When Dorsey O'Shea walked into the lock shop that morning in
October, I was in the back room trying to figure out how to pick
the new high-security Cooper locks. I saw her through the one-way
glass that separated the workshop from the retail space.
My partner, Willie the Wire, was waiting on a customer. I don't
think Willie recognized her at first --- it had been two years
since Dorsey and I were a number, she had changed her hair, and as
I recall he had only met her on one or two occasions --- but he
remembered her as soon as she said his name and asked for me.
Willie was noncommittal --- he knew I was in the back room. "How
long has it been, Dorsey?"
"I really need to see Carmellini," she said forcefully.
"You're the third hot woman this week who has told me that."
"I want his telephone number, Willie."
"Does he still have your phone number?"
That was when I stepped through the shop door and she saw me. She
was tall, with great bones, and skin like cream. "Hey,
"Tommy, I need to talk to you."
"Come on back."
She came around the counter and preceded me through the doorway to
the shop. I confess, I watched. Even when she wasn't trying, her
hips and bottom moved in very interesting ways. But all that was
past, I told myself with a sigh. She had ditched me, and truth be
told, I didn't want her back. Too much maintenance.
In the shop she looked around curiously at the tools, locks, and
junk strewn everywhere. Willie wasn't a neat workman and I confess,
I'm also kinda messy. She fingered some of the locks, then focused
her attention on me. "I remembered that you were a part owner in
this place, so I thought Willie might know where to find
"Inducing him to tell you would have been the trick."
Obviously Dorsey had not considered the possibility that Willie
might refuse to tell her whatever she asked. Few men ever had. She
was young, beautiful and rich, the modern trifecta for females. She
came by her dough the old fashioned way --- she inherited it. Her
parents died in a car wreck shortly after she was born. Her
grandparents who raised her passed away while she was partying at
college, trying to decide if growing up would be worth the effort.
Now she lived in a monstrous old brick mansion on five hundred
acres, all that remained of a colonial plantation, on the northern
bank of the Potomac thirty miles up river from Washington. It was a
nice little getaway if you were worth a couple hundred million, and
When I met her she was whiling away her time doing the backstroke
through Washington's social circles. She once thought I was pretty
good arm candy on the party circuit and a pleasant bed-warmer on
long winter nights, but after a while she changed her mind. Women
are like that… fickle.
I had the Cooper lock mounted on a board, which was held in a vice.
I adjusted the torsion wench and went back to work with the pick.
The Cooper was brand-new to the market, a top-of-the-line exterior
door lock that contractors were ordering installed in custom homes.
They were telling the owners that it was burglar-proof,
un-pickable. I didn't think there was a lock on the planet that
couldn't be opened without a key, but then, I had never before
tried the Cooper. I would see one sooner or later on a door I
wanted to go through, so why not learn now? I had already cut a
Cooper in half --- ruining several saw blades --- so I knew what
made it tick. I had had two pins aligned when Dorsey came in, and
of course lost them when I released the tension on the wrench and
walked around front to speak to her.
She eyed me now as I manipulated the tools. "What are you doing,
"Learning how to open this lock."
"Why don't you use a key?"
"That would be cheating. Our public would be disappointed. What can
I do for you today, anyway?"
She looked around again in a distracted manner, then sat on the
only uncluttered stool. "I need help, and the only person I could
think of asking was you."
I got one of the pins up and felt around, trying to find which of
the others was the tightest. The problem here, I decided, was the
shape of my pick. I could barely reach the pins. I got a strip of
flat stock from our cabinet and began working with the
"That sounds very deep," I said to keep her talking. "Have you
discussed that insight with your analyst?"
"I feel like such a fool, coming here like this. Don't make it
worse by talking down to me."
"It's not that I didn't like you, Tommy, but I never understood
you. Who are you? Why do you own part of a lock shop? What kind of
work do you do for the government? You never told me anything about
yourself. I always felt that there was this wall between us, that
there was a whole side of you I didn't know."
"You don't owe me an explanation," I said. "It was two years ago.
We hadn't made each other any promises."
She twisted her hands --- I couldn't help glancing at her from time
"Why don't you tell me what's on your mind?" I said as I inspected
my new pick. I slipped it into the Cooper, put some tension on the
torsion wrench, and went to work as she talked.
"Every man I know wears a suit and tie and spends his days making
money --- the more the better --- except you. It's just that ---
oh, hell!" She watched me work the pick for a minute before she
added, "I want you to get into an ex-boyfriend's house and get
something for me."
"There are dozens of lock shops listed in the yellow pages."
"Please, Tommy, don't be like that." She slipped off the stool and
walked around so that she could look into my eyes. She didn't reach
and she didn't touch --- just looked. "I feel like such a jerk,
asking you for a favor after I broke up with you, but I don't have
a choice. Believe me, I am in trouble."
Truthfully, when she dumped me I was sort of subtly campaigning to
get dumped --- I wasn't about to tell her that. And you don't have
to believe it if you don't want to.
I glanced at her. The tension showed on her face. "You're going to
have to tell me all of it," I said, gently as I could. At heart
Dorsey was a nice kid… for a multi-millionaire, which wasn't
"His name is Kincaid, Carroll Kincaid. He has a couple of
videotapes. He made them without my knowledge when we were first
dating. He's threatening to show them to my fiancé if I don't
pay him a lot of money."
"I didn't know you were engaged."
"We haven't announced it yet."
"Who's the lucky guy?"
She said a name, pronounced it like I was supposed to recognize
"So why don't you ask him for help?" I said.
"I can't. Tommy, even if I pay blackmail, there's no guarantee
Kincaid would give me the only copies of the tapes."
"So you want me to break into his house and get the tapes?"
"It wouldn't really be burglary. He made the tapes without my
permission. They are really mine."
Amazingly enough, when we were dating the thought never crossed my
little mind that she might have a stupid stunt like this in her. I
made eye contact again, scrutinized every feature. I decided she
might be telling the truth.
I was trying to think of something appropriate to say when I felt
the pick twitch and the lock rotated. It was open.
I put the tools on the table and was reaching for a stool when she
moved closer and laid a hand on my arm. "Oh, Tommy, please!
Blackmail is ugly. I am really in love, and it could be something
wonderful. Kincaid is trying to ruin my life."
I reflected that sometimes having money is really hard on a girl,
or so I've heard. And the prospect of burglary always gets my
juices flowing. She gave me Kincaid's address. I made sure Dorsey
understood that I wasn't promising anything. "I'll see what I can
do." She gave me her cell phone number, started to kiss me, thought
better of it and left.
I sat wondering how that kiss would have tasted as I listened to
her walk through the store. When the front door closed Willie came
into the workshop.
"I don't know what you got, Carmellini, that drives all the chicks
wild, but I'd sure like to have some of it. They're troopin' in
here all the time wantin' to know where you are, what you're doin'
--- makes a man feel inadequate, y'know? Maybe you oughta open a
school or somethin'. Sorta a public service deal. What'd'ya
"I got the Cooper opened."
"How long it take you?"
"I wasn't timing it. I was --- "
"Three minutes for me," Willie said with a touch of pride in his
voice. "`Course I wasn't looking at a dish like that when I did it.
What does she want you to do --- steal the silver at the White
"I can beat three minutes blindfolded," I told Willie, and by God,
I did. And I had to listen to a lot of his B.S. while I did
* * * * *
I went into Kincaid's place the following night. There was no one
home and he forgot to lock the back door. When I found that the
door was unlocked, I sat down at his backyard picnic table while I
thought things over. For the life of me, I couldn't see what Dorsey
would gain by setting me up. Dorsey was waiting in my car halfway
down the block with a cell phone --- she was to call me if Kincaid
returned while I was in the house.
If she was playing a game, it was too deep for me, I concluded.
Even smart people forget to lock their doors.
I opened Kincaid's back door and went inside.
After thirty minutes I was certain there were no homemade
videotapes in the house, although I did find three high-end
videocams and a dozen photographer's floodlights in the bedroom,
which had a huge round bed in the center of the room and electrical
outlets every three feet around the walls. This guy was more than
kinky --- he was set up to make porno flicks.
So where were they? There were boxes of videotape --- all unopened,
still wrapped in cellophane. Nothing that looked like it had been
in a camera.
I was going through his files at his desk in his den --- he was
reasonably well organized, I must say --- when I found a receipt
for a safe deposit box at a local bank. From the amount he paid, he
must have rented a large box. The receipt was a month ago. The box
key wasn't in the desk and I didn't expect it to be.
I couldn't find a receipt or record that hinted that he owned a
storage unit. He might have stashed a suitcase full of stuff at a
friend's house, but I doubted it. These days everyone had curious
friends. His car was a possibility, though an unlikely one. If some
kid took it for a joyride he could be ruined. Of course, he could
have delivered the tapes to whatever lab processed them into
movies. But if he did that with a tape of Dorsey and some porno
kings, why try to blackmail her?
Dorsey was chewing her lip when I got into the car. "No
videotapes," I said. "Has a nice little home movie setup, but no
"I could help you look. They must be there."
"They aren't. He didn't even lock the back door." I started the car
and got it rolling down the street. "He's set up to film some hot
porno action. The raw tapes would have to be digitized and edited,
and the equipment for that isn't in the house."
Her color wasn't good. She didn't meet my eyes.
"When did he first approach you demanding money?"
She thought about it. "Three weeks ago, I think. Labor Day weekend.
I had some friends over for a small party and he showed up
The time frame seemed to fit. I decided the safe deposit box was a
I didn't make a habit of burgling houses for ex-girlfriends, even
if they are beautiful and rich and being blackmailed. During the
day I worked for the CIA. It wasn't something agency employees talk
about and I had never mentioned it to Dorsey. I think I did once
mention that I worked for the General Services Administration. She
probably thought I was some kind of maintenance supervisor. Maybe
that was the story I told her --- I don't quite remember.
Usually I worked overseas, breaking and entering for Uncle Sam,
planting bugs, stealing documents, that kind of thing. Every now
and then I did a few black-bag jobs stateside for the FBI, strictly
as a favor, you understand, one federal agency helping another. I
sometimes heard rumors that the CIA asked the FBI to ask for my
help on domestic matters, but being a loyal employee, I immediately
forgot those ugly whispers. In those days I was just another civil
servant beating in time, working toward that happy retirement on
the old 55th birthday, followed by a life of golf and restaurant
meals courtesy of future taxpayers.
After my abortive inspection of Dorsey's ex-flame's house, I took
her back to her car and dropped her. She was in a foul mood,
chewing her lip.
I waited until she got inside her vehicle, then drove away to find
a bar. As I swilled beer I compared how I felt two years ago when
she dumped me and how I felt walking through the porno guy's
Liars & Thieves
- hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press
- ISBN-10: 0312283628
- ISBN-13: 9780312283629