He Who Last Saw Raphael


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4 min
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He was mine and mine alone, Dorian thought to himself. The "Portrait of a Young Man" and me. The man in the painting adorned a black beret, dark hair, and an opulent fur coat. Not so bad looking for a man of his time, but then again, it was the 1500’s, so not like there were much more attractive men out there.

As Dorian marveled at the painting, there was a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” he questioned softly, as he held his gun hidden in his coat pocket.

“It’s Jakub,” the man said between breaths.

“Jakub! Why didn’t you say so earlier, my boy?” Dorian replied, swinging open the door to find the Pole drenched in sweat, bent over with his hands on his knees. Slowly, he trudged inside the dimly lit room, closing the door behind him before sitting on the only piece of furniture in the corner of the house: a wooden, wobbly stool.

“Dorian, Dorian,” he said, patting his forehead sweat with his shirt. “The Nazi’s. They’re looking everywhere for you. By the time the sun rises again, newspapers will be out, and best believe your head will be on the chopping block.”

Dorian moved away from Jakub and walked over to the window, staring out at the dark abyss of the summer night. No wind rustled the branches of the long, dark oak trees that lined the house. No birds cawed or sang their love song. Everything was still, like a painting.

“No, Jakub, they want the portrait,” Dorian finally said, this time pulling out a cigarette.

“You don’t understand. When they found that the Nazi general, Hans Frank or whate-”

“Jakub, do you have a lighter by any chance?” Dorian asked, now looking at Jakub with intent.

“Dorian,” Jakub responded, as he pulled out a lighter and held it up to his cigarette. Dorian nodded in appreciation, taking a puff of smoke as he returned his attention back to the window. “the Nazis found Davinci’s and Rembrandt’s paintings in this guy’s house, and you know what they did?”

“Please enlighten me.”

“They arrested their own man,” Jakub said, as he flailed his arms wildly. “Who knows what they’ll do to you. You know, you being a...well, you know.”

Dorian exhaled slowly, now throwing his cigarette on the ground and turning back to the painting.

“If Hans Frank was stupid enough to let a Jew like me steal one of the world’s most important portraits,” Dorian said, as he reached out to the "Young Man", feeling the strokes that Raphael painted all those years ago, “then I doubt the boneheads of men that Hitler calls soldiers will be able to find me.”

Jakub sat in silence, terror still clinging to his body. Like a metronome, his foot repeatedly tapped the wooden floor, as if he were waiting for his concerto to begin. As if he were waiting for someone to walk through the door.

Dorian turned his eyes away from the painting and walked over to the linen closet. “Here, Jakub. Get some rest,” he said, throwing a blanket over to the man in the corner. “This whole thing would not have been possible without you.” Jakub took the blanket but didn’t say anything, his foot still tapping the ground. But Dorian wasn’t fazed.

“Look, I don’t like committing crimes either,” Dorian now kneeled to meet Jakub eye to eye. “If you would have told me I was going to steal one the world’s greatest portraits from a deranged Nazi with a Pole by my side I-” Dorian stopped for a moment, looking deep in thought. “Hey, that would be a great novel, now wouldn’t it, eh?” he said, laughing to himself as he now turned away from Jakub, walking around the room.

“Well, anyway, I would call you crazy. But remember what we are doing this for, Jakub!” Dorian said, as he quickly turned back around to face the nervous Pole. “This is to defy all the struggle, the cruelty, and the death that the Jews and Poles are facing,” Dorian was now walking around the room, lost in his own words. “No longer will the Nazis win. No longer will they get their dirty hands on our books, on our culture, and especially not our art. No. No more. This time, it’ll be ours,” now Dorian looked back on the stolen painting. “And by the time we get this back to America, not only will our names be written in history books for the future generations to admire, but we will have also regained what was once ours: freedom.”

Dorian, with his back still turned to Jakub, stared at the "Portrait of a Young Man". Who could not admire its beauty, Dorian wondered. How delicate the lines and precise the paint strokes were. Dorian himself longed to be an artist. He yearned for his name to be in the museums with the other great artists of history. As he jumbled through his thoughts in silence, he realized something: the foot-tapping had stopped.

“Jakub?” Dorian asked, turning around to what he thought would be a now-calm Jakub. Instead, he was met with the barrel of a gun pointed directly at his forehead.

“I called the Nazi’s before I came here,” Jakub confessed, his hands now slightly shaking. “They should be here any moment.”

“Now, now Jakub,” Dorian said with a steady breath. “Let’s think this through rationally. Not working together is the wor-”

But Jakub cut him off, cocking the gun as tears started to stream down his face, “Your stupid plan just won’t work. It’s impossible to smuggle a painting like that across the Atlantic. Even you should know that, and it doesn’t make sense for us both to suffer the consequences,” Jakub said as he shuffled forward, pushing Dorian against the wall. “It should be you, Dorian. You dragged me into this, now I’m dragging you out of it. Once they arrive, I’ll have you out of my life and the reward money in my pockets. As for you, it won’t really matter at this point.”

Jakub’s eyes were cold despite the waterfall of tears that rushed down his face.
Dorian exhaled deeply, “Jakub, it won’t work that way. If I’m alive or dead by the time they come here, you and I will share the same fate, I promise you that,” he said, looking directly into the Pole’s eyes. “You even said it yourself, now put the gun down.”

Jakob took a step back, his arm still outstretched at Dorian, moving his finger closer to the trigger, as a car door being slammed shut could be heard in the distance as footsteps approached the door. “Goodbye, Dorian.”

***
As the Nazis knocked on the door, they heard a loud bang emit from the inside of the house. Quickly, they turned the knob, only to find that it was locked. After a few tries, they eventually rammed and knocked over the door. They stopped in their tracks as they emerged into the room.

In the middle of the house, they found a man lying in his own pool of blood, his face wet with tears and gun still in hand.

“Scheisse. Should have never trusted that Pole,” one of them said.

“Are you sure it’s him?” another soldier asked.

“Who cares,” the first one replied, “the stupid painting isn’t here anyway, and we have no use for a dead body.”

As the soldier looked around the room, the only thing he noticed was a broken window that let in a soft, summery breeze throughout the tiny house. After a few minutes of intense searching, the soldiers spent the rest of that night in anger and disappointment, their suits covered in dirt and grass as they buried the body. Without a painting to claim their own or a criminal to bring to trial, they hopped back in their car as if nothing happened. Well, to them, nothing did seem to happen, anyway.
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