Empty Pockets by Foster Trecost

I recall a smoky room, but I’m sure it was just the lighting. Still, it helped me feel hidden and that’s a good way to feel when you’re picking pockets. Along with everyone else, I entered through the main doors, a shiny leather shoulder bag draped across my rented tux. Rented tuxedos hold less cash, so I hoped mine was the only one. The crisp cuffs tickled my wrists, but the clock was ticking; at most, I gave myself ten minutes.

Waiters greeted guests with champagne and more waiters weaved through the room, their trays a tiny forest of flutes. Cash bars have men reaching for their wallets too often, so I was pleased to see there wasn’t one.

My eyes were trained to detect the subtle outlines of a billfold. Most men tuck them in a back pocket, but some up front because they think fronts are safer. They’re not. Inside-the-jacket was my least favorite. To properly execute that pick you’ve got to make eye contact, and I’d rather be home when I saw their faces. And that’s where I was, sifting through my evening haul: seven wallets, mostly standard black, a few browns. My ritual began with the ID’s. I checked each one like a doorman, pronounced names, introduced myself, studied faces. No one I knew, no one so far. Then an impossibly familiar set of eyes equaled my inspection, seeming to look at me as much as I looked at him. It was a face so misplaced, at first I couldn’t find it. Then the features came to focus. I knew him, all right. It was me.

A quick check confirmed my back-left pocket to be empty, an unsurprising fact given I was holding its occupant. Maybe I’d been careless and mixed my wallet with the ones I’d stolen, but dismissed this thought before it fully formed. Other accounts followed, all dismissed, all but one. A far-fetched conjecture lingered as the sole explanation: I’d picked the pocket of someone who had picked mine first. Predator and prey. That evening, I’d been both.

The desire to look further left me. I slid the ID’s back in their slots and folded the wallets shut, no longer interested in what they might contain. The following day, I found a post office and allowed my victims to do what I’d done, to pick the pocket of the man who had picked theirs first. In each wallet I placed a two-word note and though I doubted anyone accepted my apology, I felt absolved, like I’d been to confession. And it felt good. I thought about walking home but opted for the subway. In my room, I reached into my back-left pocket and pulled my standard black wallet onto the dresser. Then I reached into my back-right. Ken Glasscrack. Hello Mr. Glasscrack, my name’s Nick. Mr. Glasscrack, for whatever reason, carried ten one-hundred-dollar bills. And I, for one, was glad he did.

Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, sometimes very short. Recent work appears in Harpy Hybrid Review, Right Hand Pointing, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He lives near New Orleans with his wife and dog.