What a Crock

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Those lovable crooks, Tinman and Peach run up against a safe that refuses to be cracked. On top of it, Tinman is the designated chef for the gang's annual Christmas dinner, and he hasn't even begun to prepare. Will they continue the heist, or opt for a day sweating over a hot stove? Read on to find out. Based on the characters in the Tinman Series.

Created: November 17,2019

Submitted: October 23, 2019

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Submitted: October 23, 2019

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“What do you mean you can’t open it?” asked Tinman, even though the question was unfair and he damn well knew it.

Making absolutely certain he knew it, Peach said, “I didn’t say that, and you know it. What I said is I can’t open it with the tools I have.”

“On you? Or does that include all the tools you possess?”

Peach leaned back from the safe and stared up at him. “Okay, I’ll make it crystal clear. This is a Sargent and Greenleaf 8400 series locking system. Otherwise known as the Manipulation Proof Lock. And they mean it. I’ve never heard of this being opened by a human using normal manipulation techniques.”

“You mean by touch. The way you feel the tumblers and know when each gate is opened. The method which you claim to be a master at.”

“Don’t get cute. This baby has a possible million combinations. It can be programmed to have two six-digit ones, where both are required, sequentially, or it can be one long twelve-digit combination.”

“So you’re admitting defeat? After you said there was no safe you couldn’t crack.”

Peach felt like kicking his brother in the shins. “I didn’t say that. Did I? No. So stop putting words in my mouth.”

“Okay. So how does one get into this safe?”

“Well, if we had one of those SAIC portable package inspection X-ray machines, the ones shipping companies and the like use if they think there’s a bomb in a package, we could place it behind the safe as I turn the dial, and in theory we would be able to watch the gates and know when I’ve hit a right number.”

“So let’s get one of those.”

“Are you crazy?! Having that kind of radiation spilling over us at that distance for the amount of time it would take would fry us both. Not to mention rule out any possibility of future fatherhood.”

“No problem there on my end.”

“Me either, but I value my brain cells and they’re the first that would go snap, crackle, pop.”

“So why even bring up such a stupid idea?!”

“Because you asked how we could get in! And that’s one possibility. You didn’t ask for ways to do it that were safe!”

Tinman sighed heavily and regained his composure. “Okay, is there a way to do it that won’t cause permanent brain damage or other physical trauma?”

“That’s better. And yes there is.”

Tinman waited, then politely asked, “Would you mind elaborating. Please?”

“Certainly. The Robot Dialer I own would probably work, but it could take a couple of days.”

“Days! Are you pissing me off on purpose?”

“Perish the thought. I was just mentioning it in passing. What would be a lot quicker is the Mas-Hamilton soft drill.”

“But you don’t have it with you.”

“Not exactly.”

“So let’s go get it.”

“That won’t work either.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t own one. And they stopped making them a while back. I never ran into this lock before, so I never had the need before, so I never got one before they went out of production.”

Tinman chewed on his tongue for a minute to keep down the wrath. Then he said, “So why did you bring it up, if there’s no way to get one?”

“Did I say that? What I said was I don’t have one. But I know where to get one. Maybe.”

When they stepped out from the rear of the building holding the law office of Atticus  Weiner, Esq., Court Street was empty. As it should be. It was the reason they’d picked this time to pull the caper. After all, it was an early Sunday morning, which also happened to be Christmas Day. A light snow was falling as they hustled casually up the street where they left the car. Normally, Tek would be driving getaway, but this was a different set-up. They had no time constraints, knowing Atticus would never dare frequent his office on a holiday, or for several days following. As an attorney one must retain a certain amount of decorum.

The job had been fingered by the disgruntled ex-wife who Peach met while she was slumming in the local bars shortly after the completion of her messy divorce. She was rightfully teed off because Atticus knew his business. Especially when marrying a lady half his age. He’d locked her into an ironclad prenup, and the poor gal had received not a whit from the divorce. Sure, technically it had been partly her fault. Wives were expected not to get too cozy with their yoga instructors. But still, he could’ve given her something seeing he had been getting a little too cozy with the maid for years.

Either way, during their intimate, liquor-soaked conversation, Peach discovered that Atticus, along with being a philanderer, was an avid philatelist. And according to his scorned ex, he kept his valuable collection of stamps locked in his office safe. Several months after the chance meeting, Peach and Tinman went into action.

A call to their fence, Jahllo, confirmed he did indeed have several customers who would be interested in purchasing teeny pieces of paper for lots of money. If, of course, they were really good teeny pieces of paper. Meaning, rare. The deal looked juicy. If only they could get in the damn safe.

They slid into the car and Peach fired it up to get the heat going. Tinman was feeling testy. He assumed this job would be quick, and he had other things to do. Tonight was the annual Christmas party/poker game at Dez’ place, the matriarch of the Posse. As usual, he was expected to provide the main course for dinner. He had a spectacular menu planned, but it was going to take time to prepare.

“So, where do we get this drill?” he asked.

Peach waved him off, as he sent a text on his phone. A minute later, a reply beeped. Peach checked it, put the car in gear, and said, “Next stop, Susanville.”

“Susanville! That’s an hour and a half a way! Longer in this weather! Why there?”

“Only licensed locksmiths could ever buy this particular drill.”

“Well there are plenty of locksmiths around here. Let’s just borrow one from one of them.”

Peach looked at him funny. “You ever try to break into a locksmith’s? They’re in the business, brother. They know all the tricks. Not worth the headache.”

“Won’t this place in Susanville be just as difficult?”

Peach pulled away from the curb. “Not so much. Since we won’t have to break into it. The owner’s retired. I met him in prison. Which is of course why he had to retire. He figured his skills were underappreciated by the straights and went independent. But he got cocky. So he had to give that up too. After he got busted. See?”

“No.”

“Well, he still dabbles a little. Not directly. He runs what you could call a lending library for guys like us. You follow?”

“No!”

“Okay. Different example. AutoZone. Like when you were trying to fix that damn turn signal that wouldn’t shut off. And you needed a steering wheel puller. And they lent you one for the job.”

“I remember. And I was surprised it was free. So this guy is a philanthropist for crooks?”

“You got wax in your ears? What I said is it’s like AutoZone. But not exactly.”

Tinman raised an eyebrow. “How not exactly?”

“Fifteen percent of the estimated haul. Up front.”

“For a drill?! That’s usury! He’s a shyster!”

“Sort of. Well, yeah. In a manner of speaking. You gotta take a leak before I hit the highway?”

They were passing Panther Valley on Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Highway before Tinman spoke. Then he said, “What am I going to do about food for the party?”

“We’ll just pick up one of those pre-made feasts at WalMart. You know, the one with the already cooked chicken. I think it comes with mashed potatoes, too!”

Tinman looked at him askance. “That’s not funny.” He was serious about his catering duties. There was silence until they passed the turnoff to the Sierra Safari Zoo. He was wondering what the lions, and tigers and bears—oh my— were having for Christmas dinner, when it came to him. He pulled out his disposable phone and started dialing.

Catfish answered. Tinman made his plea, and the response from the old grifter and pickpocket was, “Can’t help you kid. Bones and I are just heading out to work the whiz on a Christmas extravaganza they’re holding down at Idlewild Park. Promises to have a lot of fat pokes what with all the Christmas money under the tree. See you tonight.” Click.

Damn, thought Tinman. He knew he couldn’t call Tek, because he was spending the obligatory one day a year with his deadbeat mom, who happened to be Thai, and purportedly Buddhist, but Thais love all holidays, especially Christmas, so he was stuck.

Who else was there? Ironically, he had his epiphany at Hallelujah Junction. He flipped open his phone and dialed Rudy. He was the general of a small army of can collectors. As ruler of the dumpsters in Reno, any collector who wanted to work his turf had to pay a tariff.

They first met when Tinman moved into the defunct motel he’d sort of inherited. He immediately admired Rudy’s initiative and they worked out an agreeable arrangement so Rudy would not be homeless. They’d been close associates ever since.

“Rudy, I need a favor.”

“Aw, geez, Tinman. Today? This is like can heaven with all the parties. No telling how many pounds I can get on my own. Not to mention my gang.”

“What’s the going rate on aluminum?”

“Don’t make me sick. They’re killing me. Like thirty-eight cents a pound. It’s always like this in winter. Still, a guy’s gotta make a living.”

“You do me this favor, I’ll pay you three times the going rate of what you figure you could collect.”

“No kidding?! Who are you, Santy Claus?”

“No, desperate. Here’s what I need you to do.”

After Tinman relayed his instructions, there was a long pause. “Rudy? You still there?”

“Uh, yeah, Tinman. But, it just dawned on me that this is for Dez’ party tonight, no?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, I’m not much of a cook, you know. I usually just pick up food wherever I find it.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s easy. You’ll do great. Just let yourself into my apartment with the emergency key. The pot I’m talking about is in the shelf above the sink. The one with a cord coming out of it. After you get everything prepared like I told you, just put the lid on it, turn it to low and—”

Rudy looked at his phone. The connection was cut off. His eyes widened. What was he supposed to do after turning it to low? He dialed Tinman, but the call wouldn’t go through. He was on his own. He owed Tinman a lot, and he knew he had to do right by him. He shook his head, and headed out of his room.

“Damn,” said Tinman. “We were cut off. I hope he got all that. He sounded nervous.”

“He’s got big shoes to fill. But he’ll be alright.”

It took another hour to get to Susanville, and the snow was showing no signs of letting up. The town’s main industries used to be logging and mining. Now, the source of income and population was its two state prisons. Indeed, there were more prisoners living in Susanville than residents. It was not a place in which Tinman or Peach cared to spend much time.

Peach’s acquaintance lived on a side street off the main drag. His abode consisted of a disheveled double-wide mobile home with a large built-on shed. They parked and walked to the front door. It swung open before they reached it.

“Chick! My man!” cried Peach.

Chick was chocolate complected, medium height, with a wiry build. Tinman wondered why all the locksmiths he’d ever seen were of slight build. He guessed maybe the big, beefy guys didn’t need to bother with picking locks, they just kicked in the doors.

“Yo, Peach,” said Chick. “Not cool to bring strangers. You know better.”

“Stranger? Oh, him. He’s my brother. No sweat. He’s working with me now.”

Chick held out a hand, palm out, stopping them in their tracks. He eyeballed Tinman, and said, “He looks like you.”

“We’re twins,” said Peach.

Chick spread his lips, revealing gleaming pearly whites, and said, “That’s funny.”

“Yeah, we get a real kick out of it,” said Peach good-naturedly. “So, we’re looking for a Mas drill. We’re still on the job.”

Chick’s smile disappeared as he stepped to the snow-covered ground and walked to his shed. The door of the shabby building was incongruously protected with a high-tech electronic lock which he blocked from view as he keyed in the code. Inside, the place was filled with tools, most unrecognizable to Tinman, but Peach was in heaven.

“Wow, an old Unitech computer pick. I never did lay my hands on one of these.”

“Don’t do it now,” said Chick. “You want the Mas drill and that is what you get to touch.”

“Sure, Chick, sure. Anything you say.”

Chick removed a large, metal case from a high shelf and opened it. It was not like any drill Tinman had ever seen. In fact it didn’t look like a drill at all. It was more like some sort of robotic contraption, with a forward gripping device.

“What’s the system?” asked Chick.

“Sargent and Greenleaf 8400,” said Peach, eyeing the machine with love.

“That’s good. It’s already programmed for that. I take it you don’t need a tutorial.”

“Nope,” said Peach confidently. “What do you say we make it a flat rate. Five C’s?”

Chick’s teeth glistened as he smiled wickedly, not falling for the ruse. “Very funny. What’s the haul?”

Peach grimaced. “Tough to say. Supposed to be rare stamps. But it’s a contract job through Jahllo. So we only get a cut. And you know that stingy bastard.”

“I’m stingier. We’ll figure your end for ten large. You know my percentage.”

“Fifteen-hundred is a little steep.”

“Steep!” cried Tinman. “It’s robbery!”

“That’s our business,” said Chick, still with that confounded smile.

“To be precise, it’s burglary, but who’s counting,” said Peach. “Okay, Chick, I guess we’ll bite. We’ll settle up when the job is iced.”

“Now.”

Peach sighed, dug in his pocket and started peeling off hundreds. When he reached fifteen, he handed the stack over. Throughout the transaction, Tinman swung his jaw back and forth in frustration, wanting to make a fuss, and not sure how to go about it.

Chick pocketed the money and handed over the case. “That buys you a quarter day’s rental. Six hours if you’re not good with math. See you soon.”

Tinman went, “Hah! Very funny. Right, Chick. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

Chick looked at Peach with a cocked eyebrow. “Am I not speaking clearly?”

“You’re fine,” said Peach. “It’s him. He’s been doing it to me all day. Must be weather-related. Anyway, see you later, Chick. And thanks a million.”

As they drove out of town, Tinman couldn’t contain himself any longer. “Why did you tell him we’d be back today? It’s Christmas, and it’s snowing!”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch. That’s all you’re doing today. Look, this guy is a valuable resource. You never know when you’re going to need him. In this case, we couldn’t do this job without his drill. We’ll come out alright in the end. Besides, with all the snow, it’s really cut down on the traffic. Plus, all the drive time gives us a chance to talk.”

No other words were spoken until they parked the car back on Court Street. “Grab the case,” said Peach. “And be careful. The sidewalks are slippery, and who knows what Chick would charge us if we broke the damn thing.”

Tinman grumbled, grabbed the heavy case and very carefully slid out of the car.

Rudy had long ago followed all the instructions. Even down to the precise way Tinman wanted the vegetables cut, and the exact amount of seasoning. After everything was assembled, he turned the pot to low, and then he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to screw up and he didn’t want to call Tinman, figuring he might be on a job. So he pulled up a chair next to the kitchen counter and waited. Three hours later, he was still watching the pot. He wondered if he should stir, but Tinman had not mentioned it. He thought about adding some more water, but the instructions most specifically stated only one-third cup, and never remove the lid. Rudy bit his lip, and decided the safest thing to do was wait some more.

It took about thirty minutes for Peach to set up the soft drill in front of the safe. When he was finished, the clamp part of the tool was attached to the dial. In the rear, was a mounted motor with a lot of wires and circuits, flashing various colors.

“What is this thing?” asked Tinman. “I thought we were going to drill through the safe!”

“I can understand the confusion, seeing it’s called a drill. But actually what this thing does is similar to the Robot Dialer, by trying certain combinations. But it’s more like a human because it uses a very sensitive accelerometer to detect the position of the gates. Like on some safes where I can just feel the movements of the gates by touch. So it works much quicker than a Robot Dialer which just keeps trying every possible combination without taking into account the positioning of the gates. It’s got like artificial intelligence. See?”

“No,” said Tinman, feeling the lack of his real intelligence. “I’m sorry I asked.”

Peach flipped a switch and the drill began rapidly turning the dial to certain points where it would push in, pop back, and retry. Tinman was forced to admit the tool was impressive. If the haul was as good as they hoped, he might not even begrudge Chick the soaking.

The precision movement of the machine was mesmerizing, so it came as a shock when it suddenly stopped and Peach cried, “Jackpot! I was right. Twelve-digit combination. What a beast. But this puppy cracked it in thirty-seven minutes. Not bad. Now let’s see what goodies we have.”

He unclamped the drill, turned the handle and swung open the door. After a quick perusal, he said, “Looky here! Aside from the stamps, we have an added bonus. Appears old Atticus keeps five large in mad money. Which happens to more than cover our expenses for the drill. See, brother, you just have to keep the faith.”

Tinman grinned. The day’s first. How he wished he could be more like his brother. “Let’s get out of here. We have a party to get to.”

“First, Susanville.”

Tinman moaned, but there was no further complaint. Chick was now his new best buddy.

When the door to the apartment flung open, Rudy was dozing. He awoke with a start and nearly toppled to the ground. He felt hands grasping him and soon the ship was righted. “Tinman! You’re home! Holy geez. Gosh, we got disconnected, and I didn’t know what to do next and I so really wanted to do a good job and all. I mean Dez and the Posse all expecting a good Christmas dinner, and me expected to pull it off. Holy geez. What’s that smell? Is it burning?!”

“Easy, Rudy. That wonderful aroma tells me you did just fine. I couldn’t have done better myself. It’s a perfect crockpot stew.”

“Is that what this is called?”

“That’s right. But please don’t tell me you’ve been sitting here staring at it all day.”

Rudy blushed. “Some of the time I slept.”

Tinman lifted him to his feet, and reached out his hand. Rudy shook it and found a wad of cash palmed into his. He looked at it, his eyes bugging. “No way I coulda collected five C’s in a day, Tinman. This is too much.”

“A good cook is never underpaid, Rudy. Remember that.”

At the party, before the poker game started, everyone sat down to eat. The silence pleased Tinman to no end. He knew what it meant. Not so much Rudy. He could barely savor the food for fear everyone was being polite, not wanting to ream him out.

After everyone was finished and were patting their guts, and picking their teeth, and generally relishing the moment, Dez said, “Oh my god Tinman, that was delectable. You must have spent all day slaving in the kitchen.”

Tinman shook his head and said, “I was tied up. This is the chef.”

He waved a hand at Rudy who sank into his chair, until the applause and accolades, and calls for “Maestro,” lifted him up, proudly bowing and grinning for the appreciative audience. Who knew cooking could be so rewarding.


Check out Marc J. Reilly's Book


Shady Deal

Book Two of the Tinman Series. Tinman and the Posse have their sights set on a collection of rare coins. To pull off the heist, they have to deal with Burners, Clampers, the FBI and—parents? Chaos ensues, absurdity abounds and the laughs roll on.

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