Background: Charles and Renee Fox, a couple who’ve been married for more than eleven hundred years, are the main protagonists of Crazy Like the Foxes.
Roland Fox had every opportunity to make something of his life. The younger of Charles and Renee Fox’s two sons, he learned from a very early age that he would most likely have a long time to decide what he wanted to do with himself. By the time he reached the age of sixty he realized his parents’ pronouncements had proven true as he still looked like a man in his late teens to early twenties. Born on his parent’s manor in England a few years before his father and other nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Charta, Roland spent the first two hundred and fifty years of his life in his parents household, even though his brother Nathaniel had already established himself as a landowner in his own right and his older sister Isabella and twin sister Katherine were constantly fending off suitors. Though his parents had never applied any pressure on him to move out or get on with his life, he felt they would like to see him working toward some goal. So Roland decided to go the scholarly route and headed off to Oxford where he studied the classics, learned Greek and Latin and was generally bored to tears. He had planned to work on a degree in Philosophy, but he ended up dropping out and hanging around London then touring the continent a time or two, trying to find something to spur his interest.
At last, Roland discovers that it’s far more interesting to fool people into giving him money than to earn any on his own by plying a trade. One afternoon, lying around his flat, he hits upon an idea and immediately starts putting together a master con. He rounds up investors for a proposed settlement in the “new world” and gives such a good performance, that he has deep pockets lined up around the block to buy in. At last, he bids farewell to his benefactors and sets out for the colony with promises that he will return with an update and the first profits in a year or so. Instead, he sails to Amsterdam, where he lives off his ill-gotten gain for a number of years, until he is sure most of his creditors have died, at which time he returns and starts all over again.
Certain that he’s hit on the perfect scam, Roland heads to Paris, where he has equal success in conning investors, and this time he hides out in Milan. He’d last hit England in the late 1700s, so by the mid-19th century, Roland is sure the coast is clear. He returns and once again sets out to gather investors, and is equally successful, though his original spiel of populating the “new world” has to undergo some modifications, given the uprising in the colonies at the end of the last century. Colonizing Fiji, leasing diamond mines in Africa and investing in something called Even Newer South Wales become his stock in trade. He has so many scams going he finds it hard to keep up with them all, sometimes telling investors they’ll have a stake in New Fiji or New South Fiji.
It’s inevitable that Roland’s activities will catch up to him. One afternoon in 1861, Roland is in his flat when he hears a knock at the door. He answers to find one of his creditors accompanied by a constable
“That’s him,” the creditor says. “That’s the man.”
“What’s this about?” Roland says.
“Mr. Fox, this gentleman says you owe him a considerable sum of money,” the constable says.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘considerable’. Besides, I intend to make good on it very soon,” Roland says.
“He owes me £500,” the creditor says.
The constable nods. “I’d call that a considerable sum, sir.”
“And he’s been saying he’d pay me for more than a year,” the creditor says. “Yesterday an associate saw him at a shipping company making arrangements for what appeared to be a long trip.”
“Is this true, sir?” the constable says.
Roland shrugs. “My business takes me all over the world.”
“What business is that, exactly?” the constable says.
“I secure financing for various overseas ventures,” Roland says. “I guess you could say I’m a speculator.”
“Speculating on how to rob people blind is more like it,” the creditor says. “I know this neighborhood and it costs a pretty penny for a flat here.”
The constable considers it all for a moment then says, “Would you please accompany us down to the precinct to sort this out, Mr. Fox.”
“Today is awfully busy,” Roland says. “Could I pop by tomorrow sometime?”
“I’m afraid that wasn’t a request, Mr. Fox,” the constable reiterates, taking Roland by the arm. “Please come with me.”
Once in custody, the authorities publicize Roland’s name and description and within a week four hundred people come forward claiming to have lost money in one of his get-rich-quick schemes. One man, claiming to be a hundred and one years old, shows up stating that someone matching Roland’s description cheated him out of his family’s savings in 1784, but the authorities dismiss this as impossible, since Roland appears to be no older than his mid- to late-twenties though they don’t rule out a father or grandfather. He refuses to defend himself or admit the charges and at last, his sentence is handed out. He’s to be transported to Australia as soon as the next boat sets out and until then he’ll be interred in debtors’ prison.
On his first day there, Roland is seated in the main yard when he looks up to see his twin sister Katie entering. She’s dressed in an old and worn homespun dress with an apron over top of it. Her hair is mussed and she appears to have been crying. While Roland looks more like his mother with black hair and green eyes, Katie looks more like Charles but with auburn hair and gray eyes. Seeing Roland, she thrusts her folded hands in front of her face and begins to cry again. Roland shakes his head and rolls his eyes at the performance then rises to receive his sister.
“Oh, dear brrrruther,” Katie says, with an inexplicably bad accent that sounds vaguely Irish. “I din’t wanna believe ’em, but ‘tis true!”
She throws her hands out beside her then wraps them around Roland and begins to sob again.
“Good god, Katie,” he whispers to her, “What’s with all the dramatics. And why are you wearing this getup.”
She continues to embrace him but says in her normal voice but with a note of sarcasm, “It seemed the proper attire for visiting one’s brother in debtor’s prison.”
“Point taken,” he says. “By the way, your Irish still needs a lot of work.”
“That was Scottish,” she says.
“Then it really needs some work,” he replies.
She releases him and they sit on a nearby bench.
“Have you spoken to Mom and Dad?” he says.
“Yes,” she replies. “They’re hoping you have a lovely time in Australia.”
“Oh, come on, they’re not going to actually let this happen are they?” Roland says.
“Afraid so,” Katie answers, “Mom was livid. Not even Dad could calm her down. You’re lucky he convinced her to let me come to see you. They’ll tolerate a lot of things, but scamming most of England for two hundred years is beyond the pale, even for you.”
“It’s not like I hurt anyone,” he says.
“Roland, you’ve been taking people’s money then leaving the country until all your creditors die then you come back and start over again,” Katie says. “I don’t know if there are actual rules for long-timers, but if there are, that one’s sure to be in the top ten.”
He shrugs and shakes his head.
“Did you at least talk to my friend, Johnny Baynes?” he says. “He’s normally strapped for cash, but can usually scrounge some up when needed.”
“Oh yes, Johnny Baynes,” she says. “It may interest to know he’ll most likely be accompanying you on your little excursion.”
“What?” Roland says, genuinely surprised. “What happened?”
“He got caught breaking into some shop,” she says. “That and numerous nuisance complaints, not to mention something about an explosion have earned him a ticket down under.”
“Well, at least I’ll have someone to talk to,” Roland says, “might not be so bad after all.”
“You and Johnny Baynes romping around Australia,” Katie says. “The aborigine won’t know what hit ’em.”
As they’re speaking a greasy looking man in a worn topcoat walks nearby and says to Katie, “Got time for a quick one, love?”
Katie leaps to her feet and points at him, yelling in a thick Cockney accent, “You watch yourself now. I’m a respectable lady.”
“Shove off, Wally,” Roland says. “This is my sister.”
“Oh!” the man says then bows and moves away.
“Your cockney’s getting better,” Roland says as Katie sits beside him again.
“Thanks,” she says. “I’ve been working on it.”
Roland shakes his head. “You’re not still hanging around Aldgate are you?”
“Just during the day,” she says, “but one of these days, I intend to immerse myself in the area. Learn how the other half really lives.”
“Do you honestly think that helps with your acting?” he says.
She shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s fun, though. Like stepping outside my skin for a while, you know?”
“I suppose,” he says. “Anymore run-ins with that McIntyre woman and you may step out of your skin permanently.”
Katherine laughs. “I can handle Sally McIntyre. She just caught me off guard last time.”
“Well, just watch out,” he says. “Situations have a way of getting out of hand.”
“You’re one to talk, Mister Never Consider the Consequences of His Actions,” she replies. “I shudder to think how many little Rolands and Rolandas are running around out there.”
He rolls his eyes and looks away from her. “You know, maybe you have the right idea after all. I wish I could step outside my skin for a while.”
“Seems you’ve been doing quite a lot of that lately,” she says. “Maybe a trip down will do you some good.”
“Yes, like a dose of arsenic,” he says with a scowl.
“Oh, come on,” she says. “It’ll all be over before you know it. Then you can get on with your life and this will all just fade into the background.”
“The sooner the better,” Roland says.