Dallas Public Library.
Thursday morning, 8:11 am . . .
I decided that I needed to do some research on this odd book of mine. The book that still didn’t make any sense. I swear, if Ricky and this Ms. Josephine are messing with me, I’m gonna take a hostage.
Anyway, Ricky has this bright idea to go to the public library and let the real research begin. I’ve been to the tiny room that the hospital calls a library, but this was completely different. The Dallas Public Library is the real deal. There must be about a million books in this place. Ricky, wisely, put a plastic bag around the book, and headed over to the ‘Help/Information’ desk.
A tall, gaunt man who looked like his skin was as thin as plastic wrap peered over his thick glasses. His eyes were huge in the lenses—which looked thick enough to see the surface of Mars. His big bulging eyes blinked a couple of times, and you could almost hear them.
“We have a rare book, here,” Ricky says, lifting the plastic bag onto the oatmeal colored counter top. The counter and the man with the big eyes, they were both the same color. He could be a chameleon.
The man used his right index finger to push his glasses back to his eyes. He leaned in, and with a long, almost English accent he said, “And I presume that this is the volume to which you are referring.” He sounded smart. That accent, his glasses, it all made him look like I imagine a very intelligent person would look.
Ricky glanced at me, and then pulled the book out of the plastic bag. He laid it down in front of the library guy.
“Oh, how rude of me,” the man said, “. . . my name is Rupert.”
“I’m Rick Chamberlain the third,” Ricky said, and turned to introduce me.
“I’m, uh, Jack. Jack Pagan.”
“Cheers gentlemen,” he said, dipping his head a few times. Very respectful, this Rupert. His tongue briefly raced across his lips. He was either hungry, anxious, or testing the air like snakes and lizards do. “Now . . . where, pray tell, did you acquire this?”
I told him that there was a death in the family and that it was left to me. I wanted to have it translated, but could not pin down the language. Ricky helped me fill in gaps here and there. And maybe Rupert bought it. From the look on his face he was much more interested in the book, and its interesting cover and bindings, than in our account of how we got it.
He ran his fingers delicately over the cover. “This is very old, you know.” He leaned down, squinting his planetoid eyes. “Is there . . . why yes . . . there is something here. A symbol perhaps.”
Rupert lifted the book up, staring at it from different angles. “One moment, gentlemen,” he said, reaching down into a drawer to find something. He brought up a magnifying glass. One of those that has a small light on the bottom side to illuminate what you’re studying. He gave the book’s dark brown cover a closer inspection as he talked from the side of his mouth.
“Sometimes, you can find a wealth of information about a certain volume just by studying the cover. That is, after all, where the eyes first begin their voyage.”
Ricky and I exchanged ‘cuckoo’ glances, shrugged, and then leaned in conspiratorially.
Rupert continued, “Volumes this old . . . and I assure you that this is several hundred years old . . . they were hand-stitched. Quite a magnificent amount of work, really. Leather,” he said, squinting his eyes briefly, “. . . if this is leather, was often used to hold patterns and designs. It’s quite sturdy, but over the years the skin has a tendency to flatten, and thus, your image can become almost unreadable.”
“Can you see something on the cover?” I asked, finding myself leaning in, standing on my toes to get a better look.
Rupert nodded to himself, and then looked up and Ricky and I. “Gentlemen, I think what we have here is very old. Quite obscure. Would you allow me to make a scan of this cover and send it to the national archives in Washington, D.C.?”
“How long will it take?” Ricky asked, glancing around the library. The place was quite busy for a Thursday morning. Not that I knew what the traffic was like on any other day. I guess I didn’t know that this many people liked to read anymore.
Rupert scratched his bony chin with his bony fingers, “I don’t imagine it would be more than about an hour for some preliminary results. And while we’re waiting, we can run a language search. I assume . . .” he opened the book, thumbing very carefully through the first few pages. “Yes . . . we can use a sample of this for an advanced language search. Who knows . . . we might get lucky?”
I told him to do it, and within seconds we were following tall Rupert to a large computer center on the second floor. There were all sorts of computers and printers, and what looked like a copier—that was explained to me as a high-resolution, flatbed scanner. I didn’t tell Rupert that I knew what a scanner was. I kind of liked hearing him talk.
Fifteen minutes later he had scanned the cover of the book, along with several inches of text, and we were waiting for hits to come back on the computer that he referred to as, “Merlin,” and then giggled.
As we waited, I noticed Ricky looking at the computer equipment, sizing it up. “What?” I asked.
“These puppies are old school. Way outdated,” Ricky said, almost turning his nose up.
Rupert looked perplexed, “But we had all of these computers put in less than two years ago?”
“That’s like a decade in computer-years,” Ricky said. “Moore’s Law, man.”
“What’s that?” I asked, prying my way into the conversation.
Rupert crossed his arms defiantly across his chest, “Gordon E. Moore presumed that computer components—transistors in specific—will shrink in size, and double every year. He later revised his presumption to eighteen months. So computer power and capability theoretically grow at an exponential rate every couple of years.”
“So what you got two or three years ago . . .” Ricky said with a knowing grin.
“. . . Is outdated by now,” I finished. I knew enough about computers. I read my Wired magazine. But if you think about it, everything is outdated, the second you get it.
They both nodded.
I bit my bottom lip, my stomach growling a bit.
And then we heard a few beeps from Merlin. Rupert’s eyes lit up. “We have a hit, gentlemen. We have a hit!” He raced over and printed out a copy of the text on the screen.
Then, without explanation, he headed out of the computer center, motioning us to follow him with his head. He didn’t want to talk. So, we did a lot of fast walking, turning, up some stairs, down a hallway, past two storage rooms, out into another book area, then down another hallway. I was thoroughly, completely lost.
This library was like that cornfield in the Twilight Zone, the one you enter, but can never ever, exit . . . ever. But we followed old Rupert. And as we neared an office, he glanced around.
He stopped at a thick, grey door. “This is a special room. A place where we keep some, oh,” he searched for the words, “. . . more controversial volumes.”
Ricky asked him why he considered this book controversial.
“Voodoo, gentlemen. Voodoo.”
And with that, he entered a code onto a small keypad near the door handle, and we entered the room. It was a lot larger than hotel room. There were rows and rows of books in locked glass cases.
Rupert explained to us that most of these volumes were very rare, and worth a lot of money to Black Market collectors. They were obscure, hard to find, first and second printings of books that had, at the time, been considered shocking, and blasphemous. Books that went against the Catholic Church. Poetry that spoke of things less than . . . kosher.
“Most of the books in here speak of witchcraft and mischief. The words in these books instruct the readers to practice the darkest of the black arts.” He looked at us with a warning glare, “And don’t be fooled, gentlemen. In these volumes there are unspeakable acts and sacrifice and violence. These books spilt blood, be sure of that.”
“So, then,” Ricky asked, “. . . where does our book fit in?”
Rupert continued walking, nodding to himself again as if he was having another discussion inside his head. “Well, we didn’t get a hit on the exact language . . . but we got close. Our software—developed by linguistics experts at MIT—takes the various symbols, and crosses them with details about the production of the volume. And by that I mean the bindings, and cover materials. Designs. What have you. And then it gives you a ‘best guess’, if you will.”
He walked over to a small glass-covered cabinet and tapped his finger on top, “And the computer’s best guess puts us with a section of books on voodoo and the occult, that originated in Haiti.”
“Haiti,” I echoed, as we all kind of let it sink in.
“They eat humans there,” Ricky said. “In Haiti. They call it Long Pork. They say it’s better than horse meat.”
“You’ve eaten horse meat?” I asked, my stomach turning more than before.
Ricky answered as if I’d asked him the most obvious question in the world. As if I’d asked whether he knew how to swim. “Uh . . . yeah.”
Rupert looked visibly rattled, his Adam’s apple lifting as he made a hard swallow, and slowly lowering in his thin throat.
“You’d be surprised how good it is,” Ricky added with a hauntingly satisfied grin.
“Perhaps we should take a look at some of these volumes, and see if that helps us to narrow it down,” Rupert said, lowering himself to the lock on the book cabinet.
“Voodoo it is, then,” I said. And I was wondering if the book cover was made with leather. Or if it was something else.
Something a little closer to home.
Something like Long Pork.