All while I was growing up, my house was never where the other kids played. We were always a little closed off, not apt to entertain. Most of that is probably because my mother dealt with people coming and going all day through the library and the idea of them coming home with her… Just no.
By extension I dislike people coming by my home unannounced. I also enjoy walking around semi-clothed and intoxicated, but that is another story. With my cousin, Ilene “Imp” Banned, coming by with her boss to the library that I was now more or less calling home, I felt put out.
I remained sober and cleaned up the library while waiting for my cousin’s benefactor. I even sat in the comfy chair Ilene had left in the center of the library and looked through the books on Native Americans in Mississippi while the rain drummed on the windows and a fire crackled in the large stone fireplace.
We had a diverse group of folk here before the white man came and chopped down all the trees and “civilized” the area. In most of the state the Choctaws were the predominant troupe, but the Natchez, Biloxi and Chickasaw carved out their own pieces. In and around Banned County, however, we had our own band that seemed independent of all others and went unnamed to the settlers in the area until they vanished altogether. I was just getting to the mounds that were built in the county when I was interrupted.
A series of bangs on the door made me jump and I considered rigging up a bell of some kind. Sooner or later, some son of a bitch was gonna put a hand through the glass. The banging continued as I gathered my materials and put on shoes.
“I’m coming,” I shouted, standing back and staring at the red throne-like chair I had been sitting in. Despite the stuffing coming out of the cushion and the duct tape on one arm, it really was very comfortable.
“Took you long enough,” Imp hissed as she shoved past me and walked inside, “Evan Banned, meet Ben Tobias.”
The man that followed my waifish cousin out of the rain stared me in the eye as he shook my hand. I stared back, his green eyes an interesting type of dull that pulled you in rather than left you standing.
“Mr. Banned,” he said behind a brilliant white smile, “So happy to see you. So very happy. Ilene tells me you may help in my little project.”
I looked at Imp and she smiled at me.
“Yes,” I said, “She didn’t really tell much much else though. I can’t say I know what is going on here at all?”
“Oh?” he said. His voice shook with an accent, but not one I could place. Something European, but as if he were faking it. Like he was a copy of a copy that had not dried yet, still hot from the press.
Imp walked forward, “I told him all about the direction you wanted to go, but thought I should leave you to the particulars, sir. And I brought your chair.” She waved a hand at the chair and smiled, nodding.
“I also pulled all the items we have left on Native Americans in the area,” I said, not know why the hell I cared what this guy thought of me. But, if he had money…
“Burial mounds,” Ben said. He walked past me and to the mound of books I had collected by the chair, “Yes, burial mounds. I hear you had quite a many of them in the area.”
“That’s true,” I said, “Early accounts were that the Indi- Native Americans of the area were pretty sophisticated about them, with roads connecting them. But disease killed off most of the people and then when the settlers got here everybody was just robbing and tearing things down. Leveling the land, so to speak.”
“Shopping malls. Yes, I’m familiar with the tale.”
“So,” I said, crossing my arms, “What are you trying to do? Imp said something about building something.”
“It’s Ilene, Evan,” Imp said, “Please remember that we are not children any more.”
I stuck my tongue out at her when Ben was not looking. She looked away, but I saw her smile.
“Yes, I have a project in mind. A design for a device… More of a replica, you understand.”
“A replica of what?” I said.
“Oh, never you mind,” he said, “Trust me, what it is is not important. I just need more information on these mounds. They are the key.”
“There’s also a matter of payment,” I said, “I am in the middle of renovating the library and my time-”
“I have heard about what troubles you have been in,” he said, standing, “I do not wish to harm you. I wish to keep you well compensated for any information and materials.”
“Materials?” I said.
He smiled again and his voice became quick, “Yes, yes. For the replica. I need iron, the rawer the better. And use of your fireplace, if that is okay.”
“Yeah, okay. As long as the place isn’t burnt down,” I said, “We had that trouble once before.”
“Yes, I heard. You have had many troubles,” Ben said, once again staring me in the eyes, “Do not worry, you will be compensated.”
“Good. Good. As for iron, I’m sure we can go down to Colby’s scrapyard for anything like that.”
“Today?” Ben said.
“No, I’m sorry. But I can call him, make an appointment for Friday. Maybe Monday at the latest with the holiday. They leave to make pickups and it’s always best if you announce yourself, anyway.”
“To be sure. We can move the replica here? I can make this, what is the word… Home base?”
I had to smile. The man was likable, if odd. And if he was okay with spending money, I could do with some company, I guess. I agreed.
The replica ended up being four feet long, three feet across and a food deep. I had to swing open both library doors to fit it in and prop it up on the circulation desk. The giant rectangular prism weighed a few hundred pounds and felt like cold, hard granite. When we set it on the desk, though, Ben Tobias pushed a few hidden buttons and the top and sides opened up to show a network of wires and cables.
“What is this a replica of?” Imp asked.
“Simplicity,” Ben said.
“Huh,” Imp said and looked at me. She raised an eyebrow.
“Well, okay. This all sounds just great,” I said, “Is there anything else we can do for you?”
Ben walked over to the comfy chair and the books. He sat down and picked one up and began reading where I had stopped.
I looked at Imp.
She looked back to me.
I clapped my hands together and smiled, “Well, okay. I guess I’ll just… Back to reading.”
I picked up the book I have been reading, John Irving’s A Prayer of Owen Meany, and left them. I heard them talk some and Imp came to ask if I had any tea. I helped her brew a few cups, but they turned out to be for her, not for Ben. Around dark the two of them packed up, with Imp going to the back room to look for a box for the books I was lending them.
“This is quite a nice building,” Ben said to me as he put on his coat.
“Thank you,” I said, “We had some trouble, but I hope to have it up and… Well, I hope.”
“I understand. I looked into you, Mr. Banned. This building seems to attract trouble,” he said, “Are you sure my… the replica will be okay here over the holiday?”
“We have never had a problem with a break-in,” I said, “You say you looked into me?”
“The library,” he said, “I always do on personal ventures. Pays to be safe.”
“I bet. You didn't happen to… We had some tax trouble a month or so ago. It was paid and I still don’t know by whom.”
He laughed at me, “Mr. Banned-”
He bowed his head slightly, “Evan, I assure you I had no knowledge of your tax troubles. I did… I only know of the history of this area and, let me assure you, taxes are the least of the troubles.”
“Okay, you ready to get to the motel, boss?” Imp said, coming into the room with the box of books.
“Yes, I hope you will be joining us for the Thanksgiving tomorrow, Evan,” Ben said.
“He’d love to,” Imp said before I could answer.
“Wonderful,” Ben said, “see you then.”
I watched them leave and walked back to the circulation desk. The replica, whatever it was, sat cold and silent. I touched it and felt the cold stone covering. Had I not seen the hollow middle, I would swear a black coffin sat on our desk. If we ever got so desperate to check out that type of material, I was getting out of the library gig forever.