The Gold Pocket Watch

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2015

Samuel Campopiano
the gold pocket watch boy with watch

“I lost my watch! I lost my father!”

The Eiffel Tower was the ideal pickpocketing spot. Tourists were the most likely targets because of their ignorance and trust in the locals. Much of Paris’s underworld hung around the Eiffel Tower, preying on unsuspecting, over-trusting visitors. One clean, quick, unseen swipe, and the fool had lost a possession. When that fool found out, it was much too late.

Luc was a young boy, dark-haired with a lanky frame, who was quite advanced in the art of pickpocketing. He spent many of his summer afternoons going to the Eiffel Tower and preying on those unsuspecting fools. He was a regular at the Eiffel Tower but always careful enough to not get noticed as one who comes every day. Luc had seen men taken away by the police, because they were suspected of pickpocketing. If a pickpocket was to survive the racket, he must be alert and cautious at all times. Luc solved this problem by wearing a variety of baseball caps, so he would remain inconspicuous and look like a different boy every day. He would use his different caps and various disguises to look like an American.

One day, on the observation deck at the Eiffel Tower, Luc was observing his next target and was liking what he saw. The target was an old man, too busy seeing the gorgeous view to notice anything else. The old man was very tall and seemed calm and collected. Judging by his facial features, Luc guessed that the old man was German. Indeed the view was gorgeous, and it distracted many people. This was ideal for pickpocketing. The Eiffel Tower was crowded on the observation deck, so “accidentally” bumping into someone was a great excuse, and it always worked for Luc. The old man was looking east in the direction of Notre Dame and was not guarding his valuables. He was one of the tourists who had too much trust and knew nothing about survival.

It was a warm, sunny day, which also benefited Luc, because the sun blinded his victims. Now, the question was what to steal from the old man. The old man had a gold pocket watch that was hanging out of his pocket. Luc had never seen such a prize. The pocket watch looked old and valuable. Of course, it might not be authentic, but if it was, it would sell for a lot of money. Luc decided to take the chance. He moved in to get a closer position.

The trick to good pickpocketing is to move slowly and not go for the victim immediately. One needs to approach cautiously and not arouse suspicion.

Luc made his way over to the old man carefully, stopping every so often, as though he too was interested in the sights. He was not interested in the sights. His eye was always on the prize. The old man walked away from him, towards the west side of the tower, but Luc was not worried. He would catch him eventually. He always did. The old man was talking jovially to a guide and his guard was down. Luc wanted that pocket watch. It was just swinging in the old man’s pocket, taunting him, willing him to come and get it. Luc was not going to fail now. Mercy was for the weak and soft.

Why was it that no one suspected Luc? Was it because he was a child, and children are trusted more? That is one of the mysteries of life: children are marked as immature and naive in the world of adults. Luc broke through the wide corridor packed with many tourists and was at last alone with the old man. But this would not do. It was far too obvious if he was the only one around the old man. The old man would suspect him immediately, and that would be the end of the road for Luc. Luc would have to wait for a while. The old man seemed to have no intention of leaving the spot he was infatuated with, so Luc wanted to be productive while he waited.

With an experienced eye, Luc quickly and confidently selected his new victim for the meantime: a middle-aged woman, on the other side of the tower, with her purse unclasped. It seemed almost too perfect, which caused Luc to hesitate. But a pickpocket needed also to be confident in his work. So, he took his running start, to make it look like he was that naive, ignorant boy that all adults expected him to be. He ran into the woman and at the same time, with a concise swipe of his hand, took her wallet. He apologized to her, but she just muttered, “Boys.”

It took some time, like it always did, but it was finally announced over the loudspeaker.

“Warning: Pickpockets are active in the tower!” Luc grinned at these words, knowing that his job was done. Now, he needed to find his main target: the old man with the gold pocket watch.

Luc was a little nervous, because he was running out of time, and he was no closer to getting the gold pocket watch than he was when he first discovered it. He closed in on the old man and was finally in a good position. As he passed by the old man, he snatched that gold pocket watch right out of the old man’s pocket, and the old man didn’t even blink an eye! Luc was pleased with his success and was in high spirits while he made his way to the lift. As Luc stood in line for the lift, he looked behind him and saw the old man walking slowly to the lift. Luc willed the line to go faster. The last thing he needed right now was the old man to foil his plan.

After what seemed like an eternity, the lift came back up. As the people in line began to file in, Luc knew that he was saved. But, when it was his turn to step onto the lift, he was met by the hand of the lift operator.

“Sorry, this car’s full. Looks like you’ll have to wait for the next one.”

Now, Luc was truly worried. He knew that he would have to stand with the old man before his task was done. Luc tried to avoid any eye contact with the old man but failed to keep his cool. He could feel beads of sweat on his forehead and felt the cool chill from the metal of the pocket watch on his skin. The pocket watch’s weight seemed to grow the longer he stood next to the old man. He was aware of a faint feeling in the back of his mind, something that he had never felt before while pickpocketing. It was the feeling of wrongdoing. Luc ignored it and wanted just to get off the tower. As the lift came up, Luc felt a sense of dread. He was going to have to share a ride in the lift with the old man.

In the lift, despite his beating heart, nothing happened. The old man took no notice of Luc. As the lift touched the ground and the ticket man wished them a good evening, Luc’s anxiety faded.

Outside of the tower, when Luc was heading out to the boulevard, the old man went in the same direction.

As they were walking, the old man muttered to himself, “What time is it?” He reached into his pocket for the gold pocket watch that wasn’t there. His eyes opened up wide for a moment with shock, and then his eyes filled with tears. He choked, “I lost my watch! I lost my father!”

Luc took one look at the pitiful figure, and that faint feeling that he had felt when he was waiting for the lift returned. This time it was much, much stronger, and he believed it. He saw the grief that he had brought upon the old man, and he no longer wanted the pocket watch. Luc took out the gold pocket watch, drew near the old man, and said, “Monsieur, I believe this belongs to you.”

The old man looked at him for a second, still tearful, and said, “You’re a good soul, remember that.”

the gold pocket watch Samuel Campopiano

Samuel Campopiano, 13
San Ramon, California

the gold pocket watch Alina Ponomarenko

Alina Ponomarenko, 12
Grapevine, Texas

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