The coffee smelled strong and sweet and bitter all at once. The Turkish blend was my favourite. "Why what?"
"All those numbers. She had them tattooed all over her body."
"I really have no idea."
Eve looked disappointed at my answer but it was the only one I had. Her slow nod pre-empted anything else she might have had to say. Slowly she drifted away again. I drank my coffee.
I'd wasted a day and made myself not care. Wired, I eventually ended up back on the maglev, drifting through a myriad of routes, distracted by my own inability to concentrate.
I returned home late in the afternoon. My office was dark. It looked like rain but you never could tell these days. The weather was unreliable.
I decided that a hot shower might clear my mind and wash away the wasted day. It did nothing of the sort but at least the hot water eased the tension in my neck and shoulders. Dressed again, I was determined to get something done; something read and studied from the significant pile on my desk. Then I noticed the yellow light flashing curtly above the front door. >>MISSED CALL. PACKAGE DELIVERED. BOXED MAIL.<<
I wondered if Mr. Lewis was having me followed. Watched. Wait until she is unable to answer the door. That way she won't be able to refuse. "Son of a bitch." But it was only my own weakness for not resisting.
I opened the inside catch and retrieved the packet. It was wrapped in brown paper. Not big, good size for reading. I took it to my desk and wrestled it from inside three layers of paper.
The book was bound in worn green leather. Touching it made me feel old; a peculiar sense of the past rushing on. The title was at the top was in discoloured lettering.
I laughed out loud. Perdu indeed. Was this a joke? I turned the book over to inspect the back but there was only more green leather. Why would Lewis—or anyone else—send me a fake copy of Paradise Lost? In French? Franco might be considered the New Tongue in many quarters of the world but academics were souls trapped by tradition. The English would have a fit. Sounds from outside made me look toward the window but it was only the lawyers closing shop for the day. They wore the same suits, grey and striped, and moved together, faces silhouetted against the struggling sun. I returned my attention to the book.
It looked old but it still wasn't real. It couldn't be. Genuine copies of Milton's most famous work no longer existed. I opened it with mild anticipation that quickly turned to surprise. It was handwritten. "But…" John Milton had been blind at the time he composed his epic poem. He had dictated his work to secretaries. I held my breath. Was this a glimpse of concrete creation?
I held the book aloft and shook it softly. Three shakes and a slip of paper feathered down onto my desk. CALL ME WITH ANY ANSWERS. LEWIS. There was a number.
Answers to what? I turned the book over in my hands, carefully inspecting the binding and spine, noting them to be old but practically intact. When my fingers had a proper moment to skim the pages I realised the first irregularity. The pages were not paper but vellum. The book could not possibly be directly connected to Milton. The printing press was well established by the time the poet wrote his epic poem. Paper was commonly used. There would have been no need—no concrete reason—for anyone to write on anything but. I was sure that the book I held in my hands had been produced recently, possibly by some antiquarian trickster looking to make easy currency.
I was annoyed. Not only that Mr. Lewis (or his so-called employer) hadn't done the simplest of research before coming to me, but that he'd wasted my time in the process. I glanced at the number on the paper and keyed it into the phone.
A voice answered before the second ring. "Yes?"
"Mr. Lewis. You're wasting my time and, I'm afraid, your own. This book is a fake, for whatever reason. You might want to get your sources reviewed."
"Please, look again Ms. Buonarrotti. Three thousand currency will be delivered to you in the morning."
"That is very generous of you but there is nothing more for me to find here."
"There is. I assure you."
Once again I had a dead phone line buzzing in my ear.
I prefer not to go out at night. I like the safety of my books and the soft light of my office. I sleep there, too. I don't need an apartment. Still, I'm not averse to the dark. Once I'm outside I feel like I belong after a fashion, if only as an observer. Everyone has their part to play.
I didn't have to wait long for the maglev. It was on its way back inside, to the inner rings, where I needed to go.
The Tree was three rings out from the centre Sphere, from the Aldermen and The Ziggurat. I am neither interested in politics nor getting arrested, and the further one stays away from the hidden rulers of Juno the better the chances of neither happening. The Tree was almost close enough to that inner sanctum of authority that it made me uncomfortable to visit… but what could I do if the man whose help I now needed chose to live there?
I'll be the first to admit that it's beautiful. The Tree was in essence a vast, contained arboretum. A consortium of tree genii created a multicoloured wall along the rim of the ring, enormous trees shielding it from the scrapers in the third ring next door. Port Jackson Willows, Joshua Trees, Douglas-firs and Oaks, the Ash, Tamarinds and Giant Sequoias—too many to mention. Houses were built between them, beside them, in front of them, askance from them and inside hollow trunks with roots straddling roofs, or on gigantic branches straddling the sun's rays. As the maglev kicked up fallen leaves the view outside the window rushed by in a blur of greens, oranges and golden-yellow-browns.
Dr. Felix Slant lived in a cabin dwarfed by a giant Sitka Spruce. It took him a while to open the door; no doubt he wanted to be sure who it was before he did so. He closed it behind me quickly and only when the door had been locked and bolted did he look me in the eye.