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A Day at the Office
About the Author: Anne Swardson moved to Paris as a journalist for the Washington Post but turned to fiction to expose the city's darker side. Her short story, "River Secret," was selected by blind submission for the Mystery Writers of America's 2012 anthology. Another story, "The Wheels on the Bus," was recently published in Noir Nation, which also will publish "Eiffel in Love" in a forthcoming edition.

Petar smoothed his thin black T-shirt as he climbed up the Métro steps and stepped onto rue Scribe. Pushing down on the belt of his faded blue jeans so they sat properly on his hips, he turned up the collar of his fake leather jacket. He was ready for his workday.

It was a sunny, warm afternoon in Paris and the tourists were out in droves, bunching at the door of the Fragonard perfume museum and snapping selfies in front of the blocky Opéra building. Actual Parisians snaked their way through the chattering packs.

Time to prowl. Petar walked in a rolling slouch, head lowered. Never raise your gaze, his mother had always said. Even when he was a child in her arms as she begged in the Métro tunnels, that’s what she told him. She kept saying it right up until she disappeared, when he was ١٣. Had she gone back to Bulgaria? He never found out.

He checked out a gaggle of Chinese in front of the Grand Hotel. They were all wearing money belts. Then ahead he saw his first likely target of the day: a middle-aged man in a soft gray suit that Petar recognized as Dior. Last year’s collection. The fellow was wearing gleaming Gucci’s and carrying a black briefcase that had to be Hermès.

The mark didn’t sense anything when the two stood together at the red light. He might be rich, but he was stupid enough to carry his wallet in his back pocket. The light changed and the guy went on, his dreams of money and power uninterrupted and his wallet now in Petar’s jacket pocket.

Petar knew what he should do next: head to the pizza place around the corner and turn the wallet in to Bilal. The boss didn’t like his operatives holding onto the merchandise too long. They might skim off a little, or get arrested, or both.

But Petar couldn’t help himself. Sticking his hand into his pocket, he caressed the supple black leather. He ran his fingers over the folds, feeling the buttery way the calfskin gave to his touch. He didn’t even try to estimate the thickness of the cash inside, or to count the credit cards. It was the beauty of the wallet he wanted to sense, like a blind man.

Petar thrust out his chest and walked on, eyes looking ahead. He was a very sophisticated person carrying a very distinguished wallet, after all. Maybe it had been given to him as a bonus by his boss at the bank: “Cher monsieur, we’ve chosen you as the employee of the month. We are all so proud of you and we know you’ll do great things.” The boss smiled as the other employees applauded.

Or perhaps it had been a present from his beautiful blonde wife, after he’d given her the diamond pendant. She proffered the orange box with a brown ribbon around it. “My darling,” she began. He reached out his hand for the …

“Hey asshole, what the fuck!”

It was Bilal himself, standing right in front of Petar. He put his hand on the younger man’s chest.

“Are you crazy? Prancing around for all to see with the stupid grin on your face?”

Petar’s posture was transformed. He curved his shoulders and hung his head. He scraped the sidewalk with one sneaker-clad foot.

“Boss, I was just heading over to the café,” he whined. “Gimme a break, I just scored a big one.”

“That doesn’t help us any if you get nailed by the cops, cretin. Now follow right behind me. I want that wallet as soon as we get there.”

Was it really 1 p.m.? How had she fallen so far behind? She was supposed to have arrived at the hotel half an hour ago. She shouldn’t have let Antoine take the Champs-Elysées.

Monique put on a last dab of lipstick and ran her hand over her tightly coiffed hair as the black limousine pulled into the covered driveway of the Grand Hotel. She burst out of the car as soon as the top-hatted flunky opened the door.

“Forty-five minutes, Antoine,” she called over her shoulder, rushing up the hotel steps, high heels clicking. She had to walk slightly sideways because her skirt was so tight. Ignoring the smiles and bows from the staff, she swept past the reception area and into the high-ceilinged lobby café.

This story appears in our JAN 2021 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Love Paris, Love Pickpockets, Love Switcheroo Stories!
By Susan Rickard

I loved this story and its smooth pace kept me reading. Hey, the only item I carry in my pocket is tissue for my nose and my pocketbook is always zipped but a good friend had his wallet picked in Italy not to long ago. Again, a good read.
By Frances Dunn

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