Barcelona, Spain—They look like any ordinary girls, right? Walking down La Rambla, tossing their long braids, empty hands swinging casually. We only saw this view of them, from the back. So what made us perk up? What raised our antennas?
It was evening. We followed them on La Rambla for a minute or two, then they made a beeline to a trash can on the edge of the street. Peering into the can, the shorter girl reached in and extracted a perfect piece of cardboard. Perfect for her needs, anyway. Bob and I looked at each other. That was all we needed to see. The game was on.
The girls entered the elegant Plaça Reial, a beautiful plaza lined with outdoor cafés. The restaurants are first class, but the plaza’s loiterers can be pretty seedy. The girls entered with practice and purpose, turning to the right and walking quickly around the entire perimeter, right along the occupied tables. Bob and I split, so if one of us was spotted, the other could still film.
They walked around and around, eyes always on the tables, at times stopping to watch a particular table of diners. At some point the short girl gave her cardboard to her partner. She then wandered until she found a new suitable “tool” for herself, what looked like a take-away menu. She returned to the other girl, and they continued scouting.
When the pair noticed an opportunity, they strolled up to a table full of people. They casually laid their shield tools on the table, then seemed to have a little chat with the diners. Bob and I were both too far away to know what happened. The women lingered a while, then left. Bob or I should have approached the people at the table, but we didn’t. I don’t remember why we didn’t, but now I miss the information we might have gained. In any case, this is classic behavior, which we have seen over and over. Perhaps we were a bit bored with it.
The two prowled about the square, then plopped down on the edge of the fountain. Bob sat opposite them, observing. The fountain scene looked ordinary: people relaxing, admiring, resting, chatting. No one would have suspected the spy vs. spy game in progress. Or—were there more games going on around the fountain? Which other ordinary loungers had ulterior motives? We’d never know.
The women looked tired, bored, and defeated. They made another halfhearted round or two of the plaza, then meandered out. The light was fading. Bob and I, too, were tired, after successive days of beating the pavement. We had dinner reservations. So we left.
We did not see this pair steal, but they appeared to be practicing a laid-back, easy-going version of the M.O. of the boy postcard thief, and similar to Kharem’s style. Although they looked bored and tired, they also seemed to be comfortable and experienced, if not proficient.
These are all expanded uses of the old gypsy cardboard routine, which is still widely in use. Yes, we saw that trick, too. The woman pictured is using cardboard, but just as often, the shield is a piece of newspaper or a map. In Russia, they used puzzles, already put together and glued onto board, which they pretended to offer for sale. They were very, very good with those puzzles, and under them, too.
This is a follow-up to my recent overview Barcelona Street Crime Today.