From the New Yorker:
A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for
magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a
soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a
pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks
pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz
totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked
Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred,
claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians.
He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a
sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.
“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”
Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed
Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and
trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered.
Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen
from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment,
he froze and looked up. His face was pale.
“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.
Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.
who is thirty-eight and lives in Las Vegas, is a peculiar variety-arts
hybrid, known in the trade as a theatrical pickpocket. Among his peers,
he is widely considered the best in the world at what he does, which is
taking things from people’s jackets, pants, purses, wrists, fingers, and
necks, then returning them in amusing and mind-boggling ways. Robbins
works smoothly and invisibly, with a diffident charm that belies his
talent for larceny. One senses that he would prosper on the other side
of the law. “You have to ask yourself one question,” he often says as he
holds up a wallet or a watch that he has just swiped. “Am I being paid
enough to give it back?”
In more than a decade as a full-time
entertainer, Robbins has taken (and returned) a lot of stuff, including
items from well-known figures in the worlds of entertainment (Jennifer
Garner, actress: engagement ring); sports (Charles Barkley, former
N.B.A. star: wad of cash); and business (Ace Greenberg, former chairman
of Bear Stearns: Patek Philippe watch). He is probably best known for an
encounter with Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service detail in 2001. While
Carter was at dinner, Robbins struck up a conversation with several of
his Secret Service men. Within a few minutes, he had emptied the agents’
pockets of pretty much everything but their guns. Robbins brandished a
copy of Carter’s itinerary, and when an agent snatched it back he said,
“You don’t have the authorization to see that!” When the agent felt for
his badge, Robbins produced it and handed it back. Then he turned to the
head of the detail and handed him his watch, his badge, and the keys to
the Carter motorcade.