He was seventeen when he discovered it. At a time in life when a
teenage boy was supposed to be consumed by sports and cars and a non-stop sex drive. And
he had been. But a high school junior/senior field trip that had consisted of three bus
loads of kids unceasingly complaining about the stupidity of the teachers and school
administrators who insisted on making the event mandatory. 'Art' became a four-letter
word, and the trip to the art museum for a rare traveling exhibit of the old masters
became a grueling event for all involved, despite the fact that this was a once in a
lifetime opportunity to see the original work of some of Europe's most famous Old Masters;
Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, da Vinci and Rembrandt.
It was the Rembrandts that stopped him cold.
It wasn't cool to appreciate such things. It wasn't cool to even notice such things. That was a time in life when insecurities had a way of rearing their heads and it was easier to just go along with the crowd about some things. And he'd been as bad as the rest, hanging out with the other football jocks and their obligatory cheerleader girlfriends. They'd pretty much ignored the paintings, made fun of the abstract art, laughed at the nudes, seeing how badly they could embarrass the teenage girls and mockingly striking classic poses while they laughed at the failings both of each other and the statues.
He'd been cool; making the appropriate crude remarks when required. It was two rooms after the Dutch artists that he hung back a little from his friends, letting them move on before he approached Mrs. Palmer, the young, new art teacher and gained permission to go to the restroom with the customary, 'Don't be gone long' following him as he disappeared back the way they'd come.
Forty-five minutes later he became aware she was standing quietly beside him. They both stood silently in the empty room staring at the small painting hanging on the wall.
"It's called Rembrandt's light," she said softly, seeming to know what had caught his interest.
"How did he do it, Mrs. Palmer?" he'd asked in awe. "None of the others here did it. Not like he did."
"Not many have the gift, Jim." She was one of the few who didn't use the diminutive form of his name. "Few people have the ability to really touch others, whether it's painting or writing or even teaching. Every field will occasionally have that one in a million exceptional talent."
"Was it him? Was it in him or was it something he saw in the people he painted?" he'd demanded. "Did it come out of him?"
She hadn't answered his question, asking one of her own instead. "What do you see, Jim?"
"Everything." He didn't remember even thinking before responding. The words just were. "Everything he was is in this painting. It's like what I remember a Sunday school teacher saying when I was a kid about looking at the face of God. It almost hurts to look at it. It's pure. It's like " he shrugged in confused naivete. "I don't know. The essence. Or something."
They'd been interrupted then, called back to the rest of the group by the disapproving group leader and the brief moment had been all but forgotten until six months ago.
He watched with a knowing smile while his partner gazed longingly
at the museum bookstore.
"I won't be long, Jim. There's just a couple of things I want to check out while we're here," the younger man promised.
"Sandburg, this is a book store. If you're not out in two hours I'm coming in after you," he threatened.
Startled laughter lit his partner's face as he conceded his weakness. "One hour, Jim. I promise. Where will you be?"
Ellison looked skeptical but shrugged. "The classics. I'll meet you in the classics."
Sandburg gave a decisive nod. "Got it."
An indulgent smile pulled at Ellison's mouth. "Take your time, Chief. There's no hurry. I'll amuse myself."
"One hour, Jim. In the classics. Don't be late," he warned with a grin as he turned toward the bookstore.
Ellison watched his partner disappear before pulling the museum handout from his pocket, giving it a quick check before heading off, secretly glad of the time alone. There was something he wanted to do on his own and he hadn't been sure how to do that without arousing the suspicions of his friend who would have more questions than he wanted to answer yet. There was only one thing he wanted to see in all the exhibits and the hour just might give him the time he needed.
Forty-five minutes later he was still standing in front of a large plain white wall that served to frame the small dark picture mounted at eye level. A bright tiny spotlight lit the heavy dark framed work but it almost wasn't needed. On loan from another, larger museum, the painting mounted within glowed with a light all its own. It wasn't the same picture he'd found so many years before, it wasn't even the same artist. But it held the same magic.
He hadn't visited the museum since his senses had reemerged, hadn't even thought about it until recently. And now he stood, silently admiring the evidence of the talent of a man centuries dead.
"It's called Rembrandt's light," a soft voice said.
A warm feeling filled him with recognition of an almost forgotten echo. "But it's not a Rembrandt," he objected.
A soft chuckle reached him, "No, you're quite right. But Garret Dou was one of Rembrandt's students."
"I thought of you recently," he said, his own voice equally low, unwilling to break the spell. He nodded toward the picture without taking his eyes off it. "He caught it. It's still there."
A slight movement beside him as she shifted slightly. "It always will be to those who will see it."
"Remember when I asked you all those years ago, if the light was within the artist or the people he painted?" He felt her nod. "It's within the artist," he said with certainty.
"You think it is?" she asked in a neutral tone.
Very slowly Jim Ellison shook his head. "No, I know it is," he said. "I've seen it." He was aware when she turned to face him.
"You've seen it?"
Ice blue eyes closed in remembrance. "In a darkened lecture hall at Rainier. A young grad student. I'd known him for years but only outside the University, I'd never taken the time to see him in his own element, to actually see his enthusiasm for teaching. For imparting knowledge."
"What was it like?" There was an undertone of excitement in her question.
Ellison opened his eyes, giving an almost imperceptible nod toward the artwork. "It was like watching one of these come to life."
"May I hear?" she asked softly.
He didn't answer for several seconds, then he began. Low. Reflective. "I sat in the back, coming in a little late, after the class had started. He didn't know I was present. I was there to pick up my partner, not listen to a lecture on Pre-Columbian civilization."
"I almost missed it," he said. "I was the only one in the rear of the room and I'd kicked back, planning to nap a little while I waited. Then there was this," he stopped, impatient with himself, "I don't even know how to describe it. It was as if the entire room suddenly relaxed. Like something had happened and I'd maybe missed it." He couldn't tell her he'd heard the near silent sigh of the half the kids in the room as they'd relaxed, the waiting over.
His head tilted with a little breath of amusement. "I should have known there was something different happening. There wasn't a sound in the whole room, no whispering or laughing or talking about plans after class. There wasn't even any shuffling around. It was just quiet. As if they all expected something to happen." He shook his head slightly with impatience at his inability to describe what he'd experienced. "Not 'expected,'" he corrected. "It was more like they hoped," he tried to explain. His eyes narrowed and his head tilted back slightly as he remembered. The semi-darkness in the auditorium, the light illuminating the small stage where a restless young man paced with the enthusiasm that raced through his body. The quite of the room, as each person there seemed to realize how rare a phenomenon they were witnessing. The slow buildup, the low tones as the soft voice spoke, tinges of excitement lacing the words, the phrases.
He broke off with a laugh at his own inadequacy. "I can't tell you. I don't have the words. It's like trying to describe this painting. It's dark around the edges with a light on the people in the middle. So are those black velvet paintings you see on street corners too but it's not quite the same."
She shared his laughter. "No, but even those have their place." She took a deep breath. "I do know what you're talking about though. The light. A former instructor of mine had it."
She shook her head. "No, a history professor. I took every class from him that was offered."
"You were right, back when I was in high school. It is rare." Sadness swept across his chiseled features as he paused.
A stiffness settled into his whole being before he asked as calmly as he could. "What makes you think anything happened?"
She shrugged. "There's a sadness when you talk about it."
He took a slow deep breath as if bracing himself. "Shortly after that he lost it all," he said softly. "He was forced out of teaching. No one will ever see that light again."
There was a long moment of silence when the whispery echoes of his voice died away in the large empty room.
"Was he forced out or did he willingly give it up?"
He still didn't turn to look at the woman standing beside him. "What difference does it make?" he demanded, unable to keep the harshness out of his voice.
"It makes all the difference in the world."
He shook his head, angry at the light that seemed to mock him from the painting hanging before him. "He'll never teach again."
Even with his Sentinel hearing he had to strain to hear her next words. "But did he take his passion with him?"
"What?" he asked in confusion.
She shook her head. "You're the one who told me, it's within the artist. Does it matter what medium he works in?"
They stood for a moment longer while he thought about her words, then he let go the emotion and stepped back, turning to look at the woman beside him. She'd aged but so had the seventeen-year-old he'd been. "Mrs. Palmer," he said with a smile.
And they caught up on the past as they waited for his partner. She still taught, had just transferred to the new high school and was docent in the museum. She knew about his career, explaining, "I try to follow some of my kids as much as I can from what comes out in the newspapers."
Inwardly he cringed from the word 'newspapers' and all the media attention that word hinted at but before he could respond, Sandburg came rushing around the corner. "See, Jim? Well under an hour!" he bragged.
Ellison grinned at the younger man. "Well under, Sandburg?" He studied his watch. "How about two minutes under, Chief?"
Blair Sandburg grinned. "Hey, under's under, man, I made it." He looked at the older woman standing beside his friend. "I'm Blair Sandburg," he said, holding out his hand.
Ellison shook his head at the enthusiasm of his partner. "Mrs. Palmer, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. Chief, this is Eleanor Palmer, my art teacher from high school." A gleam the Sentinel had long ago learned to recognize entered his partner's eyes and he shook his head with a laugh. "Oh, no," he protested, aiming his friend toward the door before the younger man could dig too deeply into the kid Jim had been back then. He looked back at his onetime teacher with a grin. "I think I hear a South American pottery exhibit calling his name, if you'll excuse us. It was nice seeing you again. Maybe it won't be so long before the next meeting."
The older woman laughed, enjoying the by-play between the two men. "I hope not, Jim. Blair, it was lovely meeting you, even if it was only briefly." She lifted her hand in farewell as she watched the two men walk away, Sandburg still protesting.
"The light hasn't died, Jim," she said under her breath. Almost not believing, she watched the taller man stiffen slightly and she felt a thrill run through her. The former seventeen-year-old looked back over his shoulder at her and she saw the questioning apprehension in his eyes and she smiled gently. In a voice too low to be heard, even by someone standing directly beside her, she added, "I told you, Jim, I keep up with some of my kids. Especially the ones I like and admire." She nodded with a smile. "The passion's still there. It's just been refocused." She watched the apprehension turn to a tentative smile, then blossom into a full grin as the cop laid a possessive hand in the small of his partner's back as he directed him from the room. "You've done well, Detective Ellison. So has your partner."