- What have you got there? Show me your references, young man. I hope you're not a reader or a bibliophile.
- I like to flip through a book before I go to sleep, but my friend doesn't pick up books at all. Here's my recommendation, if you'd like to see it. My name is Shimmie. I worked in the archives of the Academy of Sciences. I have a bachelor's degree — a philologist by training.
- What do you mean, you have a degree, and you don't read books?
- But I wouldn't say I like reading. I've read enough in my life. My head is swollen from books.
- That's commendable, young man. Books cause all the ills in society. Well, your references are excellent. Your duties will not be burdensome: to stand behind the counter, receive visitors, keep records of books given out, record visitors in the visitors' log. Practically, a reading room in a public library, though the audience is specific. You know how to work the file cabinet, don't you? Even a child could do it. I'll pay you weekly by check. I don't know about you, but I don't like to deal with cash: robbers, tax inspectors.
- And the working day?
- Officially, it's eight hours, 8:00 to 8:00. But I should warn you. Sometimes they come to us in the evening, early morning, and at night. Your shift is the night shift, and I'll pay extra for that. You can't be late. You can't be rude to visitors — no eating in the workplace. Reading manuscripts is forbidden. You may not sell books or take them out of the house. Whoever wants to have a closer look at a manuscript and read it has a table and an armchair. But you can't make notes in notebooks either. You have to keep an eye on that. New visitors are required to advance the service and sign a non-disclosure agreement. With all the rules and restrictions, you will have the opportunity to read the memo to the employee. All painted on points. If you agree, you can start tomorrow at — 8:00 p.m. You'll be replaced at 8:00 in the morning. Here's a key in case I'm absent or late for some reason. I hope you, young man, won't let me down. We have a solid contingent. The reputation of my "Antiques" rattles far beyond. Come even from overseas countries, those who are interested in antiquity and antiquity. Come and adventurers, but so far, God has spared. And one more thing: your workplace is behind the counter. When they give you a request for this or that book, you find it and give it to the visitor - using an automated delivery system - of course, if he is registered with us and does not have arrears for services. Next, you are forbidden to go down to the basement and to visit other rooms in the house that are not related to your official duties. You are the night director and watchman with limited powers. Do you understand?
- More than that. I'm fine with it, and I'm ready to start tomorrow.
- That's fine. I won't keep you any longer. I'll see you then.
I said goodbye to the owner. He's a bit of an oddball, it's true, but try to find a normal antique dealer these days. And the fact that you have to work at night, even good.
Attachment to all that is good and to good food, in particular, the Buddha teaches, is one of the causes of human suffering. To find peace and tranquillity, we must separate ourselves from our addictions. Simple, isn't it? The same tenet, but in a different rendition, sounds like this: "Two things characterize a man: patience when there is nothing, and behaviour when there is everything."
By eight p.m. I was there, and my host was already impatiently looking at his watch, but I was not a minute late.
- Proceed, as you seem to be, Shimmy. Congratulations on your first day's work, or rather, night's work. God help you.
I thanked politely and looked around. It was a small desk, with a magazine on it, a telephone, and a mess of junk left behind by the owner. He did not even introduce himself. I did not know his first or last name. It was either because he didn't think it was necessary or because he simply didn't believe I was going to be here long. And he was right, without knowing it. The main decoration of the office was the shelves. No, they were huge, gigantic, vertically and horizontally numbered, light and sturdy, supporting the ceiling, which at this point disappeared beneath the roof, half-empty aluminum shelving. Manuscripts and manuscripts were piled high, though any run-down village library would not have tolerated such a mess. Next to it was an ordinary stepladder with retractable steps. Apparently, the storekeeper had it in mind, calling it an automated system for searching for a manuscript ordered by a visitor. For me, with my feline dexterity, climbing the shelves was no problem. On the contrary, it would be nice to practice. However, I wonder why at night, excuse me, and who needs to be dragged to the antique store, is not enough day? The case is unclean, and to go to the grandmother — the first thing to read the job description. You need to know what to grab hold of if an emergency happens. "Antiques" is strange, I have not yet seen the visitors, but they also have to be strange. Yeah, and it wouldn't hurt to look through the file cabinets to see who's who.
I was looking in the water. Around two o'clock, the first visitor arrived. A lady of uncertain age, with a colourful shawl on her head, wearing thick-lensed glasses. Round face, round eyes, round glasses.
- Do you work here, young man? - she asked first of all, without saying hello, which, you must admit, was rude of her.
- I'm the new night director," I said proudly. - At your service, madam. Your credentials?
- Oh, what formalities... I am your regular visitor. Mr. Watson has known me since the first grade.
So my master is Watson. The last name didn't tell me anything; I'll have to google what kind of man has a crystal chandelier hanging in the waiting room for ten thousand dollars. A mobster?
- The state is based on rules and discipline," I told her. - If you would be so kind.
- You work in the Inquisition, boy, not in antiques. Here, here's my library card.
- What can I do for you, ma'am?
- Find me, please, Dickens' Antiquities, 1841 edition.
- Right away. Sit down, please.
For your information, I can climb not only the shelves but also quick thinking. Dickens... "D" it is. Third shelf, fifth shelf from the top. It should be there somewhere. Solid colour cover, gold embossing. Yeah, I see it. I nimbly come down from the stepladder so that the lady, left unattended, did not have time to steal anything.
- Dickens, as requested. Only, dare not take out of the reading room, do not take notes. You may read. Take your seats at that table, please.
Accuracy is the politeness of kings, the saying goes. In this case, I accurately expressed to the visitor requirements of the owner of the "Antiques," as I was not sure that no one is secretly watching me.
- Thank you, you will not stand behind my back all night, I hope ...
I don't need to go behind her back to know what she's doing. Cats have a third eye on their head that not only sees everything and hears everything but also remembers everything. The lady is interested in stories about witches, so let's put it that way.
No sooner had the door closed behind her than a new reader arrived. He was a lanky gentleman in a poncho, like the Quechua Indians of Peru, who lived in the highlands, and the European fashionistas who wished to be seen as originals. Was he an Indian? - I don't think so, though his jaw was covered with a red speckled cloth, like the real macho avengers like Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro. This one also needed a book about witches for something at night, namely The Hammer of Witches, whose author Jacob Sprenger was a famous professor of theology as well as a great inquisitor and demonologist, functions all three successfully combining with the duties of a 15th-century Dominican monk.
That would be all right. The poncho-wearing stooge is only interested in the book. But the thing is, he wanted the 1486 edition! This gave rise to some thoughts that did not frighten me-a a cat is not easily frightened-but led me to the conclusion that the antique store was not just a bookshop, but a gathering place, a meeting place for members of an order or secret society unknown to me. What if here, right under my nose, a conspiracy against the foundations of the constitutional order was brewing?
At this point, my reasoning was interrupted at the most interesting point by the phone call.
Like any reasonable person, I try not to believe in fate - it would mean that someone unknown to you is manipulating you without your knowledge or consent. But how can you not believe in it when your wife calls you.
- What's up, honey?
Straight to the point. You can tell she's a businesswoman.
- Good, thank you.
- It's very important that he doesn't kick you out the first day. Do you understand me?
And she hung up. I told you, businesswoman. It's the effect of being on Earth for so long. You get into bad habits.
Watson was the same way. The next night he started scolding me from the get-go.
- How dare you to be impolite to one of my old acquaintances? Rules are important, but you have to know when to ignore them. You'll scare away all my customers.
- Good evening, master. I wouldn't have dared if I'd known you went to the same school.
- Watch out, or you'll be out of a job like a cork in a champagne bottle.
I turned around and left. The advantage of private enterprise is that any employee can be sent home at any time. You don't even have to look for a reason to do so. One word: business is business.