Being The Beginning Sunday, January 23, 2011
1 The Exchange Sunday, January 30, 2011
2 bildende Kraft Saturday, February 5, 2011
3 Gossamer Wings Friday, February 11, 2011
4 Nemesis Saturday, February 19, 2011
5 Odd Shoes Friday, February 25, 2011
6 al-Rûh Friday, March 4, 2011
7 A Love Supreme Thursday, March 10, 2011
8 The Three-Cornered Light Thursday, March 24, 2011
9 Serendipity Tuesday, April 5, 2011
10 The Watchman Friday, April 15, 2011
11 The Upright Way Sunday, April 25, 2011
12 Angels Wednesday, May 4, 2011
13 The Cave of Montesinos Tuesday, May 10, 2011
14 Idols Tuesday, May 10, 2011
15 Nightingale Sunday, May 15, 2011
16 The Perfect Square Sunday, May 22, 2011
17 Haunting Thursday, May 26, 2011
18 The Uncontainable Wednesday, June 1, 2011
19 The Ear of Malchus Monday, June 6, 2011
20 Mauvais Pas Wednesday, June 15, 2011
21 Sinan Qua Non Saturday, June 25, 2011
22 Spirit-Level Sunday, July 10, 2011
23 Witness Saturday, July 16, 2011
24 Alcibiades Friday, July 22, 2011
25 Ney Thursday, August 11, 2011
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being
Becalming Unscientific Postscript
“Inna li ’l-bulbuli sautan fi ’l-sahar
Ashghala ’l-’áshika ’an husni ’l-watar”
(The Bulbul’s note, whenas dawn is nigh
Tells the lover from strains of strings to fly.)
Richard F. Burton
Thousand Nights and a Night
Rio waited by the window, having been alerted by Jack Dawson’s call ten minutes earlier. She watched as the taxi drew up and immediately walked into the hallway to open the front door. It was blowing a gale outside and she shivered as Jack, and the tall man with him, exited the taxi and quickly huddled under an umbrella to protect themselves from the driving rain as they made for the door. The tall man had a goatee beard and steel-rimmed circular glasses, which fogged up as he got closer.
‘Welcome to Ireland, Professor Gilbert,’ Rio said as she stepped back to allow them enter. ‘I’m Rio Dawson, Jack’s niece.’
‘It is my pleasure, Dr. Dawson,’ Gilbert said, as he first held out his hand and then almost instantly withdrew it again. ‘Excuse me! I can hardly see you.’ Gilbert took off his glasses and polished the lens with a neatly pressed handkerchief he removed from an inside pocket. Although nearly equal in height he seemed to have to lean back to bring Rio into focus. He replaced his glasses to sit low on his nose and held out his hand again. ‘Thank you most sincerely for your kind invitation to examine the Book. I am most excited by the prospect. Most excited!’
For the briefest moment Rio wondered how excited Gilbert could ever actually get before extending her own hand. His handshake was surprisingly firm and he had big hands, calloused and rough beyond expectation. She looked down at them.
Gilbert noticed her surprise. ‘Excuse the condition of my hands. Spent last week on assault manoeuvres. Some bloody awful climbing conditions.’
‘Assault manoeuvres?’ she asked, puzzled.
‘Yes, in Norway. I’m a reserve colonel in the Parachute regiment. Have to keep my “hand” in as it were. We were on winter training. Skiing and all that.’
‘I see . . .’ she mumbled, baffled.
Jack grinned at her from behind Gilbert’s shoulder, as if to say, I should have warned you. He closed the door behind him and started to remove his coat. ‘Sorry were late, Rosalind. Bloody rain! Made the traffic slow to a crawl,’ he said, shaking himself down like a retriever.
‘No problem! Let me hang up your coats and I’ll put on some coffee,’ she offered.
‘Tea for me, Dr. Dawson, If you don’t mind,’ Gilbert declared with unmistakeable finality.
‘Of course. Please call me Rio.’ Rio smiled. ‘Milk or lemon?’
‘Lemon, if you have it Rio. Thank you.’
‘Sure. You two go on in. I’ll join you in a minute.’
Jack walked ahead but suddenly stopped when he saw that Inspector Gerrit Flatley was already seated comfortably and smugly nursing a whiskey. The policeman smiled up at him. ‘Gee! Hello, Gerry. Didn’t expect you to be here!’
‘Any chance I get, Jack,’ the policeman replied, winking. ‘Any chance!’ He then stood up.
‘Yeah,’ Jack hissed under his breath before turning to introduce Gilbert. ‘Gerry this is Professor Bertrand Gilbert from the Islamic Institute in Oxford. I’ve flown him over to appraise the Book, to see if it is what it is supposed to be. Professor, this is Detective Inspector Gerrit Flatley of Dublin’s homicide unit.’
Flatley offered his hand.
The Englishman’s eyes flickered behind his glasses as he took it. ‘My pleasure, Inspector. I gather it is still a very difficult enquiry.’
The two men appraised each other, trying to estimate the other’s expertise in the handshake.
‘Yes,’ Flatley answered honestly.
Gilbert nodded sagely, released his hand and turned to Jack. ‘Might I see the Book, Mr. Dawson. I am rather anxious to proceed as I have to catch the evening flight back.’
‘Sure.’ Jack led Gilbert to the table at the far end of the room where the Book was sitting and then hovered over him as the academic paratrooper began his appraisal. He saw Gilbert’s face flush slightly as he first inspected the exterior and then almost redden as he traced his finger gently along the faded embossed border of the leather binding before teasing out the horsehair tassels so that they lay in perfect alignment with each other.
‘My-o-my,’ Gilbert whispered repeatedly before he opened the small briefcase he had carried with him and removed a small leather cushion. He placed this under the book to elevate it at an angle before he then, in an almost sacramental sequence, removed a length of material shaped like a string of sausages, a magnifying glass, a notebook, and finally a lead pencil from the briefcase. He placed his magnifying glass to one side, as Rio’s jeweller’s angle-poise magnifying light was already in position and adjusted the light’s poise so that it is centred precisely over the book. With a minor adjustment of the poise of his own glasses he was ready to begin.
‘What’s that,’ Jack asked pointing to the sausage-shaped string.
‘A reading sock with sown-in weighted pockets to hold down the pages… standard practice for dealing with old manuscripts. I always carry my own, this one is filled with ground pumice stone. Just the right weight, don’t you know? Perhaps you’ll excuse me, Mr. Dawson if I get on with my work,’ Gilbert said brusquely, his tone not brokering any argument.
Dismissed, Jack returned to the settee and sat down beside Gerrit Flatley. ‘What’s happening on your end of things Gerry? Any further leads on Phyllis Andrew?’
‘No unfortunately. Dead-ends all the way!’ The Irish policeman instantly regretted this flippancy between fellow-detectives and looked around to ensure Rio had not heard.
‘Think that’s the case?’ Jack asked.
‘Yeah. I think so. There has been no word. No contact.’
The two men sat in silence and listened to Gilbert’s excited breathing and repeated “my-o-my's”.
Jack whispered, ‘What about the blood matches? Any problems with the various alibis?’
‘No . . . well perhaps mabey.’ Flatley hesitated for a moment, wondering how open he should be. ‘Mags Golden, Cormac McMurragh, Brigadier Crawford, Foley, the security guard, and the other trustee with Group A have all checked out fine. We also have their DNA back and they show no matches . . .’
‘But?’ Jack encouraged him to expand.
‘Professor FitzHenry’s account of his whereabouts on the evening in question bothers me somewhat. It seems he was in the company of a friend of his who has subsequently disappeared.’
‘Didn’t like the thought of being questioned by police, it seems. This ‘friend’ is known to us and is involved with some very unsavoury characters here in Dublin. Obviously the attention was a bit too close for comfort. He scampered.’
‘Unsavoury. In what way?’
‘Wow! Does that uptight prick FitzHenry know about this sideline?’
‘Apparently not! They were friends from college days. Always thought that he was a property developer. Shocked by the fact that your man is ‘known’ to us. It’s not that important as FitzHenry’s DNA puts him in the clear but I hate loose ends in an investigation.’
Rio entered back into the room with a laden tray seemingly unnoticed by the others, caught up as they were in their own conversation. She served Gilbert first before placing the tray down with a deliberate bang on the table in front of Jack and Flatley. ‘What are you two in such deep conversation about?’ she asked.
‘I’m asking your uncle here, for your hand in marriage. I thought it was the best thing,’ Flatley said with a deadpan expression.
Jack splutterd. ‘What the fuck,’ he growled.
Bertrand Gilbert coughed reprovingly in the background.
‘Relax, Jack. Gerrit is only teasing you.’ Rio laughed with Flatley at Jacks’ obvious fluster.
‘Don't worry Jack. I’m not the marrying kind,’ Flatley added.
‘Why? Are you gay or what?’ Jack was seriously bothered – pissed off – with the policeman’s apparent – and casual – dismissal of Rosalind and her possible needs. Not that she needs anyone else, he reminded himself.
‘No. It just scares the bejasus out of me. I’m too selfish for any meaningful relationships and I run scared.’ Flatley looked up at Rio. This understanding had already been reached between them.
Jack Dawson noticed and was even more concerned.
‘Doesn’t stop you having fun though,’ Rio confirmed, sitting down beside the policeman.
‘Live for the moment and let it go. No history, no legacy, no responsibility . . . no bullshit,’ Flatley said without expression.
‘Few men you can say that about, Jack. Don’t you agree?’ Rio probed.
Jack moved uncomfortably on the couch as he suffocated in the simplicity of the accusation the atmosphere in the room rapidly evaporated to become oppresive. ‘I think that’s a fucken cop-out. I think –’
‘I agree as it happens,’ Gilbert interrupted from the far end of the room.
Jack jaw angled sharply. ‘Whaddya mean? Agree with what Professor?’ Jack Dawson spat back at the academic before he instantly regretted his over-reaction.
Gilbert leant back in his chair, removed his glasses, lifted his cup of tea to his lips, half-turned to look at Jack and smiled over the rim of the cup before he carefully placed it back in its saucer. ‘Just that! Moments do not demand responsibility just response.’
‘But surely history, and its legacy of moments engenders a sense of responsibility in experts like yourself?’ Jack demanded. He got up, and walked to the table closely followed by Rio and Flatley.
‘History, Mr. Dawson as I perceive it, is simply embedded memory, and someone’s idealization.’ Gilbert expanded. ‘As such it is an imperfect legacy, and a poor basis on which to hang responsibility of any kind. Take this book for instance. Look at the penmanship. No don’t just look at it. Listen to its song. Think of the reed pen in the hand of the calligrapher and the strokes that he made. Then think of wind rustling through reeds and how both pens and flutes or Neys are made from those reeds try to capture the beauty and music of that wind. This . . . this book captures a moment in time just after the writer truly believed that he had been given the message, been shown the truth in all the confusion of history. It was written when the flute and the pen, the song and sign, were in complete harmony. The writer is excited and is desperate to have that clarity recorded, a clarity, which has only been in existence, in his own mind, for the shortest time. An idealization.' Gilbert paused for a second. 'For all of us a thought comes to mind and an instant later it is both history and legacy. That beautiful moment of transcendent clarity, in which the clarity is the moment, is soon betrayed and its history and legacy become weapons of both certainty and of confusion: chaos.’ Gilbert stopped talking and sipped his tea again. He gently closed the book and rested his hand on the cover as if was giving a solemn oath.
‘Does the text give an explanation for the strange symbols at the beginning of some of the sura, Professor?’ Rio asked, a little breathlessly. Gerrit Flatley was deliberately pressing up close against her bottom as they crowded in around the chair of the academic. She sensed his crotch bulging against her and pushed back against him every so slightly.
‘Don’t know Rio, I’m afraid,’ Gilbert said slowly as he shrugged his shoulders apologetically. ‘But the book is so very special. That I am certain of! The binding is, I think, seventeenth century Ottoman and the colophon most certainly is, but as for the script, there I am stumped.’
‘What does the colophon say?’ Jack asked as he glared at Flatley.
‘We send forth the messengers as bearers of glad tidings and as Warners. It’s from the Qur’an, from Al-An‘am, the sixth sura. It is signed by your friend Karabatakzade, 1080 AH or 1669 CE,’ Gilbert explained.
‘The year he died,’ Rio added.
‘And what is the difficulty with the script?’ Flatley asked moving to Rio’s side, red-faced.
‘I’m not sure Inspector but am fairly confident that it is very ancient and much older than standard Kufic or even the more rare Hijazi. Much closer in fact to Nabatean, I suspect: only consonants and no hareke or diacritics to indicate vowels or sounding. Leaving aside its scriptural significance for a moment I am near certain that as a possible example of the transition phase from Nabatean to Arabic script it has no extant equal. But why in a book that is otherwise 17th century. As I said, I'm baffled. I would suggest, perhaps, that the book should be sent to the world’s best Arabic palaeographers at Saarland University, in Saarbrüken.’
‘I’m not keen on letting it out of my sight,’ Jack said.
‘I can understand that Mr. Dawson. In any event some of the pages are a little fragile and it would be better to have it photographed, rather than scanned directly. You could send a copy of these to Germany,’ Gilbert said, nodding his head. 'I’d also like a copy if you would be so kind.’
‘I’ll organise that with Mac,’ Rio offered. She felt Gerrit instantly pulling away from her and noticed Jack’s grimmace. ‘Whoa! Easy lads. Less of the possessive posturing, please! Mac and I have worked things out. I said some things I should not have and he is sorry for what happened at the restaurant.’
‘You’re not to –’ Jack Dawson began.
‘For the final time, Jack, I make my own decisions,’ Rio cut him off emphatically.
‘Its my book now and I’ll make the decisions.’ Jack spat out. He felt hurt and didn’t care if he showed it.
‘With respect, Mr. Dawson,’ Bertrand Gilbert interjected as he stood up, and started putting his equipment back into his briefcase, ‘It is not your Book, never can be. You might have possession of it but it is not yours. You might contribute to its history and legacy but you will never own its moment. Like with people, perhaps . . .’ His eyes flicked towards Rio and then back again to the briefcase. ‘I think, if it is all right with you, Rio I’d like to pay a quick visit to the museum. There is a Ruzbihan al-Shirazi Kur’ãn I want to look at before heading for the plane.’
‘Sure. I’ll call the duty librarian to have it ready for you,’ Rio offered as she picked up the phone.
‘My thanks.’ Gilbert turned to Jack. ‘I’m sorry that I cannot be of more help. Your friend Dr. Flanagan was right, Mr. Dawson. This –’
‘He’s no friend of mine!’ Jack was still smarting.
‘Whatever. This book is a Holy Grail and sometimes the silence that erupts in the finding of such a wonder is because you realise there cannot be any other sounds. It is both an end and a beginning, a singularity.’
‘A big bang!’ Gerrit Flatley blurted out as he winked in Rio's direction.
‘Exactly, Inspector. Exactly!’ the paratrooper agreed.