"That's the last of them," said Jenny, my research librarian.
She closed and locked the seal on the climate controlled shipping unit. A burly United Express delivery man picked up the silver, suitcase sized box and stacked it on top of four others just like it. He tipped them back on a dolly and wheeled them out though the front door at Fiddler's Edge and down the hallway, whistling as he worked. I noticed a dog-eared copy of À la Recherche Du Temps Perdu in his back pocket.
The offices at Fiddlers Edge were empty. Books, office furniture, computers and all fixtures of a think-tank had been taken away and put into storage. Nothing left but dust bunnies, the odd paper clip and a spent shell casing. I walked to a window that looked out on the National Mall. Jenny followed me and our footfalls on the wooden floors echoed hollowly in the cavernous room.
We stood there together, watching nothing in particular for a while.
"You have plans?" she asked, finally.
"I have plans," I said. "The most immediate involves a week on an island in the Caribbean. After that I have a few writing projects in mind."
"Always with the writing," she said with, I thought, a slight strain in her voice.
"Always with the writing," I affirmed quietly.
She kept her back to me, apparently making a careful study of the Smithsonian Castle.
"They packed up the tissues," I observed after a short silence.
"Shutup," she answered through a low laugh.
She pivoted away from me and strode to the door. Her purse lay on the floor next to it. She picked it up, closed her eyes, took a deep breath and puffed it out again. Then she turned back to me, eyes dry and, as ever, under control.
"Did the National Archives get back to you?" I asked her.
"Yes," she said. "Some guy named Sturlison." She raised an eyebrow at me. "He's head of Special Acquisitions?"
"Yes," I said. "That's the guy. I gave him your name. Said you might be coming available."
"You know there's no Special Acquisitions department at the Archives."
"Oh there is," I said. "They're just not listed on the website."
"Or in the budget," she observed.
"Well," I said with a grim smile, "Think of it as the only covert ops unit made up entirely of librarians. Their special acquisitions are very special. Sometimes dangerously so. And the acquisition part of it is often...challenging."
She held her breath and asked, "Is there gun-play?"
"At times," I nodded. "And worse."
"You," she said, "Are the best boss ever."
This time I'm sure there were tears.
She turned away again, walking out the office. I heard the elevator ding its arrival, and then I was alone.
I took my coat and hat off of the hooks next to the door. It was a cold day in DC, raw and overcast. I pulled on the coat and checked the pocket for my keys. Then, as I settled the hat on my head, I took the doorpull in my hand and gave the office one last look.
Then I pulled close the heavy oak door to Fiddler's Edge.
After Hours Podcast featuring John McClain
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