The smoke-mixed scent of charcoal and eggplant and garlic basted Robin's nostrils as she munched her way through a falafel and gazed at the new development: a covered bookcase in front of the drive-through shack, a sign proudly proclaiming MR. ADANA'S LENDING LIBRARY. Impressive. She caught a glimpse of the proprietor inside, gauging her reaction, and gave him a quick thumb's up through the window glass. He beamed back.
50s-ish Mr. Adana, whose real name was Ümit Selçuk, had been sweet moments earlier when she'd handed him too much change. And Robin did love these little libraries, which she'd noticed popping up all over the city over the last decade. In front of people's yards where hitching posts used to go. She appreciated them on several levels -- a quirky barter economy; a prime opportunity to pick up a sneaky Dean Koontz guilt-free. The aesthetic of books well-thumbed but now abandoned, ones who would find their true families. More than a few characteristics in common with old rescue dogs. And an obligatory notice that anyone could borrow. And a strong cheery suggestion to contribute your own old books next time, too.
Mr. Adana's Kebabs To-Go was owned, as all good neighbourhood gossips blabbed, by the same eccentric and prematurely retired philanthropist-billionaire who had invested in the cuisine of his childhood home -- namely, the Adana kebabi and southern Turkish cooking in general -- through actively spreading the word of the world's tastiest food. The takeout-only venue therefore had been popular for husband-hunters upon opening, but the novelty of a local billionaire had simmered down after several years and now its greatest lure lay in its mouth-watering şirdan sausages and refreshing bicibici drinks.
Mr. Selçuk's new bookish set-up had the customary smorgasbord little-library appeal and look, what was this, a leather-bound green notebook that appeared to be someone's diary. Robin picked it up without opening it, and continued browsing. She wondered if a tacit spinster -- newly dumped by her twelfth boyfriend at the age of 55; unemployed and lonely enough to wish desperately she was holding the leash of a squirming rescue Staffie puppy herself -- was a little library's ideal target readership. Such a woman whose house was foreclosed unless she mustered up twenty grand by Thursday. Such a woman who had visited all downtown banks and been turned down and therefore had a lot of free time for browsing. Such a therefore situationally depressed woman.
Judging by the books on show, probably. She judged them, for sure. She feathered her fingers over the two dozen books and tracts on offer. Apparently, some people felt leaving religious pamphlets or local bound city-planning archives from 2002 or previously filled-in Russian school math workbooks in glamorous Cyrillic constituted bringing "a good book next time!"
Official libraries were teetering on life support, even with the pandemic easing, and it cheered Robin greatly to know that if they bit the dust, little libraries would hang on in there. She'd forgotten she already held a book in hand. Nosy, she now opened it. The first few pages were handwritten nonsense in block capitals. Intriguing. The last enjoyably trashy book she'd borrowed from a lending library had been The Da Vinci Code.
She stared at the last page of notes, with words she did understand well indeed. IF YOU CAN SOLVE THIS IN ONE DAY, YOU WIN $20,000. Her head swam. The court of equity had ruled last week that if she deposited that same amount before Thursday, her home was safe. She'd spent the previous days weeping in banks and now with two days to go, she was out of options.
She popped inside again. "This book's a journal -- is it okay to take from the library?"
"Everything is free to take, my dear." She and Ümit Selçuk smiled at each other before Robin pushed the exit door. "Anagram by-lines, darling," he called after her, as she left the establishment. She wasn't sure what he meant. But her cheeks grew hot.
She walked straight to the old homesteaders' graveyard and sat down on a bench.
Gibberish on Page 1. The words roarer seeds scribbled line after line with an accompanying sketch of a seed growing to a rose, and then the noun entirety. But something in Mr. Selçuk's parting words hooked her. Of course -- anagrams. She took out a ballpoint from her pocket and, in the following blank pages, rearranged the letters for a good half hour and came up with roses are red and eternity.
There was a lot there in the green notebook about red roses, seeds. And so she dutifully took the tram to the International Rose Test Garden. There, hoisted up on the pearly velvet petals of an Eternity Rose, Robin spied a tiny paper scroll. She unrolled it and it merely said outlasting acorn and then on the next line betcha book TKO.
She wasn't sure if the acorn was another seed reference, but in the perfumed garden she worked the first two words out quickly as congratulations. Then betcha book TKO turned into back to the book. TKO -- The Knock Out. Whoever set up the puzzle had confidence in her. So she went back to the book.
On Pages 2 and 3, several phrases, repeated regularly: absolute eviler, abseil truelove, basile violet, a loveliest rube. Logically, it had to be violets are blue to follow on from roses are red and yep, lo and behold, the letters worked out. But what was she to do next? She forlornly closed the notebook and took the tram back home, which as it happened stopped right in front of Mr. Adana's Kebabs To-Go. She lingered at the little lending library in hot afternoon, unsure as to her next moves. But Mr. Selçuk waved her inside.
"Hello. You look philosophical; perhaps you would like to wash down your thoughts with a glass of reyhan şerbeti?"
"I can't afford it." She smiled at him anyway.
"Of course this refreshment is on the house," Mr. Selçuk kindly interjected, "how could you think differently?" She sipped. It was indeed delicious. "And how do you like Reyhan Şerbeti, translated of course to 'Purple Basil Sherbet'?"
She remembered the phrasing basile violet from the anagram list and quickly looked down to the notebook to confirm it. Mr. Adana had a pen tucked behind his ear. And she was right. Did he know? Was it him? He winked at her quickly when she looked up.
He did know. It was him. "Thank you so much," she said, and turned to leave.
"Excuse me, miss? You have forgotten your bill."
She was about to protest until she saw it was not a bill, but a slip of paper he was handing her, one torn from a notebook. Mr. Selçuk's eyes were twinkling. She gingerly received the paper slip, thanked him again and exited. And perhaps a promo theretofore warm-hearted? it read. The unusual phrasing rang a bell in her. Still in sight of the takeout, she scribbled in the notebook, starting the phrase from promo theretofore warm-hearted and quickly came up with Tomorrow here three pm for a date. She flushed. If she added the question-mark back, it was a request. She looked up to the kebab shack, where Ümit Selçuk was watching her carefully. He waved at her from a distance and she slowly waved back. He was a good-looking man. And warm-hearted.
The final anagram set on Page 5 was solved, of course, as sugar is sweet and so are you, with manifold references to a particular dinosaur: ardenia stegosauruses yow; adore anywise stegosaurus; stegosaurus -- idea or yawn?; stegosauruses, noisy awardee! Robin figured this last clue indicated she'd soon solve the puzzle. Back again on the tram downtown to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, ironically located in an abandoned industrial area. Between the stegosaurus statue's toes in the front foyer, a new scroll in now-familiar writing.
Nextly hip set-up became I supply the next; Ashton tasted unworldly (an obvious diss on local rival kebab shop Ashton Turkish Delightful) became twenty thousand dollars. Then Hey, be outcome. She figured that was meant to be encouraging, and ciphered it as you become the. The next line was eek, plum razz. A menu item from the restaurant called erik turşusu, the unripe plum. She worked it out in the notebook as puzzlemaker. People were pushing to get by, but she stood in thought.
I supply the next twenty-thousand dollars. YOU become the puzzlemaker.
A twist in the puzzle! But a hard one. Still, it made her work for the prize. She could outwit shapes and she was up to it! She spent two dollars on a coffee and sat in the sungarden to puzzle away. She was the puzzlemaker.
Summer hot enough for you? she scrawled on fresh blank pages, trying to imitate the original block capitals. "It will melt you down the bones," she penned, "but yet I find the rumors of arson x-rays untrue."
She then hid a scroll in the tail of the T-rex model, a new clue reading apricot lover. She exited the museum, crossing the parking lot to secret away another missive in the keyhole of a similarly extinct former fruit factory. She'd written A wild herring, huh? Apricot lover. Think about it. Write out your theories. And then back to OMSI for you. And then back to OMSI went Robin herself, where she surreptitiously positioned into the base plinth of the velociraptor a third scroll reading acts pierrot, which would guide an eager seeker directly to the current Science of Clowns exhibition on the fifth floor. The note she tucked beneath the corner of the Bozo entrance poster merely read admirable gnarly innards. You got guts! Mr. Adana's Lending Library.
The final clue fit smoothly with what would be her first message to the lucky finder. "You may consider meaningful anagrams blindingly rare." After lightly crossing out her own adventures, she wrote that lovely sentence down as the initial clue for the curious, underlining the words anagrams blindingly rare. A fine descriptive anagram for Mr. Adana's Lending Library. She dog-eared the top corner. Enough for any mysterious future stranger to begin with. The anagram even pointed out the appropriate methodology. Well! Just like Mr. Selçuk's first advice to her: "Anagram bylines, darling!"
For the final message, she scribbled that any viewing reader was a peering aesthete, anagram for see page thirteen, the same crossed-through page she'd decoded herself that stated "I supply the next twenty-thousand dollars. YOU become the puzzlemaker."
Within a few weeks, doubtless, the notebook would be full of new anagram adventures. It was the most fun philanthropy scheme she'd ever heard of. What a man Ümit was. Plus, now she'd have a roof over her head.
An anonymous bank deposit was mysteriously placed into her account overnight and by 10 a.m. it was confirmed the lender's re-possession of her home had been successfully avoided.
That same afternoon at 2:55 p.m., Robin first added five paperbacks others might enjoy (only two Dean Koontzes), and then placed the annotated green notebook back into the lending library.
She stepped away because a boy of perhaps ten was approaching with his dog. "Hold on, Gilly," Robin heard him say. She watched from a safe distance as the boy picked up the leather-bound notebook, read the first folded-corner page and then glanced up at the sign stating MR. ADANA'S LENDING LIBRARY and smiled.
The boy swiftly tucked the book under his arm, and he and his dog rushed away. She caught a glimpse of handsome Mr. Ümit Selçuk standing in the restaurant doorway, who winked at her and pointed at his watch. Nearly 3 o'clock. She grinned back.
Her stomach was full of butterflies, but she found she was also happy. She knew what she'd say to him. Her stomach was detritus tomfool whirlwinds, dishtowel snowdrift turmoil. Her stomach was a strange origami: foldout stormiest whirlwind.
I wouldn't miss it for the world.