My name is Pierre. I’m 33 years old and I have worked as a pickpocket in Paris since the age of 13.”
We received this intriguing email (in French) in October 2009. It ended with an invitation to meet in Paris in order to exchange stories and anecdotes.
Over the course of 44 additional emails, “Pierre” told us about himself and his work. He claimed to have a graveyard factory job. Pickpocketing was a sideline, he said, but one he took seriously. He used to do his thieving in the Paris Metro, but now works strictly out of town. The laws changed recently, he explained, making it easier for police to pick up and hold known offenders.
In November, Pierre wrote that he and a partner would be going to a huge farming expo in Brussels. Neither Pierre nor his partner are involved in farming, of course.
In December, he attached a photo to his email, captioned “a memory from Brussels.” Fingers grasping a wallet.
Eventually Bob and Pierre spoke at length on Skype (without video). We decided to visit Paris. Not just to meet Pierre, of course; but the rendezvous would be a bonus.
Coincidentally, we are in the beginning of a documentary film project. Not the beginning, really, as the idea germinated exactly four years ago this month. But we have finally begun shooting. We have a first-rate film director, Kun Chang (the driving force behind the project); a mighty production house; and the world’s best-regarded multimedia company as primary investor and distributor. (We’ll formally announce the project soon.) Our film director spent the week in Paris with us.
Pierre picked the place for our meeting: a brasserie called Au Canon de la Nation. We walked over early for a quick lunch. Could this part-time-Parisien-pickpocket possibly know that canon is criminal parlance for pickpocket in the U.S.? The in-joke gave us a little laugh as we took chilly terrace seats on our first day in the City of Light-fingers, wondering if our thief would show up.
He was 45 minutes early! Is that eager, or what? Tall and elegant in a black blazer, briefcase in hand, Pierre wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in any situation. He is what I call a “gentleman thief:” one who can insinuate himself among people of means without looking out of place.
He arrived with a gift: a copy of the book Pickpockets!, by FranÃ§ois Abjean. The author was a formidable pickpocket cop in Paris, who arrested Pierre in 1993. The book was stolen from a library, of course. [Update 6/28/10: Pierre wrote today, offended by this reference to the book being stolen. He bought it on the internet, he explained.]
We talked for an hour over a thimble-sized espresso—proving the frivolity of the bottomless American coffee mug. Kun, our director, translated—proving the deficiency of Google translations and Bob’s schoolboy French.
We all planned to meet again the next day. Pierre would bring his partner, who had already agreed to meet us. Kun hinted to the possibility of filming the thieves, and handed over a bag of disguises from which the two could build new looks. Pierre smirked at the plastic glasses and fake mustaches, but thought it was feasible, as long as his and his friend’s identities were protected.
This was a good beginning for our week in Paris and a promising start of our film project. Bob, Kun, and I left Au Canon de la Nation on a high. Was it just the coffee?