When you've worked for the FBI, you come to accept that people sometimes expect you to possess powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Sometimes I expected it myself, at least in hindsight. But among friends I've heard, more than once, "I still can't believe you were an FBI Agent." Well, that makes two of us.
Part of the problem stems from being, at my core, naturally trusting of others while doubting my own skills. The trusting part might come as a shock to some that know me but it's true and probably genetic. My father, who prided himself on his business sense, was nonetheless the most easily cheated person I've ever known. Most of the cars he ever bought, mainly from people he knew, were astonishing lemons yet I never heard him express hostility toward any of the sellers. It never even occurred to him that he might have been had. My mother was even more naive. I think they both had the attitude that everybody thought and acted as they did. They wouldn't think of taking advantage of anyone, least of all someone they knew, and neither would anyone else. I've learned otherwise, the hard way, but it hasn't caused the complete suppression of my natural inclinations and there have been occasional lapses of vigilance. I mention all this as a means of defending myself, in my own mind at least, for being robbed by a couple of goddamned street thieves in Barcelona.
The clouds rolled in and the rain started in Bordeaux sometime in early December. Having grown up in Western Pennsylvania, there was a time when I was used to gloom. When I lived in the southwest, the absence of almost perpetual overcast was actually unnerving. Cynthia, however, requires more frequent sunlight and began planning a trip to Barcelona sometime around Christmas. By mid-January, I was sick of rain myself and looked forward to a little Spanish sunshine.
Being away from my job for 8 years and living in low crime France might have relaxed me a bit but Spain is another issue. It didn't take long to discover websites like robbedinbarcelona.com (and it's related Facebook page) or the loads of blogs with posts like "Seems everyone knows someone who's been robbed in Barcelona." So having done my homework, I felt pretty confident we wouldn't end up like all the other rubes.
Pickpockets aren't a big problem in the United States for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that most American thieves are too fucking lazy to put in the necessary training time. Why should they when sticking a gun in your face is so much simpler? So every time we went to Europe and Cynthia started worrying about them, I usually ended up saying something like, "Look, how many times do I have to tell you, it's misdirection. They can't just magically get their hand undetected into your pocket and take shit. They have to make contact, or cause some kind of distraction or jostle you in a crowd." Or, in other words, do exactly what they did.
I probably should point out that Barcelona, despite its reputation for thievery, is a beautiful, friendly city. We visited during the Saint Eulalia Festival, a time of parades and celebrations that, if I weren't so busy bitching about sneak-thieves, would probably make for a wonderful travelogue. Maybe Cynthia will do one after her post on Barcelona architecture. Now, to get back to the mother-fuckers that took our phone.
Everything was hunky-dory for five days. We hadn't strayed far beyond the main tourist areas and my guard was up. On Friday, however, we ventured to one of the far corners of town to visit the famous Monastery of Pedralbes. Like all the other "famous" places we'd been to that week, I'd never heard of this one either. Anyway, it could have been that the effects of seven centuries of piety had lulled me into a stupor but afterward, as we walked through the nearly deserted park of the Palau Real de Pedralbes, my thoughts centered mainly around where we could wash the ancient monk dust from our throats. But Cynthia wanted to take as many pictures as she could before "losing the light" so we absently wandered around.
We lazed underneath a canopy of trees containing raucous parrots that Cyn had been trying to photograph when she felt something wet and slimy drop onto the side of her face. She wiped off a greenish glob of apparent bird shit and began cursing as we looked for something to clean with. Just then a man and woman we hadn't noticed walked up and excitedly pointed out that not only had the birds hit her face but that both of our backs and legs were covered with the green goo. We found a package of tissues and started to clean up but they helpfully offered some baby wipes and guided us to a nearby, and more isolated, fountain where it would be easier for us get straightened out.
Afterward, when we realized that Cyn's phone was gone from her front pocket, and 40 euros was gone from mine, it finally dawned on me what had happened. This despite the fact that, while the whole thing was going on, I thought it strange that I'd never seen green bird shit that smelled like mustard and how coincidental it was that these two carried baby wipes with them.
Later, at the police station, they tried to make me feel better by explaining that, after all, this is how these people make their living, but it was no use. I hadn't put two and two together until it was staring me in the face. I'd spent my whole career trying not to be Inspector Clouseau only to be unmasked by a couple of Barcelona gypsies. I guess Cato-I mean Cynthia and I are going to have to step up our training.