An emergency call came in at five minutes to eleven, just when I was getting
ready to leave. If it had come in five minutes later I could have safely ignored
it, but with still five minutes to go before official closing time, I was stuck
The night telephone was hooked to a tape recorder that automatically began
recording when the telephone bell rang. It was part of this Big-Brother-is-
watching-you efficiency system we have.
I picked up the receiver.
“Lawrence Safes Corporation—night service,” I said.
“This is Henry Cooper.” One of those well fed, arrogant voices that come out
of owners of vast incomes and super-deluxe penthouses. “How fast can you
get a man to me? I’m in trouble with my safe.”
I thought: here goes my evening with Janey. This makes the third time this
month I’ve had to stand her up.
“Where are you, sir?” I said, keeping my voice polite because the tape was
recording, and I had already been in trouble for snarling at a customer.
“Ashley Arms. I want a man down here right away.”
I looked at the clock on the desk. It was two minutes to eleven. If I told him
the night service had shut down, I would get the gate. The way I was fixed
for money, that was a luxury I couldn’t afford.
“Can you tell me what is wrong with the safe, sir?”
“I’ve mislaid the key. Get a man down here fast!”
He banged down the receiver and I banged down mine.
I had promised Janey I would pick her up at eleven-fifteen. We had planned
to go dancing at a club that had recently opened. She would be dressed and
waiting. Ashley Arms was at the other side of the town. By the time I got
there, opened this goddamn safe, got back and parked the van, taken a trolley
to her place it would be half-past twelve. I couldn’t imagine Janey waiting for
me that long. She had told me the next time I stood her up would be the last.
I couldn’t telephone her from the office. Private calls weren’t allowed. There
was a phone booth down the road. I would have to call her from there.
I grabbed my tool kit, locked up and went out to the truck. It was beginning
to rain and I hadn’t a raincoat. The traffic was heavy and there was nowhere
to park when I reached the phone booth. It took me ten minutes circling
around before some guy pulled out and I could leave the truck.
It was twenty minutes past eleven when I dialled Janey’s number. She
answered right away as if she had been sitting by the telephone waiting for
me to call up and tell her the date was off.
As soon as I started to explain, she hit the ceiling.
“If you can’t come, then I know someone who can,” she said. “I warned you, Chet. This is the last time. I’m sick and tired of you breaking dates with me.
This is the last time!”
“But Janey, I can’t help . . .”
But I was talking on a dead line. She had hung up on me.
I dialled her number again, but she didn’t answer. I let the bell ring for a
couple of minutes, then I cut the connection and went out to the truck.
To make matters worse, it was now raining fit to drown a duck. I drove over
to Ashley Arms in a mood of black depression. I cursed the Lawrence Safes
Corporation. I cursed Mr. Henry Cooper and I cursed myself for not bringing
a raincoat with me, knowing I would have to walk home after I had taken the
truck back to the depot and the rain would ruin my best suit that wasn’t much
Ashley Arms was a big apartment block in the best residential district of the
I walked into the lobby and over to the doorman’s office. He told me I would
find Mr. Cooper’s apartment on the third floor.
Henry Cooper was tall and bulky, and very, very arrogant. He had a purple
complexion of a heavy drinker and a waistline of a solid eater. He opened the
front door himself, and as soon as I stepped into the hall he began to yell at
me for taking so long to get out there.
I said the traffic was bad and I was sorry. This he brushed aside, and still
muttering, he led the way into a luxuriously furnished lounge.
He walked over to an oil painting of a fat woman in the nude that looked
good enough to be an original Rubens, but probably wasn’t, and swung the
painting on its hinges aside. Behind it was one of our super-deluxe wall safes.
As I was setting down my tool kit, I became aware of a girl lying full length
on the settee. She was in a white evening dress cut so low I could see the tops
of her bre@$ts. She was leafing through a magazine, a cigarette between her
full red lips, and she glanced up and stared curiously at me.
She reminded me a little of Janey. She had the same coloured hair and the
same long, slender legs, but there the resemblance ended. This girl had a lot
of class whereas Janey had no class at all. Janey had a provocative shape,
personality and a ducktail walk that made men stare after her, but it was all
pretty brash. There was nothing brash about this girl.
“How soon can you open it?” Cooper demanded. “I’m in a hurry.”
With a conscious effort I shifted my eyes from the girl and went over to the
“Not long, sir, if you will give me the combination.”
He scribbled the combination down on a scrap of paper and gave it to me.
Then he went over to the cellarette and began to fix himself a highball. As I
started work on the safe, I heard a telephone bell ring somewhere in the
“I guess that’ll be Jack,” Cooper said to the girl and he went out of the room,
leaving the door open.
The girl said softly, “Hurry it up, buster. The old stinker has promised me a
pearl necklace. I’m all in a lather he might change his mind.”
That really jolted me. She was looking directly at me and there was a cold
glitter in her eyes, the kind of glitter Janey had sometimes when she was after
something from me she thought might be hard to get.
“This won’t take me three minutes,” I said. “Just relax.”
In less than that time I had the safe open.
“Some safe!” she said. “Why, a kid could open it!”
I was looking inside the safe. Stacked on three shelves were packets of
hundred dollar bills. I’ve never seen so much money. I couldn’t make a guess
how much there was—probably half a million dollars.
The girl slid off the settee and joined me by the safe. I could smell her
perfume and her arm touched mine: that was how close we were together.
“Aladdin’s Cave!” she said breathlessly. “Oh boy! Wouldn’t it be nice to help
I heard the tinkle of the telephone bell, warning me Cooper had finished
speaking. It warned the girl too for she hurriedly returned to the settee.
I shut the safe door as Cooper came into the room.
“Haven’t you got it open yet?” he barked at me.
“One second, sir,” I said and clicked back the lock. “It’s open now.”
He tried the safe door, opening it only a few inches, then he grunted.
“You’d better get me a duplicate key.”
I said I would do that I packed my tools and started for the door.
I said good night to the girl on the settee. She just nodded to me. At the front
door Cooper gave me a couple of dollars. He gave them grudgingly. He said
if ever he needed service in the future for me to give it faster than this time.
He told me not to forget the duplicate key.
As I drove back to the depot, I thought about the money in Cooper’s safe.
For years now I had been dissatisfied with the money I had been earning. For
years I had realised I was never going to get anywhere in this job of mine.
I thought what I could do with that money if it were mine. I thought how easy
it would be to break into that apartment, open that sardine can of a safe and
I told myself I wasn’t going to do it, but the thought stayed with me. It was
still with me the following night when Roy Tracey came in to relieve me.
I had known Roy most of my life. We had gone to school together, and his
father had put him to work with the Lawrence Safes Corporation the same
day my father had the same bright idea for me.
In appearance Roy was a lot like me: he was tall and dark and heavily built.
He wore a pencil line moustache that gave him an Italian look. He had the
same itch for money as I had.
Unlike me, women had no place in his life. He had been married when he
was nineteen, but it hadn’t worked out. The girl had left him after a year and
that finished women for him. His one mania was playing the horses. He was
always short of money and was always trying to borrow off me.
I told him about Cooper’s money.
We were alone together in the office. It was raining hard, and rain streamed
down the windows. I was in no hurry to get home. I told Roy about the girl in
Cooper’s apartment and how I had opened the safe.
“At a guess there’s around half a million in hundred dollar bills,” I said,
wandering around the office while Roy sat at the desk, smoking. “Imagine
owning that kind of money.”
“Some guys have all the luck.”
“Yeah.” I went to the window and stared out into the wet night. “Well, I
guess I’ll go home. Some night!”
“Don’t run away,” Roy said. “A half a million? As much as that?”
“It can’t be less. There were three shelves of it.”
“Sit down. Let’s talk about it.” We looked at each other. There was a tense
expression in his eyes. “I could use money like that, Chet.”
I sat down. My heart was beginning to thump.
“So could I.”
“I’m in the hole for five hundred bucks,” he said. “I’ve got to get some
money. Look, suppose we knock this safe off?” He tilted back his chair,
staring at me. “It sounds a soft touch.”
“It could be.”
There was a pause while we both stared at the rain, beating against the window.
Finally, Roy said, “I’ve been waiting for a chance like this for some time. I’m
fed up living the way I live. You’ve the same idea, haven’t you?”
“Well, how about it? Do you want to do it?”
“No, I don’t want to do it, but it’s got to be done. It’s too easy to pass up.”
He grinned at me.
“Don’t look so scared. If we use our heads, we’ll get away with it.”
I sat on the edge of the desk.
“Let’s work on it. Let’s talk about it.”
We spent the next hour making plans. The more we talked about it, the easier
“We’ve got to find out when this guy leaves his apartment. That’s the one
thing we must know,” Roy said. “Once we know that, then we move in, open
the safe and help ourselves. Here’s what you do. You take the duplicate key
he wants to his place and talk to the doorman. He’ll tell you when Cooper is
out. Doormen like to talk. He’ll tell you if you handle him right.” He blew
smoke at me. “When we know he’s out, we walk in and pick up the money.”
Put like that it seemed the simplest and easiest job in the world.
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