“It is you,” he said.
I didn’t know what to do.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked.
“Uh, yes sir,” I said. “I have a lot of respect for you, and if you could just let me explain—”
“No, no. That’s not what I meant.” He peered at me. “You’ve been there recently, haven’t you?”
“Yes. I can see it in your eyes. This is strange,” he said. “Do you know who I am?”
“Yes sir,” I replied, “you’re Willy Candleberry, the art collector.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head, “what I mean is, do you remember me?”
Was this some kind of gangster mind game—taunting me before having me beaten to death? I was numb with anxiety.
“Uh… no sir,” I stammered. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Look at me,” he said, in the affable yet authoritative voice I heard him use earlier. “Look at my eyes. You will remember me.”
I looked, at first simply out of life-preserving obedience, but then I noticed something. He did look strangely familiar. I was surprised. It seemed I did know him, but how I couldn’t say.
“Yes, that’s it,” he said, his smile growing more joyful by the moment. “I knew you immediately. Do you recognise me yet? I suppose I must look very different. After all, it was seventy years ago when I last saw you. You saved my life, you know.”
I stared curiously into Willy’s eyes… then suddenly I saw it. The shock felled me, and I found myself on the floor, looking up at the old man in fear and wonder. He laughed and helped me to my feet, embracing me like a long lost family member. Willy was the young man in my dream to whom I had thrown the severed ear!
It took me a while to recover. Willy and I sat down and he explained to me what had happened, and offered the thanks he had waited seven decades to give. He told me that in his youth he was headed for a distinguished career in the mafia, already with the blood of a dozen men on his hands. Then, one night, he too received that vision, or visitation, of the Day of Judgment. He explained how in his most desperate moment, cowered beneath the teetering avalanche of Almighty justice, he saw me—clutching the severed ear, which appeared to him as a glorious jewel. It was the ear that allowed him to escape that dreadful fate, just as it had spared me.
We spent the next three hours speaking of our shared experience in that place, and contemplating many things about it that we still didn’t understand. Willy also gave me advice on how to live a good life, which I have since tried to follow. He graciously forgave the theft of the painting, knowing from experience that I would not continue a life of crime. I left the van Gogh with Willy, and we parted as friends.
Before Rory and I left New York, we went to see The Starry Night one last time. By then the museum was renovating, and some exhibits had been moved, including the van Gogh. We asked one of the staff to direct us to our desired piece, but he informed us it had been put in storage. He said the museum was going in a new artistic direction, and The Starry Night didn’t really fit in. He did, however, direct us to the painting that had replaced it, and had recently been purchased for one hundred and sixty-eight million dollars. It was a portrait of former West Indian fast bowler, Curtley Ambrose.
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