The Safe Cracker by
Austin Edwin Brown ll
My son got a few bucks ahead and drove from the ranch to San Antonio to buy a gun safe. He went to a highly respected safe company on Broadway. It was a company that sold everything from keys to bank vaults. He picked out a large gun vault in which to also keep his growing collection of spurs, loose change, deeds, insurance policies, ammunition, arrowheads, and, oh, yes, long and short guns. He chose a very nice vault that measured 6’ X 4’ and was heavy. In a few days, a truck with a lift gate arrived at the ranch and my son unlocked the gate and led the delivery to his house. Upon arrival, two strapping young guys proceeded to unload and place the safe in the desired location. They were very proficient and, with some tugging and twisting persuasion, the safe was in place.
Over the next week, as my son began to use his new purchase, he started having trouble with the combination dial, which finally failed completely. The vault, containing the proficient firearms necessary in eliminating wild hogs and other varmints of prey, was permanently locked (to him). A quick call to the safe company started a chain reaction of interesting events. First off, the company was very apologetic for the inconvenience. Secondly, they entered a repair order. Thirdly, they announced that an expert would arrive the next day to correct the problem, that he shouldn’t worry because the technician was fully bonded and we could call him “Key”!
Not knowing what to expect, we were surprised when the professional vault technician arrived. His mode of conveyance was a “1980-something” Suburban with a replaced door and many racing stickers on the windows and in other visible places. The human that emerged was 5’4” tall, middle aged, and was wearing tennis shoes and a rock band t-shirt over bluejeans. Let’s see - now why was he here? To overhaul a motor? Fix a fender? Oil change? Certainly not! This man was a safe cracker! Yep, truth. Naturally, we began to interact with said tech to vet him and possibly discover his aptitude for such an august calling! After he answered some basic questions, he asked to see the offending object. At that moment, we decided, “What the heck? He IS bonded!”, and led him in.
Upon approaching the disabled vault, he sized it up and said his boss had told him of the complaint. Then he asked if we would divulge the combination or should he just proceed to open it unaided? What? Unaided? Well….then….”Sir, do your thing!“ my son replied “because the combination doesn’t work anyway” ….and Key did. Without any additional accoutrements, he just started to carefully feel and turn the combination dial back and forth. Voila, he cranked the wheel and opened the door! (Are you kidding me? I’ve seen that done on the silver screen but this is real life!) Key proceeded to remove the backing from the safe door to reveal the mysterious mechanism which only lock-n-key specialists (and safe crackers) can understand. After examination, he declared that upon installation, most probably one of the young strappers, in searching for a point of leverage, grabbed the safe dial for aide and while exerting pressure on it caused the combination to change by a number or two. Key then asked my son what combination he would like it to be now.
Well, we were looking at each other, thinking “Did we really see what we thought we just saw?” Yep. No doubt. The new combination was given over, the safe was closed and locked and my son proceeded to open it with no problem. Then the little bandit asked, “What else can I help you with?” “Well….while you’re here, would you mind opening my grandfather’s old safe which hasn’t been opened in years?” I asked the young man. “I’ll be glad to. Where is it?” From there, we drove to the old ranch storeroom and, after digging it out, presented the relic to Key. “Aw, this one will be easy”, says he. A few moves back and forth and….the door swung open. Then he proceeded to remove the backing from the door and removed the dial mechanism. “This needs a good cleaning”, he said and took it all apart. After cleaning each part, he reassembled the dial, installed it, and then said, “Your combination is such and such. Better write it down.” We did! (and, no, there was nothing of value in it except for some old IOUs. Figures!)
So, we were done. Just like that! Well, he is not getting off this easy without answering some questions….right? “So, Key, what is your last name? He responded with a smile, “Just Key, that’s all”. “Ok. No problem. Can you tell me how you opened two safes not knowing the combination, without a nail-file, sandpaper, a stethoscope, or some kind of advanced electronic x-ray gadget?” “That’s easy”, Key said. “All those gadgets you mentioned are in books and movies are not at all necessary IF you’re good at your job”, he humbly replied. “It’s all in the senses, touch, and feel.”
Do you mind telling us how these skills were acquired? “Not at all”, he replied. “When I was a very young man, I found myself with a wife, a baby, and no job. Times were pretty hard, fuel was very high, and we were hungry. In the apartment building where we lived, there was an old Asian man who helped us out a little. One day, after returning from a job-search, the man asked if I was having luck finding work. No, I replied. He then asked if I knew anything about locks and safes and, of course, I didn’t. So, he told me if I was interested, he would teach me a trade and that, if I learned it, I would never have to work again! Well, with a baby crying in the background, I said I was interested for sure! The old gentleman took me under his wing and taught me the safe cracking trade. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. It was very difficult but I jumped in with both feet and became his student. The hardware was easy. It consisted of just a series of simple disks that rotated around each other. The hard part was aligning the disks without any visual on them. Key didn’t go into the minute details but assured us that he practiced on a mockup safe door supplied by the Asian man for many hours, running into days, weeks, and months before he started “getting the feel”. From there, he continued practicing and more practice until he got to where he could open any old conventional safe in about fifteen minutes completely unaided! From there, the Asian man taught him more and more difficult tricks of the trade.
Key admitted that there are probably only one out of a billion people with the brain and physical senses to be able to learn this trade to start with and those that do have never even heard of the trade, much less, know it can be done this way! He said the movies don’t portray it done in this fashion because the viewers would never believe it so they use gadgets and such to fool movie goers.
But….this guy is bonded? Right? That means that some big insurance company insures that he only uses his special skills lawfully….and that is exactly what he does. He allowed as how he is on constant call with lock-n-key stores, banks, big business concerns, and the federal government and he travels all over the world plying his trade….lawfully. He speculated that there are maybe less than a hundred people in the world who can do what he does! He recently returned from Afghanistan where the army hired him to open some captured underground safes belonging to the enemy. “You can’t blow them because the contents would be destroyed”, he reminded. “On big, sophisticated vaults I always ask the customer if they want the cheap route or the expensive route. The difference is that the expensive route might take me several days and I ain’t cheap, or, I can drill it and ruin your vault door. Hearing this, they usually chose the slow way. The biggest bank in town had their vault door combination scrambled by a disgruntled employee. They went the slow route because that door was priceless. Rarely, I will ask if the customer bank has a safety hatch to the vault and if they do, I will go in that way and open it from the inside, which is also difficult on time locks. Many banks don’t even remember they have one until I find it. Of course, that very small door will have an old fashioned dial lock on it but those are a piece of cake. This happened a few years ago in Austin. There, I was hired to open a vault in an old abandoned bank that was scheduled for demolition. After a short search, I located an emergency door that not even the old retired employees knew about! It was under a concealed panel in the floor above the vault. I opened that door and they let me down into the vault major by a rope! I went to work from the inside and in two hours had that one open. Of course, the vault was empty but the door alone was worth over a hundred thousand! It was removed to be sold to a new customer. With that, Key said he needed to get back home because his kid had a little league game that evening and off he went, racing stickers and all. I’ve never seen him since but wherever he is in this world I wish him God’s speed!
Now, this little unimportant encounter with “Key” may not interest most of the Jerry Springer TV patrons but this cowboy was truly impressed! Imagine seeing a human walk up to a safe, and after a few turns back and forth on the dial, being able to open a locked combination safe? Unaided? Dang! All I can say is those bank robbers of the old west sure ruined a lot of pretty safes and destroyed lots of cash and coin in the process. Well…..that was then and this is now….
After reducing this unusual encounter to the written word out here on the ranch, I am now thoroughly prepared to get out that new-fangled lawn chair the kids gave me for Christmas, which I can never fold up correctly, and learn it!
Did you learn something new today? If not, you’re going backwards, not forwards. I try to learn at least one new thing a day, everyday….even if I still can’t start my old chainsaw! Oh, well….Adios y nos vemos, mi amigo!
AEB II (paso por aqui)
Written by: Austin Edwin Brown II ~ March 1, 2022 ~ Copyright 2022
(Name changed for obvious reasons and, yes, this is a true story)