Picking pockets is the first and last thing I can remember. Some of the older guys at the station like to call it dancing. Learn the steps, get the girl. Step left instead of right, do some time. Mash a toe, and you may never dance again.
The first step is choosing the right mark. The key to every successful lift. For guys like me, wealth analysis is second nature. Tailored suits versus off-the-rack specials. Gucci versus knockoffs. Miller Harris versus five-dollar cologne. But even masters like me make mistakes.
This one was a tall brunette, sporting a five thousand dollar suit and three-inch pumps. Her lips were soft as butter, but her gaze could’ve cut glass. And the glass wouldn’t have minded. She never left my sight, all the way down the stairs and across the terminal.
Then there’s the stroke. It was just a graze, to make sure it was there. Nobody wants to go groping around in an empty pocket. She never even felt it. And if she had, it was just a segue into–
The bump. A gentle nudge, as if to say, “Hello.” I bumped her, and the bag shifted up in her pocket, just enough to reach. Her Clive Christian perfume flooded my nostrils. We made eye contact–usually a faux pas, but sometimes a necessity to keep the mark occupied. A lift is all about giving your mark too much to think about all at once. The human brain can only focus on five or six things at a time. Now she was wondering if I was single, what type of cologne she was smelling, whether she was about to trip over my feet, chip a nail, miss her train. Way too much to notice–
The slip. My fingers pinched the bag at the top. I turned to my right. She turned to her right. It was the polite thing to do, for both of us. As she walked away, the bag fell into my palm. It wasn’t what I expected, too cold and hard inside to be a wallet or a billfold. But there are no givebacks in this world.
I glanced over my shoulder, just to remember her. Long legs striding with confidence, rich hair swaying back and forth.
Every time I make a lift, I fall in love. We always meet in public, a chance encounter. The motions are subtle, sensual. Point and counterpoint. Just the two of us, dancing naked in the street. Then we go our separate ways: the mark a bit lighter of pocket, and me a bit heavier of heart. Because I know we’ll never meet again.
Finally, there’s the drop. Roving eyes are everywhere, these days. Never hold a hot item for more than thirty seconds. Better to stash it somewhere safe, and come back for it later.
Only this time, I couldn’t let go. The cold tube in the velvet bag was growing warmer, stuck to my hand like a magnet. I shook and shook, but I couldn’t let go. Something popped inside, like glass under a heavy boot. The stench was awful, like rotten eggs or the inside of one of those yuppie wellness spas.
Then I was falling. My grandpa always used to say, “May the road rise up to meet you,” but I don’t think he meant it this way.
The news is on, way too loud. That same damn story again, about the Pickpocket Hero. This kid, probably another punk moll buzzer, lifted some kind of a neural bomb in Grand Central Terminal. Turns out, there was a whole terrorist plot in the works. They say the bomb would’ve turned everyone’s brains to mush–all twelve million in the city limits. Instead, the kid managed to leak the juice all over himself, before it went off. Now he’s some kind of a hero. Jackass.
I can’t feel my legs. How long has this been going on? God, I could use a glass of water. Or a whiskey. Awful service in this place.
The kid on the news looks familiar, but my memory sure is going these days. Some people came in to interview me, day before last, and I’ll be damned if I can remember a single question they asked. Probably just looking for an angle on this pickpocketing story.
As if I knew anything about it.
But I didn’t want them to leave empty-handed, so I gave them a rundown of my last lift. A day-in-the-life sort of thing. Now they probably think they’re experts. They left real happy, as if I told them I’d solved world hunger. The whole thing gave me a bitter taste in my mouth, though.
Because of her.
I was missing her real fierce. Still am, I guess. She was my last, after all. I just want to see her one more time.
The nights are the hardest. I don’t sleep anymore, and this place gets so quiet at night. This used to be my time to dance, but now I can’t even pretend. My fingers won’t move. Gotta be the worst thing that could happen to a pickpocket. How did I get here, anyway? And with just this damned beeping machine to keep me company. At least the beeps have been getting slower, lately.
Footsteps echo in the hall. Firm and confident. I’d recognize that sound anywhere. Three-inch pumps. I try to move my head, but nothing happens. The door creaks open, and the light flicks on.
It’s her. Beautiful as ever. Lips like butter, eyes that could knock a man dead. Clive Christian in the air, exotic as a jasmine queen. My queen. She lifts me up, and draws me close. She’s strong. We make eye contact, only this time she’s in charge. I know why she’s here, but I don’t resist. I’m ready. She takes me downstairs, right out into the middle of the street. We dance all night, naked in the moonlight, without a care in the world.
Derrick Boden is a recovering software developer that has taken up story writing to kick the habit. When he’s not writing, he’s romping through New Orleans, or on another continent in search of adventure.
Image by John St John