Finding an easy mark isn't easy

"Money Walks," a serial novel by 16 Los Angeles writers who will be appearing at this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, runs Monday through Saturday until April 24. The festival takes place at UCLA on April 25 and 26.

Angie believed nothing good ever happened in the Valley. She'd done her time there, like everyone else, working the day shift at Odd-Balls back in the '90s, stripping for CSUN frat boys who couldn't make it past Van Nuys, not even to see naked women.

Even then, the cities of the Valley sounded like they wanted to get out: Northridge, West Hills, North Hills. . . . each one creeping on the fringe back toward the real Los Angeles.

So when Rudy told her his plan to help Rev. Franco's church -- a place Rudy went as part of the ministry for ex-cons, but really because you can't bug a church without a huge hassle, and he had phone business to conduct -- she didn't think anything would happen.

That's how it was with Rudy: lots of big plans and then lots of sitting around watching old karate movies.

That had been yesterday, though, and today, she was in front of the Bank of America in Encino, sitting in the passenger seat of a Mercedes that Rudy had "borrowed" from the car wash, sweating through her nylons, the first pair she'd worn in 15 years.

It was a madhouse at the bank, panicked account-holders lined up out the double doors like something from the 1930s. Angie tried to be inconspicuous as she scoped out a luxury car with one of those fish emblems on the bumper.

Angie had always thought the fish meant you were a Pisces, but Rudy said it meant you were into religion, although he didn't know what religion, specifically.

"It don't matter," he told her. "Just walk up to the nicest-dressed lady in the nicest ride you see with the salmon-thing, and tell her you're with the church. But sell it, right?"

"Sell what?" Talking to Rudy was like playing Mad-Libs. He left big parts out.

"End of Days, baby," Rudy said. "Money? Gone. Insurance? Gone. Then say a Bible verse, and get them believing that, yeah, it's closing time and everyone must go."

"I don't know any Bible verses," Angie said, thinking: Next week, I find someone new.

"Make one up," Rudy said. "I'll do the rest." This was the part that had Angie worried. "Two things: no wedding rings and no witnesses."

"And then what? You kill her?"

"Now you're talking crazy," Rudy said, though she thought he sounded less than sincere. "We just . . . liquidate her assets. But we do it for the Lord."

Angie understood about a quarter of what was supposed to happen, but Rudy assured her she'd get a cut. So she had spent the better part of her afternoon with him, hop-scotching from bank to bank looking for a mark.

Each time Angie thought she spotted a contender -- translucent hair, Porsche with the fish, plastic face -- she'd see a ring or some old man or grandkid in the car.

For 10 minutes, she'd been watching a Bentley, hoping a single woman would come out and she could do her gig.

She said a tiny prayer -- which was weird because she didn't even believe in Santa -- and just like that a minuscule woman tugging an oxygen cart came out of the bank and made for the Bentley. Angie turned to look at Rudy and he gave her the thumbs up.

Then she got out of the Mercedes, adjusted the skirt and walked toward the woman. "Excuse me, ma'am?" she said. The woman stopped and noticed Angie for the first time, her hand on the car door.

"I've been sent by the Lord," Angie told her. "It's, uh, closing time."

Goldberg's books include "Living Dead Girl" and "Fake Liar Cheat." He will be on the "Humor & Race" panel at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and the "Enough About You: Fiction & Humor" panel at noon Sunday at UCLA at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Both panels are in Moore 100.