Hannah Benning, the heroine in HANNAH’S VOW, was the daughter of a master thief and confidence man–and in her youth, a student of his trade–so of course, I had to show her in action at some point throughout the book. I located the help of the most famous detective at the time, Allan Pinkerton, who’d written a book chronicling his thirty years of experience dealing with the criminals who kept his agency thriving throughout his remarkable career.
THE PICKPOCKET – One scenario describes a ‘mob’ of four men who would target victims as they entered, then left a bank. One ‘stall’ would watch the bank patron to ensure he withdrew a wad of cash, and seeing that he’d placed the cash in the inside pocket of the right side of his coat, follow him outside. His accomplices bided their time until the unsuspecting target entered a busy thoroughfare, a side street, or a narrow hallway of a building. Two of the stalls would move in front of the victim, a third (the ‘hook’) slightly ahead, then signal with a cough when the time had arrived. The first two would suddenly halt, forcing the victim to do the same. The hook, with a coat over one arm to conceal his hand, would delve into the bulging pocket and quickly lift the cash, while the fourth stall jostled him on the *left* side to distract him. The first two men show no interest in the heist and merely resume their walk, and by the time things settle down, the victim is unaware he’d been robbed.
THE MOLL-BUZZER – This is a thief who steals a lady’s pocketbook. Thieves of this type owe their success to wearing a loose sack-coat in which the pocket had been cut open. Since the coat’s lining hangs free at the bottom, he is able to slip his hand completely through. In addition, he always keeps a handkerchief in the pocket. His target is the lady seated in a streetcar, always crowded and jostling. From outward appearances, he sits (or stands) with his hand in his pocket, yet he manages to pull up her overskirt enough to reach her pocketbook, then catching hold of the bag, draw it up his own pocket then step away. If she feels the movement of his hand against her person, he merely pulls out the handkerchief and makes a show of wiping his face, and no one is the wiser.
WEEDING A LEATHER – For the most expert of thieves, this entails dipping two fingers into the lady’s pocket and opening her pocketbook, hooking one finger and clearing out its contents without even removing the thing. Imagine the speed and dexterity you’d need to do that!
I’ve managed to infuse several more examples throughout HANNAH’S VOW. Let’s read one below:
Set-up: After her father’s death, Hannah flees to a monastery to escape her sins and seek the peace she craves. But a late night visit to a nearby penitentiary goes horribly wrong, and she’s kidnapped by one of the prisoners,the hero, wrongly accused Quinn Landry. Worse, he’s deathly ill, and she must save both him and herself. To do that, she must call upon old skills, the very ones she’s vowed never to use again, to survive.
A sturdy lock kept her from the contents. She returned to the rig and searched for the key, her fingers skimming over the floor, up the sides, under the seat.
But, of course, she didn’t find one. Fenwick wasn’t that stupid.
She sat cross-legged on the ground, the box in front of her. It was made of tempered steel, too solid to jimmy apart without the proper tools. She studied the lock and recognized its make. A set of bar-keys wouldn’t work, even if she had them.
But a widdy would.
The knowledge came rushing back in a torrent too powerful to stop, memories of skills she’d learned under her father’s watchful eye, tricks she’d vowed never to use again.
But tonight, she had to. To survive.
Hannah returned to the carriage again, retrieved Fenwick’s umbrella, and opened it. She bent one of the wires, wiggled it back and forth until the metal snapped, then tossed the umbrella aside.
She sat on the ground again and fashioned a loop on one end of the wire. All she needed next was a length of fine cord.
The cord stringing her rosary beads would complete the widdy, but to destroy something so sacred to burglarize another man’s belongings . . ..
Mother Superior would be mortified.
But Hannah assured herself that if the abbess were cold and hungry and holed up in the middle of New Mexico Territory with an accused murderer, she’d do the same thing. Surely, this was all part of the test? Finding a way to survive?
Hannah removed the rosary from her waist and broke the cord; the beads slid off into a pile in the grass. She formed a tight knot on the unlooped end of the wire. At last, the widdy was finished.
And it was perfect.
Keenly aware of the deepening cold and rapidly fading light, Hannah slid the knotted end into the lock’s mortise. Closing her eyes, she worked the tool, allowed a portion of the cord inside. She felt her way and knew just when to pull the cord taut.
The lock snapped open.
She flipped the box lid up and gazed in wonder at the contents inside: a scattering of gold coins and bills; a miniature bottle of whiskey; a pearl handled derringer; laudanum; a pocket-knife, cheroots; and a box of matches.
Only then did Hannah remember it was Christmas night.
And Fenwick couldn’t have given them finer gifts.
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Now I’m curious. Have you ever been robbed before? Wronged by some smooth-talking con man? Taken in by some scam?
I hope not! But if you have, we’d love to hear about it!