Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Pickpocket in Paris, Sherry Isaac

Abby’s nimble feet darted back and forth across the gritty Parisian sidewalk, a well-cultivated anxiousness painted across her delicate features. “Parlez-vous anglais?” she pleaded again. “Please, anyone! Does anyone speak English?”
“Mademoiselle?” A smooth voice rose up behind her. “May I help?”
Abby turned to see a suited gentleman, his head tilted inquiringly at her. She sized him up with a practised eye. Mid-thirties, custom tailored, crisp shirt, silk tie, Italian leather shoes. She shifted her focus to his hands. She swore by the hands, always the hands. Any man could buy a sharp suit, any woman a designer dress or a reasonable knock-off. Unlike her peers, Abby hadn’t wasted time learning labels. She took in his hands. What she saw impressed her: manicured nails, with a clear coat of polish. Hands that counted money – and lots of it.
She hesitated only a second, as if wary, then locked eyes with her prey.
“Yes, please,” she answered. Leaning closer, she entrusted him, showed him the slip of paper, the address she was looking for. A tourist map of Paris was twisted into ruins in her other hand. It didn’t matter; she had dozens of them back in her room.
“It’s supposed to be here,” Abby insisted. A small pout of worry emerged on her pink lips. Men were easier. She bounced a little, like a five-year-old not getting her way. “I have an appointment. Please! I can’t afford to be late. They’ll kill me if I’m late!” No one had ever asked Abby who “they” were.
“Calm yourself, my dear girl. Let me have a look.” Her mark stepped in closer, as she unfolded the tattered remains of the city map. “I’ve never heard of this address,” he shrugged.
It would have been quite a surprise if he had. Abby had given him the address of her public school in a northern suburb of Toronto. She was smart enough not to use her old street address. For one, her parents still lived there - as far as she knew. For another, no sense giving away such an obvious clue if she were ever caught.
“Here, let me,” Abby said, taking hold of Monsieur’s paper coffee cup to free up his left hand. He smiled at her, and then averted his eyes, his concentration focused back on the map. She knew she looked young, and suspected that this mark might have morals. Not all of them did. Her slim figure, almond eyes and high cheekbones drew men in, while her pert nose dusted with soft freckles kept them at bay. It worked well. They could linger with her, stand close while puzzling over her map, without ever doing anything improper. Little did they ever suspect that at twenty-two, Abby had passed the age of consent years ago.
She let her chin rest on his shoulder – subtle flirting never hurt – but more than that, the clean fresh scent of aftershave gave nearly as good a clue as a pair of smooth, uncalloused hands.
He peered at the map. “Oh, yes, here. Right here.” He took on an authoritative, yet friendly tone – so much better to impress her with than a simple, albeit honest “Je ne connais pas.” “It’s just up this way,” he said. “I’m going there myself. I could walk you. Buy you an espresso, perhaps? Me, I could use a fresh one,” he said, taking back his cup, and her opportunity with it. But she was no stranger to compromise.
Abby lowered her eyes. “I’m afraid I don’t have time, but if you’ll see me to the right corner?”
“Of course!”
Abby fell into step beside him. She cast him a sideways glance from under thick lashes. He smiled, displaying beautiful, even teeth. At the corner, he saw her off. “This way,” he pointed without the slightest hint of apprehension, as if he misled pretty young girls everyday.
She turned to leave, then swivelled back on her heel. She laid her hand on his arm. “About that coffee?”
His eyes lit up. “Oui?”
She let her fingers caress his forearm. “What if we made it a drink? Later? A glass of wine? There’s a bar at my hotel…” She let the suggestion fall. He picked it up in a heartbeat, even after betraying her to the city, a ginger waif who’d lost her way.
He smiled and leaned in closer. Perfect. She swayed to the right; let her breast brush his arm. After agreeing on the time and place, Abby’s fingers traced their way down his left arm, lingered at his wrist. “Bye,” she whispered.
She turned and made her way through the morning crowd of pedestrians. A few metres later, she ducked into a doorway and peered after him. Sure enough, he had looked back. She grimaced with regret. He was handsome. And he smelled so good. Still, she had people to rob, wallets to lift. She checked the time on the gold watch that had slid so easily from his wrist to her own. Rolex. Some labels were worth knowing.
When the morning crowd had thinned, Abby rewarded herself with a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant, and settled at a small, shaded table at the corner of the patio to make her calculations. Not bad for a morning’s work. She paused mid-tally as a new wave of nausea washed over her. She’d applied hand sanitizer from the tiny plastic bottle in her purse, washed her hands three times in the restroom before ordering her coffee, but still she couldn’t wash away the image of the greasy, heaving banker. At least, that was what he’d pretended to be.
She knew right away that he thought she was a hooker, but played along when she caught a glint of sun reflecting off his signet ring. Shivering in revulsion at his sweaty palm, she allowed him to take her hand and press it to his cracked lips so she could appraise the stone. A fake. She regretted the move. The Hope Diamond wouldn’t have been worth getting close to that repulsive blob of perspiration. He set his free hand on her hip and all but drooled into the narrow crevice between her breasts. Beady eyes bulged out of his red face, and Abby quickly took flight, tripping over the curb in her haste. She’d heard him take a few stumbling steps in feeble pursuit before giving up, presumably to have a heart attack.
On another street, another corner, restored by caffeine, sugar and another application of sanitizer, Abby prowled again. It was half-past eleven when she braced herself for the lunch hour traffic. Like bees buzzing from flower to flower in search of nectar, they criss-crossed over the courtyard.
In a split second a look of desperation supplanted Abby’s calm confidence as she worked the crowd. She had other ploys in her bag of tricks, and usually switched gears from mark to mark, but today, she was stuck on the map. “Please, please, can anyone help me?”
Abby spun around, and smack into a solid chest. She looked up and swallowed hard. The man was more than good looking; he was beautiful, a work of art chiselled from stone. Abby stared, open-mouthed, into stormy dark eyes that fell to the wrinkled map of Paris clutched in her grip.
“You’re lost,” he said, his voice as smooth and warm as honey. The words dripped slowly off his tempting pink tongue.
Abby nodded. She was accustomed to improvising, but she’d never encountered a Roman god before. She pointed to the buildings along the street then turned towards the clock tower, to signify the urgency of her request.
A quick mental slap upside the head, and Abby regained her composure. She took a quick inventory: Clean-cut, twenty-five, maybe thirty, casually dressed in tan chinos, jean jacket, and a black-buttoned shirt open at the neck, exposing sun-browned skin and a mass of curly hair, sandals, no socks. If not husband material, he’d certainly do for a romping good roll in the hay. Perhaps several. Perhaps a lifetime’s worth. No jewellery, no watch, although he might have had a credit card or two in his wallet. It didn’t matter. There were some things money couldn’t buy. She had a knack for getting what she wanted. The poor guy had no idea what he was up against.
Abby bit her lip, considering her next move. When in doubt, there was always body language. In the past two years she’d spent in Europe, her lack of fluency in the mother tongue had never been a barrier. She was a seasoned pro. The fact that this male hunk of perfection left her tongue-tied was a mere technicality. She blushed, set her hand against his chest, and moved in closer. She stopped short of nuzzling in the depths of his muscled chest, resisted the urge to feel his rippled abs tickle her fingertips through the thin fabric. She lifted her eyes and her chest. Before she could speak, the stranger took her hand, held her fingertips between his warm, sturdy palms and looked into her eyes. Abby melted. Images from the covers of countless paperback romance novels danced in her mind. Soon the seams of her flimsy cotton dress would betray her heaving bosom.
He squeezed her hand. To Abby, it felt like an innocent gesture, fatherly even. Her heart fell. He wasn’t trying to seduce her. He held her hand in his left, and lifted her chin with his right. His look was steady. “I know how you feel. I’m new here myself.” He dropped his hands to his sides. “What’s your name?”
“Abby.” A slip. She’d used so many others, her own name felt foreign on her tongue.
“I’d like to get to know you better, Abby.” His eyes fell to the slender curves of her body. “Would you come sit with me?”
Abby perked up and smiled her agreement. This was a pick-up after all.
Abby felt the palm of his hand resting on the small of her back as they walked to a bench nearby. Her hips swayed with each step, coaxing his hand to dip ever so slightly toward the curve of her bottom.
They sat together in the quiet of the park, the view of the bustling city street before them. A sensation of coolness flitted across her back where his hand had been. He had a gentle touch. She quivered at the thought of his touch in other places. For Abby, the hunt had always been more about the chase than the catch, and like a cat with a mouse, she wanted to draw out this tantalizing game as long as possible.
Her stranger stretched out his hand, carefully lifting the strap of her bag from her shoulder. When he moved to set the bag beside him, Abby leapt forward and pulled it back. He lifted his brow.
“It’s heavy, that’s all. I’ll just leave it here,” she explained, and set it at her feet. Abby hoped she hadn’t roused his suspicion, but there was a small fortune in stolen trinkets secreted in the lining. She couldn’t risk a petty purse-snatcher lifting it while they sat canoodling on the bench.
His smile was broad. “You know, greed is a sin.” He leaned forward. His breath smelled of cherries. His hand disappeared into his pocket. Effortlessly, he pulled out a shining red apple. He lowered his voice. “There are many sins, Abby.”
Sin? Abby thought. Oh, yes, please. Right here on the grass, if you wouldn’t mind. Instead, she said, “I believe it was Eve who did the tempting,” and she took the apple from him, sinking her teeth into the tender white flesh.
“You’ve read the Bible?”
“Sunday school every week,” Abby smiled, and took another bite. She wanted to take a bite out of him.
His fingers trailed though her long loose curls as he leaned in closer. While Abby concentrated on the sensuous curve of his lips, he deftly produced a colourful pamphlet. “Tell me, Abby,” he purred in his smoky, honeyed voice, “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour?”


Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

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