Lucky Break
rating: +14+x

This one's called Lucky Long-Legs. He's out here every damn day earnin' his nickname, and don't you forget it for one second. One week he's slippin' out of Rare Books Room Three with the Disravian Codex in his filthy little paws right as the Docents swing their lanterns around, next week Fat Freddy and Nico No-Nose get gunned down in cold blood by the goddamn Prairie Dogs, but he's up the book return and down before the bullets stop Swiss cheesin' the wall behind him. Well old Nico might not have had a nose before, but sure as shit he ain't got nothin' now, and Freddy neither. Lucky knows for sure that when the Boss calls him in the next day, that's why.

He goes in through the back of the Meercafé, and it's so late it's early, whatever that means around here, and the local weather patterns in their little corner of the Library have that fog and that light drizzle that Lucky fuckin' loves because they're easier to get lost in than Frankie's girlfriend's eyes, ay? When he opens up the door, Frankie Five-Fingers himself is playin' a game of cards with Teeths. Lucky don't know why Frankie even bothers, cause Teeths is a perfect card-counter and he always wins, but it's no skin off Lucky's ass. Hog-Eye is throwin' darts at a taped-up portrait of whichever Archivist has everyone on two legs this week, just like always.

This time, though, there's some shitty little new kid Lucky's never seen before standin' in Lucky's spot, with a glint in his eyes and a swagger in his stance that Lucky's seen too many times before. The kid's got a strong build and the brindlin' on his back is dark and strikin', and there's somethin' about him that eats at Lucky, it's so familiar. Lucky doesn't like this kid, he knows it already. He knows better than to say nothin' though, since it's obvious by the kid bein' here the Boss extended a personal invitation.

Boss's got a big map of Wing Four pinned up on the wall with a thick red circle drawn around the Reshelvin' Desk. Why, Lucky doesn't know. Every mook and his mother knows where the Reshelvin' Desks is at. Lucky's eyes dart back and forth between the map and the Boss's face, but he's gettin' a fat lot of nothin'. Just gonna have to be patient—which is whatever the opposite of what a wheelhouse is, as far as Lucky's concerned.

"Fuckin' Prairie Dogs," Frankie growls, lookin' up at Lucky and runnin' a paw through his slicked-back fur on top of his head, and Lucky couldn't agree more.

"Fuckin' Prairie Dogs is right, what the fuck? No way this wasn't a setup. No way."

Now Hog-Eye's got an opinion. "Why? Cause you can't imagine maybe the three of yous just weren't as smooth as you thought you were?"

Lucky's pissed, of course. "You watch your fuckin' mouth," he says, "or they'll hafta start callin' you Fat-Lips."

"Boys," says the Boss, real quiet, and he don't gotta say nothin' else.

The back room is quiet for a minute as the Boss shuffles through some papers on his desk and opens up an envelope with his silver letter opener. Because of the stupid-ass new kid, Lucky's too far from the exits of the room for his likin'. Lucky knows Boss is bigger, stronger, and has a meaner temper than anyone else in the Family, even if he always seems ice-cold, and that letter opener's sharp as shit. He's probably pissed too, since Fat Freddy was his nephew and all, and also cause the Peedees got the goddamn book they were after. But the Boss slips the letter opener back into his desk and steps over to the map on the wall with the letter in his paw. Lucky's relieved. He ain't in the mood for runnin' right now, and he's even less interested in acquirin' a new orifice.

The Boss taps the letter with his other paw and he says, "I got some very… interestin' correspondence here." His voice is low and rumblin', like the sound under the Library floor when a reshelvin' cart is passin' over. "I think you all might find it to be interestin' too."

Well everyone in the room, even the new kid, knows better than to say a fuckin' word while the Boss is buildin' suspense. You coulda heard a field mouse fart in there.

"I've been keepin' up with Goose," the Boss finally says, and Lucky's surprised. Goose is a friend of theirs, sure, but he ain't the brightest bulb in the desk lamp. None of 'em had seen him in a hot minute, and Lucky had been sure the Boss had sent Goose away to keep him outta everyone's fur. Guess he was wrong. "Our guy's been doin' a little bugwork. Long story short, Prairie Dogs is plannin' to hit the Wing Four Reshelvin' Desk tomorrow."

Nobody in the room has any idea what to fuckin' say to that, cause it's batshit-crazy. Well, nobody but Frankie. "The Reshelvin' Desk? Where I'm from, we call that suicide!" he says with a laugh. "Sayo-fuckin'-nara, Peedees, and good fuckin' riddance, that's what I say!" But the Boss ain't laughin', and Lucky and everyone else ain't laughin', and soon Frankie ain't laughin' neither.

"Thing is, Frankie," the Boss says, all slow-like, like Frankie's a little pup or somethin', "they wouldn't be tryin' a stunt like this if there wasn't somethin' real good to be gained. You read me?" And Frankie nods, cause he knows better than to not.

"Look," the Boss goes on, "the Peedees is the beetles in our bindin's, but they're not stupid. They know somethin' we don't know. But we're gonna beat 'em to the punch."

"Let me get this straight," Hog-Eye says, in the way only the consigliere can get away with around the Boss. "With all due respect, you're tellin' us that they're gonna relocate somethin' from the Reshelvin' Desk, but we don't know what it is, and we don't know why they're doin' it? What do we know, Boss?"

"We know when they're doin' it," an unfamiliar voice pipes up, and all eyes are on the new kid. Even the Boss looks surprised.

"Yeah, asshole, tomorrow," Frankie says with a chuckle and a glance at Teeths, who's grinnin' from ear to ear like the biggest shit eater since the dung beetle. But the kid shakes his head and rolls his eyes.

"I mean we know when tomorrow, bird brain," he says. Teeths starts gigglin', and the Boss has to hold up a paw to stop Frankie from chimin' in again. The kid goes on, "There's only one time it could be. Midday, there's a changeover. Old Lead Page out, new Lead Page in. When the old one quits hangin' behind the desk, there's about ten seconds where there ain't eyes directly on the desk as the new one gets into place."

Frankie whistles. "Ten seconds. I've had farts that last longer."

Lucky can't resist takin' the shot. "Nobody knows better than us, you nasty fuck," he says. But that just cracks Frankie up. Frankie never takes Lucky serious.

"How do you know all this, kid?" Hog-Eye asks as he bullseyes the Archivist up on the wall.

"Spent a lot of time topside," the kid replies. "There's always somethin' to eat, even when there ain't much down here. And ma always said it would pay off someday, knowin' my way around up there."

"Well, as much as anyone can know their way around up there, anyway," Lucky muses. He'd spent a lotta time topside, too, in his life.

"Okay, so if we get the book, it's a big black eye on the Peedees from whatever Archivist dropped the cash for the job. So, what? They're hittin' the desk midday tomorrow. What are we gonna do about it?" Hog-Eye asks.

"We hit the desk midday today," the kid says. And in that moment, with the kid tiltin' his head all cocky, it's like Lucky's lookin' in a mirror, but the mirror's five years in the past.

"Just a goddamn minute," Lucky says, tiltin' his head at the same angle. "It's not that I don't appreciate the confidence or nothin', but who exactly the fuck are you?"

"This is my son," the Boss says with finality.

And not even Frankie knows what to say this time.

A few hours later, Lucky, Hog-Eye, Frankie, Teeths, and the kid are all down in the burrows under the marble floor, headin' for the Reshelvin' Desk. Whole damn Library's criss-crossed with the burrows, dug out by who knows what who knows how long ago. Lucky's got a little house off the burrows in the Wing Two main stairwell, but it's down here in the tunnels he's home. They're just the right size for the Meerkats and for all manner of other little denizens of the Library—beetles, roaches, rats, mice, spiders. Prairie Dogs. Everythin' down here's got its little part to play in the symphony of the Library, no matter how small, no matter how forgotten.

"The Boss's son," Hog-Eye says warily, in between puffs of a foul cigar he's got gripped between his teeth. "From outta nowhere. Even I ain't heard of you, kid."

"Swear it's true," says the kid. "And I got a name."

"Who's your momma, kid?" Frankie asks.

"Marla," the kid replies.

"Marla?" Hog-Eye says, barely concealin' his incredulity. "The boss's girlfriend from, what was it, Teeths?" The grinnin' Meerkat giggles softly and holds up three fingers. Hog-Eye shoots him a quick glance and continues, "Yeah, from three years ago? You gotta be shittin' me."

"Swear on her and my grams and anyone else you want me to swear on," the kid says. "And my name's Vince."

"Your name's kid until you make your first book," Frankie says, "Boss's son or no."

"I'm gonna get made today, mark my words," the kid says. "How hard can it be to steal a book?"

The response from the other four Meerkats is like lightnin'. "Ohh!" calls Frankie at the top of his lungs, and all four of 'em are up on two legs, lookin' sideways at the kid like he just pulled a gun on 'em.

"The fuck you talkin' about?" Hog-Eye says. "We don't ever, never say that word!"

"Are you crazy? Are you fuckin' nuts?" Frankie says, eyes panicked. Lucky looks at Teeths. It's the only time Lucky can remember that he hasn't seen the trademark smile plastered across his stupid face.

"Ey, what the fuck?" the kid says. "Ain't that what we're doin'?"

"We're relocatin'," Lucky says darkly. "Like Hog-Eye says, don't ever say the s-word again. Get me?"

"Fastest way to a shallow grave or worse around here," Hog-Eye says.

Frankie rocks anxiously to and fro. "This shit's cursed now. Motherfuck. I ain't lookin' to become no Docent. Fuckin' shit!"

"Listen," Lucky says, cause he knows someone's gotta get a handle on the situation, "cause we ain't patrons, there's only three rules to the Library that pertain to us."

Frankie and Hog-Eye join in. "Don't damage Library property," they recite together. "Don't damage books. Don't steal books." By the time they're done, Frankie's calmed down, Teeths is grinnin', and everyone's off edge again.

"So we ain't never stolen no books," Lucky concludes. "All our jobs come from within the Library itself and all the books we pick up end up back here. Just somewhere else, somewhere different than where they started. We don't really understand it, and we don't gotta. In fact, it's better if we don't. We get paid either way. But there's powerful politics in the Library. Different sides, playin' each other. Different Archivists got different ideas about where things oughta be catalogued. Et fuckin' cetera."

"Really, we're doin' important work," Hog-Eye says as he gestures with his cigar, the cherried end dustin' the ground with ash. "We're part of the, ehh, whaddya say? The ecosystem, down here."

"So we get a little superstitious about it," Lucky says. "You read me, Vinny. You'll get a little superstitious about it, too." But the kid still looks nervous. Lucky sighs. "It'll be okay, Vinny. Look, my first job, I said the s-word too."

Hog-Eye laughs, coughs out a little smoke, laughs again. "I'll never forget it, Lucky. Complete Proofs of P versus NP, Volume One outta Wing Three, right out from under the Archivist's proverbial nose. What a job."

"I was freaked out, just like you. Hog-Eye gave me the business, just like you. But see, everythin' turned out just fine," Lucky says with a smile. He slaps the kid on the back. "This one's gonna turn out just fine too. You're with the best in the business, Vinny."

The kid nods in agreement.

A few minutes before noon they make it to the exit for the Wing Four Reshelvin' Desk. Enough time to case the tunnels, make sure the escape routes are clear, and go over the plan again, but not so much time any of 'em get too anxious. Hog-Eye's workin' on his second cigar, and Lucky's idly flippin' a coin. Fwinggg, the coin hums metallically as it turns end over end though the air. Fwinggg.

"All right, one last time," Hog-Eye says, and he points at the kid. "Kid, you're tunnel lookout. Anythin' goes south down here, Peedees bein' the most likely, you're up the chute and hollerin'. Heard me?"

The kid thinks for a second and says, "I just don't see how it's fair, now that I'm thinkin' about it, that I ain't one of the ones runnin' up there for the book. Since it was my understandin' of the Desk that's allowin' us to make this job at all."


"You ain't even made yet!" Frankie snaps, but Hog-Eye gestures for him to be quiet.

"Safer down here," Hog-Eye says, "and Frankie's right. You ain't even made yet. It ain't your job to be thinkin' about it. You get made on this one, you can run next time we're up here.


"Okay, so then, me and Teeths is the above-floor lookouts. Wing Four tends to be a little less… unpredictable, let's say, than some other parts of the Library, but it still pays to be careful. Teeths, I'm watchin' for Docents mostly. You're keepin' time and watchin' for the new Lead Page to drop. You got your whistle?"

The grinnin' Meerkat nods almost frantically, producin' a small silver whistle he's been sneakin' in his palm. He hoists it to his mouth and plays a brief tone. The Meerkats can hear it a mile off, but the pitch is too high for most bigger creatures to detect. Lucky remembers a dozen other jobs where that whistle had saved his life. Teeths had machined the damn thing himself.

"Then that leaves you two runnin' for the book," Hog-Eye says as he gestures at Frankie and Lucky. "Yous two's the fastest, and we all know it's what you're good at."

"Heads," Frankie sighs.


Frankie snaps his paw out and grabs the coin outta mid-air. He turns it over and slaps it against the back of his other paw. Tails.

"Of fuckin' course," Frankie says, resignedly.

Lucky can't help but chuckle as Hog-Eye says, "That settles it. Frankie's watchin' the rear. Lucky, you're grabbin' the book."

"Okay, sure," Lucky says, "but what fuckin' book am I even grabbin'?"

"I'm thinkin' you'll know it when you see it," Hog-Eye says. "Gotta be somethin' special if the Prairie Dogs is after it."

The five of 'em group around the chute, which is barely wide enough to turn all the way around in. They nod at each other, and the kid takes his place on two legs next to the chute as the other four slip up it, quick as stuck rats. Lucky pops up from under a loose floor tile first and cranes his neck to make sure the coast is clear, then slides lithely out. Frankie's not far behind him, and Hog-Eye and Teeths emerge seconds later.

Even with all his time topside, Lucky's always overwhelmed comin' above-floor, at least at first. The lamps is bright no matter the time. The light dilates Lucky's pupils and sets his teeth on edge. It's also so, so fuckin' quiet. Down below, there's the hustle and bustle of a million little creatures livin' their lives under the stacks. Up here, the most noise that happens is the dull thud of patron footsteps or the squeakin' of a cart wheel. For the folks readin' the books and perusin' the stacks, the silence is welcome, but for the Meerkats it's almost impossible to get lost in, and it makes Lucky a little crazy. On top of all that, it's huge. The tunnels is cramped, but there's so much security to 'em. Here, death or worse could come from any angle.

The Reshelvin' Desk itself is a grand affair, fancy as hell, crafted from some dark, rich wood from some ancient tree. Lucky peers at it for a minute—after all, it ain't every day he gets to come lay eyes on one of these. Every panel of the Desk is intricately carved and inlaid with the ubiquitous Serpent motif that's all over the whole damn Library. There's some old Meerkat superstitions around the Serpent too; some say it's bad luck, while others say the Serpent don't even exist. Lucky's always liked it, which is why when he bought his little house in the stairwell, he picked one with the Serpent carved into it, windin' around the door.

The four of 'em stick to the shadows close to the chute and watch as the many-armed Lead Page finishes collectin' the books that got wheeled in on the carts and sortin' 'em into neat stacks to be reshelved. A few patrons move past, noses in books, payin' the Meerkats no mind. Suddenly, the Lead Page behind the Reshelvin' Desk begins to lurch upward, pullin' itself up into the rafters with four of its eight strong arms, holdin' massive stacks of books in all the others.

"Go!" hisses Hog-Eye, and he slips into the shadow of a pillar, watchin' for Docents on the main floor. Teeths lets out a little chirp on the whistle as his eyes dart upwards to scan for the incomin' Lead Page.


Lucky and Frankie burst forward across the aisle, makin' for the rear of the Desk. Frankie's always been fast, but Lucky's a hair faster. Frankie nods to Lucky and waits just away from the gap between the Desk and the rear wall to watch from behind.


Lucky's whirlin' around the back of the desk like his ass is on fire. His feet skitter a little on the polished marble floor, but it's nothin' he ain't had plenty of practice with.


The rear of the Desk in front of him is imposin' to say the least. At least twenty times his height, maybe more, and full of books, hundreds of 'em, on shelves built into its massive wooden body.


He's scannin' with his eyes and jerkin' his head around tryin' to take it all in. He's lookin' for one thing—some fancy, important book. Somethin' that sticks out.


But he don't see the book. He sees the Prairie Dogs, and he woulda been happier if they had been standin' there, guns drawn, but they ain't. They're all stuck in traps. Broken necks, legs twisted at crazy angles. Shit!


But it ain't just the Prairie Dogs. There's a Meerkat there too. Two distinctive brown bands on his hindquarters. It's fuckin' Goose. Dead as a doornail.


Lucky's head is spinnin' faster than a greased top. The fuck? he thinks to himself. And then, as he puts the puzzle pieces together, We've been fuckin' had.


More frantic now. His eyes land on a piece of paper still gripped in one of the Prairie Dogs' paws. He dashes over and grabs it, unfolds it. It's a picture. A picture of the fuckin' book they're after.


Bright red leather bindin'. Gold trim. Emerald inlay. His eyes snap from shelf to shelf.

He sees it.

He's got it.

It's in his paws.

He ducks out of the way just as the trap snaps right where his neck was a moment before.


The immense shadow of the descendin' Lead Page falls across him and the back of the desk like a lead weight. He bolts, carryin' the unwieldy book as best he can as he scurries out from behind the desk. Frankie's there. Lucky hisses, "We're fucked, Frankie! Everythin's wrong! We gotta beat it!"

Suddenly there's a frantic tweetin' from Teeths's whistle. Lucky and Frankie haul tail into the aisle toward the chute, but it's worse than they coulda imagined. There's two Docents, lanterns burnin'. One holds a wrigglin' sack with what's gotta be Hog-Eye inside, and the other one's advancin' on Teeths, who's backed into a corner.

"We gotta go! Leave 'em!" Frankie says, and bolts across the aisle and slips down the chute.

"Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck!" Lucky shouts as the empty-handed Docent snatches Teeths in its bare fist and squeezes. Teeths's nervous grin gives way to a look of sheer panic, and then he goes limp in the Docent's grasp. The other Docent strides forward calmly, swiftly, and brings another sack down over Lucky's head, but at the very last second, he slides free under the edge of the sack and he's down the chute, book still gripped tightly in his paw and teeth.

He hears Hog-Eye hollerin' behind him all the way down.

"Goddamn fuckin' shit!" Frankie exclaims as Lucky exits the chute into the tunnels. "It's the fuckin' kid's fault! He fuckin' jinxed us!"

Lucky's pantin' and heavin' from the effort of draggin' the book down the chute. "Yeah, but I got the book, Frank," he says.

"The book! The fuckin' book! Teeths, Hog-Eye, gone. Boss is gonna be so pissed, and for what? One fuckin' book!" Frankie replies.

But Lucky ain't even listenin' now. He's lookin' all around, up and down the tunnel. "Frankie?"

"And what? It can't be worth enough for this shit! The brainiac and the consigliere, gone! What the fuck!"

"Frankie," Lucky repeats.

"Jinxed! I fuckin' knew it, I fuckin' knew-"

"Frankie!" Lucky insists. "Where is Vinny?"

Frankie stares at Lucky, slack-jawed. "Vinny? Who the fuck is Vinny?"

Lucky shakes his head and sighs exasperatedly. "The kid, Frank. The fuckin' kid! Where's the kid?"

Frankie looks around. The kid's nowhere to be found.

The two of 'em hafta take the back ways to the Meercafé, tradin' off carryin' the heavy book, so it takes 'em hours, but they finally see it up ahead, both of 'em spent and ready to wash their paws of the whole thing.

"Okay, so our stories is straight," Frankie says, "Job was a setup. Goose got nabbed, fed us the wrong info. We got ambushed by Docents, and Goose, Teeths, and Hog-Eye are all dead, or worse, and the kid lost his nerve and split, but we got the book. Nothin' we coulda done. We couldn'ta known."

"Don't even gotta lie. That's just what happened," Lucky says.

It's pourin' out in this little corner of the Library, and they're soaked through to the bone and shiverin', but somehow the rain just rolls right off the book, like piss off a weasel. They go around back and open up the door to the back room and head in, haulin' the book between 'em.

"Boss," Lucky says, "we got the book. But it was a fuckin' mess. Goose, Teeths, Hog-Eye, all…" He trails off. It's quiet in the room, and dark. All he can hear is the water drippin' offa him, Frankie, and the book.

The Boss is layin' his head down on his desk. Lucky can just make out his big, hulkin' frame from the ambient light spillin' in from the cracked-open door. He hands Frankie the book and walks to the desk.

There's a pool of blood dribblin' outta the Boss's mouth, and a silver glint catches Lucky's eye. It's the letter opener, buried to the handle in the Boss's back.

"Oh fuck," he says. "The Boss is dead, Frankie."

"Dead, bullshit. Good joke," Frankie says, as he tries to manage the book on his own. He never takes Lucky serious.

Lucky comes over and grabs the book so Frankie can see the Boss's corpse, and they both stand there for a second. The Boss was intimidatin', but he was family. He gave 'em both chances, and second chances. And now all his chances is up.

They don't got time to grieve, or even to figure out what the fuck happened, because the door behind 'em slams open, and in flies the kid, his muscular silhouette almost impossibly swift. He's holdin' a revolver in his paw, and he thumbs the hammer to spin a round into the chamber.

"Sorry to do this to you, boys," the kid says, and just like that he blows a hole in Frankie's head. There's blood and bone everywhere, and Lucky ducks behind the book, ears ringin' from the sound of the gunshot in the cramped room.

"No!" Lucky shouts as Frankie's body crumples to the floor. "Vinny, what the fuck?" Lucky stares down at Frankie, stares at the hole the size of a silver dollar in his skull.

The kid gestures with the revolver towards the Boss. The gun's obviously custom — the pearl handle fits exactly right in the kid's paw, and there's an engravin' all around the barrel that Lucky can't quite make out. "It's a real shame how you killed the Boss and Frankie," the kid says. "A real fuckin' shame. Just to try to take all the glory and the profits on this job for yourself." He shakes his head, clickin' his tongue against his teeth. "Good thing I'm here to clean up the mess. Hand over the book, Lucky."

"Shit, Vince, you don't gotta do this," Lucky says, tremblin'.

"You weren't supposed to come back from the job," the kid says. "You was supposed to get caught by the Docents, or the Page. I tipped 'em all off—that's why they had the traps set for Goose and the Prairie Dogs yesterday, when they actually ran the job. I'm amazed they didn't get the two of yous. But really, I guess it worked out better this way for me. Cause now I can pin all this on you. Makes takin' over the family real smooth, bein' first in line. Son of the boss an' all." The kid shrugs, then waves the revolver at Lucky. "I'll say it one more time. Hand over the fuckin' book."

The rain is poundin' on the roof as the two Meerkats stare at each other. Lucky's searchin' Vince's eyes, not blinkin', desperately tryin' to find somethin' there, somethin' he knows, can recognize, can hang on to. Somethin' that might make this all make sense.

There ain't nothin'.

Lucky's shoulders slump as he lets the book drop to the floor — it's still immaculate, dry and clean, after everythin'. He slides it over to the kid, who puts one paw on top of it.

"Good night, Lucky," the kid says, pointin' the gun right between Lucky's eyes. A silver glint across the gun from a lamp outside rips Lucky's gaze from the kid's, and now he can see it. The engravin' around the barrel — it's the Serpent, coilin' around and around and around. Lucky thinks, in between what he knows are his last few poundin' heartbeats, maybe he's had the Serpent wrong all this time, too.

Kid pulls the trigger.

There's a dull click as the revolver jams, and Lucky's out the door, in the rain, and gone.

He hadn't even realized just how much holdin' onto that book had been slowin' him down.

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