For Fandango’s Story Starter #14, where we build something around the following phrase:

I heard the music as I entered the room, but all that was there…

In the pitch dark, I hold my pocket torch between my teeth. It is better that way, as my hands remain free. I close my mouth slightly and the torch responds to the extra pressure. It casts only a dim hint of a glow from a tiny bulb, the size of a pinhead. That is exactly what I want, though. In my line of work, it doesn’t pay to attract unwanted scrutiny. And besides, it is enough to make out the vast array of coats enveloping me, and importantly, the light switch, plus a fire alarm, on the wall.

I reach carefully toward the switch, as stealthily as I can manage. Any commotion will not help me at all, right now. I give a sharp tap.

The Belmont. It has always been a good hotel, but when the last bunch took over, they gutted the place. A kind-of fake art deco. It looks like something straight out of the Twenties, but everything appeared miraculously during the refit. I don’t come here too often, although as it happens, my last visit was only last week. It pays to do some reconnaissance.

One last check. Straighten my tie – it never fails to amaze me, how suits deflect suspicion – and I’m in. And this seems to be a typical Saturday night. The foyer, with its mirrored ceiling, is bustling and I see no fewer than three wedding receptions here tonight. I should do well.

I wear a neutral suit. Deliberately, it looks tired. I’ve made a living of appearing “ordinary”. Blending in, not standing out from the crowd, and I take a seat, just as a regular visitor might. Now, it is a question of waiting and recognising opportunity when it arrives. And I’m not objecting – this is a comfortable place to sit in the meantime. I can’t resist looking upwards at the mirrors. Not bad. That cheeky smile. This place does not do my thinning head any favours, but I’ve still got it, I think. Irresistable.

“Can I help you, sir?” Nosey fucker. An over-eager receptionist spots me. Do I look like I’m lost?

“No, thanks. I’m just waiting for a colleague.” A glance at my wristwatch. “I arrived a little early. They’ll be along in a minute, I’m sure. I’ll just wait here.” A half-hearted challenge, easily parried. Piss off back behind your desk and leave me to get on with my work.

Like clockwork, it happens. The hotels – even posh ones like the Belmont – are all bloody cheapskates at heart. They never hire enough staff, so eventually, the attendant is summoned away to help serve. And this is the riskiest part of my plan. But now’s my chance. This thick blue carpet makes it easier. I will move silently on this, at least. No chance of a sudden sound giving me away. Slowly, carefully, I bide my time. A bang outside. This is it. With people’s attention elsewhere, I slip into the blackness of the cloakroom. Hopefully, nobody noticed. So far, so good. The true test is to stay here, silent, undiscovered, for the next ten or fifteen minutes. This will also ensure that anybody passing through the lobby has well and truly gone on their way. But while I’m here… it seems almost negligent not to check some of these coats!

There’s not much here though. People seemed to have learned not to leave valuables in coat pockets, so my pay day will have to wait. I become patience personified, standing still, silent in the darkness, until the moment arrives.

The fire alarm takes them by surprise. It always does, wherever I have worked this scam. But be honest: would you sooner be enjoying yourself at a warm, cosy party? Or shivering, standing out in a cold, damp car park? Just a few moments now – on the other side of this door, they will be heading for the fire exits. I can hear them. When those people subside, then I make my move.

Okay, it’s quiet now. Time for business. I’ll have just a couple of minutes, while the staff are trying to discover the source, before the punters start drifting back, so I’ll have to move quickly. I creep silently out of the cloakroom – I’m initially dazed by the glare once again, however my eyes quickly recover to reveal the now-empty foyer. I make straight for the largest ballroom. The more people, the richer the pickings, right?

I hear the music as I enter the room, but all that is there is the unmanned disco, its lights still mapping their celestial trajectories onto the ceiling. Straight away, I spot my first target – somebody’s jacket, resting lazily on the back of a chair. This is where I come into my own. Though I say it myself, I’m pretty good at this. You don’t stay in this game as long as I have if you’re not. The wallet is obvious, in the inside pocket. In a second, it is in my hand. Nice. Gucci. Plus a gold Amex card – oh, yes, very well-to-do. I’m not looking for cards, though. A card has a data trail, and in any case will be cancelled and useless within an hour. But that cash is welcome. And, untraceable. Not a bad start. A decent wad, but I can do better. I replace the empty wallet into the pocket. That was an early lesson – if I don’t make it obvious that anything has been taken, then I will have maybe twenty or thirty minutes before anybody notices anything is missing. By that time, I’ll be on the other side of town. In four seconds, it is done, and I quickly scan for my next jackpot.

The guests will be returning in a few minutes. I need to work quickly.


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