East End Opportunist

Harriet McLeary

  Kit sat still listening to the rumbling of the tube as it trundled sluggishly through the tunnel.  His hood was pulled up over his head, allowing him to look out without being obvious.  He passed a coin across the top of his fingers unconsciously, something he’d started doing a long time ago.  His eyes drifted lazily across the adverts on the top of the carriage - contact lenses half price, a new way of learning a second language, and some vapid looking woman promoting pills that did something, but did it just for women.  And of course all the information about the upcoming Olympics. 

 

  He allowed his eyes to track back across the carriage to the two women who’d got on at Mile End.  Probably students.  Boots, leggings, big hoodies.  He smiled a small smile, hidden deep in his hood. Students:  That meant laptops, phones, iPods, tablets.  A whole host of valuables, and not a jot of common sense to accompany them.  His eyes dropped to the bag the first girl, purple-hoody, had draped over her shoulder, then jumped to the bag of the second girl, Red Scarf.  Both open topped.  Both big, both completely unaware.  The carriage was relatively empty: an older asian man across from him  seemingly asleep, the two students, a bespectacled man reading a book with dragons on the front, and a suited woman at the far end of the carriage with headphones in, gone to the world.  He spotted a newspaper folded up further along the carriage, beyond the two  students.  Pulling his phone out, he quickly unlocked it and spent a few minutes pointlessly browsing old texts.  He then got up, still engrossed in his phone, and walked down the carriage.  As he passed the girls, he made a mental note of their bags, looking in surreptitiously.  He sauntered down a bit further, making use of the poles to keep his balance, and sat next to the newspaper, turning it over to browse the sports section.  While his eyes played over the latest premier league controversy, his mind worked over the image he had stored.  Purple hoody has a purse at the top of her bag, and a phone tucked into the pocket in the middle.  Red scarf has her phone poking out of the front pocket of her hoody, and her keys near the back of her bag.  He smiled. People were so naive.  

 

  He kept his eyes down as the train pulled into Stepney Green. The girls moved towards the door and Kit stood up, eyes glued to his phone, and moved to his own door further down the carriage.  The doors hissed open and he stepped down onto the platform, putting his phone into his jeans pocket.  The girls were farther up the platform, walking side by side towards the exit, engrossed in their conversation.  He walked behind them, waiting. They slowed as they reached the barriers, both scrabbling around in the bags for their Oyster cards, still engrossed in their conversation.  He lined up behind purple-hoody, waiting to go through the barrier, and managed another covert sneak into her bag; she hadn’t moved her phone.  Once through the barrier, Kit  quickened his pace and overtook the girls as they made their way out of the station.  

 

  Too risky.  

 

  There wasn’t much in this one, but he knew that trying a lift here could get him caught.  The girls had been walking with their bags over their shoulders between them - that made lifting anything much harder - and he knew that the first thing they’d do upon leaving the station would be to get their phones out.  He wasn’t disappointed.  He knew that you had to take opportunities where they came.  If you forced a lift when one wasn’t available, you ran the risk of getting caught.  And Kit was patient.  It was part of the reason that he was so successful.  He’d been pickpocketing for years, and had never been caught, not even a suspicion.  

 

  He pulled into the lee of a doorway, and leaned back against it, patting his pockets to search of his rollups.  The girls walked past him still chatting - but now with both faces glued to their phone screens. Too risky.  Too risky by far.  He checked his watch.  15:42.  Rush hour was only an hour or so away, and that always yielded good rewards.  Crammed tubes, commuters lost in a digital world with their possessions there for any enterprising quick-fingered thief.  

 

  And he was exactly that.  

 

  His patting hands failed to find what he wanted - just an empty bag of Amber Leaf with a few dregs left.  He’d have to buy some more.  He looked up and down the street at the shoppers eyeballing the funny looking vegetables and saucepans for sale in the market.  Mixed pickings here.  A lot of Asians.  With funny robes.  Who knows where they keep their phones, their wallets.  He spent the next hour or so wandering up and down the market, wasting time and browsing all sorts of things. 

 

  His wandering took him through markets and side streets up to Liverpool Street Station.  This one was one of his favourites. It combined the business of the daily commuters with the absent minded eagerness of the tourists.  He loitered around the entrance, watching tourists and locals alike piling into a small McDonalds. 

 

  A scruffy looking man with a sweat-stained vest and greasy hair stopped at an ATM. Probably wondering if he can afford a burger, Kit thought. But as the man turned, Kit saw him stuff a fat wad of cash into his wallet before shuffling off into the station.  The idiot put his wallet into his jacket pocket.  He didn’t even push it all the way in.  Kit set off, slowly following the man as he joined a queue at a coffee stand.  Kit eyed him as they walked: he couldn’t work the man out.  It was too early for him to be on his way home; most offices wouldn’t close for at least another hour. Anyway, the workers who filled this station eager to get back to their commuter-belt homes were all carbon copies in dark suits, trim blouses, and pompous bearings.  This man wouldn’t have looked out of place under a bridge. 

 

  As he got closer, though, Kit noticed his first impressions had been off. The man’s shoes - though dirty - were not cheap.  His trousers, too, though dishevelled, were expensive.  And that coat was easily five hundred pounds worth of coat. Kit smiled a small smile.  It always felt better robbing someone that could afford losing a bit. 

 

  Kit quickened his step and pulled out his phone, screwing his face up into a look of concern. He tapped the man on the left shoulder as he caught up with him, and thrust his phone out across the man’s body, drawing his eye. 

 

  “‘Scuse me, sir,” he said, his voice dripping with a heavy Glaswegian accent.  It was always good to give the mark something wrong to remember. “Is this yer phone?” He moved the phone closer to the man as his right hand dipped into the jacket pocket and lifted the wallet. The man’s bleary eyes watched Kit, uncertainly. 

 

  “What?” 

 

  “Is this no yer phone?”  Kit stepped away, putting his phone back in his pocket; the man’s wallet already deep in another pocket. He stepped away as the man blinked blearily. Kit turned on the spot and walked away, not looking back. 

 

  Within minutes he was out of the station and huddled behind a stack of large bins in a side street.  He opened the wallet and pulled out a fat wad of notes.  He quickly counted over four hundred pounds; it all went in his pocket. Next he rifled through the rest of the wallet, throwing away old receipts and credit cards; it was far too easy to track them. He fished out a peculiar looking card: matte black with no markings on it. He flipped it over; it had a chip, like a debit card, but was otherwise empty.  On a whim, he slipped it in beside the notes and threw away the rest of the wallet. Happy with the way the day had turned out, Kit strolled away, whistling softly. 

 

  Somewhere deep in an anonymous London high rise, a screen flickered to life and a light started blinking, making its way down an East End street. 

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