Dr. Latimer stood next to the open coffin looking in. It was just as John Moore had said it would be. Henry backed up from the coffin in disbelief. “What the fuck is going on?”, he said aloud.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Not yet anyway.”
Henry spun around startled. He thought he was the only one in the lab at this hour. But there was John. He wasn’t supposed to be here especially since he said he would wait for Henry at the restaurant. Henry was suddenly frightened. But his fright disappeared quickly and his curiosity took over. “How did you know? How could you know?”
John had been standing in the doorway to the containment room. They were now in the basement of ISU’s Archaeology building. Down here were the various research labs while most of the classrooms and teacher offices were above in the upper levels. The containment room was a special room which was a shared facility and where artifacts could be quarantined. Coffins were often one of the most dangerous items to be unearthed and studied. Bacteria and viruses had the uncanny ability to lie dormant for hundreds and even thousands of years only to become virulent again when they came in contact with someone. Often that person was a researcher. This was where the notion of the mummies curse came from and many a grave robber and would-be explorer has fallen victim over the years to these tiny predators in waiting. Therefore, it was standard protocol to store any new coffins and other potentially dangerous artifacts in the containment room while they were decontaminated. The large stone coffin that Henry had been looking in had only arrived last week merely 4 days before Henry got back himself. If protocol was followed the coffin would have undergone extensive chemical decontamination before it was opened and again through the process after it was opened. That was the plan before Henry met John.
After leaving the restaurant, Henry had considered calling the police but something about John told Henry that he wouldn’t get far that way. It was also clear to Henry that John wanted him to look inside and he couldn’t help feeling that it was very important for him to do so. The threat of the coffin disappearing by morning also spurred him on. Of course John’s threat had been vague about its legality and Dr. Latimer suspected that John may be working for the Irish government and could actually legally remove it from ISU. So with those thoughts racing through his head he raced back to his office and then to the containment room.
It had taken some time but he managed to get the heavy lid off of the stone coffin with the help of the overhead wenches. The lid was actually much heavier than it looked and it looked heavy to begin with. The mason who constructed the lid had chiseled out the edges so that much more of the lid lay below the lip of the coffin. The chalk that had been used to create a seal in the lid had long either eroded away, a common occurrence in damp conditions, or had become solidified back into a kind of limestone rock making it again more difficult to get the lid off of the coffin basin. But eventually the lid was free and despite the night’s events Henry couldn’t help but be excited about what he was going to see. But his excitement turned to confusion when he finally got to see the contents. They were just as John had described it to him at the restaurant. There was a corpse in the coffin but it was unlike any corpse Henry had ever seen. It was mostly naked and while almost everything else in the coffin, including the bandages, the robes, and the sword, was decaying the body seemed unnaturally preserved. If he had to describe it he would have said that the individual had just become dehydrated. The skin was pale, almost white and perhaps even a little translucent. The hair was black and short but did not look like brittle hair of a corpse. And indeed, there was a wound in the left side of the chest just as John said there would be. It was here that he was startled by John.
“How did you know? How could you know?”
John took a step into the room and as he did so two other men entered behind him each carrying a large black duffle bag. Henry recognized one of them as the man from the elevator at the restaurant. John seemed to take no notice of them. As he stepped towards Henry he pulled an I-pad from his Jacket pocket and touched the screen. “Please take a look”, John said as he handed the I-pad to Henry.
Henry looked at the I-pad and he was looking at a drawing. It looked like a mason’s sketch of a coffin. It took him a few seconds to realize that while the drawing was crude, it was a drawing of the very coffin in the room. The notes on the page were hard to read until Henry realized that it was Middle English. He was not proficient with it but had studied Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales enough to recognize some of the words. With some difficulty he realized that he was looking at someone’s instructions to a mason and was apparently not the mason’s own work. He noticed the little page icon at the bottom of the screen and tapped it and more notes appeared with more drawings of the coffin. Each of the sides and the top of the coffin had been detailed down to smallest detail including the positions of the people in the Stations of the Cross that were chiseled around the sides of the coffin. There were 7 pages in all and they were dark pages. Although he could not see it first hand, the writing and the pages it was written on looked extremely old. After several minutes of studying the documents he looked up at John more confused than ever. “What is this?” He looked back down at the pad. “I don’t understand”, he said with some exasperation.
John walked over to the coffin and it seemed to Henry that he looked into the coffin with a great deal of reverence. Henry thought he heard John whisper, “finally”. John turned to Henry. “Dr. Latimer, I promise I will explain everything but before I tell you about this coffin there are a few other things that you need to know and I don’t have a lot of time so let me get right to the point.” John put his hands on the coffin lid and looked in again as he spoke. “You don’t know it but you are a small but very important part of an ongoing search. In fact, you were chosen for the part from many of your colleagues.”
“Chosen?” Henry asked.
“Yes, chosen. We needed someone we could trust because we knew that someday we might have to entrust you with a very big secret. Of course there was always the possibility that this day would never come but then again, here we are, and that is no small miracle I might add.”
“How do you know you can trust me?”
John smiled slightly. “Well,” he paused. “We don’t but we have been following you a long time and are pretty sure you are who we think you are. That and if we found we couldn’t trust you then perhaps this would be a very different conversation”, implying it wouldn’t be so pleasant. “But we, and when I say ‘we’ I mean me and my colleagues, believe we can trust you because we believe you have faith.”
“Yes, faith. You are a church-going man, yes?”
“And you graduated from Notre Dame University in Archaeology but almost went to the seminary, correct?”
Henry began to understand that John new quite a lot about him. “Yes, I was going to go to seminary school but I decided that I found myself closer to God in ruins and ancient texts.”
“Yes, we know that about you Henry and we not only know a great many other things but have also influenced you and your life. The scholarship from the European Archaeological Society that funded your graduate studies at Bickbeck in the University of London came from us. And for the last 15 years you have benefitted from funds from the Irish Archaeological Society which again came entirely from us. You took a sabbatical in Italy to learn Italian and Latin never suspecting the quiet hand that was pushing you in that direction. You didn’t realize that your own PhD advisor, Vanessa Harding, was working for us. Nor did you understand why the love of your life, fellow grad student at Bickbeck, Caroline Goodson, left you.”
The last statement surprised Henry. “You drove her off?” he said with some anger welling up.
“I do apologize for the pain it has caused you but you were too important to have your studies affected by the relationship. You can be assured that at the time Caroline knew nothing of us.”
“But she does now?”
And then it dawned on Henry. “and what about Marit Gaimster?”
“One of ours.”
“So this still doesn’t make sense. You have spent all this money and time invested in me but what for? Just to find this coffin?”
“Yes and no, doctor. Finding this coffin was just one of many possible happy outcomes. My associates and I are collectors of sorts and are looking for a great many coffins so-to-speak. This one just happens to be one of the oldest ones missing and we will be glad to have it back.”
“Who are you?” Henry asked realizing that he had no clue who John really was. He was talking cryptically and it was apparent to Henry that while John may indeed be part of the Irish Archaeological Society, it was not why he was here tonight.
John hesitated seeming to make up his mind on something. “Henry, I am about to change your life. I just want you to know up front, however, that despite what you see tonight you do not have anything to fear from me.” John turned away from coffin. “My name is John Moore and I am a vampire.”
Henry stared at John dumbstruck. After a few moments he asked, “What?”
“I’m a vampire.”
Henry swallowed hard, “I heard that part but… but… are you serious?”
“Yes” John answered matter-of-a-factly. “But I don’t expect you to believe me just because I say it. I will prove it to you.”
Henry stepped back as John stepped closer. “How can you prove it to me?”
“Do you have a water bath?”
The question took Henry by surprise. He knew what John was referring to. Water baths were used to heat up solutions without using a flame. He tried to make sense of why he was asking but decided the better of it. “Yes, in my lab.”
“Good, let’s start there.” With that John picked up one of the duffle bags and gestured for Henry to lead. They then passed out of the door to the containment room and the two large men were out in the hall keeping watch.
They reached Henry’s lab which was filled with various stone artifacts but in the back was a small chemical wet lab. He found the water bath on the shelf and took it down and began filling it with water in the sink.
“So doctor, how much do you know about your mid-16th century saints?”
Henry finished filling the basin with water and put it on the counter and plugged it in. “Which region?”
John turned the temperature knob to 37 degrees Celcius. “England.”
Henry noted that 37 degrees was body temperature but decided not to comment on it. “Well, there are a variety of saints from that time period but the most famous are Thomas Moore and John Fisher.”
“Very good. Then you can guess who I am named after.”
Henry thought for a moment. It was obvious he was named Moore after Thomas Moore but he wasn’t entirely sure of where John was coming from. If John was named after a saint then perhaps It could have been an amalgamation of saints’ names. Then he thought he knew the answer. “So you are named after both John Fisher and Thomas Moore.”
John frowned a moment. “You know, you are the first one to come up with that and now that you say it it does make sense. Both of them were killed within weeks of each other by King Henry VII. But as clever a deduction as that might be it is incorrect. No, I daresay I am in the history books but I do not blame you if you don’t remember. I am but a footnote in the life of a great man. I am John Moore, Thomas Moore’s only son.”
Henry laughed involuntarily. “Okay, so you are a vampire and you are what? 400 years old too?”
“450 years to be exact or 470 depending on how you look at it?”
“Depending on how you look at it?”
“Of course, if you go from my birthdate it is 470 but I often only think of the day I became a vampire and that has been only 450 years.”
Henry was getting angry again with frustration. “Ok, so you guessed what the inside of a coffin would look like from a very old book you found in a library somewhere but this is getting ridiculous. I think it is time to call the cops.” Henry began to head to the phone.
John grabbed Henry by the arm. The strength in the grab surprised Henry. “Please, Henry, be patient. I told you that I would prove it to you and I will. I just have to prepare something first. Now if you will just bear with me if you still do not believe me 30 minutes from now then by all means call the police.”
Henry relaxed and John relaxed his grip on his arm. They waited awhile in uncomfortable silence as the water heated up. After 15 minutes John opened up the duffle bag and took out bags filled with red fluid. Henry realized with growing discomfort that they were bags of blood like you would find in a hospital. This was getting out of hand but he had to control his fear. But John seemed to be in a good mood. “Ok, I’m just going to let this warm up a bit but in the meantime we have to get our friend ready.”
“Why Paolo de Salerna of course.”
“Again I repeat, who?”
“Oh, did I not mention that the corpse in the coffin has a name?”
It was all beginning to sound like one big cosmic joke to Henry. “Ah, well no, you didn’t mention it.”
As they strode out into the hall and headed back to the containment room John stopped and turned towards Henry. “Oh, one more thing, and I promise this will be the last big ‘secret’ for the night. But Paolo, the corpse, he’s a vampire too. I let him introduce himself properly later, if he still can.” John turned leaving Henry a few steps behind feeling his whole life peel away around him.