A Pickpocket's Tale

The Spectacular Thefts of Apollo Robbins

Street pickpockets generally work in teams, known as whiz mobs or wire mobs. The "steer" chooses the victim, who is referred to generically as the "mark," the "vic," or the "chump," but can also be categorized into various subspecies, among them "Mr. Bates" (businessman) and "pappy" (senior citizen). The "stall," or "stick," maneuvers the mark into position and holds him there, distracting his attention, perhaps by stumbling in his path, asking him for directions, or spilling something on him. The "shade" blocks the mark's view of what's about to happen, either with his body or with an object such as a newspaper. And the "tool" (also known as the "wire," the "dip," or the "mechanic") lifts his wallet and hands it off to the "duke man," who hustles away, leaving the rest of the mob clean. Robbins explained to me that, in practice, the process is more fluid -- team members often play several positions -- and that it unfolds less as a linear sequence of events than as what he calls a "synchronized convergence," like a well-executed offensive play on the gridiron.

If a crew of pickpockets is like a football squad, then its star quarterback is the "cannon," an honorific generally reserved for pickpockets skilled enough to ply their trade without the help of a team. This is also known as "working single o." Robbins works single o. He is his own steer, stall, shade, and duke man, though, unlike street criminals, he lets his victims know that he will be picking their pockets.

Previously, previously.

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