Chris watched the young man, seeing himself a long time ago. He had wandered in a library in south California, a little building in seaside community and applied for a job. The woman took a look at him and smiled. At the time he had just left his father's church. He still wore his hair long, and it was a warm chestnut without the pepper of gray. "Do you know much about libraries?" the kind woman had said. He had told her he knew some, enough he thought he could help out. Her name had been Yvonne. She had saved him. Chris stood and walked to the stacks. "Can I help?" he said.
Freddy startled, dropping the books in his hand.Up close, the young man had the air of prey. Jumpy, wild, open to running. His eyes were red and rimmed dark, his hands with a small tremor.
"You okay?" Chris said, bending to retrieve the books.
Freddy bent as well, gathering the books. "I'm fine." His face settled back to talking mode. A small pretend smile. "Not sleeping much. Maybe getting a cold."
Chris did not think so but didn't say. Everyone was entitled to secrets. "That's rough. I think I've got some cough drops or something in my desk."
"No, no. I'm okay. Fine. Just tired. I'll get something after work."
"If you need to go home, we can handle. I'm not that bad at shelving," Chris said. He tried a smile.
The page nodded and gave a soft thanks. He pushed up the sleeves of his sweater. Chris saw the tattoo on the boy's arm and dropped the books he held. They both went for the floor again.
"Freddy, where did you get that?"
"They were just returns."
"No, not the books." Chris grabbed Freddy's arm and said, "Not the books, you fucking moron. The tatoo." His vision tunneled, and he felt sick. As sick as Freddy looked. From the corner of his eye, he saw a patron at the reference desk.
"Don't you go anywhere," he said and let the boy go.
Chris walked to the desk. He has seen the woman before, seen her with Brenda and the Director. Tall blonde, good figure with good clothes. Money came off her in an aura. She wore it with the same comfort others may where a favorite team jersey. He had seen the same look on many women in that small California library.
"You're Chris, right? The reference librarian?" she said.
"Yeah. Can I help you?" Chris's voice shook. He forced himself to concentrate on the woman and calm down. Put up the public service front.
The woman gave no indication she was affected. "I'm Amy Berry." She held out a hand.
"Brenda's sister," Chris said and gave her hand a small shake.
"Yes. But I'm here with my company. The Director said I might talk to you about some opportunities?"
"We're looking into making donations. Here. Support local communities. I thought, well, librarians already do that. As you said, my sister does. So why not support them?"
"That's nice. What kind of donations? I'm sure the Director told you about our vendors. Most donations go through the Friends."
"Yes. I've been told you're the liaison to the Friends of the Library. I was wondering more about them."
"Not a lot to tell. They do a few book sales a year, with the normal sale going on downstairs. Older items, discards, and book donations. Most of the money goes to fund summer reading programs and after school activities. Snacks. Kiera mostly handles those transactions. I sit in on their quarterly meetings as a representative of the library." Chris flashed to other meetings, darker meetings, with members wearing tattoos and chanting in unfamiliar tongues. He thought about Freddy again, wondering what the boy had gotten himself into.
Amy smiled. Chris had seen that tight smile. It said things were quaint, slow moving. Money moves faster where she's from.
She said, "Do they take donations?"
"They do. Plus membership fees that get you access to the meetings and the annual dinner. Some coupons around town. But they get full discretion on how that money is spent. In the charter. We can suggest things, but as an independent nonprofit they can do with it as they wish. Far as I know, whatever money they get can be used for anything they deem worthy of benefiting the library. Can't be earmarked."
Amy frowned. "I see."
"But they usually take our advice."
"And when do they meet next?"
Chris circled the reference desk. On it lay a monthly calendar, spread out wide. He put a finger on the last week of the month. "End of March. Last Saturday."
"Who can attend the meetings again?"
"Any member. Lunch is served."
The woman smiled and reached into a pocket, pulling out a small folding wallet. "How much does a membership cost?"
To Be Continued…