By the will of Fortune all things are conscious. . . . At times Love makes one out of many; at others, Strife makes many out of one.
After the Jesuit community Mass in Bob’s honor, I went up to my office. Opening the door, I gazed upon chaos. All the drawers in the desk and file cabinet were open. Paper was strewn everywhere. All the books on my shelves had been swept onto the floor. At least paint and ink hadn’t been poured on everything.
I went downstairs, told Sharon that my office had been burglarized, and asked if the manuscripts were safe. She retrieved them from the safe, then called the Santa Theresa Police Department, saying, “They aren’t going to believe this. We never have work for them.”
Within half an hour three police officers arrived, two in uniforms, one in plain clothes. I explained what had happened with the package. The uniforms got to work dusting my office and looking through the rubble. The plainclothes officer drew me aside and asked, “Who has been in your office recently?
“Lots of students and other staff people. But these papers have no commercial value.”
“One could word that differently. Perhaps the target is something priceless.”
“Why would you think that?”
He smiled and asked, “Don’t I look familiar.”
“Yes, but I can’t quite place you.”
“Of course not,” he said, “different context. I’m Bill Kennedy. You’ve seen me hanging around Brendan’s. When you called Brendan last night to tell him about these manuscripts, I was there, and he filled me in. When the call came about your office I grabbed it. I can usually cover anything even remotely connected with Brendan and Megan.”
I looked down at the manuscripts in my hands. “What’s your take on this?”
“Bob wrote you that he had stolen these manuscripts from the Vatican Library?”
“That’s apparently what he meant.”
“But he had political or scholarly reasons for his actions?”
Bill stared out the window for about thirty seconds. Police officers in Santa Theresa, a university town, needed a minimum of a B.A. to be on the force. I thought I remembered that Bill had a Master’s in sociology.
Bill turned to me and said, “The reasoning that applies to a political refugee may apply here. If I thought those papers had been stolen for mere gain, I would have to impound them and bust you for receiving stolen property. However, if one of them is a gospel for Witches, then a powerful institution has been suppressing information it had no right to suppress. Hence `liberating’ them is a political act and might be protected under the first amendment—not that I could make that call. Witches have long heard rumors that such a thing existed, but nobody had been able to track it down. Now maybe we know why. I’ll assume you received these papers in good faith and are entitled to ascertain their political status. I’m also going to stand guard over you, because this is probably just beginning.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because their absence was noticed almost immediately. That’s weird. Why would anyone be keeping track of three heretical gospels? Something else is going on. That’s probably what got Bob killed. Whoever did it has friends here. They were notified the package was coming. You’re dealing with an organization. Maybe it’s the mob. Maybe it’s Catholic politics, maybe … I don’t know. So watch your back. I’m going to help watch it. Bob is dead. You might be next.”
I wanted to drop the manuscripts. “Are these things worth risking my life for?”
“Bob did,” he replied quietly. “If you give up now, let those papers go, they win, and Bob died for nothing.”
“What should I do?”
“Make copies. Give them to all your colleagues. Translate them. Publish them. Then the Vatican can have their pieces of paper back, and to hell with them. But they won’t want them back at that point. It’s the contents they’re trying to hide. Those contents were never their property in the first place.”
“I’ll do that immediately.”
I made copies, one set for Bill, and enough to give to anyone who might want to help translate and interpret them. I had Sharon put the originals back in the safe, then walked over to the Jesuit house to see if Alan was in his office.
He was, sitting in his office chair, his long, thin legs crossed, ankle on knee; chewing on an unlit pipe, looking rather glum. We talked about Bob for a while, then I showed him Bob’s last gift to me, explained what had transpired so far, and gave him his copies.
Alan loves mysteries—he’s written enough of them—and this one began to lift his spirits. He thumbed through the pages, going, “Hmm, hmm,” and throwing out remarks: “This Greek is easy. Most anybody around here could read this; so it’ll get done first. This is Old Gaelic? Well, Bob would know. Who could we get to help with that?”
“Seamus Dugan, down the hill. He’s been telling me about apocryphal gospels in Gaelic. I think he could handle this.”
“He’ll have fun trying, I don’t doubt,” Alan said. “Italian. That’s not hard, but who’d be ready to deal with a gospel for witches?”
“Angela. She did her dissertation on Leland; she would know if this is related to his `Gospel of the Witches of Tuscany’.”
“That covers the languages,” Alan agreed. “How about content? Is Bob right that they’re Gnostic?”
“We can’t decide that until after, or while, we translate them,” I replied.
“Chances are at least one of them will be related to the known stuff,” Alan said musingly. “It would be odd if they weren’t. Do you want to pull in any other Gnostic mavens?”
“Les. This is related to Egyptology. He’d be insulted if we left him out. Of course I’ll ask Brendan to look at this Gospel of Diana once Angela has it translated,” I said.
“Just Brendan?” Alan asked. “Why not include Megan? Or others in their coven? They’re a very erudite bunch, though that’s to be expected in this town.”
“I didn’t know you knew them,” I said.
“Oh, yes,” Alan nodded, clearly pleased with himself. “I’ve circled with them, several times. It’s always been pleasant. This way I can speak from experience in defending their rights against any noodlebrains that might turn up. And you never know what you can use in a novel until you know it.”
“Still,” I insisted, “why would Witches invite a Catholic priest to circle with them?”
“They didn’t invite me as a priest,” Alan said. “They invited me as a friend of Brendan and Megan, who vouched for me. I’m glad they’re broadminded enough not to hold it against me that I’m a priest.”
“What?” I laughed. “They’re being broadminded in letting you come?”
“Of course,” he said, sounding very serious. “After all, in their tradition, we priests are by definition the enemy. That’s not unreasonable. Any detailed social history of Christianity will show that 95 percent of the common people had good reason to blame priests for everything malfeasant and dysfunctional in Western civilization. It isn’t surprising that priests and nuns get lynched whenever there’s a revolution. What’s surprising is that any of us have survived at all.”
“You’re quite Chestertonian this morning,” I said to him, smiling.
“There are worse things to be on a morning of mourning a lost friend,” he relied. “Let me start working on this Greek. It will get my mind off Bob.”
“I’ve got more packages to deliver. I’ll call you later,” I said.
He was already bending over the manuscripts as I left.
Fast forward. I delivered copies to colleagues and organized our first working meeting at Brendan and Megan’s.