Outside Interest
by Paul Cocker

Deep within the darkened antechambers of San Diego's Gala Galleries, a cat burglar went about his business.  His business was stealing rare and expensive art.

This early morning, he whistled the theme to Xena: Warrior Princess as he attacked the door to one of the gallery's vaults with a high-speed drill.  He made quick work of the locking mechanism, drilling one side of the chromium steel door, backing the bit, resetting it, and drilling the other side.  He snickered as he continued working.

The gallery had been established in 1900, keeping much of its antique appeal.  In casing the building however, the thief had discovered it was rigged with a secrity grid of motion detectors and heat sensors.  Serious equipment -- but not impossible to bypass if one had the right know-how.  And this thief knew just what he's doing, as he had already made it to the vaults without setting off a single alarm.

The burglar clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, then said, "Viola!"

He finished drilling and then, rubbing his hands, reached in through the hole he just made and began toying with the innards of the lock.  Tiny clicks came from the door as tumblers shifted.

"Might want to add a retinal scanner in the future," he said to himself.  He smiled and eased open the heavy door.  "And now the mother load..."

Suddenly a black hand seemed to grow out of the shadows, grabbing the burglar by the throat.  "Don't you know the gallery's closed?"

The surprised safecracker tried to pry at the hand, but he couldn't break its grip.  He looked up to see a figure in a black trenchcoat, wearing a black fedora and full-piece mask.  The glow of his flashlight bounced off the tinted glass of the goggles that protected his captor's eyes.

The ominous figure reached out with his free hand and batted the offending flashlight away from the thief.  He stepped back from the vault, his body one with the looming shadows, and carried his choking captive at arm's length.

"N-not y-you!" The thief's voice was coarse, pinched.  "You've killed armed robbers, axe murderers, and rapists."

"Yes," the figure whispered grimly.  The burglar could almost feel the sinister smile from behind his captor's shadowed mask.  "I made examples of them.  And now it's your turn."

"W-w-wait!"  The thief clutched at the figure's wrist, trying so desparately to stall him.  "I'm just a small-time thief.  I'm unarmed.  I've never killed anyone -- or harmed anyone."

The figure dropped the gagging safecracker to the floor, whispering, "All crimes hurt."  His voice was like crushed ice.

The thief crawled on the floor, whimpering.  "Please don't kill me."

"You're not worth it."  The figure then reached down and grabbed the safecracker by his hands.  "But the Outsider will make certain you don't try this again."

The burglar's throes of agony peeled outward like the high-pitched wail of an alarm.

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