Every hallway in Dod is empty as Gil and I return to the room, numbed by the long walk north from the parking lot. An airy silence prevails throughout the building. Between the Nude Olympics and the Easter festivities, every soul is accounted for.
I turn on the television for word of what's happened. The local networks carry the Nude Olympics on the late news, after there's been time to edit the footage, and the runners in Holder Courtyard float across the screen in a blur of whites, blinking under the glass like fireflies trapped in a jar.
At last the female news anchor returns to the screen.
We have breaking news on our top story.
Gil emerges from his bedroom to listen.
Earlier tonight we reported to you about what may be a related incident at Princeton University. At this hour the accident at Dickinson Hall, which some witnesses describe as a fraternity stunt gone wrong, has taken a tragic turn. Officials at Princeton Medical Center confirm that the man, reportedly a university student, has died. In a prepared statement, Borough Police Chief Daniel Stout repeated that investigators would continue to examine the possibility that, quote, nonaccidental factors had played a role. In the meantime, university administrators are asking students to remain in their rooms, or to travel in groups if they need to be outside tonight.
In the studio, the anchor turns to her cohost. Clearly a difficult situation, given what we saw earlier at Holder Hall. Returning to the camera, she adds, We'll be coming back to this story later in the hour.
He died? Gil repeats, unable to believe it. But I thought Charlie… He lets the thought trail off.
A university student, I say.
Gil looks up at me after a long silence. Don't think like that, Tom. Charlie would've called.
Against the far wall, the framed picture I bought for Katie sits at an uncomfortable cant. I dial Taft's office, just as Gil returns from his bedroom and hands me a bottle of wine.
What's this? I ask.
The phone at the Institute rings over and over. Nothing.
Gil steps toward the makeshift bar he keeps in the corner of the room, grabbing two wineglasses and a corkscrew. I need to relax.
There's still no answer at Taft's, so I reluctantly put down the receiver. I'm just about to tell Gil how sick I feel, when I glance over and realize that he looks even worse.
What's wrong? I ask.
He tops the glasses off. Taking one in his hand, he raises it to me, then takes a sip.
Have some, he says. It's good.
Sure, I say, wondering if he just wants someone to drink with. But the thought of wine is turning my stomach.
He waits, so I nip at my share. The burgundy stings going down, but it has the opposite effect on Gil. The more he's got in him, the better he starts to look.
I tip my glass back. Snow rolls across the pools of light from the post lanterns in the distance. Gil drains his second glass.
Take it easy, chief, I say, trying to sound nice about it. You don't want to have a hangover at the ball.
Yeah, right, he says. I have to be at the caterer's tomorrow by nine. I should've told them I don't even go to class that early.
It comes out sharp, and Gil seems to catch himself. Picking up the remote from the floor, he says, Let's see if there's anything else on.
Three different networks are broadcasting from somewhere on campus, but when there doesn't seem to be any new information, Gil gets up and starts a movie.
Roman Holiday, he says, sitting back down. A distant ease comes over his face. Audrey Hepburn again. He puts down the wine.
The longer the movie stays on, the more I find that Gil is right. No matter how heavy my thoughts are, sooner or later I keep coming back to Audrey. I can't get my eyes off her.
After a while, Gil's focus seems to cloud over a little. The wine, I guess. But when he rubs his forehead and focuses a second too long on his hands, I sense there's more to it. Maybe he's thinking of Anna, who broke up with him while I was at home. Thesis deadlines and planning the ball undid them, Charlie told me, but Gil never wanted to talk about it. Anna was a mystery to us from the beginning; he almost never brought her to the room, though at Ivy, I'd heard, they were never apart. She was the first of his girlfriends who couldn't recognize which one of us was picking up the phone, the first who sometimes forgot Paul's name, and she never stopped by the room if she knew Gil wasn't there.
You know who looks a little like Audrey Hepburn? Gil asks suddenly, catching me off guard.
Who? I say, dialing Taft's office again.
He surprises me. Katie.
What made you think of that?
I don't know. I was watching you two tonight. You're great together.
He says it as if he's trying to remind himself of something dependable. I want to tell him that Katie and I have had our ups and downs too, that he's not the only one who struggles in a relationship, but it would be the wrong thing to say.
She's your type, Tom, he goes on. She's smart. I don't even understand what she's saying half the time.
I hang up the phone when there's still no answer. Where is he? He'll call. Gil takes a long breath, trying to ignore the possibilities. How long's it been with Katie?
Next Wednesday makes four months for us.
Gil shakes his head. He's broken up three times since Katie and I met. Do you ever wonder if she's the one? It's the first time anyone has asked that question. Sometimes. I wish we had more time. I worry about next year. You should hear how she talks about you. It's like you've known each other since you were kids. What do you mean?
I found her at Ivy once, taping a basketball game for you on the TV upstairs. She said it was because you and your dad used to go to the Michigan-Ohio State game together.
I hadn't even asked her to do it. Until we met, she'd never followed basketball.
You're lucky, he says. I nod my agreement.
We talk a little more about Katie, then Gil slowly returns to Audrey. His expression lightens, but eventually I can see the old thoughts return. Paul. Anna. The ball. Before long he reaches for the bottle. I'm just about to suggest that he's had enough to drink, when a dragging sound comes from the hallway. The outside door opens, and Charlie stands in the sallow light of the hall. He looks bad. There are blood-colored stains on the cuffs of his clothes. You okay? Gil asks, standing up.
We've got to talk, Charlie says, with an edge to his voice. Gil mutes the television.
Charlie goes to the refrigerator and pulls out a bottle of water. He drinks half of it, then pours some over his hands to wet his face. His focus is unsteady. Finally he sits down and says, The man who fell from Dickinson was Bill Stein.
Jesus, Gil whispers.
I feel myself go cold. I don't understand.
Charlie confirms it by the look on his face. He was in his office in the history department. Someone came in and shot him.
They don't know.
What do you mean, they don't know?
A beat of silence passes. Charlie focuses on me. What was that pager message about? What did Bill Stein want from Paul?
I told you. He wanted to give Paul a book he found. I can't believe this, Charlie.
He didn't say anything else? Where he was going? Who he was going to see?
I shake my head. Then, slowly, it returns to me, what I'd mistaken for paranoia: the phone calls Bill had gotten, the books someone else was checking out. A wave of fear descends on me as I tell them.
Shit, Charlie grumbles. He reaches for the phone.
What are you doing? Gil asks.
The police are going to want to talk to you, Charlie tells me. Where's Paul?
Jesus. I don't know, but we've got to find him, I keep trying Taft's office at the Institute. There's no answer.
Charlie looks at us impatiently.
He'll be fine, Gil says, and I can hear the wine talking. Calm down.
I wasn't talking to you, Charlie snaps.
Maybe he's at Taft's house, I suggest. Or Taft's office on campus.
The cops will find him when they need to, Gil says, face hardening. We should stay out of this.
Charlie turns. Two of us are already in this.
Gil scoffs. Give me a break, Charlie. Since when are you in this?
Not me, you prick. Tom and Paul. There's more to us than just you.
Don't get sanctimonious on me. I'm sick of you butting into everyone else's problems.
Charlie leans forward, lifts the bottle from the table, and throws it in the trash. You've had enough.
For a second I'm afraid the wine is going to make Gil say something we'll all regret. But after glaring at Charlie, he rises from the couch. Christ, he says. I'm going to bed.
I watch him retreat into the bedroom without another word. A second later, the light beneath the door falls dark.
Minutes pass, and they feel like hours. I try the Institute again, but with no luck, so Charlie and I sit in the common room for the duration, neither one speaking. My mind is moving too quickly to make sense of my own thoughts. I stare out the window, and Stein's voice climbs back into my thoughts.
I get these phone calls. Pick up… click. Pick up… click.
Finally Charlie rises. Finding a towel in the closet, he starts to put his bathroom caddy in order. Without a word he heads out the door in his boxer shorts. The men's bathroom is down the hall, and there are half a dozen upperclass women living between it and our quad, but Charlie marches out anyway, towel wrapped around his neck like an oxbow, caddy in hand.
Sitting back on the couch, I reach for today's Daily Princetonian. To distract myself, I flip through the pages, searching for a photo credit of Katie's somewhere in the nether corners of the paper, where underclass contributions go to die. I'm always curious about the pictures she takes, the new subjects she chooses, the ones she thinks are too unimportant to mention. After dating someone long enough, you start to imagine she sees everything the same way you do. Katie's photos are a corrective, a glimpse of the world through her eyes.
Before long a sound comes at the door, Charlie returning from the shower. But when a key strikes in the outside lock, I realize it's someone else. The door swings open and it's Paul who enters the room. His face is pale, and his lips are blue from the cold.
Are you okay? I ask.
Charlie arrives back just in time. Where have you been} he demands. It takes us fifteen minutes to get the details from Paul, given his state.
After leaving the lecture, he went to the Institute and searched for Bill Stein in the computer lab there. An hour later, when Stein failed to appear, Paul decided to go back to the dorm. He started the trip in his car, only to have it quit at a stoplight about a mile from campus; then he had to walk back in the snow.
The rest of the night, he says, is a blur. He arrived at the north of campus to find police cars near Bill's office at Dickinson. After asking enough questions, he was driven to the medical center, where someone asked him to identify the body. Tart showed up at the hospital not long after, giving a second identification, but before he and Paul could speak, officers separated them for questioning. The police wanted to know about his relationship with Stein and Taft, about the last time he saw Bill, about where he was at the time of the murder. Paul cooperated in a daze. When they finally released him, they asked him not to leave campus, and said they'd be in touch. Eventually he made his way toward Dod, but stayed on the outside steps for a while, just wanting to be alone.
Finally, we discuss the conversation we had with Stein in the Rare Books Room, which Paul says the police took down in full. As he talks about Bill, about how agitated Stein was at the library, about the friend he's lost, Paul gives little sign of emotion. He still hasn't recovered from the shock.
Tom, he says finally, when we're back in our bedroom, I need a favor.
Of course, I say. Name it.
I need you to come with me.
I hesitate. Where?
The art museum.
He's changing into a dry set of clothes.
Paul rubs at his forehead, working out an ache. I'll explain on the way.
When we return to the common room, Charlie looks at us like we've lost our minds. At this hour? he asks. The museum's closed.
I know what I'm doing, Paul says, already making for the hallway.
Charlie gives me a heavy look, but says nothing as I follow Paul out the door.
The art museum sits like an old Mediterranean palace across the courtyard from Dod. From the front, where we entered a few hours earlier, it's just a stumpy modern building with a Picasso sculpture on the front lawn that looks like a glorified birdbath. When you approach from the side, though, the newer elements give way to older ones, pretty windows in little Romanesque arches, and red roof-tiles that peek out beneath tonight's canopy of snow. Under different circumstances, the view from here would be charming. Under different circumstances, it might be a picture Katie would take.
What are we doing? I ask.
Paul is trudging a path before me in his old workman's boots.
I found what Richard thought was in the diary, he says.
It sounds like the middle of a thought whose beginning he's kept to himself.
He shakes his head. I'll show you when we get inside.
I'm walking in his footsteps now to keep the snow out of my pant legs. My eyes keep returning to his boots. Paul worked at the museum loading docks our freshman summer, moving incoming and outgoing exhibits onto trucks. The boots were a necessity then, but tonight they leave dirty tracks in the moon-white of the courtyard. He looks like a boy in men's shoes.
We arrive at a door by the west face of the museum. Beside it is a tiny keypad. Paul dials in his docent's password and waits to see if it works. He used to give tours at the art museum, but finally had to take a job in the slide library because the docents weren't paid.
To my surprise, the door opens with a beep and a whisper of a click. I'm so used to the medieval-sounding bolts of the dorm doors, I almost don't hear it. He leads me into a small antechamber, a security room supervised by a guard behind a plate-glass window, and suddenly I feel trapped. After signing a visitation form on a clipboard, though, and pressing our university IDs against the glass, we're cleared to enter the docent's library beyond the next door.
That's it? I say, expecting more of a shakedown at this hour.
Paul points to a video camera on the wall, but says nothing.
The docent's library is unimpressive-a few shelves of art history books donated by other guides to help prepare for tours-but Paul continues toward an elevator around the corner. A large sign posted on the sliding metal doors says faculty, staff, and security only, students and docents NOT permitted without escort. The words students and docents have both been underlined in red.
Paul is looking somewhere else. He pulls a key ring from his pocket and plugs one of them into a slot in the wall. When he turns it to the right, the metal doors slide open.
Where'd you get that?
He leads me into the elevator, then presses a button. My job, he says.
The slide library gives him access to archival rooms in the museum. He is so careful about his work that he has earned almost everyone's trust.
Where are we going? I say.
Up to the image room. Where Vincent keeps some of his slide carousels.
The elevator discharges us on the main floor of the museum. Paul guides me across it, ignoring the paintings he's pointed out to me a dozen times before-the vast Rubens with its dark-browed Jupiter, the unfinished Death of Socrates with the old philosopher reaching for his cup of hemlock. Only when we pass the paintings Curry brought for the trustees1 exhibit do Paul's eyes wander.
We reach the door to the slide library, and he produces the keys again. One of them shifts quietly into place, and we enter the darkness.
Over here, he says, pointing toward an aisle of shelves lined with dusty boxes. Each box contains a slide carousel. Behind another locked door, in a large room I've seen only once, rests much of the university's collection of art slides.
Paul finds the set of boxes he's been searching for, then lifts one from the stack and places it on the shelf before him. A note taped to the side, written in a sloppy hand, says MAPS: ROME. He takes the top off and carries the box to the small open space near the entrance. From another shelf he produces a slide projector, which he plugs into a wall socket near the ground. Finally, with the flick of a switch, a blurry image appears on the opposite wall. Paul adjusts the focus until it sharpens into position.
Okay, I say. Now tell me what we're doing here.
What if Richard was right? he says. What if Vincent stole the diary from him thirty years ago?
He probably did. What does it matter now?
Paul brings me up to speed. Imagine you're in Vincent's position. Richard keeps telling you the diary is the only way to understand the Hypnerotomachia. You think he's blowing smoke, just a college kid with an art history degree. Then someone else shows up. Another scholar.
Paul says it with a certain respect. I gather he's referring to my father.
Suddenly you're the odd man out. Both of them say the diary is the answer. But you've painted yourself into a corner. You've told Richard the diary is useless, that the portmaster was a charlatan. And more than anything, you hate being wrong. What do you do now?
Paul is trying to convince me of a possibility I've never had trouble accepting: that Vincent Taft is a thief.
I get it, I say. Goon.
So you somehow steal the diary. But you can't make anything of it, because you've been looking at the Hypnerotomachia all wrong. Without the ciphered messages from Francesco, you don't know what to do with the diary. What then?
I don't know.
You're not going to throw it away, he says, ignoring me, just because you don't understand it.
I nod my agreement.
So you keep it. Somewhere safe. Maybe the lockbox in your office.
Or in your house.
Right. Then, years later, this kid comes along, and he and his friend start making progress on the Hypnerotomacbia. More than you expected. In fact, more than you made in your prime. He starts finding the messages from Francesco.
You start thinking the diary might be useful after all.
And you don't tell the kid about it, because then he would know you stole it.
But, Paul continues, arriving at his point, say one day someone found it.
Paul nods. He was always in Vincent's office, at Vincent's house, helping with all the little projects Vincent made him do. And he knew what the diary meant. If he'd found it, he wouldn't have just put it back.
He would've brought it to you.
Right. And we turned around and showed it to Richard. Then Richard confronted Vincent at the lecture.
I'm skeptical. But wouldn't Taft have realized it was gone before that?
Of course. He had to know Bill took it. But what do you think his reaction was when he realized Richard knew about it too? The first thing on his mind would've been to go find Bill.
Now I understand. You think he went to Stein's office after the lecture.
Was Vincent at the reception?
I take it as a rhetorical question until I remember Paul wasn't there; he'd already left to find Stein.
Not that I saw.
There's a hallway connecting Dickinson and the auditorium, he says. Vincent didn't even have to leave the building to get there.
Paul lets it sink in. The possibility drifts through my thoughts clumsily, tethered to a thousand other details. You really think Taft killed him? I ask. A strange silhouette forms from the shadows of the room, Epp Lang burying a dog beneath a tree.
Paul stares at the black contours projected on the wall. I think he's capable of it.
Out of anger?
I don't know. But he already seems to have been through all of the scenarios in his mind. Listen, he says, when I was waiting for Bill at the Institute, I started reading the diary more carefully, looking for every mention of Francesco.
He flips it open and inside the front cover is a page of notes he's made on Institute stationery.
I found the entry where the portmaster records the set of directions the thief copied from Francesco's papers. Genovese says they were written on an empty scrap of paper, and must've formed some kind of nautical route, something about the path Francesco's ship took. The portmaster tried to figure out where the cargo must've come from by working backward from Genoa.
When Paul unfolds the stationery, I can see a pattern of arrows drawn near a compass.
These are the directions. They're in Latin. They say: Four south, ten east, two north, six west. Then they say De Stadio.
What's De Stadia?
Paul smiles. I think that's the key. The portmaster took it to his cousin, who told him De Stadio was the scale that went with the directions. It can be translated 'Of Stadia,' meaning the directions are measured in stadia.
I don't get it.
The stadium is a unit of measurement from the ancient world, based on the length of a footrace in the Greek Olympics. That's where we get our modern word. About six hundred feet is one stadium, so there are between eight and ten stadia in a mile.
So four south means four stadia south.
Then ten east, two north, and six west. It's all four directions. Does it remind you of something?
It does: in his final riddle, Colonna referred to what he called a Rule of Four, a device that would lead readers to his secret crypt. But we gave up on finding it when the text itself failed to produce anything remotely geographical.
You think that's it? Those four directions?
Paul nods. But the portmaster was looking for something on a much bigger scale, a voyage of hundreds and hundreds of miles. If Francesco's directions are in stadia, then the ship couldn't have originated in France or the Netherlands. It must've started its trip about half a mile southeast of Genoa. The portmaster knew that couldn't be right.
I can see Paul's giddiness, thinking he's done the portmaster one better. You're saying the directions were meant for something else.
He hardly pauses. De Stadio doesn't just have to mean 'Of Stadia.' De could also mean 'from.'
He looks at me expectantly, but the beauty of this new translation is lost on me.
Maybe the measurements aren't just of stadia, or measured in those units, he says. Maybe they're also taken from— a stadium. A stadium could be the starting point. De Stadio could have a double meaning-you follow the directions from, a physical stadium building, in stadia units.
The map of Rome projected on the wall is coming into focus. The city-is littered with ancient arenas. Colonna would've known it better than any city in the world.
It solves the scale problem the portmaster had, Paul continues. You can't measure the distance between countries in a few stadia. But you can measure the distance across a city that way. Pliny says the circumference of the Roman city walls in a.d. 75 was about thirteen miles. The entire city was maybe twenty-five or thirty stadia across.
You think that will lead us to the crypt? I ask.
Francesco talks about building where no one can see. He doesn't want anyone to know what's inside it. This may be the only way to find the location.
Months of speculation return to me. We spent many nights wondering why Colonna would build his crypt out in the Roman forests, hidden from his family and friends, but Paul and I never agreed about our conclusions.
What if the crypt is more than we thought? he says. What if the location is the secret?
Then what's inside it? I say, reviving the question.
Paul's demeanor changes to frustration. I don't know, Tom. I still haven't figured it out.
'Tin just saying, don't you think Colonna would've-
Told us what was in the crypt? Of course. But the entire second half of the book depends on the last cipher, and I can't solve it. Not alone. So this diary is it. Okay?
I back off.
So all we have to do, Paul goes on, is look at a few of these maps. We start at the major stadium areas-the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, and so on-and move four stadia south, ten east, two north, and six west. If any of those locations is in what would've been a forest in Colonna's time, we mark it.
Let's look, I say.
Paul presses the Advance button, shifting through a series of maps made in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They have the quality of architectural caricatures, buildings drawn out of proportion with their surroundings, crowded up against each other until the spaces in between are impossible to judge.
How are we going to measure distances on those? I ask.
He answers me by pumping the hand control several more times. After three or four more Renaissance maps, a modern one appears. The city looks more like the one I remember from travel books my father gave me before our trip to the Vatican. The Aurelian Wall on the north, east, and south and the Tiber River on the west create the profile of an old woman's head facing the rest of Italy. The church of San Lorenzo, where Colonna had the two men killed, hovers like a fly just beyond the arch of the old woman's nose.
This one has the right scale on it, Paul says, pointing to the measurements in the upper-left corner. Eight stadia are marked along a single line, labeled ancient roman mile.
He walks toward the image on the wall and places his hand beside the scale. From the base of his palm to the tip of his middle finger, he covers the full eight stadia.
Let's start with the Coliseum. He kneels on the floor and places his hand near a dark oval in the middle of the map, near the old woman's cheek. Four south, he says, moving a palm-length down, and ten east. He moves one full hand-length across, then adds half an index finger. Then two north and six west.
When he finishes, he's pointing to a spot labeled M. CELIUS on the map.
You think that's where it is?
Not there, he says, deflated. Pointing to a dark circle on the map just southwest of his finishing point, he says, Right over here is a church. San Stefano Rotondo. He shifts his finger northeast. This is another one, Santi Quattro Coronati. And here-he moves the finger southeast-is Saint John Lateran, where the popes lived until the fourteenth century. If Francesco had built his crypt here, he would've done it within a quarter mile of three different churches. No way.
He begins again. The Circus Flaminius, he says. This map is old. I think Gatti placed it closer to here. He moves his finger closer to the river, then repeats the directions.
Good or bad? I say, staring at the location, somewhere atop the Palatine Hill.
He frowns. Bad. This is almost right in the middle of San Teodoro.
You're sure Colonna wouldn't have built it near a church?
He looks at me as if I've forgotten the cardinal rule. Every message says he's terrified of being caught by the zealots. The 'men of God.' How do you interpret that?
Losing patience, he tries two other possibilities-the Circus of Hadrian and the old Circus of Nero, over which the Vatican was built-but in both cases, the rectangle of twenty-two stadia lands him almost in the middle of the Tiber River.
There's a stadium in every corner of this map, I tell him. Why don't we think about where the crypt could be, then work backward to see if there's a stadium near it?
He mulls it over. I'd have to check some of my other atlases at Ivy.
We can come back here tomorrow.
Paul, whose supply of optimism is thinning, eyes the map a moment longer, then nods. Colonna has beat him again. Even the spying portmaster was outwitted.
What now? I ask.
He buttons his coat, turning off the projector. I want to check Bill's desk in the library downstairs. He returns the slide machine to its shelf, trying to leave everything where he found it.
To see if anything else from the diary is there. Richard insists there was a blueprint folded inside it.
He opens the door and holds it for me, checking the room before locking it up.
You have a key for the library?
He shakes his head. Bill told me the punch code for the stairwell.
We return into the darkness of the hallway, where Paul leads me down the corridor. Orange security lights wink in the darkness like airplanes crossing at night. We come to a door leading to a stairwell. Below the knob is a box with five numbered buttons. Paul thinks for a second, then begins to punch a short sequence. As the knob unlocks in his hand, both of us freeze. In the silence we can hear something shuffling.