Chapter 8

PROFESSOR STYLES MUNCHED the rest of his pie with a hint of humor in his eyes. Next to him, Annabelle bristled. She boiled with fury. A sense of injustice shook her. Glaring at the conceited, pompous Styles, who was still laughing to himself, Annabelle reached down and snatched the professor’s satchel from beneath his chair.

Styles almost spat out his food in surprise. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” he yelled through a mouthful of pie. Crumbs of flaky short crust pastry flew through the pub’s warm, slightly musty atmosphere.

People at nearby tables turned their heads toward them, but Annabelle was focused on only one thing. “I’m doing what’s right!” she replied, standing up as she pulled the satchel open.

“Hand that back!” Styles said, reaching out clumsily from his chair.

He grabbed nothing but air as Annabelle pulled the bag away from him like a child protecting a precious toy. She put her hand inside the satchel and rummaged around while Styles stared at her. As she ferreted, Annabelle’s self-righteous rage slowly morphed into feelings of panic, dread, and finally, acute embarrassment. There was nothing in the bag that resembled the missing book. Annabelle sank meekly back into her chair. She closed the bag and held it out at arm’s length while she chewed her bottom lip with her top teeth and looked down at the pub’s worn, shabby carpet. The sounds of the pub were muted now.

Styles took the satchel from her. His eyes regained their twinkle. He appeared to half-marvel at the gall of this strange young student. But he was also enraged. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“Where have you hidden it?” Annabelle whispered, keen to stave off complete humiliation.

“Hidden what? Are you mad?”

“The book,” Annabelle said, keeping her voice low. “The one Professor Baskerville was translating.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I’m starting to wonder whether I should call the police.”

“I know you stole it—you’ve admitted as much,” Annabelle said. 

“‘Admitted as much…’” Styles sputtered. He shook his head in befuddlement, too confused to be angry now.

“‘They’ll be talking about him for all the wrong reasons’,” Annabelle repeated. “That’s what you said. What else could that mean but that you know the book is lost?”

“The book is lost? He’s lost the book? Baskerville’s lost the last writings of a Byzantine monk? An actual Byzantine monk? From the fifth century?” Styles’ eyes widened. When Annabelle didn’t answer, he whistled through his teeth. “That’s one way of stopping it.”

“Stopping what?”

Styles sat up straight. He leaned over the table, closer to Annabelle, and pressed his forefinger on the tabletop for emphasis.

“The reason I said Baskerville’s presentation won’t go as well as everyone expects isn’t that I knew he’d lost the book—it’s because I know that certain factions of the church will regard what he translated as blasphemous.

Annabelle stared at Styles for several moments while she processed what the professor had said. “Blasphemous?”

Professor Styles was clearly enjoying himself now. He sat back in his chair and smiled.

“Oh yes. It isn’t, of course,” he said. “Blasphemous, that is. It’s a rather dull doctrine, with little insight, if you ask me. But it does conflict with a tenet held by a rather narrow Episcopalian branch in Bavaria. It is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but the church would rather indulge a small, inconsequential, cultish denomination than some pesky, interfering academic like Baskerville who thinks he’s more clever than he is. They will condemn him.”

Annabelle thought about this for a moment, then said, “Do you think someone from there—Bavaria—might have stolen the text to remove it from the public domain? Or to discredit Professor Baskerville?”

Styles picked up his cutlery again. “Well, it wasn’t me! I know Horatio thinks of me as competition—and I most certainly am—but we’re competing for spots on the same team. The last thing I want is for him to show up the whole university. And now it looks like he will be doing just that.”

“I’m sorry,” Annabelle said meekly. “It was really my idea that you might have taken it. A stupid one. I’m very sorry.”

Styles cut off a bite of his pie, put it in his mouth, and considered Annabelle as he chewed. “Rather brave of you to confront a professor before you’ve even completed your first Socratic, don’t you think? Not studying Classics by any chance, are you?”

Annabelle smiled shyly. “Theology.”

“Thinking of becoming a priest?”

“Well, I…”

Styles dabbed his mouth with a napkin and nodded. “One of those ‘fire and brimstone’ types, I imagine,” he said. He leaned over the table again, his searching expression forcing Annabelle to meet his eye. “Look, if Horatio really has lost that book, it’s in all of our interests that he finds it—and also that nobody else learns that he lost it in the first place.”

Annabelle nodded her agreement enthusiastically. “What should we do?”

Professor Styles looked out of the window, alerted by cries from a punt being shakily guided down the river. He frowned as he considered Annabelle’s question. 

I am not going to do anything. But my advice to you,” the professor said, pulling out his wallet as he prepared to settle his bill, “is to look for anyone from Bavaria who’s here for the conference.”

“Got it,” Annabelle said, feeling new enthusiasm for her mission. “Thank you very much, Professor Styles.”

“And one more thing,” Styles said before Annabelle could leave. “Perhaps you could act a little more subtly. You know, until you find out who the real culprit is.”

Chapter 9

ANNABELLE WALKED THROUGH Cambridge city center. She no longer felt nervous or sad about leaving her family and the familiar to live and study in this unknown city. Plunging headfirst into a controversy, a mystery, and a vexing puzzle focused her energy. She may have left her family for an unfamiliar environment and a different way of life, but in trying to locate the missing book for Baskerville, she felt very much at home.

The city seemed built for thought. The winding, asymmetrical streets formed a warren that funneled people together even while they believed themselves apart. The narrow alleyways with arches and high walls were ripe for secrets. Even the quaint shops at the ends of curling streets had the power to fill a mere window shopper like Annabelle with a sense of wonder and curiosity. Cambridge was a delightful city to explore.

As she wandered, Annabelle noticed the quiet courtyards with their manicured, bright green lawns and the wilder open spaces dotted with cattle. She admired the centuries-old stone bridges, a combination of art, architecture, and engineering that curved over the clear waters of the River Cam. As she crossed the wooden Mathematical Bridge, she looked out and watched the river run beneath her. Despite the hectic events of her day, Annabelle felt herself connect with her new home. She felt a simmering contentment.

Annabelle turned on to a side street and walked back toward the river. She felt hungry for the first time that day and as she contemplated the merits of a sticky bun over a sausage roll, she was abruptly pulled from her thoughts. Noah, the young man who had directed her and her father to King’s, was striding toward her from the opposite end of the street. Annabelle darted into a doorway.

It wasn’t that she was embarrassed to see him, or unwilling to talk, but a sudden thought struck her that his accent might be German. Annabelle’s thoughts raced. She struggled to tamp them down. Perhaps she was grasping at straws. Or her imagination was running wild. But before she could still her turbulent mind, Noah passed her by. Annabelle stepped from the doorway and watched him, wondering what to do. She didn’t want to let him walk away. A voice in her mind nagged her. As the distance opened up between them, her mind settled on a plan. 

She pursued him through a small park. She hurried across busy roads. She blended into crowds. She trotted through open squares. She ran across walled gardens. She jumped over spiky hedges. She rounded blind corners. She dodged bikes that barreled along. Eventually, Noah slowed. He checked his watch briefly. Annabelle hid behind a lamppost breathing hard until Noah hastily continued on. It was late afternoon now. The sun cast a magical glow. Long shadows formed across cobblestone streets. Tourists meandered aimlessly. 

Annabelle followed Noah to The Backs where the river ran behind colleges. One by one they passed them—Queens’, King’s, Clare, Trinity Hall, Trinity, St. John’s—their architecture imposing and dominant. As they reached the final college, Annabelle risked exposure as she followed Noah across the wide lawn, hoping that he wouldn’t see her. Oblivious to her presence behind him, Noah trudged on. He weaved his way through a row of stone archways and stopped in the shadow of one. Annabelle moved closer. She crouched between stonework spotted with moss and a laurel bush shrouded in shadow. The tinkling of a pond’s fountain taunted her. What, it seemed to ask, was Noah doing there? 

An older man walked across the lawn. He strode confidently toward Noah’s hiding place. His salt and pepper hair set off his tan. His eyes were sparkling blue. He was what Annabelle’s mother called “a silver fox,” but that wasn’t the extraordinary thing about him. The man was a priest, a man of the cloth. His shirt was black. He wore a dog collar. 

The two men spoke. Annabelle’s heart pounded. She darted over a column the better to hear them. She held her breath. She listened intently. The men were speaking German. 

Annabelle studied German at school, but she couldn’t make out the men’s words. After talking earnestly for a couple more minutes, the men ended their conversation. The priest clasped Noah’s shoulder. They shook hands warmly. Noah patted his backpack. He gave a thumbs-up sign. The older man nodded and waved as he bid Noah goodbye.

Annabelle’s stomach, empty since breakfast, loudly grumbled its distress. Annabelle winced and suppressed a shudder. Noah glanced in her direction. Annabelle counted to ten and held her breath. Footsteps crunched on the gravel. As she cast her eyes skyward in silent prayer, she caught sight of the pond’s reflection. In it, she saw the Father walk away toward the sinking sun. Noah emerged from beneath the arches, mere feet away from Annabelle. He rejoined the path that tracked the riverbank and he too walked away. As she watched Noah’s retreating figure, Annabelle pondered what she’d just seen. What did it mean? Who were the men? Where was the missing text?

When enough distance had opened up, Annabelle took off after Noah. She felt closer to the truth but in some danger. A flutter of fear rippled through her. Despite the cooling temperature, she wiped a slick of moisture from her brow. She continued to trail her quarry. She wouldn’t give up. This was now a matter of faith.

Chapter 10

ANNABELLE FOLLOWED NOAH to a small, whitewashed cottage at the end of a lane. A black metal sign hung from an ornate wrought iron post drilled into the side of the cottage. It declared in crisp, white letters that the cottage was a bed-and-breakfast. A sign in the window announced there were “No Vacancies.” A low, gray stone wall marked the boundary of the cottage garden, which spilled over with colorful, blooming flowers and shrubs in distinct shades of green. 

Noah opened the gate and made his way up the worn, paved path. Annabelle stood a few houses down. The lane was narrow; it was hard to hide. Instinctively, she stood still and crouched slightly such that a passing dog walker gave her a funny look and a wide berth.

Annabelle watched Noah enter the bed-and-breakfast. She sighed with frustration. Circling the cottage, she studied the windows for any sign of movement. One of the smaller panes was open. She could just make out the shadow of a figure behind the curtain. 

Once again, Annabelle crouched behind a bush, reviewing all the “evidence” in her mind. Everything pointed toward the idea that Noah had stolen the book from Professor Baskerville. But how could she prove it?

“Annabelle?” came a voice behind her.

Annabelle stood up hurriedly, blushing. She quickly brushed off leaves that clung to her, picking a few from her hair. “Clara! Fancy bumping into you here,” she said with an enthusiastic smile.

Clara, a slight frown creasing her forehead, looked at Annabelle, then at the bush from which she had arisen.

“What are you doing?” Clara asked.

“Oh, here?” Annabelle said, pointing at the bush, her eyes wide. “I was… Um… I was inspecting this lovely bush. It’s really very pretty, don’t you think? Not a lot of greenery in London. Gosh, Cambridge is lovely! What are you doing here?”

Clara laughed, happy enough with this answer. “I was about to head back to Sussex when I realized I’d forgotten to drop my books at the secondhand bookshop. I’m on my way there now. I saw you so I thought I’d stop.” She nodded over to her van. “Thank you so much for helping me load those books into my car.”

“Oh, no problem. Thank you for showing me around, you know, getting me started.”

Clara looked at her watch. “Hey, I must go. Gotta get those books to the shop before they close.” The two young women hugged briefly, and after promising to catch up when Clara was next in Cambridge, she left Annabelle standing in the lane. Annabelle turned to look at the cottage, her eyes narrowing. She straightened up and gritted her teeth. 

With her expression resolute, her jaw clenched, Annabelle marched toward the cottage. Her hands curled into fists. She walked through the open door into a small dining room. A counter separated it from the kitchen where an elderly lady sat in a chair drinking a cup of tea and reading a newspaper. She looked up slowly, pulling off her tortoise-shell glasses and allowing them to dangle on a piece of string around her neck.

Smiling at Annabelle, she said, “Hello dear, can I help you?”

“I’m looking for Noah. He’s staying here, I believe.”

“Are you a friend of his?”

“Um… Yes. Something like that.”

The old lady smiled and put her glasses back on.

“Up the stairs, second door on the left.”

Annabelle looked around. “Um…”

“Through that door.”

Annabelle saw a door set into the wall and suspended a foot off the ground. Opening it carefully, she found a flight of tiny, narrow stairs behind it. 

“There’s a stool in the corner if you need a leg up,” the old woman said.

Not needing the stool, Annabelle hoisted herself onto the first step, but she had to move slower now. It wasn’t easy for someone Annabelle’s size to negotiate the narrow tread of the stairs. She had to watch her head. It wasn’t a very big cottage.

Standing in front of Noah’s bedroom door, Annabelle took two deep breaths and thought of what she should say. Nothing came to her so she decided to wing it. She knocked loudly, waiting only a few seconds, before impatiently knocking again.

With her knuckles in mid-air, the door swung open and the young man whom she had met upon first arriving in Cambridge stood in front of her. Noah squinted, his confusion clear as he scanned his memory to determine from where he recognized Annabelle.

“Yes?” he said. “Who are…? Wait, you’re the girl who arrived with her father in the black cab this morning.”

“Hand it over,” Annabelle demanded, holding her palm out.

Noah looked about him as if Annabelle were talking to someone else.

“Excuse me?”

“Hand it over. The book.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand…”

Annabelle’s frustration with the sneaking around, the hiding in bushes, and the public humiliations she had endured overflowed. She pushed Noah aside and marched into the small bedroom. It was no larger than her room at Bodley’s Court and equally sparse. There was a bed, a desk, a wardrobe, a chair, and a window through which a breeze blew gently, making the net curtains flutter. She looked about her at the clothes tossed upon the chair, and the paper and writing implements on the desk. There was nothing that resembled the leather-bound text of the last writings of a Byzantine monk. Nor could she see Noah’s backpack. 

Still standing in the doorway, Noah offered a lop-sided smile. He seemed amused by Annabelle’s strange behavior.

“I think you do understand,” Annabelle scolded, putting her hands on her hips and turning to face him. “The text Professor Baskerville was translating.” Noah continued to look at her with a bemused expression. He shook his head and opened his eyes wide. He lifted his hands and opened them reflexively. “He was to announce his findings at tomorrow’s conference,” Annabelle’s voice shook. “It’s missing. I…well, I think you took it.”

Noah raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Me?” he said, pressing a palm against his chest. “Why would I do that?”

Chapter 11

“BECAUSE YOU THINK it’s blasphemous. You’re from that Bavarian church.” Annabelle was sweating and her face flushed. She felt very uncomfortable and suspected Noah was mocking her. “A denomination that thinks the text goes against your interpretation of gospel.”

Noah dropped his smile and his raised eyebrow. He looked at Annabelle seriously. After what felt like an age, he said, “Do you believe in Christ?”

“Very much so,” Annabelle said.

“You study the Bible? Practice the Lord’s teachings?”

“I do my best,” Annabelle said cautiously. “I’m thinking of becoming a priest when I finish my studies.”

Noah folded his arms, dipped his chin, and raised both his eyebrows this time. Annabelle was sure he was mocking her now. “Then you must surely have a distaste for blasphemous content?”

“Well…” Annabelle mumbled, feeling nothing like the assured, striding, self-righteous heroine she imagined herself when she first burst into the room. “Of course I do. But that doesn’t mean I would steal a precious historical artifact and jeopardize a professor’s career. I believe in free speech and robust discussion. I have a willingness to listen to another’s point of view.” She ended confidently, her chin thrust in the air, her gaze direct and assured.

“Is that so?” Noah said. His eyes narrowed again and his expression hardened. “Then perhaps you misunderstand what I mean by blasphemous content.”

Noah darted toward her, and Annabelle almost shrieked before realizing he was making a beeline for the wardrobe. She dodged out of his way and watched him as he yanked open the closet door. He tugged out his backpack and dug around inside it furiously, eventually pulling out a small, leather-bound book.

Annabelle’s eyes went from the book to Noah and back to the book again. “Is that it?” she whispered.

“Yes,” Noah answered, holding it aloft, “this is it.”

“How did you get it?”

“I was in Baskerville’s office, pretending to be one of his adoring students. I found this “text” when he went to the bathroom. It wasn’t difficult. It was sitting right in the middle of his desk.”

“Give it back!”

“No,” Noah said, grimly. “I will destroy it. But first, you should know what devilish and impious desecration your beloved Professor Baskerville is engaged in.”

“He’s not my beloved. I’ve only just met him,” Annabelle protested.

“Never mind! Listen to this!”

Bewildered, Annabelle stood in front of Noah and watched as the young German opened the book and searched for a passage to read to her.

Consumed by passion,” Noah read spitefully. He was almost spitting. “Gielgud swept his executive desk clean of all objects. Then, his muscles bristling beneath his fine Italian shirt, he lifted the gasping Beatrice onto it, and—I cannot read further! It is obscene!”

Annabelle gawped at the angry young man, her thoughts struggling to make sense of what he had just read.

“Um, that’s not the text…” she murmured slowly.

“What do you mean?” Noah said fiercely. “Of course it is!” He flicked to another page. “Beatrice, her heaving…”

“No, look, it can’t be,” Annabelle said. “First, it wouldn’t be in English.”

Noah froze, his wide eyes darting from Annabelle to the book in his hands as he sought an answer. Then, having been caught off-guard by her words, he was also caught off-guard by her actions. Annabelle’s hand shot out and snatched the book from him. “Hey!”

“And look,” she said, gesturing at the open book, “the words are printed. They didn’t have printers in the fifth century.”

“That—That means nothing! It’s the words themselves. They are satanic!” Noah sputtered. His mouth twisted with anguish, his cry sounding feverish and desperate.

“The original text is in Ancient Greek. A Byzantine monk wrote it by hand,” Annabelle explained. “That’s the whole point, the whole reason Baskerville was tasked with translating it. This isn’t it.” Quickly, she inspected the leather-bound book, turning it in her hands. She began to pick and tear at its cover. 

“Stop! You can’t do that!” Noah reached for the book, but Annabelle had a firm hold. She braced her body against his, straining against Noah’s grip as he fought to wrestle the book from her.

“You said you would destroy it. Isn’t this what you want?” she said. Just then, the book fell apart. The leather cover came away in Annabelle’s hand. The book dropped onto the floor between them with a thud. “Oh!”

Annabelle and Noah looked at the floor in surprise. There lay a thick paperback, the shiny cover adorned with a bare-chested man, his ruffled shirt hanging from the waistband of his trousers. A woman in a long red dress, all bust and bustle, clung to him with longing, her raven-colored hair flowing to her waist, her lipstick as scarlet as her dress. The letters of the book’s title spread in large type across the top of the cover: The CEO’s Secret—Book Seven of the Red Dress Chronicles.

“What kind of demonic trickery is this!?” Noah exclaimed.

Words Annabelle had heard not so long ago echoed in her mind. “Reading in lectures… I developed some pretty creative methods for getting away with it.”

Clara. Annabelle spun around and ran out of the room.

“Wait! What’s going on?” Noah shouted after her.

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