Exercise: Begin with: It took three tries before he got the latch open.
End with: No more locks for me.
It took three tries before he got the latch open. The bomb was hardwired into a safe deposit box, and using the key would have triggered a detonation that would easily demolish the First National and probably half the rest of the town square. But Sarge managed to go in through the neighboring deposit box. He motioned with his free hand, and I pulled the box out and set it aside. There was an envelope with a ring-shaped crease, and a bundle of yellowed letters from the ‘40s.
“I’m a bomb expert, not a locksmith,” the sergeant muttered, peering in through the new opening at a bundle of wiring.
“Okay, Bones,” I said with a sly grin, but the Sarge didn’t get the reference. He had gray hair and a small farm when he wasn’t disarming bombs in sleepy Delonia, Texas (that’s okay, nobody else has heard of it, either).
How many bombs, you might ask, in a place so tiny and forgotten and out of the way? Why would such a podunk place have a bomb expert at all? Turns out, First National is the primary bank for half the farmers and ranchers in East Texas. Every couple months a few million dollars passes through these vaults, and so every couple months some wannabe with delusions of grandeur comes in here and tries to rob the place. As bank security, it was my job to hold my hands higher than everyone else when the guns came out.
“You should step outside with the others,” the sergeant said. He picked up his tools and prodded at the wiring. “No sense in both of us dying.”
“Roger that, Sarge,” I answered. I never argue with my elders.
Unfortunately, in their mad dash for the exit, one of the would-be robbers had apparently closed the vault. I pushed against the door—the vault had one of those big, round doors that you only see in movies. Nothing. I began to sweat.
“Looks like you’ll have to be a locksmith again, Sarge,” I said. He spared a glance to the door and grunted.
“You figure it out,” he said. “We’re on the inside, shouldn’t be too hard.” His hands disappeared inside the deposit box with a pair of wire cutters and a screwdriver. There wasn’t any room for him to see around his own hands, and I was mildly concerned because he couldn’t see what he was doing.
I wiped my hands as best I could on my flak jacket and inspected the inside of the vault door. There was an opening beg enough for my hand; I shined my light inside and saw a complicated mass of gears and…stuff. I had no idea. Still, it was better than worrying about Sarge and the bomb. I stuck my hand in and started feeling around. Something cold and metal clamped down.
“Oh—sonuva—sonuvabitch!” I screamed.
The Sarge looked over with a small smile. “They’re probably trying to open it from the outside, kid,” he said.
“Fucking-fuck!” I answered. I could not pull my hand free. I was sure something was breaking, and it wasn’t whatever slammed down on my hand. I pounded on the door with my maglight. Someone on the other side tapped back. There were clacking sounds from inside the door, and a screech. The metal ground against my hand. I think at this point it was my hand preventing the door from opening.
“No, damn it, assholes!” I cried. I never really cursed that much but this seemed like the time.
“Prob’ly think your tapping means we’re all clear,” Sarge said. He had one eye closed in concentration. “Don’t let them open the door yet.”
My knees were threatening to collapse, and waves of pain rolled up my arm. I was about to pass out. I thought at the time that it was very brave and noble of me to keep my hand in the lock, but really, I was trapped in there. Even if I had passed out, I would have just hung there by my trapped limb.
“All done,” the sergeant said. He stood with a groan, and then came over to inspect my situation. He gripped a lever jutting from the back of the vault door and lifted it about an inch. My hand slipped free and I collapsed to the floor. I writhed around a bit, clutching my hand, which was swelling and turning a nasty purple. Sarge tapped on the door, and after a couple of clacks, it swung open.
“Come on, kid,” he said as he gathered up his equipment. “We’ll get you to the hospital.”
I looked up at him, a glimmer of hope in my eye. “Are there any openings on the bomb squad, Sarge? I think it might be safer. No more locks for me.”