Authors: Wendelin Van Draanen
“It’s something in between—like maybe a lizard.”
He just sits there smiling at me.
I study them some more. “Is that the natural color? I’ve never seen a green lizard.”
“Keep your mind open, Sammy. Keep it open.”
Suddenly, it clicks. “It’s iguana!”
He gives me a great big smile, “Panamanian iguana—good girl!” He gets up and says, “I’m going to give your grandmother a call. Should I tell her you’re here?”
Well, I think that’s a real good idea because it’ll keep me from having to explain to her
I’m there. And since Hudson doesn’t know yet, he can’t tell her. I say, “Sure. And tell her I won’t be home for a couple of hours, okay?”
He raises one of his bushy white eyebrows at me, but then just ducks inside. When he comes back a few minutes later, he says, “We’re all set.” He kicks his lizard feet back up on the railing and grins. “And guess who’s chaperoning?”
It takes me a second, but finally I get it. “Oh
Hudson’s still grinning. “She insists.”
I roll my eyes and mutter, “Like I haven’t spent enough time there this week.”
He gives me an Oh? kind of look, so I tell him about how I’m working off my detention scrubbing the church down and helping out in the soup kitchen, and that the last thing I want to do is spend my day off listening to Father Mayhew talk about finding the high road to Heaven.
Hudson runs his hand along Rommel’s back. “Hmm. That’s got to be a fairly enlightening experience—working on the inside of the temple of God.”
I laugh. “You sound just like Sister Bernice!”
He looks at me. “Sister Bernice? I only know Josephine and Mary Margaret.”
So I tell him all about Bernice and the Sisters of Mercy, and how they’re doing a fundraiser for St. Mary’s. When I’m all done, he laughs and says, “This I have got to see. Do you think they’ll be at church tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. All I know is they’re supposed to give these big performances at the end of the week, and Monday I’ve got to help them stuff envelopes.”
Hudson studies me and says, “So what’s on your mind, Sammy?” He taps my baseball cap. “I can feel a question cooking up there. What is it?”
I take a deep breath. “Don’t think I’m being nosy here, okay?” He gives me a little nod so I say, “I was just wondering whether you knew anything about safecracking.”
He raises an eyebrow, then smoothes it with a finger as it comes back down. “Why do you ask?”
So I tell him. All about Dot and Nibbles and the key to Meg and Vera’s safe, and how Dot’s going to have to spend the next couple of days dissecting dog poop.
He eyes me and says, “So you’re thinking maybe I can take a stethoscope to the safe, twist the knob a few times, and
, it’ll open right up?”
I kind of shrug. “I don’t know. I thought maybe you had some, uh, you know … experience?”
He throws back his head and laughs, and I’m expecting
him to shake his head and say, Sammy, Sammy, Sammy … like he does when I’m being dopey, but when he stops laughing, he says, “It just so happens I
know a little about safecracking, but—”
? Can you go over there and crack theirs open?”
Hudson laughs, “Whoa, whoa! Slow down there a minute, Sammy. There are some things you need to understand about your options before you decide on the best course of action.”
I wait while he dusts some imaginary dirt off the tip of his boot. Then he looks at me and says, “On your typical S&G lock you’ve got a dial with hash marks that run from zero to ninety-nine. If you took every configuration of those numbers for a three-number combination, you’re looking at a million possible combinations. Literally. So setting out to try every one would take ages. But on most dials there’s a considerable margin of error. For example, if one of the numbers is two, then three and four will probably work if you overshoot in one direction, and zero and one will probably work if you overshoot in the other. Depends on how sloppy the mechanism is. So really you only need to try one out of five numbers—like 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, and so on. Let’s say the combination is 3–23–56. Or 4–23–56 or 5–23–56 or 6–23–56. 5–25–55 will probably work for all of them or any other combination within the mechanism’s margin of error. You get the idea. So now the right combination isn’t one in a million, it’s about one in seven or eight thousand. Something you could do in a day or two.”
Now when I thought of Hudson helping me open the
safe, I wasn’t picturing having to flip around a dial for hours and hours. I was picturing Hudson going into the Pup Parlor with a few tools and some experienced fingers, and coming out with the doggy door wide open.
He looks at me and says, “Not exactly what you were hoping to hear, eh, Sammy?” He chuckles and says, “It may seem rather dull to you, but a yegg’s best tool’s his brain.” He taps my head and says, “It’s better than a crowbar or a diamond drill or a truckload of nitroglycerin, so don’t you roll your eyes and sigh at me, young lady! It’s probably the only thing that’s going to get you past an S&G lock, nearly an inch of reinforced steel and shielded bolts.”
I sit up. “I didn’t roll my eyes and sigh!” Then I kind of mumble, “But it’s not like I want to break into Fort Knox!”
He shakes his head. “Sammy, Sammy, Sammy … Some safes may be easier than others, but the concept’s the same. Stethoscopes and cracker fingers are a myth. You can’t get into a safe that way! And torching the mechanism or trying to drill it is just going to make it lock up.
“Which leaves you with ripping a hole in the side or using your brain.” He eyes me. “Which do you prefer?”
I guess I wasn’t looking too happy because he says, “Come on now, Sammy. Chin up.”
“I don’t want to try eight thousand different combinations! I’d rather dissect dog poop!”
He laughs. “Well, there
another way to go at this.”
“What do you mean?”
“It comes down to the fact that people are creatures of habit.”
“How’s that get you into a safe?”
“Imagine, if you will, that for your birthday I gave you a brand-new Browning safe and you had to decide on a combination that you wanted the lock to have. It could be any combination of three numbers, zero to ninety-nine. What would you choose?”
“Doesn’t the safe come with a combination?”
Hudson laughs, and says, “Ah-ha! Very good! Choice number one—the factory setting. Usually along the lines of 25–0–25, and the first combination you should try when confronted with a lock.”
“What do you mean?”
He smiles. “People are also lazy. Some will leave the combination on the factory setting because it’s too much work for them to figure out how to give the safe a new combination.” He rubs his hands together. “But you are
lazy, so you would come up with your own combination. What would it be?”
I’m in the middle of thinking when he says, “Would you pick random numbers? Say, 17–85–12?”
“No. I’d forget them—unless I wrote them down.”
He claps his hands. “Another possibility! If it’s a random combination, or one that they’re afraid they’re going to forget, most people write it down and then put it someplace concealed but convenient. Like they write it inside their desk drawer or tape it to the back of their safe.” He laughs and says, “There’s not much sense in having a safe if you’re going to tape the combination to the outside of it, but people do it all the time.”
He goes back to petting Rommel. “Now, I know you’ve
got more marbles than to do that, so what combination
you use? And remember—this safe is something you’re going to have for a long, long time.”
I sit there for a minute, thinking. Then I say, “12–34–56. That’s what I’d use. 12–34–56.”
Hudson stops mid-stroke. “Twelve-thirty-
“It’s not a date, then.”
He picks Rommel up and puts him in his lap. “Okay. I give up. Why that combination?”
I laugh. “I couldn’t think of anything. You were putting me on the spot, so I just went up the number line!”
He gives me a disgusted look. “I suppose I should’ve known you wouldn’t be conventional. Most people don’t go up the number line, Sammy.
people choose a memorable date of some kind, like their birthday or their spouse’s birthday or their anniversary. That’s the most common thing people use. Then comes the first digits of their Social Security number or their phone number—something along those lines. A number that has to do with some other aspect of their life.”
He lets a little smile escape. “The more you know about someone, the easier it is to crack their safe, so what I suggest you do with Meg and Vera is find out everything you can about them, write it all down, and then look for combinations. Find combinations in everything they give you. And Sammy, keep your mind open. If you keep your mind open, I predict you’ll have it cracked in under an hour.”
He laughs and says, “And if you
get it open, then I guess Dot’ll have to do her dirty deed, which isn’t the end of the world.”
So I walk away from Hudson’s without so much as a water glass to put up to the dial, and the closer I get to the Pup Parlor, the more I’m thinking that maybe Hudson’s never cracked a safe in his life. I mean, what he’d told me about safecracking sounded like something you’d get out of a statistics book, not the Safecracker’s Bible.
When I walk into the Pup Parlor and Meg says, “Sammy! What brings you back so soon?” I really felt like saying, Uh … never mind, but what came out of my stupid mouth was, “I’m here to crack your safe.”
They both stare at me. And then Meg starts laughing. And pretty soon she’s laughing so hard that her little red bows are shaking around her poodle-do like mutant moths and she just has to sit down. Finally, she wipes the corners of her eyes and says, “I’m sorry, Sammy. It’s been a long day.”
Vera comes from behind the counter. “What makes you think you can open the safe?”
I look down and say, “I don’t know. I just have an idea about it, all right? Will you at least let me try?”
Vera looks at Meg and they both kind of shrug. “Have at it, girl.”
I pick up a pencil and a scratch pad and say to Vera, “You have to give me some information.”
“Like your husband’s birth date, your birth date, Meg’s birth date, your anniversary, your phone number,
everyone’s Social Security number, your driver’s license number, your husband’s driver’s license number …”
Meg shakes her head. “My father’s driver’s license number? Why do you need that?”
But Vera nods and says, “This makes sense. I should’ve tried this years ago. I just always had the key.” And before you know it, she’s giving me dates and numbers and I’ve got a whole paper full of combinations to try.
I sit cross-legged on the floor and I start, first with his birthday, then with Vera’s. And it feels kind of funny, sitting in front of someone else’s safe twirling the dial around while they’re standing behind you shaking their heads, muttering. And the more combinations I try, the louder Meg mutters until finally I’m out of combinations and she comes right out and says, “I knew it wouldn’t work.”
Well, I am feeling pretty stupid, but I’m not quite ready to give up. I sit there thinking, and then I ask, “Have you always lived at this address?”
Vera says, “Yup.”
“Has your phone number always been the same?”
“Yup … wait, no! We had one way back when—let me see … 2-2812. Yup that was it. Walnut 2-2812.”
“Walnut? What do you mean ‘Walnut’?”
Meg says, “When I was your age, that’s how we used to say phone numbers. The WA in Walnut translates to 92. Look at the phone—that’s what the letters are there for.”
I pick up the phone and sure enough, ABC is on 2 and WXY is on 9.
Vera says, “Yeah, that was back when you just needed the last five numbers.”
“What do you mean? You didn’t have to dial the nine and the two?”
She shakes her head. “Our number was 22812. You could dial the WA if you wanted to, but no one did it. No need for it.”
This was all news to me, but I wasn’t going to stand around and chat about how things used to be. I went right back over to the safe and tried 22–81–2, and as I turned the dial around to 2, I pulled down on the handle and … nothing. I said, “Darn!” Then I tried 22–8–12, and shook the handle when it didn’t give.
There was only one combination left. I spun the dial around a couple of times, then very carefully went clockwise to the number 2, back to 28, and as I got back to 12, I pulled the handle down.
And there I was, with the door to their safe swung open in my lap.