The police were the last to arrive. Five patrol cars. They
got out of their vehicles, some of them with pistol in hand, and quickly
regrouped on the stairs leading to the Los Angeles Opera.
By that time, the curious onlookers were already there. Most
of them were upper class. Exclusive spectators who, just half an hour earlier,
were watching the world premiere of Macbeth, and were now chatting amongst
themselves, speculating on the incident that had just taken place.
The journalists were there, too. As soon as the news leaked,
on-call editors came out charging and were now banging on the main door, armed
with their cameras and microphones. Their group included a young journalist
fresh out of college reporting on the occurrence for a local television station.
“It appears that another robbery has taken place. This time,
at the Los Angeles Opera. Owned by multi-millionaire Marissa Grossman, the
Empress Diadem has disappeared. For the time being, there are no witnesses. The
thief’s identity is still unknown, but it is believed that he may be…”
“Look!” shouted someone from the group of curious
bystanders. They were pointing toward the rooftop of the Opera.
There he was: dressed in a form-fitting black suit, a hood
covering his head and his face hidden behind a silver mask with a smile frozen
in place. Like a shadow blending into the dark of night. Not a soul was unaware
of who the unknown man with that arrogant gaze was or what he had done over the
past few months. Even so, his presence provoked a certain strange fascination
that immediately drew everyone’s interest and attention.
“That’s him! Yeah, that’s him!”
Murmurs of alarm quickly rose up from the crowd of onlookers
and the journalists pointed their camera lenses toward the Opera rooftop,
trying to snap the most perfect picture possible of the mysterious individual.
The police were the last ones to react and, at first, the only thing they
managed to do was bring order to the impromptu crowd.
The dreaded one-hundred-million-dollar thief. The same one
who had spent the last six months stealing objects of countless value. A
slippery ghost who committed impossible robberies and disappeared without a
Nobody knew his real name, because his true identity was a
mystery. The media had christened him as “Zero” because the name was
the closest thing to what they knew about him: nothing. Since they hadn’t come
up with anything better, the police kept using the nickname. Now, everybody
called the shadow the same thing.
“We need more forces! Tell all units in the area to come
immediately. Get moving!” shouted Lieutenant Brown. A hoarse voice came from
his throat, annoyed by the humiliation and anger. Once again… Once again, he
had managed to slip past them… How was it possible?
The day before, the police station had received a message
sent by Zero himself, telling them that his next target was the Empress Diadem:
a sparkling 16th-century diamond, ruby and emerald tiara. But he didn’t say
when or where the robbery would take place. Like always.
It wasn’t the first time the Lieutenant had received one of
these warnings. The only difference was that, this time, he had moved heaven
and earth to stop it. He had sent his best men to escort Marissa Grossman to
the bank where she kept the diadem and then back to her mansion. He also
assigned surveillance patrols and sensors with alarms all over the house. He
was convinced that if the robber wanted to commit the theft, he could only do
it at the Grossman’s house where, in theory, it would be easier.
But he never showed up. Zero didn’t come. The Empress Diadem
remained safe and sound and the officers went back to the station, where they
were received with cheers and applause. For the first time, they had prevented
one of his thefts… Or at least, that’s what they thought until the Opera
director had called them to say that the jewel had vanished from its owner’s
head during the second act of Macbeth. Under Marissa Grossman’s seat, they
found a silver coin: the robber’s unmistakable signature.
From the rooftop, Zero contemplated the scene unfolding at
the building’s entrance. He was totally calm, delighting in the confused look
on the police officers’ faces. He hadn’t the slightest doubt that they must be
wondering how he had done it and what plan he had come up with this time to
take off with the Grossman family’s valuable relic in a place so full of
people, without getting caught. They could keep on speculating.
They would never find him out.
Five minutes, he
calculated. That was how long it would take the officers to pounce and trap
him. He had just enough time to slip away before they surrounded him. After
that, Lieutenant Brown and his men would search the city, like they always did.
They would go into the surrounding homes. They would search the few businesses
that still remained open. They would create quite a stir, trying to find him.
When they were finished, Zero would already be far away. Maybe peacefully
sleeping in his bed, as if he hadn’t the slightest to do with the fact that he
would be the day’s most important news tomorrow.
Just that easy. Just that simple.
Another impeccable robbery. The twentieth one in less than
six months. Not too bad. Not bad at all, in fact. He stepped away from the edge
of the roof and put the Empress Diadem away inside his suit for safekeeping.
Only then did he realize that he wasn’t alone.
A silhouette stood between him and his only escape route,
blocking his flight.
“We finally meet face-to-face.”
They didn’t need to get any closer. Or for the moonlight to
illuminate the newcomer’s face, hidden behind a strange shadow. Zero was fully
aware of who he was. He would recognize that raspy voice anywhere. His name?
Dimitri Cooper. The best detective in Los Angeles and officially responsible
for his capture, specifically entrusted with the task by the Government.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Detective,” said the
robber, as if their meeting, far from being a setback, was an excuse to have a
pleasant chat. Dimitri didn’t answer. He removed his pistol and aimed at Zero.
“I’m afraid this will be our first and our last meeting. I
had a hard time finding you, although I finally did.”
Zero was unfazed when
he saw the gun was aimed at him.
“We could say that I’m not too friendly with the police.”
“You’ve been stealing from innocent people for half a year,
and you still have the gall to make those jokes of yours.” Dimitri motioned for
Zero to move toward him, and held his pistol more tightly. “You can come over
here so I can cuff you now. And don’t try any funny stuff.”
“What funny stuff would I try?”
“Just put your hands in the air!”
“Now, start walking if you don’t want to get shot.
For a fraction of a second, the robber glanced at his suit’s
right-hand pocket. He could see the outline of a small, rounded object inside…
He made no move to grab it. He just stared at it, as if thinking about
“Let’s get a move on!” brayed Dimitri.
He brought his attention back to the detective and slowly
walked toward him, calmly analyzing his rival’s appearance, so different from
his own: his emotionless countenance was chiseled in stone, with metallic gray
eyes that looked like they could drill through him. He was wearing a trench
coat that reached his knees, his police badge hanging from one side of his belt
while his pistol holster hung from the other.
He stopped just a few feet away from him.
“Good. It’s over. Finally.”
“I’m afraid not.”
Before Dimitri could move, Zero rushed the distance between
them and kicked his pistol. Dimitri couldn’t hang on to it and it was lost in
the darkness. In the blink of an eye, Zero rose up like a giant behind the
detective and grabbed him by the neck, immobilizing him. He had moved so
quickly that it seemed as if time had stopped and he was the only one able to
move from one side to the other.
“I think I remember you mentioning something about me being
trapped, or something like that.”
“I wouldn’t be the one-hundred-million-dollar thief if I
“That’s true. But you’ve got a defect that trumps your
“Oh, I do? And what might that be?”
“You’re too sure of yourself,” Dimitri said while closing
his fist and then, forcefully, punched his enemy’s stomach. Zero hissed out in
pain and surprise. He doubled over, instinctively releasing the police officer.
Now he was the one without time to react.
“Did you really think it was going to be that easy?”
The robber’s eyes gave off a sinister glint that made the
hair on the back of Dimitri’s neck bristle. He moved back. They had never been
so close. In fact, he doubted that anyone had ever managed to get so close to
the legendary criminal. But now that there were just a few feet between them,
now that he was right in front of him, he felt like running away and escaping.
He had been on the force for too long to be intimidated by a
criminal who wasn’t even armed. And yet…
There was something different about him. His presence. His
mere existence. Whoever he was, this robber gave off…a strange aura. He
wouldn’t even know how to put it into words. How he moved and the power he held
was disturbing, frightening. Attractive… but as gloomy as the Los Angeles
While Dimitri was lost in thought, Zero took the opportunity
to recover from the blow and counterattacked. Just as swiftly as before, he
pounced on his rival and grabbed his arm, spinning around and throwing him over
his back. The officer fell on his side and, for a few seconds, the only thing
he could see were stars dancing around inside his head.
His brief period of reflection had cost him dearly. “You shouldn’t
have gotten in my way.”
“My duty is to arrest you. You, and everyone else like you,”
Dimitri groaned. His entire body hurt. And he had a broken rib. Or two. For
“I’m not like everyone else.”
“Yeah, I think I’ve realized that tonight.”
“You’d better stop chasing after me. You’ll be the one who
ends up getting hurt.”
“There’s an easy solution for that. Stop robbing, turn
yourself in, and I’ll quit bothering you.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. I…”
Zero’s words were left hanging in the air. Something drew
his attention away. A small black object, fallen at the detective’s feet. His
gloved hand shot like a lightning bolt to his right-hand pocket. The circular
object that was there before had disappeared and, in its stead, there was a
remnant of ripped fabric, shredded on the side. His shoulders tensed
“What’s wrong? Looks like you’re worn out from fighting,”
Dimitri mocked him.
He stoically bore the pain and stood up. He couldn’t afford
to sit in a corner and nurse his wounds. He had to stop this criminal he had been
chasing for months. Moving forward, his heel drew dangerously close to the
object under the robber’s gaze.
The police officer froze, bewildered. He looked down at the
object at his feet. Intrigued, he bent down and picked it up.
“Now what might this be?”
“Don’t touch that.” Zero wasn’t acting as calm as he had
been before. One could almost feel the tension emanating from his body.
“Put it down!”
Like a cat, he jumped at Dimitri. He moved too abruptly and
the object slipped from the detective’s hand. It arced through the air before
plunging to the ground.
It hit the rooftop, cracking like a whip in the air. Almost
at the same time, Zero let out a piercing shriek. A metallic taste filled his
mouth and something liquid started spilling out over his chin. Blood. He let
out a groan and closed his eyes to contain the sudden pain punishing every part
of his being.
“Meddling policeman,” he muttered. His head was spinning as
Dimitri held him up, not understanding what was happening.
The pain he saw shooting from the robber’s eyes was no performance act. Zero
was hurt, but how? He remembered banging into him, but not hard enough for him
to be in such a state…
No matter what, he had to do something. He wanted to catch
him, and that had been his goal for six months now. But he didn’t want his
death on his conscience. Not his death, or anybody else’s. He couldn’t leave
him like that. He took a radio from his trench coat and started giving orders,
never leaving his prisoner for even an instant.
“Attention, this is Officer Dimitri speaking. I need a
medical team. I repeat. I need a medical team. I have an unconscious civilian
on the Los Angeles Opera rooftop.”
“Who are you calling unconscious?” mumbled Zero. The object
that fell from his pocket was just a few feet away. He tried to take a few
steps toward it. Dimitri stopped him.
“Don’t even thing about moving.” He held on to his arm more
tightly and added, “I already told you that this would be our first and our
“What makes you think that?”
“Have you seen yourself? I highly doubt you can escape with
the state you’re in.” Dimitri couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of the
situation. Before, Zero had given him the chills.
His presence was almost supernatural. Now, he looked like a
helpless, vulnerable kid… His gaze came to rest on the silver mask. It
perfectly fit its owner’s factions, hiding his face from the hairline to the
chin. After so many weeks chasing him down, so many sleepless nights because of
him, he still didn’t know who was hiding behind the disguise.
He hooked his fingers behind the titanium hooks holding the
mask to Zero’s face. Zero started to squirm as soon as he understood his
“Don’t touch me!”
“Are you afraid I’ll find out the truth?”
Dimitri released the titanium locks and the silver mask fell
from its place, revealing the famous thief’s identity. They observed one
another in the darkness. Two enemies, finally face-to-face after countless
chases and escapes. Neither of them spoke a word. They merely regarded one
another. The detective couldn’t believe what he saw. As far as he was
concerned, Zero felt a wave of anger rising up in his throat, consuming his
pain and turning it to fury.
They had found out his secret… They had found out who he
“That’s impossible…” whispered Dimitri. “I know you…”
Zero grabbed the tranquilizer dart gun hidden on his leg.
Before the detective could utter his name, before he could even say one
syllable, he shot him in the neck. The officer immediately dropped to the
ground like a sack of potatoes.
The thief bent over and picked up his mask. He put it on
again. But he knew full well that it was too late now.
Six officers burst onto the rooftop. Lieutenant Brown was
with them, anxious to avenge how ridiculous Zero had made him look at the
Grossman’s house, at any price. They aimed their guns at him.
“Put your hands where we can see them!”
Zero ignored the order and looked for the circular object
that he had lost. It was too close to the police officers. It would be impossible
to get it back without getting riddled by bullets while trying. But if he left
it behind… If someone touched it… He hesitated. What should he choose? He knew
that no matter what he decided, he would regret it. So he opted for the lesser
He took out one of the smoke bombs he only used when
urgently needed and threw it to the ground. A gray cloud spread over the
rooftop, covering everything under a dense fog.
When it had cleared, the circular object was right where it
was before. But Zero had disappeared.