Read an Excerpt
Stealing a man’s wallet is easier than you might think. The trick is to wait for just the right moment and to make your move without hesitating.
Not convinced? Well okay, imagine your target is leaning across a roulette-table in Vegas when his trouser pocket gapes open. And let’s pretend that you’re standing beside him with a bottle of Budweiser in your hand, so that even if he feels something brush against him, he’ll think nothing of it. Believe me, it only takes a second to slip your spare hand inside his pocket and whisk his wallet away.
Maybe you doubt it can be that simple. Perhaps the most you’d concede is that it’s possible, but only if the target is a real chump. If I tried to pull that move on you, say, you’d be sure to catch me.
Well, that’s an understandable reaction, but I’m afraid it’s plain wrong. For starters, I’m good. And I don’t mean take-a-punt-and-brazen-it-out good. I mean talented good. I mean fast, nimble, experienced good.
Then there’s the psychology involved. After all, I don’t look like a pickpocket. I’m cleanshaven and smelling of cologne. I have on a sports jacket and smart jeans. My shoes are polished, my nails are clean, my breath is toothpaste-fresh. Plus, we’re in a classy venue, the Fifty-Fifty casino in the very heart of the Strip, across from Caesars Palace, along from the Venetian Hotel. And we’re at a high-stakes table in a high-roller area, separated from the hoi polloi by a velveteen rope and a raised plinth. You’ve been chatting for some time with my good friend Victoria. She’s immaculately groomed and kind on the eye, and smart and witty and a whole bunch of pleasing characteristics besides. Oh, and did I mention that we’re British? What ho! Tally pip! Hardly criminals, right?
So let’s just settle on the idea that I’d have stolen your wallet in half the time it’s taken us to get this far and that you wouldn’t have come close to catching me. And hey, don’t feel glum about it, because neither had the guy whose billfold I’d just lifted.
He was of average height with a cultured mane of dark, Hollywood hair, a wholly artificial tan and a keen awareness of his own minor celebrity. His name (if you can believe it) was Josh Masters, and he was the Fifty-Fifty’s resident stage illusionist, star of the casino’s second-string theater for twelve performances a week, forty-eight weeks a year. His speciality was in making things vanish—showgirls, tigers, the Stratosphere Tower, his own credibility—and his capped smile and intense blue eyes gazed out from billboards and flyers all around the casino complex and the wider city beyond.
My reasons for taking his wallet needn’t delay us right now, but as a mystery writer by trade, I should probably let you know that I’m not a complete cad. So allow me to put on record that I don’t make a habit out of picking people’s pockets. I’ve done it in the past, and no doubt I’ll do it again in the future, but it’s nearly always as a means to a somewhat complicated end and never for the sheer hell of it. It wouldn’t be worth my time—a man can only use so many driving licenses.
True, I’m a thief, but I’m what you might call a high-end thief. I tend to work on commission, and since I try not to work too often (in order to keep my chances of being caught as close to zero as possible), I only accept a job if I’m going to be handsomely paid. Usually, that means I steal from two kinds of people—the rich or the corrupt. And while that hardly makes me Robin Hood’s spiritual successor, I like to think that it nudges my moral compass away from the zone marked absolute scum.
But anyway, the defense rests, and you’ll no doubt recall that Josh Masters’ wallet was out of his pocket and inside my own, courtesy of a neat piece of sleight of hand that Masters himself might have appreciated, if only he’d had cause to study my technique. And with my prize secured and my Bud set aside, I fled the scene of my crime by stepping down from the high-stakes area onto the main casino floor.
The Fifty-Fifty is one of the more recent mega-resorts to have been built on the Strip. It has a theme, like almost every other Vegas casino, and the subtle clue to the theme is in its name. Fifties America was what the place was all about, with the casino floor dedicated to the gangster world of noir movies, pulp films and popular imagination.
Take the cocktail waitresses as an example. They sported pageboy hairstyles, make-up that was heavy on the foundation, blusher and lipstick, and sequined bodices of a cream shade, over black micro-skirts and long, nylon-sheathed legs. Likewise, the pit bosses were dressed in gray sharkskin suits with wide lapels and trilby hats, and the security staff were kitted out in vintage cop uniforms, with blue polyester shirts, black slim-jim ties and gold, five-pointed badges. Over by the cashing-out cage, the staff behind the gilded security bars wore green tinted visors, while the croupiers were dressed in white collarless shirts with black waistcoats, and spent their time calling the female patrons “dolls” and “twists” and “frails,” and the men “Mac” or “chum” or “buddy.”
Swing numbers were playing over the sound system, but the tunes were lost in the noise of the gaming floor—the trill and ding of the slots, the whoops and cheers around the craps table, the riffle of cards, the clack of the roulette ball, the general hum and chatter of the vast number of suckers laying down money against all odds.
With so much happening around me, it took a few moments until I spotted the security desk (which for obvious reasons had made an impact on me when we first checked in), but once I’d logged its position, I set off toward it, remembering that the main elevators were located just beyond. Sticking to my route was easier said than done. For one thing, there were a lot of people in my way, but more to the point, the casino appeared to have been designed like a maze that continually led me back to an area where I might like to risk a considerable amount of money.
I passed through corridors of kidney-shaped gaming-tables, all of them fashioned from walnut veneer, cream leather and burgundy felt. Blackjack, Blackjack Switch, Casino War, Pai Gow Poker and Texas Hold ’Em eventually gave way to the craps-tables and the roulette-tables, and afterward the video poker games and the penny slots being played by elderly women in velour jogging suits.
As I walked, my feet beat down on a gaudy nylon carpet that charged my body with a frankly inhuman level of static electricity. I’d already learned to my cost that whenever I came into contact with anything metal I functioned much like a lightning rod, and the same was true of the call button for the guest elevators. I reached out a tentative finger to press it and … zzzzzzz … a charge raced up my arm. Damn. I snatched my hand away and yelped, and meanwhile the doors parted on a nearby carriage and a tubby black man in a baseball cap and shin-length denim shorts stepped out. Taking his place in the elevator, I removed Josh Masters’ wallet from my pocket.
I slid a key card from his billfold and popped it into the magnetic reader in front of me. I selected the button for Floor 20, and as the elevator climbed and a recorded voiceover encouraged me to buy a ticket for the Josh Masters Magical Spectacular, I took a tour through the remainder of his wallet.
He only had around sixty dollars in cash, which didn’t surprise me because everything he could desire inside the casino would be complimentary. He had a platinum credit card, a gold credit card and a black credit card, all issued by Nevada state banks. He had a glossy signed photograph of his own good self and a valet ticket for his car and a folded paper napkin with a telephone number scrawled on it. He also had something that only the very lucky are prone to find and the very dumb are prone to keep—the neat cardboard sleeve that had originally contained his key card. It had the Fifty-Fifty’s emblem on the front of it—a spinning fifty-cent coin—and his name just below. Oh, and it also featured his room number.
I guessed it made sense. Star talent is treated like royalty in Vegas, and Floor 40 was one of the most exclusive in the hotel. And while I might have queried the application of the words “star” and “talent” to Josh Masters, it was clear from the bewildering success of his show that I was in the minority. But what did I care? I’d just saved myself the trouble of trying his key card in the 3,499 other bedrooms it might just possibly have unlocked.
The moment the elevator reached Floor 20, I coaxed it on to Floor 24, which was as high as it could go. Then I stepped out and walked along another stretch of carpet toward another bank of elevators, where I poked the call button with the corner of Masters’ leather wallet—no flies on me—and made my way to the fortieth floor of the hotel. And there I reached a dead end. Because a short distance ahead of me was a concierge desk with an arresting blonde standing behind it.
The blonde had on a tailored black silk blouse that was elaborately ruffled and pleated beneath her very fine chin. Angular spectacles were balanced upon her nose, and diamond studs kissed her earlobes. She looked like she belonged on a catwalk and I wished to hell she was on one right now.
I suppose I should have seen it coming. In a resort like the Fifty-Fifty, the finest suites are nearly always serviced by a special type of concierge. They’re the smartest, most attractive, most motivated hotel employees. They remember the variety of flowers you like in your room, the vintage champagne you require on ice, the location of your favorite table in your preferred restaurant, the names of your kids, your wife, your mistress, your cat …
I could go on, but the point is they memorize a whole bunch of details, and they’re prone to excel at it because that’s how they score the really big tips. So there was no way this particular angel wouldn’t know that I didn’t belong on her floor. And that was a major problem.
By sheer coincidence, when she glanced over at me I happened to be acting a little gormless, so I hammed it up by turning on the spot, frowning at the number above the elevator and scratching the back of my head. I even gazed at the room card in my hand and slapped my forehead for good mea sure.
Then I stepped back inside the elevator and disappeared.
So all right, I didn’t disappear. I went down five floors. But as far as the elegant blonde was concerned, there wasn’t a marked distinction.
Floor 35 of the Fifty-Fifty was very nicely appointed. The area outside of the elevator doors was lit by an ornate chandelier, the walls were papered an agreeable shade of blue, and there was a good deal more of the lush nylon carpet with the low-level electricity running through it. But most appealing of all, there was no concierge desk.
Setting off along the carpet, feeling a lot like a balloon being rubbed against a woolen jumper, I walked for something like the distance of a half-marathon before I came to a door marked Emergency Use Only. I checked both ways and then I pushed through the door onto the ser vice stairs beyond.
No alarm sounded, though perhaps a small one is going off in the back of your mind. It could be you’re thinking about security cameras. Because security is what Vegas is renowned for, right? The countless fish-eye lenses covering your every move, the teams of finely drilled security staff watching over color monitors and analyzing your skin temperature and pupil dilation? Well sure, all of that is true, and more besides. But 99 percent of the surveillance is focused on the casino floor.
Yes, the mega-resorts along the Strip offer five-star accommodation, and naturally, every room is stocked with flat-screen televisions, gold-plated taps and walk-in power showers. But that’s just the backdrop to where the real money is made—the gaming tables. And while the management would like you to have a good vacation and come back for more, they’re not going to waste time monitoring your route through the hotel hallways to your bed. They’d rather watch you gamble.
So I felt pretty confident as I climbed the ser vice stairs that my movements weren’t being tracked and that I wasn’t about to run into a team of security guards. I also didn’t expect to meet any guests, since a city that features a replica of the Rialto Bridge with an escalator running up it isn’t somewhere that fitness fanatics come on holiday. And hell, even if I bumped into a member of staff, there wasn’t a great deal they could do. After all, I was a paying guest and I had my own room card to prove it.
As luck would have it, I didn’t run into anyone, and after tackling five flights of stairs and poking my head out into the rarefied atmosphere of the fortieth floor once more, I was relieved to find that there wasn’t a soul to be seen or a sound to be heard. Some 200 meters ahead of me, the corridor kinked right, and if my calculations were correct it would kink right once again before the alluring prospect of the blonde’s rear profile would come into view. But I could only speculate, because the door to Suite H turned out to be located just before the end of the first stretch of corridor.
Loitering outside, I removed a pair of disposable plastic gloves from my pocket. There was nothing unusual about the glove I slipped onto my left hand, and it fitted nice and snug. The glove for my right hand was a little different. I’d snipped two of the fingers clean away, and I had to be careful the plastic didn’t disintegrate as I eased it on. I needed the customized glove because my middle and fourth fingers were bound to one another with surgical tape. I suffer from sporadic attacks of arthritis, and just lately it had gone to work on my knuckles. Finger number four was especially bad. It had curled to the left, hooking over its buddy, and since it was more than a little painful, I’d taken the decision to tape them together. The upside was that my index finger and thumb were unaffected, and with the tips of my dud digits wrapped in tape, there wasn’t much danger of my leaving any prints.
Since my index finger and thumb were still willing to participate in my felonious activities, I put them to work by sliding Masters’ key card into the electronic reader on the door to his suite. After a beat, I removed it. A green bulb shone briefly and I heard a clunk as the electronic lock disengaged. Drawing a cautious breath, I reached for the handle and—
Zzzzzzz … A blue spark snaked between the metal and my ungloved fingers. I gritted my teeth and growled, and then I leaned some weight onto the handle, swung the door open and stepped inside.
The moment I crossed the threshold, I experienced a buzz of electricity 100 times more powerful than anything the hotel carpets could conjure. It’s always been that way for me. I guess if I spoke to a psychologist about it, I might learn some ugly truths about myself. Then again, perhaps if I broke into that same psychologist’s office after hours and ripped the good doctor off, I might enjoy the biggest thrill of my life.
Analysis aside, I nudged the door closed and stood in the tiled entrance hall to the suite, whistling at the sight before me. Let me tell you, my own room had been plenty impressive when I first checked in, but this guy’s suite was a whole different story.
Ahead of me was a compact kitchen with sleek, illuminated glass cupboards, a sizeable American fridge-freezer and a granite breakfast bar. Beyond the kitchen was a sunken area that featured a glass dining-table capable of seating twelve people, a large L-shaped couch in black leather, a wall-mounted television not a great deal smaller than the dining-table, a corner wet bar and a sturdy writing desk with a telephone and a fax machine. The desk was positioned beneath a brightly lit standing lamp and in front of some floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the rear of the hotel complex, the cross-streets and highways running behind the Strip and the red-hued mountain peaks beyond. A lighted passenger jet was coming in over the mountain ridge to land at McCarran International Airport.
The room was still and silent, save for the rumble of the air-conditioning unit. I shook my head in wonder and moved down onto the thick carpet of the living area. I shook it even more when it occurred to me that I was yet to see a bed.
I snuck across to a pair of double doors on my right and tried the handles. The doors were locked, and I got the impression they connected with a neighboring suite. There was another door on the opposite side of the room, just beyond the desk, and I breezed right through until I found myself gawping at a super-king-sized bed adorned with fine cotton sheets, quilted eiderdowns and woolen throws, not to mention enough pillows to stock the home-ware section of a strip mall Macy’s.
A pair of teak cabinets flanked the bed, and on the nearest one a lamp with a fringed shade cast its light upon an alarm clock, a paperback book and a spiral note pad and pen. A water glass was positioned beside the note pad, its rim covered with a paper disc bearing the casino’s logo.
Behind me was a double closet, and I threw open the doors, quickly discovering just how many leather jackets and pairs of stonewashed jeans one man could possess. An entire shelf was stacked with neatly folded white T-shirts, and another with gray. Masters’ briefs were arranged just so, and his socks, I noticed with a shudder, were embroidered with his initials.
I must say I felt a good deal happier when I looked toward the bottom of the closet and found the room-safe. That may sound curious, but a safe can save me a lot of time. Without it, a guest might hide their possessions among their clothes, or their shoes or their luggage. They might find an obscure spot in their dresser or under their bed. They might even keep their valuables with them when they go out for the day. But more often than not, a safe eliminates those dangers, because most people think that it’s a secure place to store their belongings.
It’s not. Hotel safes are susceptible to the charms of most burglars, and that includes absolute beginners. They tend to be guarded by a simple electronic code, and it’s often quite easy to guess the code a stranger has selected. If you don’t believe me, try letting yourself into somebody else’s hotel room and entering one of the following sequences—999, 911, 000, 1234 … You take my point. Oh, and if that doesn’t work, try the number of the guest room itself. That baby’s a frequent flyer.
Excerpted from The Good Thief’S Guide to Vegas by Chris Ewan.
Copyright © 2010 by Chris Ewan.
Published in 2010 by Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.