Keys to Success


Jake just wants to sit in front of his television. Ball game. Beer. Bratwurst in the microwave. He’s not asking much. Unwind after a grueling day of finding fasteners for old ladies and cutting keys for customers in one of the giant, box store hardwares dotting the grand ol’ USA.

Easy work. With benefits.

Customer comes in to have a key made. Hands it over to Jake. Jake asks how many. Usually the customer says one. Sometimes two. Doesn’t matter. Jake always puts in an extra blank. Sometimes the customer corrects him and Jake says something silly like, ‘Brain fart!’ Inevitably the customer laughs and tells Jake, ‘No problem, right?’

Occasionally Jake makes that extra key. He leaves it in the machine until the customer departs and then Jake pockets it. If they pay cash, he tosses it. But if they pay with plastic, he always asks for I.D. One look. Permanent spot in his photographic memory.

Jake’s a fortunate man. Never forgets a face. Card, that is. Easy to count the number at a blackjack table. When he goes out, he doesn’t need a GPS app to guide him to his destination. He knows every inch of every road because he’s either driven it or looked it up on Google maps. Street View has really been a benefit to his moonlighting.

Jake’s other job?

Quality control. He goes out and tests the extra key. No forced entry.

He knows from one look at the I.D. the affluence of the customer. His box store is right off a major Interstate. It brings in customers from all directions. Today he made keys for a lady who looked like she was ready to attend a garden party instead of meandering through the aisles looking for his small, tucked away workshop. The income per capita of her zip code alone is more than some third world countries. Combined. He’ll go there tonight. After the ballgame. After the beer. After the braut.

The microwave beeps.

Time’s up.

Jake stands to get his dinner and almost misses the news blurb on the TV.

“Police hunt serial burglar. Did the latest home invasion lead to murder?”

Jake looks back at the big screen. The media world has already moved on to skinny wines and chicken nuggets. He hits the rewind button on his remote. There is the house he hit several nights ago. Big, brick mansion. Sculpted lawn. Circular drive in the front. He took some baubles. Already fenced them downtown.


He hits play.

“Police hunt serial burglar. Did the latest home invasion lead to murder?”



“Police hunt serial burglar. Did the latest home invasion lead to murder?”


He didn’t even see anyone in the master bedroom. He was in and out. No forced entry because he used the key. He didn’t worry about pre-coded alarm systems. Fewer folk had those than most people realized. If he did unlock a door and it set off an alarm, he just ran. But it hadn’t happened in the three years he’d been running his midnight operation.

So what the hell happened at the last job?

The news won’t return until after the game. Jake surfs the web looking for the online report.

Female. Mid-forties. Blunt force trauma. Husband found her after attending ballgame with buddies. Window in back door smashed in. Intruder gained forced entry and killed victim when she confronted him. Several pieces of jewelry and twenty thousand in cash missing.

Jake took the jewels.

So who got the cash?

The master bed was empty.

He didn’t see anyone in the house.

Had the woman been dead the entire time he was there?

He kept the keys on a large ring. Souvenirs.

Not anymore.

He takes them off the ring and drives along different roads throwing individual keys off into the night.

But the jewels.


Aw, that guy won’t say anything. He’d be inviting trouble. Besides, he’s broken the pieces down by now. Melted the gold. Sold the diamonds.

Or so Jake wants to believe.

He drives until morning then calls in sick then waits for a knock that will probably never come.

Or so Jake wants to believe.

~ fin ~

Two time Derringer nominee Jack Bates writes crime fiction in an old house north of Detroit. He also pens the hipster PI series Harry Landers with Mind Wings Audio Books. Earlier this year his children's book The Santa Spy was named Best Holiday Book by the Literary Classics Award Committee.