18 – Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO
I caught up with him a few blocks later. Luckily for me, he didn’t seem to have a car, or at least if he did, it wasn’t parked nearby. He almost seemed to be walking slowly enough specifically so that I could catch up with him.
“Come to try to stop me, padre?”
Honestly, yes. That was high on my mind. But even before that, “I came to understand.”
“Understand what? I already told you what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”
“You said that something came back with your brother. What did you mean?”
“I meant that something came back with my brother.” The expression on his face told me that he knew full and well what he was doing being vague.
For the moment at least, I decided to play along. “How?”
He shrugged. “Just a feeling.”
I reached out and took hold of his arm. He was enough larger than me that he didn’t stop immediately, forcing me to sidestep along for a few steps to avoid falling down. “No. There has to be more than that.”
He looked me up and down. “Have you ever been to a seance padre?”
I blinked. “What?”
“A gathering where you try to communicate with the dead.”
“I know what a seance is.”
“That what do you mean, what?”
“I mean, what does that have to do with anything? With your brother coming back wrong?”
“It has everything to do with that.”
I stood there, just waiting for him.
“After Alex died, I went to visit Mrs. Claire… Are you familiar with her?”
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but no more than that. I shook my head.
“She a psychic from down by the lakefront, had a reality TV show a few years back.”
He shook his head slightly. “You really don’t get out much, do you? In any case, she has this neat little shop. Palm readings and the like. In general, I don’t go for that sort of thing… But this one time, I was with a few of my friends, out drinking. It was probably two in the morning when one of them gets the bright idea to go to Mrs. Claire’s.”
“I don’t really know what we expected, surely she’d be long gone by then. But when we got there, there was a candle burning in the window and the door was open. So of course we went right in.”
“It turns out that she was there. She said that she was expecting us. At the time, I thought that this was just some sort of trick to get us int he believing sort of mood right from the get go, but now… I wonder.”
He paused for a moment, looking from my hand still on his arm up to my face.
“The first thing she did was ask about my brother.”
I raised an eyebrow; he raised his hands.
“I know what you’re thinking. How did she know? That was my first thought too. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that it’d just been a lucky guess. Lots of guys have brothers. But how many of them have brothers that decided to kill themselves less six months before?”
“At that point, none of my friends had actually known that. You can imagine their surprise when I didn’t deny it. There were a few mumbled apologies and well wishes, but mostly they just looked shocked. I think that’s what really did it. I think that’s what convinced them to stay.”
“I didn’t know what to think. I still thought that perhaps she’d gotten lucky, that maybe she tried this on any group that came in. After all, even a situation like mine still happened occasionally, right?”
“And then she said was that she could talk to him for us. That she could talk to him for me.”
“Fools that we were, we went for it.”
19 – Rome
I couldn’t think of the last time that something had so completely slipped my mind, so the mere fact of the matter was troubling enough. But it was even worse that it was happening here, now. I knew that I had seen the man, with his long white hair. I knew that we’d talked about the mess I’d found myself in. And I knew that I’d been told to come here to meet with this particularly priest.
Father Antonio must have sensed my consternation, for he reached out and put a hand on my arm. “Don’t worry about it, I’m sure it will come to you eventually.” There was something in his voice, something that hinted at more that he wasn’t saying. “But until then, I think that I can help. I think I know why you’re here.”
I was still fighting with my mind, straining to remember, so I just nodded absently.
“You’ve found something. Something special, something not quite in line with your view of the world.”
I stopped thinking. How did he know?
“Most likely, it’s really old. Centuries at least, millenia maybe.
I just stared.
“So?” he asked. “Am I right?”
I blinked at him.
“Come on, I know that I’m right. That’s really the only reason they send anyone my way any more.”
He waved a hand, “That’s not important. At least not right now. If they sent you all of the way here, it had to have been for a good reason.”
It was now or never. Reaching into the my jacket pocket, I pulled it out.
It really wasn’t much to look at really, particularly not given how much I’d gone through to get it. Just a simple shard of pottery, curved as if it had once been part of a vase or a bowl. Six inches long if it had been straight and a third that wide, there were faint discolorations on the outer surface. Perhaps it had once been painted, but the paint had worn off long ago. There were a set of grooves too, carved at an ever so slight angle and running along the entire length of the piece.
I set it carefully on the table, mindful both of the price that had been paid and of the way that Father Antonio had been speaking.
I looked up, expecting some sort of reaction from him. Well, he had a reaction all right. Just not the one that I was expecting.
I blinked. After all this? “What do you mean that’s it?”
He shrugged. “It’s just that… well, I’ve seen all sorts of things. Rings and other jewelry, books, papers, swords and spears, coins, all sorts of coins. Heck, I’ve even had plates and bowls before. But never just a fragment like that, never just a broken shard.”
I didn’t know what to say. After all that time, this was what I got? He’d said it himself, the most likely reason that I was here was that I’d found a item apparently of some importance. And I’d paid for it, in blood and tears. But now it seemed worthless. I could feel the energy that had been driving me forward, pushing me for more hours than I cared to think about, starting to ebb.
“So what does it do?” Father Antonio asked abruptly.
“What does it do? It doesn’t look like much, but maybe I’ve been too hasty. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover and all that.”
I hesitated. Would he even believe me? After all, I scarcely believed it myself.
He looked at me expectently.
I took a deep breath. “I’m pretty sure that it can raise the dead.”
20 – Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO
“So why was your dad interested in some old pieces of pottery anyways?” I asked. We were back in the museum, back where we’d first met, at the table covered with pottery from the Mount of Olives.
She smiled at me. “It was my mother’s idea actually. She knew that I’d grown interested in the Catholic faith, that I was studying all sorts of ruins from where it had all begun. So when she found this small collection in Germany–” She waved her hand over the table. “–and learned out that it had been reliably dated to around 2000 years ago, she just knew that I’d love to study it.”
“So your father bought it for you?” I almost couldn’t believe it, neither that such a thing could have existed in such relative obscurity or that her father would just drop how ever much on a whim like that.
“Daddy’s little girl.” Her smiled widened. “I think it was to make up for making us move around so much when I was growing up. He’d always felt that a more stable environment would have been better for me, even though I told him time and again that I loved it. Still, he had this tendency that whenever I would mention that I was interested in something, he would just buy it for me. Kind of annoying at times actually.”
I can’t imagine I thought dryly. Aloud, I said, “so what did you learn? By studying them?”
“Well, the original archaeologist that studied them were completely correct. They do date back 2000 years. And they were made within a hundred miles of Jerusalem.”
I whistled softly. “You can tell all of that?”
“If you know where to look.”
“And as an archaelogist…”
“I know where to look. It’s really interesting if you get into it, all you have to do is…”
I listened to her talk, half paying attention–it really was fascinating–and half looking down at the pottery. It was fascinating to think that these pieces had first been made two thousand years ago. That they had somehow managed to last all this time, traveling all over the world, only to end up right here, right now.
And to think, that they were from the same place and time as the birthplace of the Church. That maybe, just maybe, Jesus himself had used one of these pieces, maybe as a dinner plate, or a bowl. I briefly allowed myself to think that perhaps one of these pieces may even be something as special as the Holy Grail itself.
But no, I wouldn’t be so lucky. There were a number of pieces, bowls, plates, all of the like. But not a single cup. Ergo no Holy Grail. After all, one would think that if Jesus had been serving wine from a punch bowl, that might have been mentioned.
As Amira continued to explain the various methods for narrowing down the origin of the clay used in the pottery–something to do with different amounts of ash from various volcanoes–I stared down at the different pieces of pottery, willing them to give up their secrets, to let me glance back, if even for a second, into what it had been like back then.
As I did, I noted that one piece that didn’t fit with all of the rest. It was sitting there in the back, neatly tucked in behind a much larger bowl, such that I’d managed to completely miss it all of the days that I’d been here. That one piece in particular didn’t quite fit with all of the rest.
Sharply curved, longer than it was wide, Painted, with a series of long thin grooves cut down the sides. All the rest of the pieces in the collection were whole. Perhaps chipped here and there, but most would have been serviceable if one were desperate enough to press them back into use.
But somehow that one piece was still there.
I looked up at Amira, pointing at the piece in the back. “What can you tell me about that one?”