Learning to Steal

Inspired by a conversation with a professional locksmith.

“A lock,” he said, “Is like a person with a secret. But with a lock you have two advantages. Do you know what they are?”

I shook my head.

“A lock always knows its secret, and it’s aware that it has a secret. People,” he shrugged, “most of them don’t know anything, not really. Sometimes half the job is finding out who knows. But with a lock, you can skip to the good part.” His teeth gleamed.

“Now, whether it’s a lock or a man you’re trying to break, there are always 3 parts to it. Do you know what they are?”

“Time, stealth, and subtlety.”

“Very good. Now, what governs time?”

“The client, the guard, and the light.”


“We can work in the light, if we must. We can kill the guard, if we must. But we cannot be late for the client.”

“And that brings us to stealth.”

“Whether we leave any sign of what we’ve done.”

“Yes. The highest form of our craft is to leave no trace. But if time is short, then we must forgo stealth. Leaving subtlety.”

“Between time and stealth.”

“Yes. With enough time all we have to do is watch, but if that fails.”

“Crack it.”

“With pins and needles, kind words and pliant potions. And if that fails.”

“Break it.”

“The quickest, and the surest way to get caught. The last resort of the careless and the clumsy.” He turned away, looking out. “What is the key?”

“The lock knows its secret. It can’t help but react as we approach it.”

“What’s true of machines is also true of man.”

“They want to protect it; they react, they tell us when we’re getting closer.”

“They try to hide…”

“And nothing is so obvious as trying to hide.”

“What do you look for?”

“Tension as I draw close, relief when I move away.”

“Why do you move away?”

“The closer I get, the more precise my aim must be.”


“A broad stroke could mean many things. A precise one can mean only one. They must never know my goal until it is too late.”

“Very good. You may yet be ready.”

2 thoughts on “Learning to Steal

    • Thank you. I had the chance to attend a few talks, including one on relationships, and another on lockpicking. The two cane together rather nicely.

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