A pickpocket party begins

3-oclock

Dinner with thieves. It’s 3:00. The film crew’s still perfecting camera angles, lighting, and table arrangements. I’ve taken my seat as requested, so cameras can be adjusted behind me.

I’m antsy. Bob’s irritated. All invitees arrived on time at 2. They’ve been asked to wait in a nearby café. But for how long? They’re our guests and I’m feeling rude.

The restaurant has closed to the public. Its owners and staff stand in the back, arms crossed, unsmiling. Its lighting has been draped with black or white fabric and our own lights have been arranged on large stands. My eyes bounce from the frenzied crew to my watch to the prominent tanks of live seafood bubbling noisily. Sound man Michele frowns at the hum but, as a homeboy, he knows he can’t ask the restaurant owner to turn off the vital air supply to the pricey perishables.

Restaurant

Bob and I were skeptical as the taxi cruised along the unfamiliar streets of this neighborhood. This small restaurant, chosen by Andy, is the best-looking address on the street. Inside, its homey atmosphere is comforting. We can’t help wondering: are the owners relatives?; if not, do they know who today’s guests are?

We thought this gathering would just be a dinner, maybe a party, but it’s more—it’s an ad hoc film set. The crew are now trying to rig a camera to fly over the table. Our producer and official whip-cracker, Kath, is putting on the pressure to open the doors; but sound must be perfect. Lighting and cameras must be just so. I’m wondering if we’ll have any guests at all by the time they’re ready. Finally, at 4:00, the thieves are called in.

Restaurant setup

The pickpockets arrive, smiling: Frank, and his brother Ed; Andy, and his brother Lou; Lou’s son-in-law Marc; and Clay. Handshakes and hugs all around, as at any dinner party. Then Andy goes straight for Bob’s pockets, feeling him up. With a flourish and a spin, he whips out a wallet from Bob’s breast pocket, laughing. To complete the charade, he hands it off to Marc, who skulks away. The room cracks up. Applause.

Frank has dressed for the occasion, in a purple silk shirt. When we first met him on the bus he was clean-shaven. The next day in the park he signed a release agreeing to be in our film. Now he has a mustache. Has he grown it as a disguise? For a debonaire film-star look? I forget to ask him.

Part one of this story. Next installment.

This is Part 17 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 10/1/10 and soon thereafter password-protected at the request of the producer.

© Copyright 2008-2011 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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I hunt thieves. I film them, interview them, write about them, and teach how to avoid them.

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