“So, will you come with me tonight? Pleeeeease! Por favor!”
“I don’t know,” Ayala answered loud enough that her voice could be clearly heard through the speakerphone. Her mind wasn’t on Elena’s words.
She narrowed her eyes and examined the light brown stain that bloomed in the middle of the rare, antique book’s page. She cut a fresh piece of soot sponge and tried, very gently, to clean a bit of the offending blot. It didn’t come off. Not that she expected it to.
Elena’s voice exploded out of Ayala’s cell.
“Shit, look where Brent’s prices are going!”
The call came to an abrupt end, and the room was quiet again except for the distant street noise coming from King Solomon Avenue that infiltrated the small, open hopper window. Ayala scooted closer to the desk. She flipped through some more pages, looking for more injuries before deciding on the remedy. It always infuriated and surprised her, in equal measure, how people treated their books. And this particular book, a rare Yiddish book about the shenanigans of Hershel of Ostropol, was woefully neglected to the point of criminality.
Her concentration was shattered when her phone rang again. Elena’s face appeared on the small screen, blinking with insistence. Ayala sighed. She stood up, flexed her shoulders, and spread her arms. Her room, tucked at the end of a long corridor at the city library’s basement, was so small and narrow that when she stood in the middle with her arms and fingers stretched, she could almost touch both walls. She threw back her head and stretched her back, causing her red curls to cascade along her shoulders and back.
Ayala adjusted the wide, black hairband on her forehead, quickly braided her hair into a loose plait, and tied it off with a simple hair tie. She then sat back down at the, wide, wooden shelf that served as her workspace.
She swiped the phone, and her best friend’s voice filled the workroom’s space.
“Hi, it’s me again. Sorry about before. The markets are a mess! Listen, about tonight. He’s one of my firm’s largest clients. I have to go there. But it’s also our usual night. And I don’t feel like going alone. No one from work can come with me. Also, he has an amazing duplex on Herbert Samuel Street. Did I tell you about it?”
“Yes, yes, you did. With sea view and everything.”
Ayala could hardly pay less attention to Elena, because she suddenly noticed weird, small black patches. Could it be? Were those actual mouse droppings?
“Right, Yali. But can you guess what else he’s got there?”
Elena didn’t wait for an answer. Elena’s habit to ask and promptly answer her own questions with no need for outside intervention was one of her better qualities, Ayala mused.
“He has an amazing library! It’s not like I’ve been inside at all, I just saw it in passing as part of a tour he gave me when I went over to have him sign some papers. I’m telling you, you’re going to love it!”
Ayala gave a resigned smile. Elena wasn’t going to leave her alone. She was a clever talker and a relentless negotiator; she could sell a glass of water to a drowning man every day of the week.
“Okay, okay! A library, I get it. I’ll come with you. I’ll meet you there, say, at seven? I’m coming straight from work, is that okay?”
“It’s great! You’re the best! Ciao, hermosa. Got to go!”