The Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert

Chapter 13 a


Tyson Memorial Church, Philadelphia, October 30, 10 AM


Tracy, Ivan and James did not have much difficulty finding the church.  The great Tyson Hardware Company had a church named after it.  They found the address of Tyson Memorial.  It was in a white enclave, which was remarkable in the rich ethnic mix of the city of Philadelphia, upriver from the center of town.  When they drew up in front of the church that morning Jon and Hapgood were waiting for them. 


They looked up from the street at the church.  There was a manse, a minister’s residence, attached to the back.  They climbed the steps to the manse and examined the granite walls.  Those walls had indeed been laid by a master. 


Jon rang the bell, and a man about Hapgood’s age came to the door.  “Sorry to disturb you,” said Jon.  “But we are here at the request of a friend.  He told us to ask about the master mason who built this.”


The man smiled.  “Grandmaster, actually.  My name is Beale, Robert Beale.  I am minister to the church.  Please come in.”


They entered the solid building and followed Beale to a nook under the stairs, where he opened one of two unpromising looking doors and led them into a room.  The room was about twenty feet wide and thirty feet high.  But its other dimensions were dwarfed by its length of sixty feet.  The minister had set up his study at one end of the long room.  There was some parlor furniture.  Beale led them through another door and into the sanctuary, where he encouraged James to try the great pipe organ before they returned to the long room and settled in.    


“The Tyson Company was very generous,” said Beale.  “But the man whose energy was behind it was the owner of some woolen mills.  He made blankets for the Union Army during the Civil war.  I keep one of them here.” 


He picked up an old blanket that had been hung over the back of a couch.  They unfolded it and found it was double length and rather narrow.  Its proportions reminded them a bit of the room they were in.  It was the color of corrugated cardboard, but maybe a bit more golden.  “The soldiers would double them lengthwise,” said Beale.  “But even so I’m afraid it was better at being light for carrying over a pack than warm on a cold night.”  He sat at his desk, and occasionally after that would glance out the window.


“It looks like it has lasted well,” said Ivan.


“Yes.  Build strong.  That was one of his principles.  If you must make it, make it strong.”


“Hence the granite walls,” said Jon.


“Quite.  Well I think I may have a message for one of you.”


“I’m Ivan Saffski.  My friend’s name was Terra Lane.”


“Has something happened to him?”


“The skyscraper collapse.”


“That is very sad.  I’m sure you will miss him.”  Beale fished an envelope from under his blotter and handed it to Ivan.


Ivan took the envelope and looked at it.  Something jabbed inside him as he realized this might be the last message from Terra Lane.  The lips that had sealed the mucilage had been so cruelly stilled.  He steeled himself and ripped the envelope open.  There was a three by five card inside.  Ivan looked at it.  It was a set of map coordinates and an altitude.


Jon, would you reach in the briefcase and pull out the global positioning system for me?” said Ivan.


Jon handed him the GPS.  Ivan punched in the coordinates and waited.  Presently the device indicated a direction and a distance.  The direction was to the north and east. 


“Might I be so bold as to inquire …” Beale sounded interested.  They told him what they knew.


“So,” Beale said summing up, “The issue is that humanity is going extinct.  Our friend thought he had the answer, and you are running it down.”


“Right,” said Ivan.


“And you have had some trouble with this Hans Turelli, chief executive officer of Giga Corp?”


“It’s like he was trying to kidnap us or something.  But we don’t know anything that would be of any use to him.”


“And it all comes down to a prediction by Newton.”


“He is the best authority we have.  But we don’t know how he came to his conclusion.”


“Remarkable man, Newton.  He was the first one to use the phrase, ‘literal interpretation of the Bible.’  He wasn’t the last.”


“No.  It seems everybody knows what it means,” said Ivan. 


“Perhaps everybody but me,” responded Beale.  Reverend Hapgood.  Quiz time.  What is the central tenant, the core of Christianity?”


“Depends on the Christian.”


“Fair enough.  What then is the central event that defines the Christian movement?  The one that above all else got it going?”


“That would be the crucifixion.”


“Yes.  And there are historical reasons for that.  Our Muslim brothers deny the crucifixion.  So if one accepts it, one can be sure one isn’t Islamic.  That, by the way, is just about the only difference.  Otherwise they would be another Christian denomination.  So what validated this crucifixion, so to speak?  What made it different from all those other terrible, unjust executions in history?”


“Well, I suppose you are driving at the resurrection.”


“Precisely what I am driving at.  So this event is crucial to Christian belief.  And we know it happened because it was witnessed.  The tomb was found empty.  So we base a great deal on the word of a witness or witnesses who made the discovery.  The first person or persons on the scene had the only opportunity to alter things.


“So, Reverend Hapgood, gospel of Saint Mathew.  Who found the empty tomb?”


“Mary Magdalene and another Mary.”


“Gospel of Saint Mark?”


 Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome.”


“How odd it should be Salome.  She was the one who danced the dance of the seven veils for Herod and as a reward asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  John had been the savior’s best friend and first believer.  Yet here she is in the inner circle.  Gospel of Saint Luke?”


Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women.”


“At least five.  And the gospel according to Saint John?”


Mary Magdalene.”


“Alone.  Four accounts.  Four different versions.  Now you see why I do not know what is meant by ‘a literal interpretation of the Bible.’”


“But that’s just what you would expect,” Hapgood objected.  “Excitement.  People coming and going.  Not everybody arrives all at once necessarily.  Years pass and memories falter.  It doesn’t mean anything.”


“Precisely,” said Beale.  “It is just what you would expect, which adds rather than detracts from the power of the story.  And there were later sightings.  There are sightings of Elvis to this very day, but nobody actually talks with him.”


“The constant is Mary Magdalene,” summed up Hapgood.


“True.  And that makes her witness the most critical eye witness account of anything ever.  All of Western history is impacted by a single woman, of whom we know very little.  They call her ‘Magdalene’ as if it were her last name.  But I do not recall anybody else in the Bible having a last name.”


“Wasn’t she a, uh, an entertainer?” asked Tracy.


“That is a tradition.  But it is nowhere in scripture.  There is a more recent idea being circulated that she was of noble birth.  The evidence is still inconclusive.  All scripture has to say is that she had had some devils cast out of her.  Myself I doubt the entertainer story.  It sound like somebody has her mixed up with Salome.  And if that is true, she could be Salome for all we know.”


“Wouldn’t the story of her having devils thrown out of her make her account suspect?” asked Jon.


“It depends on whom you talk to.  Some would say she had an unstable personality if she was possessed by devils.  Others would say that if Jesus threw those devils out, she wound up with more personal integrity, more honesty, than the rest of us.  At all events she is a monumental figure in early Christianity.  I think it is well attested that she went to the south of France and taught there for many years.


“There is a story, not widely accepted but as you might say a well understood heresy, that when she went to France she was pregnant with the child of Jesus, that they had been married.  And the boy became father of a line that included Charlemagne and through him all the kings of Europe.”


“But the person we are talking about is Isaac Newton,” said Ivan.


“Of course,” rejoined Beale.  “What I mean is that I am willing to accept the Biblical account as true if rather confusing.  What is dear to us is the spirit of the teachings, not the quibbling over details.  But these conflicts would have struck Newton as literally inconsistent.  He could not have missed them.  Yet it is he who introduced the phrase ‘literal interpretation of the Bible,’ and nobody – neither the creationists nor the evolutionists – seems to have a problem with the term.”


“It’s quite the fight,” said Jon.  “In Florida you see plenty of ordinary paper bumper stickers.  But you only see one permanent metal sign on a bumper; and largely it has to do with taking sides on just this point.”


“It’s not really a fight, I think,” said Beale.  “But there is something going on in people’s minds.”


“But getting back to Newton’s prediction,” said Ivan.  “He predicted a crisis in less than sixty years from now.  What was his evidence?”


“It sounds like that is what you are looking for.  He must have had masses of evidence.  He was that kind of worker.  He discovered calculus.  That seems like a very confusing subject.  But if you are working over reams of numbers by hand sooner or later patterns can emerge.  Then it seems obvious.  He must have had access to numbers of that magnitude.  But what or where I can’t tell you.  What have you found so far?”


Jon said, “Well in Washington, we talked with some people.  As far as we learned Terra Lane couldn’t have been more wrong.  There is nothing to suggest the kind of population effect he was thinking about.  There aren’t even any unanswered questions that might lead that direction.”


Ivan said, “About the same in Baltimore.  Fellow we spoke with was very knowledgeable.  He seemed sure there was nothing in it at all.”


Hurm,” said Beale.


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