Friday, November 05, 2004

Chapter 7

Once back inside the library, Seamus quickly managed to slip down the stairs again and return to the door. As he approached, he shone his flashlight on it and glanced at the floor, looking for the leather corner he had seen earlier. Nothing was there.

He froze. He had only been gone a few minutes. Was someone else down here? The motion sensing lights were off when he had returned, so he didn't think so. Still, he approached the door slowly, and glanced carefully through the window, ready to pull back if he saw anyone. It was still dark inside, with no sign of movement or light. He ran his fingertips under the door. The book was definitely gone.

He stood up again, feeling the slight weight of the key in his pocket. He had nearly forgotten it in his sudden shock. He pulled it out, realizing as he did so that he didn't even really have a good reason to believe it was the right key. But it was the only key he had right now so he put it in the lock.

It went in, in a rusty, scraping sort of way, as though the lock were not used to intruders. It seemed reluctant to turn at first, but with a few shakings and a sharp twist, it clicked. The door creaked open and the musty smell of old books floated out on a cold draft of air.

Seamus put his head in, reluctant to just walk right in, and felt around for a light switch with his hand. He found one and flipped it. A small, dim bulb in the back turned on. The room seemed to be a good twenty yards across, and the weak light still left considerable shadows in the corners.

Bookshelves lined all four walls, full of books not so much shelved as stacked, tossed or shoved into place. There were a few free standing rows of shelves in the middle of the floor as well, surrounded by tables and old library carts, all piled with books and bags and boxes of books. Only the narrowest paths led around the room, and a fair number of the shelves looked like they were probably unreachable without a considerable amount or rearrangement.

Seamus hardly knew where to start, or even, for that matter, precisely what he was planning to do. So he looked down at the ground around the doorway, with his feet still outside in the hall. No sign of a book there, and there was a layer of apparently undisturbed dust on the floor. He took two steps inside, then slowly turned to look around him. Nothing but a dusty clutter of books, as far as the eye could see.

He completed his visual tour facing back towards the door, and his eye was caught by a single shelf in the bookcase next to it, just by the light switch. The shelf caught his eye because it was really the only shelf he could see, the only one not crammed full of paper and bindings. It even seemed free of dust, and the metal shone slightly in the dim light, as though recently polished. There was only one book on it, lying right in the middle, and bound in leather.

He reached for it hesitantly, then picked it up. It was light, soft and warm, and sat easily in his hand. The leather binding was done in vertical strips with a thin, double row of stitching where each strip overlapped the next. Combined with the softness of the leather, the ridges and the stitching gave the book a fascinatingly sensual, tactile feel to the hands. The book that it bound was soft cover, and bent slightly to the touch. Seamus stood for a few minutes simply holding it, running his fingers over the cover, and marveling at the delicious sensation of it, trying to drink it all in through his skin.

A flap of leather continued from the back cover to fold over the front, and was held in place by a leather thong, which seemed distinctly akin to the one holding the key that had opened the door. Seamus unwound it and gently opened the cover. The pages inside were blank, and seemed fresh and crisp. He flipped through them, looking for anything written there but finding nothing until he saw the last page, facing the back cover.

In the lower right corner of that page were the initials "S. G." written in black ink and glistening. Seamus stared at them for a moment, then touched the ink lightly with a finger tip. It smeared slightly, as though still fresh. He drew his finger back with a small spot of ink on it.

He didn't know what this all meant, but he was definitely feeling uneasy. He closed the book and fastened it shut. He toyed briefly with the idea of simply putting it back on the shelf, but even as he did so he knew he couldn't leave it. It was small and thin, so he slipped it under his shirt, where it seemed strangely cozy.

Seamus turned off the light in the room and closed the door. Locking it behind him, he dropped the key back into his pocket. Somehow he felt it wouldn't be missed if he didn't return it right away. Then he headed back upstairs.

"Attention. The library will be closing in 15 minutes. Please bring any items you need to check out up to the circulation desk now. Again, the library will be closing in 15 minutes. Thank you."

The announcement surprised Seamus. He had come in first thing at the morning – it couldn't be closing time now. Sure, budget cuts were shortening the hours but this was ridiculous. He looked at a clock on the wall: 4:45 p.m. Where had the time gone?

He hurried outside and unlocked his bike to head home, the book still inside his shirt. As he cycled past, Big Jake gave him a nod and a wave. Seamus ignored him.


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