There are only forty eight original Gutenberg Bibles in the world, and on the balmy, airless evening of October 6th, Evan Bennett was running from the Harry Ransom Center with one under his arms. Evan darted down the university's "drag" district one block from the museum. Students walking and eating between classes all gave pause to the sight of Evan running with this hefty relic, as security and campus police trailed on foot by more than half a block. He'd accelerated a full block ahead when Evan took a hard left through the Hole In The Wall. To the day drinkers, Evan appeared as a phantom, which they greeted with a shrug, as he rushed out the back entrance onto San Antonio Street. But, as Tim Lawson watched Evan disappear from a block away his heart sank.
Tim was the guard on duty at the Harry Ransom, and was first to pursue Evan. Tim used to be a runner. He still identified as one, but was less exemplary now than during his days in service. Because one day Tim stopped running. He couldn't recall when he'd last ran, or why he ever stopped. It was much like calling an old friend. One which you'd now fallen out of touch. Something once so natural had now become a painstaking endeavor. And Tim, in his last moment of seeing Evan, wished he had the speed to stop Evan from enduring the horror that lay dormant in that book's pages.
Evan exited the bar and hopped into a 2012 black Nissan Altima. Inside, the car reeked of dollar rearview mirror scents. When Evan slammed the door, the smell of crusted cigarette butts whaffed the cabin.
"Go, go, go slow," Evan said, "easy."
Dan slapped the Bible and said, "that thing is huge, man."
"Alright, alright, I'm on it," he said, methodically putting the car into drive.
"Take a right at this light." Evan slammed his hand against the dash when Dan continued straight.
"No cop waits in Travis Heights. Go right!"
"No way man. Too obvious," Dan said. "We're going through downtown."
"If we get caught…"
"Oh, come on." Dan said, "if you're worried just say a prayer."
And for what must have been exactly a second, Evan looked out his passenger window, closed his eyes, and whispered to himself, please God protect her.
Dan watched Evan pray and asked, "E - are you serious, you actually believe there's a spaghetti monster?"
"No reason not to," Evan said, as he stuffed the totem into a large duffel at his feet.
"Why would you take on this job? Isn't this thing… sacred?"
"Yeah," Evan shrugged, "that's exactly why." Evan looked up from the duffel to orient himself. "Dan - just drop me off here."
"I'm supposed to take you to the safehouse, E."
Evan opened the car door and Dan slammed on the breaks, "okay, okay, fine. Don't make a scene about it. But you better tell Zay why you're late."
Evan stepped onto the curb and slammed the door without another word. Then Evan walked east on 15th Street, before entering the Dell Seton Medical Center.
At the Ransom Center, Tim stooped atop a bench near the entrance. Nearby, police and press wandered the scene. Tim watched his boss speak in front of a news camera and declared that, "tonight's gala is still on, police are after the perpetrator. Justice will be served…on earth as it is in heaven." The interviewer and cameraman glanced at one another. Tim's boss stood smiling, awaiting the next question. But their focus was on Tim, who now stood ghastly behind Tim's boss.
"And who are you?" Asked Tom Bedford, KXAN.
"Oh," Tim's boss interjected, "yes, Tim, I think the police want a word. Go over —"
"No. I have something to say." Tim stepped in front of his boss, and continued, "I've worked security here at this museum for almost a decade. Let me say to whoever stole this, whatever your motive. It's not worth it. It's not what you think it is. This book…" Tim searched for his next words, "whatever holy parts were there have been tainted by the grimy fingerprints of illicit men. And it knows it."
"What do you mean?" Tom asked.
But before Tim could explain more his boss ushered Tim away by his collar.
At the hospital, Evan entered a dim, still hospital room and said, "sweetie, I brought you something from work."
Evan stepped beside his unconscious wife. The only signs of life were the steady metronome of her heart monitor beeping at 55 beats per minute. Evan sat on the couch beside her bed and said, "it's a Gutenberg. The kind you told me about, Kimia." Evan held the Bible out for her to see, but no part of her moved. "I have to bring it back soon. But, can I read you your favorite story?"
Evan did not wait for a response before he began thumbing the pages. As he did, each page turned blank. But Evan, determined to read her words from a Gutenberg, still spoke, as if the words were still there, "wicked are you who find pleasure in the flesh. Whose eyes cannot see above the clouds and to the heavens, and satisfaction is on earth. For those whose eyes see to the heavens - to theirs it belongs." Evan placed his palm into the centerfold of the open Bible. Maybe he was hallucinating, but at that moment Evan believed his wife brandished a tiny, stationary smile. And his heart swelled.
But that feeling faded when Evan's eyes wandered to the muted TV on the far wall, which showed police surrounding the Harry Ransom Center. Evan reached for the remote, pressed the top right button, and turned the screen to black. If Evan wore the heart monitor, its beeping would have doubled. For in that moment he looked back at the once empty Bible and now saw the following verse carved from the page, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life."
Evan shut the Bible, feeling its openness betraying the peace of the room.
That night beside Kimia, Evan descended into nightmares. The last was of him running toward Kimia as she walked away from him. No matter how fast Evan ran he could not close the gap between them. His legs were powerless, propelling him nowhere. Kimia looked backwards and her face was rabid. He tried to stop running toward her - afraid to near. It was then he realized he wasn't running, but falling. And the moment his body slammed into hers he jumped out of the couch and screamed. His hands trembled. Evan counted the metronomes of her slow beating heart to again calm himself.
He could not fall back asleep. Evan, awakened but groggy, walked to the hospital's cafe in search of a cup of coffee. He'd come to enjoy hospital coffee. Its burnt, flavorless dregs, poured perfectly from oversized styrofoam cups. The habit for Evan had become grounding. Not one he was proud to enjoy but nevertheless savored. On this particular walk, Evan thought how strange that the coffee was now - quite literally - waiting for him in tall, silver vat. Until he recognized that the same man walking ahead of him into the hospital cafe was the same person he brushed shoulders against while walking earlier on 15th street. "Hey," Evan said, but just then the man turned the corner.
Evan searched the cafe for this man but saw no one beside a few nurses on break. So, Evan walked to the steel canister of coffee at the cafe entryway and filled his large styrofoam cup to the brim. Splashes of hot liquid spilled onto his bare hands and he let go of the cup on the shelf beside the percolator. Just then, Zay said, "what are you doing, E?"
Evan turned to his left and said, "Zay, what are you doing here?"
"You know why," Zay said, taking another step closer toward Evan. "Our client isn't happy. Where is it?"
"I need it for just a while longer."
"Look, I always say family first. And I mean it. But you're playing with fire. This guy - he's, he's not right."
Evan's coffee sloshed in his shaky hand. His lips puckered as he searched for words. "Zay," he whimpered, "I'm going to lose her."
"E," Zay said, wrapping his arm around Evan, "don't say that."
"I know Zay. I'm just - just searching for a miracle right now."
"Careful Evan. That's a first-cousin to crazy." Evan nodded his head, and his eyes peered to the bottom of his cup. "Anything weird about it?"
"What, the book? No? Why?"
"I don't know. That security guard on TV. He didn't seem upset that someone stole it. Just spooked that it wasn't behind bars. Like it was a wild creature running loose in a city."
Evan swirled his cup of coffee and said, "no, nothing weird. But it's not just any Bible. It's special to Kimmy."
"E," Zay said, "I can stall you another day. I'll say the item is too hot to transport. But this kinda money people go missing over." Zay stood and walked away, before he exited the cafe he turned back to Evan and mouthed, one more day.
Evan sat alone in the bright, sterile, hospital cafeteria. Strangers gathered around the same three spickets of liquid. Filling their cups with hot water, coffee, or decaf, before returning to their ill loved ones a few floors above. Evan sat until his coffee was cold as the laminate table on which his hands rested. The cafeteria again empty, he stood, filled his cup with another twenty ounces of a hot, flavorless roast, and boarded the elevator to Kimia's room.
Evan turned the final corner before Kimia's room and dropped his cup at the sight of two men in neon yellow ski masks entering her room. Evan sprinted to her door - but it would not open. "No. God, please no," Evan whimpered. "Please!" And at that cry he burst through the door and saw Kimia sound asleep - heart monitor beeping at a steady 55 beats per minute.
The Bible was splayed open at the foot of Kimia's bed. In its pages, the only words written were, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll."
"I've done nothing wrong." Evan said to the Bible. But its pages did not flinch. He closed the book. Despite the cups of caffeine he just drank, Evan felt a tiredness he could not combat. He sat upright in the couch next to Kimia, his eyes drooping and body slouched. The last thing Evan saw before sleep gripped him was a deep, restful peace, on Kimia's face.
It hadn't been an hour when the heart wrenching sound of her monitor flatlining awakened Evan from sleep. That steady, maddening, droning buzz that signified the end of life. He scurried to her side. His line of work had not trained him how to steal her back. So, he only fell to his knees and sobbed. Until a pair of nurses lifted Evan under his arms and placed him on the couch, as they began to revive Kimia back to life.
As Evan watched the nurses cycle through CPR with no results he'd been overcome with a surge of anger. His tears ceased. He walked to the foot of her bed and grabbed the Gutenberg Bible.
"Clear!" A nurse shouted, as Kimia's body was burst with another 3, 000 volts. Her entire body elevated from the bed. Then back to it, like a falling block of concrete.
"No Kimmy. You don't have to go." Evan began ripping the pages from the Bible, shredding to pieces each he tore from the binding. "It's ours now. Baby, do you hear me? Who would want this now but us?"