Nathan Everett

THE GUTENBERG RUBRIC


ONE

THE TECHNICAL TERM for the twinkling of stars is scintillation or, more properly, astronomical scintillation. It is caused by air currents shifting the density of the earth’s atmosphere and refracting the light of the stars in different directions. Thus, they seem to the naked eye to move slightly. It is a phenomenon to which the human eye is drawn. Any little twinkle will cause a head to turn.

Take the diamond on the hand of a newly-engaged woman. That sparkle, or gemological scintillation, will catch the eye and draw it to the third finger on the left hand. Diamond cutters spend years learning to shape and polish stones to maximize the refraction of light. The result is mesmerizing.

The twinkling objects that Keith Drucker saw in the late afternoon sunlight as he lay flat on his back on the pavement, ears ringing, were not stars, though they seemed as numerous; nor were they precious stones cut to refractive perfection. What he saw were thousands of tiny bits of glass falling from the sky—glass that moments ago had been part of the soaring atrium entrance of the Kane Memorial Library. This awareness struck him an instant before the glass did.

THE DAY HAD STARTED SO WELL.

He watched the alarm clock display 5:59 and turned it off before it could ring at 6:00. He’d been awake already for 20 minutes, though this morning he couldn’t imagine why he thought 6:00 was a good time to get out of bed. Normally, he was well into his day by 6:30, but his normal day didn’t include waking up next to the softly sleeping redhead beside him.

At 43, he didn’t think of himself as the type to have a whirlwind romance with a colleague. He didn’t consider his bookish appearance and personality sufficient to attract such an incredible woman as Madeline Zayne. They’d known each other for only eight weeks, had been lovers for four, but this was the first time to awaken in the morning in the same bed. He wasn’t sure how he had earned such good karma, but he vowed to keep doing whatever it was.

It wasn’t that he’d never dated in his years as a scholar, but no one had taken his heart by storm the way Maddie had. He lifted a stray lock of hair from her face and let it fall among the tangled tresses on her pillow. Freckles covered even her eyelids. He wondered for the hundredth time if there was any part of her body that did not have freckles and decided to check at the first opportunity. He was fascinated by the random chaos of color against impossibly fair skin, so translucent he was sure it had never seen sunlight. Well, “outdoorsy librarian” is an oxymoron, he supposed.

His fascination got the better of him and he softly touched her cheek, pinpointing one single freckle. She stirred and her eyelids fluttered open. She smiled at him with one side of her mouth. That was the expression that first drew him to her. How can you smile with just one side of your mouth?

“What are you doing?” Maddie asked, rolling slightly toward him. The sheet slipped down off her shoulders, exposing yet another uninterrupted field of freckles. “What?” she asked again.

“I was just thinking that I should count your freckles.”

“What?”

“Kind of an inventory,” he continued. “How else will I ever know if one goes missing? I think maybe I should name them as well.”

“You’re crazy!” she laughed. She reached up to give him a light kiss on the lips. “Charming, but crazy.”

“One, two, three,” he said, touching three random freckles just below her collarbone and pushing aside the ever present locket that held photos of her parents.

“You’ll never do it that way,” she laughed.

“Why not?” he asked. “Four. Five,” he continued, pushing the sheet farther down as he did so.

“It’s not organized,” Maddie said. “You need a system if you’re going to catalog such a large body of work.”

“Spoken like a true librarian. Wait a minute. Drat! You made me lose count. Now I’ll have to start all over. One. Two.”

“This will take forever,” she laughed.

“That’s a good thing.” Keith smiled and kissed her.

“Mmmm,” she breathed as they moved together.

Waking at 6:00 wasn’t so bad if you didn’t get out of bed.

KEITH TOOK THE LONG WAY to work, walking south along the river to the First Avenue Bridge before crossing over and returning north along the East Bank to the library. His apartment was only 15 minutes from the library on foot, but in academia it was better not to show up for work at the same time as the colleague you were sleeping with. Maddie left his apartment 15 minutes before he did and drove directly to her nine o’clock staff meeting.

It had been a wet week, but this morning the sun was shining—a good omen for spring break. It looked like half the students had left early. He usually lectured on Friday morning, but he had cancelled his “History of the Printed Word” class two days ago. In return for the extra day off, his students were to bring a sample of contemporary printing when they returned from break. The sample had to be a piece they considered extraordinary according to the six principles he outlined for them in class. It would be amusing to see how many of his students returned after a week with nothing more than the morning’s newspaper.

His cellphone buzzed while he was still on the bridge and he answered it cheerily.

“Granddad! You’re up early.”

“I’m always up early,” the old man said into the phone. “Thought I’d catch you before you were in the library.”

“I’m just walking to work now,” Keith answered.

“I just wanted to make sure you were taking a break this week,” his granddad said. “The last time there was a school vacation and you were working on a project you got locked in the library for a week.”

“It was only overnight, Granddad. I promise I’m taking a break. Umm...” Keith hesitated, then plunged in. “Maddie and I are going to Jamaica for spring break.” If his grandfather was surprised it didn’t show in his voice.

“I suppose you’ll come back with dreadlocks.”

“I would if I had enough hair,” he laughed. “I’m just hoping not to get sunburned. I don’t think Maddie has ever been in the sun.”

“Hm. You should probably spend most of your time in your room.”

“Granddad!” Keith wasn’t as shocked as he sounded on the phone, but he hurried on to change the subject. “I’m looking at an interesting manuscript today. A record of the books in a Carthusian monastery from the 12th to the 19th century. It has some real possibilities.”

“What kind of possibilities?”

“The monastery was located near Wurtemburg Mountain in Germany. You know how I like to investigate things from there.”

“Don’t get your hopes up, son,” his grandfather said. “The chance that you’ll find what you are looking for is remote. But keep me informed, all the same.”

Keith and his grandfather wished each other well and cut the connection as he entered the courtyard surrounding the library.

He and Maddie had had too little time to learn about each other in any way but the professional and the romantic. They shared a deep passion for books, but Keith wondered how she would respond to the rest of his story when he told her.

He had studied typesetting under some of the finest masters of traditional book arts and was a second degree master alchemist. The title always made Keith smile. It was a figurative nod to the alchemical experimentation of Johannes Gutenberg that led to his formula for lead type. The practical study of Gutenberg’s experiments in alchemy—preserved by the highly secretive guild Gutenberg founded—had led Keith to the use of spectrographic analysis applied to inks. The five-and-a-half century old guild still preserved the formulae and techniques used to make ink and lead type, something that was almost unknown to the rest of the world now that electronic typesetting dominated the industry.

There were a lot of things they needed to talk about. In spite of the chemistry between the two of them being akin to magic, he didn’t know how she would respond to his being involved in an ancient artform that some considered akin to magic. Maybe alchemy is something she wants to dabble in, too, Keith thought. Maybe she belongs to a secret society. Maybe she’d like to get married. He let himself drift in his fantasy world as he walked through the commons. He wouldn’t rush things. When he suggested a week ago that they go away over spring break together, he thought he might have been pushing it a little. She did hesitate for a minute with a near-panic expression on her face, but then she seemed to shake it off with a firm resolution and suggested that maybe Jamaica would be a nice place. They sat up half the night surfing the Web to find a place to stay and making travel arrangements. The idea of proposing to her on the beach had entered his mind almost immediately and he’d firmly kept pushing it back.

SOME STUDENTS still on campus were sitting with their feet in the reflecting pool in front of the library, waiting for their last classes. A part of the architect’s sense of whimsy, the pool was dotted with concrete pads, inviting visitors to relax in the water. By May the commons surrounding the pool would be awash with chests of beer, frat house barbecues, and sprawled-out students studying to the beat in their personal ear buds. The massive glass panels that fronted the library’s atrium would be slid aside, blurring the line between outdoors and indoors, study and leisure.

The library design was homage to the Biblioteka Alexandrina in Egypt. The non-glass surfaces of the atrium entrance were covered in mosaic scenes of Egypt, including an image of the ancient Library of Alexandria on the inner wall. He stepped across mosaic Egyptian gods, pyramids, and the sphinx on the floor of the atrium as he crossed to the coffee kiosk on the far side.

Maddie stepped up from behind a statue of Isis as he got in line to order. To Keith it was as if the goddess had come to life.

“Dr. Drucker, how nice to meet you here this morning,” she beamed at him.

“And you, Dr. Zayne,” he responded. “May I get you a coffee?”

“Only if I can buy croissants,” said Maddie. Keith turned to the barista and began to order.

“I know,” nodded the barista, “a vanilla latte and doppio espresso with two almond croissants.” He nodded and thought he saw Maddie turn slightly pink. Had they been meeting here that often? They sat companionably in two soft chairs that partially obscured an image of jackal-headed Anubis on the floor as they savored their drinks.

“Short staff meeting this morning?” Keith asked. Maddie sighed.

“Short staff, actually,” she said. “Two student assistants decided to start spring break a day early and no one else really wants to be here.”

“Can’t say I blame them,” he said quietly. “Want to slip out early?”

“I wish I could,” Maddie said wistfully. “The burden of management, you know.” She smiled. “I hope you won’t mind working without an assistant today.”

“Well, I do have a degree in page-turning,” Keith laughed. Researchers were seldom given direct access to materials unless a librarian was assigned to assist them. The high-tech workstations in the Whitfield Rare Books Room—fondly referred to as The Whit—generally assured that researchers never actually touched documents nor were left alone with one. It was a policy that he had embraced with good humor, even though in his capacity as consultant it was not strictly required. He found it much easier to record his electronic notes if he was actually talking to a person instead of just to the digital recorder that hung above the examination tables in the lab. He recorded his impressions of each book and made high-resolution photographs of each page.

When they had finished their coffee, they took the elevator up to The Whit. No one else was in the elevator and Keith felt Maddie graze the back of his hand with hers as they stood silently side-by-side.

The Whit was a secure facility perched atop two dozen massive pillars that jutted up through the floors of the main library. It was connected to the rest of the university library only by way of the stairwells and elevator shafts. It had its own power, plumbing, and environmental controls. They passed the sealed case containing a page of the Mainz Psalter—a pristine example of historic book art. Repro, Keith thought automatically as he walked past. Maddie disappeared into the security vault while Keith checked his computer case in a locker. A few moments later, Maddie returned with a large volume encased in acid-free archival cardboard. The label showed the name of the collection, work, and acquisition date. He had been looking forward to examining this volume all week, and even though he was anxious to be leaving for a tropical paradise with Maddie in the evening, he was excited about spending the day with his other love.

In the study of incunabula—printed works of the 15th century—Keith was a big fish in a very small pond. His thesis and post-doctoral research helped establish the use of spectrographic analysis to accurately date and regionalize early books. Each printer mixed his own inks and the composition was as individual as a fingerprint. The in situ spectrographic process was non-destructive, unlike other forms of dating that required a sample scraped from the substrate and dissolved in chemicals. Much of his career had been spent compiling a database of ink-prints from the printers of the 15th century. Other researchers had added profiles of manuscript inks with some samples as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The collection The Whit recently acquired was mostly collector-grade volumes of the 17th century with a few older specimens that would fetch a decent price if offered at auction. Keith was acutely aware that his real reason for being at The Whit was to establish the value of a University asset so the Board could determine what to sell and what to keep. So far, only two museum-grade documents had been discovered. It was sad that so many incunabula had been destroyed during the 19th and early 20th centuries and the pages sold individually to collectors, but one page in the collection could be worth as much as the rest of the collection combined.

He placed the box on the work table, put a memory card in the digital camera above the table, and positioned the microphone where he wouldn’t bump into it as he was working. He put on a new pair of white cotton gloves and opened the box.

“Specimen SOR187,” he spoke into the voice-activated microphone, “listed as the catalog of books in the Monastery of St. Luke of the Mountain near Württemberg Mountain in Germany from the founding of the monastery in 1115 A.D. until its dissolution in 1846.” With that, he made the first photographs of the book. “The volume is just 20 millimeters thick, but measures 480 millimeters tall and 330 millimeters wide,” Keith continued as he measured the book.

Carthusian monasteries like St. Luke’s were devoted to silence and the copying of books. By the middle of the 16th century there was little call for hand-copied books because of the rapid spread of printing, but the monks continued to study and copy works as a means of meditation. The practice continued into the 21st century in some Carthusian monasteries. St. Luke’s was burned by local villagers after a mysterious epidemic wiped out nearly its entire population in the mid-1800s. Some of its holdings, however, had already been spirited away and hidden by a private collector before burning. Historians assumed most of the books had been burned, but if this catalog proved genuine, it could at least verify what books had once existed within its cloistered walls.

“The binding is Moroccan leather, in excellent condition,” he continued. “That leads me to believe the book was bound or rebound late in the 17th century. It is a utilitarian volume.” Keith took close-ups of the tooling, commenting on motifs in the leatherwork. He carefully placed the book on the reading stand to open it and photographed the inside cover. He could be random and playful with Maddie, but he was slow and methodical in his analysis of books. Using a thin plastic spatula and a small suction cup, he carefully lifted the pages to count them. The loose papers of the original manuscript had been gathered with new parchment when the volume was bound so there were a number of blank pages in the back of the book, presumably to make room for additions to the monastery’s collection.

cypher.jpg“The title page is simply drawn with the name of the monastery and a shield on which is a cypher 4 cross, very similar to some 15th century printer’s marks. The motto beneath the symbol is in German and reads ‘Wächter des Wortes.’ An appropriate motto for a scriptorium that translates to ‘Guardians of the Word,’” he said into the microphone. He snapped a close-up photo of the arms.

The handwriting in the manuscript changed every few pages, evidence that the job of keeping the record was passed from one monk to another. It was more of a ledger, recording both the manuscripts acquired and supplies for the scriptorium. Keith rolled the spectrometer to the table and sampled the ink from the opening pages. The database of manuscript inks was not as complete as that of printing inks, but the green vitriol content of the faded ink was consistent with samples from other manuscripts of that era. Both handwriting and ink composition changed over the pages, showing the prevailing styles of the centuries. He was already certain that he would be able to authenticate the volume based on the ink and handwriting samples alone, but it would take several days to transcribe the contents and verify that there were no anomalies recorded in the book. Anthropological evidence was as important as the physical evidence. If it recorded acquisition of a book in the 1100s, for example, that was known not to have been written until the 1200s, the book could not be authenticated. Well, that’s a task that will wait until after spring break, he thought, smiling to himself.

As excited and anxious as he was to authenticate this volume, Keith took extra care to make sure he didn’t miss anything. When he vouched for a document, it was authoritative. If he screwed one up, his reputation and his income would evaporate. He’d seen it happen. There was no forgiveness in the world of rare books. He carefully photographed each page so he could examine it later on his computer at high magnification.

By mid-afternoon, he had reached records of the 1400s. In this particular section, he read and examined each entry carefully as printed books began to show up in the registry. He shook his head. He was beginning to get tired and thought of the late night he had enjoyed with Maddie. He refocused on the catalog.

The number of hand-copied manuscripts in the world fell off rapidly after the introduction of the printing press until by 1500 the art had all but disappeared. According to the catalog, however, the acquisition of new books for the monastery’s scriptorium continued unabated. Keith’s attention was caught by the last entry on the page: an acquisition of the Wyrich family Gospels, a printed volume containing only the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Both the name and the type of book caused him to pause. Any family name in the Gutenberg ancestry was a cause for investigation, though Wyrich was not that uncommon in this region of Germany. There had not been many Bibles printed that included only the Gospels. This could possibly be the second or third part of a Bible that had been bound in volumes. It would be a new line of investigation for him and he took a close-up photograph of the entry for later study.

He turned the page, dislodging a loose sheet of parchment. It was dangerously near sliding off the table onto the floor when he caught it. At first he assumed the page had come loose from the catalog, but quickly realized that the penmanship was different, the parchment was a higher grade and smaller dimensions, and it contained not a list of books, but what looked like part of a letter. He turned off the voice recorder. He didn’t like to record thoughts when something surprised him. What he said was part of the permanent record of his examination. He quickly looked through the rest of the book to see if there were any more loose pages, but there were none.

The letter fragment appeared to be about the same age as the page he was examining. He slid the sheet beneath the spectrometer and verified that the ink, though slightly different in composition from that in the book, was definitely consistent with the formulation of inks of that era. The fragment was written in German rather than Latin, like the catalog, and he restrained himself from reading the letter immediately while he checked for other evidence in the book. If the letter fragment had been sandwiched between the pages since the 17th century, there would be some amount of ink transfer or an indentation on the surrounding pages. But his careful scrutiny showed no sign of either.

Finally, he bent over the fragment with a magnifying glass to translate from the German as he read.

Deep in the Mountain of the Gods, Pharaoh’s Children protect the Tree of Knowledge. The Master’s Key unlocks the Entrance. The Protectors have entrusted us with Knowledge and Art. The Art is in the Ritual. The Knowledge is hidden in the Black River. In Time they will come together and the Wisdom of the Ages will be revealed.

Keith laid the paper down and returned to the pages of the catalog. He glanced at the security camera and saw the red light on the camera go out. The cameras were on a cycle so that one monitor in the library security room could view the lab rooms sequentially. He took more pictures of the letter and of each surrounding page, trying to capture every detail. He removed the memory card and slipped it back into his wallet. He slowly and deliberately closed the book and slid it back into its protective box. Finally, he sat again with the letter fragment and read it thoroughly.

WHEN A VOICE on the public address system announced that the library would close in ten minutes and would be on limited hours for the next week for spring break, Keith broke from his reverie. It wasn’t that unusual for him to work through lunch and breaks without being aware of it. He had noticed Maddie had the same single-minded focus. But for the past hour he had been wrestling with a dilemma.

In 1455, just months before The Bible was finished, Gutenberg’s financial partner, Johan Fust, sued him for diverting funds to a secret project. When Gutenberg refused to share the project, the courts awarded the entire Bible-printing venture to Fust and left Gutenberg with nothing but his secret. Members of the Worshipful Society of Type Founders and Alchemists once believed Gutenberg’s secret project was a book of alchemical instructions that went beyond the metallurgy of “the Guild,” as the society called itself. Contemporary members knew that any book Gutenberg created would be priceless, no matter what it contained. There had been no sign of the mysterious book, though, for 500 years. There was only the evidence of Guild lore that indicated it existed.

Gutenberg founded the Worshipful Society of Typefounders and Alchemists with the blessing of Archbishop Dieter von Isenberg. According to Guild tradition, he had dictated the documents and rituals of the Guild to his successor, the Master Printer Peter Schoeffer. Keith was certain that this letter fragment belonged with other letters in the Guild archives. What’s more, it could be a key piece in the search for Gutenberg’s secret. Where is the Black River? he wondered for the hundredth time this afternoon.

The fragment and the others like it in the Guild archives would command a high price on the open market if people knew what it was. But unless the very secretive Guild revealed the rest of its cache, no one could possibly verify that it was the writing of Peter Schoeffer. The fragment was not listed in the inventory of the collection Keith was examining at the library; it should not have been there. Somehow the document must have been stolen from the Guild. How many more pages might be missing? Since there was no record of it, he could simply take the fragment with him and no one would ever know. He could arrange to return it to the Guild. He glanced at the security camera again and began to measure the amount of time the camera was off curing its cycle. He would have 45 seconds between camera bursts. The camera would be on for 15 seconds. If he put the letter in the box while the camera was on, then slipped it out and into hiding while it was off, he could feasibly walk out of the library with the letter.

Maddie would never understand if she found out. Could he convince her to help him return the letter to the Guild? He’d never met anyone more responsible than Maddie. She would not act without the approval of the library board of directors. And she would certainly never do what he was contemplating.

He silently cleaned his glasses with the back of the cotton glove and pushed them firmly back onto his nose.

He simply couldn’t betray Maddie’s trust. He pointedly turned his back on the security camera and opened the archival box. He would talk to her about it while they were on vacation and explain the importance of returning the letter to the Guild. It was all he could do. He had the high-resolution images to examine and send to the other masters in the Guild. He slipped the fragment back between the covers of the catalog, and then took the boxed manuscript back to the desk in the silent rare books room. No one was there. It appeared, in fact, as though he was the last one in the library. He hesitated. It would have been so easy.

“Maddie?” he called, forgoing their pledge to use their professional titles in the library.

“In the vault,” she called back.

“Do you want me to bring the catalog back to you?”

“No, Doctor Drucker,” she laughed coming out of the concealed room behind the desk. She quickly glanced around the empty room then leaned across the desk to kiss him lightly on the lips. “If you did that, we’d never get out of here,” she whispered. “I’ll take it from here. Go get your suitcase and pick me up at my house in two hours. I promise I will be ready and waiting.”

“I can’t ask for better than that.” He smiled and then added, “…yet.”

“Go!” she commanded. “I’ve got half an hour of cleanup to do before I can leave.”

“I’m on my way,” he laughed, backing toward the door. The lock buzzed, letting him open the door and Maddie blew him a kiss. Keith retrieved his laptop case from the locker, looked longingly back at her, and entered the elevator. They would have a long talk in Jamaica.

THE SECURITY GUARD waiting at the door from the library to the atrium showed no traces of impatience as he smiled at the pretty blonde coed leaving the library and struggling with her stack of books. Keith was thankful the guard didn’t have to unlock the door just for him. That had happened often enough in the past eight weeks. The girl was through the door and apparently arguing with a boy in the atrium before Keith reached the exit. The boy was gesturing at the stack of books, but he took half of the stack and left the atrium with the girl in the glow of sunset.

The guard chuckled as he threw the bolts on the left door to lock it. “Yessir, he’ll have some spring break,” he said mostly to himself as Keith approached.

“Looks like she plans to do a lot of reading, doesn’t it, Jackson?” Keith asked.

“Yessir, Dr. Drucker,” said the guard. “Expect I’ll be seeing you studying those old books upstairs during the break, won’t I?”

“We’re taking a break for a few days,” Keith responded. “No more late nights sneaking out past the guard desk,” he laughed.

“If I were you, I’d take that lovely Dr. Zayne to a nice sunny place and not think of books for a long time,” Jackson said.

“That’s a great idea, Jackson,” Keith said answered, thinking only of the promising week ahead of him.

“I knew you were studying more than books,” Jackson nodded.

“Well don’t let on, will you?” Keith said.

“Not a word, Doctor,” Jackson said. “Not a word.”

“See you in a week, Jackson.” Keith headed out through the atrium as Jackson locked the doors behind him. The two young people were already halfway across the pool, the boy balancing the books as the girl fumbled in her purse for her car keys.

HE WAS ABOUT TWENTY STEPS from the library when the explosion rumbled inside the atrium. He turned back, ears ringing, as the ground reverberated. So help him, he didn’t intend his first thought to be for the letter fragment. He had already taken a step back toward the library when he thought of Maddie, still up on the sixth floor.

Keith ran toward the building, but was still a few steps away when a second blast blew him backward. As he fell to the pavement, he saw sparkling slivers of glass from the exploding atrium falling from the sky. Before the first splinter hit, he was unconscious.