6TH AND CHESTER
9 to 5.
Not from A.M. to P.M., but P.M. to A.M. That was the time slot. They had asked her repeatedly if she didn’t mind working late.
“Now you wouldn’t mind staying up late” Mr. Raines, an elderly man pushing seventy, with a fat frame of face and an Einstein sort of rumpled hairdo, asked her for what must have been the third time. His wrinkles flexed whenever he moved, especially when he smiled. It was one of those strange, plastered all-too-friendly smiles you get first day on the job from your co-workers. Alice knew it all too well.
“I’m used to staying up late around books” she replied, folding her hands. “College has made me nocturnal.”
“You have an impressive resume” added Mr. Sloane, his assistant, a flimsy-looking man of stunted stature like a hunchback, who was balding straight down the middle. “Worked at several libraries.”
“Mostly part time.”
“But you do have an abiding love for books” said Mr. Raines charmingly.
“Always loved to read.”
“Your starting salary will be 20 by the hour.”
“20?” She hardly believed. “The description said 12.”
“We like to incentivize our staff” said Mr. Sloane. “It’s very rare we find people who are willing to work under our conditions.”
“Originally we had seven applying” said Mr. Raines. “One by one they all slipped away. Until, god-willing, you showed up.”
“You don’t have any rats there?” asked Alice. “Or roaches.” The two men exchanged a pleasant look.
“No rats, roaches, or anything living that would disturb you” assured Mr. Sloane.
“My space will be…”
“Quite ample. And comfortable. Since you’ll be having it all to yourself. It’s a very small library.”
“All of it to myself?” She prompted a skeptical eyebrow.
“You’ll be managing front desk, as well as everything else. No websites or internet required. Just a simple card catalogue, if anything runs amiss.”
“The Dark Ages, huh?” she joked. “Simple enough.” Mr. Raines spoke next.
“We call our customers clientele, shh, shh. Since our catalogue serves them uniquely.”
“Very uniquely” added Mr. Sloane.
“Graveyard shift. I imagine I’ll be serving few people.”
“Ours is a night library.”
“Never heard of one that stays open past seven or eight.” Except for the ones on campus.
“Hopefully the change won’t be too drastic for you.”
“The place is called…” Alice flipped the old careworn card she had written the name on, “Noverwood.”
“It’s a very old library. 6th and Chester.”
“Used to pass that place all the time. Thought it used to be a schoolhouse. Must have been made back in the 1800s.”
“Victorian extraction. Its procurer had a flair for the English.”
“You will report there promptly at nine o’ clock. The coming Wednesday.”
“That’s tomorrow.” She checked her phone. “And better place it for eight fifty-five. I’m somewhat of a stickler for being punctual.”
“As you wish, of course” answered Mr. Sloane.
“Now before you go, there’s a set of rules and policies we need to inform you on.” Alice fixed him her best, attentive smile.
“Our library is what we call a sit-and-study. Being ‘after’ than most hours, people aren’t too keen on returning things past a certain time.”
“Which means,” added Mr. Sloane, “we have a strict policy that none of our books are to leave the library at any time.”
“No one checks anything out?” She looked at him, half askance.
“That’s why we call it a sit-and-study” resumed Mr. Raines. “Our collection is a very rare one. Books you’re not likely to find in the average catalogue. Which is why we have a strict policy with them. Wouldn’t want any to turn up misplaced.”
“So I won’t be checking anything out.” The whole thing seemed impossibly strange.
“And you won’t really be assisting anyone. Our clientele have an expertise. They know where to find things.”
“Forgive me if I say that this doesn’t really sound like a job.”
“Oh, but it is” assured Mr. Sloane. “Just not a usual one, I’m afraid.”
“You won’t be attending the typical duties of a librarian” said Mr. Raines. “But you’ll still be an assistant, so to speak.”
“In what way?”
“The clientele need only one thing of you.” He raised a finger. “All we ask is that you open the doors to let them, and then close them to keep them out.”
“And you’ll have the entire place to yourself” promised Mr. Sloane. “You’ll get to manage things, keep them in order.”
“And the clientele won’t give you much issue. They’re mostly quiet sorts, keep to themselves.”
“So you’re hiring me just to open the doors at nine and close them at five.”
“Precisely. Along with the other tasks of management. But it is imperative that you remember those instructions: open at nine, close at five.”
“Some may be adamant about staying after, but you must insist that they leave.”
“Have you any questions?”
“Any more rules I should know about?”
“None.” Alice stopped and pondered, the way she always did when she meant to say “yes” but still prevaricated.
“Tomorrow at nine” she smiled.
“Splendid. Thank you.” She shook hands with both men in turn. “And if you ever need to reach us.” Mr. Sloane presented his card, a worn out piece of plastic with a bit of faded print scratched on, bearing his formal description.
“Pleasure to have you” Mr. Raines remarked, handing her over the keys. “Middle one opens the front. Right one to the closet and the left is for the cabinet. And one last thing: you may want to keep the windows shut. The place tends to get a draft.”