The library was a discreetly large building. It was built into a gentle hill so that from the front it didn’t look particularly big at all. There were four stories of dark-red brick with high arched, stone framed windows and gothic frippery; the doors were probably better called portals given their size and immensity, and all of the windows were mullioned, lead-framed, and many of them were stained-glass. Inside, the building had been extended both into the hill and downwards so that there were four basements levels, of which two were reserved for library use only and not open to students. The top floor was predominantly desks and the canteen facilities, in an attempt to keep the books away from liquids and food that might spill and stain them. The extension at the back of the building, being newer and invisible to the outside, was larger and more spacious, although there were no windows, because it was supported by steel and concrete rather than brick and sixteenth century building codes.
Just inside the front doors were the usual RF-gates to catch any students attempting to leave with more books that their library card allowed (and since students were allowed a generous twenty loans at any given time it tended to be those who’d had their cards suspended for non-payment of fines that attempted it), and beyond them was a large, three-storey high entrance hall where the returns and loans desks dominated. Joshua went to them, and then walked around them to a side desk where journals, periodicals and non-book materials were checked out. Behind the desk was a young man he didn’t recognise, but as the library employed students as cheap term-time labour he wasn’t particularly bothered.
“Hi,” he said. The man behind the desk looked up but didn’t say anything. “Is Barbara on shift?”
“I don’t know,” said the young man, his words slightly slow. “I’ve only just started.”
“Could you ask, please?” said Joshua. “You can tell her it’s Joshua asking.”
“Oh can I?” The young man stared at him, suddenly belligerent. “If you’ve got something to return you can give it to me. If you’ve reserved something, I can look it up for you.”
“And if I’d like to talk to Barbara?” said Joshua. He looked at the young man, wondering where this anger had come from. “Will you relay the conversation between me and her?”
“She’s not here and you can’t talk to her.”
Joshua’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. He opened his mouth to retort, and then caught sight of Barbara walking between the reshelving carrels a little behind the counter. He lifted his arm and waved, and she turned to see what it was, then smiled as she saw him.
“You have to leave,” said the young man abruptly.
“Hi Barbara,” said Joshua, ignoring him. “I was hoping to catch you.”
“Hi Josh,” she said.
“He has to leave,” said the young man to Barbara. “He’s being a nuisance.”
Barbara looked at him quizzically and then at Joshua. “I don’t see that,” she said. “He’s just standing there.”
“He wouldn’t tell me what he wanted. He’s rude.”
“Look Nick, can you go back there and reshelve the books on carrels 4 and 5 please? I’ll come and talk to you about this when I’ve dealt with this man here.”
“He’s rude.” Nick stood there obstinately until Barbara gestured, and then he moved off, his face twisting into the sullen expression of someone sulking.
“Not a student then?” asked Joshua when he thought Nick was out of earshot.
“Actually he is,” said Barbara. She sighed. “I’ve no idea what the admissions criteria were for him, but they can’t have been academic. What can I do for you, Josh? Have we lost anything of yours?”
There was a running joke between them about losing things, as Josh’s first three visits to this desk had all been for reservations that the library had mysteriously lost. Barbara had dealt with each of them, which had lead to them chatting and dating very briefly before deciding that they were better as just friends.
“Nope,” he said. “I’ve got this to return.” He placed the journal on the counter. “The mystery this time is that it appeared in my office and I don’t know who put it there or why.”
Barbara picked it up and flipped the cover open. “Really? You’re returning things for other people now? I don’t remember you being this helpful!”
“Thanks,” said Josh with a half-smile. “Actually I’m returning it in the hopes that you can tell me who borrowed it and I can find out how it got into my office.”
“Ah, that’s more like it,” said Barbara. “Purely selfish.” She softened her words with a smile and laying her hand on top of his briefly. “That’s odd though, there’s no accession details here.”
“I don’t think this is one of ours,” she said. “Let me check.”
She turned away to a separate desk where a keyboard and LCD screen were located, and tapped quickly on the keyboard. She touch-typed, which impressed Joshua as most the library staff – even the students – were hunt-and-peck typists. As a result she was back in under a minute.
“We’ve never carried this journal,” she said. “And it’s not coming up under any inter-library loans either, and there’s no accession markings or numbers in any of the usual places. I’d say this isn’t ours. You get to keep it!”
“Damn it!” said Joshua. “I was really hoping that I’d find out who put this in my office this way.”
Joshua sat back in his chair and looked around the office. On his way back from the library – or rather, out of his way, as the mathematics buildings were much closer to the library than either building was to the campus shops – he’d gone into the little office supply shop and bought a half-dozen binders, half-a-dozen box files and some manila folders. When he got back to his office he’d spent an hour and a half picking papers up, sorting them into related areas and putting them into a binder or a box-file together. The papers he was working with, or writing, were all put into the manila folders. The binders and box files were on the bookcase, where he still thought they looked slightly out of place, and the folders were neatly stacked on the corner of his desk. The Macbook was now proudly centred and not in danger of knocking anything over when it was opened, and he’d even found two old coffee cups and a bar of chocolate that had been lost in the mess. This had – purely coincidentally he assured himself – meant that he’d been able to check under the desk and in all the cupboards again; naturally enough there was no hiding in any of them. There had also been no signs of any other odd journals or papers left around; everything else in there he recognised, occasionally with a feeling of guilt. There was now a small collection of books on a bookshelf by themselves that needed returning to their owners, although one of them was on the normal shelves as he knew that Linda had left the university six months previously.
There was a knock at the door, and he jumped up to open it, expecting Dr. Hawne to be on the other side with more details about the seminar. In fact, it was Mark holding two cups of coffee.
“Got you a coffee,” he said. “Good job you’re here or I’d have left it in your homework folder.”
“In the cup, I hope,” said Joshua. Outside the door was a cork board where the lecturers could pin notes for students; he had a manila folder pinned there for homework from the single graduate class that he’d been cajoled into giving.
“Maybe,” said Mark with a grin. He offered Joshua a cup. “What happened in here? I can see the furniture and the carpet!”
“I tidied,” said Joshua, a little defensively. “You know, spring cleaning.”
“Better late than never, I suppose,” said Mark. “You should try keeping it like this.”
“How about I pay you to come in twice a week and tidy for me?”
“How about you stuff that up your arse?”
Joshua laughed. “So is this a social visit, or were you just looking to offload a spare coffee?”
“Mostly social,” said Mark. “And I wanted to know if you found anything else out about your mystery journal.”
“It didn’t come from the library,” said Joshua. “Barbara checked it for me, they’ve never even subscribed to the journal. She said it’s mine.”
“Wow. It definitely seems more like a joke now. You upset anyone lately?”
Joshua thought for a moment of the spindly shape that he thought he’d seen in his office, and though he shivered he didn’t want to mention it to anyone. They’d think he was mad.
“Looks like you can think of someone.” Mark’s eyes were sharp.
“No, just cold,” said Joshua. “I was outside a lot going to the library and the shops.”
“It’s hardly cold out there!” Mark glanced out of the window; the sun was shining. “The sun returned remember. They lit all the Beltane bonfires and it came back. Any ex-girlfriends with a seriously academic side who obsess over tiny details? Or ex-students who like to stalk?”
“No and no,” said Joshua. “I try and stay away from both of them.”
“Not good,” said Mark, shaking his head in mock approbation. “All work and no play….”
“Describes most people in this department perfectly,” said Joshua. “Including you.”