“Breach!” cried Hernandez. “Go, go, go!”

The Masterkey shotgun on Tuck’s rifle did its work, blowing the lock. Farraday swung in a second later with her ram, smashing the door in. The squad poured into the house, arms at the ready.

They found the suspect in the living room, seated in front of the TV with a remote in his hand. Still in his pajamas, he clearly hadn’t been expecting company.

“On the ground!” Hernandez barked. “Get on the ground with your hands on your head!” The suspect, shocked and awed, complied.

“Contraband over here!” cried Tuck from another room of the house.

“Over here too!” said Faraday from the bedroom. She and Tuck each emerged into the living room with their arms full of evidence, which they dumped on the couch.

“Look at this stash. There’s some from Canton, some from Royal Oak…just about everywhere you can get ’em,” Tuck added. “Most of these are wanted on outstandings.”

“Are these your books? Are these your DVDs?” Hernandez said, approaching the suspect.

“Who are you? What’s going on?” he squeaked in reply.

“I am a licensed and bonded library bounty hunter in 27 states, and you’re wanted for outstanding fines and fees from 17 branch libraries,” Hernandez said. “DVDs, hardcover novels, and even CDs.”

“We’re taking you back to face justice for what you’ve done,” said Tuck.

“And getting 10% of the outstanding fines for doing it,” Faraday added.

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“Look, Luciano, I’ve done all I can,” said Gotti, shrugging helplessly. “If you want to stay here in town, and you want a government job with a nice pension and good hours, this is all I have for you right now.”

“Come on, Giovanni,” cried Luciano. His powerful voice, the pride of the local opera, virtually blasted his old friend back in his seat. “You know I have too much tied up in my house here to move! Especially after Roberta got everything else in the divorce.”

“Well, this is as good as I can be to you as your patron,” said Gotti. “I’m sorry, I really am. I’ll look for better, I promise you, since this doesn’t even begin to pay you back for all those free tickets for me and Esmerelda.”

Luciano looked at the paperwork. “I like the money and I like the hours, but…”

“If you want something right now, it’s this or selling hot dogs to fat American tourists,” said Gotti. “Or you could keep singing.”

“No,” said Luciano. “Not after what happened. I can’t, I just can’t. You know this.”

“Well then, you start Monday,” said Gotti. “One week’s training with the current guy before he retires off to a villa in Tuscany with his grandkids.”

“Still, I don’t know,” said Luciano. “I’m just not sure what an opera singer does the only available job is in the quietest library in town.”

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Controversy continued to swell around the Hopewell Public Library today, as protestor appeared for the third day in a row. Numbering more than 200, they are demanding reforms and justice.

“I’m just saying,” said one protestor, “if these librarians were wearing body cameras, none of this would have happened.”

“It’s shameful,” said another. “They’ve been mistreating patrons for years, it’s only now that we’re starting to wake up.”

At issue is the shushing of unarmed patrons and the assessing of fines in a discriminatory manner. Nine patrons have been shushed since the first of the month, with witnesses and cell phone video seeming to show that the unarmed patrons were shushed despite no detectable noise level. All of the nine were patrons like teenagers, creepy older men, or middle-aged busybodies–all groups that have alleged targeting for mistreatment.

“They shushed me the other day because the other patrons could hear my Nickelback through my headphones,” said one protestor. “That’s straight-up Gestapo treatment, man!”

“I got shushed because I kept asking that cute librarian for her phone number,” said another. “What is this, Soviet Russia?”

Protestors also allege that librarians have been assessing fines in a way that is judgmental and discriminatory. Users from the above groups say that they have been singled out for fines for simply not returning items on time.

Pressed for comment, the Hopewell Public Library has declined to issue a statement at this time, pending a press conference to be held tomorrow at 2:30 EST. This has not muted calls for the librarians in question to be prosecuted and for the State Librarian to resign.

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They call it the third place.

Neither work nor home, a third place comes without the marionette strings and strong negative associations that come along with a workplace. It’s free of the endless distraction, chores, and laundry that swirl about the home. A third place is a sanctum apart, a place of peace and productivity.

For many, their third place is a library. Ample seating, books leeching the musty odor of delectable knowledge, and–most importantly–free internet access. But for a librarian like me, libraries ARE work, which means that relaxation and creativity and free internet access without dirty laundry must happen elsewhere.

What better place than a coffee shop? Life-giving, elixir-of-the-morning coffee (iced, of course, even in the dead of wintry mix February) plus wireless that usually works when you don’t have anything important to do plus a generous supply of tables and comfy chairs. Plus, for a hermit like me, the constant comings and goings of people jonesing for java can lend an air of sociability to a solor witing session.

Starting in 2010 or so, my third place was High Point Coffee just off West Jackson Ave. It wasn’t ideally placed, being in a strip mall perpendicular from the main college causeway and not easily visble unless you knew it was there. For the first few years I lived in town, in fact, I had no idea it existed. But for National Novel Writing Month 2010, I was invited to a write-in there by a fellow scribe.

They never showed up, but I kept coming. It wasn’t even for the coffee at first; I fell in love with the armchairs that let you sink in deep and nest, the titanic ottoman that could hold an entire disseration or novel revision, the crackling gas fireplace. With a double-bank of windows there was always plenty of sunlight, and an airy open layout allowed for maximum customization of tables, chairs, and snaking cords seeking the four precious outlets.

In time, once I realized that the caramel frappuccino I’d been drinking was a little too cold and a little too sweet, I fell in love with High Point’s iced mocha and iced vanilla (without whipped cream, of course, since I’m watching my figure). The large size of each was enough to fuel an entire session of third place noveling or blogging, augmented on occasion by a delectable $1 jumbo chocolate chunk cookie (but not the raisin cookies, since those imposters are disappointment made real and set loose upon a sinful world). It was to the point where, when I approached, the baristas sometimes had my favorite already started.

I only threw them a curveball by asking for the pumpkin spice a few times.

It’s kind of funny, and maybe a little embarrassing, how much someone can get wrapped up in their third place. Half of the pop songs on my iPod were yanked from the very air of High Point by SoundHound fur purchase. The baristas often became my friends as they came and went; I think half of the stylish people in my local circle worked there at one time or another. I took out-of-town visitors there, took dates there, even glued foam heads to their wooden coffee stirrers in one memorable art session. When I became a National Novel Writing Month honcho in my own right, our most informal and celebratory meetings were always advertised on Facebook with a coffee bean motif.

A Starbucks opened up just down the road on the site of a bulldozed Burger King the other year, and another indie coffee shop–much narrower and less well-lit, with uncomfortable wooden hipster furniture–not long before that. Both places fronted the main drag, meaning they were more easily visible. And though there were certainly busy times, especially near exams or after football games, the great draw of High Point as a third place was that you could always find a place to sit and spread out.

I had long feared that my third place would close, and gave them plenty of business to try and forestall such a horror. Every NaNoWriMo write-in had a table tent admonishing attendees to buy all the java they could. And yet, when they announced with less than two weeks’ notice that they’d be closed forever by Valentine’s Day, it hit like a sledgehammer. I’d built so much of my routine as a writer and as an (attempted) leader of writers to that one place. All but a few of my friends were out of a job. Generous tips in the last few weeks and a souvenir keep cup were all I could manage.

If that sounds a little silly, getting all busted up over a java joint closing, consider this: of my 2200 blog entries, perhaps 20% were written there in the grip of a chair deeper than a philosophy course. Every novel I tried to write from 2010-2015 was attempted there as much as it was at home; I owe three finished drafts and four unfinished ones to my third place. When I had mind-numbing chores to do at work and an open schedule, I’d sometimes retire there to work in peace and rate undergraduates or read faculty applications.

Worse, no other place is as close or as bright or as comfortable; ever since the library where I work installed a Starbucks above my office they’ve lost whatever luster they might once have had (their coffee is awful too). The other indie shops in town are either too far away or too uncomfortable. There’s one other High Point location, the last survivor, but it’s downtown where the parking is meager and the drunks run thick. It’s always packed to the gills and overrun with weirdos, like that creepy dude who takes surreptitious pictures of ladies’ lower limbs.

I’ll live. I’ll find another third place. But you never forget your first, whether it’s your first third place or your first indie java joint. Farewell, HPC West; we’ll always have the writing.

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“I just…I haven’t seen her in so long,” bawled Vakt the Rosy into his cups.

“There, there. Tinuviel’s just not feeling well after getting scratched up by a jackalwere in the middle of a cavern infested with gibberlings,” said Iffy the elf. “She’ll be down soon enough.

“She’s just so short…so sweet…so tiny…so…so…” Vakt began bawling again.

“I think you’ve had enough,” deadpanned Chanel the elven cleric. “How much have you had to drink already?”

“It’s just root beer,” Vakt sniffed. “House blend. Iazgu’s still making my first tequila slammer.”

“Maybe you should go a bit easy on the tequila slammers,” said Adenan the halfling.

“HEY!” barked Iazgu the Flayer, demon of the Abyss and chambermaid/bartender for the Demon Arms Inn. “I’ll not hear a word said against my tequila slammers! It’s a recipe of the abyssal realms, strong enough to stun a quasit, and it’s the only thing close to a real drink that’s been served here in 10,000 years!”

Creeping up on the clearing, they saw Mercury the bulldog in the midst of a crowd of howling gibberlings, not unlike the ones they had fought in Ransack Cavern earlier. He was being ridden bareback by a gibberling while the others hooted and cheered at the spectacle. For his part, Mercury seemed rather resigned to this, accepting it as just a fact of life: the sky was blue, the trees were green, and he was ridden by tiny hyperactive monsters.

Adenan grabbed one of the scruffy horrors by his hair and yanked him backwards. “What do you think you’re doing?” she growled.

“Riding! Fun!” squeaked the thrashing gibberling. “I know you! You killed Gus! And Gus Two! I’m Gus Four!”

“Let the bulldog go,” Adenan continued, as menacingly as any halfling could, “or I’ll squash you into jelly before I throw you in the river.”

“No! Not jelly! Jellied gibbs can’t get into gibberheaven!” The gibberling seemed to steel himself a bit. “But dog is ours. Has been forever.”

“No he isn’t.”

“Is too! Used to guard cave! Hatched him ourselves!”

“No you didn’t.”

“Don’t know where dogs come from!” the gibberling wailed.

The library golem was impassive. “You must return the stolen book and pay the fine, or your life is forfeit. The fine is 50 gold. Pay or die.”

Iffy raised her hands. “But my library has an interlibrary loan program with the Elderbrary,” she said in her most convincingly scholarly tone. “We don’t have to pay any fine if we return it!”

Clicking and whirring as it processed this, the golem demurred. “Very well. Surrender the Monster Manual and we will consider your hold lifted.”

Longingly, reluctantly, Iffy gave up the tome. The library golem inserted the volume into its book drop slot, whirred some more, and departed.

A moment later, Iffy the elf turned on Mr. Funderberger IV, who throughout the conversation had been trying to back into the tick copse of woods surrounding the meeting spot. “YOU!” she roared. “THAT BOOK WAS STOLEN!”

“I gave you a good deal,” he whined.


“What exactly did you have to do?” said Chanel the elven cleric. “You still haven’t told us how much sugar you had to give.”

“I will neither confirm nor deny a specific amount of sugar given!” Iffy roared. “But he’s gonna pay!”

Mr. Funderberger IV had quite enough; he made to bolt. Iffy, in an uncharacteristic show of physical prowess, tripped him with her staff.

Then, she proceeded to pummel him senseless.

“Let’s see how you like THIS sugar!” she screamed, drawing her dagger. Casting Phineas’s Phun Phoam on Funderberger’s head, she used her dagger to shave off his carefully coiffed locks. Then she took everything of value in his pockets, even down to his phony tin sword.

“I think you’ve gotten your revenge, Iffy,” said Adenan.

“Hardly!” Iffy continued. “Mercury! Bulldog! Get over here and piss on Mr. Funderberger IV! We’ll see how much sugar you get after that!”

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“This is our rare book room, where we keep our most valuable tomes untouched and raw, just as they were when they came to us, with only a bare minimum of alteration to keep them–and us–safe. Let’s move on.”

“What’s that room next door? The one where the books are all burned and mangled on the outside, but some of the pages look like they might still be readable?”

“Oh, that’s our medium-rare book room. If you think that’s something, wait until you see our well-done book room!”

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“I am Senior Subject Librarian Lea Manhardt, and from now on you will speak only when spoken to. The first and last words out of your thesauri will be “Ma’am”. Do you bookworms read me?”

“Ma’am, yes ma’am!”

“This is a library! They can hear you in the crypt under the chapel. You will WHISPER, you filthy bookworms, and you will do it so quietly that my cat will not be able to hear you, and she’s woken up by her own farts! Now whisper like a castrato!”

“Ma’am, yes ma’am.”

“If you filthy bookworms leave my library, if you survive basic training, you will be an open book. You will be a font of knowledge and expertise fit to advise the lowliest hobo and the freshmanniest of freshmen. But until that day you are trade paperbacks. You are the lowest form of literature on Earth. You are not even books, you are pamphlets. Handouts! Ephemera! You are nothing but beat-up, stained romance novels at an old lady’s estate sale, do you read me?”

“Ma’am, yes ma’am.”

“Because I am like unto a hardback book with archival quality leather binding, you will not like me. I am not an easy read. But the more you hate me, the more you will retain. I am hard read but I am a fair one, and my orders are to weed out all the paperbacks and self-published poetry from this sorry box of library donations. Do you bookworms read that?”

“Ma’am, yes ma’am.”

With apologies to Stanley Kubrick and R. Lee Ermey

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