63: This isn't War, it's Love.

Bob doesn't feel right. It isn't the War taking place all around him. It isn't the fact that he is clearly Past His Peak and is probably going to be required to engage in hand to hand combat. It isn't that the Health and Safety Bint is probably going to turn up any second and Have A Field Day. It isn't even Garry, who is laughing and throwing whatever he can get his hands on over the top of the table and looking like he's having a Pigging Good Time.

All right. It is partly Garry. Beside him, Bob feels somehow shrivelled.

But mainly, it is Rosalyn. Now she's gone, there's a strange feeling in his chest. Not quite his chest. More the top of his stomach. He opens a Linguaphone set and flings the CDs over the table like Frisbees. There are some satisfying squeals and splattering sounds that let him know he's made contact, but it isn't pleasing him.

What's that feeling? It can't be indigestion - he skipped dinner and never managed to get his Creatine shake.

Shit, Bob thinks, it's pigging guilt. That's what it is.

'Garry,' Bob says, and pushes the rest of the CDs into his hands, 'I've got to get down to the Basement. Can you cover me?'

Garry is panting, throwing books out like there's no tomorrow. Bob is impressed with his aim, his flair, his system. He answers without taking his eyes from the targets.

'You're not going down there, amigo. She's mine, and as soon as I get this clear,' Garry slices five CDs through the air and takes two borrowers down, 'I'm going to get her.'

'Course she's yours,' Bob says, 'but there's something I need to tell her. Man to man. An apology.'

'Is this really the time?' That's Katerina. John has buried his face in her chest. He is howling. He's either really, really pleased, or really, really frightened. Katerina ducks now and again, while patting his back.

'Don't think I can spare you, partner,' Garry says, 'they'll breach this line if you leave it.'

Bob stands behind the table. The borrowers are advancing. For every one they manage to lay out, there seem to be five more to take his place. All chanting. But Rosalyn is down there, down in the dark. And Bob knows he needs to make things right with her. It could be his last chance.

'Sorry Garry,' Bob says, and throws himself to the floor.

He crawls on his belly towards the lift. It's an elementary move - first thing they teach you in the TA. But there were gaps in his Basic Training. Matters of the Heart. They should have had a module on that, but it was never covered. How to be a gentleman. How to turn down someone's advance nicely.

Love isn't the same as war, just like books and DVDS are two different things and have different cataloguing systems, Bob realises. Hearts. Perhaps there is a book in the library about it, but for now, he's going to get down to the Basement and Be A Man.

62: A Smile To Give You Tumours

Linda and Mike are coming down the stairs. Slowly though, and with The Boss propped up between them. Linda isn't sure how to drag someone down a stair-case respectfully, but she holds onto an elbow and tries to be gentle.

The Boss is mainly unconscious, but every now and again she opens her eyes and mutters something about War, about the Shame of the Christmas Club Theft, about Scotch Eggs and Who's Who and Games and Puzzles. Sometimes she chants Dewey numbers to herself, but Linda is too focused on making sure they get down the stairs in one piece to pay much attention to her.

'Mike, can you hear something?'


Mike rests against the wall. They are both panting slightly. The Boss goes limp in their arms and they prop her against the bannister. From the bottom of the stairwell, Linda can hear bumps, bangs, and shouts.

'I can't hear anything,' Mike says.

Linda blushes. She'd forgotten, but sometimes, when it's been a while since she's had a special drink (something medicinal, for her nerves) she tends to hear things. Not things. Just bumps. Shakes and scratches in the walls. That sort of thing.

'My mistake,' Linda says, and coughs, 'lets get to the staff room. The quicker we get a Gin... I mean, a cup of tea, the better I'll feel.'

Linda and Mike take The Boss's arms again, but suddenly she opens her eyes and smiles at them quite calmly.

'Are you feeling better?' Linda asks. She wants to say, 'Sir' but she bites her lip and stops herself just in time.

'Oh yes,' The Boss says.

Her smile is like cool blue water with the reflections of pine trees in it. It is melted glacier warmed by geothermal activity. It is water stuffed with unknown minerals: the kind that will make you cleverer, and live forever. Or the kind that will give you fast growing tumours. No-one knows.

'We'd better hurry up dear,' The Boss says, 'it looks like I made a mistake putting Rosalyn in the basement, doesn't it?'

61: Breaking Out The Big Guns

The sound goes: stomp stomp shuffle stomp.

Rosalyn is the first to hear it, her ears twitching under her mass of hair. All that time in the dark has made her hearing fantastic. She can hear things that are normally inaudible to the human ear. She can sniff out things, too. And the smell in the air is one of impending violence, of too much testosterone and pent up aggression. And it is getting closer.

The stomp stomp shuffle stomp becomes a swarming mass of bodies. They are coming through into the Staff Only area, into that sacred space where books are catalogued and tagged and barcoded, and where the under-appreciated frontline staff can take some respite from the screaming hordes by tapping quietly on keyboards and worshipping at the altar of Dewey. But The Borrowers have crossed that magical line. It can only mean one thing: WAR.

‘What the pig?’ says Bob, puffing out his chest.

Katerina looks around for Linda. Linda would know what to do, which rules had been broken, which bye-laws had been contravened, and she would sort these Borrowers out with a few short sentences. But Linda is still off on the mission with Mike, and as Katerina realises this, her heart sinks.

‘What’s going on?’ Garry asks. ‘Do you think they’re angry about being cooped up in here all day?’

‘No. This is something else entirely.’ Katerina whispers.

‘No Petition Will Right This Wrong!!’ comes the chant. It is repeated over and over until it fills the entire room and starts rebounding off the walls. Rosalyn squeals and runs into the lift, disappearing back down into her subterranean world. Garry is not quick enough to follow her. He turns to The Borrowers, angry now.

‘Get out of here!’ he yells. The first missile hits him square in the chest. It is a book of Monet’s paintings. It is two inches thick, and even though it is a paperback, it still manages to knock the wind out of Garry. It is a warning shot.

‘Oi!’ grunts Bob, and he is greeted with Wendy Richards’ biography smacking into his shoulder. Picking it up, Bob mutters ‘I’ll give you My Life Story!’ before hurling it back into the midst of grunting, seething Borrowers. In unison, Bob and Garry sweep everything off Bob’s desk and up-end it, taking cover behind the wooden frame. Katerina pushes John to the floor and crouches down next to him. She wonders where his fighting spirit has gone. Can’t he see there are books being damaged? John just holds his knees and rocks like Arthur Fowler did when he stole the Christmas Club money. Katerina wonders if she should invoke Google. That would get John fighting again. But twice in one day? John has never had to deal with Google twice in one day before. They could lose him forever. It would have to be a last, absolutely final resort.

More books come flying over their heads. The brick-like Whitaker’s catches the leg of the desk and slams loudly to the floor.

‘This is getting pigging serious now,’ says Bob. ‘They’re breaking out the big guns.’

60: Three Scotch Eggs, Inalienable Rights and A Great Wrong

Each Borrower carries a book back to the barricade. They carry Whitaker’s Almanack and The Family Health Encyclopaedia and the Oxford English Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus and Blackwell’s Medical Dictionary and Who’s Who. They carry the Encyclopaedia Britannica volume by volume, and they stack each of these hefty tomes behind the barricade, only now The Borrowers are on the other side of it, and it no longer serves the purpose of protecting the library. It has become an offensive outpost, turned against the library staff. The Borrowers will launch their main attack from there, and it is to there they will retreat to replenish ammunition and energy.

Energy should be particularly low - none of The Borrowers have eaten all day - but they all seem to be existing on a different frequency. Borrower Who Eats Scotch Eggs At The Computer is the only one who’s eaten anything, but he’s kept quiet about his secret Scotch egg stash. There’s one left, from a pack of four, and he isn’t about to share it with anyone, hive mind or not. But The Borrowers are not powered by adrenaline. It is something much more powerful than that. They are driven by the undaunted belief that this library is a service paid for entirely by them, individually and collectively, and as such, they have the right to do as they want, whenever they want, and to be treated with the utmost respect and GRATITUDE at all times. This is much stronger and much more dangerous than any kind of food (or even drug) fuelled energy could ever be.

A Great Wrong has been visited upon them, in the guise of Complaining Borrower’s demise. No Petition Will Right This Wrong. They chant this mantra as they work, stacking bigger and heavier books. It begins quietly, but as the last book is placed behind the barricade - the Guinness Book Of Records - the chanting becomes a battle cry that rings out across the whole of the library, and with it, The Borrowers charge towards the Staff Only area.

59: Hive Mind Hatches A Plan

When they stare at the barricade, The Borrowers are not seeing piles of Mills and Boons or Westerns, they are not seeing chairs. No, what they are seeing is a base, a tactical base from which to launch their operations. Borrower Who Winks For No Reason taps the barricade with his fingers, moving along its entire length. He touches hundreds of books. The other Borrowers mimic his movements, their hands greedy for the touch of paper and print. They all think, in the same instant, that these books will do for a barricade, but they will not do for their other plans. They need bigger, thicker books. They need books heavy as shot-puts, books with corners so sharp they could take an eye out, books that when flung through the air will fly far, and find purchase, and do real damage. The Borrowers turn as one and shuffle to the Reference section.

58: Relationships Between Staff

(An Extract From The Staff Manual)

The Boss regrets to inform you that after the latest incident, all extra-librarial relationships between staff are strictly forbidden forthwith and forever. This includes, but is not exclusive to, after work drinks, lunch, swapping of mobile telephone numbers, lingering looks, eye contact and accidental brushing in the fiction bays.

It is unfortunate and regrettable that we must take this course of action. I know some of you have expressed concern amongst yourselves, and have used the feedback forms provided on the matter.*

Let me assure you, the basement is perfectly habitable and all the Essentials for Life have been provided. We are not a cruel Boss. We are fair, and sometimes we must be firm for the sake of the smooth running of the establishment. Our jobs are to shift units and increase issue figures year on year, for eternity. When we are all properly focused on this goal, we have no need for friendship, romance, or conversation.

I repeat: we are not a cruel Boss. Our errant member of staff will have all the basic comforts and retain her salary. Dewey says it is perfectly possible to live in the dark with no ill effects.

Due to the incident that took place today in the New Books Room, one which embarrassed both the public who were unlucky enough to witness it, and the Public Library Authority At Large, we see no other course of action. The matter is final.

The Basement is now a forbidden area.

*Any and all future use of feedback forms to communicate with ourselves on this matter will be treated as mutiny and dealt with appropriately (see Terrorist Threat for particulars)

57: A Barrel Sailing Over A Waterfall

Katerina hovers while John drinks the tea she’s made. Her cup is on the desk. She is letting it cool. Garry and Rosalyn have cups too. Garry sips his quietly, but Rosalyn is slurping hers loudly, like only a person who’s lived alone does. Garry beams at her. He finds the noises she makes endearing. This impromptu tea party is a singular point of normality in the timetable of the day’s events. The fact that they are all still at work, well after hours, in various states of shock and confusion is by the by. The tea is a magical elixir, making everything fine for the moment.

John uses the sleeve of Katerina’s cardigan to wipe the teardrop from the horse book. He is relieved to find no permanent damage has been done. The book will still be able to go out into stock, where it will stand spine outwards or maybe even face on, until it is checked out by an adolescent girl. Suddenly self conscious, John shrugs the cardigan off his shoulders and hands it back to Katerina.

‘Thanks. You feeling a bit better?’

John nods. His head hurts. He thinks all the blood vessels have burst. He can feel tiny gunpowder explosions behind his eyes. It’s preventing him from thinking straight. But he does feel a bit better than he did.

Bob, the only one at the tea party not actually drinking tea, paces behind Garry. He is bothered by the fact that Rosalyn is sitting on his desk, and by the presence of Garry in his chair. Bob’s territory is being violated, but he is impotent. He is not himself. He wants to tell Garry to shift, and to shove the hairy bint off so she falls on the floor, but he doesn’t say a word. He can’t even bring himself to glare at Garry. He fixes his eyes on his stapler, marooned in the river of Rosalyn’s hair. It’s like a barrel about to sail over the edge of a waterfall. A hairy, cascading-over-the-desk waterfall.

Katerina catches Bob’s eye and mouths,’Who’s she?’

‘Trouble,’ Bob mouths back, shaking his head.