The Conman — a short story for English and ESL

This is a short story about a conman — a man who cheats others for a living.

If you are a teacher, you can use this as part of your English or ESL lesson. It comes complete with questions, exercises and activities.

Download the entire lesson plan in PDF format by clicking the link here — The Conman.





What is a conman?

Do these people exist in your country?

Where do they operate?

Have you ever encountered one?


The Conman


Harry was a conman.

He didn’t have a regular job. His job was to take money off other hard-working people. He did this a few hours a day, and he was good at it.

Every evening he would go to one of the train stations in London. He never went to the same train station more than once every two weeks. There were so many stations and so many people commuting back home that it was simple.

“Easy pickings,” Harry said to himself.

This evening, he was in Paddington Station. It was just before six pm, and Harry was strolling around waiting for his mark. Harry knew how to pick out a good mark. He could spot a fool a mile away.

He surveyed the station, his eyes moving from one person to another.

Maybe that man just there? He was young, around late-twenties. But he was talking into his mobile phone. He was no good.

Or the couple strolling to the station exit. But there was something about the woman. Something that told Harry no one could trick her. She was too sharp, too clever.

Then he spotted him. The perfect mark.

Another man, older than the first. Maybe around forty or so. He was probably married, maybe one or two kids. And something about the look on his face. He looked gullible. He looked like he would believe any story anyone told him.

Harry changed his facial expression and approached him.

“Excuse me, I —”

The man raised his head to look at Harry. His eyes were wide open.

“I hate to trouble you —”

The man shook his head in quick, rapid movements. “What is it?”

“It’s so embarrassing,” said Harry. “I’ve been robbed. A pickpocket. He — ” Harry jerked his head to the other side of the train station forecourt.

“A pickpocket?” said the man. His eyebrows knitted together in concern.

Inside his head, Harry was grinning to himself. This man was perfect. Wait until he met all his mates down the pub. He couldn’t wait to tell them of the easy mark he had found this evening. And a Friday too. The perfect end to a perfect week.

“Yes,” said Harry. “I think he saw me as I was buying a cup of coffee just over there.” There was a busy coffee shop to the side of the station. People spilling in and out as they bought hot drinks to take on the train home.

“You have to be really careful around here,” said the younger man. “So many thieves in this station. It happened to a friend of mine.”

“Really?” said Harry. He was in no mood to hear about this man’s friend. He didn’t care about anything in this man’s life at all. And it was too risky getting into lengthy conversations with people.

If he just spoke to someone for a short time — two or three minutes max — then they usually could not remember anything about him.

They might go to the police and say: I’ve been robbed! Someone tricked me!

But when the police asked what the thief looked like, they could not remember. They had no idea at all.

And Harry looked like every other man at the train station. Mid-fifties, dark blue suit, greying hair. He was nondescript. He could be anyone.

The man in front of Harry continued speaking.

“Yeah, my friend — he was in this exact same train station. He had no idea who had robbed him, it was so quick. Maybe when he was buying a ticket — who knows?”

“Well, that’s terrible,” said Harry and offered the man a look of sympathy.

The man nodded back at Harry. He had brilliant blue eyes. The eyes of an honest man.

“What did he take from you?” he asked Harry.

“Who?” asked Harry.

“The thief. The pickpocket.”

“Oh,” said Harry. “He took everything. My phone, my wallet — and that has all my money in it. He even took my house keys.”

The man shook his head, his lips pressed together in concern.

“That’s terrible,” he said. “Did you tell a policeman?”

Harry faltered for a second, then found his voice. “Ah, no. No, I — I didn’t —”

The man was twisting his head left and right. “There’s one.” He touched Harry’s arm, turned him to face a policeman strolling across the station, his hands held together behind his back.

Harry tensed. He didn’t want to involve the police. The last thing he wanted to do was talk to the police. None of his old pals in the pub spoke to them. They didn’t trust them.

“I think you should tell that policeman,” said the man. “After all, you have been robbed. You’re a victim of crime.”

This was becoming too difficult. All Harry wanted was to find his mark, give him a story, then walk off with some cash. He didn’t want all this attention.

“Actually,” he said. “You know what — forget it. I’ll call my wife. She can help me.”

The man gazed at Harry. His honest face beaming back at him. “I’m only trying to help you.”

“I don’t want your help,” said Harry, rather too quickly. “I can deal with it myself.” He pulled his arm free of the man’s hand.

The man looked back at him with an expression of surprise.

“Good evening to you,” said Harry. And he walked away.

He kept on walking, not looking back. That man was trying to be too careful. There was no way Harry could talk to the police. Not in his line of work.

He marched to the other side of the station and stopped by a news kiosk. People bought newspapers and rushed off to catch their train.

Harry gazed around the station, trying to make out a new mark. A new sucker waiting for him.

But maybe time for a quick smoke. Harry put his hand inside his jacket pocket to find his cigarettes. Not in that pocket. He looked in the other one. Not there.

Harry tapped the side pockets. Nothing. Everything gone.

His hands reached down to his trouser pockets. But they were all empty too.

He had been robbed!

His phone, his wallet. Even his cigarettes.

Robbed in broad daylight.




Reading Comprehension Questions


What is Harry’s job? What does he do?

Where does Harry work?

Where is Harry working at the time of the story? What time is it? What day is it?

Describe Harry’s appearance. What does he look like?

How many people did Harry look at before finding his mark?

Why did he choose the last one?

What did Harry tell the man?

How did the man respond?

Did Harry think the man is a good target to rob? Or a bad one?

Where did Harry say he was robbed?

What story does the man tell Harry?

Is Harry sympathetic to the man and his story?

Why does he not want to talk to the man for too long?

What does the man ask Harry? How does Harry respond?

What does the man suggest Harry do next?

Does Harry want to comply with this suggestion?

How does Harry get away from the man?

Where does Harry go next? What does he do there?

What does he discover at the end?


Discussion Questions


What do you think about Harry’s job? Do you have people like this in your country? Talk about them if you can.

Harry talks about ‘the perfect mark’. A mark is slang for the best victim for a conman. Someone who is easy to cheat. What do you think makes ‘the perfect mark’?

Why does Harry work in train stations? Why are they such a good place for his line of work?

In your imagination, what do you know of Harry’s life? Do you think he is married? Has children? Is he smart or stupid?

In your country, do you have conmen? Do you have conwomen? Where do they work? What tricks do they use?

How can the police find these people? What methods can they use?

Can modern technology help us to stop these criminals? How?

Do you think you could be easily fooled by a conman? Why/why not?

If you were a conman, what trick would you use against people?

How could conmen use their skills for something good?



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2 thoughts on “The Conman — a short story for English and ESL”

  1. Great story with a surprise ending! You also included some really good vocabulary like gullible and nondescript. These words are a bit uncommon on vocabulary lists so it is good to learn them in a story context as it really raises your proficiency!

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