THE PICKPOCKET OF PRAGUE • by Jessie Seigel

See those crowds by the clock tower? Waiting for the mechanical figures to come out and dance? The clock to chime? Dumb clucks. They all look up. But hey! Don’t look at them. Look for the faces that don’t look up. Those watching the crowd. That’s us.

Then look for a man with his coat hanging open, a woman who lets her purse with a turn-button clasp lie slack over one shoulder. In a crowd like that, it’s easy — two of us bump, one grabs, and one receives the take. They never notice what’s missing until we’re long gone and have split our haul. We’ve always done well in Staromák Square. 

Until Jiri gets his idea. “The Metro,” he says.

“The Metro?” Milos, our grabber, looks doubtful.

“It’ll be easy,” Jiri says. “There’s always a bunch of clucks there, yakking together in English, German, Japanese — the morons don’t know where they are. We go tonight when they’re coming back to their hotels, after their fun. We just wait for a big crowd on the platform. We close in on a couple from the herd, two in front, two behind. Instead of a bump, we give them the squeeze when they’re going into the train. They’ll think they’re squashed in because it’s so crowded.”

I’m shaking my head.

“They’ll help us,” Jiri insists. “They’ll push against us to get in, to keep from being separated from the others. We squeeze ’em. Take em. Get off at the next stop.”

“We stay with them between stops?” Ivan says. “I don’t like it.” Ivan’s the one the wallets and passports go to.  He holds them until we’re away.   

“What? You afraid?” Jiri’s got his chin stuck out, his lower lip curled over the upper.  Then he laughs. “You think they’re gonna holler? You think anyone’s gonna jump up and grab us? They’re as sick of that loud tourist yammering as we are. What we’re doing? It might even be a service to the nation. Yeah.” He laughs again. “They should give us a medal and a pension.”

Jiri has a death wish, I’m thinking. But he’s the boss. 

That night, we do it just like Jiri says. Ten o’clock. Národní T?ída station. Five tourists — women — babbling away in English. Laughing, talking loud. They don’t notice us at all.

One’s got a zippered bag with a thick strap slung across her body. Another’s got a big bag, just dangling. Except for its size, which means you’ve got to dip and search, it’s beautiful.

The train comes into the station. Jiri gives us the sign. He and Ivan move in front, cutting Big Bag off from the group. But the friend with the zippered bag is too tight with her, so Jiri cuts them both out from the rest while me and Milos move on them from behind. Jiri steps inside the train; spreads his body wide; braces himself. Me and Milos press against their backs. We’ve got them trapped, half in, half out. Just like Jiri said, they’re in a panic, pushing to get in. I’m thinking, this is working. I’m pressing. Jiri’s blocking. Milos has only to get his hand inside and pass whatever to Ivan. Then Ivan can waltz off to the other end of the car like he doesn’t even know us.

But that bitch, the one with the purse slung across her body. As the doors shut — all of us now inside the train — she barks out something in English like she’s a goddamn border collie. Big Bag clutches her purse like the scared cow she is, and turns in the clinch so Milos can’t dip and grab.

Now the one with the zipper is facing me and Jiri. Staring straight at our faces. Him. Then me. Then him. Then me. We’re trying to look away, which is only decent, but she won’t stop giving us the evil eye. I’m thinking, is she memorizing our faces? I crack my neck, right, left, trying to act casual. There’s nothing she can prove, after all. 

Jiri though, he gets fed up. So he stretches out his hand, and chucks her with a soft stroke under the chin. “Sexy,” he taunts, and grins.

She pushes his hand away. Long fingers. Big eyes. Pouting mouth.

I hear myself echoing Jiri’s taunt. “Sexy.”

She makes a face, lifts that chin, and spits out something in English.  

Jiri purses his lips, makes a kissing sound, puts his fingers to his lips, and blows her one. I’m expecting her to turn red and yammer louder. But she doesn’t say one thing more. Instead, she smiles. And laughs. She’s giving Jiri the eye now, but not the evil eye. She’s saying something in English again, something low and throaty this time, and before he sees it coming, she’s stepped up to Jiri, grabbed him by the ass and is pulling him against her while she gives him a deep thick kiss, full on the mouth. We’re almost to the next station when she does it, but it feels like their lips are frozen together forever, I’m that shocked. And so is Jiri.

The train stops at Mustek. She pushes him away and steps off with her friends. As the door snaps shut between them, she flicks the back of her hand under and off her chin in one quick movement and mouths the words “dumb cluck.” As the train pulls away, we’re still inside, Jiri staring after her. His mouth’s hanging open. He’s licking his lips with his tongue. It’s only when we’re half way to Nám?stí Republiky that Jiri thinks to rub his ass where she’d grabbed him.

“That bitch,” he says. “That bitch got my wallet.” But he’s laughing. Rubbing his ass and laughing. He’s not gonna let us go back to the square where we can make some dough. Jiri’s gonna have us working the trains now, every night. With nothing to go on, he’s gonna be looking for her. And not to get even.


Jessie Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review and writes book reviews for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Her fiction has appeared in Ontario Review; Gargoyle; Daily Science Fiction; Peacock Journal; and the anthology Electric Grace. Seigel lives and writes in Washington, D.C. More on Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer (www.jessieseigel.com).


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