Friday, March 04, 2011

Windsong – Breath of Being (Chapter 6 – al Ruh)


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
8 The Three Cornered Light
9 Serendipity
10 The Watchman
11 The Upright Way
12 Angels
13 The Cave of Montesinos


14 Idols
15 Nightingale
16 The Perfect Square
17 Haunting
18 The Uncontainable
19 The Ear of Malchus
20 Mauvais Pas
21 Sinan Qua Non
22 Spirit-Level


23 Witness
24 Alcibiades
25 Ney
26 Birdsong
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being

Becalming Unscientific Postscript

Chapter 6


“Thereon descend angels and al-rûh by
the command of their lord with divine
decree concerning every matter.”

The Qur’an
surat al-Qadr; 97 v. 5

“He is the answerer. What can be answered he
answers, and what cannot be answered he shows
how it cannot be answered.”

Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass

It’s nearly midday when Flanagan wakes. He thinks of his dreaming again, and promises himself a better day – what’s left of it. Getting up from the bed, he stretches stiffly before walking to the window and pulling back the curtains. There is a blue, blue sky outside and the burst of brilliant light causes him to sneeze. He notices the early appearance of small flowers on the plum tree that is planted close to the bedroom window. ‘Plum conception,’ he says aloud, promising the tree – always full of promises, he thinks – because it’s a self-pollinating variety, to assist it later with the small artist’s brush he keeps for the pollen transfer.

Felicity Fellows, his neighbour, suddenly rounds the corner on her way to the shops. She is of an indeterminate age and cute with it, he thinks, feeling the hint a morning erection coming on. She stops to look at the plum tree and does with her fingers what he had intended with his brush. He is now fully erect. She suddenly looks up from what she is doing, spots him and smiles. He jumps back, pulling all into the shadows, suddenly aware of his obvious nakedness. He leaves a visible hand to wave her on her way. Or bring her back, he hopes for a moment before heading for the bathroom.

An hour later, he could hear the outer door of the building’s communal atrium opening and footsteps bypassing the elevator bank. He pulls quickly on the handle of his door and steps out into the corridor, feeling safe in a plan of needing to retrieve his post. Encouraged by her earlier smile at his obvious and erect nakedness he had waited patiently for this opportunity, hoping she would return soon. Her back is to him as she inserts a key in the deadlock of her own door. Bag of shopping at her feet; ready meals – meals for one, he thinks – some fruit, a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers visible through its opening. She turns, a dancer’s movement of the hips, he admires.
‘Hi,’ she says.
‘Just going for my post,’ he says, sticking to the plan.
‘Sure,’ she says with a smile, turning back towards her door.
‘Listen. I’m sorry about earlier. I was half-asleep and forgot I had no clothes on.’
She has a mischievous smile and her green-flecked eyes flash with amusement. ‘I noticed,’ she laughs.
He blushes. ‘We’ve never had a chance to talk about what happened. . . or anything really, I’m never here . . . I was wondering, if you are not doing anything later, whether you would like to join me for a drink.’
‘Sure. That would be – shit! Bloody door!’ She leans heavily against her door to force it open. It creaks before surrendering to the pressure. She almost falls in but once inside she turns again to look at him. ‘Sorry about that. The wood has expanded and keeps sticking. They were meant to fix it today.’
‘It’s done that as long as I remember,’ he says. The noise had always bothered him. He picks up her bag of groceries and hands them to her. Their fingers brush off each other for a moment. Plum conception, Flanagan thinks.
‘Thanks,’ she says taking the bag. Her expression suddenly changes. ‘Did you know that I knew her slightly?’ she asks.
‘No . . . I mean how?’
‘I’m also a conservator. We met once or twice through our work.’
A conservator eh! What a small world, he thinks. Felicity... F. Jasus! She is Rio's nameless F, he realises. Fuck, he almost splutters out. ‘Is . . . do you have a husband called Séamus?’
‘Yes, but we’ve recently separated.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘I’m not,’ she says matter-of-factly and with finality.
He is standing in the corridor and watches helplessly as Felicity Fellows pushes against her door to close. She stops and looks at him.
‘How did you know my husband’s . . . my ex-husband's name?’ she asks, uncertain of how to refer to him.
‘I’m not sure. Perhaps . . . perhaps Rio mentioned it to me.’
‘Why would she do that I wonder? I don’t think he knew her all that well either,’ she said, puzzled.
Flanagan quickly composed a lie, an easy facility for him. ‘Because of my line of work I like to hear of people with certain skills and I might have extracted the information out of her. just gossip really. Your husband’s a cattle-dealer, if I remember correctly, and you work in the National Library. That association intrigued me, when I heard it, wondering how you two met up. I tend to latch onto seemingly irrelevant stuff like that.’ He hoped he had got away with it.
‘Very impressive, Jerome. . . I think.’
‘Jaffa. My friends call me Jaffa.’
‘Jaffa. I like that name, like the comfort biscuits,’ she smiled. ‘Anyway that is one association that you can now erase.’
‘I will,’ he said. She hesitated at the door and Flanagan saw what he thought was the beginning of a tear. ‘I’m sorry to have upset you, Felicity. I only make those mental notes about families and stuff so that I can find an approach to charm favours out of people.’
‘Does it work?’ she laughed.
‘Sometimes! The drink later?’ he asks.
‘Sure, Jerome. I’d like that.’
‘Great.’ He holds out his hand and she takes it. She has long fingers – pianoforte fingers, he thinks, good for playing and pollinating.
‘I’ll see you,’ she says.
‘Did it not put you off?’ he suddenly wonders aloud, looking around the corridor.
‘What?’ she teased. ‘Your display earlier?’
He smiled but then became serious. ‘No. I mean what happened here in the corridor. Did it not put you off the building? The apartment?’
‘No! The opposite, if anything. Do you think that’s weird?’ she asks with a very direct stare.
‘No,’ he says, thinking yes. Stick to the plan, he reminds himself. ‘We’ll talk about it later, perhaps.’
‘Perhaps,’ she says.
‘Until later then, Felicity. Anytime you like. Suit yourself. I’ll be in.’ He turns and retreats into his own doorway. Plan accomplished – almost.
‘Jaffa,’ she says, smiling.
‘Have you forgotten your post!’
‘Oh right! Thanks. The excitement got to me,’ he blusters, moving to plan B, the Danish plan: He who flatters gets.
‘You’re easily excited, but thank you all the same,’ she says, laughing the words sweetly before closing her door.

It is late afternoon by the time he is able to sit down at the computer and boot it up. The room, the apartment had had to be cleaned first, the bedroom in particular. He thinks about sex and the possibility of sex. He wonders if he can still manage it. The last time was with Alanna and that . . . The desktop screen appears; like an angry father, waiting, demanding an explanation. Flanagan double clicks the diary file and scrolls:

Arm-pit Diary,
January 10:

Dear Walt, it started out as a really quiet day. With an absence of visitors, due to the continued bad weather, the museum beat along to a less frantic pulse of its own. I spent the early morning preparing the week’s supply of the wheat-starch paste used for the repair and remounting of damaged engravings and prints in the copper-bracketed set of Japanese paste-bowels I brought with me to Dublin. The boiling, skimming, cooling and sieving of the paste is a once-a-week chore and takes about 20 minutes but early in my training my Japanese paper-conservation instructors always insisted that the paste making was the true beginning of the preparation of the mind for the tasks ahead. ‘Work with nature and it will work with you,’ they insisted, while keeping me in a kneeling position, my height bothering them more than tradition.

Not when applied to humans, I think now.

I can still picture those same instructors, and their expectation, and then the silence as they watched. Always a silence; I never knew what they thought about my work, praise being thought inappropriate; for them it was what I thought about the work that mattered. I also remember the first time that they with almost priestly reverence retrieved and handled the very precious – and very pungent – special paste, which they insisted, was to be reserved for the most delicate and worthy of works. That was the secret; their emerald stone. Like products of medieval alchemy the paste was prepared and then buried for up to a year before use and the patience of waiting for those Japanese conservators was everything. Thankfully, the weekly paste I made this morning suffices for routine work and doesn’t smell. In any event Walt, I suppose, I am never in one place long enough to prepare, bury and retrieve the special paste. Love perhaps but never paste…

A Dan Fogleberg song played on the small, CD-player that perched precariously on top of the drying cabinet. ‘Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, telling me just what a fool I’ve been,’ Rio hummed along – badly – to its chorus. ‘Rain won’t you tell her that I love her so…’ She waited for the song to end and then inserted another disc. At the other end of the room, the Durer engraving and the intervening paper layer to which it was attached, were sitting on a blotter mount inside a hooded humidifier. She was pleased with herself. Separating the paper layers from the mounting board had proved easier than anticipated, as only a minute amount of glue had originally been used for attaching the corners and she had been able to achieve the initial separation by cutting close to the surface of the board, with a surgical scalpel. Freed from the board, the humidified air generated by the moistened bottom leaves of the blotter mound then began the work of separating the engraving from the intervening paper layer. Rio knew that water was the slowest of all solvents but also the safest and it would take a few hours before the glue bridging the engraving and the backing paper began to expand. Be patient, she reminded herself, before setting the lab’s alarm clock.

George Benson’s “The Ghetto” started up on the CD-player as the door opened and James Somerville sauntered in. Rio noticed, with mild amusement, how his face twitched in disgust as he dodged through the debris of her paste making.
‘Hello, Dawson,’ he said jauntily.
‘For the last time, James! Call me Rio,’ she demanded.
‘Right. Sorry. Rio then.’
‘What can I do for you, James?’ James Somerville, she realised, had a problem with real intimacy, but then so did many of the Irishmen she had encountered. Probably needs a spell in a humidifier to separate the layers, she thought watching him hover.
‘I just popped in to see how you were getting on with the engraving.’
‘I’ve managed to separate it from the mounting board but its still in the humidifier. I’ll be taking it out in a few hours. You’re welcome to come back then if you’d like,’ she encouraged but hoping he wouldn’t. He really irritated her at times.
‘No thanks D…Rio. I’d only be in the way.’
‘Of course you wouldn’t James.’ She almost coughed as the words came out.
‘It’s a very interesting find. Very interesting indeed,’ he murmered.
‘Yes it is. You must explain something more about the Paraclete to me, some other –’
‘As a word . . .’ James Somerville quickly interrupted, taking his chance. Rio could only watch his face light up as he assumed her interest was an immediate invitation to explain. ‘ . . . it derives from the Greek verb para-kalein meaning “to call to one’s side”. As I mentioned this morning it is a description of the Holy Spirit that only appears in the Gospel of St John and is therefore somewhat unusual. John’s Gospel records that Jesus promised the disciples that he will ask the Father to send another Paraclete in His stead, to be with them always and that this presence would be both the messenger and the Spirit of the Truth. The other interesting facet of this description of the Holy Spirit is that it is very much akin to that of the Qumran covenanters, to whom the Paraclete was the Angel of Light advocate, who will overturn the judgment of the evil Angels of Deception and will bear witness for the disciples in front of the Father. If this is a Durer, I suspect that he might have engraved his interpretation of the Paraclete as a response to the schism prompted by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses against the established church in 1517.’ James looked a little annoyed as the speakers belted out Benson’s “El Barrio”.
‘Was Durer a supporter of Luther?’ she asked. Despite her desire to be rid of James, she was interested in what he had to say.
‘We don’t think so, but he did come to admire his intellectual capabilities. Durer was a moderate and the schism would have upset him. This engraving was perhaps his response, a call to help to the Holy Spirit to become the advocate in the dispute,’ he reasoned.
‘Why do you think there are no other prints?’
‘Durer met Luther shortly afterward the date on the engraving at a special Diet called to discuss the matters of contention and may have become sympathetic to his views. Perhaps he changed his mind or regretted implying in the engraving that Luther was an Angel of Darkness who needed to be overcome by the Paraclete. I suspect the plate was probably destroyed. If this engraving does turn out to be a Durer it will provide a fascinating window on his feelings towards the schism as well as being almost a unique find.’
‘That’s very interesting, James. Thanks.’ She genuinely appreciated his knowledge. ‘I’ll be very careful.’
‘Right. Glad to be of help. I’ll leave you to it so, Rio. See you at lunch.’
‘Bye, James.’

She waited for the door to close behind him before returning to her work. Outside, the snow had begun falling again and the room grew dark as the light was smothered. She had just begun running water into the stainless steel-jacketed soaking basin, which occupied the same corner as the hooded humidifier when the telephone suddenly started ringing. After crossing the room she tried to keep the irritation, at yet another interruption, from her voice as she answered the wall mounted unit.
‘Hello. Conservator’s lab,’ she said officiously.
‘Rio. I have an inspector from Health and Safety on the other line. It seems we have been a bit remiss lately, although I can’t imagine how. He wants to know if there are any redundant solvents or solvent mixtures in the storage cupboard ready for disposal.’ Aengus FitzHenry sounded equally exasperated as if this type of banal enquiry was way below his dignity and level of responsibility.
‘In small quantities only, Aengus,’ she said quietly. ‘There is about 30mls of a Toluene and isopropanol mixture, 20mls of Isoctane-ethanol and diethyl-ether mixture and a small amount of chloroform, that the French conservator who was working here in October used for varnish removal. It can be disposed of, if you like, as I don’t use any of it.’ Out of habit she had done a quick check that morning when getting the materials ready for the paste.
‘Hold on a sec Rio!’ The museum’s director put her on hold and elevator Enya musak played, clashing with Benson’s “Come Back Baby” in the room. Rio waited for some time, imagining FitzHenry – penultimate level, or so, of civil-service pay scale – negotiating with the inspector – midway down the scale – on the other line. ‘Rio.’ The Enya musak disappeared.
‘Yes, Aengus.’
‘The inspector said that he is very busy and would prefer to drop in around the 30th to pick them up. He will also collect both December’s and January’s atmospheric passive diffusion samples so they can be analysed. Is that ok?’
‘Sure. I’ll have them ready.’
‘Thank you.’
‘No problem.’ She was about to put down the phone when he spoke again.
'Rio!' FitzHenry sounded more hesitant and less sure of himself.
‘Yes, Aengus.’
‘I’m sorry about yesterday and the way that the meeting broke up. It must give a bad impression of the Library to a visiting colleague.’
The Library, she thought, smiling. ‘Don’t worry about it, Aengus. Every institution I have ever worked in has had its personalities and conflicts . . . I do think however that the camera would be a good purchase.’
‘Ha! I don’t feel that sorry, Rio but I promise you I’ll think about it. How is it going with the engraving?’
‘I was just about to check on it when you telephoned.’ She knew she sounded annoyed.
‘Right. I understand. You best get on with it. I’ll drop by later, if you don’t mind.’
‘Leave it for a –’
The line went dead. She stared at the receiver for a moment but didn’t replace it its cradle knowing that for the next few hours she could not afford to be interrupted. She then activated the “Do not disturb” corridor display-light before lifting the paste saucepan and begin pouring its contents into the sieve.

The separation process took longer than expected and it was nearly 3.00 in the afternoon when she finally finished. Rio felt very hungry but there was something she needed to do first. She re-engaged the telephone and dialled a number of extensions before her fourth attempt was answered.
‘Auditorium,’ a somewhat breathless voice answered.
‘Mac. Can you come up here?’ She said a little too brusquely, irritated by the delay in finding him. Cormac McMurragh sometimes used the auditorium and the blackout capability of the public projection theatre to photograph large manuscripts.
‘Is that you, Clarice?’ Mac imitated Antony Hopkins’ rasp to perfection. ‘Imagine having a trained FBI agent in our midst. Golly gee. I missed you at lunch, I wanted to discuss eating some of our colleagues.’
‘Very funny Mac! I was busy as it happens. Are you able to come up here? Soon?’ she pleaded.
‘Give me five minutes and I’ll be there. Is there a problem? You sound funny.’
‘No. No problem. I just need your professional help.’
‘Shit! And I thought you had developed a sudden, and not altogether surprising, hunger for my body.’
‘I’ve missed my lunch-hour but not my sense of taste, Mac. Get up here would you.’ She replaced the phone.

I have to admit Walt, that there have been moments, usually alcohol fuelled, when this thought has crossed my mind. Mac despite his alcohol problems in the past is a good looking man – in a lived-in sense – and fit from all that enforced walking. I have often wondered what it would be like, the two of us together. Not today though…

While waiting for Mac to arrive Rio became fascinated by what was happening in the courtyard below the laboratory window. Small tornados of snow were being whipped up by a strengthening wind in the narrow confines of the courtyard to hover like will-o’-the-wisps for a moment, before travelling for a short distance and suddenly collapsing in the open space of the nearby road. When he eventually pushed open the door she hardly noticed.
‘Hi Rio.' he called out. 'Your knight in shining armour is here. Dragon food!’
‘What?’ she said turning around. ‘Oh hi, Mac. I deserved that.’
‘Did you finish with the separation?’ he asked, walking right past her towards the humidifier in the far corner of the room.
‘Yep! It went very well. Come and see.’ She called after him as she moved to the drying rack and pulled out the top tray. ‘Careful though, they are a bit fragile.’ Rio had placed the two square pieces – the engraving and backing, both about A4 size – from the separation process side by side on a layer of absorbent Japanese tissue paper that rested on the knotless nylon mesh of the rack.
Mac came over to the rack. He studied it intensively. ‘I see you managed to recover the intervening paper fully intact as well. Well done girl.’
Rio flinched protectively as Mac touched the corner of the square on the right. ‘It’s not paper, Mac. I hate to say this but Crawford was right. It is very fine parchment, and you can just make out the writing.’
‘God bless your eyesight Rio. It’s very faint.’
‘I know. I want you to photograph it across the entire spectrum before I try to enhance the writing.’
‘Enhance! What do you mean?’ he asked cautiously.
‘Mac. I have had a quick look at the stain on the reverse of the engraving and I definitely think the ink used was a vegetable tannin and iron mixture. I want you to photograph it particularly in ultraviolet.’
‘The engraving?’
‘No, the parchment,’ she said.
‘Why?’ he asked somewhat puzzled by her stridency. ‘Surely the engraving deserves more attention. It could be a unique Durer.’
‘Not could be, Mac. It is!’
‘How do you know?’
‘Look there… with this,’ she demanded, handing him a magnifying glass, and pointing to a spot on the reverse of the engraving.
‘It’s . . . it is a Durer monogram but not printed.’
‘No, it’s probably in a light charcoal pencil. Added afterwards.’
‘It could be a forgery,’ he observed.
‘I'll risk my reputation that it isn’t,’ she said seriously.
‘What reputation?’ he asked, laughing.
Rio gave him a thump on the shoulder. ‘Very smart Mac. Now let’s get back to the parchment.’
‘It intrigues me. Ok! The engraving is almost certainly cut and dried from a forensic point of view but the parchment appeals to the detective in me.’
‘Why?’ he quizzed.
‘Because as James pointed out in the meeting, he could find no reference to the Durer in the correspondence. Given its unique nature I’m very surprised that Beatty had never mentioned it.’
‘Perhaps he never saw it,’ Mac observed shrugging his shoulders.
‘That’s possible but that is also why the parchment is so important. Because of its intimate association we might be able to use it to determine the provenance of the etching.’ Rio felt an increased tension in the air, like a fast approaching thunderstorm.
‘I would like an intimate association,’ Mac said suddenly, with bolting intensity, but without looking at her. ‘At least, what I mean to say is that I like being here with you, Rio. Just the two of us. No bollixes like Séamus what's-his-name, who wouldn’t know the prize they are letting go of. Would you ever. . .’ His voice faded away as angry, misting eyes diverting back to the etching.
‘Sorry, Mac,’ she said, trying to call a halt to this development.

It was the best I could manage, Walt. Although not surprised by this turn of events, the passion rattled me. In truth I was dreading the moment but had thought I would get some warning. Unlike those times as a child on Eleuthera, when watching a storm far out to sea, guessing the direction it would take. The wind would rise and a perimeter of light would appear on the water just ahead of the dark cloud shadow, a brilliant light rushing ahead, telling me to take shelter, warning me. Mac’s timing caught me out. Often he would look at me with a smile and unsaid thoughts and I would smile back, screwing up my face to jokingly banish those thoughts. Sometimes, however, I’d catch him looking at me in an intensely possessive way, and he’d turn away like a spoilt child with something close to the anger I saw now, in his eyes. I was never sure whether he was annoyed with himself for having being caught or with me for catching him. Either way they were awkward moments, which were never fully resolved. Now, with Séamus out of the way, I was –am – worried that Mac was about to spoil our friendship by asking me out on a date, asking me for a decision…

At that moment Cormac McMurragh lost his nerve and retreated. ‘Yeah. I see what you’re getting at Rio. Is there anything to go on?’ The question was formal, professional.
‘Yes.’ Rio tried to keep the relief from her voice.
‘Which is?’ he asked with a quizzical look.
She gently lifted the edge of tissue paper covering the parchment with a blunt ended wooden forceps to show him. ‘Look here, Mac. There is . . . darn!’ At that moment the telephone rang again and she decided to ignore it. It kept ringing.
‘Do you want me to get it?’ Mac asked.
‘No,’ she said, a little too brusquely. Mac smarted, she noticed. Leaving down the paper, she walked across the room to answer.
‘Yes,’ she said, not bothering to hide her annoyance.
‘Well hel . . . lo to you too,’ a voice drawled and slurred down the line.
‘Oh. Jack. Sorry for being short. I was busy. I was going to ring you later. I’ve tried a couple of times over the past few days.’
‘Were you? That’s goo . . . good. An uncle likes to . . . to hear from his . . . his only godchild.’
‘You sound tired, Jack.’ Jack Dawson sounded drunk, she thought, forcing a smile for the benefit of Mac who was watching her closely.
‘That’s one . . . one way of describing it Rosalind.’
‘How’s the curvaceous Sara Lou?’ she asked in a conspiratorial voice.

Sara Lou Hubble Dawson, Miss Oregon Runner Bean Queen 1990, was the 30-something, sub-pectoral enhanced, silicone illusion that Jack had taken for a fifth wife. All four topics, suitable for a conversation between them, had apparently been exhausted by the second day of their sudden and bourbon floated Reno nuptials but to his credit, Jack Dawson had persisted…

‘I’m fi . . . fine but I think my hearing is going.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘When Sara Lou says ‘I love you’, it increasingly sounds like I got you.’ We . . . we’re rapidly running out of pages with colour pictures, so I give us about two more months.’
‘That’s a rotten thing to say. It’s your own fault, Jack.’ She cringed at his offhand assessment of his current partner yet still sympathised with his plight. ‘Is she there with you? Let me talk to her.’ There was a long pause and all she could hear was his heavy breathing.
‘I . . . I lied Rosalind . . . about the two or three month thing. Sara Lou’s go . . . gone . . . and good riddance.’
‘Oh Jack.’
‘No problemo kid! It was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m out celebrating.’
‘Too well by the sound of it.’ Rio looked at her watch. It was about 10.00 am in Miami.
‘Listen. Gotta go, Rosalind. Call me soon.’
‘Jack. Listen –’ The line went dead. ‘Shit!’ She leant her head against the wall staring at the receiver in her hand. What advice could she have given him, what help?, she thought.
‘Are you all right, Rio. Any problem?’ Mac asked concerned.
‘No,’ she lied. ‘But thanks for asking Mac. Now where were we? Oh yes.’ Rio walked back and continued where she had left off by lifting away the tissue paper. ‘Look at the bottom of the parchment . . . there.’
Mac bent over the laid-out parchment and immediately saw, what Rio had first noticed earlier, that in one corner, written in French, in lead pencil, were two sentences and a signature. He read them aloud, slowly, ‘Karabatakzade Aga circa 1669. Note mention of kitab al-dhikr al-Rûh – Leon Arsan, Kaabiz Kitabevi, 1931.’
‘What do you think?’ she asked.
Mac looked up at her, a serious look inviting caution. ‘Almost certainly a dealer’s note – but I suppose that’s something to go on.’
His apparent lack of enthusiasm bothered Rio somewhat. ‘Please indulge me on this, Mac. I want to be able to read the parchment. It might fluoresce and then the tannin-quenched areas will show up dark.’
‘The whole parchment sheet looks like it’s tannin or lake stained. What happens if there is little or no fluorescence?’
‘Then I will spray the parchment carefully with an iron-gall ink and gum Arabic mixture,’ she answered defiantly.
‘Iron-gall ink! Where will you get that?’
‘I have a small amount of a ferrous sulphate enriched concentrate of sumac leaves and Chinese oak galls left over as a keepsake from my time in Japan. If I prepare and spray-on a strong solution of that added to gum Arabic then the tannin will be rapidly absorbed onto areas where tannin ink has been used previously. The gum Arabic and rapid drying will prevent absorption onto other areas of the parchment. We can then photograph again across the entire spectrum.’
‘Isn’t there a danger in that?’ he asked, uncertain.
‘As a conservator I would say have to say yes because you can turn the parchment into rawhide with too much moisture but as a forensic necessity I would say it’s worth a shot. Remember, I’m trained!’ she assured, smiling.
‘If you say so, G-person! You’re so big and brave.’
‘I’ll have my Agency friends take you out, permanently, if there are any more of the big jokes, Mac.’ She couldn’t help but laugh and leant forward to kiss him on the cheek.

You never know the moment when friendships change. For good or bad, it’s sudden, unexpected and all that has gone before changes forever. I think, no, I know, this was one of those moments. For some reason the line, always a fine line, had been crossed and he blushed profusely. An Irish blush, the kind that envelops the whole person. Vulnerable. Transparent. There was a silence, an adolescent silence, between us. What to do about him? Solid, sound Mac, not dangerous – to me at least. But to him? Soul buddies almost. Wanting a whole lot more. Needing a whole lot more. Anything that happens between us would almost be a gift on my part, an unfair gift, refusing further reciprocation…

‘When will you know about the ink?’ Mac blustered.
‘Two or three days.’ Rio looked at him and it was her turn to bluster knowing that he rightly suspected that she had already taken a small piece of the parchment, with a sample of the writing, for analysis. As a conservator she was loath to admit that this occasionally had to be done. It was a secret of the trade, a secret lie, she thought. ‘I’ve sent a sample of the ink writing to the spectroscopy laboratory in Abbotstown, and have also taken a small piece of the parchment for dating purposes.’
‘Right,’ he winked at her, composed again, understanding the boundaries between them. ‘I’ll get the camera set up. Bring it down when it’s dry.’
‘There’s one other problem Mac,’ Rio said hesitatingly.
‘What is it?’ he responded suspiciously.
‘Phyllis Andrew, left after the meeting and is away until Friday week. I don’t know anybody else who reads Arabic around here. I would like to get the parchment translated as soon as possible. Do you by any chance . . . eh… know someone who –’
‘Oh you cunning cow!’ he said without pleasure. ‘I know what you’re getting at.’
‘What?’ she questioned meekly, feeling her face go bright red. Mac, she knew, had seen straight through her ploy.
‘Jaffa Flanagan! You want to meet him.’
‘He reads Arabic doesn’t he?’ she said matter-of-factly.
‘And people just as quickly. In your present state of desperation I’d say you’d resist for at least five minutes,’ he observed.
She looked at him, holding out a mirror in her eyes, in her smile. He understood and nodded in a sad way. Some day it might happen between us Mac, she thought to herself, holding out some hope. ‘Will you set it up?’ she asked.
‘Sure. I know . . .’ he hesitated. ‘I mean, he . . . Jaffa could be away. He’s always travelling in pursuit of material but I’ll try him on his mobile.’ Cormac McMurragh stopped briefly at the doorway, a nervous thin smile on his face. ‘I might get lucky.’

As the door closed behind him the smells from the café below wafted through the lab. Rio winked at her reflection in the glass of the extraction hood before finally succumbing to the aromas and the hunger pangs they induced. She left the lab and headed for the ground floor and the food she could already taste.

Thinking about it again now, Mac’s hesitation when I asked him to set up the meeting bothers me a little. I sense he knows exactly where Flanagan is but for some reason changed his mind about saying it straight out. Jealous? I must ask him about that tomorrow . . .

No answer from Jack’s phone…

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