Morning came too soon for J. Alan Dunbar but as always morning failed to give a Damn. Yesterdays hot water supply had been an illusion designed to catch him in full lather when the shaved ice came streaming from the shower head. The café had also been a cruel deception. Forty minutes after he and his chattering teeth sat down a pot of coffee arrived at the table along with the news that the kitchen was now closed. It didn’t help that his Italian sucked, maybe the guy hadn’t referred to him as the son of a pig.
Anna would be in front of some painting with a note pad working on
another textbook. Whenever the job brought them here she tried to get in as much museum time as possible. The place was way to Christy for her taste so she didn’t want to waste her research funds on it. The woman was naturally manic with more energy than any 3 ordinary people. The good thing was that she knew it and didn’t expect him to keep up. He chuckled to himself, she loved him in spite of his sloth.
The streets were bustling with people today furthering the bizarro world mood that had gripped him. He flagged a cab and headed for the complex temple to bureaucracy that was the Vatican.
The cabby was content to rail at the passers by leaving J. free to go over his notes on the ride. The tests were pretty straight forward. Chromatography of inks took very little material and Anna could probably date the paper with small strip an edge. This would be a diplomatic argument more a negotiation than a fact finding. Dunbar suspected the clergy already new the answer and were simply looking to save any further public disgrace. With the name he had seen that seemed impossible. Of course doing the impossible was part of the job description at FRED.
The Friedrich Nietzsche Society had been founded as a think tank in Washington D.C. to combat the wave of Conservatives and Libertarian proselytizers with hard science. Quickly realizing the futility of that move he abandoned trying to argue with the propagandists and funded research around the globe. As rich as his high tech bets had made him he couldn’t compete with the 1%‘ers that ruled politics.
He hadn’t abandoned justice though and part of the requirements for taking FRED money for your research was to provide your skills to aide the victims of ignorance whenever possible. Dunbar routinely processed DNA tests for groups like the innocence project in his lab. He had also done field work on mass graves back in the days before his accident. He did not miss that in the least. Authenticating documents was not his regular gig but he had done it on occasion. He suspected his prior relationship with Dr. Foucault had been the deciding factor in his being given this assignment. That and the fact that he had been available.
The cab dropped him on a side street and Dunbar tip the man for having the wisdom to leave him alone.
“Grazie senior, the square is right over there.” the driver said pointing to an opening in the bricks.
“Prego”, he replied crossing the street and ducking into the doorway. He walk out into St Peter’s Square with all of its’ pigeons and tourists and
dudes in long black robes. The architecture was an impressive sight no matter how many times you have seen it before. The ultimate Palace of Presumption, Home to the self proclaimed representative of god and storehouse of documents uncounted. He spotted Anna’s teal scarf on the steps and slowly made his way through the crowd to join her.
She had selected a white blouse today under the same dark suit. That served to accentuate the vibrant color of the scarf. She waved as he approached.
“J. Alan Dunbar meet Father Sarducci and Father Balgus. They were the fortunate archivists that uncovered the documents in question.” She spoke in an ironic tone that matched the sheepish looks of the two priests perfectly.
Dunbar shook hands with the men and then followed them inside unspeaking. These guys were looking for any crack in the stones to crawl in and hide. Did taking pleasure in the squirming of the young charlatans make him a bad person? Probably but screw them, covering up for Holocaust profiteers should make one feel a bit ill at ease.
Dunbar was glad he saved his walking for inside the building as they wandered through the labyrinth of corridors turning seemingly at random. The halls at first had been crowded and with each turn the path was less used. Until they reached an office with no designation on the door.
They entered a room as modern as any lab he had ever been in. A Van Gough Pieta hanging on the wall was the one remarkable feature. A light table with several stools sat off to one side and the priests gestured for them to be seated. Father Balgus joined them while Sarducci went over and unlocked file cabinet.
The priest withdrew 3 documents sealed in plastic wrap before relocking the cabinet and joining them at the table. Balgus brought out several pairs of nitrile gloves and then began the process of unwrapping today’s little presents. Sarducci watching the whole time.
They had worked out a plan of action last night before making love with a familiarity that had been missing in the first night’s urgency. Anna would concentrate on the primary documents while J. would spend his time distracting the priests. They needed to get complete scans of both sides of these pages, if not for the crime they would simply have stolen them but they had both greed that was not an option. Anna had burst out laughing at the idea of a pope taking a perp walk through the Hague. He waited for her to have her laptop ready while making a show of reading the documents.
His feigned look of shock as he concluded must have met with Sarducci’s approval as the man relaxed a bit. He used the tweezers to shift the documents around before asking to look at their spectrometer.
Father Balgus led him over to an array of instruments and for the first time dropped his banal façade. He was proud of his lab and judging by what he was shown Dunbar though justifiably so. The had the capacity to do long column chromatography as well as electron microscopy. Dunbar felt a twinge of guilt at what he was about to do.
Father Sarducci had ignored them his eyes riveted to the pages. J. expected that and with a bit of jealous fawning put Balgus in scientist mode from that of priest. Just as his guard dropped J. reached out and tweaked the dial of the scope causing the heavy set father Balgus to let out a pained squeal.
“No”, he shrieked as Dunbar jumped back to deliberately block the view of Sarducci. As he did so he knocked one of the reagent beakers to the floor. “I am so sorry”, he said shifting again to deny the moving Sarducci a look at Balgus who after rescuing his camera was now dancing back to keep sulfuric acid from burning the hem of his cassock.
Anna waited as father Sarducci danced back and forth in an effort to see what damage her partner was causing. Finally the man could resist no more and as he rushed to poor baking soda on the spill she deftly scanned the three documents into the computer.
“Please Mr. Dunbar, try to be more careful.” Father Balgus said taking the knob he had spun off the microscope from him.
J. adopted a chastened look and sat back down at the table. Father Sarducci regain his composure and resumed his post overseeing the operation. Balgus joined them and they both sat quietly Dr. Foucault pointed out the pertinent facts that authenticated the writings and confirmed the crimes.
It was a bit anticlimactic when the tests confirmed her statements and as they left around 4 pm Father Balgus was decidedly relived that his lab was still in one piece. Collecting a second set of physical samples for use back at the FRED had required two additional near disasters.
Father Sarducci had offered a tour of the Apostolic Palace to Anna before Dunbar had arrived. A move he was now probably deeply regretting. The father and Anna discussed the works while Dunbar listened. It wasn’t likely he would ever be invited back to the place and being with two experts of this caliber was an opportunity not to be wasted.
They were in front of “The School of Athens” A fresco by Rapheal. The colors and detail were breathtaking. Even his experts seemed awed to silence and he just let the painting wash over him. The search for truth, what it is and how does one know when one finds it. A Neo-Platonist caught his eye as he thought about his path to truths and how very different they were. The figure was Hypatia the lone woman in the group. A mathematician from Alexandria around the time that these strange writings were laid down. Some claim she was the last librarian and the last fire of the greatest Library was a revenge for her murder.
That set him to thinking about the loss of knowledge in all its many forms. Sarducci was talking about the fresco process, The organic based pigments applied to the still wet plaster leading to unique shades. Hues that today’s artists could not replicate. It wasn’t the pigments but the plaster that they were unable to replicate. This saddened him on a deep level.
Combined with the nasty bit of business that they had spent the day proving to be more than he could bare. “You seem to take a bit of pride in that ignorance father.” He spoke in a cold quiet town. His eyes had hardened and when the fell on Sarducci’s face he looked as if he had been slapped. “Controlling knowledge, hording information and using it as a commodity always leads to an ill end.
Sarducci was taken aback. He had dismissed Dunbar as the FRED’s version of inspector Clouseau but this man had seen straight into his mind with a casualness that worried him. Then he thought of ST John the Dwarf and the Tree of Obedience and held his tongue.
Much to Anna’s disappointment the Priest failed to take the bait. Just as well, Dunbar was really pissed for some reason and that would probably end poorly. She headed toward the exits hoping that J. would take the hint and follow her.
The move worked and they were soon out on the square amongst the birds and tourists. “I need a shower,” she said. “What a smarmy self satisfied piece of filth.” She almost spit and then remembered where she was and decided to do it anyway.
“Capital idea,” Dunbar agreed, “please tell me you got everything and we don’t have to come back.”
“I guarantee, “We”, wont have to come back.” she laughed giving him her mock stern look. “Balgus would have a hemorrhage and Sarducci is praying for your horrible demise as we speak. Just remember, No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
He burst out giggling at the Python reference and began humming “Always look on the bright side of life” as he nuzzled her ear.
They had reached the side door he had entered and as this mornings tip had ensured a cab was waiting.
“To answer your question yes, complete scans and physical samples of everything.” she had turned momentarily serious. “I’m still a bit miffed at you for jumping on Father “Guido”. I‘ll forgive you if you do a good job washing my back.”
“I’m sorry, I let the smug little shit get to me.” He checked the cabbies face making sure he was dividing his attention between the afternoon traffic and Anna’s legs, “We were there in front of this beautiful statement about man’s quest for enlightenment and this guy was exhorting the wonder of ignorance.” He felt his anger flaring up and suppressed it with some considerable effort. “I know it was bad form pissing in his punch before I was sure you had everything but I had the utmost confidence in your skills.” he favored her with his best mischievous grin and the they both burst out laughing as the cab passed a cart with gourds for sale.