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III. SECRETS OF THE IVORY TOWER


Chapter 7

Gus answered. “Bro, you’ve been made: time to go,” Skip whispered. “Blue meanies are on their way. Oh, and looks like your buddy Jesus is here, too.”

“Damn! Okay, Plan B.” The line went dead as Gus hurried towards the exit.

“Bye, Professor, it’s been fun,” Gus called behind him. He tossed the font keyfob to one of the scholars, who started applying it to door after door.

Gus reached the exit. “Pardon me, sir, I must go. Kooms is coming with the cops.”

“Not so fast.” The ancient doorkeeper stood his ground. “Where do you think you’re going with that?” he demanded, pointing at the box Gus clutched.

“To make a copy,” he explained. “Honest, that’s all I want.”

“The first rule is: ‘Nothing leaves the Studiorum’,” the elderly academic declared, grabbing the box. “Nothing. What you learn here stays here. Thief! Intellectual robbery!”

That got the attention of the few scholars still in the reading room. Sudden confusion erupted behind him. Gus ripped the box from the old man’s hands, beating off the pawing grasp of several others. He stumbled through the door, slamming it shut behind him, and looked around.

Several student waiters setting up tables for the Christmas party stopped work and stared at him as a chime announced the arrival of the main elevator.

Gus dived behind the antechamber door as it opened. Angry academics boiled out the door of the Studiorum. The door of the Robing Room also flew open. A red-faced nun entered the lobby, followed by two pimply-faced young university cops close behind. “What’s all this?” she shouted, raising her fists.

The confused mob of intellectuals halted in terror as if confronted by the Scolding Madonna herself. “Back,” she yelled, striking at them. “Bad scholars, bad! Return to your seats at once or there will be no party!” the nun shouted. They scrambled back inside the institute.

Unseen, Gus slipped through the door of the Robing Room, propping a chair against the handle. He stood on another chair to cover the camera with his mortarboard. Ripping off the robes, he punched the button of the elevator. It took forever to arrive. Gus leapt in. He exited the next floor below, pausing to jab every button first.

Meanwhile, Skip pulled his hat and hood around his face and strolled to the wall of words. He adjusted his backpack, took a deep breath and jumped across the empty space. He started climbing as fast as he could. As soon as he rose too high to be grabbed, Skip shouted, “Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas! Party time!”

A ragged cheer from students followed him as security and curious staff members also watched below. Skip found he enjoyed the rush. The climb was easier than the first time long ago, though older and out of shape. Being sober this time didn’t hurt either. He chuckled as he passed the hipflask tucked on a small ledge, not pausing for the swig tradition demanded.

Skip glanced down. Sure enough, the head librarian and the man in the suit were watching, too. Several goons ran up the staircase to the third landing, while others marched towards the elevator with the fat lady. More campus cops than they had figured this late, but he couldn’t help taunting them, “Careful, boys, you’ll miss the Christmas show!”

By now they were waiting for him on the third landing, but he passed far enough to the side to easily evade them. While they raced up the stairs to the top floor to cut him off, he suddenly scuttled sideways. Swinging from a jutting outcrop labeled “Scientia est potentia” in large angular black letters, he dropped to the platform, yelling “School’s out! Whoo-hoo!”

One of the cops lunged from above, grabbing at his backpack. It pulled open and the camera and stand fell. For a moment, the men also hung above the abyss, limbs flailing. With a curse, Skip swung onto the empty platform and disappeared into the stacks as the others saved their comrade.

 


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“The contrast between the humble Holy Footbath
– a plain, broken, graceless vessel that is a living fountain of grace
– and its ark of royal opulence, proudly encrusted with jewels yet of far less worth without its holy cargo, could not be more vivid.”

– Br. Eadward of York, Inventory of Imperial Treasures, 801

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