It was pitch dark, ink dark, coal dark, a night without the moon--the fluorescent lamp of the sky—not even the stars, the blinking eyes of Heaven. The overcast sky threatened with a heavy downpour. The sullen weather sometimes seemed very friendly to certain individuals whose job was outside the law.
A shadow, blended in the dark, glided down a nylon rope from the roof of the six-story building. Sometimes he stopped, hanging on the rope like a monkey on a twig, and looked down, his eyes sparkling like two penlights behind the black mask. He wanted to make sure that no one was passing in the street below him. Sure, nobody was in the street so late on such an unpleasant night, not even a ghost, if he could see a ghost.
Sliding steadily, the shadow constantly looked down, hoping that no police patrols would come while he was on the rope and glance up if they happened to pass under him. He should act fast. Where was his nimbleness? Usually he moved fast, brisk of action.
Now he reached the third level, the level of his goal. He was just outside a window, a window to his fortune. Yes, he would soon be rich, after so many years of poverty. He was always envious of the wealthy. They had everything they wanted, more than they needed, while he, endowed with such ability and intelligence, had grown up destitute, barely able to keep his body and soul together. He had often taken the liberty--why not?--to invite himself into the residences of the rich, without their knowledge of course, to share in their abundance, like some curiosities in a cabinet, or a valuable painting on a wall, or some expensive jewelry he could easily lay his hands on. He didn''''t like hard work, like cracking a safe or taking time to search. He was a true gentleman, he told himself, a light-fingered gentleman. He was only executing the will of God to redistribute the riches of the world, a sublime task, like Prometheus stealing fire from Mt. Olympus for mankind. Ha-ha, a redistributor, an excellent job title. He liked it. Is not God''''s will often carried out through the hands of men? He was one of them.
He took out a rubber sucker, pressing it firmly on the pane. He drew a circle around the sucker with a glasscutter, big enough to reach his arm inside. He broke the round glass piece he had cut from the pane. Taking it down with the sucker still attached, he put it on the outside sill, then reached his right arm inside through the hole to open the window--no, the door to Ali Baba''''s cave. He didn''''t even need an “open sesame”. His “open sesame” to every treasure cave was his kungfu. He swung into the exhibition room by the rope like Tarzan, but as lightly as a feather floating in. Letting go of the rope, he landed noiselessly on the floor on his rubber-soled shoes.
While adjusting his sight to the darkness of the room, he suddenly felt the urgency of nature''''s call. Too bad. Wrong time. Wrong place. But he had to answer it, if he didn''''t want to wet his pants. Once when he had been only seven, he still remembered, he had been playing hide-and-seek with other children in the neighborhood. He couldn''''t come out from his hiding place and risk being caught. But nature''''s call had been so pressing. He couldn''''t restrain it anymore. He had peed in his pants. He had been afraid to go home until his pants had dried. But his foster mother had detected it by smell and spanked his dear little butt. No one would spank his butt now, though. He still didn''''t want to wet his pants. It was not comfortable, he remembered, to dry his pants by his body warmth. He took out a small flashlight and in its dim light found a low showcase against the wall. He stepped over to piss behind it. He turned his head away, didn''''t want to look at the spot where a small puddle of smelly water was expanding from behind the showcase. He moved his feet wide apart, afraid that his shoes would get wet. He suspected that a police dog might trace him by the smell on his shoes. Finished, he jumped back. Then he walked to the tall glass showcase at the other end of the room, which was his goal.
“Who''''s there?” a guard shouted from the doorway, sweeping the beam of his flashlight across the room. He ducked behind another showcase.
“Any trouble here?” Another guard approached. They walked into the room, getting nearer and nearer. His pulse accelerated.
He felt his heart trying to escape through his throat and jump out of his mouth. He took a deep breath. Calm down, he told himself. Calm down. Don''''t let the guard hear your wild heartbeat. But what could he do now?
Now the first guard was standing right beside the showcase. If he turned his head a little to the left and down, he would see a suspicious black bundle on the floor, a bundle that should not be there as the burglar huddled, shrinking as small as possible, like a hedgehog without quills, at the foot of the showcase. His black outfit gave him some advantage in the dark room. But the guard never looked down.
The footsteps, tat-tat-tat, of the guards were gradually retreating to the door. He raised his head to peep out. The guards disappeared through the doorway. The footsteps, tat-tat-tat...tat-tat-tat...tat-tat-tat...died in the corridor. He stood up and tiptoed to his goal. He had made up his mind on the spot what he wanted.
He stopped before the big glass showcase attached to the wall. A few priceless old Chinese paintings hung inside. He wanted them all. He would escape abroad and retire for the rest of his life, enjoying himself with his wife whom he was yet to find and marry. He was not a monk, would never be, though he had learned kungfu in the world-renowned Shoalin Temple.
No time for daydreaming. Time for action, he urged himself. He took out another rubber sucker, playing the same trick. At that time, decades ago, no alarm system could be imagined. This time, the glass piece he cut down was much larger. He laid it on the floor. Reaching in his arm, he took down one of the paintings.
“Stop!” one guard shouted.
“Thief!” another guard cried.
That was their strategy. They pretended to leave, but sneaked back, catching him red-handed. Once they had caught someone in the exhibition room, but the guy had pleaded, saying that he had been so carried away by the beauties of the artifacts on display that he had forgot the time and had been locked in after exhibition hours. So he’d had to stay inside for the night. He had thanked the guards for liberating him from his involuntarily self-imprisoned situation. They had no evidence against him. They’d had to buy his story and let him go.
Calm, the burglar told himself. Calm. Hastily he rolled up the painting and put it into the bag tied on his back. The two guards stood face-to-face with him now. More guards showed up in the doorway. I must get out of here quick, he thought. I must take initiative. He raised both his hands, emitting his chi. He hit both guards on the chest. The force of his chi was just strong enough to send the guards flying backwards without hurting them physically. The back-flying guards knocked down the other guards that rushed in behind them. All the guards fell on the floor, piling up in a human mound. He leaped towards the window he had come in, but more guards ran to attack him. All these guards, though trained in karate, didn''''t have chi to use. He issued his chi again and brought the three guards down on the floor. Suddenly he felt the air behind his back stir in a rushing wind, a sign that someone was using chi to assault him. He threw his hands backwards, his chi darting out to meet the attacking chi. Two gusts of chi clashed in midair with a hollow bang. He didn''''t budge. Turning round, he faced a short heavyset guard. He knew he should not stay here so long. He should have been long gone. The police would come soon, though the whole process of the fighting took only a minute. He cast out his chi with full force at the short guard, pushing him two steps back. Seizing the interval, he jumped out the open window. The short guard, pushed back two steps, tread on something slippery and almost fell. It was the urine puddle. He didn''''t notice the smell before. When the heavyset guard steadied himself, he dashed to the window only to discover the burglar touching briefly on the treetop right below the window before landing lightly on his feet in the street like a cat. The boughs only bent a little. He made a great leap forward across the street and vanished into a dark alley. The short guard stared into it.
The police arrived two minutes too late.