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Title: Adventures in Archiving
Author: jsblume
Style/Genre Prose / Fiction / Detective
Description: An archivist is brought out of his comfort zone and has a few unpleasant experiences.
Notes:

I’m a loner and I like it that way. I’m that guy you see on the bus with the balding head, black-rimmed glasses and bow tie staring out the window, clutching the briefcase in his lap. I spend my days in a basement and, if I’m lucky, I never speak to another soul the whole day.

Today was not one of those days.

"Arnold Jones?"

I swore softly and turned from my desk. A tall, gangly man with a cheesy mustache and curly brown hair was grinning at me from the door to my inner sanctum. He wore a tie and a brown suit jacket with patches on the elbows.

"Yes?"

"Barnum, PI," he said, flashing a card and taking another step towards me.

I sighed. Did he really think he was Tom Selleck? "What can I do for you, Mr. Barnum?"

"I, uh, understand you’re the chief archivist here."

"You understand correctly."

"Heh. It must be a lot of working keeping track of this stuff." Mr. Barnum walked over to my desk and wrapped on it with his knuckles, all the while peering down the stacks as if an answer to some question known only to him was going to jump out.

"I have a lot of work to do, Mr. Barnum." I glanced at my computer screen and began to reconstruct the train of thought this man had so rudely interrupted.

"Yeah, sorry. I won’t take up a lot of your valuable time."

I jotted down a few notes. "You have already taken up several minutes to no end that I can perceive."

"Oh, yeah, well I was told you keep track of all the records of the history of this town. I’m here about Jon Talbot."

Mr. Barnum was leaning with his knuckles on my desk. He reminded me of a chimpanzee, especially with the quizzical look adorning his face.

"You know, Jon Talbot?" he continued. "Great-great-great-something-or-other of the founder of this town who died last month under mysterious circumstances."

"Would you kindly get to the point of your visit?"

"Yes, well, it seems that the Daily Record had a slightly different version of its cover story that didn’t quite make it out the door."

"Is that right?"

"Yes, and apparently this story contains evidence that his death wasn’t an accident."

I was getting tired of Mr. Barnum starting nearly every sentence with "oh" or variations of "yes." On top of that, this wild theory of his didn’t help my souring mood.

"Do you have any proof?"

"Oh, naturally. I spoke to a junior copy editor last week who had seen the story and who, by the way, is now missing. It’s all very strange, don’t you think?"

Mr. Barnum stared deep in into my eyes, and it was all I could do to stifle a laugh.

"I don’t have time for conspiracy theories."

"Yes! Exactly! Neither do I. That’s why I came to you. If anyone can help me, it’s you. After all, your job is to ensure the accurate recording and storage of our town’s historical records, isn’t it?"

"It is, but I don’t know how I can help your cause."

"Oh, simple. You belong to some association of archivists, don’t you?"

"The Society of American Archivists, yes."

"Yeah, so I figure you must know the archive guys at the Daily Record. I figure you could introduce me, get me behind the lines so to speak, and I could poke around. You know, ask some questions. There must be a record of the story draft somewhere, maybe on a backup or something."

Mr. Barnum’s wild suppositions sounded more like stabs in the dark than any attempt at "figuring" it out. He was grating on my last nerve.

"Why should I help you?"

"Oh, well, because if you don’t help me now then I go to the police with my evidence and they issue warrants to search your archives and the archives of your friends at the Daily Record."

I should have known he would not be above idle threats. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to get rid of this nuisance unless I cooperated.

"I will need to clear it with the chief of staff."

"By all means." Mr. Barnum grinned and perched on the edge of my desk.

I picked up the phone and called Roy Sanford, the mayor’s chief of staff. It was a very short conversation.

"It seems you’ve already spoken to Mr. Sanford."

"Oh, didn’t I mention that? The mayor’s office is very anxious to clear this thing up."

"Very well. Let’s proceed."

We took the elevator to the first floor, and I followed Mr. Barnum to his car – an old Pontiac Firebird more suited to James Rockford than Thomas Magnum. I barely had time to fasten my seatbelt before he accelerated into traffic. I shuddered as he made a rolling stop at the red light and turned onto Main Street.

Another vehicle ran the next light, causing Mr. Barnum to swerve onto the sidewalk and crash into a light pole.

Mr. Barnum banged his hands on the steering wheel. "Did you see that? That guy was gunning for me. Now I know I’m on the right trail."

I shook my head and pushed open my door. I was a little dazed from the incident and from being struck by the airbag. Stepping out of the car, I swerved to avoid the open manhole and nearly tripped over the plumber’s snake that was being fed into the opening.

"Hey, look out buddy! You okay?" One of the town workers had stood up and taken my elbow to lead me away from the manhole.

"I’m fine."

"Let’s go, Arnold! We’ve got a job to do."

I turned and a saw that Mr. Barnum had backed his car off the sidewalk. The passenger door was open and he was beckoning me to get back in.

Thankfully, the rest of the trip to the Daily News building was uneventful. The guard waved me in and I led Mr. Barnum to the archive room in the basement.

"Well, Arnold! It’s great to see you again!"

Bernie Larson was an affable smart-aleck. I could never tell when he was serious and when he wasn’t. For my own sanity, it was easier to assume he was serious; an attitude from which he derived no end of pleasure. He would frequently make odd comments in order to trap me with an implausible opinion.

"Hello, Bernie. This is Mr. Barnum."

"Barnum, PI." Mr. Barnum had stepped forward as soon as I’d made the introduction and extended a hand.

"Ah, you’re a dick." Bernie shook Mr. Barnum’s hand. They were grinning at each other like idiots.

"Oh, I’ve been called worse, believe me!"

I shook my head. This guy could not be that stupid.

"Mr. Barnum is investigating the death of Jon Talbot. He seems to think you might be of assistance."

"On the down low, of course," Mr. Barnum added.

"Of course!" Bernie agreed. He turned to me and asked, "Is this guy for real?"

"Unfortunately so."

"Anything for my pal Arnold. What can I do you for, Mr. Barnum?"

"Call me Dan."

"If it’s all the same to you," I interrupted, "I believe you can continue without me."

"Oh, yeah. Hey, thanks. I owe you one."

"That will not be necessary, Mr. Barnum."

I stopped at the security desk on my way out to make a phone call to Mr. Sanford. My nerves were frayed after the accident and spending so much time with Mr. Barnum. The sanctity of my archives had been violated, and I would not be able to get any more work done today.

I boarded the Main Street bus and rode it to the transfer point for my regular bus, a location almost two miles farther from my house. After a ten minute wait in the bus shelter, I was bound for home. As the bus passed the mayor’s office, I realized my briefcase was still in my office. Oh, well.

I remained on the bus for two more blocks. I was in the mood for a pork roast, and Sam’s Butcher Shop was not far from my house. The residents of my neighborhood are primarily elderly folks who can no longer cook for themselves.  I like it here because it’s quiet. A few years ago, Sam’s wife Lorna began cooking up roasts and selling single-serve portions. She was a lifesaver, in more ways than one. Sam’s shop was on the brink of bankruptcy; he couldn’t compete with the superstores. The meals were a big hit with the local community.

"Mr. Jones, how are you today? It’s early for you. Is everything alright?"

Sam was a jovial man with even less hair than I. He often played Santa Claus at Christmas to the great amusement of his senior customers.

"It has been a stressful day. I think I will have—"

"The pork roast! I know my customers, Mr. Jones. You like your pork roast when you are stressed."

I smiled. There is nothing like true customer service. I was beginning to feel better already.

"Thank you."

Sam pulled out a nicely wrapped slice from the back of the refrigerator and placed it on the counter.

"The missus has made this one fresh this very afternoon. I sell it to you instead of the morning roast."

"Thanks." I was unable to keep the gratitude out of my voice, which explains my uncharacteristic use of the informal expression.

I paid Sam for the roast and walked the two blocks to my apartment. I still had a bottle of Beaujolais, and it complimented the roast with cranberry relish, the green beans and the applesauce very nicely. I retired for the night a very contented man.

* * * * *

I sensed a darkening of my doorway. I looked up from my desk to see Mr. Barnum standing there, his face wearing that foolish grin of his.

"Arnold Jones!"

"Yes?" I said, sighing inwardly. I had hoped not to see him again.

"Yeah, I just stopped by to thank you again for introducing me to Bernie. I’m sure you heard the police have re-opened the case."

"Yes, I have heard that."

"Oh, right. You are the town archivist, after all. This case has been a boon for me. I owe you one."

"Really, that is not necessary."

"Okay, so here’s my card. Just call if you need anything."

I accepted his card and smiled politely, filing it in the recycle bin as soon as he’d left.

Copyright @2012 by jsblume. All rights reserved.
jsblume has granted JS Blume Publishing™ non-exclusive rights to display this work.

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