Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chapter 39

    Sunday night’s weather forecast predicted rain in late afternoon—at last—and I was glad I’d listened and brought my umbrella to work yesterday. Dark clouds rolling in from the southwest were starting to spit as I headed home through the Administration Building parking lot. I sneezed, my nose stuffed and irritated from a slight cold I am trying to shake. The wind kicked up and the rain came harder. Even if I hurried, I’d be soaked by the time I walked all the way home—definitely wouldn’t help my cold. Should I turn around and go back to the office?
   I decided I could wait out the storm at the SUB or the library, both closer now than the Admin Building. I opted for the library. Earlier that day, Ricky and I had worked on the design of a brochure and neither of us thought the typestyles available were exactly what we were looking for. I envisioned a classic typeface I couldn’t recall the name of, and told Ricky I’d look it up. Here was my chance to do my research while waiting for the storm to pass. 
   I hurried up the library steps, and closed my dripping umbrella upon entering the terrazzo-tiled foyer. Designed in the late 1950s, the university library is still an anomaly among ornate campus buildings — the architecture is not much more than a huge rectangular box set up on a smaller box of windows serving as the ground floor — the façade a series of tall white stone arches reaching from the ground to the top floor across all four sides. Each six-story narrow arch frames sunscreens made from thousands of 8-by-8-inch red clay octagonal cylinders stacked horizontally, set back close to the windows and walls on all four sides of the building. 
   Presumably, supervising architect Nolan Barrick was “modernizing” the distinct Spanish-Renaissance style of the main campus buildings, but I have read a history of campus buildings where Barrick said the stark geometric form was a result of “a spectacular increase in enrollment coupled with severe limitations on funding for required expansion of facilities. Building costs became the major controlling factor, and continuity of character in newer structures through the use of similar materials rather than traditional forms was necessitated.” 
   I think it was his way of apologizing for the building that looked so out of place. I wish they had found the money to stay true to the classical architecture of the Memorial Circle area. One thing is certain, area birds loved the horizontal cylinders. They make perfect birdhouses. Sharon’s mother would no doubt love it.  
   The library’s interior hasn’t changed much since my days as a student, either, at least not the large east entrance with its sunken fountain and study areas, still crowded with comfortable black leather reading chairs.
I was pleased to see plastic umbrella bags available for patrons at the entrance, and took advantage of one. When wet, the marble floors are definitely slippery.
   Still on the ground floor, I headed for a computer rather than the old manual card catalogs, which were nowhere to be found. I miss the sturdy, beautifully made catalog cabinets with their multitude of small, narrow drawers and brass hooked pulls. These days, card catalog cabinets are mainly found in antique stores, the price tags normally too high for consideration. Maybe the thrift store might get one in. I might leave a note to be called if one was donated. They probably won’t ask as much as an antique shop, and a cabinet of it’s design would be great for my studio. 
   My brief computer search revealed several books about typefaces and settings on Stack Level 5, under Z.  I wondered if that meant the subject was not as important as those listed earlier in the alphabet. Not really understanding the logic of the Dewey Decimal System, I didn’t have an answer. But I was glad someone at least considered typography interesting enough to write a few books on it, no matter where they were shelved. 
   The west elevators, still located in the east part of the building but facing west, took me to the sixth floor, or seventh, depending on whether you counted the administrative mezzanine as a floor — the first floor was labeled G for Ground floor. However it was labeled, Stack Level 5 was still the top floor, and offers a spectacular, if limited view of the campus. The thousands of shallow cylinders on the façade break the landscape into small segments with rounded edges, like looking through hundreds of ineffective telescopes. I have seen some interesting student photos utilizing this unusual architectural feature. 

   Many of the stacks, or shelves, in Stack Level 5 are moveable, another innovation in the last decade or so. All books are there as promised, but not visible at the same time, because shelves can be moved, separating or collapsing aisles, thus allowing for more stacks when needed in the limited space of a still growing library. Stacks, or bookcase shelves, are made of metal and sit about two inches up off the original floor, raised on metal tracks, with hinges on top of each shelf to help open or close the stacks. Presumably more hinges are attached at the bottom, but they are hidden by the raised platform floor where metal tracks are evenly spaced to move the rolling shelves. Walking from the rows at the ends of the stacks required a half step up to the raised aisles.
   Z — let’s see, turn north, U, V, farther back ... ah, there, Z. In the farthest northwest corner, after 37 stacks, I found the right area, but the needed stacks were compressed. Control panels state whether it was safe to move the huge bookcases, obviously triggered by some sensor to keep the shelves from shifting if obstructions are in the aisles — such as students. Good thing, as crushed students would make for unwanted headlines. Following the arrows on the controls, I easily manipulated a stack to the left to open an aisle. The movement, preceded by a single ping, was barely audible, suitably quiet for its environment, and made me marvel once again at the wonders of technology. (I am still amazed by a fax.)
   Typography — at the northern-most end of the stack. I chose a few books, noticing the numerous signs posted imploring patrons “Do not reshelve books.” Taking my bounty to a nearby table next to the north windows, I settled in for a leisurely journey into all things Gutenberg while I waited out the storm. Wonder what the inventor of moveable type would think of moveable book shelves?
   It was then I noticed just how quiet it was up on Stack Level 5. Was I the only one up here? With stacks pushed against each other, my line of sight was limited to the ends of the shelves, a few tables around me and an exit door behind me I assumed opened to stairs. I hadn’t seen anyone during the book search, nor did I remember hearing anyone. The elevator was quite a distance away, yet in this silence I certainly could have heard it open if, in fact, it did. “Eerie,” I said out loud. “Bet it’s not quiet like this during finals week.”
I returned to my books, and for the next twenty minutes searched and found several examples of what I wanted to show Ricky. Marking pages with scraps of paper, I took them to the copier at the other end of the floor, next to the elevators, and decreased my Red Raider account card by several dollars. After checking on the weather, I returned to her table. It was still pouring, so I decided to look more closely at “The Typographic Book 1450-1935,” published in 1965. The largest book I had pulled from the shelves at almost tabloid size, it contained fold-out copies of type used by Gutenberg himself, looking like well-scripted calligraphy. 
   Fifteenth-century illuminations gracing the pages were captivating, and I recalled a study of illuminations I’d made for one of my master’s classes. It had been, as Jim quipped after reading it, “Quite an illuminating paper.” I smiled as I thought of him and then suddenly turned my attention to the right as I heard a noise. I thought the exit door in the southwest corner had closed, or was it a stack being moved? I heard nothing else. No footsteps, no shuffling of papers. Probably some student had fallen asleep and just left quietly. Tables were placed on the south wall, too, close to the other stairs. A great place to nap. Although the sudden noise had startled me, hearing nothing else I quickly dismissed it and returned to my treasure.

   I read, “Letter forms may well begin with geometry, but only the sovereignty of eye and hand can transmute a diagram into a work of art.” That’s what Colin does with his blueprints for furniture. Even if he didn’t build the pieces, the blueprints would be works of art in and of themselves. I wonder if he realizes he’s an artist in that respect? I sat back, thinking of him, picturing him tall and all masculine, sweating in his workshop over a chair or bench he had designed, sans shirt, of course, blueprints on the wall next to where he worked. With a decided smirk, I thought maybe he’ll just let me watch him work. Or even let me sketch him working.
Goodness, I’m getting sidetracked. As my son would say, I’m too old for that sort of thing, but gracious, the man is definitely all man. I sighed, and tried to ignore the sudden sensations deep inside. I forced my attention back to the book and resumed exploring each page with the thrill of discovery.  
   Several  minutes later, I was startled from the silence again as the elevator dinged. I heard the doors open and then close as a squeaking sound headed her way, stopping, then starting again, and stopping, starting, again and again. Within two minutes, a pimple-faced young student came into view, pushing an ancient squeaky-wheeled library cart filled with books. Obviously, WD-40 was in short supply around here. 
   He looked startled to see me, but smiled shyly, then shrugged at the nearest “Do not reshelve books” sign, disappearing down an aisle, apparently attending to the proper placement in the Dewey Decimal System, squeaky wheels notwithstanding. 
   Hunger made my stomach growl, and deciding it was time to head home before it got dark, I glanced out the window again. “Yep, still raining buckets,” I said to the walls. “At least I have an umbrella.” Yes, I’d be soaked by the time I got home, but I had accomplished my research.
   Putting the copies for Ricky in my briefcase, I picked up my books and moved toward the stack, then remembering the signs, turned back around to leave them on the table. I guess it’s job security for the students, or else they just don’t think patrons are smart enough to put books back where they got them. Now that I think about it, most libraries ask the same. But with a reminder every two feet on the walls, it seems a little like overkill. Oh, well. Saves me the trouble. 
   Just as I placed the books back on the table, I heard a crash. Turning to face the stacks, I heard, “No, no ... um, help? HELP!” 
   “I’m coming!” I yelled as I hurriedly zig-zagged through the aisles, turning up one row, down the next aisle and up another row. “Where are you?” 
   At the opposite side of the floor I found the young student librarian standing stock still against the south wall, dropped books at his feet, one hand over his mouth, the other clutching the book cart, looking wide-eyed at the ceiling.
“What?” I said as I, too, looked up. Dark gray smoke was rolling along the ceiling, appearing to come from the center of several stacks that had been moved together. “Fire!” I yelled at the boy, as I became acutely aware of the distinctive smell despite my stuffy nose.   
   “Where’s the fire extinguisher?” He didn’t move or speak. “Go get help! Use the stairs and go get help!” I yelled, pushing him toward the southwest stairs. I quickly moved down the row next to the wall. Where is it? Is there no sprinkler system? Of course, not ... it’s a library ... it would ruin everything ... there has to be an extinguisher ... there it is! 
   Opening the small bright red door, I grabbed the canister of fire suppressant and headed back to the stacks, smoke now threatening to come down the side walls. The pungent smell was becoming overpowering. 
   I pushed aside my panic as I hit the control of the outside stack, knowing I would have to move them in succession to get to the middle where I thought the fire was — at least that’s where the smoke seemed to be thickest. Nothing. It didn’t move. Was it stuck? I set the extinguisher down and pushed, but the shelf didn’t budge. I can’t get to the fire, I thought, panic rising. 
   Maybe the other end? I raced there with the canister. That stack wouldn’t move either, not with the controls nor with brute force. I fell back against the wall, trying to determine my next move when the sudden loud shrill and blinking lights of a pulled fire alarm had me dropping the canister on my foot. “Yeowch!” I cried, reaching for my injuried foot. Then I heard coughing, and realized the student librarian hadn’t left after all. He must have found the alarm and pulled it. 
   I made my way to him, limping slightly, eyes watering, lungs beginning to sting. He was huddled on the floor near the stairwell door, covering his head with his arms and sobbing between coughs.  I got down on my knees in front of him, pulled his arms down and cradled his head in my hands to make him look at me. 
   Calmly, but firmly I said over the screeching alarm, “We’re going down the stairs together. You and me, right now. It will be all right. Get up and come with me. Now!”    
   Not taking his terror-filled eyes off me, he allowed me to help him up. I steered him quickly to the door. I opened it and heard the thunder of footsteps on the stairs below as hundreds of students evacuated the building. Apparently, other floors weren’t as deserted as Stack Level 5.
   I pulled the metal door tight behind us and guided my charge downward, taking gasps of fresher air. Reaching the next landing, the student librarian halted abruptly to cough violently. Twisting around, he then vomited up his dinner, scoring a direct hit on my slacks and shoes, even though I’d tried to jump back out of the way. Oh, well, nothing to do about it now, I thought, and turned him back around, continuing down the stairs. 
   The closer we got to the first floor, the slower the going was because the number of those leaving increased with each floor. I have to say I was impressed with the orderly manner of the evacuation. I glanced back up the stairs, and saw no signs of smoke. 
   The students in the stairwell proceeded rapidly down the steps without pushing or running over one another. Most had taken their backpacks with them; and most were on their cells, phoning or texting a friend about the excitement. Good thing they can’t see or smell the smoke, I thought, or it might be a different story. 
   Once outside in the continuing downpour, I looked around for someone to take the young librarian. Scanning the crowd through the rain, I noticed the back of a tall student, Saddle Tramp patch on his backpack, and realized with surprise it was Jamie Chavez. He was helping guide the others safely away from the building and didn’t seem panicked. 
“Jamie!”I shouted. He turned, spotted me and pushed his way to me.
“Mrs. Grant! Were you in there? I was in the basement when the alarm went off. What is it? Did you see anything? Ugh, what’s that smell?” Looking down, he pulled back from me in disgust.
   “Don’t worry, the rain will wash it off. Listen, Jamie, I need your help.” Explaining that the young librarian needed to see the paramedics, I confidently left him in Jamie’s care. Turning away, I glanced up to the top floor as I began to make my way through the throngs of people to the main entrance on the east side of the building. Was that an orange glow through the tile cylinders, or just the alarm light? I thought it would make an interesting picture. Amazed that something like that would pop into my head in the middle of a disaster, I chided myself and focused on the facts. When I heard sirens in the distance, I pushed harder through the throngs of wet students.
   Campus police were arriving at the east entrance as I climbed the front steps. “It’s on the top floor,” I said quickly to the first officer I reached. He looked at me questioningly. “I work in Communications here at Tech. I saw the fire. The stacks are pushed together and wouldn’t move so I couldn’t get to it. I can show you where the firemen need to go in.” He grabbed my arm and took me into the lobby. 
   It didn’t take long for the Lubbock Fire Department to put the fire out completely. As per established procedures, and because I told Campus Police exactly where the fire was, they had sent eight officers up elevators to the floor beneath the fire and then over to the back stairwells with crowbars, fire extinguishers and oxygen masks — standard equipment, carried for just such emergencies. 
     Because of their training, they’d not only had been able to search the entire floor for any victims — even though I thought the student librarian and I had been alone — they’d succeeded in moving the stacks apart and were containing the fire when the city firefighters arrived.
Although the library didn’t have a sprinkler system, it did have several fire-hose wall units on each floor connected to the water main with stout hoses long enough to reach all areas. Campus police knew their locations and how to use them, and their quick actions kept the damage, although considerable, contained to the southwest quarter of the floor. City firefighters did the rest.
   I was asked to stay in the lobby to speak with the authorities when things settled down. My phone was still upstairs in my briefcase, so I couldn’t call my staff. I wished I’d asked Elaine to order a belt holster for my BlackBerry. First thing tomorrow, I thought. (And I did, this morning.)
   Through the glass wall, I could see the barricades police had set up outside below the library steps. Photographers and reporters were gathering despite the continuing rain, and shouted questions to the officers. Great, I thought, I’ll look like a drowned rat on camera. But at least I can give them a first-hand account.
“Ma’am,” an officer said, and I turned my attention to him. “The chief would like to talk to you upstairs, if you don’t mind.  The elevators are useable and most of the smoke is cleared. Will you come with me, please?” 
I looked wistfully at the wet scene outside, wanting instead to do my job out there, but it would have to wait. I accompanied the officer to Stack Level 5. 
   A long half-hour later, after extensive questioning, I was allowed to gather my briefcase and umbrella. I’d told my story twice, to the Lubbock Fire Chief, and to the arson investigator, and then was asked to repeat it for the head of Campus Police, Chief Callahan. 
   The tall, gray-headed mustached man with ostrich boots and crisp, immaculate uniform under his rain slicker, eyed me slowly, then drawled, “Tell me what you saw, Sweetheart.”  
   I was leaning on the edge of a library table. I looked up at his cragged, pockmarked face and decided he didn’t fit the stereotype of a West Texas lawman. In fact, with his menacing stare he looked more like the proverbial bad guy. But even though his presence and demeanor commanded respect, I wasn’t in the mood to give it. 
So I replied wearily, “I’ve told it twice already, and don’t call me Sweetheart. I’m wet, tired and hungry and not in the mood for male chauvinism. I also need to go downstairs and talk to the reporters.” 
   “Do you know who I am?” Chief Callahan asked me, moving closer to my face. “Not playing nice with the police chief can make for lots of parking tickets, Miss ... Miss ...”
  I drew myself up and looked at him squarely. “Margaret Grant, Tech’s Director of Communications and Marketing. And, Chief, not being respectful to the person who writes about the university’s various departments can make for lots of bad publicity for the Campus Police.”
   He studied me with surprise, seemingly pleased to find an administrator with some backbone.  He took a step backwards and held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, let’s start again, shall we Margaret Grant? I’d appreciate it if you could briefly tell me what you saw and did, and we’ll call it a draw. Then you can go talk to your reporters. Is that acceptable?”
   I gave him a wry smile, and quickly recounted the scene one more time. I also told him I’d call him early tomorrow with questions about his investigation. He said he’d be pleased to help.

   When I finally got outside, there were no reporters to be found. So I checked on the student librarian — he was fine and had been sent to his dorm to rest. Returning to the lobby, I glanced at my cell phone. One call, from Sharon, of course. Quickly calling her back and filling her in, I refused an offer to come right over for a large glass of wine. Instead, I would opt for a hot bath and something to eat when I got home. I headed out once again.
   The rain had stopped, and only a few people were still outside. Then I spotted Jake, the A-J reporter, finishing an interview with a student, and headed his way. 
   “Jake,” I said as he stood alone now, scribbling in his notebook. “My favorite reporter. Where are the others?”
    “Hey, Maggie. They’re all gone. They got their interviews and left, I guess to make the ten o’clock news, although it’s not much of a story.”
   “Not much of a story? What do you mean?”
   “Your Chief of Staff briefed us all about 15 minutes ago. Took us next door to the Student Union and set up a news conference of sorts. I wondered where you were.”
   “I, uh, I was in the library.”
“No kiddin’? Well, Boyle said ... let me look at my notes ... yeah, he said, ‘a small electrical fire triggered the alarm. No injuries and minor damage on the top floor.’  That’s it.”
   That bastard, I thought, then made a quick decision. “Um, Jake, you probably don’t want to print that.”
   “Why not?”
“Because not one word of it is true. Buy me a cup of hot tea and I’ll give you an exclusive.” 

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