The library was almost empty, normal for the time of day. Milo, outwardly relaxed, was keyed up as a grade school kid reaching for third base on his first real date. If he'd worn glasses they would have been steamed over like the windows of the faculty club kitchen in deep winter.

Forcing himself to seem casual, he slowly padded along aisles' worth of battleship gray metal shelving, pausing from time to time to zoom in on the spines of journals, seeking the Dewey Decimal number he'd scrawled onto his hand. Eight-oh-three-dot-three-dot-six ... Nope. Again. Dammit!

Yet Milo was sure it was here. He had returned it specifically to the exact slot from which he had first pulled the anonymous stack of loose notes, barely cohesive, and then only because they were stacked in the same red file folder. It wasn't there. He looked farther, just in case he'd made a mistake. Maybe someone else had looked at it. Maybe they'd put back in a slightly different place...

It was nowhere.

Disappointment welled in Milo's chest, nearly strangling him with its weight. Unbound notes weren't allowed out of the reading room. Had someone else gotten to it, guessed what it represented, stolen it? He resigned himself to having to have another look in the morning, maybe casually mentioning the number to one of the spinster librarians.

As he shuffled dejectedly back down an aisle of countless, useless, anonymous volumes he briefly whiffed a faint stray draught, mingling odors of garlic and something like pipe tobacco. Hair rose on the back of his neck. He hesitated unconsciously, poised for a moment like a dog with its nose up to the evening air, trying to catch more. There was nothing. He rounded a corner and faced the door he had entered, across the space at the back of the reading room, where the table had replaced the old piano.

Milo began to feel indefinably creeped out. He nervously scanned the room, trying to catch a stray shadow, a peripheral motion, anything at all out of place. He saw only inert, familiar ranks of gray and a single night librarian, methodically shelving a cartful of sundry reference miscellany that a day's worth of graduate science majors had scattered and abandoned on the reading tables.

Then he froze.

Set diagonally near the center of the laminated wood table top was a tattered red file folder. He didn't consider the implications. His mind kachunked into autopilot. He pulled random volumes from shelf nearby, sat down at the table, and opened two of them. He seemed intent on their pages but was focussed just over their tops. Automatically, as if he'd done it thousands of times, and no longer had to think about it, he picked up his briefcase from the floor without looking, placed it beside him on the table, and opened it with the graceful sweep of a prestidigitator.

Scanning the room once over imaginary reading glasses and seeing no one, he grasped the folder and slipped it casually, invisibly into the briefcase, weighed it under his steel thermos, and brought the lid down ever so slowly. Silently closed it. Quietly snicked the latches. Standing pensively, as if he'd just read something that was just possibly germaine to his thesis in one of the texts, and now had to get home before the thought evaporated, Milo floated giddily across the reading room toward the exit on a shoplifter's high, feeling like he was dreaming one of those dreams where he'd forgotten to wear his pants. And his underwear.

When he'd passed through the door without a librarian grabbing his shoulder, alarms shrieking, or lightning striking, Milo knew he'd gotten away with it. He waited until the door had swung fully closed, then gusted a loud, shaky sigh.

As he turned left and down the stairs, he unconsciously may have seen a dark flick, a tiny disappearing triangle of double-vented suit jacket, before the foyer door hissed shut below. It hadn't registered. Milo's vision was already turned inward, considering the vast possibilities contained in the red folder...