Chicago winter whistled through the iron gates. Gargoyles lurked, watching me as I whistled through their stone arch perch. Behind me a modern blocky lump of tan stone punctuated with windows lit by over-studying kids loomed like I tried to. My client, Elaine Ecdysiast, leaned against the left inner curve of the arch. I'd tried to do that with her, but she wasn't playing.
"Turn around, Brightly Sunshine," she said.
"I never turn my back on danger, babe," I said, wincing at the name my hippie parents had stuck me with. My talk-tough self-esteem workshop ran overdrive in my head.
"Then turn around," she said. There was a bite in her voice, as if she already knew what I wanted to ask her. Actually, she did. She'd already turned me down.
I did as she asked, looking back at the squared-off squared-off square of the library, cubes on cubes, like a drunken craps player who can't remember to roll the dice.
"On your left," she said, "is a statue in honor of the first people to mess with atomic power. Behind me is where the President of the United States taught law. People try to make up reasons to be scared of him. Anyone who's been here a year learns there's nothing scarier than a teacher at the University of Chicago."
"What's that got to do with me, babe?"
"Dr. DeVelishe D. Vice, Professor of ProtoArchaeAntediluvian Architecture."
"What about him?" I'd never heard of the guy, let alone whatever his subject was. All I knew about architecture was that some guy named Mies drove a Van down a Row and won awards for it. And that Chicago's got its own school of architecture, but no one seems to learn there.
"I'm his grad student," she said, pouty and pedantic. "That means I do his research, write his papers, teach his classes and get nothing out of it but the chance to one day do the same to some other genius not smart enough to know they've been had. He found out, or I found out for him, that the library1 is really a reconstruction2 of an unholy3 shrine4, based on secret blashphemous5 teachings6 of an ancient7 cult8."
"No time for footnotes, Elaine," I said. "Just tell me where he is and I'll go slug him."
"Tonight he will use our foundation of books to summon an ancient god out of the depths of the swamp on which Chicago was built."
"I've heard enough, toots," I said.
"Too late," drawled a voice from across the street. A pale flickering lamp shone down on a snowed-over stooped-over man wearing a long tweed cape patched in leather and a smirk honed from years of cutting down students. "I taught her too well. She can't resist lecturing until the last minute."
The earth rumbled and the vast cyclopean block-on-block structure rose up, spewing books, students, and desperate book-bag-checking librarians into the brooding sky.
Doctor D.Vice stepped aside as his new teaching assistant came toward us. It opened its front door-mouth.