Thieves find us, continued. We’re not looking for pickpockets; just busy filming pickup shots on the bus for the documentary, when known thieves Marc and Andy board the bus with a third man we don’t recognize. “Marc!” we all say, swiveling our cameras in his direction. “Andy!” I say, as the two push past me. Bob and I recognize Andy from past years, but the film crew don’t know him.
The men had boarded at the back of the now-crowded bus. They shimmy through the tightly packed aisle like river water through stones. Marc and Andy pretend they don’t know us, but we and our crew are in relentless pursuit, struggling through the aisle crowd to catch up, to make contact. From the beginning, Marc has been the shifty-eyed cautious one. Even now, he makes as if to jump ship at the first stop, eager to escape. But Bob catches up with him, all smiles, and when the bus lurches to its next stop, we all jump off together: two thieves, Bob and I, and our whole crew.
We land at a café and take a few tables. The big Red camera looks our way and the furry boom mic hovers over us. We order coffee, lemon ice, a few snacks. Andy reminisces over past meetings with Bob and me. Marc reverts to his friendlier self on Andy’s cue.
The best pickpocket
Bob pulls out his iPod and shows Andy our gallery of local thieves. Andy smiles, laughs, pointing to photos of his friends. He knows every face. He stops at Lou, his brother, and tells us that he’s retired now. At 57, Lou now has a cigarette kiosk and makes a decent living. Bob and I are glad to hear this. We’ve known Lou for 12 years now; he was the first pickpocket we met in this city. Or rather, the first one we spoke with at length.
Though we figure Andy’s already aware of it, Bob expresses his wish to find the most talented pickpocket in this city of talented pickpockets. Andy doesn’t hesitate. “I’m the best!” he brags. “Ask anyone.” Marc nods. Bob describes the technique he hopes to have demonstrated and Andy pops out of his chair, ready to show it. Andy’s talking a blue streak and sound man Michele, translating yet another thief, is listening with a broad grin. He can’t translate everything fast enough, but at one point he beams at me. “He’s incredibly charming. Full of character, like an actor!”
“You say you’re the best,” Bob says. “Then it’s you I’m looking for!” Bob proposes dinner—a big dinner with thieves. “We’ll have a contest and share techniques,” he says. He invites Marc and Andy, and tells them to invite Frank and Frank’s brother Ed. And Clay, because he was there at the demonstration party in the park. And Lou, of course, retired or not!
“We can’t do dinner,” Andy explains. Frank is on restriction; he’s not allowed out after 9 p.m. “Say 2:00 on Friday. Where?”
“Where would you like to go?” our producer chips in generously. Andy names a restaurant without hesitation, and volunteers to make reservations. He scribbles the name and address of the place for us and stands, eager to get back to work.
After Marc and Andy disappear on a bus, Bob and I need a walk to come down. We know the neighborhood and its risks, so we turn in our hidden cameras to the crew. Our van has come to meet us at the café and it will take all the equipment. Bob and I walk.
This is Part 14 of THE MAKING OF OUR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTARY, PICKPOCKET KING. The film is about us, Bob Arno and Bambi Vincent. We are “thiefhunters in paradise.” The paradise we chose for the story is the warm and wild city of Naples, Italy, home to the world’s best pickpockets. The documentary premieres December 2 at 8pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.
—Originally posted 9/27/10 and soon thereafter password-protected at the request of the producer.