“Hey fella, have you paid your dues? Huh? Have you paid ‘em?”
Yeah. I paid ‘em. $3.60 at the Atlantic County Library. The Librarians had put a price on my head. They turned up the heat. They put the squeeze on the ole Evil Chicken.
At first it was benign, ya know? Phone calls in the middle of the night. Voices asking for somebody named Dewey Decimal.
“He’s not here!” I would cry into the receiver.
“Oh yes. He is.” Was the cool response. A scant moment later there was foreboding laughter and then a dial tone.
I would drive past the library and I could feel their eyes upon me. Somehow they found a way to track my movements. I’m certain of it. I would go places and I was shadowed. The librarians were pulling the strings. I was their plaything.
One day last week a woman approached me while I was on my way to a field visit.
“George,” at the time I didn’t know how she knew who I was. I now know that detailed dossiers are kept on those who stumble and lose their way back to the library doors. “I believe that you have something of ours.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked.
“Is it safe?” She said.
“Is what safe?” I asked. I was bewildered at first and then grabbed me by the lapel and pulled me close to her.
“Is it safe?” She threw me to the ground.
What happened then? Well, I’ll tell you what happened. I did what any red blooded American would have done in the same situation. I got to my feet and I ran. I ran until my side split with pain.
“Go on and run! You know where to find us!” I heard her shout as I fled.
Well, my days of running are over. I paid my dues. I’ll be the first to tell you, I made mistakes. The book should have been returned sooner. I’ll tell you something else - this scenario has changed me. I still shutter when I approach the library. I still check over my shoulder to see if I’m being tailed. I know that if I slip up and forget about the next book, I know that they will be there. Ready to enforce the late fees to the fullest extent of their arcane and unwritten laws.
I now know what the little glint in the librarian’s eye really means; “Go on and run little piggy. Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?”
I’ve spun this tale before, gentle reader. I post it now as a warning – they are watching.