As he drove to Madeira, Paul kept thinking over and over again, the Sixties are over... for everyone except those fossils.
He pulled up at the library and got the books from the trunk. For the second day in a row, he was experiencing what it was like to not be at work, and it was a strange feeling. Where he should have felt elated at using well-earned vacation time, he instead felt butterflies in his stomach. The lovely sunshine, the cloudless skies, the smells of mown grass and blooming flowers, all should have made him feel happy. Instead, he felt kind of sick inside. His world was being wrenched apart. His life was being turned upside down, all because of a couple of dim old bureaucrats.
The library was one of his favorite places. He should come here more oftenbut who had time? It smelled of paper and bindings inside. It was a small library, but it was darkish and had cozy nooks where people sat and read.
Wanda Burley was a heavyset middle-aged woman who evidently was trying to keep her hair the same shade of carrot red it had been when she was young in the '50's. A pleasant, attractive woman, she had telltale whisps of white around her ears, and a pair of reading glasses hung on her white blouse front. "Mr. Owens! My gosh, I almost forgot what you look like."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Burley." He put the four books in a stack before her. "I've just been so busy..."
"I understand." She looked distressed. "Mr. Owens, I'm afraid to check what the fines will be."
"It's okay, Mrs. Burley. I deserve it." He took out his checkbook. Lay it on me. I have courage."
"Okay." She put a sheet of microfiche in the reader and frowned. "Couple of men here asking questions about you yesterday."
"Oh?" His stomach butterflied again. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but he was beginning to think it would be a regular part of his life from now on.
"Twelve fifty," she mumbled, writing the number on a slip of scrap paper. "I will only fine you one half of the purchase price of each book. Since they are relatively old books, this won't clean you out, but I imagine it will hurt." She searched for the price of the second book. "They said they're FBI. Wanted to know if you come here a lot. What kind of books you read. Got me all upset. And hot under the collar. You'd think it was Russia here or something."
Paul stammered: "What did they say? Why are they doing this?"
"Hmph! 'Just a routine background check,' they said."
Paul bit his lip. He'd already had a complete check and carried a Top Secret clearance. If anything happened for him to get bumped down, or to lose that entirely, he'd never be able to work in a Government facility again.
"Twenty four dollars and ten cents," Mrs. Burley pronounced. "You can pay me five bucks a month, how's that?"
"No, no. I'll write you a check for the whole amount."
`As he wrote, she pulled out a typewritten list. "I had to show them this. I had to get this list together for the Central Library because of your way overdue books." She laid the list in front of him and pointed at one item with a red pencil mark beside it. It said Progressive Forces in the Soviet Union, Connerly, Harvard University Press, 1969. "They made a photocopy of this list. That's their check mark."
He guffawed. "My GodI spotted something in passing in that book and took it home to read about three paragraphs about how they treat scientists at Moscow University."
"Hoover's boys at work," she said with a shrug. "I feel safe now."
He paid her and left the library without bothering to browse.
He didn't have the stomach for it. Sweat ran down his face, down his back. He felt like driving back to the plant and shaking Steve Rossi's lapels. This was a bad dreama sudden nightmare. It couldn't be happening. He'd been so happy the past few years, so utterly secure with his toys and his nose cones.
He understood now. He wasn't on vacation time. He was suspended while these auditors ran an FBI investigation on him.
He cringed suddenly when he realized that Marsha had just begun work there. Would she know about this? Only a matter of time, he thought grimly as he drove home.