“I’m bypassing the alarm system now,” Rico said.
Rico—his real name was Jorge Acosta but he liked everyone to call him Rico because it was what he wanted to be, rich—deftly clipped jumper leads across one more set of wires and then began cutting. In seconds the complex wiring of the gallery’s alarm system was in tatters and the building was wide open to pillage.
Rico stepped back from the electrical box and waved at the rear door of the Parnassus Gallery of Art with a showman’s flourish.
“You’re up Freddy.”
Freddy Black knelt in front of the door and pulled a set of lock picks from his back pocket. He was the locksmith of the group and in less than thirty seconds the snick of the deadbolt being thrown welcomed the small band of criminals to enter. Four men moved quickly through the door, closing it behind them to avoid casual detection.
The gallery was one of the richest in town. The works of famous artists from around the globe graced the walls. Harvey Denton, the gang’s leader, had connections in the underground art world who would pay a king’s ransom for what hung on the walls. He circled the large room pointing at paintings which Louise Denton, the fourth member of the gang and Harvey’s sister pulled from their mountings and began to strip from their frames.
In less than twenty minutes over ten million dollars worth of art was tightly rolled and placed into canvas sleeves.
“What the hell is this thing?” Frank’s voice echoed through the gallery.
Everyone turned to look. Frank was standing in the middle of the gallery staring up at a large statue dressed in some sort of loose flowing gown.
“Vejigante,” Rico said.
“Very what?”
“Ingrate,” Rico said and repeated the word slowly. “Vejigante. It’s a Puerto Rican demon. My uncle used to make masks in his shop in Ponce. There’s a big festival every year, lots of fun.”
“Ain’t it kind of out of place here? I mean look at all this other stuff and then this thing. It looks like some kid’s craft project.”
Rico had to agree, the Vejigante did appear incongruous in the gallery. Every statue and painting was the work of a master and looked exactly like what the well heeled from the Upper West Side would spend their trust funds on. The Vejigante statue was classic Puerto Rico rural art. The statue was seven feet tall and clad in a loose red garment which gave the impression of wings reaching from the thing’s outstretched arms to its ankles. The head was a nightmare of twisting horns, an enormous fang filled mouth and riotous colors speckled with spots. The style was the same as the masks in Rico’s hometown, painted papier-mâché.
“Hey Harvey,” Rico said. “You think this would be worth anything to your contact?”
“Nah, he’s strictly old masters and hot modern art; leave it alone.”
“Sorry Señor Vejigante,” Rico said. “No love for you.”
He turned away, never seeing the dim orange glow that lit the eyes of the statue. Rico and Frank began picking up the packaged paintings and placing them in the large duffels they carried.
The walls of the gallery were almost denuded when the thieves were brought up short by a moan that echoed through the room.
“What the hell,” Louise said and pulled a small pistol from her shoulder holster.
Harvey followed suit. Rico and Frank had no love of guns and both men squatted low to avoid any potential fire fight.
The moan was repeated again and immediately followed by an ear piercing roar that shook dust from the ceiling and made each of the thieves feel weak in the knees.
The band of thieves turned to see the Vejigante statue step down from its dais. Its eyes blazed with orange light and long, clawed hands extended from its sleeves.
“Stop right there asshole,” Louise shouted.
“Is it some crazy security guard,” Frank said.
Rico paled as a long, black, tongue emerged from the fanged jaw and flicked across the creature’s face.
“Diablo,” he whispered.
“Freeze,” Louise screamed. Her voice shook making the command less than threatening.
The Vejigante spread its arms wide. Veins visibly pulsed in what they now saw was not a garment, but the thing’s skin. It roared again and stalked toward the gang. Louise fired twice into the center of the creature’s body. The bullets found their mark but there was no blood, no sign that the creature was even inconvenienced.
Harvey opened fire with his much larger weapon. The sound of gunfire was deafening. The siblings emptied their weapons into the creature but it continued advancing as if they were shooting spitballs.
The Vejigante reached Harvey first and wrapped its arms around him as if embracing a lover. Harvey disappeared within the folds of the creatures wings. Rico could hear his screams until they abruptly stopped after several seconds. The monster opened its arms and where Harvey had been a blackened skeleton stood, momentarily, and then collapsed to the floor. When the bones struck the floor they shattered into a fine dust; Louise screamed.
Rico collapsed to his knees and began to pray in Spanish. Frank turned to run while Louise, still shrieking her brother’s name, charged the Vejigante and began to punch and kick it in unbridled fury. The monster watched the woman as she attacked; it seemed either puzzled or amused by her tenacity. Her attack continued without effect for several seconds until the Vejigante seemingly tired of the spectacle wrapped its winged arms around her and then dumped her crystallized skeleton to the floor to shatter beside her brother.
The Vejigante turned to Rico. Its glowing eyes transfixed the man and he felt his pants grow wet as fear released his bladder.
“Quedarse quieto.” Stay put.
Its voice that was more lion’s roar than human speech.
Rico nodded; he didn’t think he was capable of movement even if it would let him.
The demon turned from the Hispanic thief and stalked after Frank. Frank was tugging at the door, cursing as it refused to budge. In his terror he had forgotten that the door opened outward. The Vejigante’s tongue lashed out and wrapped around Frank’s neck. Like a whip, the tongue yanked the man away from the door and pulled him to the demon. Frank screamed as he was turned to face the looming monster. Rico swore the monster chuckled as it opened its mouth wide and engulfed Frank’s head. With a shake of its head it ripped Frank’s head from his shoulders and swallowed it. The Vejigante caught the toppling body in its embrace and soon Franks skeleton fell to the floor and shattered to dust. The Vejigante turned toward Rico.
Rico began to recite the Hail Mary prayer as the monster walked up to him. He croaked out “…now and at the hour of our death, Amen” just as the creature reached him.
The demon stared down at the shaking thief with its bright eyes and its tongue snaked from its mouth and licked the side of his face. The tongue was as rough as sandpaper and slimy as a slug. Rico closed his eyes and waited for death.
“Pecado no más.” Sin no more.
The creature turned away and walked back to its dais. Once there, the light in its eyes died and it became, once more, merely a statue.
Tears burst from Rico’s eyes. He rose to his feet and looked at the piles of dust which had once been his partners in crime. He tossed the duffel of paintings to the floor and ran for the door. He ran for blocks still feeling the monster’s burning eyes upon him.
Eventually he came upon a small church and went inside. Surrounded by images of the faith he finally felt the monster’s gaze fade from his soul.
Rico pulled his cellphone from his pocket and dialed a number from memory. The sleep filled voice of his uncle in Ponce, Puerto Rico answered on the seventh ring.
“Uncle,” Rico said. “I want to come home. I have one heck of a story to tell you.”

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