Monday, November 23rd, 2015The smell of blood filled the library. Patti wrinkled her nose.
“You get used to it,” Od said. “Want to find me some more boxes?”
Patti skipped away to hunt cardboard, the stench already forgotten.
Dior dropped her backpack and gave Od a half-hearted kiss on the cheek. “I guess we’re not getting a cat for Patti tonight?”
“Hopefully, babe. But Mrs. Mazur won’t let me off early. She’s worried the books won’t be ready for the renovation.”
Dior looked around at the mess and sighed. “Didn’t they just remodel down here last year?”
“The basement is the only place they can expand—gonna dig through sixty feet of bedrock to make room for the manga comics.”
“Tell me they’re at least going to replace these stinky, rusted-out shelves.”
“Yup,” Od said. “I’m actually going to miss the blood smell.
Dior stared at him as if trying to figure out the joke.
“I’m serious. I can’t explain it, but it’s comforting somehow.”
“My boyfriend the serial killer.”
Patti appeared with a pile of unassembled boxes.
“Great job, Pat-a-cake,” Od said. “Now for every one you set up, I’ll give you a dollar toward cat food.”
Forty-five dollars later, Od was starting to sweat. At this point he’d have to use a credit card to pay his assistant—and the new cat would be eating salmon out of a crystal dish. If Dior hadn’t fallen asleep in one of the padded reading chairs, Od would’ve had her distract Patti from her work.
Luckily, a diversion presented itself in the form of a tattered booklet.
“Should I put this with the periodicals?” Patti asked. “I found it in one of the boxes.”
Od examined the thin magazine. The black cover had a drawing of a winged dog in the center. Underneath, curly gray letters identified it as “The Caacrinolaas Catalogue”. Whatever it was, it looked old. Maybe it got left in a box during the last move. But there was no barcode on the back or inside cover—no Philadelphia-Free-Library stickers. “Doesn’t look like it’s one of ours,” Od said. “I guess you can keep it.”
Patti took the magazine back and sat at the table to thumb through it.
Od wiped his forehead with the hem of his shirt.
Patti pushed the button. The rickety elevator was the only one in the entire library and it was constantly in use on the higher floors. But even a late elevator was better than taking the stairs. The smell in the stairwell made the blood scent almost enjoyable.
“Can I touch your tilly-vee?” Patti asked. Apparently she’d grown bored with the magazine.
Od smiled and crouched. “Yes, you can touch my vitiligo.”
Dior made a face.
Patti touched each of Od’s fingertips then traced the line from the edge of his mouth to his chin where brown skin met white. Her small, cold finger traveled under his jaw then back up the other side of his mouth.
“I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with his skin disorder,” Dior said. “It’s creepy.”
Od furrowed his eyebrows. “What’s creepy, my pigmentation or her obsession?”
“It’s not creepy!” Patti said. “It’s pretty. I want my kitten to be brown and white just like Chrishod.”
The elevator dinged. The three of them stood, but when the door opened the head librarian stepped out with a bald white guy Od didn’t recognize.
“Here he is now,” Mrs. Mazur said, patting at her weave. “Chrishod, Mr. Traverso is here to see the system you invented for organizing and storing the books. It really is clever. Why don’t you two start with the audio section.”
Mr. Traverso held out a hand, but his eyes didn’t meet Od’s. It was always the chin that held their attention. The incongruous white chin on a black boy. People had told Od it looked like he’d barfed up milk. He liked his pigmentation because it threw people off. While they were imbalanced, he could usually get away with murder.
Od took his hand. “Nice to meet you, sir,” he said, “but I’m afraid my shift is over and I promised to buy a cat, so we’ll have to do it another time.”
Mrs. Mazur blocked the elevator with her arm. “Mr. Traverso has a tight schedule. He’s come to oversee the improvements to his library.”
The stress on the last two words wasn’t subtle. Obviously baldy owned the library and Od was expected to kiss his feet.
He swallowed the sarcastic response that had leaped to his tongue. What else could he do? He needed the job—or rather he needed the money. He’d have to stay and make it up to Patti and Dior later.
“Little girl,” Mr. Traverso said, his face suddenly pink. “That is not the proper way to treat periodicals.” The man pulled the rolled magazine from Patti’s back pocket and began smoothing it.
A rush of heat filled Od’s face as well. He yanked it out of the man’s hands and gave it back to Patti. “It belongs to her.”
Mrs. Mazur’s eyes went wide. “I’m so sorry, Sir, he—"
“It may come as a surprise, Mr. Traverso,” Od said in a deceptively calm voice. “But you don’t own everything you see. I’m done tonight. Come back tomorrow.” He took Patti and Dior by the hands and pushed his way past Mrs. Mazur. Patti scowled at the adults and pushed the button for the main floor.”
“You will step out of that elevator,” Mrs. Mazur said, “or you can find yourself a new job tomorrow.”
“Have fun figuring out my system.”
The doors closed and Patti let out a whoop.
Od was eighty percent sure Mrs. Mazur had been bluffing, but the twenty-percent uncertainty sat in his stomach like a pool of fresh blood.
After buckling his seat-belt, Od pulled an envelope from the dash and handed it to Patti in the back seat. “Happy tenth birthday.”
She squealed when she found the iTunes gift card inside.
“That’s sweet,” Dior said—but there was something in her tone that made Od look over at her. She had just taken a tiny suede box from her purse. “And this is for you.”
Od pulled into traffic and opened the box with one hand. A silver ring gleamed from between cushions of velvet. “Are you proposing to me?”
Dior laughed. “It’s a pinky ring. I saw it two days ago and knew it would be the perfect gift to celebrate our day.”
Od swallowed. He was definitely missing something. “You mean, Patti’s day?”
Dior’s face fell. “You forgot our anniversary?”
“Anniversary? We haven’t been dating for a year, it’s been like...”
“Six months. Today.”
Od thought she might burst into tears but instead her eyes grew cold. “So I take it you don’t have anything for me.”
“I’m sorry, Dee, I didn’t—" a horn blared.
“You just ran a red light!” Dior shouted.
Od swore, then immediately apologized to Patti, who laughed and began repeating him.
“Shut up, Patti!” Dior yelled.
Patti fell silent.
Od checked his rear-view for flashing lights. “Sorry, I was distracted.”
“Take us home,” Dior said.
“What about the kitten?” Patti said.
“I’ll drive better,” Od said.
“Take. Us. Home.”
After he dropped Dior and Patti off at their house, Od went directly to a jewelry store.
The door chimed when he stepped inside. A blond woman with thick makeup seemed startled to see him. “We’re closed.”
“The sign says you don’t close for twenty minutes.”
She took a step back and put her hand on the phone. “I need you to leave before I call the police.”
Od was tempted to stick around and see if the cop was black, but he wasn’t in the mood to fight for his rights. Just to irk her, he stepped toward her and put his hand in his pocket. She squeaked and picked up the phone. Od drew out his wallet and slammed a dollar bill onto the counter. “I don’t see a tip jar, but your service is outstanding.”
The woman swallowed.
Od stalked back out to his car. Through the window he saw the woman brush the dollar onto the floor as if it were diseased.
He drove to his apartment, then around the block three times before someone pulled out of a parking space. As he got out he noticed Patti’s magazine on the back seat.
He almost left it there. But at the last moment, he opened the back door, grabbed the flying-dog catalogue and slid it into his pocket.