Friday morning, early . . .
Bang, bang, bang!
I heard the pounding, and at first I wasn’t sure if it was inside of me, or actually the front door. Then I heard Ricky’s muffled voice talking to somebody outside the door. I almost fell on my face twice on my way to the door. My balance wasn’t up and running, yet.
I pulled open the door and Ricky walked in, talking to somebody on his cell phone.
We’ll be there as fast as we can. Thanks, Rupert.” He disconnected the call and took a quick look at me, “You look like hammered dog shit.”
Thanks. It’s always nice to have friends.
“Come on,” he pressed me as he headed to my mini-refrigerator, opening it up and rifling through it for anything tasty; which there wasn’t. “. . . Rupert just said that he had a hit on the book. Says it’s important that we go see him . . . eeeee-mediately! His words.”
I told him I needed to take a shower and brush my teeth. He tossed me a half-wrinkled shirt and told me that we were going . . . now. I acquiesced. What the hell, maybe old Rupert had figured something out.
Hopefully he tells us the book is a scam.
Or even better, that it’s some useless old gardening book.
A how-to, maybe, about building grass huts.
Something I can use to narrow down the list of my possible neuroses. Anything that proves to me that I’m not seeing the spooks. Give me tumors. Give me stagnating neurons. I’d even take a double shot of paranoid schizophrenia.
I’ll be the mad scientist, with a smile on my face from ear-to-ear.
Dallas Public Library . . .
37 minutes later . . .
Rupert met us at the large doors near the front entrance of the library. The library wasn’t even officially open, yet, but he had a set of keys and a look on his face that seemed to have been carved out of stone. There were bluish bags under his bloodshot eyes.
“I would have called last night, but I didn’t get word until just a few hours ago, and I had to make all of the necessary skeptical inquiries.”
“Rupert,” Ricky said, “. . . you sound a bit loco there, buddy.”
“You must excuse my crass nature this morning,” Rupert apologized as he led us to the ‘dangerous’ books room. “It is quite rare that we find a book of this magnitude and cultural significance.”
We found ourselves sitting at the rectangular table, quietly staring at the Book of Sighs, while Rupert shuffled through a stack of papers he had printed recently. They had that hot-ink smell.
“Alright, Rupert,” I said as I steepled my hands, “Give us the goods.”
“Yes, of course,” he said as he pulled two pieces of paper to the top of the pile, then adjusted his Coke-bottle glasses. “Gentlemen, our search yielded some remarkable results for this particular volume. If it is what it looks to be, then it will be just incredible.” He shook his head, looking from the printed pages, down the book, and back. “. . . incredible.”
“Rupert?” Ricky nudged. “You’re killing us, here.”
“Oh, right. Well,” he said, clearing his throat several times in that kind of gross way that made me want to clear my throat, and get a pneumonia shot.
He laid the first page down on the table, a few inches from the book. On the printed page there was a small grainy picture of the book. Well, of some book.
“What we have here, this book, is one of three.” He lowered his voice. “This book, called the, ‘Book . . . of Sighs’ . . .”
Ricky and I glanced at each other nervously.
My tumor just got a fraction smaller.
Rupert continued reading, “. . . these books date back to three twenty-five AD. Do either of you know the significance of that year?”
We both looked gloss-eyed at him, our shoulders and eyebrows lifting, and dropping.
He had a smug grin, deliciously sinister, “. . . that dates back to the Council of Nicaea. A quick lesson. In three-thirteen, Constantine—the new emperor of Rome—ended the persecutions of the Christians. They were a small percentage at that time, but the religion, now protected, grew quickly. The various other pagan religions made up the remainder of spiritual thought at that time. But there was movement in progress.
“They all felt that they were fulfilling a mission and ministry based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. By three-fifteen, many people saw the advantages of belonging to Constantine’s new imperial faith, and the churches swelled in ranks. Constantine himself was a pagan, only pushing Christianity for political means. He was trying to keep Rome from ripping itself apart. Religious turmoil is not something new.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I read the Da Vinci Code. I remember that part. The Council of Nicaea was where they all got together and voted on which texts were going to make-up the Bible. Lots of wheeling and dealing.”
“That is, of course, a very simplified version of the actual events. But basically . . . yes,” Rupert nodded. “Constantine was a smart ruler. He knew that he needed everyone working together for a common cause. Why not bring all the religions under one umbrella?”
“That’s good politics,” Ricky added.
“. . . and to do so they needed a holy figure that everyone would follow. That is why they elected only scripture that supposed Jesus Christ to be godly. That is to say, they needed Jesus to be born of God. Part God, himself. The masses wouldn’t follow a prophet, or a religious scholar. But the son of God . . . now that’s someone we can all get behind.”
“But how does this relate to our book?” Ricky said, cutting to the chase.
Rupert tapped his long bony fingers down on the second page. Your book, the Book of Sighs, it was also produced at this Council. And there are certain historians that claim it was drafted by scholars right alongside of the Bible. At the same time they were building the foundations for Christianity for the next two thousand years, they were working on these three books. All identical copies.”
Where are the other two? I asked.
“Destroyed by a mysterious fire, in Italy. The circumstances point to some kind of religiously motivated terrorism, but it’s all speculation.” Rupert slid his teeth back and forth, almost to the point where they started to grind like fingernails on a chalkboard.
“So we have the only copy?” Ricky said.
Rupert nodded. “And you should see where it’s been. The book was kept in secret for hundreds of years, hidden in Rome, then Italy. It spent sixty or seventy years in Spain, in the late fifteen hundreds, before being lost in transit. It was heading to South Africa, and the only remaining stories claim it ended up in the jungles of the Congo, controlled by tribal leaders.”
“This book is well traveled,” I said. The things it must have seen.
“Well traveled to put it lightly. Somehow, it appeared in the jungles of Brazil, in the hands of a group of Indians that descended from African slaves. A British explorer wrote about it in eighteen ninety-four.”
He went on to explain that it was regarded as a sacred object, never to be touched, or even looked at by anyone but the chief of the tribe, and his oldest shaman. And then . . .
“. . . and then there is no trace of it. Not once. It disappeared into the jungles of Brazil, south of the Amazon. It was thought to no longer exist . . . until yesterday, that is. When you two walked in with it.”
“So it’s a collector’s item?”
Rupert’s mouth turned into a giant ‘O’. “To put it mildly . . . it is, most likely, priceless. Millions don’t begin to describe what some people would pay. I think it probably belongs in a well-guarded safe, in some museum.”
“If this is the same book . . .” I said rather skeptically. “If this actually is the Book of Sighs?” And even as I said the words I could feel Ricky’s eyes burning a hole in the side of my head.
“Let’s suppose it is the real thing,” Ricky proposed. “What now?”
Rupert’s face contorted in concentration as he pondered the possibilities. He looked like one of those dogs with too many wrinkles. Like a folded skin blanket.
“Well, first things first, don’t go showing it around. People might use various means of deception to procure it,” Rupert said carefully.
“Like bullets?” I asked, looking back and forth at Ricky and Rupert.
They both nodded.
“Is this book that valuable?”
Rupert leaned in, interlacing his fingers, his elbows pressing into the table, his eyes locking on mine, “Imagine what was so important that it had to be written alongside the Bible, and then hidden for almost two-thousand years. Try, if you will, to grasp what was intended by Constantine when he had this book created. We can’t possibly fathom what importance this book has.”
Ricky reached over and ran his hand over the Book of Sighs.
“Your hand just touched a piece of history,” Rupert said, his eerie voice echoing through the small room. “A piece of history that has been kept secret at all costs.” He nodded. “That book has a higher price than any of us can imagine. And the information it holds hostage in its impossible code . . . that has no price on it.”
“You can’t put a price on the truth,” Ricky said softly, his eyes taking in the newly discovered magnificence of the Book of Sighs.
And my degenerative brain disease just got a bit less virulent.
My advanced schizophrenia didn’t seem so viable.
The tumor just shrunk a tad more.
Looking at the book I realized the frightening reality that I might not be going crazy.