A young man, dressed in slim black, sat at the coffee shop on the corner of the street. The clouds cast a gray unhappy pallor over his face, and when the rain began pouring down the young man’s face was pulled into a frown.
His coffee was just a cold brew, nothing unusual, nothing of note. His brown hair was combed messily, his watch face small and unremarkable. His shoes were from the downtown cheap shoe store, his clothing from the town markets, his wallet no fatter than the average man’s. Nothing at all about the young man that might attract attention.
But his eyes—light grey with gold flecks—were out of the ordinary. They brightened with interest when someone passed, quirked into a squint when someone looked his way, lowered and changed to innocence when a policeman walked by. His fingers, too, were slim and white and nimbler than most.
The man was a thief.
Pickpocket is a better term. Thieves come and steal your lamp and your cat in the night, come and bludgeon your skull in if you wake, hold up the bank teller and take your life savings, steal your car and your house keys if you give him a chance.
Pickpockets are better than that. They take only wallets and jewelry, watches sometimes. They don’t creep into your bedroom and take your television. They do not invade your privacy. They fingersmith your wallet in bright daylight; they are artists of the most wicked art.
Some say they are weak and afraid, frightened of sneaking inside and taking a bigger haul than a bigwig’s obese wallet. Some say they are wimps or pansies, like parsley or cabbages.
If pickpockets are cabbages, then thieves and burglars are stones. As dumb and soulless as a stone. At least cabbages have a soul.
This cabbage—excuse me, this young man—was extraordinary. Even among the trade, he was extraordinary. Not only his skills, but his decency. He could pick the underwear off you as easy as pulling an onion out of the ground—but didn’t. He could pick the president’s aides as they were making a speech in the plaza—but didn’t. He could pick the candies out of little old ladies’ purses as they were reaching in to give a piece to some child—but didn’t. This cabbage was the best of the best and he knew it.
He was good enough to steal the gold nose ring off the face of the king. Good enough to make a guild for ‘cabbages’ and not get made fun of. Good enough for others in the business to say he was a celebrity, a height they could never attain: A star—a star for them all. A bright and shining star.
The waitress came by again, “Anything else, sir?”
She walked away, pouting that he would not talk to her, and he turned back to watching the street. He watched cars and carts go by, and he perked with interest when he saw a portly man in a wine-colored jacket walk past with his hand in his pocket. But he didn’t see what he was looking for.
“Hey, Theman.” A young woman with golden hair sat down across from him. She wore paint-streaked old overalls and her hair was pinned up in a messy cascade of gold. Her eyes were piercing blue, her smile filled her face, and she grinned at him with an easy, friendly way.
She smiled again. “Cut the code names, Theman, I’ve got a message.”
“I prefer code names, thanks, Samson. Safer this way. You know the guild rules.”
“Sure, boss. You’re the guild leader, anyway.”
“Carry on. Can I buy you a coffee?”
“Thanks but no thank you. I’ve already had gallons. Anyway, Sir Mack, your treasurer Ch—I mean, Scoops—sent me to give you this.” She held out a rather grungy, thrice-folded, yellow piece of paper.
“Did you read it?”
“Sure. Scoops told me to wait until you had a reply for him.”
Sir Mack Theman squinted down at the paper. Only a handful of words were written, with a broken pencil, and only mostly legibly, but when he read them his eyes widened noticeably.
Sir M.: Treasury funds low. Advice pls. In jail now. Bail? Not offended if no. Charged w. minor theft. Cops watching U. —S
“Yeah,” Samson grinned at his expression. “I thought so too. But don’t be too obvious: That waitress has a crush on you and I can see she’s watching us.”
Sir Mack Theman laughed, but his cheeks flushed slightly. Samson noticed and tried to swallow a laugh.
He crumpled the paper up and put his chin in his hands, looking out the window. Then he directed his gaze at Samson. “So…”
“Well, I thought that if the charges are minor enough he doesn’t need bail. But you ought to do something to get the cops off your back. Get out of town or something.”
“Meh,” he shrugged. He drained his coffee. Then he looked pointedly at her. “Any major hauls recently?”
“Not much. Hit a bigwig yesterday, got about a thousand. And a nice diamond watch.”
He raised his eyebrows, “Pretty good. I hope you’re being cautious?”
She laughed. “Of course, Sir Mack. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m your secretary of Safety!”
He laughed too, “Well, Samson, I had better be going. As Scoops says, the funds are low, even with that thousand of yours, and I’m not so sure the cops will let me bail him out.”
“Not you,” she said, eyebrows cocked, “You’re too suspicious-looking. Plus you’re wanted for a charge yourself. I’d be careful, Sir Mack.”
“Careful is my middle name. Don’t worry, Samson, they aren’t suspicious. Scoops probably just got careless.
“A charge? Oh, that’s right. Stupid license renewal laws.” He stood. “Well, ciao, Samson.”
“Ciao, Sir Mack. Good luck with Scoops.”
Theman smiled at her, and with a slight bounce in his step and a flex of his nimble fingers, the Pickpocket’s Guild leader left the café and headed for the town’s jail.