Fiction Fiction Issue

The Safe

A junkyard mystery

Snyder and Little Dickie were already back at work when Alva walked through the big yard gate, pulled along by Claude, who was panting, his long pink tongue dripping beads on the dirt.

“Hey, boy,” Snyder said, holding out a thick, blackened hand. Claude put his nose in Snyder’s palm, wondering at the paint, silicon, putty, zinc, cupric oxide, lime scale, and graphite he smelled there.

“I figured I’d let him get a sniff of the safe,” Alva told the men. “See if he gives a reaction.”

Little Dickie looked doubtfully at the dog. Claude sat and returned his steady gaze. “That the dog trained for dead bodies and dope?”

“Sort of.”

Little Dickie extended his arm in a sweeping motion. “Well, be my guest.”

Alva pulled the dog over to the safe and grabbed his collar, bringing his nose close to the door. At first Claude seemed uninterested, but then he put one nostril to the drilled hole and sniffed in short intakes, as though he were pumping his head full of air. He snuffed loudly, blowing his nose free, then smelled again, putting his forepaws on either side of the hole. He drew back, cocked his head sideways, and rolled his ears forward; then, raising his snout to the gray sky, he howled a long sorrowful note that flew over the fence and haunted the whole neighborhood.

Little Dickie took a step backward into a puddle of dark fluid leaking from a refrigerator compressor. “Damn. That yell could peel paint off a porch.” Claude howled again and began scratching at the safe door, drawing scent from one hole and then the other.

Alva had never seen the dog express anything close to excitement, and for the past few years had considered him to be little more than a slow-moving lawn ornament. He was the kind of dog that didn’t do tricks, didn’t ask to be scratched or to be let in or out. He was a drifter dog, a brassy apparition noticed only when he was discovered on the sofa or found blocking the walkway to the mailbox. But now he was pulling the leash like a caught fish, dancing on the rusty safe’s front like someone who’s been told a relative is locked inside. He made so much noise and got so upset that Alva towed him over to the office and shut him in.

Snyder Problem rested a hip against his anvil. “Know what I think?”

“What?”

“If you call the chief of police and tell him what that dog did, he might could find someone to unlock the safe. Save you the price of a locksmith.”

“What about the seal welds? A safecracker can’t get past those.”

“They’re thin,” Little Dickie said, reaching up to put a rubber band in his hair. “I can take them off with a angle grinder before the law gets here.”

Alva looked back toward the office and could hear Claude’s muffled barking. He didn’t like the idea of bringing police into the yard. He lived in secret envy of their clean uniforms, nickel-plated decorations, and shiny boots, the possibility that one of them might be promoted to something. Claude began to howl like a wolf. “Tell the operator to get the crane and stand the thing up, then.”

At first, the policeman who answered the phone was not interested, but when Alva explained how the dog had been trained, the receiver went dead for a minute, and then the chief of police came on the line. “What brand of safe is it?”

“It says Sloss on the knob. Why?”

“I’ll tell that to Houston, the locksmith.”

“I thought he was dead. You think he can open it?”

“Is it a real old safe?”

“Yes.”

“That’s his game.”

Presented by

Tim Gautreaux, recent winner of the John Dos Passos Prize, taught creative writing for thirty years at Southeastern Louisiana University. His most recent novel is The Clearing.

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