It's late when I arrive at the Philosophical Research Society campus. I find the library and step inside. It's even colder inside than the night air, and it feels old in here. The wood shelves are stuffed with books filling each wall and breaking through a ceiling to a second floor balcony. I step inside the room towards a long wooden table. I am encircled by the towering shelves. The room is neat and clean. But the looming shelves feel heavy on my vision.
At the end of the room is a wood counter with a fashionably dressed person browsing slowly on an inlaid screen. They look up at me as I enter the room.
"Hello!" I say with a wave as I walk around the heavy table. I take off my goggles and try to make a friendly smile.
"You are a stranger to this place," they say, gently tapping the screen off.
My stomach sinks and I wonder how I have already gotten in trouble. Wait, there was no ID scan to get in here. I haven't done anything wrong. I take a deep breath and put on a smile.
"That's true. I am looking for someone named Horace." I forget that some places aren't as welcoming when you aren't bringing them something. But I am bringing them something. Better mention that.
"I have something for him."
They narrow their eyes and lean forward on the counter.
"Is that so?"
"Are um. Are you Horace?" I ask. I thought this library was a part of some sort of academic club but it might be a university. And if that's the case, they probably have a strict policy to avoid illegal activity to protect the school. The person behind the counter hasn't said anything yet. Maybe I should start making something up. "I'm sorry if I'm in the wrong place. I heard that he works here and you see I have something personal of his from an old friend and, well, I just want to be able to give it to him personally because I hear he is a rather private person and I mean... I'm a private person, myself and I know if someone came to where I work and wanted to talk about old times, I wouldn't want everyone else to hear about it and ask and oh geez it's just so embarrassing, you know? But on the other hand, I do want him to get it because it might have sentimental value to him and those kind of things are worth so much to people, you know?"
"Are you on drugs?" they ask.
I have no idea what to say. I probably look terrified. But wait, I'm not on drugs!
"No," I say, hopefully not too defensively. "Well unless you count caffeine. I know some folks do. But I was tired and it was a long trip over here from the West Side without a car." Maybe I'm talking to much. They're still staring at me. I sigh. "Look just, it's late and if he isn't here, could you at least let me know when he might be here or give me his contact number?"
"Don't get desperate. I'll go see if he is around." They back away and exit through a side door.
What the hell am I doing here? Why is it so cold in here? I find myself zoning out when they return with someone fatter wearing a black cloak and a silk scarf with a bird pattern.
"Hello there, I'm Horace. You caught me in the middle of some work, but why don't you sit down." He motions to the table. "Stella, would you mind watching the machine for me while I talk to this young person?" He smiles at them. They narrow their eyes at me as they walk back through the door.
"I may not have been completely honest to your colleague," I admit. "But they didn't want me to talk to you and I have a good feeling that you will."
He giggles and lightly touches his scarf. "Oh really?"
"I have a couple yellows that I need to sell and I was wondering if you might know someone in the valley who would be interested," I whisper.
He stares at me for a while.
"Do you want to see them?" I ask. I point my head towards one of his cameras. "Maybe somewhere safer?"
He breathes in sharply and bites his lip, looking around at the shelves.
"How about you pick a couple volumes off the shelf and I'll bring a couple more over. We can put on a little show for the camera and it will be harder for the camera to track which ones are which when they are on the table."
I nod and get up. He points me towards a shelf and I try to look for some small volumes that might be mistaken for the yellows. There aren't many with graphics on the cover like the ones I have but I find a couple. When we get back to the table with our respective piles, he reminds me that they have security devices in all the books, so, if I have any stowed away, to just get them out now. I can't help but laugh. Does he really think I would be that stupid? Oh wait, is he just asking me to take out the yellows? I swing my bag around in my lap under the table and slowly pull them out and onto the table ask he is moving things around, and pointing at pages wildly. He moves so fast and the pages become a blur and suddenly I can't tell where my own set of three books went.
"I get the feeling you may have done this before, sir," I say.
He giggles. "There is no need to flatter me. I can easily sell these books. They are so rare and in beautiful condition, aren't they? It's too bad that I can't keep them for myself. I do know someone who might be interested." He explains, moving the other books around the table and opening up to a page and pointing here and there. "Why don't you come to the back with me and I'll see if I can get ahold of them." He gathers up all the books in his arms and leads me through the door. The person from the desk is nowhere to be seen. There is a mess of tables covered in printing supplies. "Close your eyes." He laughs.
Does he mean because it's messy? Or because he is making printed media back here? He leads me through a few rooms that might be offices and a hallway to a small room with a tiny lamp over a desk.
"Are they in the valley?" I ask. "The original owners requested that they be rehomed there. I think they just want to get them out of their neck of the woods," I lie. He continues looking at Girls of 3B.
"Shut the door behind you, please," he instructs me. I obey, and down the hall I spot another person passing through. What a strange place. It feels so empty and cold but there are people here. As I close the door, I see that there is a label on the door that reads "Dr. Horus." Horus is his last name?
"Please take a seat in that chair." He points to a fluffy arm chair in the corner near a strangely low camera. "Perfect," he says as my body settles down in front of the camera. "I hate those damned things. We tried to get them removed a few years ago but there is always a group of folks that insist that we need them. I am very suspicious of them. What do they need to hide that they need cameras everywhere to prove they aren't doing whatever they are doing?" He sighs and taps on his desk machine. "I'm going to try to call my friend Lucy. She absolutely loves this kind of thing, I think she will be thrilled to buy these, if she has the CASH. I don't know if she is still working in the underground."
He taps away on his machine, delightfully. His arms poke out from under his cloak, covered in thick sleeves. I am wishing I still had Mix's hoodie right now.
"Y'all always keep it so cold in here?" I ask.
"We have to, for the specimens," he says, sadly. Does he mean the books? A philosophy school, I suppose they wouldn't have biological specimens or technological specimens to keep preserved.
"She isn't responding. I could ask Renault..." he thinks out loud before tapping away again. He seems fairly happy to help me sell these books. I wonder how much of a cut he will want. People who like to dabble in the underground will often not have their own CASH account and will want to be paid in drugs or stolen fashion and every once in a while underground electronics. I should have thought about that before I left Spiro's house. We are close enough that he never asks me to buy any drugs at a discount and so I forgot to get some.
Suddenly Horus growls. "Shit. It's getting late. Do you mind if I keep these until I figure something out?" he asks. "Uhh... I mean..." I start, although I'm not sure how to finish. On one hand, this would give me the time to pick up whatever he wants as payment for his cut, but on the other hand he may never get ahold of me again, and if I come back he could deny having met me in the first place. And that person at the counter would be glad to push me out the door if requested. On the other other hand, it would be nice to just walk out of here without them and go home and go to bed. Horus can tell I'm thinking about it. He knows it's a liability that I shouldn't take. Especially if he thinks I need the CASH. But do most folks in the underground need the CASH? Some do, but does he know that? CASH was intended for luxury only and it seems to still have that reputation. Also, these books are probably one of a kind at this point. I don't even really know how much they would be worth. "I don't think I can do that," I say slowly.
"Do you deal in illegal media often?" he asks.
"Yeah almost every day," I say, technically not a lie.
"That's so exciting." He squirms. "See, I used to collect, years ago. I got really deep in the scene but I needed to focus on my career and I fell out of it, you see." Why is he telling me all this? Is he trying to get me to trust him? "I still have a lot of my old contacts, I mean we are still good friends but I just didn't have the time," he sighs. After a pause, he taps on his machine again which unlocks a drawer in his desk. Inside, he pulls out a small bottle of violet liquid and an even smaller leather volume.
"I am embarrassed to admit how much I paid for this. It's in the public domain now but I don't have the providence to prove that I came by it legally, so it have to hide away." He passes it across the desk to me. I pick it up. It has a beautiful silver cross pressed into its black cover. I open the book. The title page is printed in a heavy gothic font but upside down. I turn it around the right way. It's in a language I don't know how to read. Is it Swedish? Norwegian? I don't know those old languages very well. I page though it and find it has several horrific engravings of tortured people and churches engulfed in flames. This book could be 600 years old. If it's foreign though, why would the copyright laws matter?
I hand it back to Horus. "It's very beautiful. Are you showing this to me so that I'll trust you with my books?" I ask, although I'm not totally convinced that the book was illegal, despite the fact that he had it hid away. "You may have only hidden it there because it was valuable, not because the police would care that you have it."
He appears to be thinking carefully about what he's going to say.
"Look, um what is your name?" he asks.
"Sugar," I say. He smiles gently.
"Sugar, if this sale goes well, I'd like to start a relationship with you." Apparently he could see my confusion. "I mean, this library has many books. Many of them are not used and we don't necessarily need them to ah... meet our mission."
"But like your client, if I were to try to sell them myself, I may quickly be discovered."
"Look, Dr. Horus. Slinging library books ain't easy. You need to be able to cover your tracks in your records systems, and I don't just mean delete the file. Cause those books have histories. And people come snooping. Relatives of the person who donated it back when the ban happened- they want to try to recover the book once it's back in the public domain and you have to explain to the police why it's gone? Suddenly the police have found a copy and you have to explain THAT. It's not a simple business and unless you're planning to take the CASH for a 2 week long retirement, I just- don't think it's a great idea. In fact, I don't think I want to have you sell my books after all." I stand up and step towards his desk to retrieve them.
His eyes widen and he scrambles to grab them first. "Fine. Look. We can go see my contacts tonight. Just give me the night. You can come with me to ah... ensure their safety." He slowly hands them towards me but does not yet let go.
"If we're meeting with buyers, I want to name the terms of the deal myself," I demand. "And you are going to be taking 20CASH for a finders fee." His looks incredulous. "I know that doesn't sound like much, but it can buy you quite a bit of fun." But it won't really get him started if he actually wants to start exchanging media. "I'll make it 75 if I can get a good deal," I offer.
"I will have you know that I!... I!... Well I won't take less than 50!" he tuffs.
"Fine but you're driving," I say firmly, before snatching the books back and putting them in my bag.
"Hot dogs!" he cheers. "You've made me a very happy man." He pulls out 2 small fluted glasses from the drawer. "Let's have a drink to good luck!" The violet liquid pours thin but the color stays dark. I agree and we drink. It tastes like a strange floral candy.
"That's quite nice," I hear myself admitting in a voice that sounded more like Horus' than my own.
"Isn't it?" he giggles before putting everything away.