i am in the impassable parts of the jungle, under the shade of the snaketrees, their root systems covering every stone in mountain giants' brown veins, beautiful and frustrating. under this rubble of immense fossilized grey skulls and bodies and their external circulatory systems, somewhere under this slow erasure of history in the name of glistening green faces and dark wet soil, is a chamber. in the temple at site 7 there was an inscription, hidden on a wall behind a partially collapsed ceiling, which describes this very chamber. all i need to do is dig. carefully. but at the entrance to the site, a man in a grey suit stands awkwardly on a slanted slab. judge detail. "you're needed in paris," he says. "don't you guys ever call?" i say. "we're always in the area," he says, and leaves. the lost treasure will have to wait. strauss' patience is measured in minutes.
in paris, i meet the judge coming up the steps of the justice building. she is in a hurry, and won't talk until we get to the meeting. i know she frequently travels abroad, but i've never seen her with the standard judge detail. i guess she only needs them as messengers. (i only find out later why she doesn't need bodyguards. have you ever seen a 250 pound woman perform a flying peruvian necktie?) we meet a distraught-looking doctor who says old jim has died, passed this morning, and he is sorry. the man's hands are shaking and it's suddenly obvious to me that he is blind. judge strauss takes me aside to the stairwell, and says, "jim knew the name of the rose." i can't believe it. i say, "oh no. no, no no. not the templar. really? you're kidding," and i'm getting angry now, "you call me all the way out here to paris in the sopping dregs of late winter and you have the nerve to tell me it's about the templar? at least pretend it's something else, and then drop the truth later when it's too late and i'm about to be slain in some ritual killing in the london underground." she looks at her watch and says, "you have a meeting in five minutes on the roof." this is too well orchestrated. something is wrong, and i have this feeling like i'm about to pay for my ignorance in blood, the halls of the justice building already feeling like they're the cut stone of the underground. or maybe i'll just end up as a cartel slave in some human trafficking ring. shit.
there are clocks everywhere in this building. i watch the minutes tick by on a hundred different clocks as i climb stairway after stairway, crossing through the floors of this ancient place, built before they got the brilliant idea to have a stairway go all the way from top to bottom. on the roof it's 2 AM, and the galaxies are dazzling and tangible delicate glass raindrop ornaments hanging still and silent. the sky like this reminds me of the jungle, miles out from the nearest town. and then i heard a sound like a distant monkey dancing on cellophane and tearing dictionaries in half. a little dark shape floated toward the roof through the air above the city, like a duck on a dark pond twinkling with the stars' reflections. but it was not a duck, it was a white van, and it was driving backward. in the air. its suspension bumped when it hit the lip of the roof and it glided to a stop and a man got out, walking backward. "you see time forward," he said haltingly, and he smiled. "dray cab no roy nih zrahts ngihtoosh uhth rof kul", he said, and then he opened the rear doors of the van and inside were galaxies. they spun sometimes flat like pocketwatches, sometimes like planets, swimming and turning and floating out from the back of the van. i could have hugged one, like a huge clay vase made of spiderwebs. instead i vomited. when i came to, they were floating just meters above me, constellated against the real night sky, and he was closing the doors and backing off the roof, suspension bumping as he passed the lip and onto the bridge of nothing, back to the beginning of time. my face was hot with tears. "i am william in cyberspace," i said to the galaxies, "i am italo's winter night. i am a lost boy on an asteroid and my rose does not have a name." and the galaxies, in their infinite mercy, struck me.
i wake to a yellow morning and a breeze ruffling the curtains. there is no better way to wake. my buttercup plaster walls seem unfamiliar; the lightswitches seem out of place in this old house. looking in the mirror, i find sand in my hair. suddenly i remember a darkness, and my joints ache as if exposed to vacuum. i step out onto the porch and smell the trees. i can hear the ocean hissing in my mind. i can feel the sun's beat on my shoulders. i am lifted up by the breeze, absorbed in the warm red glow through my eyelids.