Ex Libris

The dogs outside were easy. Three seconds. Even the human guards with their guns and tasers were easy. Twelve seconds. The high tech security system took a little longer. A Japanese brand this time. Forty-four seconds.

Once she was inside the villa, things became more difficult. Motion sensors; twenty seconds. Lasers; one minute, fifteen seconds.

He had moved house since the last time and she wasted three valuable minutes trying to find the right floor. The regular library was upstairs, but he hadn’t been foolish enough to hide it in the regular library since Venice. By the time she found the lock behind the wine cabinet in the back hallway off the kitchen, she’d already been inside for nearly six minutes.

The lock took another fifty-seven seconds, and the trap affixed to the back of the door another nineteen. Past the door were three other traps that took her a total of two minutes and thirty-six seconds. She was reminded of the virtues of patience when her hurry was nearly rewarded with a dart in her neck; no doubt tipped with the poison of the Nigerian Skull-Faced Toad, if past patterns held true.

The security systems behind the door were more old-fashioned. A pressure plate under the floor, tripwires, that sort of thing. The entire hallway took forty seconds even. At the other end was another door with more locks. One minute, seven seconds. And on the other side of that was the real library.

A pentagonal chamber with twelve-foot ceilings and walls covered completely in books and tablets and scrolls and parchments, anything and everything that humans had ever recorded forbidden or dangerous words on down through the ages. He had one of the best collections in all the world. Always had. If you asked her, it was the second best. Second to hers.

The secret library always looked about the same, no matter how many times she made him move. It had looked about the same in Prague and in Milan and in New York and in Kyoto and in that place in Paraguay. He liked his patterns, just as she did.

And here was the most insidious trap of all. The dogs and the guards and the doors and the locks, none of those were the hard part. The hard part was walking through the library—passing up all that delicious paper fruit dangling so ripe and ready for the picking at her fingertips—and only taking the one thing she’d come for.

There it was, as it always was, in a hermetically sealed case in the center of the room. The prize piece of his collection when it was his, just as it was the prize piece of her collection when it was hers. She took her time getting through the case—two minutes, twenty-two seconds—and then she slid it into the satchel she’d had made especially to hold it and slipped back out the way she’d come.

In total it took her nineteen minutes and forty-nine seconds to steal the book. As she crept back over the outside wall she wondered how long she’d get to keep it this time.


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