peering over the rims of his glasses in astonishment at Quincy's behavior.

"Don't be shy, I've never done this before either," says Quincy, bouncing his eyebrows and smiling in a mock-shy manner. The Secretary hems and haws, flustered.

The Chairman soon rescues him. "Mr. Secretary," he says with commendable aplomb, "please continue the report."

Nodding respectfully to the Chairman, the Secretary lifts the piece of paper again and recommences reading from it. "In the home of Mr. Dupris, as I was saying, there is a rather large showroom in which we believe the diamond is being kept. Entry to the room is possible through the skylight, however, as the ceiling is very high indeed, in order to reach the floor our operative will require a parachute."

"A single-shoot will do just fine if you want to get rid of the poor man, but how about getting that diamond?" Quincy interjects.

The thieves begin to mutter amongst themselves, shooting sideways glances at Quincy and the increasingly brick-faced Chairman. The Chairman grits his teeth. "Mr. Quincy, will you please remain silent until the end of the discussion?"

"What discussion? Pardon me, I thought this was a corn-growers convention."

"It most certainly is not. Now, if you will please be quiet?"

"I'm all ears."

"Thank you. Mr. Secretary?"

"Yes, sir? Oh, yes, sir. To continue, at nighttime there is a--" Thump. "As I say, there is at night a--" Thump. The Secretary glances up from his paper briefly before continuing his read. "A system--" Thump-thump-thump. Pushing his glasses up on his nose, the Secretary turns his attention to Quincy, who is dribbling a small rubber ball idly on the table. "I say!" Thump.

"Mr. Quincy!" the Chairman explodes, clenching his hands into fists. "I thought you understood that you are to be absolutely silent as this is a very important discussion."

"You call this nonsense important? No wonder you fellows steal for a living -- can't hold down an honest job."

"If you think it's so trivial, let's see you get that diamond," the Secretary says snidely.

"All right, I'll do that."

"You can't just waltz in there and take the diamond!"

"You're right, a rumba would add more class."

The Secretary huffs up for a reply when the Chairman holds up a hand to stop him. "If Mr. Quincy believes he can get the diamond, then let him try. We, meanwhile, will continue our meeting -- and if Mr. Quincy's attempt should fail, let him suffer the consequences. Alone."

The other thieves fall silent, as deeply awed as if the Chairman had just pronounced a death sentence. For his part, Quincy seems oblivious to the shock of those around him: he tips his hat mildly, gets up, and heads to the door. As his hand is on the doorknob, however, he turns back around.

"If I never see you boys again," he says, "my only regret is that I might still hear from you." With that he steps outside, carelessly slamming the door on a room full of baffled burglars.

On the street outside, cars are rushing past quickly. Quincy, watching the flow of traffic, leans over the curb and waves his arm. He whistles. "Hey! Taxi!" A taxi pulls up next to him. "Isn't that nice -- he knows his name." Patting the roof of the taxi, Quincy steps inside.

*****

Quincy steps out of the cab at 5th Avenue where he finds himself facing the illustrious Dupris mansion. After looking at it for a moment, he turns to you, the reader. "Folks, what stands before me is a giant mansion. Standing next to him are his little womansion and their wee little kidsion. That's where they do all their cooking, the kitchen -- and I hear they've got one in the oven. So much for impregnable fortresses." Rolling his eyes, his pops a cigar in his mouth and strides -- with crouching steps -- to the mansion.

Reaching the door, he grabs the knocker. It's bent in a low, sweeping curve with a hollow middle like an open gutter. Inspecting it for a moment, he taps cigar ash into the hollow then raps on the door with his knuckles.

A butler answers the door with surprising promptness. "Yes?" he asks. "May I assist you?"

"You may, but I'd have to get to know you first."

The butler frowns. "Sir, what have you come here for?"

"I've come to avenge the death of my father. En garde, you cowardly cur!" Whipping an imaginary sword out from nowhere, Quincy begins dodging around, making jabbing and slicing motions with his empty sword-hand.

The butler spluttered at this madness. "But I've never killed anyone!"

"Why, then you've got nothing to worry about -- you've got beginner's luck on your side. Of course, so have I. Well, may the best man win, and may he also run slower than the worst man, unless that best man is me. And as the best man, I'd like to say a few kind words about the bridegroom. I'd like to, but I can't, and believe me I've tried. O, how I've tried! I've tried the salmon, the steak, and your patience, and I don't recommend any of them. Even the service was awful; it was underdone. I'd like to speak to your manager, and not for the scintillating conversation."

The butler gapes at Quincy, completely befuddled. After a few moments, however, he wipes his expression blank and regains his composure with a prim tug on his lapels. "You cannot see Mr. Dupris unless you state your business here. Do you have an introductory card?"

"Sure, I've got fifty-two of 'em!" Quincy snatches a card deck from his pocket and holds them out in front of him, splayed. "Here, pick a card."

Surprised and puzzled, the butler takes a card.

"Go on, take another . . . Yes, that's right."

"What do I do with these cards?"

"Keep 'em, I've got no use for 'em." Quincy snaps the cards back into a neat stack and stuffs them in his pocket.

"Oh, really, now! I must insist you tell me who you are."

"You first."

"Why, I'm the butler."

"And you did it in the ball room with the candlestick, isn't that right?" The butler is baffled. "Here, take a card." They reappear from Quincy's pocket.

Distracted, the butler automatically complies. Perceiving suddenly that Quincy is making a fool out of him, the butler gets red in the face and angrily throws all the cards in his hand on the ground.

"Now that the carding business is all over," Quincy says, sliding the deck out of sight, "how about you let me in for a little drink?"

"I'm sorry, you cannot come in unless you state your business."

"Who, me? I'm the reporter who called last week. I've come for a tour of the mansion."

"I don't remember speaking to any reporters."

"You probably have a selective memory."

The butler eyes Quincy appraisingly. "Possi-bly, sir. Come right this way." He steps back to allow Quincy entrance to the mansion. Quincy follows him around, peering at the elaborately decorated walls and gilded trimmings as he does so.

"Nice place you got here. If you scratch the little gold foil off, are there lottery numbers underneath?"

"Lottery numbers?" booms an unfamiliar voice from the next room. A tall, broad-shouldered man saunters into the room. He wears breeches, a plaid shirt, and a rakishly tilted cowboy hat. "Hoo-wee!" he booms. "Damned if you ain't the kidder! Hey, Georgey-boy, who's this here feller?"

Unfazed, George the butler replies evenly, "He is a journalist, sir, who has come to tour the mansion."

"That so!" exclaims Mr. Dupris, slapping his hand on his knee. "Well, he's a lucky man, 'cause he's just been granted an interview with the mansion-owner himself!"

"I haven't felt this elated since 1929," Quincy says, but the beaming Roy Dupris doesn't pay him any heed.

"Here, have a seat," Dupris tells Quincy after the butler slips soundlessly out of the room. "You know, I wasn't always this well off. No sirree. Why I started out without a dime in my pocket -- no, not one." Quincy opens his mouth; before he can speak, Dupris throws up a hand. "Now, don't you say anything -- I'm not looking for pity. I worked myself up to where I am today because I didn't look for anyone's pity."

"Too busy looking for their wallets."

Dupris ignores him. He begins to pace in front of Quincy. "Now, I could certainly tell you stories, mind. Stories that would chill your bones. But I didn't give up -- that's not my way. I didn't give up or ask for handouts. I worked my way to the top with these, my own two hands." Dupris holds his two hands out for inspection.

"They don't look like your hands. They look like the pair I lost last week in the barber shop."

After only a slight pause, Dupris recommences his narrative. "I got to the top, though, all on my own. Nobody helped me -- I'm a purely self-made man, my friend; the idol of American literature. I am living proof of the system's success. I embody America. I stand for opportunity, I stand for freedom -- I stand for the American dream!"

"Well, sit down and shut up."

"George!" bellows Dupris, his face red with fury. The butler appears immediately. "Help him finish his tour of the house and then see him out."

"Certainly, sir," George answers obediently. "This way, sir," he said, now addressing Quincy.

"Nice meeting you," Quincy says to Dupris in passing. The millionaire clenches his jaw.

Adjoining the small parlor where Dupris had been "interviewed" is the showroom. Here, lined up along the wall, are a score of pedestals displaying everything from Grecian urns to chipped Babylonian statues. In the very center of the room sits a large display with a red satin pillow perched on top of it. Nestled down in the pillow is a large, sparkling diamond.

"This is the Mr. Dupris's showroom," the butler drones. "His collection is one of the finest in New York, esteemed both for the value of the items as well as their variety." With Quincy a step behind him, the butler moves across the room, pointing at the various items to direct Quincy's attention that way. When he nears the diamond, he stops in front of it. "The diamond you see at the middle of the room is one of the largest, finest diamonds in the world."

"What, this puny thing?" Quincy says, picking it up off the pillow. The butler's eyes widen.

"Sir, that diamond is one of Mr. Dupris's prized possessions!" he splutters, gesturing wildly with his hands towards the pillow.

"One of? Well, since he's got so many, he probably won't mind if I borrow this one." He starts to walk away.

The butler interposes himself between Quincy and the door. "Pardon me, sir, but that diamond cannot leave the room."

"That so?" Yet he makes no move to replace it.

"You can't leave the room with it, sir. It's in your hand."

Quincy looks. "Why, so it is! Fancy a little slip up like that." Giving the diamond a small toss into the air, Quincy catches it again and pockets it. He heads for the door.

"Sir, you still have the diamond."

Quincy turns back to the butler and shakes his hand, suddenly congratulatory and enthusiastic. "Right again! You, my friend, have an eye for detail -- me, I have an I for resale; come back tomorrow and I'll give you J, K, and L for half-price. You don't have to worry about tricky deals with me, I follow the letter of the law -- mainly because if I catch that letter I can sell it again for a bundle. Did you know you can use these letters to blackmail rich countesses? Go ahead and count my S's, C if I care. Speaking of eye care, have you seen my optometrist? I've been looking for him." He steps around the butler and heads towards the door again. This time the butler doesn't move to stop him; he just stands there staring, his jaw agape.

*****

Upon exiting the cab, Quincy strides quickly towards the door to the meeting hall where the Thieves' Guild is still having their session. Flinging open the doors, he calls "I'm baaaack!" to the gathered burglars. He continues his long-paced, crouching walk and returns to his seat at the table.

A ripple of reaction passes through the crowd. The startled Chairman gets to his feet, leaning his hands on the table. The Secretary, still reading from a sheaf of papers in his hands, pauses and peers over his spectacles, dumbfounded. In Quincy's hand is the giant diamond previously in the possession of Mr. Roy Dupris.

"But . . . but . . ." the Secretary splutters, pointing at it.

"But but? No need to butter me up, I've already got the diamond." Quincy pockets the diamond. "So," he says casually. "Did you miss me?"

"No," the Chairman responds grumpily.

"Well, I missed you. I missed you and you should be grateful, since I was throwing a tomato at the time."

With a groan, the Chairman sank into his chair and hid his face in his hands. The Secretary threw his plans for the theft down on the ground and stamped on them angrily. Raising his brows as he watches their reactions, Quincy puts a cigar in his mouth and casually starts to smoke. "And just wait till they find out the diamond was a fake," he remarks to his neighbor.