Vex always wondered if they’d deliberately built the Phoenix
Public Library to feel like the capstone to a catacomb. The structure itself
rose up above the dusty desert and parking lot with a squat grandeur, but that
was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The insides of the first level
expanded out into a vast, vaulted room, entered from two sides by square
tunnels that felt as if they were cut from living rock. When really, they were
forged out of concrete, the effect remained the same: dim shadows and chilly
Ignoring the brightly lit lobby entirely, she flounced her
way to the elevators under the hollow gazes of the greeters behind the desk and
a tired looking security guard lounging against a glass wall. When the elevator
arrived, she pressed the button for the bottommost floor. As the elevator
descended, Vex mused about how archives and basements seemed to go
hand-in-hand. As if someone had decreed that in the earth old books would be
interred—a sepulture for old documents, the dusty lovelorn pages of memory.
With a ding, the elevator doors sprang open.
The threadbare carpet clicked audibly beneath Vex’s boot
heels as she made her way through the small antechamber lobby and out into the
cool recesses of the archive stacks. Baking powder smells emanated from the
carpet where it had been recently vacuumed and mixed with the subterranean
chill air. The desk at the front had been left unattended, computers with green
letters hummed quietly against one wall, and a doorway in the opposite
direction opened into a room furnished with microfiche machines.
Pressing further in, she moved between some haphazardly
stacked boxes of microfilm and precariously teetering piles of books. Several
of the lights, here and there, were burnt out, casting a cavernous glow onto
the shelves of newspapers, microfilm, and three-ring-binders. Sounds of
rustling pages and shuffling feet echoed through the marching aisles of shelves
as Vex walked confidently between them, navigating the labyrinth with veteran
experience. Unerring in her route, she came upon the only other person down in
the Archives that day.
Andrew Cane could not be called a short man by anyone of
less height than six-feet-three; with his stature and long arms he could reach
the highest shelves without difficulty and pressed this as an advantage on many
occasions—seldom would one find a footstool in the Archives, although for the
extended sections long, rolling ladders were supplied. His pale and severe face
with its hollow cheeks, bespectacled eyes, and short orange beard was shoved
into the leaves of a three-ring-binder when Vex approached.
“Andrew,” Vex said.
He looked up and closed the binder slowly. “You must walk
like a cat,” he said. “You mustn’t sneak up on me so, could give me an attack.”
His manner, however, belied any sort of surprise.
Vex rolled her eyes. “I must,” she said, and then shook
her head, cocking it towards the door. “You knew I’d come in the moment I
walked out of the elevator. You made me walk all this way to find you.”
“Hmph and nonsense, young lady,” he said. “But, now
that you are here. I have something you might be interested in. As you well
known there are quite a few failed mines here in Arizona, and none too few
produce stories about why they closed. Well, I have discovered the provenance
of one such story out of Jerome, involves a phantom locomotive. You might want
“Not today,” Vex said. “I need something else: deed
He adjusted his glasses. “Ah if only I was younger—housing
deeds and titles? Old ones, I hope…”
“How does about twenty years back do you?” she asked.