James was leaning against the empty guard desk when he heard footsteps. Straightening, he shoved his hands in the pocket of his Boston PD uniform as a figure emerged from the door that led to the basement.
“Satisfied?” James asked.
His partner gave him a wide grin and tossed a roll of duct tape onto the desk behind James. “Yes.”
“You didn’t have to cover their eyes, you know.”
“The fat one was pissing me off,” Mark said.
“You’re an ass.”
“You sound surprised, Jamesie.” Mark slapped his back. “Now, lead the way. Where are we going first?”
Mark made a grand gesture as if to say “you first” and James set off with Mark at his heels. They walked up the grand staircase and, taking a right, found themselves facing a gold plaque that read “The Dutch Room.”
“Come on,” Mark said, brushing past James. “We haven’t got all night.” He turned around with a manic grin. “Oh wait — we do.” He laughed to himself as he walked away.
Taking a deep breath, James forced himself to walk inside, and almost immediately stopped again. There it was — Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. He remembered studying a picture of it in an art history class his freshman year at Rhode Island School of Design. His professor’s grainy projection had done no justice to the beautiful lights and darks of the stormy ocean.
“So,” Mark said, following James’ gaze, “this one first?” He pointed at the Rembrandt.
“Yeah. Sure,” James said. He approached the painting, staring. “You know, they say Rembrandt painted himself into this painting? As one of Jesus’ disciples.” He got closer as he spoke. “I always wondered why he’d put himself into this painting. Maybe he needed to feel protected….safe…like the disciples were, you know? I think he’s one of the ones on the bottom — there.” James pointed at a figure in blue sitting at the edge of the boat.
An alarm blared throughout the room. James jumped back in surprise.
“You idiot, you had to give an art lesson now?” Mark shouted over the alarm. He looked around, then picked up a small end table and smashed it against the alarm, which fell silent. Mark cut The Storm on the Sea of Galilee out of its gilded frame. “What next?”
James chose a Vermeer and the oil-on-wood Flinck, and Mark grabbed a bronze beaker whose plaque read “China, Shang Dynasty, 1200—1100 BC” and winked. James rolled his eyes at him.
The most important part done, they walked back out into the hallway, and for a moment James felt like a regular tourist, strolling through a museum on a Saturday in spring. Mark swiped an eagle-shaped ornament from its display case.
“That’s a finial,” James said, examining it. “Finials are ornamental objects, usually found at the top of —”
Mark blew a loud raspberry noise, effectively ending the lecture.
James noticed the door labeled “Raphael Room” but did not point it out to Mark, who was playing with his eagle. Instead he motioned to three sketches hanging side by side on the opposite wall.
“Take the Degas sketches.”
“Dey-gahhh.” James said.
Mark scoffed as he cut out Three Mounted Jockeys. “These look like a kindergartner drew them in art class, but then the bell rang for recess and he never finished.”
When he was done, Mark gathered up their collection. “You give the place one last look, I’ll get these to the car.” James nodded, and Mark disappeared down the back stairwell.
Alone, James wandered back to the Dutch Room. He walked over to Self-Portrait and stared at Rembrandt’s 23-year-old self, a black hat perched atop his brown hair, feather curling upwards, looking out at James with an expression of mild surprise.
“Yeah,” James said to the young artist. “I can’t believe myself either.”
And with one last look, he walked out of the Dutch Room.