VII. The Work Begins
To Zeus all things are beautiful, just, and good, but men have supposed some things to be just, others unjust.
At eight o’clock on Saturday night, I walked up the steps to Brendan and Megan’s house on the hillside behind the campus, the sort of Tudorish half-timbered mansion you might expect a college professor with lots of kids to have. The members of the ad hoc translating committee were already filling the circle of overstuffed chairs and couches in Megan’s living room. Various friends and members of their coven (though I didn’t know yet which was which), privileged to attend because of the witchcraft angle, were hovering against the walls. Art of many periods and cultures, leaning strongly toward goddesses, hung in frames on the walls. Small altars in each corner were covered with wands, knives, cups, pentacles, and statues.
Angie Verrazano arrived, with a young woman whom she immediately brought over to introduce to me.
“Eddie, I want you to meet Andrea Peregrino, one of my graduate students. She’s helped me understand some details in this witches’ gospel that I would probably have missed.”
“Oh, really? Well, I’m pleased to meet you, Andrea,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm and my face poker. She was relatively tall, almost my height, with long reddish-blonde hair, a voluptuous figure, and a pixyish face, in her twenties. She radiated a magnetism, charisma, an aura of authority—one runs into people like that occasionally, but I had never felt it so strongly before.
“It’s Andy. I’m pleased to meet you as well, Professor. I’ve heard wonderful things about you.”
“It’s Eddie. All exaggerations, I’m sure.”
“I didn’t know about you at the beginning of the year, but all my teachers mention you. You seem to be the local expert on all kinds of things I want to study; I’m going to have to take some of your classes. And these gospels you’ve got! This is wild!”
“Peregrino would let me guess you’re Italian in background.”
“And I’m bilingual. We’re Italian—but not Catholic. I can recognize references that most people wouldn’t know about.”
Megan rapped on the table, then said, “Eddie, since Bob sent the documents to you and you asked most of us to be here tonight, why don’t you kick this off?”
I said, “Thanks, Megan. I’m glad you all could come. I don’t think everyone here knows everyone else. Let’s introduce ourselves. I’m Eddie Edwards, Catholic Studies, GESW. Alan, you’re next.”
“Alan Healy, Alma College”.
“Brendan Ryan, Unitarian School. Megan?”
“Megan Ryan, High Priestess?”
“And very much entitled to be here,” I said. “Les?”
“Les Moresco, Near Eastern Studies, CSU.”
“Sherman Wise, Hillel Institute.”
“Seamus Dugan, Celtic Languages, CSU.”
“Angie Verrazano, Italian, CSU. Andrea?”
“Andrea Peregrino. I’m one of Angie’s students.”
“A valuable member of this committee, too,” Angie said. “What about your friends and members, Megan?”
“Does anyone want to speak up? You know many of them from our literary soirées,” Megan replied. “Apollo?”
“I’m known as Apollo in our coven,” he said. “I’m the overeducated and underemployed poet.”
“Oh, piffle,” Megan said. “He’s a very well-regarded science editor.”
“About the one occupation a degree in poetry qualified me for,” he replied.
“I want to thank you all for your work already on this project,” I said. “If these documents turn out to be as important as Bob suspected, we’re going to take some heat over them. I’m glad I won’t be taking it alone.”
“You know we’re in complete violation of normal procedure for dealing with a new find,” Les said.
“And the whole situation is in violation of normal procedure,” I said. “I’ve sent copies to Tim and Marv and the other chairs, and asked them to distribute them to their committees. That’s the best we can do. For all we know, Bob may have been murdered because of these. There have already been two attempts to steal these papers from me. I don’t think we can afford to take our time in dealing with them.”
Alan broke in. “As a practical matter, my office was broken into last night, and a copy of the documents taken. I also had the manuscript of my current novel thoroughly trashed.”
“My God, Alan,” I said, “how much work did you lose?”
“None. I always back everything up. I hid my working copy of the documents. The ones that were taken were just a decoy. Since you’d been burglarized, I knew it could happen to me. I also called the police, and Officer Kennedy filled me in on what he had discussed with you.”
Angela said, “I noticed some dents around my office door, as if someone had been prying at it with a chisel.”
“God, I’m sorry,” I began.
“That’s not necessary,” Les broke in. “It was clear what the risks might be when you explained the situation to us and what the rewards might be — so I’d like to get on with them.”
“Hear, hear,” the others chimed in.
“We certainly have many different viewpoints available, just among ourselves,” Alan said. “Sherman as the Rabbi, me and Eddie for the Catholics, he being evem less orthodox than me, of course, and Brendan and Megan for the Witches . . . “
“But I really am a Unitarian,” Brendan objected. “It’s just that Wicca and Unitarianism co-exist easily.”
“Even in our bedroom,” Megan added, eliciting a few chuckles.
I turned toward Les. “Les. Angie, Seamus . . . This hadn’t come up before, but would any of you characterize your approach to this and the other gospels as coming from a particular theology or faith background?”
Seamus screwed up his face in a sardonic expression “I was actually raised in the Church of Ireland, a most innocuous lot, so I can call myself a non-observant Irish Anglican. As for reflecting that viewpoint, I doubt they’d relish anything I have to say these days.”
“Les?” I said.
“Hmmmm,” hummed Les. “My actual personal beliefs about anything religious or spiritual I keep to myself. It’s the usual PC problem. Since atheistic materialism is the party line of academia, admitting to any beliefs at all would lead quickly to professional suicide. I consider that stance to be quite shallow, of course, and I can admit that much here only because I know each of you thinks there just might be something true about religious faith, or maybe a lot true. I’m not going to burden you with my actual answer, but I would never admit in public that I even had one.”
“Is it okay for us to read between your lines, Les?” I asked.
“Oh, sure,” he replied. “I trust all of you, just as you trust me. It’s difficult not being able to suggest that all this Gnostic stuff might have as much religious authority as the canonical scriptures do.”
“That’s how I view it,” Andy replied. “Of course, I don’t grant the canonicals much authority at all. So, Angie, how about you?”
“Oh, I’m Italian, very Italian. Is a bear Catholic?” Angie asked. “But I’m lucky. My family didn’t take religion too damned seriously. Some of it makes sense; a lot of it doesn’t. You do what feels good, especially when you’re down, or what’s important for family, and don’t worry about the rest. I don’t have to try to make sense of it all. That’s not my job. Most of you are theology buffs. I’m not. I’m a linguist. I love Italian culture all the way back to the Etruscans, and I see the Church as just one aspect of that culture.”