Beware women with cardboard

\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?

A pair of suspectsIt 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.

Two women pluck cardboard from trashcanThe 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.

Two women approach a table of dinersI shouldn’t really call them girls. They looked young, but these two are women—not that I would hazard a guess of their ages.

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.

Beautiful, elegant Plaça ReialThe 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.

Two possible pickpockets and one thiefhunterWe 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.

The old gypsy cardboard trickThese 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.

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  • Oh, thanks for asking, Rick! Dinner was fine, but not as memorable as the night before, at Ana’s house. I’ve already mentioned her luscious artichoke risotto, and she made a vegetable melange and dipped the ripest strawberries into dark chocolate. But it’s not the food… As an almost-constant traveler, there’s nothing I like more than dinner at home. I have frequent dinner parties, but I don’t get to be a guest very often. So dinner at Ana’s was the culinary highlight (taken as a complete experience) of that trip.

  • Yep. I’ve seen them chastised by police, their cardboard “tools” taken away, then left to go about their business. And we all know what their business is. Sometimes they’re hauled in, then released to their parents. Parents yell at them—for getting caught!

  • Is it true that in some cities the police are aware of young pickpocketers, but can’t stop them if the perps are underage?

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