The pickpocket danced down the road, drunk on his riches. He was the Pied Piper of paraphernalia.
He came to his usual spot and brought himself a stop on the rough tarmac of the pavement. It was beginning to get dark. A single streetlight had sprung on with a low twang and now it glowed uncertainly, like a conspicuous singleton at a party. The two parallel rows of houses were obscured by greyish dimness that hung in front of your eyes and defied you to try to blink it away. The street was faceless. The pickpocket kept to the dark side of the pavement. He crept into the narrow shaft between two parked cars and crouched there, glancing at his reflection in the dark polished metal. Smooth, sleek face. Large, dark eyes. He kept himself from panting out loud.
Footsteps to his left: brisk, a commuter. Irritable and clammy-palmed, having been crammed in with a hundred others on the train like sardines. Fishy. The pickpocket stayed low and waited. A few moments later, the long legs appeared, scissoring impatiently, in the pickpocket’s narrow field of vision between boot and bonnet. A long black overcoat buffeted against the back of the shins like a fractious sail in gusty wind. Three buffets and it was gone. The pickpocket licked his lips. Not bad. Too sweaty. Too fishy.
Some silence, a slice of it. Twang. A second streetlamp piped up, adding a small orb of light to the opposite pavement. Cold, white light which seemed to conjure a phantom in its wavering perimeter. The pickpocket’s animal eyes noticed his own breath puffing in front of his face.
Voices. Two of them, rattling with laughter. Young. The pickpocket waited until they came into view, entered his arena. Four legs: one pair of black shoes and one pair of white. Scuffed. Two pairs of trousers. The short hem of some kind of sweatshirt teasing at the waistband of one. Nothing but a shirt on the other. A low growl shuddered out between the pickpocket’s lips. One of the pairs of shoes hopped away with a cry. The voices became shrill and boisterous, there was a clatter of laughter, then running away. The four scuffed trainers slapped an allegro beat against the tarmac until they were out of hearing range.
A huge, obnoxious realm of light surged up suddenly behind the pickpocket, then receded, with a noise like the wash from the sea. It disrupted the air around him, making him shiver. Another pair of legs hurried past, too quick for him to notice properly. The darkness was settling in, but the pickpocket’s eyes were still keen. He kept his mind steady and his chest low.
An uncertain, irregular beat, like a badly-coordinated percussion section. It was slow to approach. The pickpocket inched backwards, slipping behind his veil of darkness. He had his eyes on the opening, but stayed low, defensive. The car against his left side juddered with a sudden bodily impact. The pickpocket pressed himself hard into the bumper of the other. Eventually, the tip of a shoe, brown, and then its twin. They refused to cooperate with each other, tussling over their direction like two children struggling for a toy. Their progress was accompanied by a third beat above, along the body of the car. Hollow, metallic. The pickpocket cringed away and waited for the morbid three-time to drag itself out of earshot. Impossible to dance to a rhythm like that.
A sound from the opposite pavement. He turned his head, then squeezed himself around to face the other way. This time, he had a view of the whole thing: tall, grey, sharp-shouldered. A buckle caught the reluctant light of the streetlamp and gave a vulgar shine, betraying its tarnish. The rest had a strange, unearthly sheen, a sinister light. Leather. He shuddered uncontrollably and resisted the urge to howl. He hastily spun back around, jostling the cold rubber bumper. He felt his mouth moisten. Patience.
Steady footsteps. The pickpocket crept closer to the pavement again. Things looked darker now, after the brightness of the streetlamps. A woman’s legs, red laced shoes. A long, sleek, pale blue coat. It hung and swayed. It looked soft, like sponge cake. The pickpocket’s nostrils flared. He backed out of his shelter soundlessly, away from the pavement. Once on the road, he turned and crept along it, keeping level with the woman, keeping to the shadows. Her paces tracked her location like a Doppler signal. Another streetlamp came to life. This one made a low electric buzzing sound. The pickpocket’s ears pricked up.
Halfway down the road, he veered abruptly onto the pavement. He headed straight for the woman. She had her eyes on her direction and didn’t spot him.
“Oh!” She cried, wheeling round, her blue coat sailing out behind her. Her voice flew through the cold air. Then she laughed. “Oh. You scared me.”
The pickpocket didn’t look her in the eye, but went straight for her right-side pocket. She moved her gloved hand out of the way for him. She laughed again.
“There’s nothing in there.” She said. “Sorry.”
He got his jaws around it. The bottom stitching formed a ridge for his lower teeth to grab onto.
“Hey!” Said the woman. “Careful.”
A shining line of saliva drew a vertical axis from the corner of his mouth to the tarmac ground. One flick of his head, and the pocket tore from the coat. It made a sound like a sudden sneeze. The woman cried out. The pickpocket took off at a trot, dancing across the road away from the more earnest streetlamps into the harbouring trench of shadow on the other side. He snaffled the scrap of fabric in his mouth as he went, wrestling and thrashing it joyfully. Later, he would find his way back to his quiet patchwork domain within its bin yard buttresses. He would anchor the stolen pocket between his front paws and chew it to pieces, delighting at its soft, yielding, fibrous texture.