The entire Department at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University was called in for a 2:00 AM delivery of the Brandt Foundation Book Donation. There were easily 50 people there to oversee the curating and cataloguing of all the books in the donation. Each book would be logged then photographed. The next step would be to examine each page thoroughly by at least two people to find any and all abnormalities that could either be fixed or noted to maintain its provenance. The Brandt Foundation gave a good portion of its estate to Beinecke which equaled a couple hundred books at the least. In order to make the process go a bit faster, groups were pre-assigned, and the list was posted outside the receiving area. This would give everyone a chance to get acquainted with everyone in their assigned group.
Isa Roman could not wait for this night to come. She was told about the shipment a little over a week ago and had been studying the Brandt Collection ever since just imagining which books that would be added to Beinecke. Isa came from a middle-class family that had emigrated from Peru in the 70s. She was raised in the Washington, D.C. area where she spent most of her time in the Museums and the National Archives absorbing the history of the world. She became obsessed with languages at the age of six when she saw a tour guide at the archives speaking in several different languages to a special tour that was being given to some ambassadors. It was a bit amazing at how language came to her. Spanish was her first language alongside English, but Spanish was what she spoke at home. She mastered the other Latin-based languages within a year, but it was Latin itself that melted her heart. The idea to speak history fueled her studies of the ancient languages of Europe through the Mediterranean to the far East. If she was not exercising her mind, she was busy exercising her body. She was 5’4” of athleticism that was usually mistaken for someone to be found in a gym than a library. She wore her hair long because her mom liked it that way, and that was the most important person in the world to her. She was beautiful by most standards but had always put learning in front of her social life. Her high school yearbook quote was “Virgil and an Erg machine, quomodo divina.”
When Isa arrived at the receiving area, she went straight to the list to look up her name. The receiving area was really a large shipping dock with three huge garage doors that could easily fit a large tractor trailer inside. It was painted white from the ceiling to the floor so that everything that came in or out of the room could be seen. It would also make easier to see any dirt or contaminates that could possibly soil any of the rare materials that passed through this area. Gloves and booties were always used in this area as well as any other when handling the antiquities. The area was said to be clean enough to operate in. With her heart beating like a child’s Christmas morning, Isa went down the alphabetical list until she reached the R’s and found her name… and then her heart sank. Isa Roman> Tristan Court: Team 13. She went to the C’s to double check; Tristan Court> Isa Roman: Team 13. She was definitely partnered with Tristan Court. Isa had not spent a lot of time around Tristan. Tristan was a year ahead of her in the program so there was never any real time for her to say more than a few words in passing. Isa was a translator and Tristan authenticated the materials in the books themselves, so they would rarely ever be on the same project at the same time. She had been told by more than one person that Tristan was very smart but equally arrogant. As attractive as he was, he was not her type anyway. In fact, she had never quite had a type except for old books.
Almost as if on cue, Tristan walked into the receiving area and quickly blended in to the rest of the crowd, showing no real interest in who he would be paired up with. Tristan Court was of the Boston Courts. The family name was considered as close to royalty as you could come in the Northeast. He was the youngest of five children, who reminded him of that fact his whole life. Not only the youngest, he was also the smallest of the lot. He wasn’t short, but at 5’10”, he wasn’t imposing like his older brothers were. He was the best looking of the lot. He had light brown hair with a slender build and the chiseled jaw that squared up a near-flawless complexion perfectly. What he was lacking in brute strength, he more than made up for in his brilliance with academia. He found books to be the most exciting thing a person could have. Not the normal store-bought ones, but the first editions, the ones whose bindings were meant to last lifetimes. He was fortunate to either buy them or get access to them. He never missed a chance to study them. Not just the words, but all the way down to the ink. The smell of the vellum that may have been used to exotic inks to make pictures that were worthy of any art gallery. He would submerge himself in the author’s life of every novel and tome that he came across. To study the author and the “why” of the writing always gave him insight into what the content of books were; maybe an inside joke that only he would understand as if the author was only speaking to him.
His parents were not very fond of him as he wanted to pursue academia and not the family business of hedge funds and investments. They were more offended by this than when they accidentally found him in a closet with the maid while he was in high school. He was essentially all but cut off after that; more for his collegiate pursuits than his indiscretions that kept adding up. He left Boston for New Haven, CT when his trust fund opened. Yale was where the best books were that he could get to see and study. He knew he was starting at the bottom like the rest in this program, but he loved books more than they did. In his mind, he deserved it more.
After an hour or so of discussing what the Beinecke was receiving this early morning, the large garage doors opened, and three large armored trucks drove in, escorted with two additional black SUVs. Several armed men jumped out of the SUVs and took sentry outside as the garage doors closed. It was at that moment that the value of what they were about receive sunk in to Isa, and the reality of what some people would do to procure such a treasure. The armored trucks were carefully unloaded onto rolling lifts that were then escorted into the freight elevators that would go directly up to the floors where the shipments would be opened. As each crate or more was put on a lift, the Beinecke Director, speaking through a bullhorn, would name a department head and the number of the corresponding group to meet at that crate. The names and order seemed to be from a list that was hand written the Director was holding in his hand. The new team was then put together with a couple of the armed guards, put on an elevator, and then the remainder of the teams would wait for the elevator to return. The process was then repeated. All of the crates that were unloaded were the same size and looked to be indestructible to Isa. She had counted eight crates from the first armored truck before the second was opened to start unloading. It was broken into three groups of different sized teams. Each team met the Director upon being called where he would hand a piece of paper to a faculty member, say a few words as the group would put on their masks, hair caps, and gloves, and it would end in a cheer that made all the students visibly happy that could be seen through the face masks.
Three crates were loaded on the lift to start the second truck. The Director looked to his page for a moment, “Dr. Lancto, Dr. Patterson, Dr. Rushbaum, Team 8, Team 9, Team 13, and Team 18. Please come to me now.” He repeated the message to make sure there was total quiet in the room for the message to be heard. For the first time that early morning, Isa and Tristan made eye contact with each other and moved to the center of the room fall in with the rest of the teams. They all put on their white face masks and hair caps that left everyone’s eyes the only exposed part of their body. “You will be going up to the fourth-floor lab to unpack”, the Director continued when the teams were gathered. “Dr. Lancto, this is your list to assign teams and the books that you are charged with. Please make sure to have this list verified, copied, and send me the original back as soon as you can. No one gets to leave until that portion is done. You will have two armed guards outside of the lab, just as a precaution until we can get these books into the vault. Thank you all again for working on this project and I will make sure that your work will be sited and credited to your degrees.” This final mention answered Isa’s question about the cheering and even got a holler from her. With the sound of the applause silencing, the large group moved into the freight elevator to ride up to the fourth-floor lab. Isa’s beating heart drowned out the sounds of everything else going on around her as they slowly went up and out into the bright lights and sterile condition of the lab.
Isa was very happy her group was led by Dr. Lancto. He had an intellectual wit that was great for those that could keep up with his dry humor and insight into the world around. It was a bit of a prestige to be invited into his Facebook world among the brighter students in the program. Isa liked the fact that he was approachable and kept the correct office hours for questions.
“Let’s get the checklist done first before we break into groups. I don’t want heir Director breaking up our precious time together more than he intends, so the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can dive in to indulge our youthful levels of pre-pubescent chemical imbalance.” After a bit of giggling, the crates were opened and one piece of history after another was seeing the light of day again. Isa could not believe the sacred tomes coming out of the crates; one classic after another. They were all first editions: The King James Bible, all four Volumes of Don Quixote, Birds of America. There was even a copy of The Book of Urizen that had thus far gone unknown to the academic world, and it looked like it had notes from William Blake himself written in some of the margins. There were several books that had to be verified as authentic to be believed; they had received a treasure of history.
In the last crate, what appeared to be hidden amongst the wrapping bubbles was an unmarked box. It was a normal cardboard moving box that was taped with no discernible markings on it. Dr. Lancto carefully cut the tape to open the flaps to see its contents. It contained several small books that looked to be of no real financial value given their condition and how they were packaged; like the entire box was an afterthought that was thrown into the crate. Dr. Lancto carefully looked at the pages of the first few books that caught his eye and noticed a couple had been recently mended, poorly, or put into a binding that would not have been in the age that the written pages suggest.
“This puts a bit of a monkey in the wrench works. Let’s see…”, as Dr. Lancto looked over the page of his team members. “Perfect. Team 13, you can take this box of books and go to the open office/lab on the third floor. Don’t mark this down just yet, as I want to know what we have before we let heir Director know. You two take your time with this as their might be some hidden jewel in the lot that could be of educational value. I’m sure you will be careful with the pages, but it is obvious an amateur has desecrated these texts just short of a child with a box of crayons would do. As soon as you have it all photogged and translated to see what we have, you can come back and join me on the Book of Urizen. I will need both of your expertise on that one. I promise I would not let just anyone get free reign on something like this, but obviously we are in a little of a time crunch. Remember, all of these books were supposed to be accounted for, so let’s see if we ‘accidentally’ received a little something extra. Just make sure you go through me. Understood?” Isa and Tristan nodded their approval. “OK, then be off and fight the good fight.” With that, the two post-grads took the box of books and headed to the faculty office/labs on the third floor. Dr. Lancto gave them a spare key to the office and cleared them through the armed guards so they could make their way down to the floor below, away from all the excitement.
Upon entering the office, Tristan went directly to the lab portion which consisted of a large steel table in the center of the room with several glass cabinets and bright lights. There were a few tall steel stools to sit on and a high end iDock that was mounted on the wall.
“Well that was… unfortunate.” Tristan started. “I haven’t been this disappointed since the Star Wars prequels.” He carefully put the box on the table and pushed his fingers through his hair as he let out a loud sigh of disgust.”
Isa immediately took this to heart that he was speaking about being teamed up with her, “I’m sorry that I don’t live up to your high standards but I’m not happy to be with you either.”
“OK… let’s start this over," Tristan recanted. “I am upset that there is a book, upstairs, that is not supposed to exist. It could be the find of the millennium. A priceless treasure. Instead, I am in a small lab, with the task of verifying a box of soiled books that may or may not be used to stoke a fire. You or your credentials were never part of my disappointment as I have heard nothing but remarkable things about your talents and professionalism. Which, up until a moment ago, I thought would be the only silver lining in this whole disaster of an evening. So please, can we start over now?”
Isa was blushing as the embarrassment of her remarks began to sink in deep. She meekly replied, “I’m sorry. Yes. I tend to lash out sometimes when I am angry or disappointed. Please let’s start over. I am Isa Roman. I am very pleased to meet you.” She extended her small hand for a shake.
“Truly wonderful to meet you, Isa Roman. I am Tristan Court.” He accepted her hand in his and he was caught off guard at how strong her grip was. “That’s a grip. Gym rat?”
“Sort of. I like rowing. I did crew up through my second year of undergrad until I had to make a choice of books or boats. I still get out on the water and train hard when I can.” Isa said this a bit of pride and happy to know it was her strength he was complimenting and not something about her looks, although she knew it was coming.
“Wow, I had a lot of friends in crew growing up. That is good to know. It takes a lot of commitment to do that sport.” Tristan sounded sincere. “If you decided to put that much effort into this program over rowing, then we may have blue skies ahead of us after all. I just like to trail run. Me, my tunes, and few miles in the outdoors and I am zen. Look, let’s make the best of this situation and maybe we may can make it back to the party before the clock hits midnight. What do you think?”
Just because he asked her that, she lowered her guard a bit and she nodded in agreement. “I was thinking if we worked on two books at the same time—I will read one, and you go through the other—we should make fast work of it.”
Tristan smiled at this. “That’s exactly what I was thinking. Let’s get them out of the box first to see what we have and start with the ones that look to have the greatest value first, as that may demand the most of our attention. If you are half as good as I hear you are, you may make us the belle of the ball.”
“Can I be the prince in this one?” Isa shot back. “I don’t think I could ever be the demure dainty type princess. I’m definitely more Moana than Cinderella.”
“Moana it is, then. Let’s see what our luck has brought us.” Tristan started taking out the books and placing them on the steel table delicately. Just because they were not packed carefully does not mean they should be handled roughly. These were sacred to someone at one time in history. Isa noted this in the way that Tristan handles even the most distraught books as though it was a newborn baby. She realized it was because it was new to Tristan. Since it was in his charge, he would care for them all like a proud father. She was beginning to warm up more to him.
After the last book was put down in front of them and the box was thoroughly inspected, there was a total of nineteen books in front of them. They were of varying degrees of age and wear. All but one had a name of the cover, and that cover was not what was included in the pages. Isa was attracted to a plain brown book that look fairly aged but in a neat condition. She opened the cover and was happy that it was written in Spanish. It looked to be a journal that had a start date of 1789. This was perfect. Tristan moved to the largest of the books that would have the best chance of some illustrations and some depth. He opened the tattered leather cover and he was happily surprised at a gorgeous illustration. It was covered in several pictures of small people doing different day to day jobs like sawing logs, planting seeds, and hunting. In fact, the image was perfect with not so much as a smudge. He went with this one.
“Well, let the games begin. If you don’t mind, I like to listen to music when I work. But…” Tristan said as he reached into his back pocket. “I like to listen through my ‘buds’ so as not to disturb anyone.” Isa wiped fake sweat from her brow with a sigh of relief. “Besides, it’s probably something you wouldn’t like anyway.”
“Oh yeah, try me,” Isa asked.
“Wolf Alice. Freshly downloaded from Vinyl. Know them?” Tristan broke into a radio DJ voice as he said this.
“Oh yeah. They’re the soundtrack of my third year. We just may get along after all.” And with that Isa started into her journal and reading it with full interest as Tristan occasionally acted like he was a drum player. They kept at this for hours. Reading and writing notes. By the time the sun began to set on the first day, they had each finished a book. Since the program was completely involved in the Brandt Collection, they both decided to skip their normal courses that they had in lieu of their current task. After the third day, and having only made it through four books of the nineteen, they decided to work through the nights. They even went as far as moving into the lab with sleeping bags. There were showers on the second floor and Isa brought in her coffee maker for fuel. Tristan brought the coffee and energy bars. There was even an unspoken energy drink pyramid that was being equipped in their eating area that would have been the desk for whoever would be using it in the future. Tristan had even coined a battle cry, “For the ball,” that they would say when each would finish a book. Unfortunately, the books became harder to read as they went on. Tristan was of some help as he could more than proficient in the Latin-based languages. There were not all European, which would make the task harder.
By the end of the week, they were beginning to feel that the ball was over, and they may never get this finished. Tristan decided he would call it a night and rolled over on his side so the light Isa was using to read wouldn’t distract him. She was most of the way through another journal that was a paper on the advances in farming techniques in Europe during the Renaissance. Tristan was awakened by the flipping back and forth of paper. And then breaking the silence, “TRISTAN! Hija la puta! Tristan get up, get up.”
“What in god’s name do you need, woman? I’m sleeping,” Tristan grumbled as he rolled back to face away from her and covered her head with a pillow.
Isa jumped from her stool and quickly ran over to Tristan. She grabbed his pillow and started beating Tristan’s head to wake get him up. “I think I found something! I need your help, now wake up and look at this book.”
Tristan childishly got up from his sleeping bag and unenthusiastically walked over to the steel table with all of the books laid out. “OK, what do you have?”
“Have you looked at the thesis on modern farming book yet?” Isa spoke as she pushed the book into his hands but flipped open to a specific page that was a beautiful illustration.
“No, I was going to start this when you finished. Nice illustration, though. So, what’s the question?” as he looked at it a little bit more in detail.
“This illustration. It looks like someone put it in here on purpose. It has nothing to do with the book, nada. The writer is too bloated to have a pretty picture compete with his doctrine on farming. Take a look. It also reminded me of the picture inside the first book we looked at.” She picked up the first volume that Tristan had examined, the large leather bound tome, and opened the cover to show the illustration there.
Tristan looked at the comparison to the illustrations and the similarity was uncanny; it was definitely the same artist, maybe even the same picture. He looked closely at the farming book and the illustration page had been mixed into the pages. He could tell from the strings that were hidden under the binding cover that this had been done within the last few decades, event though the book itself was hand written in the 17th century. “Someone put a lot of time and money into just having this one page put in this book. But why? Does it match up with the leather-bound book anywhere?”
“No. But let’s check the other books to see if we can find another illustration,” Isa continued while picking another book from the table. With fresh adrenaline flowing, Isa and Tristan went looking through the seven other books they had gone through in prior nights and the others they had not. One after one of the books had an illustration that was placed somewhere among the pages or in the cover. The more illustrations they found, they were to start lining the edges to one picture to another. The books were from different parts of the world spread over hundreds of years.
“OK, we have twelve books with illustrations and seven without. I think there could be something inside the actual covers of three of these, but I am not going to rip open a book that could contain some historic value that we don’t know about.”
“Me neither. But… I think there is another way. We can try using X-ray fluorescence elemental mapping to look under the book inserts to see if something is in there.” Isa looks at him with a serious questioning face and he grudgingly explains, “I recently read that some art historians used the technique to discover some secret features under the Mona Lisa and are doing it to more paintings. And yes, we have one on the campus.” Isa gave him a big hug. Tristan, not particularly into public displays of affection, didn’t mind this time. They cracked open the energy drinks and waited for the X-ray lab to open. While they waited, they tried piecing the illustrations together to make out what it may be.