Captain Courageous slunk into the library ten minutes after the third period bell had rung. Giles caught sight of him hovering near the circulation desk, seemingly at loose ends, and clenched his jaw. At least he’d had a couple hours of peace. He turned his back on Pryce and continued his attempt to introduce Mrs Beacham’s freshman civics class to the Dewey Decimal system.
When the bell rang again, an interminable age later, Giles found Pryce installed behind the circulation desk, perched in Giles’s tall chair, with the first volume of Giles’s own Watcher’s journal propped before him. It had been a violation to be forced to turn them over to the damned fellow. It was a worse violation now to see him reading one here, right under his nose. There he sat, preparing to cast judgement on the Slayer’s business, a vision in gray wool, not a speck of lint on him, sharp crease in his trousers, all ship-shape. Flawless save for the spectacular bruise on his cheekbone from the fracas last night, that was.
Welcome to the Hellmouth, Captain.
“Kneecaps still in place?” Giles said, and was gratified to see Pryce start and his face flush.
“Mr Giles, what were those persons doing in the library?”
Pryce straightened himself on Giles’s chair, his finger holding his place in Giles’s diary. “You oughtn’t allow them near the collection.”
Giles stepped behind the circulation desk. Pryce closed the diary but made no motion toward removing himself from Giles’s chair. Or removing himself from Giles’s library altogether. Buffy herself had suggested a campaign of petty harassment that Giles had felt his duty to discourage. The scheme seemed attractive now, though.
“In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a school library and I am the school librarian. You are-- I’m not sure what your pretext is for being here.” Giles arched a brow at Pryce.
“I am your assistant.”
“Paid for by a grant from a fictitious foundation.”
“Perhaps you could do a spot of assisting now.”
He made a shooing motion. Pryce took the hint and slipped down from the chair. Giles replaced him instantly and logged into the circulation desk’s administrative system. He pointed at the screen. “Today’s overdue books. The students on this list need to be notified. You can print up the notices and have them distributed by their homeroom teachers.”
“Assistant, assist me,” Giles said, addressing the ceiling.
Pryce ducked under the closed gate and out onto the library floor, Giles’s journal still clutched in his hand. His briefcase lay on the study table, and even without the tailoring the case would have signaled Giles that his assistant was in a different tax bracket than he. He thumbed the latches open and tucked the journal away. Giles watched it vanish from sight. His Slayer, snatched away from him, now in the possession of this quivering whelp, this pompous dandy.
The pompous dandy stood facing him across the circulation desk, forefinger in the air.
“My point remains. Vampyr is on the shelves. Any of those students milling about just now might have picked it up.”
Giles snorted. “Pryce, that lot has one goal in life, and that goal is to emerge from the library having avoided all contact with books.”
Pryce granted him a perfunctory smile, but shook his head. “Not good enough.”
“I’ll explain our setup, shall I? The official collection is in the card catalogs and on the shelves up the stairs. The shadow collection is down here where I can see it. And it’s all in its own shadow catalog.”
“A shadow catalog?”
“Only accessible if you know the password. Everything’s computerized, you see.” Giles waved a hand at the monitor on the desk before him.
“Computers.” Pryce’s tone was pure disdain. “I was just reading about the demon you set loose into them. I’m surprised you didn’t ban them outright from the library.”
Giles felt his brows come together, entirely out of his control. He counted out a few deep breaths.
“No, no, I’ve come to see their benefits. Allow me to show you how we do things.”
Giles logged into the catalog program with the password Willow had set up for them. Log in, choose the search function, wait a moment for the screen to change, and there it was. The unofficial catalog of the Sunnydale High School library, which was to say, the catalog of the personal collection of Rupert Giles, former Watcher. Nearly two thousand esoteric books, every one of them useful to Buffy, holding the information that armed her against the undead.
“This was Willow’s computer science project last quarter,” Giles said, completely failing to mention that he’d protested against it to the last. “The entire collection is cataloged. And there are provisions for cross-referencing as well. We can add notes to the record for each book.”
Giles slipped down from the chair and motioned Pryce into his place. He nudged his glasses further up his nose and inspected the screen. He emitted a harrumphing noise that Giles did not want to admit was a familiar sound.
“Is that all? A list of titles?”
“Yes. But a mere list of titles isn’t the point.” Giles commandeered the mouse again to bring up the search screen. "Here. You can fill out this form to search on key phrases. Any time I have the chance to cross-reference I add a few. Try it. It’s quite clever, really. "
Giles watched Pryce poke at the keyboard with two fingers. Poor earnest Captain Courageous, hunting and pecking and peering over the rims of his specs. Giles’s initial urge toward smugness was checked by memory, too recent to be comfortable, of Jenny laughing at him for his haplessness with the keyboard, and signing him up for a typing class in the evenings. He’d been wet behind the ears once himself; he was man enough to admit that. To himself, anyway.
“Hullo. You don’t have a copy of Hume’s Paranormal Encyclopedia?”
Giles gritted his teeth. “No.”
“Ah, yes, well, I suppose we don’t all have access to same resources.”
Giles glared at him, but the fellow’s expression was innocent of any gloating. He was intent on the computer screen, leaning forward, trailing his finger down a list of titles, his lips moving silently. He sat back sharply and Giles braced himself.
“The Black Chronicles? Mr Giles, that book is dangerous.”
“That’s why it’s locked in the rare book cage.”
“That’s the first sensible arrangement I’ve seen here.”
Giles smiled serenely at the ceiling. He’d show Pryce sensible. “Of course, we use the cage for more than books. We lock vampires in there from time to time. And there’s Oz.”
“A student here. You haven’t met him yet.”
Pryce removed his glasses and polished them with his handkerchief. “Mr Giles. Am I to understand that you lock a student into the rare book cage?”
“Yes. Once a month.” Giles covered his mouth with his hand and waited for it.
“Once a month.”
“For the full moon, you see, to keep him contained.”
Pryce’s hands arrested themselves mid-polish. “A werewolf?”
Giles’s smile sharpened. “Full marks.”
And there went the glasses back on. “Is there no end to the irregularities here?”
“Last night was more the rule than the exception. Better get used to it.”
Pryce stared at him. Giles turned his back on him and began sorting through the morning deliveries. Circulars, notice for the next faculty meeting, a new Booklist, the morning’s Sunnydale Herald. Dashed if he would give up his habit of scanning the paper for news of interest to Buffy. He couldn’t trust this whelp to recognize the work of the supernatural.
Giles unfolded the paper onto the circulation desk. He pulled his mid-morning banana from his coat pocket and peeled it. The front page had dedicated itself to a death rather higher profile than the usual. Apparently the deputy mayor had been found dead on the docks. Giles read the story down past the fold while he ate the banana.
“It says here that Vampyr has never been checked out,” Pryce said, from the other end of the desk.
“It would surprise me if it had been,” Giles replied, with as much disinterest in his voice as he could muster. He found the continuation of the police interview on page four.
“I presume Miss Summers has her own copy of the handbook.”
“You may presume that if you wish.” Seemed like an ordinary murder; the fellow had been stabbed in the chest, not bitten or beheaded or anything suggestive.
“It all begins to make sense,” Pryce said.
He’d apparently abandoned the catalog and had chosen instead to hover at Giles’s elbow. Giles snapped the paper shut and dropped it onto the counter.
“Willful and insolent. Your own words, Mr Giles.”
Giles gave this insult no answer, but merely tossed his banana peel at the waste bin. Bullseye.
Pryce, meanwhile, had commandeered his newspaper. “Hullo, what’s this? The deputy mayor was murdered last night. Brutal scene of carnage. Here, in this little town?”
“Welcome to the Hellmouth,” Giles said.