It’s a lot more difficult to open handcuffs with a paperclip than you might think. The Internet — along with the majority of cop shows you’ve seen and thrillers you’ve read — makes the task seem like a snap. Insert the paperclip into the keyhole, bend it at a 70-degree angle then back the other way and presto! You’re free.
That’s just not true. I have photographs to prove it. Also, sore wrists from being cuffed in author Chelsea Cain’s home office for at least an hour while the best-selling crime writer tried to work the same magic she does on the page on the locked cuffs.
It’s not as though we embarked on this mission unprepared: between the two of us, there were four handcuff keys, a pile of paperclips, an iPhone, and, most importantly, Cain’s upcoming thriller, One Kick (Simon & Schuster). Before you start lecturing about how even you, the handcuff novice, knows that paper isn’t going to break you out of cuffs, you should know a few things about One Kick.
The beginning of a new series for Cain — who’s written six books starring tortured Portland, Ore. detective Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, a serial killer as diabolical as she is beautiful— One Kick introduces readers to 21-year-old Kick Lannigan. Kidnapped at age six and rescued five years later, Kick picked up a few choice skills along the way. Let’s just say you’d want to be playing with her, not against her. She’s a crack shot, a ninja with throwing stars, and, as pertains to my predicament, possesses impressive lock-picking skills.
“So,” I said, leaning back in my chair with cuffed hands out in front of me, “which one of Kick’s talents do you wish you had?” Cain, One Kick open on her lap to the relevant lock passage and a twisted paperclip in her hand, stops trying to free me for a split second and raises an eyebrow: “You mean besides the obvious one?”
Progress was made. Except that instead of loosening the cuffs, Cain managed to ratchet them a few notches tighter. But still, the end was in sight: If there were movement in one direction, surely it was possible to reverse it. Soon, Google was consulted. Stripped paperclips were discarded for new ones. And I stayed cuffed.
“Maybe,” said Cain, “we should have just played Clue.” But we’re both stubborn. If Kick could do it, we could do it. With two dogs underfoot, both of whom had slept through most of the lock wrangling, we decided that we needed new tools and headed down to the kitchen. I must note that there are a lot of stairs in Cain’s Portland home. Steep ones. I don’t remember the last time I’ve walked so slowly. All I could think was what I’d mutter to the EMTs as they wheeled me away, post-three-story plunge. And how I’d explain the cuffs.
Disaster averted, we arrived in the kitchen in one piece. New wire was found and sore wrists were shaken out before the picking began anew. We were joined by Cain’s 9-year-old daughter, who found my situation very amusing. And, the daughter of a thriller-writer as well as a really smart kid, she wanted in on the action.
“You know she’s going to get it on the first try,” Cain said as she wiggled a new wire configuration around my right cuff. I agreed that this was the probable outcome, having witnessed firsthand her daughter pull equally amazing feats during rounds of board games. Now there were two sets of nimble hands attempting to free me. As mother and daughter shared tips — from “I can’t get a good grip — how are you holding it?” to “Do you see how somehow you’ve got to hook that inner mechanism? — I remained cuffed, a Corgi puppy sprawled once again at my feet. When Cain went to fetch yet another variety of wire, her daughter and I determined that, no, Corgi teeth could not bite through steel. It was worth a shot.
I wish our escapade ended with my grand escape, the sound of shackles clicking open and falling to the kitchen floor drowned out by shouts of joy.
But I’d be lying.
After more than an hour, we admitted defeat and used one of the universal handcuff keys Cain owns. As we prepared the detritus of our efforts for a post-cuff photo shoot, Cain told me that of all Kick’s skills, the one she’d most like to have is knowing how to use a throwing star. “It’s much more practical thing. It’s not every day you find yourself in handcuffs,” she muses. “But throwing stars? I’d use those all the times. If I wanted someone to drop what they were holding, whack, there goes a throwing star.” Sadly, neither of us own throwing stars. That’s what the Internet is for, though.
After spending so much time in the cuffs, I insisted Cain have a go. She gamely agreed and was duly shackled. We’d already ruled out trying to replicate other Kick tricks, including freeing ourselves from a car trunk. “The Prius is a hatchback,” Cain said, “so that’s not going to work.” We’d have to be content with our valiant handcuff efforts.
“Okay, I found one thing you can’t do in handcuffs,” Cain declares, arms bent at awkward angles. “It’s impossible to take a selfie.”
Images: Chelsea Cain and Jordan Foster