A few days after I returned from China we went for the big score. It was a quiet Wednesday morning at the Museum, perfect for stealing a painting. At our apartment we readied our popes, getting them into their papal robes then putting a large overcoat and hat on each of them. That way, their religious attire would be concealed until Rory was ready to reveal it.
It was a long and tedious process moving the deceased popes into position. To avoid suspicion we escorted them in one by one over a period of three hours, taking a taxi to the museum, and then carrying the holy fathers in, Weekend at Bernie’s style. Each time we came back for another pope, Rory and I changed our clothes and put on different wigs. Eventually, the mock pontiffs were propped up in various corners of the museum ready to go. I positioned myself in front of The Starry Night and drew a deep breath. Rory was standing at the opposite end of the room; I gave him the nod. He gave it back and then left the exhibit. I put down my backpack, which I had altered to hold a rolled up canvas, and waited. About thirty seconds later, screaming echoed from the far wing of the museum: the first pope was down. A moment later alarm bells rang. I could hear security guards yelling, and all the museum patrons scattered in a panic, probably assuming there was a terrorist attack. Shortly after that, the alarm bell ceased, and was replaced by a low, odd sounding siren. The Dead Pontiff Protocol was in effect.
I found myself alone with van Gogh’s stunning handiwork, but there was no time for aesthetic appreciation. I took out Rory’s counterfeit and unfurled it on the floor beside me, then carefully took down the real painting and set about extracting it from its frame. Screams rang out again; pope number two had bitten the dust; the odd sounding siren continued. My delicate operation went as smoothly as I could have hoped, and like clockwork three more dead popes were discovered. In twelve and a half minutes I had Rory’s Starry Night up on the wall, and van Gogh’s in my backpack. With my heart racing I exited the museum, walked a block as nonchalantly as I could, and then took a cab to the motel. An anxious two hours passed before Rory returned, having made the ballsy decision to stay and wander around the museum for a while before catching a bus home.
That night, the television news reported the day’s events as being merely a prank. Nothing was mentioned about The Starry Night. No one knew. Although Rory and I were lying low, we allowed ourselves a few celebratory beers, and then I went to bed around ten.
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