Dark fell early that day, helped along by the iron-grey rain clouds that had oppressed the city for days. Houses and businesess emitted yellow glows that receded in the gloom. A man in a long coat, his hat pulled down over his eyes, pulled his collar up against the damp.
Verity Vertue looked up as a rush of cold air ushered in another patron. A man approached where she sat at the reference desk. He had on a long oil slicker and his hat shaded his face. The man extracted a grimy piece of paper and dropped it on the desk in front of her.
“I need to find these books,” he said.
The Travels of Marco Polo, The Fall of Constantinople and The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge were the titles written in thick black ink on the paper.
Verity took the piece of paper to the card catalogue that contained the South Bay Library’s catalogue. She came back with two title cards and showed them to the man
“We only have two of them. I couldn’t find a card for the third one,” she said.
The man looked at her piercingly and she felt an inexplicable coldness. Quelling her uneasiness, she added, “The call numbers are at the tops of the cards here. Would you like me to show you where they are?”
The man glanced at the index cards and shook his head. “I’ll find them,” he said and stalked off into the shadows of the stacks.
Verity watched him carefully. Something about this man made her uneasy and she couldn’t put her finger on it. She hoped he wouldn’t try to steal any of the volumes, or worse, damage them. South Bay Library didn’t have much of value, but to Verity, every book was irreplaceable.
She gathered the cards up again and replaced them in the catalogue drawer. The Fall of Constantinople was the book she had been unable to find. The title tickled her memory; surely South Bay had purchased that title a few months ago? It was a strange collection of books this man had wanted in any case. Verity shrugged to herself, she’d had plenty of stranger requests.
That evening, Verity made the rounds of the library, drawing the blinds, putting any stray books away and turning off the lights. The stranger was nowhere to be found. He must have sneaked out at some point in the past couple hours without her noticing, a thought she found mildly perturbing. Verity Vertue liked to keep track of the comings and goings of the patrons of the South Bay library.
She did find the two books he had been looking at and brought them back to her desk to be reshelved in the morning. Looking around the darkened space, she felt a surge of satisfaction. All was well and orderly in her world that night.