An encounter in the basement…
The lift grumbled downwards and eventually the doors opened onto Sub Basement 4B. Fluorescent strip lights flickered into life illuminating row after row of rolling stacks, miles of shelving stretching into the distance.
“Are you sure you remember where to go Tom? I don’t fancy getting lost down here.”
They had started walking away from the lift and into the vast storage room.
“Don’t worry, I’m always the one that gets sent to the basements – no one else seems to understand the cataloguing system so I end up down here quite a lot. Your file was just past this oversize volume section… here we are.”
Tom stopped walking and started spinning the wheel on the end of one of the stacks to open up a gap between the shelves. He locked the wheel into place so the shelves couldn’t roll back to crush them and squeezed in, beckoning Laura to follow. And there it was, about two thirds of the way down the row – a gap.
“You see it wasn’t just your pamphlet missing, there’s loads of things – booklets, early Underground Maps, and a few things relating to the sewers I think. I looked up some of the catalogue references when I got back to my desk.”
“Oh yes, look…” Laura picked up a couple of the slips of paper. They were slightly yellow and faded, written on by hand in fountain pen, all with just a catalogue reference number and the same phrase: Closed by authority 1953. Closed by what authority?
“And were the ones you looked up all from 1929?”
“No, the maps were from a few years earlier, and the sewer plans too. What do you-”
They both stopped rummaging and fell silent – out of nowhere there were suddenly footsteps approaching. Funny, they hadn’t heard a door opening or the lift move. Laura hurriedly replaced the slips and they made their way back down the stack but before they got to the end a huge man appeared blocking their way.
“What are you doing down here?” he demanded
“Nothing,” said Laura, sounding like a naughty schoolgirl.
Tom stepped forward, but this was a different man from last time, much bigger for a start.
“Tom Anderson, Special Collections,” he said, trying to think of a way to stall the giant standing in front of them. “I’m just carrying out some routine checks on the cross referencing of Library of Congress and Dewey notation with our own historic cataloguing records, and my colleague here is helping.”
This seemed to stump the man briefly, but then he tried Laura. “Who are you? And why are you in this section? It’s restricted access you know.”
“Yes I know,” if Tom could be brave so could she, “and that’s why I’ve been sent up from London to check on everything.” She waved her security pass under his nose and the man reached out with a huge hand and peered at it short-sightedly. “Laura Poole,” he said slowly.
“That’s right, from St Pancras. And now we really must be on our way, I have a train to catch. Good afternoon.” With that Laura grabbed Tom by the hand, pushed past the man mountain and pulled him towards the lift.
Tom glanced over his shoulder, “he’s not following, keep walking,” and they did, as quickly as they could without actually running, until they reached the far wall where thankfully the lift doors opened when as soon as they hit the button.
As soon as it groaned into life and began moving upwards again Laura turned to Tom, “What the hell was all that about?”
“That’s not the same bloke I saw before, they must have guards working down here in shifts.”
“I don’t think that one was over-blessed with brains, he had to read my name out loud.”
They were back at ground level, the doors opened and they stepped out into the welcome daylight of reception.
“I don’t want to get into trouble,” said Tom frowning.
“Me neither,” Laura replied. “Let’s just forget about it. The pamphlet’s not there, end of story.”