Thursday, November 04, 2004

Fourth Day

A longer chapter today. And I'm starting to distinctly enjoy writing at times, which is neat. I suppose there will be plenty of slogging to come later, though.

Chapter 6

Seamus spent the next day at work feeling distinctly restless. Granted, this was a tedious job. He was printing newsletters and stuffing envelopes all day, and to make matters worse, the printer was jamming every few dozen sheets. With two thousand copies to send out, this had Seamus walking back and forth across the office (of course his cubicle was on the far side from the printer) every few minutes. It made for a blisteringly dull day.

But still, there was some extra unease and impatience to it today. On jobs like this Seamus usually brought his iPod, a battered old 5 gig model, and listened to audio books on it. Right now he was listening to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, read by Douglas Adams himself. But he couldn't even concentrate on that today. He found himself wishing that it was still Wednesday, and that he would be at the library tonight. It closed early on Thursdays, due to recent budget cuts, so there would be no time after work. And besides, if he went on a weeknight, Deborah or Maria would see him and he might have to explain why he was there. He didn't really have a good answer for that, even for himself, and lying always made him uncomfortable.

So it was on Saturday morning that he went back to the library, the first one in as the doors opened at 10 a.m. He browsed around a little bit like he usually did, but without really looking at any of the books he was picking up. He didn't think it was strictly prohibited for library patrons to go down to the basement, but they basically never did, so he preferred to look inconspicuous and then slip off when he had the chance. Luckily, the stairs were in a less heavily trafficked area than the elevator, so he pretty quickly managed to head down them.

It turned out that door leading to the basement from the bottom of the stairs was locked. Somewhat odd, since the elevator didn't have a lock, but Seamus assumed it was because the library staff could monitor the elevator door from the front desk. Deborah had once told him the combination for the lock on the back door of the library, so he punched that into the keypad. No luck. He entered it backwards. Bingo. He went through and immediately turned to slip down the side hallway.

The main hallway lights were on motion sensors, so they had gone in when he entered, but the side hallway remained dark. Seamus walked slowly towards the door as his eyes adjusted. He had a small flashlight with him that he took out and turned on. Shining it on the door didn't reveal anything unusual. Just a worn wooden door, with brassy metal edging around the window portion. It reminded him of the classroom doors in his high school. The flashlight beam didn't reach very far in through the window, and mostly just made it look spookier, by accentuating the dark areas beyond the skinny beam of light.

He pulled back from the window and shone the flashlight again on the door as a whole, but this time something caught his eye near the ground. Something seemed to be sticking out slightly from beneath the door. He knelt down to examine it and found that it was a piece of leather, like the cover of an old, leather bound book. He gave it a tug, but it wouldn't come out any farther, as though the rest of it were too big to slip under the door. Seamus could feel a few sheets of paper if he stuck his fingers under the door, so the book hypothesis seemed to be correct. He stood up again and tried the door. It was still locked.

It was time to find the key. Deborah had said that it was kept up at the front office, and Seamus figured he knew where she meant. Behind the circulation desk was a short hallway leading to a few offices, a restroom and a small employee break room, which doubled as the mailroom. In the mailroom was hung a board with a number of pegs, each one with a key ring on it. Deborah had sent him in there occasionally to get the key for the conference room. The key he needed was bound to be there as well.

The problem was getting it. The weekend staff didn't know Seamus and wouldn't have any reason to not be suspicious of him if he just went up and told them he was a Project Read volunteer and needed the key to the basement storage room. Luckily though, there weren't many people in on the weekend, especially in the morning, so he figured he could manage something.

Heading back upstairs, Seamus went into the children's section of the library, which branched off next to the circulation desk. There was only one lady at the desk and Seamus watched her from the corner of his eye as he pretended to look at a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Soon, an elderly man tottered in to the library with a stack of large print books to return. He seemed to be a regular, and the lady at the desk went over to the return bin to say hello and take his books for him. As she turned her back, Seamus strode quickly and purposefully past the desk, trying to act as though he belonged there, for the benefit of any library patrons who might happen to glance over at the time. He was quickly in the hallway and out of direct view from the desk.

In the mailroom, he came to the key rack. It was a complete hodgepodge of keys to random locks around the library, though not to the important locks such as on the main doors, of course. Some of the keys had labels directly on them, or on their key chains, and while others just had labeled pegs that they hung on. Seamus recognized the green keychain with the conference room key, and looked around for one marked "basement storage," or "donated books room" or anything like that. None of the keys seemed to be the right one.

He heard footsteps outside the room, and jerked his head up from his perusal of the keys. The steps stopped, and he could hear the person speaking to someone in the office next to the mailroom. He glanced back at the key rack and then noticed something. Behind the conference room key, on the same peg but without a label, was another key, on he hadn't seen before. On an impulse, he snatched both keys at once from the rack.

Outside the room, he heard the owner of the footsteps laugh. It was a male voice, and Seamus guessed that it was the man from the reference desk.

"Well, I guess that's what we get for working on Saturdays, huh? Oh well. I'll feel better about it once I've got my coffee. Talk to you later."

Seamus ducked into the restroom and locked the door, still clutching the two keys. He heard the man come in and pour himself some coffee from the coffee machine, humming half-heartedly. There was a shuffle of papers – probably checking his mailbox – a light sigh, and then his footsteps heading back out again.

In the restroom, Seamus looked at the keys in his hand. The conference room key on the green chain didn't interest him. The other one though, was intriguing. It was darker and older-looking, and it hung on a simple loop of worn leather thong. It also seemed longer and thinner than normal keys, as though it were made to reach right into and through a door, rather than merely opening it. And he couldn't tell if this were just his imagination or not, but he thought it seemed ever so slightly warm to the touch. He put it in his pocket.

The room outside sounded quiet, so he eased the door open and slipped out, hanging the conference room key back on its peg. He could now hear the same man talking with the lady at the reception desk, so he decided not to try to leave the way he had entered. Instead, he headed for the back door. He only had to pass one open door, and he could hear typing coming from that room, so he just breezed past it as quickly and casually as he could, slipping by before attention could be focused on him. And then he was outside, at the back of the library by the dumpster.

He headed around the building to come in through the front door again. As he did, he heard the sound of a cheap plastic recorder coming from up ahead. Leaning against side of the building was a battered, dirty gray duffel bag, and a similar backpack, along with their owner, who seemed to blend in with his few possessions, creating an amorphous shape, like a giant wad of old chewing gum wedged in the corner between the ground and the wall. He was the library's resident homeless guy, and could nearly always be found in the same spot. Periodically he would pick up his recorder, blow into it and twiddle his fingers, causing a succession of weak notes to struggle desperately into a sorry semblance of melody in an effort to get him to stop and leave them alone again. Occasionally he would get up and wander around, or attempt to engage library patrons in conversations about the best places to sleep down by the creek without the police finding them. But he was basically harmless.

Seamus was walking past him, pretending not to notice like most people did, when the sound of the recorder stopped and was replaced by a semi-tuneless mumble of lyrics.

"Dr. Gilbert… sneaking 'round…
Dr. Gilbert… goin' down…

"What was that?" Seamus had spun around before he could catch himself, before he could tell himself it wasn't an unusual name, that it could have been any made up song.

"Huh? Nuthin' man, nuthin'. Just singin'. Guy can sing, can't he? Big Jake here's always singin'." His dark skin was like night in the twilight of his grungy gray clothes and bags. His eyes seemed to glint for a second like stars, but then they unfocused and wandered.

"Right… right. Of course. Never mind." Seamus told himself to forget it and started turning back around.

"What you got in yo' pocket, huh?"

Seamus snapped back again, distinctly unsettled this time.

"That's none of your business," he snapped.

"Hey, hey… that's cool." Big Jake, as he seemed to call himself, put up his palms in a brief gesture of mock submission. "Just making conversation, chattin'… you know. It's something we all got in common, right? Random shit in our pockets. Somethin' to talk about. You can tell about a person, by what he's got in there… where he's goin'… what he's doin'… what might happen to him… him… hmmm hmmm…."

His voice trailed off into a low hum and his eyes unfocused even more. His fingers tapped on the recorder a few times, and then he brought it up to his lips to wheeze out a few more notes.

Seamus shivered, then turned and headed for the main library entrance.