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Tuesday, May 22nd, 2001

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What It Takes To Make A Bad Man Good
I'm sure everybody's already heard the story about how I started working as a cat burglar - Fat Eddie, the gambling debt, the supermodel's tennis bracelet, the toothbrush, yadda yadda yadda - so I won't bore you with that again. What I don't think I've mentioned before is how I got out of the second story business.

By my second year, I'd built up a good reputation. I'd gotten a few jobs with the Albanians lifting ATMs through Safeway roofs, did some industrial work for the PRC, and even tangled with the art world. Incidentally, let me tell you, art thieves are the most stuck up criminals you'll ever know! Take one art history class and suddenly, you think you can talk down to the rest of the underworld. Bastards. Anyway, I was getting to be well-known as the "man with the plan" when it came to above-floors B&E, and one of my buyers suggested that I work with a tall drink of water by the name of Kristoff (not, of course, his real name) who was making big money selling pre-patent biotech research overseas. I talked to Kristoff, and two days later, I was on a rooftop in Emeryville on a one-nighter with a personal cut of forty-five large.

Getting in was easy. I probably could have social-engineered the groud floor rent-a-cop, but I didn't want to be on cameras, so I took a phone line across from an apartment complex across the street, jimmied the roof access, and got in. I cut the power before I got to the first camera (let me tell you, what I wouldn't have given for "rolling blackouts" back then - nobody even stops to consider a blackout today) and got to the lab on the second floor from the top.

I was there to collect written notes and pull floppies and hard drives, but the lab itself was beautiful enough to give me pause.

Cactuses everywhere.

Huge, thick, bulby cactuses, towering five feet over my head. Beds of little green spheres, stretching across the sunroom floor like a lawn. Twisty cacti, like Joshua trees, which seemed to turn and sag like lazy old men.

And the flowers! Huge, bright red flowers, tinted with lines of blue and purple, sprouted out from the cactuses. They were so perfect I gasped, and so rich in hue that I almost felt I would cry.

The alarms were going off, and I stood there like an idiot, totally awestruck, for nearly half a minute.

Something inside me shouted, "This is worth seeing. This is worth sitting down and watching for hours. This is worth going to jail to see."

In the end, though, habit won out. Still turning occasionally to admire the cacti over my shoulder, I ransacked the offices. I went down a floor, cut open the locks on the server room, and grabbed the disks there as well. Rushed and perhaps a bit disappointed with myself for losing so much time, I headed back to the lab, suitcase full of stolen data in hand, and stopped in place, frozen by the scene.

The cacti were in different places then they had been when I was first there. I was headed out, still surprised and confused, when it happened.

A particularly anthropomorphic cactus moved. It twisted its spiny head, as if to see what had disturbed its lurching. The field of green bulbs twitched and chittered on the ground.

The clock read four minutes after midnight. The towering monster cactus began uprooting itself, lurching toward me with a posture that could only seem menacing.

I wet myself and bolted. I bolted out, up the stairs, across the telephone line, and twenty miles away to my motel room. I bolted through the phone call to Kristoff, into the money, off to Hawaii and out of the business. The whole time, I never looked back, afraid of what I might see behind me.

And it scared me honest.

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