A letter arrives - and is opened.
We learn more about Professor Morgenstern - and begin to find out what it is he wants.
The letter was addressed to no one in particular, or to all of us. It said, simply: Sinclairs.
The children usually sort the mail.
It is a routine they still enjoy.
It means something to them to be entrusted with the key to the letterbox, and to be the first to see the daily trove.
There's almost never anything for them, but that doesn't dishearten or bother them.
The responsibility, the occasional surprises pulled from the box -- postcards, unusual advertisements, frail air mailed letters from afar -- and the taxonomic exercise of arranging the mail seems enough to fulfil them.
Each day's haul is generally divided into five piles: one for Soraya and one for me, one for both of us (the "Mr. and Mrs." correspondence), and separate piles for magazines and advertisements.
Only rarely is a sixth or seventh necessary -- when, for example, birthday or holiday greetings for one of the children arrive.
This letter challenged their system.
Tancred added it to the "Mr. and Mrs." letters, but Annabelle insisted it belonged on a separate pile.
"Sinclairs", she said, "implies all Sinclairs, not just Mr. and Mrs. ..."
Tancred ridiculed the idea.
"All Sinclairs ? Everywhere in the city ... the country ... the world ?"
"Of course not.
It is a set clearly defined by the additional information on the envelope -- the subset of Sinclairs residing in apartment 12F in this building, at this address."
Tancred realized he was essentially defeated by this quick parry to his overreaching thrust.
Still, he tried again, flailing: "But you know it's for Mom and Dad ....."
"I don't know that ..."
"Implied in what ?"
"Annabelle, we don't get letters on fancy stationery, from abroad, from ... solicitors."
This fact, which they had initially overlooked, quieted them both.
Now it was the origin of the letter, not the intended recipient(s), that was of interest.
Foreign and legal.
Quite unlike the run-of-the-mill domestic mail that usually passed through their little hands.
It made me curious too, and I took it from them.
But Annabelle withheld the letter-opener and continued the debate.
"It's for all of us, Dad.
You should wait until Mum is home."
I acceded, allowing the kids their little triumph.
But I was curious.
Clotwold & Berne, solicitors.
Embossed on the envelope.
The names meant nothing to me.
96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.
We had no business in Britain.
I had no idea what they could want from us.
I put the envelope back on the table, exchanging it for the pile of letters that were addressed to me, and sent Annabelle and Tancred to their rooms and their homework.
I went through my mail but found nothing of interest.
Then I unpacked my manuscripts and lost myself in them.
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I only became aware of Soraya as her shadow passed in front of my eyes, a fraction of a second before I felt her lips on my cheek.
"Hi, dear," she said.
My chair groaned as I righted myself, while my joints shot only stings of silent protest.
I rubbed my eyes and put the stack of paper I had been going through on top of several already on my desk.
I leaned back and basked in the brief moment of reunion, hoping for a few moments more.
Soraya smiled and kissed me again before stepping back.
She looked tired.
She drew a breath: "It's already past 6:30.
Not a whiff of dinner in the air.
Bland, cold fare we're having tonight ?"
Soraya had been expected by 6:00, at the latest, and I had planned to get started when she came.
But she was late, hence I was late, hence dinner was late.
"I should have called," she apologized.
"But it was just a few minutes delay here, a few there.
I didn't think it would add up to quite so much."
"Not a problem," I insisted.
"Careful," she said.
"I've had my fill of false reassurances today.
All this week, in fact."
Her briefcase still sagged in one hand and she clutched her keys in the other, with a set of galleys squeezed under her arm.
She abandoned them piece by piece on the way back to the living room and the kitchen, a rare variation on her usual orderly entrances (open door, step in, put keys in bowl, briefcase on floor, sundries on stand, advance).
The children heard our shuffling and almost simultaneously emerged from their rooms, throwing themselves at their mother in greeting, welcoming the news that dinner was delayed ("Good, I can finish my homework," one or both of the absurdly diligent brats said), and scurrying back to their rooms with alacrity.
Annabelle did hesitate in front of the table with the mail, remembering the solicitors' letter, but evidently decided against bringing it to attention for the time being.
Soraya always insisted on dinners en famille, a gathering point and time that regularly brought us all together.
Not that we didn't see enough of each other, but away from the dinner table there were almost always distractions, chores, or individual needs that needed tending to, precluding the full family experience.
Left to our own devices the kids and I would have simply consumed whatever was easiest to prepare whenever we found ourselves hungry.
And we'd eat at our desks or on the floor, invariably with book in hand.
Food, and even company, was secondary.
So it was probably for the best that Soraya insisted on dinner together.
(I'm sure it was only her maternal and familial instincts (or rather an inculcated sense of duty) that led to her make these demands: of all of us she was the most indifferent to formal and informal repasts, avoiding all other meals (especially so-called business lunches and breakfasts) as an incredible waste of time.)
The rule of the table was that conversation had to be inclusive.
Business -- or, in the case of the children, school -- was fair game, but everyone had to be given a say.
The same with any other topic: world news, sporting events, or the electric bill (if it came up for discussion).
The democratic forum proved surprisingly enjoyable and more educational than either Soraya or I might have expected.
Obliged to be patient with and even open to the children's untutored and often (at least in part) uninformed opinions we improved our own understanding.
Not so much from the wisdom coming from the babes' mouths (still limited to certain areas, though growing at a threateningly fast pace), but because it forced us to be receptive to, or at least acknowledge, differently formed and framed opinions
-- and to learn how to provide the information necessary for them to form better-founded ones.
Of course, the fact that they were now older -- Annabelle was twelve, and Tancred had just turned eleven -- and that their minds were already well-filled with the basics and the backgrounds that were necessary to comprehend many subjects also helped.
The topics this evening -- over hastily prepared pasta, slathered in garlic, doused in olive oil -- covered the usual wide range.
We each reported on our days, debated attending a movie over the weekend (its PG-13 rating making for a contentious discussion), and previewed the upcoming European soccer matches.
Fitba, as Tancred, going through a brief Scots phase, insisted.
Tancred had, for no reason I could determine, adopted mid-table Scottish premiership side Heart of Midlothian as his currently favoured team, and was more concerned with their success than European interleague play.
Annabelle, however, provided an insightful analysis regarding the upcoming Champions League semis (and spitefully tipped Kilmarnock over Hearts -- at Tynecastle, no less -- over the weekend).
Soraya made a fairly convincing case for an all-Spanish Champions League final, while I argued that at least the Italian contender would put up a formidable challenge.
We cleared away the greasy plates and when Soraya brought out the desert Annabelle got the solicitors' letter.
"This came today," she said, handing it to her mother.
"Sinclairs," Soraya read, and the children immediately chimed in, offering their suggestions as who exactly was meant.
"Well let's just open it and see, shall we ?" Soraya suggested, slitting the envelope open and removing the pages.
She unfolded them, skimmed over the first page, and then began to read out loud from it:
"Lawyers," Soraya chuckled as she put the letter down.
Our client, Professor Zygmunt Morgenstern, has instructed us to contact you and to proffer the enclosed request and proposal.
Please consider Professor Morgenstern's proposal and notify us at your earliest convenience whether or not you can agree to the terms and conditions set forth therein.
We have been authorized and instructed to assist you in dealing with whatever additional arrangements might be necessary, both to facilitate your making an initial determination as to whether or not to accept the proposal, as well as in carrying out Professor Morgenstern's instructions if indeed you do accept it.
We stand at the ready, and look forward to hearing from you soonest.
Erwin Clotwold, Esq.
The children looked suitably awed.
"What on earth is Zygmunt up to ?" Soraya asked quietly, still smiling.
But she didn't rush to look through the other papers.
Her thought must have been the same as mine -- that here was Professor Morgenstern's last will and testament, a final sort of good-bye presented with a Morgenstern-twist (or -thwack, as he would insist).
He had been ancient for as long as we knew him.
Soraya had had him as a teacher at university a quarter of a century ago, and he had been emerited (almost -- but not entirely successfully -- into oblivion) at least a quarter of a century before then.
We had last seen him about two years ago.
He had looked and sounded sprightly, but beyond the bright eyes and strong voice there had been little left of him.
Always lean, he had almost completely shrivelled away.
Not only his fingers but now his arms and legs were no more than twig-thick.
He was, truly, all skin --blotched, spotty, drooping in fold over fold -- and bones.
He moved slowly, walking with a cane that itself was so thin one couldn't imagine it supporting the least amount of weight or pressure.
Which it didn't have to.
Morgenstern's death wouldn't have seemed unexpected two decades ago; I think we were more surprised each time we heard that he was still alive.
Soraya seemed to be trying to steel herself to face up to the foreseeable announcement before reading on.
She gulped, uncharacteristically, and picked up the remaining pages.
Dear Sinclairs !
There were still more pages, but Soraya put them all down on the table, trying first to register and digest what she had just read.
Greetings one and all !
My solicitors were instructed to forward this and the enclosed pages in the event of a set of circumstances occurring: not an alignment of stars, but a domino-toppling series of earth-bound incidents (which, I fear, are as unavoidable as the stellar constellations, if somewhat harder to predict).
A number of scenarios fulfill the criteria I have set; common to all is only the fact that my presence no longer factors into equations or considerations.
You will find, in other words, that I am out of the picture.
It is quite possible -- perhaps most likely, though I prefer to believe in the alternatives -- that I will have passed away.
People do, with alarming frequency, and I am well aware that the statistical likelihood of my continued being decreases almost daily.
Not to mention the possibility of accidents, murder, even suicide .....
If I am dead, then you will likely have heard the news; it is hard to die discretely in this day and age.
Thanks for the flowers and the kind words at the funeral.
You may also find that I am simply and apparently inexplicably gone.
This shouldn't trouble you; I believe I would find this preferable to the fatal alternative and I hope you do as well.
In either case (or in any other case), my solicitors have been instructed to allow a decorous interval to pass and then convey the enclosed material to you.
As they have now done.
I have a proposition to make, which I hope will intrigue you.
I want you to revisit my life.
What do I mean ?
Biography, I suppose.
The literary recreation of my life.
I suppose that is what I mean: I am commissioning you to write my biography.
But that is entirely too simple and simplistic, too, and really not at all what I mean.
I don't want you to recount the facts of my life, and list and weigh my accomplishments and failures.
Lives should be revelled in.
And going back is a tiresome exercise as life moves inexorably forward.
The past offers examples and lessons, but these are largely only of interest in how they apply to the future.
That is how I want you to approach this.
I am suggesting that you use me as a springboard.
I want you to follow the contours of my life, and use this foundation to your own ends.
I only ask that you document your progress, so that there is a written record of the success (or failure) of the exercise.
Let that be my biography and testament.
I offer my life, because I believe it offers a great deal.
I have been satisfied with it, and I think you will be too.
I can also make available to you the material and intellectual resources which I have accumulated over the course of my lifetime, from which I believe you can benefit.
The latter, in particular, should prove invaluable: they are the basis, the foundation, perhaps even the essence and entirety of my life.
Why you ? you perhaps wonder.
You meet my requirements, for one.
I have not found anyone else that does.
I am fairly certain that the task is too much for one person, but between the four of you I think you can manage.
And I think that you might enjoy the exercise.
You deserve the opportunity.
Here it is.
With warm but regrettably distant greetings,
Prof. DDr. Zyg. Morgenstern
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Mystery man Morgenstern.
What was he thinking ?
Zygmunt Morgenstern was a legend, of sorts.
At least in the minds of his students.
Or at least in Soraya's mind -- though I admit I was also in awe of him, and I couldn't imagine anyone who knew him who wouldn't be.
But who knew him ?
Except, apparently, at the beginning of his career, in the mid-1920s, he had always been an obscure figure, barely ever even appearing on any fringe and certainly not on any main stage.
He was an academic, but he had -- to my knowledge -- never published a book.
The only bibliography I had ever seen, compiled by a former student of his for an aborted Festschrift project, listed no more than half a dozen articles, supposedly printed in specialist journals but which neither I nor any librarian I consulted could ever trace.
The Bulletin of the Tasmanian Hagiographic Society and the Journal of Neo-Intuitionist Logic and the like.
Morgenstern had taken degrees in philosophy and mathematics from several renowned Central European institutions, and he had studied a great deal else along the way.
He was called a polymath and Renaissance man, though I take it this wasn't always meant kindly.
He studied under the best and brightest, the leading lights of the time -- most of whom he was expected to quickly eclipse.
Even I recognized the names of some of his teachers (and both of his Doktorväter).
They had apparently thought highly of him: one can find mentions of him in the memoirs of several of the leading academicians of the time: noted philosophers, future Nobel laureates, and others.
He had had a stellar early career, though his actual accomplishments were unclear.
There was some furore around his habilitation, but he became one of the youngest professors of the time.
Unaccountably, he held his first university appointment for only a year, disappearing then and only resurfacing a decade later in America.
He found refuge before World War II at the large, metropolitan university in the United States that would become my alma mater.
He had remained devoted to the institution -- and they hadn't been able to get rid of him.
Morgenstern had never had many students.
He had let it be known from the beginning that he was an impossibly demanding teacher, and school-lore has it that all one hundred-plus students in the first (and only) freshman class he taught received a failing grade.
(The truth to this particular episode is probably less sensational: tellingly the story is murky in almost all its other details -- from the subject matter of the course (everything from introductory philosophy to mathematics to literature is recalled) to the year.
And surely the school administration would not have accepted such wholesale failure.)
How quickly Morgenstern got a reputation as a professor to avoid at all costs is unclear, but he did manage it.
Certainly, it would not have occurred to any of my friends to even consider taking one of his classes.
I was tempted by some of the topics he covered -- so very unlike everything else in the school-catalogue -- and the sheer challenge, but ultimately his reputation proved too intimidating for me and I never took any classes under him either.
Each year he came forth with new offerings, both seminars and lecture-courses, inevitably in the most arcane subjects.
The university generously allowed him to teach (or at least offer) these classes, but few students took advantage of their availability.
Only a handful would register for any of them each term and supposedly years often went by with no one satisfactorily completing one.
By the time Soraya began her graduate studies at the university I was a junior.
Morgenstern had long been a professor emeritus by then, pushed to the periphery, but clinging tenaciously on and still teaching a handful of pretend-classes every year.
He wouldn't formally retire and for some reason the university put up with him.
Soraya, never easily daunted, enrolled in one of Professor Morgenstern's seminars as soon as she arrived on campus.
Amharic Literature: Readings and Interpretations.
She was, predictably, the only student.
The seminar still seems more ruse than real to me.
Neither the Morgenstern nor the Soraya I came to know struck me as particularly interested in what must have been the largely liturgical literature of Ethiopia, but they professed an intellectual curiosity about almost everything and they were both talented linguists.
What appeared to me to be perhaps the most pointless exercise imaginable was perhaps a unique challenge for the two of them.
I am fairly certain, however, that whatever they might have learned that semester never proved particularly useful in any aspect of their later lives.
Soraya took other courses with Morgenstern as well.
She was the only officially enrolled student in his Wittgenstein-seminar, though two of the leading philosophers of the time audited it, surreptitiously flying in each week from the universities on the two coasts that they ruled to sit attentively at Morgenstern's feet.
A survey course in Burmese drama actually attracted some Burmese expatriates, though it apparently proved somewhat disappointing all around.
There was also, I recall, a course on the Fifth Crusade, and a seminar in Topology.
Soraya became a Morgenstern-favourite.
She found in him her ideal mentor, and he was flattered by her attention and interest.
Still, he wouldn't have put up with her if she hadn't met his rigorous intellectual standards.
In fact, he was surprised to find how much she challenged him.
They contested, revised, sharpened and demolished each others opinions and theories in combative and invigorating bouts of scholarship.
I got to witness some: it was more thrilling (and occasionally more vicious) than watching two prizefighters go at it.
As Soraya and I got closer I was also drawn into Morgenstern's orbit.
He warily tested me the first few times we met, sniffing me out to see if I was suitable for his table (and for Soraya).
My limited learning he saw as a challenge, but I had a few strengths to offer.
My interests were far-reaching.
I was open-minded -- to a degree apparently generally never found within any proximity to academic circles.
I was oblivious to fashions, intellectual or otherwise.
And I was hard-working, willing to devote my time to assisting Morgenstern in his research.
(Soraya worked much harder, but only for herself; I was willing to help Morgenstern even if my own interests did not coincide with his.
And I didn't do it just to impress the girl, or her mentor: I knew that Morgenstern would lead me down more interesting paths than any I could find for myself.)
We were all voracious readers, but they found themselves too readily lost in recondite scholarship.
They welcomed my strictly literary leanings, allowing me to lead them back to the rich fields of fiction and poetry and drama.
We pushed each other to delve into a wide range of authors and books -- with me, more often than not, taking the lead (though valuable contributions in the selection of the works we tackled also came from Soraya and Morgenstern).
We would read out loud, together, with (and, it sometimes seemed, against) each other, taking on parts, competitively declaiming.
We would practice rough and tumble textual analysis.
Anything was fair game, any approach could be taken.
I had the time of my life, and learnt more than in any class I took in college.
Soraya and I moved to New York after getting our degrees, beginning our careers in publishing.
We continued to correspond with Morgenstern, and visited him when we travelled west.
For a week or two each year, until recently, he had been our guest in New York.
Over the years he began to spend more time abroad, eventually teaching only one semester each academic cycle, and we saw less of him.
He also became less forthcoming about his research interests: I surmised that age was finally getting to him, and that he didn't want to admit that he no longer cared to immerse himself in new fields, though Soraya was certain that he was merely hiding something.
Morgenstern was a familiar figure to both the kids.
In fact, over the last few years he seemed to have spent far more time in their company than in either Soraya's or mine when he visited.
He had a great deal of patience with them, gladly volunteering to take them to the museums (through which he was a better guide than either Soraya or I could hope to be) or theatre, or playing go (with Annabelle) or chess (with Tancred) for hours on end.
(They had also played via computer for several years, keeping in closer touch that way as well, though a few months ago Morgenstern had explained that his travels and work no longer permitted him to continue these long-distance contests.)
Despite all the time we spent with Doctor Morgenstern, I often thought to myself that there really was a great deal I did not know about him.
I had no idea where he travelled to each year, and somehow it was always impossible to ask (or rather: to get an answer).
He could speak so fluently on so many topics that I was never certain which were of true interest to him.
And his background and personal life remained always shrouded in almost complete darkness.
He was evasive about many things -- what are you currently working on, Dr. Morgenstern ? where are you headed to, Professor ? were questions he had apparently never answered -- and curt if personal topics were broached.
He seemed entirely individual, without family and few friends (and even those kept at a distance).
And yet it wouldn't have surprised me had I heard he had left a wife and children behind in Europe, or that he had a gaggle of mistresses and bastard (or legitimate) offspring strewn across the globe.
I had never expected him to have British solicitors, either, and even though I still couldn't conceive how he had come by them it didn't really surprise me.
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"What is it he wants ?" Tancred asked
It was what we were all wondering.
Tancred urged Soraya to go through the other papers, to see if there were more specific instructions, but Soraya wasn't ready to plow ahead just yet.
Relieved that it was not a death-notice, she had to stop - adjust - consider before proceeding.
"He's commissioning his biography ?" Annabelle asked, a note of incredulity in her voice.
With both Soraya and myself involved in the publishing industry it wasn't far-fetched that that someone we knew would offer us their life-story.
In fact, it was commonplace.
Friends and acquaintances make us unsolicited (and generally unwelcome) book offers all the time, often autobiographical in nature; we must get a manuscript a week each, and countless outlines and proposals just from people who know us (or claim to).
But Morgenstern wasn't offering us a manuscript, just a story.
And he meant us to shape it, into a ... book ?
To write it ?
Clearly he had something different in mind from run-of-the-mill biography, even if we hadn't quite grasped what he meant as Soraya had first hurriedly read his words to us.
I took the papers and looked over the first page again.
Revisit my life ..... literary recreation ..... A springboard.
"He addressed all of us," Annabelle reminded me.
"He means all of us.
But what are our rôles ?
Our responsibilities ?
What can we -- Tancred and me -- contribute ?"
"Research," Tancred immediately suggested.
"Backroom support ..."
"I'm sure Professor Morgenstern means us all to be involved in all aspects of this ... project," Soraya said, "and I'm sure he means this to be a more elaborate undertaking than merely the writing-up of his life-saga.
He wasn't one for such simple, reductive exercises.
Biography -- that's for secretaries.
He wouldn't bother us with that.
Flattening a life between two bookcovers.
This is something different.
And of a different order of magnitude.
Yes," she said, with a growing smile, "I think that we're in for something grand."
'Flattening a life between two bookcovers.'
I recalled that Morgenstern had once referred to biography dismissively in such or very similar terms.
Soraya was right: he wouldn't bother us with that.
No, he would want us to fill out that life, to take it and expand on it.
The other pages that had come in the envelope provided some information as to how he wanted us to do that.
I spread them out on the table, and the others crowded around me to look at them.
There were several pages of an outline of how Morgenstern suggested we proceed:
"What on earth ?" Soraya finally said, her smile uncertain.
"Can he be serious ?"
The locale at which to begin is my estate in Rystwycz.
One, some, or all of you should conduct a "scouting expedition" and visit the estate, to look around for a week or two.
This should give you a better idea of what I conceive, and what I expect.
Rystwycz, where many of my holdings -- papers, books, possessions -- can be found, represents the first station, and the base for future "expeditions".
It is essential that you at least see the site.
My solicitors, Clotwold & Berne, have been instructed to provide you with funds covering airfare and all expenses for this visit, as well as a fee of one thousand dollars US for the inconvenience.
Once you have made an initial assessment -- of whether you can bear to spend any length of time in Rystwycz, of whether the opportunities there are of interest to you -- I suggest you agree to a longer test period.
This would be a more extended stay, during which you can determine whether you are capable of the undertaking.
It would require no final commitment on your parts yet.
A trial run, as it were.
Convenience dictates that school-free summer would be the ideal time -- though I am loathe for you to wait so long should you receive this in early autumn.
An extended period of time -- the three or so months of summer vacation, ideally -- would also be preferable, though it is understandable if professional obligations do not permit you to spend so much time away from New York; a one month stay is, however, the minimum required.
Also: all Sinclairs (Soraya, Balfour, Annabelle, Tancred) must be present for the entire time -- though nothing more than presence is required.
Each of you is free to choose the level of involvement you will pursue.
My solicitors have been instructed to provide you with funds covering airfare and all expenses for this stay, as well as a fee of five thousand dollars US for each month you remain in Rystwycz.
At the end of this time you will have to decide whether or not to do my bidding and devote yourself to my commission.
You are welcome to decline it.
If you do accept, note that these are the terms:
I leave the question of Annabelle and Tancred's schooling in your hands, though my recommendation is that they not bother with so-called formal education for the duration of this undertaking.
- All of you must agree to continue and participate
- It is entirely up to you to decide how to carry on and what form this undertaking will take
- All of you must be involved, though it is up to you to decide who will do what. Should any of you at any point decline to continue to be involved then this agreement will be immediately terminated
- Soraya and Balfour must refrain from any other professional activities for the duration of this undertaking. You will take a leave of absence from your jobs, or resign from your positions
- My estate in Rystwycz is entirely at your disposal for the duration of the undertaking, as are other holdings at other sites (if and when you need to visit these)
- My solicitors have been instructed to provide you with funds covering all living and travel expenses, and any expenses attendant to this undertaking. In addition, they have been instructed to provide you with monies equivalent to double your current salaries, to be paid to you every other week
- When you have completed the undertaking -- a determination that is entirely at your discretion -- you will turn the "results", whatever they may be, (and all rights associated with them) over to my solicitors, who have been instructed to then turn over to you a final lump sum payment of one hundred thousand dollars US
The lawyers insist on stating everything in this manner: I'm afraid that if and when you do agree to continue with the undertaking there will be more formal contracts to sign, to make everything official -- for your protection, and theirs.
But it is all simple enough.
The money is so that this won't cause you undue hardship -- especially since I must insist that you forsake your jobs (a small price to pay, I think you'll eventually find yourselves agreeing).
And don't feel any pressure to produce something ... enormous.
Whatever comes of it comes of it.
That's the last thing you should concern yourself, especially for now.
My solicitors have been instructed to hand over the final payment even if all you give them is a single blank sheet of paper after ten years of travelling around the world.
I suggest that even if you are not at all inclined to accept any of the terms of my final offer you at least take advantage of the opportunity to take a brief look at Rystwycz, and then enjoy a longer summer stay there.
(I am quite confident that after that you will be quite inclined to take me up on my offer).
"And where did he get the money ?" I wondered.
"Oh, he has accumulated a fair amount over the years," Soraya said.
"I think he can finance whatever this folly is.
He has sufficient funds ..."
"To cover our salaries, twice over, for an unspecified duration ?"
"I think so.
It's what he wants to pay us for I'm wondering about."
"And where on earth is Rystwycz ?" Tancred wondered.
Annabelle was already ahead of him, having gone to get the atlas and then opening it up on the table.
She flipped first through the index, then found the corresponding map: "Eastern central Europe", was the preliminary determination.
Her finger circled over the far right of the map, then finally pinpointed the small dot that represented Rystwycz.
It was in some nether Carpathian regions, land that had passed from nation to nation as borders had shifted over the course of the 20th century -- it had probably once been Hungarian, once Czecho- or simply Slovakian, once Polish, once Ukrainian.
The tiny writing in which the town name was printed meant it was of similarly negligible size -- no more than a few thousand souls, likely.
There was hardly a city of any significance nearby.
"What possessed him to settle down there ?" I wondered.
"He might have been from somewhere there.
"Lvov," Annabelle corrected.
"... or Galicia or some such place at the fringes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Or rather: I never really knew."
"So when are we going ?" Tancred wanted to know.
"I think this requires some more thought and discussion," Soraya said.
I leafed through the remaining papers, but there was little that offered much additional information.
One provided contact addresses in Rystwycz, another suggested travel routes.
One final page offered a vague and hardly useful introduction to the proposed undertaking, specifying almost nothing.
Most of the information, it said, could be found at his estate in Rystwycz.
And that we should not concern ourselves with details, with what we might be striving for: we would, he hoped, figure it our for ourselves (and for him) as we went along.
Which was neither a great comfort, nor much help.
I could almost see Morgenstern's sly smile as he put together this package and plotted this tale.
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