The Night it Rained Rembrandt – 6
THE STORY THUS FAR…
Never mind that this is part 6. Forget all earlier chapters because, thus far, there has been no story.
The earlier draft of this tale has undergone an extensive rewrite. That version (some of which appears in earlier posts on this site) has been revised, scrapped, decimated, canned, or otherwise leveled. I’ve gone back to back to square one to produce a leaner, tighter, and more-polished narrative thanks, in no small part, to feedback received from my workshop colleagues.
One final note before we begin: This week Amazon is offering Altercations: Critical Super-Human Encounters of the 20th Century, The Deluxe Edition (my ground-breaking 192-page full-color graphic novel that redefined super-heroes long before The Boys and other series were born) for only $8.52. That’s a 66% savings off the $24.95 cover price. No idea how long this sale will take place so why not check it out.
The Night it Rained Rembrandt
Shockey’s Lounge was largely empty, particularly for a Saturday night in June. Barry sat at the bar, his bulky frame dwarfing the modest wooden barstool. He stared at the silent flatscreen mounted on a corner wall and watched as two warriors brandishing Everlast gloves proceeded to beat the pulp out of each other.
“Fucking barbarians,” he whispered.
Barry downed his pint and nodded to Carmine. The fifty-eight-year-old proprietor snagged the empty glass and refilled it from the Sam Adams tap.
“Do me a solid, will you?” Barry said. “Change the station.”
“Lemme guess,” Carmine said, reaching for the remote, “Weather Channel.”
Carmine smiled. “Do I know you or do I know you?”
You don’t know a thing about me, Shockey, Barry thought. Not one goddammed thing. “You know me,” he said.
Carmine stepped away to assist another customer as Barry gazed at the screen where a female air personality stood in front of a station-model map the US and read from an off-screen teleprompter.
“Storm advisories in effect for the next 24 hours across the Great Plains.” Manicured hands swept left to right across the map with practiced precision.
Barry hung on every word of the local forecast, feeling at ease that the evening’s weather would consist of a gentle ten-mile-per-hour northwest wind. Lips pressed to his glass, Barry’s mind drifted back, as it did each night, to Xenia, Ohio, 1988. The subterranean shelter had provided a life-saving sanctuary, but their home was leveled. Barry’s dad had torn through the debris in a frantic, desperate search. The safe was gone.
“Wait here,” he’d said, leaving wife and child alone as he began a frantic search. Hours later he’d returned with the fifty-pound safe clenched to his chest.
“Everything will be okay,” he’d declared, breathless, and rested the safe on the ground. As nervous fingers turned the dial of the lock, neither parent realized that eight-year-old Barry had vanished.
Barry jettisoned the decades-old memory and returned to the present. Jackson was late. No surprise there because Jackson was always late. Barry reckoned that one day, long after their criminal exploits had ceased and they’d attained Wikipedia notoriety, Jackson’s disregard for schedules would be a major part of the page’s narrative. Barry smiled at the idea and it occurred to him that he’d forgotten what smiling felt like.
Jackson arrived two beers later and slid his thin frame quietly onto a barstool adjacent to Barry.
“Vodka martini,” Jackson said at Carmine’s approach.
“We’re really not a vodka martini kinda place.”
Jackson tipped an embarrassed thumb in Barry’s direction. “Whatever he’s having then.”
He turned to Barry. “Sorry, man. Swing class ran long. Again.”
“You’re forty. Why is swing class even part of your vocabulary?”
“You know how it is. Penelope wants us to do more ‘couples’ activities.”
“I don’t know how it is. Kind of life we lead is a lot easier without attachments.”
“It’s worked out okay for me so far,” Jackson said.
“Matter of time. Remember the Blue Marauder?”
“I remember him. Winston something.”
“Haverhill. Amazing run. Number 1 on the FBI and MI6 Super-Criminal’s Most-Wanted List for two years. Unstoppable. Then one day Mrs. Haverhill stumbles onto her husband’s dual identity. I recall it didn’t end well for either of them.”
“Even if I wasn’t careful, which I am, Penelope wouldn’t turn me in.”
“Let’s hope not,” Barry said. “Ready?”
“One sec.” Jackson removed a pillbox from his jacket pocket and downed two Advil.
“Just a headache.”
“Okay, let’s hear it.”
Jackson checked his surroundings and spoke softly. “The art’s being flown in from London’s National Gallery–Delta Flight 99–nonstop to Combustible; 2:30 a.m. arrival. The crates will be transported from the airport by cargo van with police escort, arriving at the art museum by 3:45 a.m. Six guards will be stationed outside the museum until the transfer is complete.”
“How solid is your intel on this?” Barry asked.
Barry nodded. “This would have been a lot easier five months ago,” he said, recalling museum security enhancements that had been implemented following the theft of Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” from the New York Museum of Art in January.
“Number of guards inside the museum?”
“Three. Fully armed.”
“Tell me about the vans. How many?”
“Four total; one driver and one passenger in each; both armed.”
“Which vehicle is carrying the prize?”
“Unknown,” Jackson said. “I’m not even sure it’s been decided.”
“No matter. Finish you’re drink. It’s time to go.”
Jackson glanced at the analog Budweiser clock on the wall behind a collection of top shelf whiskies. “Bit early to head to the museum, isn’t it?”
“We’re not going to the museum.” Barry placed a twenty on the counter as he and Jackson left the bar.
It was 9:40 and there was much to do.
NEXT: Our story continues.