More shopping carts appeared on the library steps and I got concerned. Three days they stuck around, Walter and Brenda berating them, then they slipped away. I wondered if we had space in the basement for all of them.
Then the crashing started.
I was helping a man learn to use the computer mouse. For thirty years his strong hands had guided a welding torch across iron girders and now to apply for a job at McDonald's he needed to use the computer. He needed to work.
"The fuck was that?" he said as I straightened up to look at the door.
I gave the welder a look that said I approved of his message but disagreed with his language. He did not notice.
"Keep practicing dragging things across the screen," I said.
The door to the basement was locked, but my key opened all the doors in the building. The tumblers twisted with a click and the door opened with a creak. Steps led down down down into darkness with a slight orange glow at the bottom.
The welder stared at me with an eyebrow up, his right hand on the mouse. I shrugged and almost closed the door before another crash came from below. Then another and another and silence.
"What is it?" the welder said.
I jumped out of my skin. The man had walked over and said this over my shoulder. He stared down the stairs with his eyebrow still up.
"I'll go see," I said with a confidence I did not feel.
"I'm curious," he said.
I said, "I'm not sure you can. Legally."
Another crash. I said, "But fuck it."
And so the welder and the librarian ventured into the basement together. Halfway down the steps I asked his name. His momma called him Peter, but everybody called him Pops. I told Pops to come on then, let's see what was what.
The stairs were solid, quiet different than every horror movie ever made. We both made our way, my sneakers giving a squeak that complemented the thump of Pop's boots. The light came to meet us, giving us an interesting sight.
Jack the circulation assistant stood at one end of the long room beside a stack of used computer monitors. His hands gripped the handle of a shopping cart beaten and mangled. Walter the computer librarian stood at the other end of the room with his own cart, a shelving unit of extra book club books behind him. The room was roped off with caution tape, a camera on a tripod off to one side next to a computer on a table. The computer screen was split into a dozen images, each with a man or woman holding up signs.
"What the ever loving doo doo is this?" Pops said.
A small tinny voice came from the computer next to the camera. It said, "Bid is three. Go."
Jack and Walter, without speaking, ran full tilt at each other behind their shopping carts. The collided, rebounded, and collided again. And again. Jack lost a wheel and had to drag his cart back to his corner.
"Still running. Another betting cycle begins," the tinny computer voice said.
"Nope," Pops said and I heard his feet retreating up the steps behind me. I agreed and followed, vowing not to ask questions about what I had seen.