The Mousetrap

By Dale Phillips

Rory was the sharpest operator I'd ever known. To show you how good he was, he'd never been caught. And he'd done a lot of jobs. He never got caught, because he trusted nobody, ever, and he was careful to be the only one who knew the whole plan in advance. He always had a plan, and a backup plan, and another plan behind that. Maybe more, I don't know, but we never got that far, because everything always went so smoothly.

So when Rory asked me if I'd like to make some good money, I was flattered. Everyone knew he was the best, so if he picked you for a job, it was quite an honor. It was validation in our circles that you knew what you were doing, and could be relied upon. He picked his teams carefully, and never rushed a job, or took unnecessary risks.

So I was in from the get-go, though I didn't know what the job was, because Rory never spilled any details until necessary. Not that I cared. It didn't matter, because Rory would make sure things went off without a hitch, and we'd all have a good stash of money to live on for awhile.

One day about two weeks after he'd first asked me, he called to summon me for "the talk." I waited outside a certain street corner for him to pull up in his coupe. As I got in, I was surprised to see a dame in the passenger seat beside him. Rory always said to never talk business in front of dames, and always warned us of the danger.

"Say hello to Laurie," said Rory, grinning into the rearview mirror.

"Hi, Laurie."

She turned and flashed me a million-dollar smile that would have made my knees buckle, if I hadn't been sitting down. She was a knockout, no doubt about it, but I wondered what she was doing here. I decided to use his code name, just in case there was something funny.

"Uh, Mr. Calhoun, I thought we were going to talk business," I said.

"It's okay," he replied. "Laurie's on the job." I saw him looking at me to see my reaction. I swallowed and said nothing.

"I know what you're thinking," he went on. "Dames on the job are nothing but trouble, right?"

I cleared my throat. "That's what you've always said."

He laughed. "Yes, indeed, I have always said that. And I'm right. But Laurie here is special. This time, it's going to be different."

Yeah, I thought, it was sure going to be different.

Rory explained that Laurie was going to get us in for a big job, the biggest we'd ever seen. She'd get us onto the estate of Terence Swanson, a reclusive millionaire. He had a slew of guards and alarms, the whole bit, and could summon enough police in a hurry to make a private army.

But this Laurie dame had some way we could get past the guards and alarms, and keep word from getting out. After that, we'd have our pick of his private collections: enough priceless art, antiques, and jewelry to fill a museum. Plus, we'd get access to his safe, where, it was said, he kept a big pile of cash.

This sure was different from our regular jobs. To me, the whole thing sounded risky, and a little crazy. That estate was huge, and there was enough stuff on it for a big score, but we'd have to round up every person who worked there, and keep watch on them the whole time, while it could take hours to load the stuff we were stealing. There was a lot that could go wrong.

But Rory was in charge, and he'd have it all figured out. He'd never failed before.

To show you how smart he was, we never all met together, so we didn't even know who else was on the job. That way if someone got caught, he couldn't squeal, even if he wanted to, on anybody but Rory, and now the dame. Rory would drive us blindfolded to an old warehouse, one at a time, to go over the layout of the estate. He'd printed out big photos of the grounds, and laid out a plan with little models for buildings, the whole works. He had little plastic policemen to represent the guards, and toy cars to show where vehicles were. Must have taken him weeks to put it all together, but it looked pretty slick. I made the trip to the warehouse three times, until I knew where everything was. I didn't know how many others there were on the job, or who they were. We'd all be identified by a cleaning crew outfit that everybody on the job would wear.

We knew the guards might be moving around, but he got that all figured as well. This Laurie dame lived at the estate, and knew everything about it. I wondered what she did there. Rory had said she was some kind of private secretary, but I knew what happens when a rich guy hires a knockout dame like that. But I was careful not to say anything in front of Rory. You could tell he'd fallen for her.

So the time for the job came quickly. I was to dress in my crew outfit, with dark glasses and a cap, and wait on a particular street corner with my toolbox in hand. I was there when a truck pulled up with the same name as on my uniform. I didn't know the driver.

"Get in," he said, and I opened the back door. There were five other guys sitting on benches in the back, and I joined them. We made one more stop for another guy, and then the ride got long. I figured we had our full crew together, for the first, and the last time.

I don't know where Rory got these guys from. I thought I knew pretty much anybody in the game locally, but I didn't recognize anyone. I hoped he'd chosen well. I wasn't happy pulling a job with guys I didn't know and had never even met, and wouldn't have done it if it was anybody but Rory.

We couldn't see much of anything from the back, but it was still light when the truck slowed, and the driver told us to get ready. I thought about it. It was so risky to pull a job like this in the daytime that no one would be expecting it. Pretty slick, I guess, if you can pull it off.

"Stay cool back there. He's on the job," the driver told us. The back door was opened by a uniformed security guard, who looked in without a lick of surprise at seeing a group like us in the back. He closed the door and slapped the side of the truck for the driver to pull through the gates. We stopped soon after, and cooled our heels for about an hour. It wasn't easy, as we were all jumpy. Finally the driver opened the back and spoke.

"Let's go." We filed out. I was a bit stiff from the ride, but was feeling excited, the way I always do when I'm on a job.

I didn't worry about what the other guys were doing, I had my own goals. We got inside, and I saw Rory, dressed as one of the security guards.

He smiled at us. "Alarms and phone are out of commission. All the guards are accounted for, and eight other people, all locked away. Start loading up."

He nodded as each man went off, to take care of the part of the job that Rory had set him up with. I went with Rory, to handle the safe.

We walked through a lot of rooms, each decorated with a ton of stuff that would have set any of us up for life. I wondered where this guy got all his money, and why he tied it up in a bunch of fancy junk in a place where he lived all alone, except for the servants and guards. A couple of hundred people could have lived here comfortably, instead of just one lonely old guy.

We finally reached the bedroom, which was bigger than the place I lived in.

The dame stood smoking a cigarette, by a guy tied to a chair. He had a blindfold on, but I could tell it was Swanson. There was blood around his mouth, and a few marks on his face that could have been cigarette burns. I knew we were in trouble.

"Nothing?" Rory said to the dame. She shook her head, looking mad.

Rory grimaced, and took me into the back part, which was another huge space. He nodded toward a safe, set into the wall, and I saw a painting had been removed from in front of the safe and set down.

I put down my tools and got to work. Looking the safe over, I saw it was a Cremona. Of course, the guy would have bought the best. I took out my stethoscope, stuck in the earpieces, and pressed it to the front plate, about three inches from the combination dial. I took a tuning fork and tapped gently on the metal. Okay, standard model, nothing funny, but these babies were tough. I moved the piece closer to the dial, and began, very gently, to move the dial to the right, one number at a time.

You may hear of crackers taking sandpaper to their fingertips, supposedly to scrape a layer or two of skin off, to make them more sensitive, but that's a load of hogwash. The real way is to do what I was doing, try to hear the mechanism inside click when everything fell into place, one combination number at a time. A lot of safes could be cracked this way, but the Cremona had a much better oiled set of tumblers inside that made it almost damned impossible to hear when they lined up.

After about twenty minutes, I still hadn't heard so much as a faint cricket chirp from inside the box. I looked at Rory and shrugged. His mouth made a hard line, and he went into the other room. A minute later I heard someone yell in pain. Rory came back in. The yelling continued, and Rory shut the door between the rooms. I felt bad for the guy tied to the chair, but why didn't he just tell the dame?

"This is hard enough, I can't hear with that racket," I said. "Tell her to stop."

Rory went back out, and the yelling stopped soon after. He came back in.

"Fifteen minutes," was all he said. He waited while I kept trying. I wiped the sweat from my brow with my shirt cuff, and strained to hear anything, but no matter how hard I listened, the safe wasn't giving up its secrets. I nudged the numbers around, but there wasn't a peep from inside the box.

When the time was up, I sagged, defeated.

"Nothing I can do."

"What about going in through the side? Smash it out of the wall and peel it where it's thinner."

I shook my head. "Some brands you can do that with. This one's just as tough on the side as the front."

Rory took it like a pro, didn't yell, didn't tell me to try harder. He knew if I couldn't crack it, the safe was secure. He went back out, and I heard him gasp.

"Good God, what did you do to him? You were supposed to wait," I heard him say.

"It's okay," the dame said. "He can still talk. And I think he's ready now."

A minute later, Rory came in, his face pale and a faraway look in his eyes. He spoke four numbers to me, and I twirled the dial and had the safe open in seconds. I didn't want to think about what she'd done to the guy to make him give up the combination. This wasn't the way we did business.

There was indeed a pile of money in the safe, and I scooped it out, loving the big bundled feel of it. I threw everything in the bag, some bonds, a couple of stray pieces of something of value, papers. All the guy had owned and tried to protect.

Rory took the bag as I picked up my tools. He walked to the other room, and then I heard him yelling.

"What did you do? What did you do? You didn't have to do that!"

"Oh no? Want to know what I had to do to get you in here, set this all up? The weeks I had to stand him putting his hands on me? Want to know everything?"

"But you didn't have to do that."

"Yes, I did."

I slumped against the wall, suddenly weary of it all. We were pros, we took things, but we didn't hurt people unless they were trying to hurt us. This was all wrong. Rory and the dame kept arguing, as I put my head in my hands and tried to think about being someplace else.

Sometime later, I don't know how long, somebody touched my shoulder. I looked up and saw Rory, and he looked twenty years older than he'd looked this morning.

"Let's go."

I followed him back through the other room. The dame wasn't there, I was glad of that, but my eyes wandered to the bloody sheet covering something. I saw a foot sticking out from under the sheet, and almost threw up. Rory took me by the elbow and rushed me out of there, and I blindly followed.

"You'll come with me," he said, and lead me to a different truck from the one I'd arrived in. He put me in the passenger side, and I stayed there while he went back in the house. I don't know how long he was gone, and I didn't care. I didn't even want the money anymore, I just wanted to wake up and find it had all been a bad dream.

I guess I was in shock. Rory took me someplace, somebody's apartment. He let me lie down on the bed, and I stayed there awhile. I must have dozed, because I heard voices later on. It was the dame. I was afraid now, paralyzed as I lay there.

"Pulling a job is one thing," I heard Rory say. "Nobody gets too bent out of shape over it. The guy calls his insurance company, and they pay him off, everybody gets to go on. But what you did — baby, they give you the Chair for that."

"What do I care? I've got enough money to get away so they'll never find me."

"That's part of the whole pot. That's gotta be split up —"

"Don't be a sap," the dame said.

"You're taking it? All?"

"Damn right I am."

"And you're not going with me." I thought I heard real regret in Rory's voice.

"You're not strong enough. I thought you were, but I was wrong."

"Strong? Is that what you call it? Someone who could do what you did?"

"Don't come any closer, or I'll have to use this."

"You might as well."

"You're right."

There was an explosion, as three shots sounded.

Some time later, I went out to the other room. The dame had long gone. Rory was sprawled on the floor, over by the corner. By his outstretched hand was a mousetrap. It got me thinking. There must be some reason mousetraps are so damned effective. I mean, mice are used in experiments because they're so smart — they can run mazes, do puzzles and tricks. So why can't they figure out that mousetraps are deadly? A little cheese or peanut butter smeared on a strange device should alert a smart mouse that something is up. Especially if they've seen other mice caught in a trap. But they keep falling for it. We always fall for the cheese.

Dale Phillips's first mystery novel, A MEMORY OF GRIEF is now out from Briona Glen Publishing; available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and as an ebook on Smashwords. He studied writing with Stephen King, and has published over 20 short stories, poetry, and a non-fiction career book, HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR INTERVIEWING SKILLS. He's appeared on stage, television, and in an independent feature film, Throg. He competed on two nationally televised quiz shows, Jeopardy and Think Twice. He co-wrote and acted in The Nine, a short political satire film (at

He's traveled to all 50 states, Mexico, Canada, and through Europe. He can be reached at

Copyright 2011 Dale Phillips. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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