Rated: E · Short Story · Comedy · #1906733
Two guys have a little problem with the librarian. They gotta have a book, she says no.
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Here's where this thing came from: This was the prompt given.
Your character needs to borrow a certain book from the library. He/she really wants to get his/her hands on this book.
Why? You decide.
- It's an old school yearbook, where he/she hopes to find clues about his/her grandfather's past.
- It's a book about local history which might tell him/her the secret of the haunted house.
- It's a book of love poetry written by an ex that your character's still in love with.
Now, if your character just walks into the library and gets the book, that's too easy. So we're going to create a mini-conflict and put a difficult librarian in your character's way. The librarian doesn't want to let your character borrow the book. You can decide why not.
Your character has to either convince the librarian, steal the book, or find another way to get the information he or she needs.
“Archival reference only,” Miss Watt said. “Only source-admitted scholars are allowed in those stacks.” She looked at me with those tiny pinched-looking gray eyes from behind her little pince-nez specs, ones always pinned so daintily to her collar with a black ribbon. If she’d had a walrus mustache instead of the fine gossamer line of black down that adorned her upper lip, she’d have looked like Teddy Roosevelt; not the smiling, gregarious Teddy, but the Teddy speaking softly and carrying a big stick. In the library, she did both of those things; one quite literally, the other in a more figurative manner, all the while seated on her elevated dais above the Circulation Counter.
“Miss Watt, I don’t come in all that often, but you’ve known me since I was little. You know I’m not a scholar, but there’s a book of county history I’ve been looking for. I think it’s in the historical record books for the 1870’s”
“You think?” Miss Watt said. “Why would you want to read about something you think might be in those books?”
I said, “My great-grandfather’s brother was the county executive during the Reconstruction period, and I think he may have been accused of being one of Hampton’s Red Shirts. If so, he . . . ”
“You need not go on, young Randall,” Miss Watt said. “When you have your credential attesting to your scholarship, you may be allowed to view the archives, not before. Now, if that is all? Good day.” She stared at me as one might peer at an impaled specimen on a cork-boarded tray.
Good day?, I thought. I don’t think so, Miss Watt, not by a long shot.
So, that night, after an interval of P.P.P.P., Operation Walrus went down, and almost certainly could have taken me down with it. Because those four P’s signified: Pretty, and Pathetic, and Prior and Planning.
I watched as jowly and oh-so-serious Miss Watt walked down the steps and away from the library building, dropping a big jangly key ring into her tote bag full of booky-looking stuff, her furled black umbrella held close in the crook of her arm. She’d kept me pinned with the gimlet eye all the while I wandered the public stacks and library reading room after our little tête-à-tête, and I wouldn’t put it past her to have taken the book I was wanting home with her so that she could be further decorated with the Pain-In-The-Tokus Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. No matter, though, because she didn’t see me now, and my recon of the library environs had provided an abundant amount of intelligence gathering; I knew for certain that I would be scanning the pages of the history tome forthwith. But first, I had to have a box man, and that’s where Handy came in.
“Handy, my man, what’s the haps?” I had to talk old-school hipster to get anywhere with Handy. The sands through Handy’s hourglass of time were jammed at June, 1988.
“Dude.” That was Handy’s all-purpose shorthand for whatever was going on, and could be used as anything from a noun to the pluperfect subjunctive. Of course, sometimes it was “Dad.”
Handy Barnesdorf was my amigo simpatico from even before high school, and when I’d headed for Community College, Handy had decided that CC was a good choice for his future as well. I wasn’t doing Pre-Med or Nuclear Physics studies or anything, but I was making headway in getting the core stuff attended to. My man Handy, of course, needed to stay pretty straight in order to grasp the “Fundamentals of Arc, MIG & TIG Welding” curriculum he was following, but Handy had a teensy relationship with what was euphemistically called “the bud.” Being stoned was not going to get him far toward a master certification in instructor Wally Williams’ Welding World, but in all honesty, Handy’s metal creations outside of class time did have a certain Dali-esque quality that you couldn’t quite resist. Sort of that oozing clock kind of thing, with all the patent artistic talent that sort of thing required. The man was a contradiction, for sure.
I asked, “H., have you done any torch work?”
“Dude.” Slight nod. Good, that was a positive.
“Got a set-up?” Might as well find out now.
“Dude.” Up tick of chin. “Got one from Mama for my B-Day. Portable Oxy/Acy, dude. A real smoke wrench. It’s the Don.” His Mama, Cherry Lynne, was an old time carny-gal, raised on the road in the carnival tradition, and was as free-spirited as a helium balloon in a hurricane. A cutting torch rig seemed the perfectly maternal gift in her world.
“Yeah, but will it cut a door lock?” I said.
“Straight from the fridge, dad.” OK . . . .
“How long would it take, H?” Might as well stay in character; wouldn’t want to confuse my homey.
“Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.” I guess Handy loved 70’s British dish soap ads. “Just spark it up, apply lovingly, and Bob’s yer uncle.”
“Bob?” I said.
“Yeah, like no sweatsky, dude. Piece of cake.” Now I got it. “What’s the 411?” Handy said.
“Right now, H., we’re looking at revengicide. Miss Watt’s bookery crib.”
“Miss Watt? Cool. Like, I’m all in dude,” said Handy, with a look on his face like Nicholson in that Steven King movie, fire-ax in hand, sweet-talking his wife.
And with that, we began Operation Walrus in earnest, and in time, Murphy’s Law had then appended to it “Randall’s Corollary,” which states that Murphy was a stone optimist. No really, I’m serious, that’s the last moment any that any of this went well.
2AM, black of night. Handy and I were standing at the library’s alcoved rear access door, one of those metal fire jobs, with a reinforced knob and keyed deadbolt face. Just the sort of thing you’d expect, not Fort Knox, but not so easy-peasy looking, either. What was not expected was the iron bar that stretched across the door face, welded at the hinge side and padlocked on the knob side with a lock straight out of Hollywood Central Casting, a big, bad brute of a thing. The little flash I carried gave watery illumination, but even in the gloom I could see we were up against more than just the typical obstruction.
”Can you cut it?” I whispered.
“Dude.” Handy had the answer to everything.
“Then let’s do it.” I stood back and watched the master go to work.
Handy turned some knobs on the torch, flicked the scratcher, and a blue-yellow-red flame raced from the torch nozzle. He pulled his smoked glasses down, and bent to his task, heating the shackle of the padlock first, then quickly cutting through it. I reached to take it off the hasp, and Handy put out his hand, said, “Dude. Gloves.” Smart man, that Handy.
The lock off, I swung the bar down to its rest position. Handy started on the deadbolt face and soon had cut a ragged, hand-sized circle around the keyhole. The whole thing was glowing as red as a candy apple at the fair, but now what? We hadn’t thought it out all the way, and had nothing to punch the lock mechanism through, or pull it out, either. Handy extinguished the torch.
Then the flashlight gave it up. Now we were standing in the dark, with just the dying light of the cut-job staring back from the door. I kept shaking the light the way you can sometimes to eke out a bit more juice, but no go. The batteries weren’t coming back, as dead as John Brown’s body, a-moldering in the grave.
“Dude?” Handy was looking for guidance, but I had none to offer. We could make another run at the door in the dark, or leave to get tools and another light, or just leave, but my target was on the inside, and we were still standing on the outside. Inspiration being the mother and all, the little cartoon light bulb came on and I said, “Let’s get your truck.” Something else half-baked.
Handy said, “Dude!” I couldn’t see him in the dark, but I knew he was grinning. Handy loved his truck, a 70’s Dodge Power Wagon, jacked way up, with an engine that could pull a 747. Of course, Handy’s truck did have a few emission issues; mainly a lack of what some might consider an acceptable decibel level when running. But all we had to do was get it into place, then turn off the engine and just use the lights on battery. He had tools on board, too, and a winch, so we were headed for the bonus round. A simple plan for a simple man; that’s my motto. Would that it were so simple.
“I’ll wait here,” I said. “You bring the truck around, and park it pointing towards the back here. Just go slow, no goosing that thing and waking the dead, ok?” I couldn’t see him, but as Handy was slipping away I thought I heard him say over his shoulder, “Dude.”
I waited. And waited. Nothing but the night sounds all around, crickets, cicadas, an owl somewhere calling the mice to come out and be dinner. I thought: Handy’s truck’s at his house, no more than ten minutes away. We’d walked here easily. Maybe what, four minutes to drive back here, even real slowly? Where was my guy? Then I heard the Power Wagon growling along, Handy probably letting it idle it’s way along the street, then a little burp as he came up over the curb, and around to the back, the truck doing a three-point turn and shining the light bar’s spots on the scene. We were lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July,
“Cut those lights, man! They can see us from outer space!” I hissed. Then, just to be sure we were totally conspicuous, Handy revved the engine before he shut it down, and in a moment, only the window spotlight shined a cone towards the door where I stood. Even the ticking from the cooling engine sounded loud.
“Dude,” Handy said. “What up?” I had a niggling feeling that Handy may have taken a smoke break during our timeout. Too late to worry, though, we had to get this show on the road.
“Give me the tire iron, H,” I said.
“Rog.” He scraped around behind the front seat and walked over with the jack handle. He also handed me a tiny penlight. I took them both, set the flange of the jack handle against the keyhole in the torch-cut deadbolt face, and pushed, then pushed a little harder, and finally, backed it out a ways and punched it, Blang! It sounded to me like the send off bit from The Gong Show, but it worked, and the key-face gave with a steely screech, hitting the floor on the other side of the door, sliding to a thudding stop beyond. Chop, chop, I thought. Move it!
The hole was raggedy, but I put my still-gloved hand through to turn the inside knob. Or tried to turn it. Problem was, there wasn’t a knob. I took off the glove to get a better feel, and found a faceplate with something that felt like another keyhole. But this time, a little luck came sashaying along in the form of a key sticking out, and giving it a turn, in we walked, just like we owned the joint, which, as upstanding taxpayers, I suppose we did in at least some tangential way. Inside, the light was dim, but a milky moon shone though the high-up front windows, and we could see to navigate. I decided to save the penlight batteries for now.
“Archives. Over to the left, Hand; let’s go.”
“Dude.” Handy was moving with surprising grace, considering he was probably at least a little smoked, and we left the counter area behind and crossed the open floor to the archives stacks, where a cursory search of the local history shelves located the volume I’d come for. At least Miss Watt hadn’t sabotaged me by taking it away. Putting the penlight to work, I studied the pages for the relevant dates and curricula vitae of the cast of characters in my little family play, and finding what I sought, said to Handy, “Copy machine.”
Presently, after thoroughly wiping down everything from the copy machine buttons to the coins we used to operate it, to the history volume, and the shelves and the counter, and the door, and every other thing we could think of, we left.
“Dude,” Handy giggled. “Sweet.” The Great Escape.
Handy went his way, the big Dodge engine burbling away in the darkness. At least he didn’t turn on the Klieg lights that I could see. I went my way, on foot, taking the sheaf of papers attesting to my Great-Whosis’ innocence of all charges leveled. Trouble was, I couldn’t readily actually “show” my “proof,” so I did the next best thing: I prevaricated. And isn’t that so much nicer a word than lied?
Needless to say, everyone involved wanted to see the proof of my word, and this being in a time long ago, and in a galaxy far, far away (read: no internet), I had to hem and haw, and say it was coming, just hang on a durn minute.
Later in the week, after word of the Great Library Take-Down died down a bit, I strode up the front stairs of the book house, and marched straight over to Miss Watt’s aerie perch. “Gosh, Miss Watt, I heard the library was burglarized the other night,” I said, all sweetness and light. I was feeling pretty damn smug, I tell you, what with being a cross between Pretty Boy Floyd and Butch Cassidy.
She owled me with her beadies, taking my measure I felt sure, and smiled. Uh-oh. Miss Watt smiling at you meant that you were at her most merciless mercy, in effect becoming broken bones bleaching under a dead desert sky. I swallowed involuntarily, and maybe I was cringing. It’s hard to know when your all-too-short life is passing before your eyes. Then Miss Watt said, “Nothing to be gleaned from the crime scene except whoever it was didn’t take anything, not even the change from the copier, which strangely had a surplus from the coinage I leave in it daily. Young Randall, I’m glad you’ve come in again, even though I had hoped you’d be in the day after our last meeting. I had a change of heart directly after I had spoken with you, you seeming to be such a thoughtful young man, and although you aren’t currently qualified to access, I made the decision right then and there to allow you freedom to the volume you requested.”
“What?” I said. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you right.” I felt like I was going to have a baby right there on the floor. Maybe twins.
“I am not a stutterer by nature. You may see the book, young Randall. It was somehow incorrectly shelved, Heaven knows how, but it’s back in its proper place now, exactly where it should be. Now then, do you want to peruse it or not?”
A voice that I think was mine said, “Sure, Miss Watt, sure. I’d love to peruse it.”
I mean, what else could I say?