When he didn’t answer, she pushed it open wider and saw a man hunched over his desk. He appeared to be in his early thirties—a little young for all the traveling his office and reputation suggested—with blond hair combed to the side.
Earbuds ran from his ears to an iPad resting on his large oak desk, precariously close to an open can of Red Bull. In front of him he had a small box covered in symbols that reminded Harper of a cross between a cryptex puzzle and the Lament Configuration from Hellraiser.
The professor wore a small spyglass attached to his glasses, like the monoculars jewelers used to inspect diamonds. He had a tiny needlelike tool to poke at the box, then he typed rapidly on the iPad next to him, apparently documenting some miniscule discovery.
Since he was so immersed in his work, Harper took a moment to look over his office, which was rather hard to do since it was filled floor to ceiling.
His office was a mash-up of ancient Egyptian, steampunk, and technomodern. Artifacts and old books were overflowing from the shelves, mixed in with all kinds of vaguely antique gadgets. An ankh, an old globe with a spyglass protruding from the side, and a flashing digital scale all occupied the same shelf. Then there was a slick computer, the tablet on his desk, and something flashing a blue laser light buried in a corner among textbooks and newspapers written in Syrian.
Professor Pine’s office was like the strangest episode of Hoarders ever.
“Professor?” Harper asked hesitantly.
“Yes?” He lifted his head to look at her, peering out from around the monocular, and pulled out one of his earbuds.
Harper had to suppress a smile when she realized that he kinda did look like a young Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sporting a tweed jacket or fedora. Instead, he wore a dress shirt that was unbuttoned to reveal the Joy Division T-shirt underneath.
“We had a meeting at one fifteen.” Harper gestured to one of four clocks he had in his office—the only one that told the correct time. “I’m a few minutes early, but I can come back—”
“No, come on in.” Professor Pine pulled out the other earbud and clicked something on the iPad before moving it aside on his desk, along with the puzzle box. “Harper Fisher, right?”
“Yeah.” She smiled at him.
He gestured to the ergonomic chair across from his desk. “Have a seat.”
“Thank you again for seeing me,” she said. She slipped off her backpack and dropped it by her feet as she sat down.
“On the phone, you said that your sister had found some kind of artifact?” The professor took off his glasses and set them on his desk.
“Yeah, it’s, um … an old scroll,” Harper said, struggling to find the right word for it.
“And she found it near where you live?”
“Kind of. An older family friend passed away recently, and we were cleaning out his house. She found the scroll among his things.”
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. “Where are you from again?”
“Maryland,” she answered. “Capri, specifically.”
“It’s probably not that ancient, but I could take a look at it,” Pine offered.
“I don’t have it with me, but I have some pictures on my phone.” Harper quickly pulled her phone out of her pocket.
He held his hand out for it. “I’ll have a look.”
Harper scrolled through her phone until she came to the photos she’d taken of the scroll. Over the weekend, she’d easily taken two dozen pictures.
“We think it’s ancient Greek,” Harper said as she handed him the phone.
“Well…” He put on his glasses, removing the monocular first, and examined the pictures, turning the phone to the side to get a better look. “It has some of the qualities of Grecian text, but I’m not sure that’s what it is.”
“Do you think you could translate it?” Harper asked.
Marcy’s friend Lydia was already working on the translation, thanks to the visit that Harper and Gemma had paid to Cherry Lane Books on Saturday. But the sooner they got the translation, the better, and if Professor Pine could do it now, that would save them time.
“Sorry.” He shook his head. “I’m a bit rusty on ancient languages. Egyptian was always my forte.” He motioned to the Eye of Horus poster he had hanging behind his desk.
“Can you make out any of the words?” Harper asked.
“I can pick out some letters.” He scrolled to another picture and propped his head up on his hand, then shook his head again. “But this isn’t truly Greek. Is there a way I can zoom in?”
“Yeah, sorry. Here.” She leaned over the desk and enlarged the picture for him. “Is that better?”
He nodded. “Yeah, see this…” He let out a deep breath through his teeth. “If I had to guess, I’d say this was possibly Phoenician or maybe Aramaic. That might be a kappa or an aleph”—he pointed to a jagged figure that looked like a cross between a “k” and an “x”—“but I can’t say that with any certainty.”
“So there’s nothing you can tell me?” Harper asked, trying not to sound deflated.
“Not without looking at it more.” He handed her back the phone. “There’s a good chance that it’s nothing. The reason I can’t decipher it is probably because it’s chicken scratch and a mixture of old languages thrown together to look ancient.”
“And what if it’s not?” Harper pressed. “What if it’s real?”
“If it’s real…” He sighed and took his glasses off, tossing them on his desk. “Again, I’d have to see it to be sure, but it’s incredibly old and amazingly well preserved. Where did you say you found it again?”
“Um, in the attic.”
“Do you have any idea where it came from before then? Or how it got there?” Pine asked.
“Not really. I think Mr. McAllister had some Greek relatives,” Harper lied.
He leaned back in his chair, thinking. “And you’re from a town called Capri?”
“Yes, Capri, Maryland.”
“You know, the real Capri is an island off the coast of Italy. But centuries ago, it was part of Magna Graecia—or Great Greece. Many Greeks still refer to it that way.” He swiveled a bit in his chair, so he had to look back over his shoulder to see Harper. “When was your town founded? Do you know?”
“June 14…” Harper furrowed her brow in thought. “I think like 1801? Or 1802? Something like that.”