Safe

This is dedicated to my friend Da Wei, whose birthday was three days ago. Happy Birthday, bro!

Note: This is the first part of a two part story. Click for part two.

Kyle did his best to control his breathing. Measured breaths, in and out. He had to be calm, but his heart was pounding with excitement in his chest. Kyle glanced left and right at his seven competitors in their respective lanes who all, like him, had their hands splayed open in the air. The Locksport Games were about to begin.

“Three! Two! One!” The referee shouted and blew his whistle, signalling for them to start and the crowd cheered them on. Kyle tuned them out as best as he could and focused on the locks in front of him while he reached for his tools on the table without looking. His left hand found the torque wrench and his right, a basic pick. Smoothly inserting both tools into the lock, Kyle dexterously picked the first lock in about five seconds. The second was even easier, giving way to Kyle as if it hadn’t wanted to be locked in the first place. Kyle pushed the door open and sprinted to the next check point.

A quick glance around showed he was one of three guys in the lead, but the rest would catch up soon. The second obstacle was a door with a set of three different interconnected locks that had to be picked within seven seconds of each other, otherwise, all three locks reset themselves automatically. Kyle quickly inspected the locks and chuckled, knowing he’d be able to pick them all easily, and he proceeded to do so with no problems. The door practically fell open at his touch as he opened the third lock and passed through quickly. Another glance to his rivals told him that he was currently in the lead.

The final obstacle was a safe protected by two masterlocks. Kyle hated those. He had a natural affinity for mechanical locks, having been raised by his traditional locksmith father, but masterlocks were very different. They don’t have a keyhole to pick. Rather, Kyle would have to crack the combination by trial and error and listening to the clicks. It was tedious and time consuming. But he had no choice: Inside the safe was the button to stop his timer and mark his completion of the course. Kyle sat down and started working.

The seconds ticked by as Kyle turned and twisted the knob, listening carefully to the clicks of the lock and mentally noting number sequences. He’d had enough practice to forgo the paper and pen method, but he had to maintain his concentration. One little slip up and he’d have to start all over again. That was not a mistake he was prepared to make. Finally, after three long minutes, he cracked the first one and started on the second. Glancing up, Kyle saw that all the others had arrived in their own lanes and were working on their own masterlocks.

Kyle quickly turned his attention back to the second masterlock and started working on it. This time it was easier, since he already understood the first lock, he was able to crack the second one in just two and a half minutes. Scrambling to get the safe open, he reached in a cramped hand and slammed the button inside, stopping his timer. Kyle sagged in relief, the tension easing from his stiff muscles and the roar of the crowd flooded back into his attention. He rolled back and lay on the floor, both mentally and physically exhausted. He looked to his left and saw his main rival, Terry, grinning triumphantly back at him. Kyle groaned and closed his eyes, slamming his first on the ground in frustration. He knew he’d lost first place to Terry. Again.

* * * * * *

“And the first place goes to… TERRY WALKINS!” the announcer shouted and the crowd erupted into cheers. Kyle mock snarled at Terry as he walked onto the stage with big grin on his face. Terry smirked at Kyle then accepted his prize: an official badge and a gold plated lockpicking set. Kyle looked at his own badge and sighed.

“Second place: first loser!” Terry teased Kyle. Kyle punched him in the arm and grinned.

“You only won because of the masterlock section. I was ahead of you the whole time before that,” Kyle replied with indignation.

“But this begs to differ,” Terry took out a golden pick and waved it in Kyle’s face.

It didn’t really matter anyway. The course was designed to test them on basic lockpicking skills; normal locks, electrical locks and masterlocks. Just the completion of the course officially inducted both of them as Level Three members. The first place prize was just a token of recognition.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” a male voice spoke from behind them. Kyle and Terry stopped bickering and turned to see a man in a suit, probably only a few years older than they were. The speaker smiled at them and gave a slight bow.

“Congratulations on your new Level Three statuses, especially to you, Terry. My name is Anthony Briggs Jr. and I work for Briggs Security Consulting. I may have a job offer for both of you, if you’re interested.” He shook first Terry’s and then Kyle’s hands.

Kyle and Terry looked at each other and raised their eyebrows.

“Wait, Briggs? Any relation to the CEO Gary Briggs?” Kyle asked. Anthony Briggs smiled in delight.

“Very good. Yes, Gary Briggs is my grandfather. I’m working under him as a talent scout of sorts. I look out for young people like yourselves who’ve proven to have advanced understanding and keen interest in locks and security. I can tell you more about the job now, but you’ll have to come in to our office for a proper interview, of course. As well as a small test of our own making,” Anthony added as he produced two business cards and offered them to Kyle and Terry.

“Uh, sure, okay, I guess,” Kyle said, accepting one card.

“Just okay? Man, this is awesome!” Terry exclaimed, taking the other card. He turned to Anthony and asked, “What exactly would we be doing?”

“Well, first we’ll provide you with some training to familiarize yourself with our security systems, but after that you’ll mostly be testing said systems. Looking for weaknesses, suggesting improvements, that sort of thing. Sometimes we’ll provide you with some of our competitors’ systems to see if you can break into them. And, we’ll also sponsor you to take part in locksport tournaments representing the company, if you so desire.”

“Doesn’t sound too difficult,” Kyle commented. “Looks like you’ve got Terry convinced. Why do you want me?”

“More minds, more styles, for starters. I was watching your event. You were in the lead until the last obstacle, which means you’re better at the actual picking of locks. Terry caught up with you at the end because he was able to crack the masterlocks much faster than you could. I would think that if you both were to join us, there would be some friendly competition between you two, which would be a benefit the company overall, don’t you think?”

Kyle and Terry looked at each other again and grinned.

“Take a day to think it over, gentlemen. You can call the office and arrange an interview. Both of you could be interviewed together, if you want. I have to leave now, so I’ll bid adieu to you,” Anthony turned to leave.

As he walked past, Anthony said to Kyle, “One more reason I want to hire you: Second place always works harder.” Anthony smiled, though not unkindly, and left. Terry sniggered.

* * * * * *

They had been best friends and rivals since childhood. Kyle, the son of a locksmith, started learning about the internal workings of locks from a young age. Terry was the more mischievous of the two and, after spending so much time with Kyle and locks, was the first to figure out how to actually pick a lock. Kyle preferred to just understand and learn about how different locking systems worked. Kyle’s father tried to stop them at first, but ultimately started teaching them proper lockpicking techniques, as well as the morals and philosophies of locksport.

You may only pick your own locks, or a lock that you have explicit permission from the owner to pick. You may never pick a lock that’s in use or any system that will compromise the security of another person.

This was the pledge that Kyle’s father made them recite every day and each time he taught them. That was his condition to them when he taught the boys his trade. That pledge was drilled deep into Kyle and that was what he was thinking of while he flicked and fiddled with Anthony Briggs’ name card. He felt torn and he didn’t really know why. Working with Terry at Briggs Security Consulting sounded great, the job didn’t seem to violate his father’s code, but he just had a niggling feeling in his gut that something was off.

Kyle wasn’t sure he even wanted the job. He was quite happy helping out with his father’s locksmith business and didn’t want to leave. On the other hand, his father had approved and this was a great opportunity to work with cutting edge security systems. If Kyle was honest with himself, he found thought of being able to provide his input on complex locking systems quite appealing.

Terry had called and settled the logistics of the interview for both of them. Besides, Kyle could always decline later, if he wanted to.

* * * * * *

“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Kyle asked Terry.

“Of course I’m sure,” Terry replied. “Google Maps said it’s here.”

They were at the edge of the city, in front of an unmarked two-storey building that looked old and weathered. This was the right place but the problem was, the door was locked. Kyle knocked on the door and waited, but there was no answer.

“I’m going to call the office,” Kyle announced.

“Good morning!” A female voice answered the phone brightly. “Briggs Security Consulting, how may I help you?”

“Hi, my name is Kyle Brooks. My friend Terry Walkins and I are here for a job interview, but we’re not sure if we’re in the right place,” Kyle read the address to her.

“Ah, Mr Brooks! Yes, you’re in the right place. Just open the door and go in.”

“But it’s locked…”

“Open the door and go in, Kyle,” she said and hung up before Kyle could protest further. Kyle pulled his phone away from his ear and frowned at it.

“What’s wrong?” Terry asked. “What did they say?”

“Well, we’re in the right place,” Kyle said as he pocketed his phone. “She said to just open the door and hung up. Pretty rude of her, if you ask me.”

“She said that? Her exact words?” Terry asked.

“She said ‘Open the door and go in’. Why?”

Terry whipped out his tools and grinned.

“No, you can’t be serious,” Kyle shook his head. “We can’t pick a lock without -”

“Without what? Permission? Sounds like she just gave us permission,” Terry interrupted. “Besides, Anthony Briggs said they would have a small test for us. What if this is it?”

Kyle hesitated.

“Wait,” Kyle stopped him. “Let me call Anthony Briggs.” Kyle took out his phone again and dialed, but got no answer. Terry turned to the lock and knelt down to inspect it.

“Don’t worry,” Terry told Kyle while he worked. “If anyone gets into trouble, it’ll just be me.” As he spoke the last word, the lock clicked and turned and Terry opened the door with a flourish.

“Show off,” Kyle muttered and they both looked in. Inside was a warehouse of some sort, with shelves of random objects. Kyle’s apprehension grew, but they both stepped inside anyway.

“Well done,” a voice said from the doorway behind them. “Most people would have just stopped at the locked door.” Kyle and Terry spun around and tried not to look too guilty.

“Mr. Briggs!” Terry exclaimed in relief and extended his hand to Anthony, which he shook.

“Mr. Briggs is my father. Call me Anthony, please. Welcome to my current place of work,” Anthony said. “I know, it doesn’t look like much, does it?”

“It’s umm… quaint,” Kyle said diplomatically.

Anthony chuckled. “Come with me,” he beckoned as he walked further in.

“Was that the test? The locked door, I mean,” Terry inquired as they walked.

“It was a test yes. I’m looking for people who are willing to push the boundaries a little. You will be working with state-of-the-art systems, after all.”

“Does that mean Kyle doesn’t get the job?” Terry asked. Kyle smacked him on the arm as Anthony laughed out loud.

“Au contraire! Kyle has shown that he has the right ethics for the job. He tried everything else first before you picked the lock. You two balance each other quite well. Besides, Terry, it’s not a competition. I’m looking to hire you both as a team. As an addition to my team.”

“What team?” Kyle asked. They had reached another door, this time with a retinal scanner. Anthony put his eye up to the scanner and waited. After a beat, the door opened for them to pass through. Kyle thought that was weird. Why such high tech security in a warehouse that was itself protected only by a simple lock which Terry had easily picked?

“This team,” Anthony waved Kyle and Terry into the room that was filled with more shelves of electronic gadgets, but organized a lot neater than the stuff outside. Two other people were in the room, seated at their respective tables, and both of them looked up when the door opened.

“Meet Gregory Thomas, electronics specialist. Graduated MIT two years ago, with Honors. He actually makes replicas of security systems and prototypes improvements.” Gregory was a nerdy looking guy who waved up at them. And the other person was –

“Rachel Rowan,” Kyle said, staring at her.

“You two know each other?” Anthony asked, surprised.

“We know her, but only by reputation. She’s known in the Locksport community because she cracks digital locks by hacking into their systems. Last I heard of her, she tried to hack into a government site and got arrested. Rumor has it she’s supposed to be working for some secret organization now. Wait a minute…” Realization dawned on him and he narrowed his eyes at Anthony, who nodded in confirmation and apology.

“Huh? What’s going on?” Terry looked from Kyle to Anthony and back in confusion.

“C’mon Terry, we’re leaving. I refuse to work with a boss who lies and a criminal who violated locksport ethics. No offense dude,” Kyle threw at Gregory, who shrugged and turned back to whatever he was working on.

“Wait, please,” Anthony pleaded and pulled Kyle aside. “Technically, I haven’t lied to you. I really am Anthony Briggs Jr. My father started this project and I’m helping to carry it out. We really do work for Briggs Security Consulting, building and testing security systems. Occasionally we get… external requests to do a job that requires our specific skill sets, or clients who would prefer more discretion. And I really would like to hire you both. This is a relatively old project, but a new team I’m putting together, and I value your lockpicking skills very highly.”

“Then you just need Terry. You don’t need me,” Kyle said quietly.

“I need a man of your morals. Someone to keep the team in check. If anyone would find all the possible legal and ethical ways of doing something, it would be someone like you. The fact that you’re so resistant to working in a questionable environment like this just proves my point. Also, we do develop and work with the latest security systems. Do you really want to give up that opportunity?”

Kyle hesitated.

“If you join us, you’ll have a say in what jobs we take. If you strongly object to any particular job or course of action, we’ll stop and look for alternatives. Tell you what,” Anthony added. “Work with us for a month. If you don’t like it, you can leave and I won’t bother you again. What do you say?”

Kyle folded his arms and considered Anthony. He seemed to be genuine enough. He glanced over at Terry, who had struck up a conversation with Gregory and Rachel, and sighed. Someone had to look out for him.

“Okay.”

-Jace

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