Monday, 6 September 2004
No sleep came for Gus that night, and anxious calls ensured brother and sister shared his insomnia. Examining the place while he cleaned failed to help relax him. Nothing seemed missing or broken and there was little disorder overall, considering. But everything seemed ever so slightly askew. Whether the place had been searched, or guests at the wake had pawed through the drawers, or he was just paranoid, he couldn’t say.
The next morning, Skip and Allie came and listened again while Gus repeated the whole story, gathered around the big sandbox in the main room. The museum’s display cases, filled with everything from astrolabes to zebra-skin shields, were untouched. Elaborate dioramas and cityscapes along the walls weren’t bothered either. Carved staves, spears, banners, even a Chinese halberd piled in the corners, looked as ready as ever to fall at any moment.
“The first symbol there I know: it’s one of the signs for the Holy Tub,” Gus said pointing at the dirt. The figure was not remarkable. It consisted of the letter “P” with a low crossbar above a short, wide “U”-shape below.
“You saw the new mark outside,” Gus said. “It’s not the same as the one before Dad died. Nigel sent me the picture, but I remember it well. And here it is again. See?” He tossed the print of the first mark on the sand. It matched the one at the end.
“Huh.” Skip blew on his coffee. “For a warning, the thing doesn’t look sinister to me, more like a fat scarecrow.”
Allie needed just a single glance. “It’s the Scolding Madonna, silly, a simple version. I saw a number of variations of the symbol in Mom’s notes. Either that, or the goddess Tanit.”
“Tanit, the Phoenician love goddess?” Gus’ eyes widened behind his glasses. “Are you suggesting there’s an ancient Near Eastern baby-killing sex cult involved here?”
Allie snorted. “I wouldn’t call Holy Mother Church that,” she chuckled. “But it does sound just like what they called the Endurists. Easy, Gus. Relax; it’s just the Blessed Virgin Mary. See, she’s holding a torch up in one hand and gesturing with the other.”
Her brother was still touchy. “Sorry, after running into that Jesus dude, I’m ready to consider anything. He spoke of the Unknown Guardians of the Holy Tub as if he knew beyond any doubt that they were real. Endurists, too.”
“Endurists?” Skip laughed. “After all this time? Even if they were, who could be threatened by a group of people whose main interest is in beating themselves up?”
“Don’t fret, big brother,” Allie said. “Sounds like he was just trying to spook you.”
“Worked like a charm,” Gus spread his hands. “When I joked that Endurists might hide in the bushes, Se�or Jes�s told me in no uncertain terms I didn’t know what I was talking about. Sounded dead serious, too.
“Maybe the guy wasn’t lying about the Unknown Guardians. Dad’s sure not the first to have died in odd circumstances.” Gus shook his head. “But he also said signs could have been left as a warning or a red herring.”
“Something doesn’t make sense,” Allie asked. “How could he or this Count guy save us unless they’re also in on it? It’s like they’re selling protection.”
“Beats me. I just know Doc told me to cover the thing,” Gus said. Pointing again at the sand tray, “What’s this one? It looks familiar.”
The figure in the center was composed of two opposite spirals joined by a straight line, like a long, decorative S.
“It looks a bit like the one out there now, but they’re not the same. From what the man said, the one outside is supposed to signify the Count’s associates, whoever they are.” He put the print of the sign next to it. The spirals were somewhat alike except in number and direction.
“This has two spirals, the one on the sign, three.” Allie said. “The one outside’s a trefoil. To get technical, I’d call it a disjointed fylfot or triskelion: three whorls which don’t connect but converge at a central point.”
Skip chuckled. “You artists. Looks like three question marks sharing the dot to me.”
“Oh yeah, guess so. Huh.” She paused. “But notice how precisely drawn these signs are. Whoever did them wasn’t doodling but sending a message.”
“Whom to, us or somebody else? Last night I went through everything I could find on symbols, hieroglyphics, hobo signs; Dad’s treatise on Spanish mine ciphers�” Gus continued, sounding tired. “The double spiral in the middle looks so familiar somehow.”
“Like a scroll?” Allie asked, smiling. Gus groaned. “Oh hell, why didn’t I think of that? It’s the logo for the Studiorum Scholasticum at the University library.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” she said. “But what in God’s Name does it mean?” Gus complained. “The Holy Tub, the Studiorum, and the Scolding Madonna? Is this a warning or a clue?”
“I’m sure of one thing,” Allie said.
“Right,” Skip agreed, nodding. “If this involves the library, we better visit Aunt Imelda.”