by DC Diamondopolous
Today, Aloysius O’Leary picked the wrong pocket. From the tippy-top of the Ferris wheel at the St. Louis World’s Fair, he watched blue-coated coppers weave around fairgoers at the crossroads of Skinker and Ceylon.
With over fifteen-hundred structures and tens of thousands of people, he thought they’d never nab him or his accomplice. No problems all week, but if separated, they’d meet at the Ferris wheel.
Not only could Gertrude pick pockets, but she could steal pearls from a woman’s neck and stickpins from a man’s tie. She was also a wisenheimer—selfish, plain-looking, too tall—but gosh dang it, he was falling for the dame.
His mishap had occurred on the Pike. The man in a frock coat and silk hat looked like he ate diamonds and shat twenty-four-karat gold nuggets. An easy mark, he must have been important. Who else strolled the Pike with an entourage of fart catchers? Aloysius slipped in among them.
Hordes of people meandered along the midway. A barker shouted, “Step right up! See the hoochie-coochie dancers!” They passed the Apache exhibit, where Geronimo was signing photographs. Down the middle of the lane, acrobats in yellow and red leotards tumbled and somersaulted. An elephant lifted her trunk and trumpeted, astonishing spectators. A brown-skinned man, bedecked in jeweled beads and shiny bracelets, rode a camel decked with multicolored tassels. The smell of roasted hotdogs added to the jubilee.
Calculating the ideal moment, Aloysius dipped his nimble fingers into the rich man’s back pocket.
“Thief!” someone yelled.
Aloysius skedaddled across the Pike. He barreled past the Grand Basin and the exhibits of Electricity and Machinery. Across from the Boiler House, he paid fifty cents and rode the Observation Wheel.
Mesmerized by the grandeur of the fair, none of the sixty people in the wooden car paid any mind to Aloysius. He removed his straw hat, deftly peeled off his black wig and mustache, stuffed the fake hair into the pocket of his reversible jacket (which he turned inside out), and slid into a light-gray coat.
The ride stopped. The gate opened. He spotted Gertrude.
She had the nerve to be eating the popular sensation—a hamburger—not in a restaurant, like a civilized woman, but out in the open, dawdling and chewing like a horse.
“Lotsa coppers for a pickpocket,” Gertrude said, licking her fingers. “I want to see those naked dusky Igorots everyone’s in a dither about.” She sauntered toward the Philippine exhibit.
Aloysius wanted to wring her skinny neck but got distracted by how her fanny swayed under her long green skirt.
She turned and batted her eyelashes. “Coming?”
He yearned to toss up her petticoats and run his fingers down her long shapely drumsticks.
Annoyed and smitten, he followed her.
They passed the exhibit of Mbuti pygmies from Africa and the Acoma Indian encampment.
They continued along the Laguna de Bay, beyond the Walled City to the Luzon Village and into the Philippine Exhibit. Aloysius and Gertrude stared goggle-eyed at Igorot men in skimpy loin cloths, who pounded drums and danced in circles while other Igorots cooked the carcass of a dog over a pit.
“My God, they’re savages!” Gertrude scoffed, then stomped off.
Catching up to her, Aloysius said, “That’s why everyone wants to see them. Let’s pick here tomorrow.” It was then that he saw a group of coppers.
“Officers!” Gertrude called out.
What the hell was she doing!
Two coppers stopped.
“What’s the brouhaha about?” she asked them.
Aloysius turned his back to them, and listened.
“Been a kidnapping,” a copper said. “Four-year-old. Tan sweater. Name’s Jimmy.” Hearing this, Aloysius and Gertrude quickly left.
“Kidnapping’s worse than pickpocketing,” Aloysius said, relieved by this thought.
“Of course, bonehead. I knew that many cops couldn’t be after you.”
“Bonehead? You’re the one who sashayed up to the cops with a load of stolen loot in your bag.” To his surprise and delight, Gertrude took his arm.
Strolling past the Galveston Flood Exhibit, they arrived at the Pike. With the threat of capture gone, Aloysius relaxed.
They headed to the Temple of Mirth, a funhouse of mirrors with a three-story circular slide. As they entered it underneath the huge gaping clown-face, Gertrude let go of Aloysius’s arm.
Up ahead, a child wailed, struggling to get away from his father.
“Spoiled brat,” Aloysius huffed.
“Look.” Gertrude pointed. “Tan sweater.”
They followed the man. He pulled the howling child past the Creation concession and zigzagged through the mob, Aloysius and Gertrude on his tail.
“Jimmy!” Gertrude shouted.
The boy turned.
Aloysius charged forward, dragged the kidnapper backwards by his collar, turned him around, and socked him in the kisser. Gertrude grabbed the boy. “Get the cops,” she yelled. “He’s the kidnapper.”
People gathered around.
In seconds, several blue-coats appeared.
“Get Mr. Collins,” a copper shouted. “He’s by the nickelodeon.”
“On my way,” another cop bellowed.
An officer slapped handcuffs on the scoundrel and yanked him to his feet. “Thought you could kidnap the commissioner’s boy?”
“I’m innocent,” the ruffian moaned.
“Tell it to the judge,” the copper said and hauled him off.
Coppers returned with—the diamond eater! Aloysius’ jaw dropped. The other man with them he recognized from the newspapers. It was David Roland Francis, the exposition’s president.
Blue-coats surrounded them.
“How do I thank you?” Mr. Collins cried, taking Jimmy in his arms.
Everyone introduced themselves.
Mr. Francis shook Aloysius’s hand and tipped his hat at Gertrude.
“We have two heroes here today.”
A hush fell over the bystanders.
Mr. Francis continued, “These fine people rescued Jimmy from an evil man.”
People clapped and whooped.
“Your noble act calls for an award of twenty-five dollars plus two free passes, which will be good until the fair closes.”
The crowd oohed, and yelled “Hip, hip, hooray!”
Twenty-five smackers. It was the first honest money Aloysius had earned. His chest swelled with pride. It felt better than his biggest heist. He beamed at Gertrude, who took his hand.
“Now, everyone,” Mr. Francis said with outstretched arms, “enjoy yourselves at the world’s greatest fair!”
Image by Ashley Fontana via Pexels