Water Water – episode twenty four

[start at episode one]

A chance to know more

british_library_gate_wordsLaura had remembered to set her alarm when she’d finally collapsed into bed. The parking wardens would be lying in wait for the permit on the van to expire at eight-thirty, so at eight o’clock she was drinking tea and half listening to the radio news as she wondered what to do next.

After the usual tales of political bickering and lurid court cases, the environment correspondent came on with a report that made her sit up and reach for the volume. The woman was talking about increased water pollution – fish were dying in the Mediterranean and water quality readings in the Thames had dropped for the first time in years. Laura listened closely, wondering if this was significant, and then a different voice announced that it was 8.25 and time for the travel update.

“Buggeration!” Laura leapt to her feet, grabbed her bag and keys and thundered down the stairs.

“Laura?” Mrs Patterson was at her kitchen door but Laura just called a quick hello and goodbye before running out into the street slamming the front door behind her as she went.

At 8.29 she started the engine and steered the van away from the kerb out into the street, smiling broadly at the traffic warden who had been hiding behind a tree waiting to pounce.

Laura had no idea where Joseph lived, but she could hazard a guess at where he might be at this time of day and found her way to the church restoration. It took a while, with several wrong turns and two rather alarming loops of a one way system that bore more than a passing resemblance to a street racing circuit. As she was hooted at for delaying her departure from some traffic lights by a nanosecond, she reflected on the fact that she was almost certainly uninsured, and didn’t technically even have a driving licence, not a proper one anyway.

Thus it was with some relief that she finally spotted the church, now half covered in a delicate spider web of scaffolding, and pulled up outside the site entrance. She beeped the horn and a very tanned young man wearing only shorts, boots and a hard hat appeared and swung open the gate.

“That’s Joseph’s van,” he observed, as Laura inched forward across the rough ground and tried not to stare.

“I know,” she replied. “Is he here?”

“Hang on,” he turned and jogged off towards the church. Laura allowed herself a little stare.

Soon Joseph came into view, thankfully wearing both jeans and a shirt.

“You made it then,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“No reason,” he grinned, “thanks for bringing it back.”

“Did you hear the news this morning?” Laura asked as she clambered out of the van and handed over the keys.

“Nope. I can’t handle radio before lunch, too depressing. Why?”

Laura told him what she’d heard, and by the look on his face she’d been right, it did mean something.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

“I don’t know. There might be. There was a similar sort of story in the paper at the weekend, and the Margrave mentioned something the other day as well. I need to look into it and find out what it means.” He took off his hard hat and ran his hand through his hair.

“Maybe I can do something,” Laura said seeing his concern, “I’m a librarian. Research is my job – I could help you.”

Joseph looked at her. He was thinking, and then he came to a decision.

“Alright. There’s probably too much information for me to go through on my own. Can you come this afternoon or are you working?”

“I can come. Where?”

Joseph explained that all the material was at his flat, and he asked Laura to meet him there at two, the earliest he could get away from the site. He offered her a lift home with one of his boys, but Laura declined, preferring to catch the bus.

As she walked to the bus stop she worked out a plan for the day. She wanted to help as much as she could, and to do that she needed access to all the databases and other sources of information that she had at the British Library. That meant going into work to get the remote access passwords. She could also do with returning the books she’d sneaked out before they were missed, so she took the bus back to Muswell Hill.

Laura felt a slightly guilty relief that Mrs P’s door was closed and she was able to get in and out of the house in just a few minutes, and even then it was nearly eleven o’clock by the time she walked into the lobby of the Library. She carefully timed it so that she passed through the security barrier at the exact moment a man with a bulging holdall was coming out. Though it was her bag of contraband that set off the alarm, the guards ignored her and pulled him aside instead.

She casually placed the books on a returns trolley in the Humanities Reading Room – one of the trainees would have fun sorting them out. Sitting down at her desk, all hopes of a brief and discreet half hour on the computer vanished as Rani pounced.

“I thought you were having a few days off. Are you better? Or did you just miss me?” Rani spun the chair round and Laura her most winning smile.

Laura couldn’t help but smile back, as always. She hated lying to her friend, but she didn’t think Rani knew the meaning of the words in confidence so she had no choice.

“I am having my last day off today and I’ll be back in properly tomorrow. I just wanted to check a couple of emails and my laptop isn’t working.” She knew that did not sound particularly convincing, but it would have to do.

“Really?” Rani’s left eyebrow arched upwards, “why didn’t you just go to a café with wifi?”

“I couldn’t remember my password. Look, I only need ten minutes and then I’ll be away. Leave me to it Rani, I don’t want Olga to spot me.”

“Okay, okay, if you want to turn all mysterious all of a sudden who am I to stop you? But I’m going to interrogate you properly tomorrow. Bring doughnuts!” And with a flamboyant flick of her scarf Rani sashayed back to her own desk.

It actually took fifteen minutes to put together a list of potentially useful sites and databases, plus passwords, all copied quickly by hand into her diary.  Before leaving the building, Laura made her way to the Science Reading Rooms and spent an hour looking through recent editions of various nature and ecology journals to see if there was anything useful in them. She soon realised however that she didn’t really know what she was looking for, and most of the articles were so scholarly that they made little sense to her. Joseph needs to explain what’s going on, she thought.

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