Don't Open the Safe! - By Brian Law

The two men approached the counter at the nursing home and one of them said to the clerk, “We called this morning. We’re here to interview Mr. Castle.” Both men showed their detective badges to the clerk and waited.


The clerk who was no stranger to the police glanced at the badges and half heartedly joked, “Robbery-Homicide, huh? What’s our Mr. Castle gone and done now.” The detectives responded by looking at their watches with an air of irritation.


“I’ll have one of our attendants take you to him right away,” the clerk explained as he motioned for a large man dressed in white to come to the counter. “Bailey, these men are police officers who want to interview Mr. Castle. The schedule has him in the Game Room right now. Please escort these gentlemen there and help them with anything they need.”


He then turned and addressed the detectives. “Mr. Castle is eighty-nine years old and in the late stages of dementia. Some days are better than others. You may get lucky.” And with that he returned to his duties and the detectives left with Bailey.


The Game Room was really just a euphemism for a place they dropped off the wheelchair-ridden clients between breakfast and lunch. It was a large room empty of furniture except for one small table used by the staff to sort the medications out for the clients. Bailey escorted the two detectives to a client near the north corner of the room. As they approached, it was clear the man was asleep, his head lolled to one side, his legs covered with a blanket and a shawl over his shoulders. His head was uncovered, nearly bald, and streaked with the odd gray hair. He couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds.


“Mr. Castle, Mr. Castle,” Bailey said softly as he bent down and shook the old man’s shoulders gently. “Mr. Castle, you have visitors.”


The old man woke, moved his head upright and appeared a bit disoriented as one of the detectives knelt down next to him and said, “Good morning, sir. We’re here to talk to you about something that happened fifteen years ago. Do you understand that?”


Castle’s grizzled old right hand emerged from under the blanket and with a great deal of effort wiped a bit of spittle from the side of his mouth. “Cops, right?” he rattled. 


“Yes, we’re from L.A., Mr. Castle,” the other detective said as both men revealed their badges. “We’re working on a cold case and your name came up recently. Do you follow what I’m telling you, sir?”


Castle nodded and replied, his voice a bit stronger now, “Sure. You’re here about the safe.”


Both detectives looked at each other with some surprise and then at Bailey, who just shrugged and said something about good days and bad days. “Yes, Mr. Castle, we’re here about the safe. We need to get into it, sir. But our experts haven’t been able to open it.” one of the detectives asked.


“No shit,” Castle said matter-of-factly.


“Is that because you’re the only one who knows how to open it, Mr. Castle?”


Castle nodded, his eyes glistening with a newfound clarity.


“Now, Mr. Castle, we have information that there’s something in that safe that will help us solve the case. And our information suggests that you were the last person to have access to that safe. It’s not been opened since you last opened it. So, whatever is in there, you either put it there or know what it is.” The detective paused and then continued, a slight edge to his voice, “So why don’t we start by you telling us what was last in that safe. Okay? Then we’ll go from there.”


Castle shook his head in denial. “Not gonna happen,” he said. “That safe stays closed and what’s in there is my little secret.” Bailey stood behind Mr. Castle with his arms folded and a look on his face that betrayed nothing.


One of the detectives took Bailey aside to a nearby corner and asked him, “Is this typical of this guy? You got any suggestions on how to deal with him?”


Bailey just shrugged and said that Mr. Castle could be a handful at times.


The detective confided in Bailey that he should go for a quick smoke because they were going to lean on old man Castle a bit. Bailey said he understood, reached for his smokes, turned, and walked for the nearest hallway.


Bailey had just finished his cigarette in the hallway when the two L.A. detectives came over to him and told him they were through with Castle. “We got nothing. We probably won’t be back, so he’s all yours,” one of the detectives told Bailey. Then, handing him a card, he said that if Castle tells him anything about the safe to let him know. Bailey agreed, thanked them, and returned to the room where Mr. Castle was seated in his wheelchair.


“So, some excitement, huh, Mr. Castle,” Bailey said as he arranged the blanket and shawl around Castle and prepared to wheel him back to his room.


“They’ll never get the combination out of me, no siree, Bailey,” old Mr. Castle said, his voice tiring a bit. Then, patting Bailey’s hand he added, “It’s my little girl’s birthday. Got it memorized right up here,” Castle confided, pointing to his head.


“Oh, Linda. I talk to her sometimes when she comes to visit you. She’s a Pisces, right? I’m good at getting peoples’ signs right, Mr. Castle,” Bailey said as he wheeled the old man towards the hallway.


Castle coughed and then chuckled, “Nice try, Bailey. Nope, she’s not a Pisces. She’s a Leo. Born the same year Nixon was impeached.” And with that, Castle closed his eyes and nodded off.


Or pretended to. In fact, old man Castle was really Jim Castle, an L.A. Robbery-Homicide detective who retired twenty-five years earlier and was living with his wife of sixty years in Bakersfield when he was asked if he would go undercover for a few weeks in a nursing home. L.A. needed help nabbing a big time safe and loft man named Bailey Watson.


He jumped at the chance. 


And now he could just hear the gears in Bailey Watson’s brain moving around. Watson now had two of the three combination numbers. The third number was one of the thirty one days in August. Now all he needed from the old fart he was pushing around was the address where the safe was located.


When Bailey was out for his cigarette break, Jim had told the detectives he’d string Bailey Watson along until Friday, then give him the address. 


They’d be waiting. With bells on.




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