Jake paces the floor. Where is Alberto?
He can't wait any longer and grabs the envelope Tony has left for him and stuffs it into his brief case. Glancing at Alberto's bag, Jake quickly jots down a note.
Sorry I missed you, but my ride to Chicago is here. Thanks again for helping me with my thesis. Please use this money to get back to Saint Paul. Wish it could have been more but with school—well you know how it goes. Will spend the weekend with my folks and friends, but I promise I'll get to work first thing Monday morning. Wishing you the best of luck. Jake Thompson
Jake takes three twenties from his pocket and folds the letter around the money and places it in Alberto's bag. This will give him one day to make it to St. Paul. Wonder why he had to be back by the fifth? Maybe his story will tell me.
Tony waits outside the gallery. He doesn't want the security guard to see him. This time of day he might remember him coming in and not going out at five. It takes a while and it's very close to five when at last the guard walks to the back of the building. Tony creeps through the doorway and up the stairs. The top floor appears empty of visitors. He looks down the staircase, no guard in sight.
The upstairs vent is close to the stairs and away from the paintings. He knows he has no time to spare as he unscrews the first screw from the vent cover. He hears an announcement that the gallery is closing in five minutes.
Hearing a sound behind him he sees two women approaching and he walks quickly to a painting and studies it while they go down the stairs. That was close.
He hurries to get the other screw out, then places both screws deep in his pocket. Wrapping the wire through the holes in the grate, he's happy to slips his uncomfortable shoes off. He removes his jacket and crawls backward into the vent. It's a tight squeeze and he realizes that if he hadn't been sick and lost some weight, he might not have fit. He folds his jacket and lays it in front of him, pushes his shoes in next to him he then grabs the wire coat hanger hook, attaches it in the grate and slowly pulls it towards him as the grandfather clock bongs out five o'clock.
He's crowded, but comfortable as he lays his head on his jacket. The warm air feels good on his cold feet. Only minutes pass when he hears the footsteps of the security guard. Tonight he must be starting on the top floor and working his way down. My heart is beating so hard I wonder if he can hear it. Sound carries throughout the building I wonder how much the sound carries in this vent? I must be still.
The stillness is almost deafening. Tony hears only his breathing and the chimes of the grandfather clock. The warm air coming through the vent at first was a welcome, but now his feet are too hot. His body filling the vent blocks the air, but within the hour the air starts to cool when the guard turns the heat down. It has been a long day and getting over pneumonia has tired him. Tony falls asleep.
He awakens to the sound of men's voices. Two men standing close to the vent, they each carry large flashlights. A light beam blinds him for a moment when the one guard swings the light past the open grate. He holds his breath. Maybe they see him.
"They want you to make rounds every two hours, mostly on rainy nights." The older guard says.
"Why rainy nights?" the younger guard asks.
The older guard points his flashlight towards the roof.
"Years ago that skylight had a leak. Damn rain dripped on a painting and destroyed it."
"So you check each painting on nights it rains?" the young guard asks.
The old guard chuckles. "With the acoustics in this building all you have to do is stop and listen." He stops talking for a minute, no sound, and then from across the large room a faint plunk is heard. " I just threw out a toothpick did you hear it?" the older guard asks. Tony can tell it's a joke but the younger guard takes a second to get it.
"Guess we better look for that toothpick in the morning. We sure don't want to be labeled as litter bugs," he says, trying to keep the joke going. "Besides I do believe it will turn into a pen by morning."
The guards start down the stairs.
"Sorry for such a bad joke but you'll get a little wacky doing this job. Don't stay with it as many years as I did."
Tony lost the sound of their voices as the men descend the stairs.
Now I have to worry about two guards. That's trouble. Would the older guard will be showing off and be more alert and the younger one will be paying more attention to what's going on?
Tired, he falls back to sleep. The grandfather clock chimes out midnight. Two, I'll try after their two o'clock rounds. He dozes off again.
The clock chimes at two. Tony waits. At least twenty minutes pass before he sees the young guard climbs the stairs. He stands for a minute listening. No rain on the roof, no sound, only silence. He clears his throat and makes the return trip down the stairs.
His heart beats fast. Now is the time. Slowly he lowers the grate. It can't make any sound when it touches the floor. He pushes his jacket out of the vent then stretching his arms out, his hands reach around the outside of the vent, and he pulls his body out slowly. He reaches back and pulls out his shoes. He doesn't put them on because they may make noise, and without socks they're uncomfortable. He carefully replaces the grate but doesn't tighten the screws, in case he has to get back in quickly.
No moon out tonight. He had hoped for a little light. It's dark with only small dim lights to show him the way. In the vent close to the staircase it had been brighter, and he hadn't planned on it being this dark. Standing in front of "Summer Bliss," he can make out the frames but not the painting, but he knows he's in the right place. Carefully he finds his way in the dark and feels for the velvet rope in front of the painting.
"I'm coming Grandma," he whispers. There's no reply but he can feel her presence around him. He sets his shoes down on the floor.
Standing close to the painting, he clears his mind and proceeds to transfer his body, soul and mind. After an hour he feels his body lighten and float in the air and slowly he approaches the painting. In the dark he can't see the painting, but knows in what area he wishes to be, the hill that's to the top right side. He directs his body towards it.
He doesn't hear the grandfather clock chime three. He smells oil paint but it turns into a smell he can't place. The air is so hot. He sees someone it must be Grandma. He turns his face slightly towards her but leaves some of it showing so Jake will be able to see the side of his face in the painting. He enters the painting and screams.
Sunlight streams through the windows and skylight as the two guards climb the stairs for their last rounds of the night.
The older guard looks around at some of the paintings
"You know, I believe they keep the lights low at night so we won't get scared. Some of these paintings are kind of frightening."
The older guard stops to look at a painting. " I believe they hung this one upside down."
The younger guard, now used to the older man's humor, adds. " No, they hung it the right way. See it's a turtle's head," he says pointing to a spot on the painting. You can see a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and the expression on his face shows he has a powerful hangover. Blue color back of him shows how bad he feels and the pink color in front of him shows where he vomited."
The older man laughs. "Well I believe your right. I never saw that before. So that's why people study these painting. There kind of like those pictures where you have to find an object in them. My granddaughter loves those pictures. Find a cat, apple etc. They both laugh.
"Well look at this," the older guard says, pointing at a pair of shoes. "Now I've found all kinds of things left behind by people visiting the gallery, but never a pair of shoes. How do you suppose they forgot their shoes?" he says, bending to pick them up. "I'll have to take them to lost and found, but that will give me a chance to show you how we label and store items we find."
He glances at the shoes. "They're not in very good shape. Don't think the owner will be back for them, but we still have to store them for six months." He shutters as he glances up at the painting that's hanging above the shoes.
"Now that's one painting I just don't understand," he says. "They had such a pretty one hanging here. It had a lovely countryside with animals, birds and a woman and a boy sitting on a hill looking down into a valley. Why it had some grapes on a hill and those grapes looked so real and delicious they made my mouth water."
He shook his head. "They took it down a couple of days ago and hung this one. They say it's a copy of a world famous painting that someone stole the original years ago and it disappeared for a long time. I can't figure out why they went looking for it? Now from what you told me about the last painting, I can see you're an expert. What do you see in this painting?"
The younger guard approaches the painting. "Well this looks like my mother-in-law and she's out for a walk on a bridge. See this man's face in the river? He's screaming because he's going down for the third time. My mother-in-law is screaming for help."
The older guard walks closer to the painting and looks at it. "I think you're right. I didn't notice the face in the water. Poor bastard is drowning."
Bumping the velvet rope, he knocks the stand over that holds the information about the painting. It reads:
By Edward Munch.