Acquisition

She has bright blue hair and he’s wearing skintight leather. They look like they’re off to a drag race or cosplay con. Yet here they are walking into a college library, brushing off Dawn’s rosyreds on a Saturday morn.

This is Shaftesbury College. They look like half the patrons – and all the librarians.

They give their IDs to Ulee. He was a student here until a few years ago. Got drunk and fell off a roof. Now he’s a little slow. Checks IDs at the library. Least they could do for him. Very friendly. Very sweet. Not too good with faces. Not too good at checking IDs.

“Hi, Jack!” he says to Leather. “Hi, Jill!” he says to Blue. They smile at him, go through the turnstile. And there’s nothing between them and three million books.

*** *** ***

I’m sitting at the circulation desk. It’s Saturday morning. I’m the only one there. A librarian will be in at noon to do librarian things. I’m just a student. I just check them out and send them on their way.

We don’t stamp books anymore. No college does. Only old books still have due cards in the back. If you looked at them you’d think nothing had been checked out since 2003. You’d occasionally be wrong.

Now every book has a barcode. So does every student. We scan their ID and then we scan their books. If there be no objections then the two be wed. Faster than a Vegas chapel.

But they can’t carry their new bride across the threshold, not yet. First we have to rub every book on a big metal plate set into the desk. There’s a little metal strip in the spine of every book. The metal plate demagnetizes it. Try to walk out of the library with a live strip… you’d think there was an air raid. Or a freshman band warming up.

It’s what we have to do, to keep people from stealing our books.

I see them coming in. The girl has Cherenkov hair and the guy has a six-pack you could reach out and drink through his shirt. The fact that I notice anything at all means the coffee must be starting to kick in. Happy Saturday.

They head for the stairs. One goes up, one goes down. I go back to staring out the window.

*** *** ***

The librarian shows up at noon. There are maybe a dozen other people in the whole building. If they were playing hide-and-seek the odds were good they’d starve to death before they all were found. Still the librarian checks my monitor to make sure I’m not playing games.

There’s a perfect point of highness that’s designed for work-study. Get too high and you can’t do your job: get fired. Don’t get high enough and you go bananas: fired too. Hit that sweet spot and you’re sailing smooth at eight bucks an hour. Less the cost of weed. And tuition, but we try not to think about that.

Precision stoning isn’t my strong suit. I’m clear-headed, bright-eyed, and going out of my mind.

The only thing we’re allowed to do is read. It’s noon on a Saturday and I’m in a comfy chair. If I start reading they’ll have to wake me up with an airhorn. After an incident last month I know for a fact that the library has a no-airhorn policy.

The only acceptable use for the computer is to use the catalog. So that’s what I do. I read the fucking library catalog. For seven endless hours every Saturday.

I browse. I sort. I query. I look for things to read. I look for funny titles. I run a search for “cocksnatch” (and am horrified when it says, Did you mean “cockthrowing”?). I can tell you the name of the oldest book in the library (Liber ruralia commodorum, 1471) and the biggest (Audubon’s Paradise of Birds, reprint, 50.4 inches tall). And because I have access to the librarian’s backend, I can also tell you the most checked out (Fifty Shades of No Hope For Western Civilization) and the most vandalized (The Bible) and the book with the most copies missing (An Introduction to Sex and Gender, 14th edition. – all 130 copies currently past due).

I suppose there are worse ways to earn eight bucks an hour. I suppose there are worse ways to spend a Saturday. I suppose there are worse ways to finance a degree.

I wish someone would come by and check out a book.

*** *** ***

A thousand years later and I’ve checked out three books to two people and held up my barcode scanner for a tour group to ogle. I still have three hours left on my shift. By the time I get off I’ll be so exhausted I’ll go right to sleep. Golden college days. I should have joined the circus.

I see her sitting on the stairs. Her hair’s a blue that God never made. She’s sitting on a backpack. It looks like a boulder wrapped in nylon. I’m surprised it doesn’t roll down the stairs, taking her with it.

I realize I’m staring at her. I realize there’s nothing else to stare at. She is athletic, long legs, tight shirt over a tight chest. She’s the kind of beautiful that doesn’t stand out when you’ve spent the last two weeks watching girls in Hollywood movies staring up from your laptop. I’ve spent the last two weeks going to class with girls in hoodies and pyjama bottoms and dirty hair and the freshman fifteen. I can’t turn away.

She looks at me. I blink. She winks. I turn back to my computer, which informs me there are 14,778 books in the library with the word “balls” in the keywords.

I should have joined the army. At least that way I could have died with dignity.

*** *** ***

I glance back from time to time. She’s just sitting there on the stairs. Then she’s joined by Leather coming down. He’s got a leather messenger bag over his shoulder that looks like he’s about to swing it over a horse. It doesn’t look empty.

I don’t remember them coming in with those bags.

Blue stands up, swings her rucksack over her shoulders, and the two of them hit the lobby heading for the door.

They don’t stop at the circulation desk. They don’t stop to get books checked out. Maybe their bags are full of other things. Maybe they’re stealing a semester’s supply of toilet paper from the janitor’s closet. I need to do that again soon.

They head for the detectors. We’ll find out soon enough.

They walk through the detectors, Leather orbiting his bag to squeeze through the spires. No banshee screech, no Trump and Shout. Must not be books.

I hope someone tries to steal something. I could use the entertainment.

*** *** ***

Another week, another round of classes. Another Saturday, another day to go by. Half my weekend in exchange for $56. This is probably the only part of my college experience that will prepare me for real life: living on minimum, sucking it up, and irony not making it any better.

It’s ten thirty in the morning. The only people in the building are me, Ulee, and a janitor who doesn’t speak English. The books he checks out are in Yoruba. Except the ones with dirty pictures. He still owes us a copy of An Introduction to Sex and Gender, 14th Edition.

The door opens. The dawn comes in, followed by Leather and Blue. Ulee pulls their cards and smiles them inside. They both go downstairs.

I see Blue pull out a folded piece of paper. I see her butt in a perfect pair of jeans. Then they’re gone to the floors below, and I’m back to playing with the card catalog. Or the digital equivalent thereof.

About fifteen minutes later I discover that there’s no coffee in the break room, and I give serious thought to dropping out.

*** *** ***

A few hours later the librarian comes in. He tries to give me grief for sitting there browsing the database. I just stare at him. He wanders away. A few minutes later he tries to give me grief for there not being any coffee. I consider doing more than just stare at him, but thanks to an incident about two months ago I know that the library has a no bareknuckle boxing policy.

I see Blue and Leather coming up the stairs. Their bags are bulging. Their eyes are smiling.

The librarian hovers behind me, waiting to watch me interact with a patron. But they don’t come to circulation. They head through the detectors, out the front door, and are gone.

“Do you need more work to do?” the librarian asks.

I turn in my chair to face him. “Yes.”

He has no response to that, and goes away.

*** *** ***

Another Saturday. I cross the quad towards the library, crepuscular rays slapping me across the eyeballs, hung over from a bottle of wine at 11 and Wikipedia until 3. Leather and Blue are standing outside the library smoking cigarettes. Leather’s are short and fat and unfiltered; Blue’s are long and thin and smell like a candy cane. There are bikes locked to the rack out front: chrome Harley, red Kawasaki, yellow Schwinn missing a tire. I am not awake enough to wonder whose is whose. Or how these teenagers got the money to buy them. Or how come these teenagers look so much like adults.

I unlock the door. They drag and drop and follow me inside. Ulee’s already there – I have no evidence to suggest he ever leaves the building – and he greets us each by name. After he’s pulled our cards.

L and B head downstairs. Yours Truly heads to the break room. There is no coffee. There is no library policy against groaning. If a librarian had been around to hear me, I’m sure I would have set precedent.

About ten minutes later Leather comes up the stairs. His mouth is moving like he’s praying the rosary. He’s holding a book under his arm. He’s taking small steps.

He hits the metal detectors. And the walls come tumbling down.

My hands leap to my ears. My ears leap off the roof. Somewhere Beethoven is rolling over in his grave. And he died deaf.

Ulee rushes over to him. The only reason he doesn’t vault his desk is because we took it away from him. Leather looks as sheepish as a wolf can get, explaining himself with subtitles in the form of holding up Book. But that’s not my business. I get to deal with the alarm.

The library is wired like an air raid bunker. The whole building is one big siren. There are three emergency exits and three sealed rooms – Media Services, The Somebody Somebody Room for Advanced Fundraising, Special Collections – as well as the main exit. Open any door, pass a magnetized book through any detector, and all hell breaks loose. Not a piece of hell. All of it.

Not that they ever explained this to me. I know this because Tyler knows this.

Tyler is the name of the student wiki. God fucking dammit.

The alarm gets reset on the computer. Tripping the alarm freezes the computer for a good half a minute. By the time the mouse is moving again I’m halfway to deaf. Then silence even more deafening. Not even anyone around for a golf clap.

I look up and Rawhide is walking towards me at a dead saunter. He hands me his book and his library card. Jack Maginot, second-year, my year; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 87th edition.

I swipe, scan, and demagnetize.

“You have four dollars and thirty cents in unpaid fines,” I say.

“Can I still check this out?”

“Until it gets to ten dollars.”

“See you in five seventy,” he says, and heads for the door.

It takes me a crosseyed second to doublecheck his math. Not one of my prouder moments.

Air raid sirens… definitely no substitute for caffeine.

*** *** ***

About two hours later Lady Cyan comes up the stairs. She’s got Leather’s messenger bag and a satchel of her own, black and red and at turns sharp and smooth. I’m guessing that she’s the red motorcycle and he’s the chrome. Not that I really care.

The librarian just came in with a large coffee for himself, and so there is a long list of things I don’t really care about. Such as the library policy against smacking someone with a hardcover (1977).

Blue walks through the detectors and out the door.

“No books for her?” the librarian asks.

“Doesn’t seem that way.”

“She must have a carrel,” he says. “Right?”

“Must have,” I say, because anything else would take too much effort.

And then three girls in sweaty workout clothes come in and ask if we have a shower, and my day goes ever onward.

*** *** ***

The next Saturday it’s Blue that trips the alarm. One book. Leather’s still in the library, nowhere to be seen.

She’s not carrying a bag. Her jeans are too tight to have so much as a microfiche strapped to her leg. Her ID says Jill Souchong, which I see around her eyes. The offending volume is an archived thesis entitled How is the How: Towards a Genealogy of Racism in Predialectical America: Essays for Social Change.

“Do you have this in black?” she asks me.

Then she bats her eyelashes at me and I’m jell-o just looking for a mold.

The janitor comes by with a large from Starbucks. A tour comes in consisting of an entire high school basketball team. The alarm goes off twice, the librarian goes off on me once. And it was morning and evening, my fucking Saturday.

*** *** ***

I make coffee the night before and put it in the fridge. In the morning it has the consistency of farm soil that’s been recently fracked. So does the space between my ears. After an hour they begin to cancel each other out.

Jack and Jill come in side by side. She returns his book; he keeps hers. They go in. They both go down. Shortly followed by a girl wearing a t-shirt that says “IMPEACH BUSH” with a button that says “(retro)”

The librarian comes in early. He’s wearing a suit and tie. He looks good. He looks like today is Trustee Day. I’m glad I wore my clean hoodie.

“The Board of Trustees is coming in at noon,” he says. “Are you going to be prepared?”

“Depends how many books they want to check out.”

“I don’t think they’re going to be checking out any books,” he says.

I need to play better clubs.

Five past noon they all come in. Smart suits in soft colors, relaxed-fit waistbands and sensible shoes. Diverse of race and creed and color and all with the same big ol’ smile. It’s like the tail end of a timelapse for a Disney pop band. And they control the college endowment, which at last count was one point seven billion dollars. Less eight an hour for me.

They’re in the lobby looking around and smiling. A passing student might be forgiven for thinking that looking around and smiling was their sole job description. They all shake hands with Ulee, who shakes right back and then asks them for their cards.

Someone has thought to issue them all ID cards for Ulee to check. I am touched. I am not sure if it’s good touch or bad touch.

The librarian positions himself between Trustees and Desk. I open up the catalog and try to answer that age-old question of how many books there are about vagildos.

Seven. Which is probably more than I’m comfortable with.

*** *** ***

Leather comes up the stairs. He’s holding a book under his arm. He comes off the stairs and stops. There are people in suits everywhere… specifically, between him and the door.

I can feel Leather’s eyes on me. I am not looking at him. I am looking at the catalog. I am looking at the catalog.

He swallows and starts walking towards the doors. He no longer looks cocky, which changes his face more than if he’d pulled down a hockey mask. Then something passes before his eyes and he runs forward towards the exit.

He stops before the metal detectors. One, two, three-

The alarm goes off and he passes through the detectors. He turns around. Ulee’s running towards him. Trustees are wondering whether to run for cover. The librarian just stands there with a blush spreading over his cheeks like an oil plume.

I sit behind the desk. Where I’m supposed to be. Waiting to check out his book. Waiting to do my job.

Nobody else had been watching, but I was.

The alarm went off before he stepped through the gate.

*** *** ***

I silence the alarm. I have to deal with the librarian and the trustees and a copy of An Introduction to Library Science that needs to be checked out and demagnetized. It’s half an hour before I can get away from the desk.

I put up the Please Ring For Service sign – but not the bell – and take a quick walking tour of the building. I look at the door to Media Services, Alumniland, Special Collections. They’re all closed. They’re all locked. Nothing’s out of order. Nothing to be done.

Something fishy’s going on. Something fishy usually is. Just so long as it doesn’t involve actual fish (1987, revised 2003).

I get back and the librarian is trying to put a happy face on the event for the trustees. They clearly don’t care. This isn’t clear to him. “-take library security very seriously. But, with the budget we’ve been given, it’s true that if someone is absolutely motivated to steal a book, they’re going to find a way. Our only recourse is to put the valuable volumes in Special Collections.”

“And that’s locked down, is it?” she asks.

“Lock and key,” says the librarian. “And alarmed when it’s not open.”

Whoever’s jockying the front desk has keys to all the locked rooms in case the fire department needs to get in. But the moment any of the doors opens, the Heavenly Chorus starts singing.

When the Trustees leave I pull the librarian aside. I tell him that I’ve got a strange feeling. I feel like something suspicious is going on.

“Why don’t you focus on your duties,” he says.

I bite my tongue, and go back to reading the card catalog.

*** *** ***

First thing next Saturday and Sister Cerulean trips the alarm. She doesn’t even check the book out. She asks me to reshelve it for her. She asks nicely. She puts her elbows on the desk and leans forward. She’s wearing a turtleneck, and somehow my IQ still drops down a well.

Leather comes out with a pair of duffels. He looks like Atlas working curbside check-in. Blue saunters up to him and splits his burdens. They saunter out together. I see them out the window, bags over their shoulders, one-handing their bikes across the sunshine and up Library Lane.

Fuck it. I go find the librarian. “Listen,” I say, “I think people are stealing books.”

“How?”

“In bags. They’re carrying them right out the front door.”

“Nobody’s set off the alarm,” he says.

“They have. They do. Set it off. Once a week. Like clockwork.”

“And then you check the book out, and they-”

“They’ve got duffel bags that come in empty and go out full,” I say.

“Obviously not full of books.”

“What do… this is a library. What else could they take?”

“Toilet paper?” he asks.

“Giant sacks. Full of toilet paper.”

“Kids are always helping themselves. It’s harmless. I used to when I was a student.” Which was two years ago.

“Listen,” I say, “I really think they’re up to-”

“You’ve told me,” he says. “Seriously, I appreciate it, but this job just isn’t that exciting. Daydreaming’s fine, but you’re just here to do your work.”

A take a deep breath. “It is my work – my job – to tell you when people are stealing – like, really obviously stealing-”

“No,” he says. “Your job is to swipe and scan. That’s all. But if that’s not enough for you, I’m sure that someone else-”

I walk out of his office before he walks into my fist.

*** *** ***

I have my orders. What can I do?

There’s an easy way. I could walk right up to Leather or Blue and say, ha ha, very funny, now open those bags. But I’m not allowed to. I’m expressly forbidden. Students can’t search other students. Even the campus police need a reason to search someone. Which, when the bag has just passed through the detector and nothing’s been detected, is precisely what they wouldn’t have.

I told a librarian. That’s all I’m supposed to do. That’s all I can do. I’m just a work study. He told me to drop it. And to go fuck myself. So I shall drop it, and myself I shall go fuck.

On Monday morning I get a call to come into the library. The head archivist is there looking paler than vellum. She came in, went downstairs, and found the door to Special Collections wide open.

*** *** ***

Two campus police come over, an ox who couldn’t get into the real police and a scrawny kid who couldn’t get into grad school. They go down to Special Collections. I follow.

It doesn’t look like much. Just a reading room with a temperature-controlled book-vault behind. Nine to five, M through F, you walk in and pull up a chair and a librarian brings you your order. Table service. The sole perk of doing Deep Research.

SpeColl books aren’t in circulation. They never leave that room. They’re watched every minute. But each book still has a magnetic strip in it, just in case someone tries to slip something out.

The reading room looks in order. There’s nothing there to steal. The librarian pulls open the sliding glass door of the vault, hits the lights. It’s still full of books. Twenty thousand volumes didn’t just get up and walk away.

“Are you sure there was a break-in?” asks Officer Scrawny. The subtext: …or did you just forget to lock the door Friday night?

“I can’t say for certain,” says the archivist. “I’ll need to do a shelf inspection of the archives, and see if anything’s been taken.”

“How long will that take?” asks Officer Ox.

“That depends.” She turns to me. “You’ve got work study, right?”

Words to terrify any undergraduate.

*** *** ***

I start with the As. I’ve got an alphabetical list of the entire Special Collection pulled up on my smartphone. I feel like I’m in a space opera, tricorder in hand. Not like a smartphone is all that different.

I’ve got class at two. By one-thirty I’ve found seven books that are missing. Including the reprint of Audobon’s Paradise of Birds, which I remember from my catalog-surfing is the size of a bath towel – and which I’m guessing is worth a lot more than a replacement copy of An Introduction to Sex and Gender, 14th Edition.

I tell the archivist what I’ve found. Her complexion goes from vellum to red morocco. She asks me if I can come back after class and keep going. Audit the whole collection. Work through the night.

Of course, I say. So long as there’ll be coffee.

*** *** ***

Ox and Meerkat come back to the library. They ask the librarian if he’d noticed anything suspicious in the previous weeks. I’m ten feet away, just starting on the Cs. I listen.

He says he’s thinking about it… but he can’t remember anything out of the ordinary.

Of course he doesn’t say anything. If he admits I told him, that I flat-out said someone was stealing, then why didn’t he report it? He’d be liable. He’d be fired. At least.

I try really hard not to smack my head into a clothbound Chaucer. I mostly succeed.

*** *** ***

I move from shelf to shelf and from row to row. I get an extension cord for my phone charger. Then I get another. I drink coffee like it’s just been made legal. Or maybe the other way around.

Around eight AM I hit my limit. I go to my dorm room, piss like a water fountain, brush the coffee-burns off my teeth, collapse into bed. I sleep through class. I don’t much care. I go to dinner to get some breakfast and head back to the library.

Just shy of 3AM and I finish. I’ve worked 31 hours in two days. Unless I forgot to mention to anyone that I was breaking for sleep. In which case I billed 43 – in the only hourly-rate job in America which doesn’t earn you overtime.

I go to the archivist. She’s still there, pacing in the halls. I hand her my report. There are 348 books missing from Special Collections.

She faints.

*** *** ***

A police report is filed. First with campus police, then with the real deal. Two local plainclothes come over to look around. They arrange to do it on Saturday morning, when nobody will be there to see them.

They interview all the people involved. I sit behind the desk and watch. And reset the alarm, when one of the cops decides that first-hand investigation means grabbing a book and waving it through the detectors.

I see the archivist holding up the list I made. I doubt my name gets mentioned. Either way: nobody comes to talk to me. At least I get a whole day without the librarian breathing down my eyeballs. Though I rather think that my ability to get him fired at a moment’s notice will significantly improve our workplace relations.

The cops come and go. My shift comes and goes. The day comes and goes. Leather and Blue do not.

*** *** ***

No one seems to notice.

A week goes by. I keep sticking my head into the library: it’s all the same. The only remarkable thing is that there are so many people there. What I get for going in on a weekday.

On Saturday I talk to the librarian. I ask him how things are going, if the books have been recovered. He shrugs. He looks distinctly uncomfortable. I’m fine with that.

On Monday I go to Special Collections. It’s mostly empty. So nothing unusual there. I find the archivist, pull her aside, raise an eyebrow.

She looks resigned. She says they’ve filed an insurance claim. An adjustor will come down to inspect the premises, make sure it’s in line with their security recommendations.

They are, she says. They’ve done everything right. They’ll change the locks, test the alarm, and the insurance company will cut a check.

“How big of a check?” I ask.

“To replace them all?” She shrugs. “Probably a quarter million.”

I don’t faint. But it’s close.

*** *** ***

As I’m walking away, wide-eyed, wild-eyed, I hear her mutter: “Not like they will.”

I turn. “What do you mean?”

She dismisses me with a shake of her head.

Fuck that. I walk back, stand in front of her. “You don’t think they’ll replace the books?”

She appraises me for a moment. Then sighs, and shakes her head.

“They won’t,” she says. “I spoke to the President. The books that were taken aren’t on any class reading lists. Most of them are on Gutenberg for free. Just the cost of storing and protecting them…”

I don’t swing at that one.

“But that’s bullshit,” I say. “That’s absolute fucking bullshit!”

“Language,” she says, and walks away.

*** *** ***

After several hours of pacing, I decide that my estimation of the situation was not incorrect. It’s absolute bullshit. And that’s what I’ll say.

I sit down with a cup of coffee and start to write. The next morning I throw everything out and try again without the caffeine. It takes me three days. By the end I think it’s pretty good. I read it to my mom over Skype. She says it sounds good. And we’re off.

I go to the weekly meeting of the school newspaper. I’m a new face; I introduce myself. Sure I’d love to join the newspaper. No I don’t want to be the new sudoku editor. What I’d really like is to run this story about the thefts at the library. You know, the $250,000 rare book thefts. And how the school is trying to keep the insurance money for itself.

Dead silence. Raw animosity from all the journalism majors who can’t think of anything to write but video game reviews. Sweet curiosity from the people who just walked in for a place to be not-alone. At length I get assigned a copy-editor, I eat some free pizza, and head for bed.

I send them my article the next day. They don’t butcher it like a cow; more like a deer. What’s left is small and lean and rather tough but it will do the job. It’s a big story. And I broke it. Right across the administration’s nose.

I talk about theft. I talk about the basic material of our education being taken from us. I talk about security. I talk about our tuition dollars at work and doing nothing. I talk about tragedy. I talk about books that cannot now be read, ancient voices silenced in the night. And I talk about complete and utter bullshit. Which is what you call it when the administration does anything. Let alone try to profit off of a tragedy – profit off a crime.

The newspaper goes to print. There’s my headline, there’s my name below. There’s the biggest swing that anyone’s taken at the administration since I’ve been a student. That might be the biggest scoop the newspaper’s ever had.

I wonder if anyone will care.

I don’t intend to wait around to find out.

*** *** ***

The school has one dining hall. The dining hall has one door. Through which passeth a good eighty percent of the student body at any given meal. Especially Friday night. That’s pizza night.

It is our forum. It is our acropolis. It is our cloak-room. It’s where you go to tell the polloi what to do.

There’s a folding table just inside the dining hall. First come, first serve; take it out in front and drop its legs. Students pass by on one side, you sit on the other. Whether you’re one of the rich kids fighting for the janitor’s freedom to unionize or one of the white kids calling for minority rights, tabling is the way you stir the mob.

I get there two hours early. I pace up and down, I work on my pitch. Come the dinner-bell I’ve got posters and placards in bright shiny colors for the stoned or the bored. And I’ve got a petition. With space to be signed by every student in the school.

It’s simple stuff. We want our books back. They’re ours; they’ve been taken; we want them returned. If they can’t be found then we want them replaced. For ourselves. For the future. For the fact that it’s the right thing to do.

*** *** ***

I get a lot of questions. Mostly the same ones, over and over again. I answer them. They smile and nod. They sign. They sign. They sign, every one.

Several people ask me my name. Some of these are very pretty. I think I see why people go into politics.

I see a couple walking by. One’s wearing leather, the other has blue hair. They don’t say anything. Stop and read my posters. Give them great consideration. Then bend and grab a pen, and sign.

Blue gives me half a smile. I just stare. And another student’s in front of me, and they’re gone.

*** *** ***

I table all through dinner. Then breakfast and lunch the next day. Over the week I go to every faculty meeting and pass around my sheet. I go to every staff office, one after the other. I make sure to talk up how many people have already signed the petition. Safety in numbers. A chance to be on the winning side.

Of a school of 1400, I receive just under 1100 student signatures. If you factor in students who live off-campus, or are studying abroad, or who haven’t taken off their grass-mask in a lunar year, that’s just about everyone. More than a majority: nigh-on one hundred percent.

And about half the faculty. And all the staff.

No trustees sign. But I make sure they see the petition. And are informed, each, by me, of its success.

Within a week the President had sent an all-campus email, in which, in the laborious prose of the threatened (and overeducated), she explains that the insurance money will absolutely be used to replace the missing books. This was always the plan, she says. It had never been otherwise. A big misunderstanding. Ha ha ha! Now let’s join hands and put this all behind.

*** *** ***

I walk over to the President’s office. Meet with her secretary. Explain who I am. Smile as I do so. Look apologetic. Ask for an appointment. Just a few minutes of her time.

I go in at lunch-time. I finally meet the Chief. We fall over ourselves in our sorrow that things got out of hand. And gladness that all is now as it should be.

I suppose I had this idea that she’d want to shake my hand. Be impressed with what I’ve accomplished. Offer me a job. Instead I get a plate of danish of the sort they serve at the dining hall. Thus ever to students.

“I’d love to help out,” I say. “In getting the books replaced. Really, I feel bad I’ve stirred up so much trouble. Anything I can do.”

“It’s really OK,” she says, passing me a scone. “But, honestly, maybe it would be a good idea for you to be involved a little. Make sure that things are entirely above-board. I think that might go a long way into smoothing people’s feathers.”

“My thoughts exactly,” I say.

Our smiles compete in insincerity.

“Obviously the college archivist will be taking point,” she starts.

“Oh, I know the archivist,” I say. “I’m one of her work-studies. I’ll let her know I’m here to help. I’m sure she’ll appreciate the assistance.”

“You work in the library?” she asks, putting together two and two.

“Every Saturday. Hey, can I take a scone to go?”

*** *** ***

I meet with the archivist. I can tell she’s torn, half thinking I got her books back, half thinking I almost cost her her job. I tell her that the President sent me to assist her in ordering the replacements. So long as I can clock in for it.

She hands me the list, and the number for a well-known rare book dealer.

I come back a few hours later. “It’s a lot of books,” I say. “Might take a while.”

She shrugs. “Just so long as we get them.”

“He said something about specific editions,” I say. “Like that Liber ruralia commodorum. The 1471 we had is worth, like, twice as much as the 1477. Does it matter?”

“Replacements should be as close to the original editions as possible.” She stares at the ceiling. “Though if the difference in price is substantive… or if he thinks it’ll take a long time to track down a precise edition-”

“I’ll tell him to do his best,” I say.

“Anything else?”

“Yeah, what’s the ceiling on what we can spend?”

“The insurance reimbursement is for three hundred nineteen thousand,” she says.

“Awesome,” I say. “Should I clock out now?”

*** *** ***

I set up a meeting with the book-dealer. Not the one that I was told to contact. But I’m sure the archivist won’t care. If she even notices, which won’t be until the books are at her doorstep.

They’re a small dealer. Maw-and-paw kind of place. They’ve got a crappy web site with pretty pictures of books. They do special orders, work with private clients, invite them to their home, pour them tea. I tell them I’m coming over. I tell them to put on the tea.

I bike ten miles into the woods. It’s a three-story house in rather advanced disrepair. It was cheaper than a one-story in good condition. The trees look like they’re moving in for the kill.

I park my bike next to the others and knock on the door. Paw answers. Along with the strong smell of lavender. “You change your perfume?” I ask.

He shrugs. “This place didn’t smell too good before.”

Maw’s on the floor in the living-room, holding an iron in one hand and a pair of tweezers in the other. There are scented candles burning in the fireplace. They’re big and blue and they almost kill the smells of hot glue and moldy wood. They almost match her hair.

“How’s it going?” I ask.

“About thirty to go.”

“That’s all?”

She puts her tongue behind her teeth and smiles.

“I don’t care for you at all,” I say.

“Too bad,” says Paw, “I’ve been looking for someone to pass her off on.”

“Don’t you have a shirt that needs polishing?”

He scowls. She laughs, and goes back to her ironing.

Each book has an Ex Libris sticker on the inside cover. Heat the stickers with an iron until the glue melts and they peel right off. Sometimes the tweezers help grab an edge. They’re the same tweezers that pulled out all the magnetic strips.

Some of the books have other identifying marks. Dedications, marginalia here and there. Some pages will have to be removed, some scraped clean with the blade of a knife. Shouldn’t be a problem. Shouldn’t hurt the books.

“They all going back?” Leather asks.

I shake my head. “Some of them. Some we buy a cheaper edition, sell it back at the full price, then flip the library copy somewhere else. Keep the difference.”

“How much difference?”

“All told?” I shrug. “Hundred grand?”

Blue whistles. Leather shakes his head.

“It won’t be overnight,” I say.

Blue stretches. “Worth the wait to kiss student loans goodbye.”

A kettle whistles. Leather: “How about that tea?”

I reach into my backpack, and pull out a bottle of Champagne.

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~ by davekov on 14 March 2013.

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