Sunday, November 06, 2005

Chapter 4 - Friday

Jeremy went to the ruins by the fountain pond and waited for her for two hours, until after midnight, but she didn’t show up. She didn’t show up the next night, either. Thursday night he waited even longer, past 2:00 a.m., walking around and around the pond when he got cold. At one point he thought he saw her on the rock by the doorway, the same place he’d first seen her, and he hurried his steps into a run by the last few yards, but there was no one there. It was just a trick of his imagination.
He was almost beginning to believe the whole thing was a trick of his imagination. Had any of it really happened? Had he had a particularly vivid dream and somehow confused it with reality? Was he going crazy?

He came to work bleary-eyed and depressed.

"Woah," said Mike. "You look awful. Somebody run over your dog?"

Jeremy shook his head. He hadn't told anyone about Liliana, and now he didn't know how he could. The whole thing seemed so crazy. And there wasn't any other way to explain what was wrong with him. It was all about Liliana.

Friday morning he was assigned to his favorite duty, answering the e-mail. He loved the challenge of the wide variety of questions people wrote in, and the fact that, beyond the vague promise that "most questions will be answered in 24 hours" he could essentially take as much or as little time as he wanted which each question.

Today, the questions were:

"What team that has been to the World Series more than twice has the best winning percentage in World Series appearances?"

"The war of 1812 started in 1812, but when did it end?"

"We all know about General Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy, but who was the Lieutenant Robert E. Lee that the local riverboat restaurant is named after?"

"Who holds the record for largest winnings at poker, and what was it?"

"How did the deal come about in 1875 that separated the city of St. Louis from the County and permanently set its boundaries?"

The perfect blend of the substantial and the banal, the easy and the difficult, one totally impossible within the confines of his job and one that intrigued him because he'd actually never thought about it and now that he had he'd like to know the answer himself. A pretty good morning's work ahead of him.

And he hated it. He didn't want to do it. He didn't want to do anything but go back home and go to bed.

He decided to do the first one just to get it out of the way. A quick trip to got him a list of all the participants in all the World Series in history, with winners and losers. He saved the list as a text file, then cut and pasted it into a spreadsheet. He spent longer fiddling with the numbers then he expected to, and wondered whether he'd have been better off trying to find the answer at one of those baseball stat sites that parse the numbers every which way from Sunday. But he felt more comfortable working from information he knew he could trust.

"There are four teams with perfect winning percentages, but all of them appeared either once or twice, so they don't county by the standards of your question. So the answer is the Pittsburgh Pirates," he wrote back, "who won in 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971 and 1979, for a total of five victories, and lost only twice, in 1903 and 1927, for a winning percentage of .714.

"The more interesting trivia question, actually," he continued, "is who comes in second, which turns out to depend on exactly how you count the record.
"There are three teams with .667 records, having won two thirds of their World Series appearances. They are the Minnesota Twins, the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees. But two of those teams have world series records under other names -- the Athletics were in Philadelphia first, and the Twins started out in Washington as the Senators. Counting those records, the Yankees stand alone."

The second question was a famous "trick" question people often sent in trying to see if the librarians were on the ball. Jeremy could have done it off the top of his head, but he grabbed the Britannica off the shelf to reassure himself of the exact dates.

"Dating the end of the War of 1812 depends on how you define the end of a war. The Treaty of Ghent officially ending the war was signed December 24, 1814. However, the slow nature of international communication at the time meant that the news didn't reach New Orleans until after another battle had been fought there January 8, 1915. Whether this battle took place "after" the war depends on your point of view, however, because the treaty had to be ratified and was not actually signed by President Madison until February 17, 1815."

Jeremy dashed off a note to the inquirer about the 1875 separation of the city and county of St. Louis pointing him toward print and online sources and regretting that the St. Louis Public Library doesn't have the staff to do intensive research projects for patrons. He found a news article on the record poker winnings of $2.7 million won by Swedish player Martin Dekenijff in the World Poker Tour Championship in Las Vegas in 2004.

Saving the best for last, he started looking for other military Robert E. Lees besides the famous one. He knew about the riverboat restaurant. For many years, it had been one of the main features of the St. Louis Riverfront, moored at the foot of the steps leading down to the river from the Arch. It hadn't been there for some time -- last he heard somebody had taken it to a small town south of the city that was something of a tourist attraction, with lots of old houses that had been made into restaurants and shops and bed-and-breakfasts. Imperial? Barnhardt? One of those towns. But who was Lt. Robert E. Lee? He had never given it a thought. He'd just assumed it was named after the Civil War General, but as soon as he saw the question he remembered that the name had indeed been the Lt., not the Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Like nearly everyone looking for information these days, he started with a quick Google search. Unlike most people, Jeremy knew lots of other places for the many times this didn't work, but he also knew that a lot of times the answer was easy to get this way, and he didn't believe in doing more work than he had to.
Looking for "Lt. Robert E. Lee" with quotation marks to force exact phrase searching turned up lots of information about the riverboat itself, including the fact that it was Kimmswick where it had been taken. The official website for the boat contained no information on its name, but he did find a page on a site called that gave the history of the boat. According to that site, the boat was named for the famous general, but called the "Lt." Robert E. Lee because he was as a lieutenant with the Corps of Engineers early in his career that he served in St. Louis.

That was cool, and very probably true, but unfortunately when he backtracked the URL to the root and searched for information about the organization Jeremy discovered that "," despite having a domain suffix that was supposed to indicate a non-profit organization, was in fact apparently one guy in Germany who was, for whatever reason, an enthusiast of American riverboats. He needed something a little more authoritative before sending out an answer.

It took him most of an hour. Establishing that Lee was indeed in St. Louis and was a lieutenant at the time was relatively easy. Establishing that that was why the named the boat that way was something else entirely. He finally found a couple of articles in the online version of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch alluding to it.

At lunch, Mike wanted to know what was wrong with him. Jeremy shrugged.

"No, really. Something's going on. You've been moody all week. Cecilia's noticed."

"Yeah, she said something to me about it. I have to be friendlier with the customers."

"It's not just that. There's something . . . I don't know. What's going on?"

Jeremy took a deep breath, and then the story poured out of him.
It sounded even crazier as he said it than it had thinking about it the last few days. He found himself staring at the table as he talked, unwilling to look Mike in the eye as he unreeled this absurd story. Afterwards, he sheepishly looked up, fully expecting Mike to be staring at him skeptically, with his trademark one eyebrow cocked almost up to his hairline.

Instead, Mike looked sympathetic. "Hmm. My first reaction is to say you're probably better off forgetting her, but I can tell that you're not going to be able to do that. I can tell you've got it bad. Do you know anything at all about her?"

"I know what she looks like. I know her name is Liliana. Really, that's about it. We didn't . . . " Jeremy blushed and looked down at the table. "We didn't talk much."

This time Mike did cock an eyebrow. "Why Jeremy," he said mildly, "I didn't know you were such a fast mover."

Jeremy blushed more deeply. "No, we didn't do that, either. I mean, we just kissed mostly."

"You just kissed? For how long?"

"I don't know. An hour? Two? It seemed like forever, but it ended far too soon."
Mike stared at him without saying anything, long enough that Jeremy said "What?" and Mike shook his head.

"You were with a girl for an hour or two, and you spent the whole time kissing, and nothing else?

"Look, I'm not going to go into details. But mainly, yeah. Kissing her was . . . well, I can't explain it," he ended lamely, realizing that finishing the sentence the way he'd meant to when he started it, with "was like I imagine sex might be," sounded really, really lame.

Mike grew thoughtful.

"Tell you what, I've got some friends at other libraries who have access to some stuff we don't. Liliana's a pretty unusual name."

"Yeah, that's what I thought, too. Maybe it's too weird -- Intelius says there aren't any Lilianas in the entire state of Missouri."

"Yes, well, Intelius goes by phone directory, I believe. If she lives with her father, for instance, he'd be in the phone book, but she wouldn't."

"Yeah, I know. But I didn't know how to get around it."

"Well, some of my friends do. Let me make a few calls."

Later that afternoon, Mike came over with a strange look on his face. "Turns out Intelius was right, more or less. Choicepoint, Autotrack, Acurint, Lexis-Nexis, Flatrateinfo, none of them have a record of anyone named Liliana anywhere in the state."

Jeremy knew enough about data collection services to know how odd this was. It would have been one thing if Liliana was Ashley's age. A 16-year-old wouldn't have generated much in the way of records. A driver's license, probably, maybe a vehicle registration if he or she owned their own car. But Liliana wasn't 16. Even if she still lived at home, she should have showed up somewhere.

Jeremy was back to wondering if she had ever been real.

* * *

By the end of the day, Jeremy had turned down and then changed his mind and agreed to a trip to a bar with some co-workers. He was afraid Liliana would show up and he would miss her, but he was also pissed off at her. Let her wait for him and be disappointed for once. And if she didn't show up, well, so much the better that he didn't either.

They went over to Washington, a couple of blocks from the library and the latest hot place to be in town. They started at Flannery's, where they got dinner, and ended up at Velvet, where they had to wait in line about half an hour before getting in.

The music was loud, the bodies were hot, and in a very short time, Jeremy was both drunk and miserable. It was exactly the kind of place he never went, exactly the kind of place he thought would take his mind off Liliana, and exactly the kind of place that made him think about her every time he looked long enough at a woman to realize that she didn't compare to his perhaps-imaginary love.

Jeremy stayed at Velvet, getting drunker and more morose each hour. Finally, he found his buddies and told them he was going home.

"You sure you're gonna be OK?" Bob wasn't nearly as drunk as Jeremy, and could tell that Jeremy was in no condition to drive.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Don't worry. I'm going to walk down to the Renaissance Grand and pick up a cab."

Bob nodded. "Good idea. I may do that myself."

Jeremy left. All the way home, he thought what a waste of a good Friday night it had been. He could have tried to dance with one of those girls in the club. Even if he'd gotten shot down, he could have at least tried. There'd been lots of wasted Friday and Saturday nights like that over the years, when he hadn't even tried, but most of the time in the past it had been because he couldn't work up the nerve. Tonight it was because he couldn't work up the interest.

He got home, paid off the cab, and then, instead of going inside, he started walking. He told himself he was just walking, he wasn't going to go looking for Liliana, but of course his steps led him to the ruins by the fountain pond.
And there she was.

He rushed to her and threw his arms around her, hugging her to him fiercely, as much as anything to assure himself that she was really solid and substantial.

"Oh my God," said Jeremy. "I've missed you so much. I came back every night, and you weren't here, and I didn't know how to get hold of you and I didn't even know your name and I couldn't find you and -- "

"Shhh," she said, hugging him back. "I'm here now. Just hold me."

They held each other for a long time, then kissed for an even longer time, then Liliana said, "I'm sorry, but I have to go soon. I waited for you tonight for hours, and I was afraid you wouldn't show up."

Jeremy's ears burned in shame at having gone out instead of coming to the park tonight.

"Meet me here tomorrow night at eight o'clock your time. We can spend the evening together. That is, if you want to."

"There is nothing in the world I would like more," said Jeremy.

She kissed him again, then slipped away. Before he could even see which way she went, she was gone.

* * *

Later, as he was falling asleep happy and content for the first time in three days, he realized he still didn't know her last name.