A Dip in the Poole
Bill Pronzini

     I was sitting in a large comfortable leather armchair in the lobby of the Hotel Poole, leafing through a magazine, when the young woman in the dark weed suit picked Andrew J. Stuyvesant’s pocket.
     She did it very cleverly Stuyvesant--a silver-haired old gentleman who carries a walking stick and is worth fifteen or twenty million dollars-had just stepped out of one of the elevators in front of me.
     The young woman appeared from the direction of the marble staircase. Walking rapidly, and pretending to be absorbed in thought, she bumped into him. She then appeared embarrassed and apologized. Stuyvesant bowed in a gallant way, saying, “Why that’s perfectly all right.”
     I could see that she got his wallet and the diamond stickpin from his tie. Stuyvesant neither felt nor suspected a thing.
     The young woman apologized again and then hurried off across the thick carpeting toward the main entrance at the end of the room. As she moved, she skillfully slipped the items into a tan suede bag she carried over one arm.
     Immediately, I popped out of my chair and moved quickly after her. She managed to get within a few steps of the glass doors before I caught up with her.
     I let my hand fall on her arm. “Excuse me just a moment,” I said, smiling.
     She stiffened, becoming completely still. Then she turned and regarded me icily. “I beg your pardon,” she said in a frosty voice.
     “You and I had best have a little chat.”
     “I am not in the habit of chatting with men I don’t know.”
     “I think you’ll make an exception in my case,” I said.
     Her brown eyes flashed angrily as she said, “I suggest you let go of my arm. If you don’t, I shall call the manager.”
     I shrugged lightly. “There’s no need for that.”
     “I certainly hope not.”
     “Simply because he would only call for me.”
     “I’m the chief of security at the Hotel Poole, you see,” I told her. “I’m what once was referred to as the house detective.”
     She grew pale, and the light dimmed in her eyes. “Oh,” she said softly.
     At my direction, we moved toward the hotel’s lounge, a short distance on our left. She sat down in one of the leather booths approached, but I shook my head and he retreated.
     I looked at the young woman on the other side of the table. The soft glow from the candle in its center gave her classic features the impression of purity and innocence.
     “Without a doubt,” I said, “You’re the most beautiful dip I’ve ever encountered.”
     “I ….don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.
     “Don’t you?”
     “Certainly not.”
     “A dip is underworld slang for a pickpocket.”
     She pretended to be insulted. “Are you suggesting that I …?”
     “Oh, come on,” I said. “There’s no purpose to be served in continuing this act. I saw you lift Mr. Stuyvesant’s wallet and his diamond stickpin. I was sitting directly across from the elevator, not fifteen feet away.”
     She didn’t say anything. Her fingers drummed over her tan suede bag. After a moment, her eyes lifted to mine, briefly, and then dropped to the bag again. She sighed in a tortured way. “You’re right, of course,” she finally said. “ I stole those things.”
     I reached out, gently took the bag from her and snapped it open. Stuyvesant’s wallet and stickpin rested on top of the various articles inside. I removed them, reclosed the bag and returned it to her.
     She said softly. “I’m not a thief. I want you to know that. Not really, I mean. I have this compulsion--this uncontrollable urge--to steal. I’m powerless to stop myself.”
     “Yes. I’ve been to several doctors, but they’ve been unable to cure my so far.”
     I shook my head in sympathy, “It must be terrible for you.”
     “Terrible,” she agreed. “When my father learns of this, he’ll have me put away in a hospital. He threatened to do that if I ever stole anything again.”
     I said, “Your father doesn’t have to know what happened here today. There was no real harm done, actually. Mr. Stuyvesant will get his wallet and stickpin back. And I see no reason for causing the hotel unnecessary embarrassment through the publicity that will result if I report the incident.”
     Her face brightened hopefully. “Then you’re going to let me go?”
     I took a long breath. “I suppose I’m to soft-hearted for the type of job that I have. Yes, I’m going to let you go. But you must promise me that you’ll never set foot inside of the Hotel Poole again. If I ever see you here, I’ll have to report you to the police.”
     “You won’t!” she assured me earnestly. “I have an appointment with another doctor tomorrow morning. I feel sure I can be helped.”
     I nodded, then turned to stare though the lounge to where the guests were moving back and forth in the lobby. When I turned back again, the street door to the lounge was just closing and the young woman was gone.
      I sat there for a short time, thinking about her. If she was a kleptomaniac, I decided then I was the King of England. What she was, of course, was a professional pickpocket. I could tell that by her technique which was very skillful. She was also an extremely clever liar.
      I smiled to myself and stood up and went out into the lobby again. But instead of resuming my position in the armchair, I made a sharp left and walked casually out of the hotel and on to Powell Street.
     As I made my way through the afternoon crowds, my right hand rested lightly on the fat leather wallet and the diamond stickpin in my coat pocket. I found myself feeling a little sorry for the woman. But just a little.
     Because Andrew J. Stuyvesant had been my mark from the moment I first saw him entering the Hotel Poole that morning I had waited three hours for him to come into the lobby. And I was just seconds away from bumping into him myself, when she came out of nowhere and grabbed his wallet and stickpin. So I figured I really had a right to them, after all.