by David Sturm
I'd never laid eyes on her before that night in the Mustek Metro station. She swept by like she owned the joint, shoes absurdly big and dress absurdly small. The scent of Shalimar and men with suddenly reckless eyeballs were left in her wake. She looked like trouble on two legs. Trouble is my business. I'm Zdenek, or Z-man as my friends call me, and I pound the 4-P beat. That's Prague Police Pickpocket Patrol.
I flicked my Petra butt away and followed her. I just had a hunch and it was, after all, the scenic route. What was going on inside that tight dress looked like two dachsunds in a sack. Her hair was short, half blue and half red. If you added a streak of white I would have saluted. Her figure was stately, even graceful, but it aroused thoughts that were far from any state of grace.
At first I thought she was headed for Krone, but she stopped and leaned against the wall. She took out a compact out of a tiny bag she had slung over her shoulder, snapped it open and began examining her lipstick. I took a post next to a pillar and took a copy of Mlada Fronta out of my trenchcoat pocket. I opened it and pretended to be fascinated by the TV Nova listings.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the two men approach her, coming down the stairs from Vodickova. They weren't hard to spot, even in a crowded Metro station late at night. One was big, fat and hairy wearing a purple suit over a loud shirt opened almost to his waist. He looked like one of those cab drivers on Vaclavske Namesti that troll for German tourists and hit you for 100 Kc from the moment you plant your butt on their zebra-striped upholstery. The other was skinny, pink and completely bald. He looked like a parek in a black leather jacket. It was the little guy that worried me. I noticed a bulge at his armpit under the leather jacket. He had eyes as cold as a Christmas carp. I pegged them both as grifters. I had seen plenty of their type sent to Pankrac.
The three moved off together and joined the current of people headed past the ticket machines toward the escalators leading down to the A-line trains. I stayed as close as I could without being too obvious. At the bottom of the escalators we all ran into a team of ticket inspectors. The two men and the woman each whipped out a three-month pass and waved it. So -- They weren't exactly newcomers to Prague! Then it was my turn and I flashed my badge. The inspector only laughed.
"Ne, ne. Jizdenky," he snarled.
"But I'm a cop on duty. I don't need a ticket," I said.
"Everyone needs a ticket," he said. He whipped out his pad and started writing me a citation. "That'll be 200 crowns," he said.
I was desperately trying to keep the trio in sight. They had walked down the central platform and then ducked inside the pillars on the Dejvice-bound side. I prayed I could catch up to them before the train came up. I quickly paid the inspector his 200 crowns and grabbed the citation, which I balled up and threw on the floor.
I ran down the platform and ducked between the pillars. There she was. The two mugs were nowhere in sight. It was almost midnight, time for the last train of the night. Was she trying to pull off some final bit of dirty business before heading home? Perhaps a quick dip in the pocket of a pair of khaki Dockers, the kind that practically scream "I'm an American!" in Prague.
I saw her approach a middle-aged couple. He had a Nikon around his neck and she was carrying a Tesco bag and they were holding a map upside down. Uh oh. I began walking quickly toward them, taking in a breath to shout "Pozor!" The girl must have sensed me because she turned and looked at me and signaled with a quick jerk of her head. I spotted the ambush too late. The big hairy guy came up behind me and got me in a bear hug. Then the skinny guy came up in front with a menacing grin. He reached into his leather jacket. But instead of a gun he was holding a three-quarter liter bottle of Becherovka. He raised it high and brought it down viciously on my head. "Dobra noc," he sneered.
Suddenly it was all flashing lights and spinning people, like the dance floor at Klub X. I heard the howl of an approaching train. Then all went dark.
I came to dreaming of soft rain falling on lovers strolling down Petrin Hill on May Day. I opened my eyes and there was a babicka peering at me. She was cleaning up and was sprinkling water from her mop on my face.
I groaned and stood up, checking myself for injuries. That's when I noticed my wallet was gone.