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Last Updated on February 10, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1548

Scene One

The play opens in a sparsely furnished boarding-house room. As Lincoln will point out later, the place has no running water, and the only bathroom is down the hall. Booth sits alone, practicing three-card monte with a cardboard playing board laid across two milk crates. He is clearly inexperienced and keeps stuttering as he plays, pretending to hustle someone for $500 and then running from imaginary cops. Lincoln enters the room, dressed like Abraham Lincoln in a long coat, top hat, and beard, with white powder on his face. Booth is distracted by his card game and startles when Lincoln appears behind him in the apartment. Surprised by Lincoln’s strange attire, Booth leaps to his feet, brandishing a gun. Once he recognizes it is simply his brother in costume, Booth implores Lincoln to change, or to “take off the dam hat at least.” Lincoln obliges and takes off his coat as well at Booth’s further behest. The brothers discuss Lincoln’s job as a Lincoln impersonator, and Booth carries on about how that will reflect poorly on him, particularly when it comes to Grace, the woman in his life. Booth talks about the ring he stole for Grace; to ensure she will not be able to take it off, he has chosen one a half size smaller than what she said her size was. Throughout the brothers’ conversation Booth continues to insist that Link remove his Lincoln costume, because it makes him uneasy. Link explains he wore it home because he didn’t want it to be stolen, but he finally acquiesces to Booth’s request.

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After changing into his normal clothes, Link shares the story of the young boy he met on the bus on his way home who asked the still-dressed Lincoln impersonator for his autograph. Link told the kid he could have the autograph for ten dollars, but the boy only had a twenty-dollar bill; Link took the twenty and told the kid “Honest Abe” would give him the change the next day. With his windfall Link paid for a round of drinks at a local bar and picked up Chinese food for dinner with Booth. The brothers sit down to eat at the makeshift table where Booth was most recently practicing three-card monte.

Unprompted, Booth pipes up and requests that he no longer be referred to as Booth; he instead wishes to only be called “3-Card.” Lincoln has difficulty remembering this, and his name remains Booth in the text. Booth continues to try to cajole Lincoln into joining him in his card hustling endeavors, but Lincoln refuses to oblige, claiming that he “don’t touch thuh cards no more.” In response to Link’s continued refusals Booth reminds Link of the morning, years ago, when Booth returned home to find their mother packing up and preparing to leave them. She insisted that Booth take care of Link, though Link was the older brother, and Booth uses this childhood trauma to accuse Link of standing in the way while Booth tried to make a living. At the end of the scene Link tells Booth their father named them because he thought it would be a good joke.

Scene Two

It is Friday evening, the very next day. Booth returns to the apartment dressed in a bulky overcoat and pants. As he undresses he pulls new shoes and belts from his sleeves, two ties from his pockets, and two shirts from the back of his pants. He is also wearing two full suits layered on top of each other. Everything is new and still has tags. He places one suit on Link’s bed and one suit on his own, and then he walks to the other side of the room and gathers up two glasses and a bottle of whiskey. Link enters, dressed in his street clothes this time, and he and Booth exclaim over the money he brought back from work. The two toast, and then Link notices the suits, which Booth brags about stealing earlier that day. Each brother tries on their respective suit, and they discuss budgeting the money Link brought home, albeit with questionable mathematical calculations. Link, worried about his job security, asks Booth if he will help him practice dying that night, but Booth declines because he already planned an evening out with his girlfriend. Booth leaves and Lincoln practices his death once but quickly gives up and sits alone in the apartment, drinking the whiskey.

Scene Three

The play resumes with Lincoln lying hungover on the couch, still dressed in most of his Abraham Lincoln attire. Booth reenters the apartment with bravado, slamming the door multiple times to wake up Link and proclaiming he had himself “an evening to remember” with Grace. Fueled by a desire to win Grace’s affections once and for all, Booth begs Link to teach him how to hustle cards. Link finally acquiesces, but in exchange Booth must help Link practice dying so that he is not replaced by a wax dummy. The brothers discuss Booth’s night with Grace and their respective sex lives at length. We learn Booth slept with Cookie, Link’s ex-wife, before she was his ex, and that was largely why they split up. Link offers to set Booth up with his old card-hustling crew, and the two of them talk about Link’s job in greater detail (what it is like to sit there and wait to be shot, the people who come in, etc.).

Scene Four

This scene is exclusively a monologue for Lincoln. He awakes in his impersonator attire and, in the process of undressing, rips the beard. This sends him into a downward spiral as he expresses his frustrations about how the pay he receives is less than what white workers make, worries about his future, and contemplates whether he should return to card hustling. He reflects on the death of Lonny, the associate who was shot during a hustle, and reminisces on all the experiences they shared while hustling. Link begins to work the cards Booth left on the table and, unbeknownst to Link, Booth watches and listens to him work.

Scene Five

Scene five begins after intermission, and it opens with Booth alone in the apartment, surrounded by “all the makings of a romantic dinner for two.” The ice in the champagne bucket has melted, the food has grown cold, and it is clear that Grace will not be showing up to their dinner. Link arrives just as Booth has given up and started to undress. Booth lies and says Grace is on her way, just running a little late, but Link refuses to leave and tells Booth that he was fired from his impersonator job earlier that day and was replaced by a wax dummy. Link begins flipping through an old family photo album, and we learn that the brothers’ father left two years after their mother abandoned them. Link initially idealizes their time together as a family in their childhood home, but Booth corrects him and they instead reminisce about the time they set up tacks that ruined their father’s car tires; he blamed the tacks on the white men trying to bring him down. Soon after, the photo album is discarded and Link starts to tutor Booth in card hustling. Toward the end of their lesson, Booth asks Link what time it is and, upon hearing how late, grows angry at being stood up by Grace and storms out of the apartment.

Scene Six

The scene opens with Link returning to the apartment, victorious after a successful return to card hustling. Booth enters in the midst of Link’s self-congratulating monologue with some good news of his own: Grace got down on her knees and asked him to marry her. He says that the missed dinner was simply the result of mixed up days and that she is going to be moving in, so Link will subsequently need to move out. Link agrees easily, saying it is “no sweat,” and begins to pack up his things. When he finds his old Lincoln costume, Booth insists on photographing him in it for their family photo album. Distracted by their collective reminiscing, the brothers decide to play a game of three-card monte to see who is best. Booth pushes to make the game real by betting money; Link offers up the $500 he earned that day, and Booth pushes in the $500 of his inheritance, which his mother gave him just before she left. They play and Booth loses. He becomes aggravated by Link’s attempts to open up the stocking that held Booth’s money and then confesses that he and Grace did not reconcile. He says he shot her and initially tries to say she is still alive, but ultimately he gives in and tells Link that she died. Link attempts to give Booth back his money after learning about Grace, but Booth refuses and then Link makes the fatal error of chuckling about how easily he won. Within seconds Booth has a gun against Link’s throat, and Link can scarcely utter “don’t” before Booth shoots him. Link slumps to the ground, dead, and after a moment Booth crumples to the floor, cradling him and wailing.

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