On Principle




Principal Snyder shuffled the papers on his desk, stacking them neatly, taking his time, letting the Englishman stand humbly as he waited for an invitation to draw back the chair and sit down. It was all about the power. He had it, no question about that, but it was always a good idea to remind people. Squaring the last corner, he glanced up, a lemon-sour smile on his lips. It curdled. The man had sat down. Without permission, without a sound, and he was gazing off into the distance, his fingers tapping idly against his tweed-clad leg. The nerve!

Realising that telling him to stand would be slightly foolish – tempting, but foolish – Snyder duly noted one point to his opponent. First blood, but barely a flesh wound.

“So, Mr Giles, I don’t believe you were here long enough for my predecessor to conduct a performance appraisal before his...passing? No? Pity. I find them invaluable. Yes, that way, if there’s a problem, I can get to the root of it. And do you know what I do then, Mr Giles?”

“No, but I’m sure I have several general gardening guides in the stacks if you need professional help.” Rupert Giles smiled politely, relishing the duel of wits.

“I eradicate it,” Snyder said. “Root and branch.”

“Pruning. Let me see, that would come under...”

“I’ve been looking over your returns,” Snyder said abruptly. “According to you, the weekly number of books checked out is in single figures. That’s hardly encouraging news.”

“I believe that the children need to be able to read before they can truly benefit from a library’s amenities.” Giles coughed. “That, I’m sorry to say, is outside my remit.”

Another point. Snyder bit down hard on his lip and let the pain inspire him. “I have a few suggestions to make the library more...accessible. Friendly, even,” he said.

“I beg your pardon?” Giles said, the complacency slipping enough to gladden Snyder’s heart. “Since when were you concerned about –”

“Let me see, now. How can we manage that? Oh, yes. Posters on the walls. I’m sure we can brighten it up a little.”

“Posters? No room I’m afraid.”

“Then we can get rid of some of the shelves.”

“Those would be the shelves holding the books up, I take it? Marvellous notion.”

“You’re wondering where you could put them? Not a problem. That brings me on to my next idea. Bake a book sale.”

“I don’t quite follow you,” Giles said, his foot tapping on the floor in the rhythm used by the Bengini demons of Clarga to signify an imminent slaughter.

“Simple, effective, kills all sorts of birds with one stone.”

“Ornithology, possibly pest control...” Giles said automatically.

“The children come into the library with a cookie, or a brownie...”

“Food and drink are not allowed past my, that is, the library doors!”

“Really? And yet I’ve often seen donut boxes, pizza remains, in the litter. I must speak to the cleaning staff. Obviously they’re using the library as a cafeteria.”

Points were more than even now. Giles summoned up a smile and glued it to his lips. Snyder continued, “They bring in the food, you give them a book, they buy some food and go. At the end of the day, all the food is gone, a lot of the books, and there’s a nice sum of money for the band uniform fund.”

Giles stood up. “It won’t work,” he said.

Snyder raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. And I haven’t finished.”

Giles leaned over the desk, his palms flat against it. “You will not touch the books, you will not interfere with my work and, as I’m certain you were going to mention her very shortly, you will cease to harass Miss Summers.”

Snyder leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. “Tell me why I should do any of that?” he asked softly.

Giles sat back down and began to recite a seemingly meaningless string of numbers. Snyder frowned and then paled. “Stop it! Stop!” he hissed. “How did you get that account number? It’s impossible!” Realisation dawned. “It’s that bitch, Rosenberg, isn’t it? She hacked -”

Giles moved so smoothly that Snyder didn’t have time for fear, only pain. The hand gripping his throat began to squeeze and eyes dark with implacable anger glared down at him. “If you ever refer to Miss Rosenberg in such terms again I will make you apologise to her on your knees.”

Snyder wheezed painfully as Giles released him. “I wo – won’t. But that number; how did you get it – oh my God!”

Giles held the card in front of Snyder’s eyes for a second longer and then made it disappear. “I don’t get it,” whispered Snyder. “IRS? Here? Why? I swear I was going to declare that money. It was my accountant; he told me that if I waited I could set it against –”

Giles raised his hand, cutting off the babble. “Save it. I have bigger fish to fry.”

“’Bigger’?” Snyder said wonderingly. “You don’t mean –” He glanced around and then mouthed, “The Mayor?”

Giles said firmly, “Certainly not,” as his head nodded up and down.

“Ahhh.” A certain gleeful satisfaction passed over Snyder’s face. “Well, in the circumstances and considering your fine credentials–”

The door closed as he was half way through his speech.

***

Willow walked into the library and gasped. “Giles! You’re putting whisky in your tea? Isn’t that illegal or something?”

“I can scarcely drink it from a glass,” Giles replied with a wry smile. “That wouldn’t be setting a good example, now would it?”

Willow perched on the desk beside him. “So why the sudden urge towards the drowning of the sorrows?”

Giles looked at her. “I had to use it,” he said. “Emergency measure three.”

Willow squeaked. “But that was for emergencies! Oh, wait, there was an emergency? Is anyone dead?”

Giles smiled reassuringly. “No blood spilled, I promise, but just wait until I tell you what he had planned...”

Lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper he told Willow of Snyder’s plans. She reached out and patted his hand gently. “You had no choice,” she said solemnly.

They turned and looked at the serried ranks of books, glowing softly in the afternoon light.

“No choice at all,” Giles agreed. He glanced down at his hand and flexed it, remembering. “And much satisfaction,” he murmured.





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