The sun had set less than an hour ago, and the full moon and soft glow of the streetlights stained the sky above Polistowne a deep shade of navy blue. While the city was rather large, it was quiet.

The clubs were few and well chaperoned by bouncers who would be ready to handle any trouble before it started. Children went to bed early, listened to their parents, and treated authority figures with respect. Violence was minimal, and many people considered Polistowne to be like a little bit of Heaven on earth.

In the Polistowne Art Museum, a guard drifted off to sleep as his coffee warmed his stomach. He had never fallen asleep on the job before, but his nights were uniformly quiet, and as his eyelids grew heavy, he assured himself that short rest wouldn't hurt anyone.

In the Polistowne Police Department, Officer Ian Patrick and Officer Eric Anderson conformed to the police officer stereotype by munching on the day-old donuts left in a box beside the coffee maker. Patrick and Anderson were good officers, and were ready to leap into their squad cars the moment a call came in. Of course, calls came in rarely in Polistowne.

Officer Patrick's wife, Renee Patrick, drifted to sleep alone in her bed. Often, she was restless on nights when Ian had duty. Although the dreaded phone calls back to families were rare, Renee knew her husband put himself at risk every time he rushed to the scene of a crime. Although she now slept, her rest was a light one, and she was ever ready to answer the phone if this should be the night she would receive the dreaded call.

All was quiet in the innocent town of Polistowne . . . or was it?

The silence in the Polistowne Art Museum was shattered when a rock flew through a window, breaking it into pieces. The security guard did not stir. The drugs he had inadvertently ingested along with his coffee would not wear off until morning, and until then, nothing would wake him.

Outside the museum, the man who had thrown the rock, clad all in black, shot a gun into the air. This gun released not a bullet, but a grapple for sorts that would leave behind a line for the man in black to climb through the now broken window and enter the museum. He tested the line once, then began to climb.

Without incident, he reached the third story and slipped through the window. He was wary of the shards of broken glass, and while he scratched his stomach against a particularly jagged edge, the cut seemed superficial, and he moved on, leaving his grapple and rope dangling out the window. Nobody would see them, for the people of Polistowne rarely drove in this neighborhood after dark.

Believing the most challenging part of his job was finished, the man abandoned all caution, strolling right to his destination. Little did he realize that the museum was equipped with motion sensors, and that he would trigger a silent alarm if he did not enter the security guard's code in the wall panels beside each door.

At the police station, Officers Anderson and Patrick were both startled from private musings when the alarm bell rang. Officer Anderson had been thinking of his sister's upcoming birthday, and wondering what sort of gift he should give. Officer Patrick had been considering how much he hated the night shift, and how tired he always felt by about this time of night.

When the bell rang, however, both men were shocked into action. It took both of them a few moments to remember what the bell signified, for such alarms were uncommon, then they ran to the waiting squad car outside and drove to the museum. When they saw the broken window, Officer Patrick radioed for backup, and they waited before taking any action.

Meanwhile, in the museum, the thief clad in black spotted his target. Tyler Williams had been hired to steal a particular vase that apparently was worth a good deal of money. Williams didn't know much about art, or that much about stealing, either. In the past, he'd traveled through the Midwest, robbing liquor stores and gas stations, so when the mysterious man had offered him a million dollars to steal a vase from a museum, he'd been suspicious.

More information had made him more so. The mysterious man who refused to identify himself had assured him the job would be easy. He would break into a museum in a small town. The museum would have minimal security, and Williams' presence might never be noticed. He'd agreed to the job only because he needed the money.

His employer had provided Williams with the finest equipment money could buy. Some of it Williams had never known existed outside of cartoons and comic books. This equipment had made him all the more suspicious when he'd received it, but he didn't mind using the tools.

He considered buying such equipment for future jobs with the million dollars, but then reminded himself that he would never need to steal again. He'd never need to work again. If he wanted, Williams could retire to a personal tropical island somewhere and never need to work again.

These thoughts motivated Williams as he pulled a sharp knife-life instrument from his belt. This instrument actually would slice through glass at the slightest pressure without shattering it or making noise. Williams used it to cut a large circle in the display case separating him from his target.

The circle cut, Williams pushed the glass inward so that it landed harmlessly on the padding that supported the vase. He removed it from the case and felt a thrill at the knowledge that he was actually getting away with this crime. A moment later, he heard the distinctive call of police sirens.

Anderson and Patrick had waited patiently, and soon enough, their backup and superiors had arrived. While the situation barely warranted more than two or three cars, seven showed up. Ten pairs of officers were on duty that night. Apparently, a lot of them wanted an opportunity to get a piece of the rare action.

Lieutenant Barkley stepped from his car with a megaphone. Barkley was sixty years old, and had retired four times. Each time, he changed his mind and joined the force again, claiming he couldn't stand to be out of work.

Now, wispy white hair peeked out of his cap as he approached Officer Anderson and Officer Patrick. He hadn't said so, but he was clearly taking charge of this situation, and the men deferred to their elder. "What's the situation here, boys?" he asked, taking in Anderson and Patrick with a single glance.

Anderson answered first. "Someone set off the silent alarm inside the museum, and didn't bother to deactivate it. Ian and I came to investigate, and saw the broken window and the rope. We called for backup then, and while we were waiting, we put in a call to the security office. Nobody answered."

Patrick chose this moment to jump in on the narrative. "We think there's someone in the museum, and that he's armed and dangerous. We haven't gone inside yet because of the danger, but based on what we've observed, we believe there is one person in the building who either harmed or killed the guard."

"Right," Barkley said with a curt nod to show he accepted the men's testimony. He spoke to a few other officers to hear their versions, and once hew as certain he had the entire story, Barkley lifted the megaphone to his lips. The men all immediately turned their attention to the lieutenant, ready for whatever show would unfold.

"Listen up!" Barkley said, as if any such order was needed. For a moment, Officer Patrick thought of whatever people might live in the area, and wondered if they were waking up because of all the noise they were making. Then, he forgot about such worries. He wasn't certain, but he believed he and the others might be doing something very important. Hopefully this wouldn't all turn out to be nothing.

"We are the police, and we know you're in there," Barkley continued. "We don't want to hurt you, but we will use force if necessary. Come out with your hands up!"

In the museum, Williams heard the command, but had no intention of giving in. He'd never given in to police before, and while he had an extensive record, he also had enough pride that he would never give up- especially not when he had such equipment at his disposal.

Ian Patrick paced back and forth outside the museum. Other officers, Anderson among them, had been sent to the various entrances to watch for the thief, who might surrender or attempt to escape. Patrick was ordered to wait along with Barkley.

"I can't stand this!" Patrick cried after a moment. "He's not coming out. If he was going to surrender, he would have already, and someone would have radioed us. Let me go in, see what I can do."

Gravely, Barkley looked at the young man, and after too much thought, consented.

Williams felt like a caged animal. Mere minutes ago, he'd believed he would escape without incident, and now, cops guarded every escape. With his record, Williams doubted he would ever be released again after this incident. Still, he wouldn't give up. He had to find a way to escape.

He heard the distinctive sound of footsteps, and froze. Down the hall, someone was approaching him, but obviously hadn't spotted him yet. Williams darted around a corner, and drew the one piece of equipment he'd brought along that was his own. The gun felt good in his hands, and had saved Williams on countless occasions.

Officer Patrick tried to keep his eyes open, and believed he was ready to react to whatever he saw, but honestly, the museum was too dark and his eyes had yet to adjust. He cautiously continued forward, well aware that the intruder had a distinct advantage, as he'd had plenty of time to adapt to the darkness.

He continued in his cautious walk, never suspecting that the thief waited just around the corner up ahead. Patrick walked past the hallway, and glanced to the left too late. The gunshot rang through the night, and even the gathered officers outside heard it.

Patrick fell backward and blood began to puddle on his chest and leak onto the shiny museum floor. In his last moment of consciousness, his training took over, and as if the action was instinctive, he pushed the call button on his walkie-talkie. "Officer down," he croaked, and was only lucky that Williams didn't have the stomach to kill him now that he was wounded.

Outside, Barkley ordered a man to call an ambulance while he spoke over his own walkie-talkie, informing his officers of what had just happened. "Officer Patrick has been shot. I repeat; Officer Patrick has been shot. An ambulance is on its way, stay out of the way of the paramedics."

Officer Anderson felt a chill run down his spine. Patrick was his partner, and he'd been shot alone. While Anderson wasn't prone to panic, such incidents were rare enough that reason abandoned him, and he abandoned his post outside an exit.

In the confusion that followed, Williams escaped into the night.

Patrick was loaded into an ambulance. The doctors desperately tried to stabilize him and to slow the bleeding, but suddenly it seemed as if a police officer might die that night. There was still hope, of course, and hope was all they needed, but the facts seemed to loom over them as they shouted each other and the ambulance wailed through the city streets.

Renee Patrick woke up after the first ring. She brushed her tangled, long, brown hair out of her face, then blinked at the telephone. Although she always feared these calls, she didn't really believe that this could be about Ian. That would be too terrible to be possible. This had to be a wrong number or a telemarketer. Suddenly, it seemed to Renee that telemarketers always called at 1:52 AM. For once in her life, she would have been glad to get a call from a telemarketer.

"Hello?" she mumbled, picking up the receiver and holding it to her face.

"Mrs. Patrick?" replied Lieutenant Barkley's voice, and she shivered.

Back in the office, Barkley dabbed at his sweating forehead with a handkerchief. He hated delivering bad news, and although the news wasn't as bad as it could have been- Patrick had a pretty good chance of living- he fumbled for words, and finally stuttered, "I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your husband was injured on the job today. He was shot."

"Shot?" Renee repeated, her mind suddenly blank. "You mean, with a gun?"

"Yes," Barkley answered. "He is now in the intensive care unit at the hospital. I think you should come and see him."

As if such suggestions were necessary. Renee thanked Barkley for the information, then hung up the phone with shaking hands. She wanted to leave right away, but was vaguely aware that she needed to put on clothes other than her nightgown if she was going to leave her house.

She moved as if walking through a dream. She put on the first clothes she could find in her closet- a pair of jeans and a red sweatshirt. She headed for the door, and grabbed her purse on her way out. Only when she reached her car did she realize that her car keys were not in her purse, and she went back inside for them.

As the wife of a police officer, Renee personally knew almost every man on the force, and rarely bothered to follow the speed limit. On this night, she pushed her speed to a newer, riskier level, reaching 75 miles per hour as she drove through residential neighborhoods and ignoring all stop signs and red lights. She didn't see any other cars, and if she had, she probably wouldn't even have realized she was putting them in danger.

When Renee entered the Polistowne Hospital waiting lounge, a receptionist offered her a friendly smile and said, "Welcome to Polistowne Hospit-"

"My name is Renee Patrick," she interrupted. "My husband, Ian Patrick, was admitted a short while ago for gunshot injuries. What room is he in?"

A few minutes later, Renee walked down a hallway, her footsteps echoing behind her. When she reached room 219, she tried to turn the knob, but the door seemed locked. Renee grunted as she attempted to open the door.

Inside the room, a woman spoke on a cell phone. "I'm in," she whispered, although the only other occupant in the room was unconscious. She glanced at Ian, who was hooked up to all sorts of machines to monitor his status. Then, she heard the sound of somebody struggling to open the door, and said, "Wait, someone is trying to get in."

She unlocked the door, and stepped back before it flew open a moment later. Renee looked up in surprise at the blonde woman dressed as a nurse, even down to the white cap with a red cross on it. Renee had always believed nurses had done away with the all-white uniform, but her confusion was forgotten a moment later when she caught sight of her husband.

"Who are you?" the blonde woman demanded. "Don't you realize that visiting hours are over?"

"I'm Renee, the patient's wife," Renee answered. In her still half-asleep half-shocked state, she never wondered why the receptionist hadn't told her that visiting hours were over, or why the door had been locked, for now she was almost certain that the door had been locked. Instead, she asked, "Do you think he'll be all right?"

The blonde woman carried a clipboard with her, and while there were no papers on it, she made a show of glancing at it. "He's in critical condition," she said after a moment, reciting what she already knew. "It looks like he'll pull through and be as good as new, but I'm afraid you'll need to leave so that the doctors can work in privacy."

"Right. Of course," Renee murmured. She backed out of the hospital room and stumbled down the hallway again, returning to the waiting room, where she would sit awake until morning. During the intervening hours, she would see many people enter the hospital to visit their loved ones, but she was too worried to wonder why she was the only person who wasn't allowed to visit a patient.

The blonde woman watched Renee walk away, and only once she was out of sight did she once again lift her cell phone to her ear, press the "talk" button, and say, "The coast is clear. I'm coming now."

Cautiously, she looked both ways, then disconnected each machine from Ian Patrick's body, careful to program them so as not to alarm the doctors to an absence of life signs. Looking both ways down the hallway again, the blonde woman steered Patrick's bed out of the room, with Patrick in it.

While the kidnapping was taking place, Williams uncomfortably stood in a dark warehouse. His mask had been removed, revealing his bald head and youthful, almost effeminate delicate features. He stood before his employer, who hid in the shadows. Not only did such tactics serve to prevent Williams from ever knowing what his boss looked like or who he was, but it also served to intimidate the young thief.

Williams extended his hand, offering the vase. "I've got it," he declared, his voice shaking with fear. His boss did not take the vase, and for the first time, Williams really got a good look at it.

His first impression was that the vase was particularly ugly. It was a dirty brown color, and rather than being faded with age, Williams suspected it had been painted that color when it was originally made centuries ago. It was covered with black symbols that might have been Egyptian hieroglyphs or Chinese characters or some strange hybrid of the two.

The worst feature of the vase was that it was filled with tiny holes of varying shapes and sizes. At first glance, a person might believe the vase had been pocked with age, but a closer examination showed that the vase couldn't possibly survive such destruction without shattering, unless, of course, it had been made with the holes.

Williams's employer still didn't take the proffered item, and Williams asked, "Boss? Aren't you going to take it?"

"Leave it on the ground," his employer said. "I'll take it once you leave. What about the map, though. Did you get it?"

Williams cursed silently. He'd entirely forgotten about the map, but he feared to admit such things to his employer. "I was going to get it," he lied. "Really, I was on my way, but then the cops came! I had to escape!"

"The cops?" the employer repeated. "You abandoned my map to save yourself from the cops? Don't you understand that the Polistowne police force is a joke? They've never dealt with anything more serious than a speeding ticket, but do you realize how difficult it will be to break into the museum again? Do you realize what you've cost me?"

Williams broke out in a sweat. "No, listen boss, I can do it," he assured the hidden man. Williams knew what happened to men who stopped being useful to his employer, and he had too much to live for. "Just give me another chance, and I promise, I'll get your map for you."

The employer considered for far too long. Finally, he said, "Very well. But this is your last chance."

Williams fell to his knees, thanking his employer for sparing him. His employer didn't answer, and when Williams looked up, the shadowy man was gone.