Available for the first time in ebook format, this special edition includes a new introduction from author Gillian Roberts and an exclusive interview with Amanda Pepper herself!
When a high school senior shows signs of mental illness, Amanda attempts to get him help, but she's rebuffed by his parents. When the same boy then becomes the prime suspect in a murder at the Philadelphia Main Library, and runs away, Amanda, who knows he's confused and in need of help—whether or not he committed the crime—has no choice but to run after him. And to run into the possibility of becoming the next victim herself.
We regrouped outside the Rare Book Department, on the balcony. Troy Bloester—of course his classmates called him Blister—declaimed Juliet’s speech from the balcony until I shushed him, mainly because he hadn’t even gotten the words right. Not that anyone was on the balcony across from us, although it held desks and looked as if it was often occupied. And not that I thought anyone below would hear us. They couldn’t see us, either.
It looked to be two or three normal stories till the next landing, and I saw only a statue of a reader nestled in an impressionistic tree. No annoyed living readers. I remembered coming here when I was small, when the area below was a smoking lounge, and the big kids—the ones in high school—took study breaks in clouds of blue exhalations. Today the area was pristine.
Ms. Fisher led us back onto the elevators up to the fourth floor, although not yet for lunch in the cafeteria. At this point we were allowed a quick peek at the theater collection, squirreled away in a narrow vertical space, and then we rode down again to the collections on the second, first, and ground floors. I straggled along, trying to make small talk with Ms. Fisher. It seemed what civilized women did in this situation. “Must be a pleasure to work here,” I said.
She nodded. “Mostly. Of course, I’m new. Fairly new. And only part-time so far, but I do love working in the Rare Book Department.”
“Oh,” I said. “I thought perhaps you were a docent.”
She shook her head. “No docent program yet, but they’re hoping to. But not me.”
“So then, your title is…?”
“Library assistant. I have my degree, but they didn’t have a full-time opening or a librarian’s opening. Someday. I’m taking courses, starting with one on computers. A lot has changed, moved forward.”
She was good enough about answering questions, but each answer was a closed end with nowhere else to go, and she didn’t offer anything on her own. Didn’t ask me anything, either.
“So, ah, what kind of things do you do up there?” Maybe library science would be my next field.
“Whatever they need. Like this. Help with inventorying—a lot of the collection hasn’t been inventoried yet, help with the special exhibits, things like that.”
“Must be hard caring for such old books. I guess there’s lots of work for the bindery.”
She stopped in midstride and looked at me as if I’d crawled out from a rare book I’d chewed. “We do not rebind rare books,” she said. “They are rare, you see. We don’t change anything about them.”
As soon as she began her answer I realized how dim my question had been. Of course you wouldn’t repackage an illuminated manuscript. Not even a leather-bound book from the last century. You wouldn’t remake a historical object. But she didn’t have to have brimstone coming out of her nostrils. I’d been trying to make conversation.
“We conserve our books,” she said, resuming her brisk pace. “Special, highly trained people who know all sorts of things about paper chemistry work to conserve what is there, not to replace it.”
Damned if I’d try any further communication. She was a boorish woman who didn’t understand the social norm. As in normal.
Normal. That word was appearing in my vocabulary too often lately. I was defining it too often as well. For me, this was not at all normal.
In any case, from then on the two of us made neither large nor small talk. She retreated inside herself and left me to resume my personal and varied worries.
I bided my time until after lunch, when the students would be let loose and I would skim Lia’s annotations on Henry James, then find out what I could about grad schools. It wouldn’t hurt to browse, to check out requirements—even though I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Ultimately my students, from whom I could almost physically feel myself dissociating, were wandering and burrowing all over the building in a fine imitation of scholars, and I was on my own, too, in the Education, Philosophy and Religion Department, browsing through the ultimate smorgasbord—a guide to 1,600 institutions with graduate programs.
“What are you interested in studying?” the librarian had asked when I made inquiries about finding information.
“Well, that’s just it,” I’d whispered, ashamed of myself. “I don’t know. Is there anything that lists everything?”
There was, so I speculated and dreamed my way through programs in the humanities, and, in another volume, business, information science, law, social work… I also periodically checked up on Adam, who was across the room.
Libraries being no longer silent, I sat cocooned in the soft buzz of voices. Time blurred pleasantly, grew soft around the edges; and I wandered in my future.
Until all daydreams and sense of security were shattered by a shrieking—an electronic, intense alarm that pierced the skull and left shrapnel in the brain. I looked around at the other people looking around, as if we were all searching for a leader.
Finding none, and no explanation, deafened by the screaming alarm, we stood, scraping chairs and feet, and headed for the exit
Adam was no longer among us. I had no idea when he’d left.
I broke into a run, trying not to imagine what had caused the alarm to ring. What had happened. To whom. And I hoped—I hoped so desperately I could taste it—that I didn’t know, couldn’t name, whoever’d caused this outrage.