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Chapter 7

Which way? I ask Paul as the library fades behind us.

Toward the art museum, he says, hunched over to keep the bundle of cloths dry.

To get there we pass Murray-Dodge, a stony blister of a building in the thick of north campus. Inside, a student theater company is performing Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, the last play Charlie had to read in English 15lw, and the first one he and I will see together. We have tickets to Sunday night's show. Bubbling over the cauldronlike walls of the stage comes the voice of Thomasina, the thirteen-year-old prodigy of the play, who reminded me of Paul the first time I read it.

If you could stop every atom in its position and direction, she is saying, and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the future.

Yes, stammers her tutor, who is exhausted by the engine of her mind. Yes, as far as I know, you are the first person to have thought of this.

From a distance, the front entrance to the art museum appears to be open, a small miracle on a holiday night. The museum curators are a strange lot, half of them mousy as librarians, the other half moody as artists, and I get the impression most would rather let kindergartners fingerpaint on the Monets than let an undergrad into the museum when it wasn't strictly necessary.

McCormick Hall, home of the art history department, sits slightly in front of the museum proper, the wall of its entrance paneled in glass. As we approach, security guards eye us through the fishbowl. Like one of the avant-garde exhibits Katie took me to see, which I never understood, they have all the trappings of being real, but are perfectly, silently motionless. A sign on the door says meeting of Princeton art museum trustees. In smaller letters it adds: Museum. Closed to Public. I hesitate, but Paul barges in.

Richard, he calls out into the main hall.

A handful of patrons turn to gawk, but no familiar faces. Canvases punctuate the walls of the main floor, windows of color in this dreary white house. Reconstructed Greek vases sit on waist-high pillars in a nearby room.

Richard, Paul repeats, louder now.

Curry's bald head turns on its long, thick neck. He is tall and wiry, wearing a tailored pinstripe suit with a red tie. When he sees Paul walking toward him, the man's dark eyes are all affection. Curry's wife died more than ten years ago, childless, and he now looks on Paul as his only son.

Boys, he says warmly, extending his arms, as if we are half our ages. He turns to Paul. I didn't expect to see you so soon. I thought you wouldn't be done until later. What a nice surprise. His fingers are tickling his cufflinks, his eyes full of pleasure. He reaches over to shake Paul's outstretched hand.

How have you been?

We both smile. The energy in Curry's voice belies his age, but in other ways the hounds of time are closing in. Since I last saw him, only six months ago, signs of stiffness have crept into his movements, and the faintest hollow has formed behind the flesh of his face. Richard Curry is the owner of a large auction house in New York now, and the trustee of museums much bigger than this one-but according to Paul, after the Hypnerotomachia disappeared from his life, the career that replaced it never became more than a sideline, a campaign to forget what came before. No one seemed more surprised by his success, and less impressed by it, than Curry himself.

Ah, he says now, turning as if to introduce us to someone. Have you seen the paintings?

Behind him is a canvas I've never noticed before. Looking around, I realize the art on the walls is not what's usually here.

These aren't from the university collections, Paul says.

Curry smiles. No, not at all. Each of the trustees brought something for tonight. We made a bet to see which one of us could put the most paintings on loan to the museum.

Curry, the old football player, still has a residue in his speech of wagers and gambles and gentlemen's bets.

Who won? I ask.

The art museum, he says, deflecting the question. Princeton profits when we strive.

In the silence that follows, he scans the faces of the patrons who haven't fled the great hall after our interruption.

I was going to show you this after the trustees' meeting, he says to Paul, but there's no reason not to do it now.

He gestures for us to follow him, and begins walking toward a room to the left. I glance at Paul, wondering what he means, but Paul seems not to know.

George Carter, Sr., brought these two Curry says, showing us the artwork along the way. Two small prints by Durer sit in frames so old they have the texture of driftwood. And the Wolgemut on the far side. He points across the floor. The Philip Murrays brought those two very nice Mannerists.

Curry leads us into a second room, where late-twentieth-century art has been replaced by Impressionist paintings. The Wilson family brought four: a Bonnat, a small Manet, and two by Toulouse-Lautrec. He gives us time to study them. The Marquands added this Gauguin.

We travel across the main hall, and in the room of antiquities he says, Mary Knight brought only one, but it's a very large Roman bust, and she says it may become a permanent donation. Very generous.

What about yours? Paul asks.

Curry has brought us in a great circle through the first floor, back to the original room. This is mine, he says, waving his hand.

Which one? Paul asks.

All of them.

They exchange a look. The main hall contains more than a dozen works.

Come this way, Curry says to us, returning to a wall of paintings close to where we found him. These are the ones I want to show you.

He walks us before every canvas on the wall, one at a time, but says nothing.

What do they have in common? he asks, after letting us take them in.

I shake my head, but Paul sees it at once.

The subject. They're all the biblical story of Joseph.

Curry nods. Joseph Selling Wheat to the People he begins, pointing to the first. By Bartholomeus Breenbergh, about 1655.1 convinced the Barber Institute to lend it out.

He gives us a moment, then moves to the second painting. Joseph and his Brothers, by Franz Maulbertsch, 1750. Look at the obelisk in the background.

It reminds me of a print from the Hypnerotomachia I say.

Curry smiles. I thought the same thing at first. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a connection.

He walks us toward the third.

Pontormo, Paul says before Curry can even begin.

Yes. Joseph in Egypt.

How did you get this?

London wouldn't let it come directly to Princeton. I had to arrange it through the Met.

Curry is about to say something else, when Paul spots the final two paintings in the series. They are a pair of panels, several feet in size, rich with color. The emotion rises in his voice.

Andrea del Sarto. Stories of Joseph. I saw these in Florence.

Richard Curry is silent. He paid for Paul to spend our freshman summer in Italy researching the Hypnerotomachia, the only time Paul has ever left the country.

I have a friend at the Palazzo Pitti, Curry says, folding his hands over his chest. He has been very good to me. I have them on loan for a month.

Paul stands frozen for a minute, struck silent. His hair is matted to his head, still wet from the snow, but a smile forms on his lips as he turns back to the painting. It occurs to me, finally, after watching his reaction, that the canvases have been mounted in this order for a reason. They form a crescendo of significance only Paul can understand. Curry must have insisted on this arrangement, and the curators must have agreed to it, obliging the trustee who brought more art than all the others combined. The wall in front of us is a gift from Curry to Paul, a silent congratulation on the completion of his thesis.

Have you read Browning's poem on Andrea del Sarto? Curry asks, trying to put words to it.

I have, for a literature seminar, but Paul shakes his head.

You do what many dream of, all their lives, Curry says. Dream? Strive to do, and agonize to do, and fail in doing.

Paul finally turns and puts a hand on Curry's shoulder. It's then that he steps back and takes the bundle of cloths from beneath his shirt.

What's this? Curry asks.

Something Bill just brought me. Paul falters, and I sense he's unsure how Curry will react. He carefully unwraps the book. I think you should see it.

My diary, Curry says, stunned. He turns it over in his hands. I can't believe it

I'm going to use it, Paul says. To finish.

But Curry ignores him; as he looks down at the book, his smile disappears. Where did it come from?

From Bill.

You said that. Where did he find it?

Paul hesitates. An edge has entered Curry's voice.

In a bookstore in New York, I say. An antiquarian shop.

Impossible, the man mumbles. I looked for this book everywhere. Every library, every bookstore, every pawnshop in New York. All of the major auction houses. It was gone. For thirty years, Paul. It was gone.

He turns the pages, carefully scanning them with both his eyes and his hands. Yes, look. Here's the section I told you about. Colonna is mentioned here-he advances to another entry, then to another-and here. Abruptly he looks up. Bill didn't just stumble onto this tonight. Not the night before your work is due.

What do you mean?

What about the drawing? Curry demands. Bill gave you that too?

What drawing?

The piece of leather. Curry forms dimensions from his thumbs and index fingers, about one foot square. Tucked into the centerfold of the diary. There was a drawing on it. A blueprint.

It wasn't there, Paul says.

Curry turns the book in his hands again. His eyes have become cold and distant.

Richard, I have to return the diary to Bill tomorrow, Paul says. I'll read through it tonight. Maybe it can get me through the final section of the Hypnerotomachia.

Curry shakes himself back to the present. You haven't finished your work?

Paul's voice fills with anxiety. The last section isn't like the others.

But what about the deadline tomorrow?

When Paul says nothing, Curry runs his hand over the diary's cover, then relinquishes it. Finish. Don't compromise what you've earned. There's too much at stake.

I won't. I think I've almost found it. I'm very close.

If you need anything, just say so. An excavation permit. Surveyors. If it's there, we'll find it.

I glance at Paul, wondering what Curry means.

Paul smiles nervously. I don't need anything more. I'll find it on my own, now that I have the diary.

Just don't let it out of your sight. No one has done something like this before. Remember Browning. 'What many dream of, all their lives.'

Sir, comes a voice from behind us.

We turn to find a curator stepping in our direction.

Mr. Curry, the trustees' meeting is beginning soon. Could we ask you to move to the upstairs deck?

We'll talk about this more later, Curry says, reorienting himself. I don't know how long this meeting will be.

He pats Paul on the arm, shakes my hand, and then walks toward the stairs. When he ascends, we find ourselves alone with the guards.

I shouldn't have let him see it, Paul says, almost to himself, as we turn toward the door.

He pauses to take in the series of images one more time, forming a memory he can return to when the museum is closed. Then we find our way back outside.

Why would Bill lie about where he got the diary? I ask once we're in the snow again.

I don't think he would, Paul says.

Then what was Curry talking about?

If he knew more, he would've told us.

Maybe he didn't want to tell you while I was there.

Paul ignores me. There's a pretense he likes to keep up, that we are equals in Curry's eyes.

What did he mean when he said he'd help you get excavation permits? I ask.

Paul looks over his shoulder nervously at a student who has fallen in behind us. Not here, Tom.

I know better than to push him. After a long silence I say, Can you tell me why all the paintings had to do with Joseph?

Paul's expression lightens. Genesis thirty-seven. He pauses to call it up. Now Jacob loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a coat of many colors.

It takes me a second to understand. The gift of colors. The love of an aging father for his favorite son.

He's proud of you, I say.

Paul nods, But I'm not done. The work isn't finished.

It's not about that, I tell him.

Paul smiles thinly. Of course it is.

We make our way back to the dorm, and I notice an unpleasant quality to the sky: it's dark, but not perfectly black. The whole roof of it is shot with snow clouds from horizon to horizon, and they are a heavy, luminous gray. There isn't a star to be seen.

At the rear door to Dod, I realize we have no way in. Paul flags down a senior from upstairs, who gives us an odd look before lending us his ID card. A small pad registers its proximity with a beep, then unlocks the door with a sound like a shotgun being shucked. In the basement, two junior women are folding clothes on an open table, wearing T-shirts and tiny boxer shorts in the swelter of the laundry room. It never fails: walking through the laundry room in winter is like entering a desert mirage, air shivering with heat, bodies fantastic. When it's snowing outside, the sight of bare shoulders and legs is better than a shot of whiskey to get the blood pumping again. We're nowhere near Holder, but it feels like we've stumbled onto the waiting room for the Nude Olympics.

I climb to the first floor and head toward the north flank of the building, where our room is the final quad. Paul trails behind me, silent. The closer we get, the more I find myself thinking of the two letters on the coffee table again. Even Bill's discovery isn't enough to distract me. For weeks I've fallen asleep to the thought of what a person could do with forty-three thousand dollars a year. Fitzgerald wrote a short story once about a diamond the size of the Ritz, and in the moments before I doze off, when the proportions of things are in flux, I can imagine buying a ring with that diamond in it, for a woman just on the other side of the dream. Some nights I think of buying enchanted items, the way children do in games they play, like a car that would never crash, or a leg that would always heal. Charlie keeps me honest when I get carried away. He says I ought to buy a collection of very expensive platform shoes, or put a down payment on a house with low ceilings.

What are they doing? Paul says, pointing down the hall.

Standing side by side at the end of the corridor are Charlie and Gil. They're looking into the open doorway of our room, where someone is pacing inside. A second glance tells me everything: the campus police are here. Someone must've seen us coming out of the tunnels.

What's going on? Paul says, quickening his steps.

I hurry to follow him.

The proctor is sizing up something on our floor. I can hear Charlie and Gil arguing, but can't make out the words. Just as I start to prepare excuses for what we've done, Gil sees us coming and says, It's okay. Nothing was taken.

What?

He points toward the doorway. The room, I see now, is in disarray. Couch cushions are on the floor; books are thrown off shelves. In the bedroom I share with Paul, dresser drawers hang open.

Oh God Paul whispers, pushing between Charlie and me.

Someone broke in, Gil explains.

Someone walked in, Charlie corrects. The door was unlocked.

I turn to Gil, the last one out. For the past month Paul has asked us to keep the room tight while he finished his thesis. Gil is the only one who forgets.

Look, he says defensively, pointing at the window across the room. They came in through there. Not through the door.

A puddle of water has formed beneath a window by the north face of the common room. Its sash is thrown wide, and snow is gathering on the sill, swimming on the back of the wind. There are three huge slashes through the screen.

I step forward into my bedroom with Paul. His eyes are running along the edge of his desk drawers, rising toward the library books mounted on a wall shelf Charlie built him. The books are gone. His head shifts back and forth, searching. His breathing is loud. For an instant we're back in the tunnels; nothing is familiar but the voices.

It doesn't matter, Charlie. That's not how they got in.

It doesn't matter to you, because they didn't take anything of yours.

The proctor is still pacing through the common room.

Someone must've known Paul mumbles to himself.

Look down here, I say, pointing at the lower mattress on the bunk.

Paul turns. The books are safe. Hands shaking, he begins to check the titles.

I pad through my own belongings, finding almost everything untouched. The dust has hardly been disturbed. Someone rifled through my papers, but only a framed reproduction of the Hypnerotomachia's title page, a gift from my father, has been taken off the wall and opened. One corner is bent, but otherwise it's undamaged. I hold it in my hands. Looking around, I spot a single book of mine out of place: the galley proof of The Belladonna Letter, before my father decided The Belladonna Document had a nicer ring to it.

Gil steps into the foyer between the bedrooms and calls to us. They didn't touch anything of Charlie's or mine. What about you guys?

There's a spot of guilt in his voice, a hopefulness that despite the mess, nothing is gone.

When I look in his direction, I notice what he means. The other bedroom is pristine.

My stuff's fine, I tell him.

They didn't find anything, Paul says to me.

Before I can ask what he means, a voice interrupts from the foyer.

Could I ask you two a few questions?

The proctor, a woman with leathery skin and curled hair, takes a slow look at us as we appear, snow-soaked, from the corners of the room. The sight of Katie's sweatpants on Paul, and of Katie's synchronized swimming shirt on me, catches her attention. The woman, identified as Lieutenant Williams by the tag on her breast pocket, pulls a steno pad from her coat.

You two are?

Tom Sullivan, I say. He's Paul Harris.

Was anything of yours taken?

Paul's eyes are still searching his room, ignoring the proctor.

We don't know, I say.

She glances up. Have you looked around?

We haven't noticed anything missing yet.

Who was the last person to leave the room tonight?

Why?

Williams clears her throat. Because we know who left the door unlocked, but not who left the window open.

She lingers over the words door and window, reminding us of how we brought this on ourselves.

Paul notices the window for the first time. His color fades. It must've been me. It was so hot in the bedroom, and Tom didn't want the window open. I came out here to work and I must've forgotten to shut it.

Look, Gil says to the proctor, seeing she's not trying to help, can we finish this up? I don't think there's anything else to see.

Without waiting for an answer, he forces the window shut and leads Paul to the couch, sitting beside him.

The proctor makes a final scribble in her pad. Window open, door unlocked. Nothing taken. Anything else?

We're all silent.

Williams shakes her head. Burglaries are hard to resolve, she says, as if she's wrestling with our high expectations. We'll report it to the borough police. Next time, lock up before you leave. You might save yourself some trouble. We'll be in touch if we have any more information.

She trudges toward the exit, boots squeaking at each step. The door swings shut on its own.

I walk over to the window for another look. The melted snow on the floor is perfectly clear.

They're not going to do a thing, Charlie says, shaking his head.

It's okay, Gil says. Nothing was stolen.

Paul is silent, but his eyes are still scanning the room.

I raise the sash, letting the wind rush into the room again. Gil turns to me, annoyed, but I'm staring at the cuts in the screen. They follow the border of the frame on three sides, leaving the material to flap in the wind like a dog door. I look down at the floor again. The only mud is from my shoes.

Tom, Gil calls back to me, shut the damned window. Now Paul turns to look as well.

The flap is pushed out, as if someone left through the window. But something's wrong. The proctor never bothered to notice it.

Come look at this, I say, running my fingers over the fibers of the screen at the edge of each cut. Like the flap, all of the incisions point outward. If someone had cut the screen to get in, the sliced edges would point toward us.

Charlie is already glancing around the room.

There's no mud either, he says, pointing to the puddle on the floor.

He and Gil exchange a look, which Gil seems to take as an accusation. If the screen was cut from inside, then we're back to the unlocked door.

That doesn't make sense, Gil says. If they knew the door was open, they wouldn't leave through the window.

It doesn't make sense anyway, I tell him. Once you're inside, you can always leave through the door.

We should tell the proctors about this, Charlie says, gearing up again. I can't believe she didn't even look for it.

Paul says nothing, but runs a hand across the diary.

I turn to him. You still going to Taft's lecture?

I guess. It doesn't start for almost an hour.

Charlie is placing books back on the top shelves, where only he can reach. I'll stop by Stanhope on the way, he says. To tell the proctors what they missed.

It was probably a prank, Gil says to no one in particular. Nude Olympians having some fun.

After a few more minutes of picking up, we all seem to decide that enough is enough. Gil begins changing into a pair of wool trousers, throwing Katie's dress shirt into a bag of dry cleaning. We could get a bite to eat at Ivy on the way.

Paul nods, leafing through his copy of Braudel's Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, as if pages might've been stolen. I need to check on my stuff at the club.

You guys might want to change, Gil adds, looking us over.

Paul is too preoccupied to hear him, but I know what Gil means, so I return to the bedroom. Ivy isn't the sort of place I'd be caught dead dressed like this. Only Paul, a shadow in his own club, lives by different rules.

What dawns on me as I check my drawers is that nearly all of my clothes are dirty. Rummaging in the far back of my closet, I find a rolled-up pair of khakis and a shirt that's been folded for so long that the folds have become creases, and the creases pleats. I search for my winter jacket, then realize it's still hanging from Charlie's duffel bag in the steam tunnels. Settling for the coat my mother bought me for Christmas, I head into the common room, where Paul is sitting by the window, eyes on the bookshelves, puzzling something out.

Are you bringing the diary with you? I ask.

He pats the bundle of rags in his lap and nods.

Where's Charlie? I say, looking around.

Already gone, Gil tells me, guiding us out to the hall. To see the proctors.

He takes the keys to his Saab and places them inside his coat. Before closing the door behind us, he checks his pockets.

Room keys car keys ID

He's so careful, it makes me uneasy. It isn't Gil's way to concern himself with details. Staring back into the common room, I see my two letters sitting on the table. Then Gil locks the door with the same odd precision, rolling the knob in his palm twice afterward to be sure that it yields nothing. We walk toward his car, and now the silence is heavy. As he revs the engine, proctors shift in the distance, shadows of shadows. We watch them for a second, then Gil jerks the gearshift and brings us gliding into the darkness.


Chapter 6 | The Rule of Four | Chapter 8