(Continued from Part 6: Underface)
Maggie and I finish our coffee and hit the streets again. It’s almost ten, but we are only a few blocks from the library.
We pick our way around the small crowd lined up outside Macy’s waiting for the doors to open at ten. As soon as we are clear—well, as clear as you can be on the sidewalks of midtown Manhattan on a weekday morning—I resume our conversation.
“So, let’s go back to why you’re here again? And how?” I prompt.
Since we are close to the library, this seems an important thing to know. She seems to be much more clued in than I am, including knowing where to find me and that our destination is the library.
“Well, when I met with Ed Patterson, he kind of filled me in about the goings-on with your little band of mischief makers.”
Goings-on? Mischief makers?
“I know you guys are convinced that Adam Knight is responsible for Jimmy’s death, and are spinning quite the web to trap him. When I heard that, I asked if I could play too. I mean, how could I not?”
I’m taken aback by her words. Patterson didn’t tell her everything, obviously, but he told her enough. Maybe too much. Let’s be real here; we are a bit more than “mischief makers” and this is no game. If this goes sideways—and given the capabilities of Alcázar, very possible—we could all end up in the hoosegow. Though I’m sure Maggie would look lovely in orange, I’d hate to see that happen. What is Ed thinking?
“But how’d you find me this morning? Even I didn’t know I was going to Penn Station when I left my apartment.”
“Oh, come on, Matt. Have you met Ed Patterson?” Her words are dripping with sarcasm. “You do know what he does for a living, right?”
And then it hits me. Okay, yeah, I’m a bit slow this morning, but hey, I’ve been up since ages ago.
The fucking phone.
A few years ago, my mail delivery included a package from some toy company in the Midwest I’d never heard of. Inside the colorful inner packaging was a cell phone. The screen image on the phone said, “Keep me close.” I couldn’t wake the phone up from its slumber, and for a while I thought it might be actually be a toy. Until the day it rang. I pressed the call button, and found Ed Patterson on the line. He explained during the conversation that the phone was an “off the grid” model (uh-huh), one of only a few. It didn’t take much wondering on my part to know where the others were. I don’t know what Patterson’s job at Galaxy is, but apparently, it enabled him to come up with this nifty little Star-Trekkian communicator.
The phone was for Lafcadio, he told me, and I was to use it only to receive calls until further notice. I assume the others were told the same thing. A few months later, a text on the phone told me where to go for the next meeting, the one in Mississippi.
At the last meeting, Ed told us we could use the phone to call each other, but only in the event of an emergency. Fortunately, that has not been necessary. We are approaching objective, and so far, everything has gone according to plan, thank you very much.
I raise my eyebrows at her. “The phone.”
“You got it.”
I realize that Ed has been keeping tabs on me—on all of us, probably—through the GPS on the phone. Even when I got that Big-Brother-ish text this morning, it didn’t occur to me to question how he knew I hadn’t left yet.
“Of course. So, he sent you and the window dressing to Penn Station to accidentally meet me.” She nods. “But why?”
Before answering, she reaches into the pocket of her coat and pulls out a cell phone identical to mine. She holds it up so I can see the text message displayed on the screen: “Lafcadio awaits.”
She grins. “Because I’m going with you. I’m in.”
“But what about your family? Your job?” I ask as we approach the front of the library on Fifth Avenue.
“The only family I have now is Aunt Kathleen, Matt. Somehow, I think she’d want me to do this for Jimmy.”
She’s right. If Kathleen Flanagan knew that it wasn’t the Taliban that killed Jimmy, but an American who’d been there purportedly to protect him, she’d be all for this. Shit, with the Irish temper I’d seen flare up on occasion, she’d probably want to be a part of operation Lafcadio too.
“And your job?”
“You let me take care of my job.”
I catch a tiny glimpse of the same Irish temper in Maggie Murphy as she squares her shoulders and heads up the steps between the lions guarding the library’s entrance. Patience and Fortitude. Fitting, no? Lafcadio is no doubt right at home.
Inside, the library reading room is dim, except for reading lamps on the tables that fill the space between the stacks. As it always does, the room takes my breath away. I’ve been briefed on where to go once inside, and apparently Maggie has too, because she heads with purpose for a staircase that leads down to the ground level floor.
At the bottom of the stairs, we pause a moment to get our bearings, then spot the sign above a room in the far-left corner. “Children’s Reading Room.”
When Paterson first filled us in about this part of the plan, I’d thought it was perfect. What better place to kick off Lafcadio than in the den where the Lion Who Shot Back lives.
Surprisingly, the room is empty, but when we get inside, I can see why. There is a large poster just inside the doorway announcing the showing of a children’s film in the meeting room behind the space. Laughter drifting toward us confirms my deduction.
We wander along the stacks in the room, reading titles, until we come to the shelf holding a collection of Shel Silverstein books. Jimmy would have been in heaven in this room. He loved children’s books, and Silverstein was his favorite.
Maggie stoops, and points to several books on the bottom shelf. Lafcadio. There are seven of them. I count four from the left, and pull the book out. But we don’t take it. I put it on one of the Lilliputian reading tables, and we leave the room.
“This way.” I take the lead and, following Patterson's directions, take the corridor deeper into the bowels of the building to an door into the massive stacks at the back. The room is very brightly lit, which makes me nervous, but there's no one around. When we get to the row Patterson had designated, nearly smack in the middle of the stacks, we see a door standing ajar from the stack on our left. It’s one of those cool bookcase doors, shelves of books on the outside that make it invisible when closed. The opening mechanism was triggered when I pulled the Lafcadio book from its place.
“Ah, our portal,” Maggie says.
We step through the opening, and I pull the door closed behind us. We’re instantly plunged into darkness. Lest we take a header, I pull out my phone, my personal phone, and click on the flashlight app to light our way down the stairs. Maggie takes my hand as we navigate our way to the bottom, where there is just one door.
I take a breath, and knock.
Continued in Part 8:The End of the Line.
(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.)
(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.)
Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse7: “When the Door is Ajar.”