For mystery and crime authors plus anyone who enjoys colorful characters.
From The Atlantic:
The house was gone, consumed by the November 2018 Woolsey Fire that left swaths of Los Angeles covered in ash and reduced whole neighborhoods to charcoaled ruins. Amidst the tangle of blackened debris that was once a house in the suburbs northwest of Los Angeles, only one identifiable feature stood intact. It was a high-security jewel safe, its metal case discolored by the recent flames, looming in the wreckage like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I went out to the burn zone that day to meet Charlie Santore, a 48-year-old safecracker licensed in the city of Los Angeles under the name Santore & Son. Santore, a lean and towering figure just shy of 6 foot 4, stood there in his fedora, black jeans, and a Virgin Mary T-shirt, grinning uncomfortably. He was flanked by two Ventura County sheriff’s deputies. They had been patrolling the neighborhood that day, in the wake of the still-active wildfire—its apocalyptic ash cloud hanging in the sky south of us—when they noticed this gangly man crouched in the ruins, with several drills and extension cords at the ready. Santore’s car, a 1997 Mercedes so overloaded with safecracking equipment that its trunk nearly scrapes the ground, was, from a law-enforcement point of view, not reassuring.
. . . .
There are a lot of safecrackers, I learned, but the good ones, like Santore, live in a state of magical realism, suspended somewhere between technology and superstition. The safecracker sees what everyone else has been hiding—the stashed cash and jewels, the embarrassing photographs. He is a kind of human X-ray revealing the true, naked secrets of a city.
A good safe technician can pass through sealed bank vaults and open jammed strongboxes after just a few minutes of casual manipulation, using skills that often look more like sleight of hand. But just when I started to think that it was all art, pure finesse, I’d see feats of sheer industrial brutality, watching Santore bore through several inches of heavy metal at a time, aerosolized steel filing past his face like smoke. For the safecracker, there is always a way through.
. . . .
“A lot of times I’m driving with my girlfriend or my son,” Santore told me , “and I’m like, ‘I opened a safe here, I opened a safe here, and do you remember the time we opened a safe there?’” The city is full of safes, he meant: Everyone is hiding something. The truest museum of contemporary Los Angeles, it seems, is everybody’s safes, scattered across the neighborhoods, storing the most precious objects in the city. And it is only a safecracker like Santore who gets to see what the rest of us are trying to hide.
. . . .
Everybody has a box,” Santore said to me one day over lunch. “They have some place where they keep things and they don’t want anybody else to know what’s in there.” His hands were blackened with metal dust from a jewel safe he had drilled that morning. “There’s something sort of esoteric or ambiguous about that,” he continued, “like the safe is someone’s little space—someone’s psyche—and not everyone’s psyche is a clean place, you know?”
. . . .
“I dream about safes all the time,” he told me. In a recurring dream, Santore returns home to see that somebody has broken into his safe. What’s worse, Santore continued, is that in the dream he cannot remember what was stored in the safe in the first place. Its door yawns open to reveal a painful emptiness, but he doesn’t know what was stolen. How can you get something back, he said, if you don’t even know you’ve lost it?
Santore has a knack for turning safecracking into metaphor. One time he joked that every safecracking job is like getting into a new romantic relationship. “You work so hard to get something open,” he said, “but sometimes you crack it and there’s nothing inside.”
. . . .
In 2017, Santore was called to a house near the 405 freeway that was being renovated by a married couple. The safe had been abandoned by its previous owner, and the couple had been living with it for several years until they finally hired someone to crack it open. Why not? According to Santore, it was the craziest thing he’d ever seen, filled with Bulgari necklaces and Cartier jewels, easily six figures’ worth. Sometimes with safes, people get lucky. Usually, Santore said, they do not.
. . . .
Calls like this made it clear that the role of the safecracker exceeds that of mere trade labor. Being a safecracker is almost like becoming an emotional first responder, swooping into scenes of high drama and family tragedy to save someone’s access to prized possessions. Indeed, the job requires an unusual mix of skills. At one extreme, the safecracker must be a true gearhead, someone who can put his head down, avoid distraction, and deal, one on one, with an inhuman opponent—the safe or vault. He must be comfortable with drill bits and motor torque and willing to haul out a sledgehammer when necessary. (Santore keeps one in his trunk.)
At the other extreme, the safecracker must be a counselor or a social worker, someone tasked with talking frantic clients off a cliff. A couple’s wedding rings are locked inside a defective hotel safe and the ceremony starts in only an hour, or a mother is sending her daughter on a college trip to France but the girl’s passport is stuck inside the family safe, or paranoid heirs are tearing each other apart over an inheritance that sits locked inside a jewel safe in their father’s old den. Someone like Santore has to show up in the middle of all that and read the room—as well as the make and model of the safe.
Link to the rest at The Atlantic
The safecracker has an Instagram page.