ASSOCIATES (2021, July, v. 28, no. 1)


Maximus and the hidden library – A Kelly Bourne story

Jim Jackson

The weeks following Kelly Bourne’s secondment as Acting Head of the Library following Claire Gray’s suspension (see had been long, tiring and productive.

Generally, most people were happy to now report to Kelly with day-to-day problems and to take instructions from her on how procedures and policies were going to change. The biggest problem was still the fact that the library needed a new management system and after the complete mess that Claire had made of this Kelly had wisely passed the whole problem back to the new library management committee.

So, it was a surprise when an email appeared in her inbox one day saying that the decision had been taken to send her to a conference in Rome which was discussing the whole future of management systems. Claire Grey had originally booked to attend, more as a freebie visit than to work there, but that was not going to happen to Kelly. Not only that but the flight to Rome’s main international airport, at Leonardo da Vinci international, had been downgraded from business class to budget airline.

Kelly had a teleconference call from James Fairburn, from the University Vice Chancellors’ group, saying that having reviewed the previous work done on library systems and having discussed this with other Universities the replacement system had been cut down to three systems to choose from. Kelly was going to look at the possibility of having what was called a new concept system. Where the whole system was a cloud-based rather than a single server system. The attraction of this meant that the University did not have to maintain a complex IT server system, saving space and money. It would be hosted online with the advantage of extending access to overseas campuses which might link up with the main Wellingbrough campus. This was all new to Kelly and she wondered if she was up to it. But when told during the conference call that if she did not feel confident in going they could find someone to take over from her. The implied meaning meant that if she wanted to stay in her post, she had better say yes.

So, despite reading in the news that a new virus was sweeping through Italy Kelly set off for the Preparing for Tomorrow – Today conference. The news that thousands were falling ill with the flu like virus filled her with some concerns, you will be fine she was told, and your insured so do not worry. Great she thought, I am insured, that is one thing I do not want to have to claim on.

Getting to the Villa St Mark in Rome was easier than Kelly thought. She caught the Leonardo Express Airport train in only 30 minutes into the city centre and then a ten-minute taxi ride took her to the conference venue. A Magnificent old roman villa complete with a walled garden.

That evening with delegates arriving from a selection of worldwide Universities, was a ‘meet and greet’, with an extensive buffet meal. While it was a great introduction to people and to learn of other universities approaches to new systems it was not a late night, as many had travelled for hours to get there, and jetlag was starting to hit many.

The next morning Kelly awoke to the news that the virus was sweeping the country and there were concerns over large meetings of people and the possible need to isolate.

They had three systems which were the focus of the event, each one was to be given a day in which to promote their system to be followed by a series of hands-on trials and technical information discussions. The systems were called the Maximus, System 7 and Blue Sky.

The first day was long and complex and the System 7 system seemed to be overly complicated and was slow to react to data requests. When asked about conversion from one system to the new system Kelly was told that this was possible but would take months to complete.

That evening there was conference dinner with an after-dinner speaker, talking about the villa they were in and the history of it and the surrounding areas. The Romans had built the villa originally, but it had been enlarged and altered over the years as its use changed. It had been a roman generals house, a nunnery for many years, and a school during and after the 2nd World War, when it became an orphanage, before being taken over by the University of Rome School of Education faculty. Professor Edwardo, the guest speaker, said that there were extensive underground passages, many were unexplored. There were many stories of lost treasure, and the mystery of the lost library. After the dinner Kelly found Professor Edwardo and asked him about the missing library. She was told that before the start of World War 2 huge numbers of books from the various Vatican libraries had been hidden there for safe keeping, by a selection of people known as the ‘Crusaders’. These were an elite number of priests who vowed to protect the Vatican library from what they saw as a coming threat.

Kelly was intrigued by this and wanted to know more. Unfortunately, Professor Edwardo said he did not know any more and that it was only a myth.

That night Kelly dreamt of finding the lost library and its contents. This had involved solving various clues and being chased through various dark passageways and hundreds of cobwebs, but she really hated spiders so when she woke the next morning, she felt tired and nervous of any spiders. That morning there was the presentation by the Blue-Sky team, Kelly was immediately put off the system as it seemed to concentrate on the financial acquisitions side of the library with only a basic front public facing web interface. So that afternoon while others were at a hands-on event for Blue Sky, Kelly found herself walking around the villa St Mark thinking of the lost library. She asked some of the villa staff if they knew anything, but none did, and that she really should not ask about it as it was considered rude to the hosts. How strange she thought, you would think they were hiding something! During her walk she found a small chapel which was clearly ancient, but little used. On one of the walls was an inscription which read ‘those who seek knowledge must use their eyes to see what others fail to see’. Well, there’s clue thought Kelly. The chapel was small and reminded her of the chapels in her local cathedral, and the adventure she had there. However, she could not find any hidden entrances.

Kelly returned to the conference to discover that the local authorities had declared an emergency with the virus that had been sweeping the area and that they would all have to remain in the villa for the next 7 days at least. Everyone was shocked at this sudden development and of course wanted to leave but were told that the local police had closed the villa gates, and local roads, and that no one could leave. Kelly immediately phoned her boss back in England and explained what had happened and was told that they had seen the news reports and there was little they could do for now but would try and find out how long this was going to last.

With little else to do Kelly sought out Professor Edwardo, and asked him again about the hidden library, and he seemed unwilling to even discuss the idea. That he could not say was all he would say, which was both unhelpful and mysterious. There was a buffet meal that night and Kelly mingled with the various delegates and talked about systems, and her library. Some of the delegates had heard of her adventures, which was slightly embarrassing but none the less pleasing. Part way through the evening she decided to return to her room. As she put her hand in her pocket to get her room key, she found someone had pushed a piece of paper into her pocket. Opening it she read those who seek knowledge should look where others have failed to see, in the wine cellar. That inscription again this time with an added note. So someone knew something! Opening her room door she found a second note. This one said those who seek knowledge should stop! So, someone else also knew she had been asking questions and did not like it.

Kelly thought she would do what any free-thinking person would do, she would go and explore the wine cellar later that night.

At 1.00am Kelly was walking quietly down the stairs of the villa, heading towards the cellar entrance. It was eerily quiet, with no sounds coming from the neighbourhood or the villa. Now moving faster to try and avoid anyone who might be around, and lots of awkward questions, she arrived at the cellar staircase. This staircase she knew lead down to part of the basement and the cellar. The stone steps were cool and slightly damp with condensation, making them slippery if you were not careful. Kelly was being careful listening for any sounds, the moonlight hidden previously by clouds chose that moment to illuminate the courtyard and the top few steps. Arriving safely at the bottom of the steps she tried the door handle; the door was locked! Slightly shocked by this she wondered where was the most obvious place for the key? Of course, the most obvious, and least likely, was on top of the door frame ledge. Her fingers felt along the dusty and dirty ledge and located a key. Turning the key in the lock, the door opened slightly, and she had to push it.

Once inside she switched on her cell phone torch and started exploring. The place was huge, with what appeared to be dozens of wine racks, most of which were empty, but a few held very dusty full bottles. Making her way along one of the racks she almost fell over a crack in the floor. Perhaps it is a secret entrance thought Kelly, but no, it was just a cracked paving stone. Moving on she started to examine some of the old bottles, but there were no links to her clue. Then Kelly heard a sound she feared, someone had unlocked the cellar door and just pushed it wide open, as it opened it creaked.

Then there were footsteps followed by a muffled cry of ouch mind me you idiot. Quiet said a second voice I want to be in and out of here before anyone knows we are here. Kelly froze, what was going on? The mystery voices seemed vaguely familiar, but she could not think who they belonged to. Kelly looked down at her feet and realised that she had left a trail of footprints in the dust on the floor. She quietly removed her shoes and started walking close to the edge of the wall leaving little evidence of her progress. As she hurried down the aisle, she heard one of the voices behind her say there are other footprints here, someone has beaten us to it. If they are still here, we catch them, take what is ours and leave, might even save us some time. We are supposed to do this quietly without anyone knowing said the other voice. What appeared to be the voice of the leader said in a loud voice, come out from wherever you are and show us what you have found, and you can leave. Kelly realised that would never happen but had to find a way out safely. Footsteps now echoed in the cellar as the mystery men approached the area where Kelly was, despite the extra distance Kelly had made in the cellar she had of course left a trail! Desperation inspired her and she grabbed a wine bottle from a near rack and threw it as far as she could over the top of the wine rack and heard it crash to floor some distance away. Her mystery assailants also heard it and shouted to each other get her now. Kelly ran as fast as she could down the aisle and headed to the doorway she came in. Without shoes on she slipped and slid around a couple of corners before making it to the doorway, which was still open. Racing through the doorway she suddenly stopped and slammed the door shut and locked it! Putting her shoes on again she continued to race back to her room, where she entered and closed the door. No one had seen her!

Sitting on her bed she tried to make sense of the last hour, but nothing made any sense. She climbed into bed and tried to sleep, but her mind was in a whirl, and she tossed and turned for hours. Giving up she showered and got dressed for the day’s events, which today was the new Maximus system. This seemed the best system on paper, but she wanted to see what it was like in a work situation. Breakfast that morning was interesting as several people attending were talking about a disturbance in the middle of the night. Kelly joined the group and asked what had happened and was told that there had been a break in, despite the restrictions, so it was guessed that it was someone already within the villa. Had she not heard the noise, is that what disturbed me she said, I did wonder. No one had been found in the wine cellar but there were several broken bottles to add to the mystery.

How did they escape thought Kelly, did someone let them out, some sort of look out, but she had seen no one? So perhaps there was an internal exit? Questions, questions and no answers.

A rather tired Kelly prepared for the presentation by the Maximus team, and it was the one she wanted to see more than the others. It was a good morning session and Kelly was impressed by its flexibility, security and speed. The afternoon was to be devoted to asking questions and hands on experience. During one rather crowded session Kelly heard to same voice she had heard the previous night, she turned around to see who it was but was unable to tell who it was. Now she knew it was one of the delegates at least, or so she thought.

Kelly went out into the villa courtyard later that afternoon as she needed to think, not only about library systems but also about the mysterious library.

Wandering around the courtyard she let her mind wonder and was not really concentrating on anything. In the far corner, in dark shadow, was a small doorway, above the entrance was a small engraving of an open book, and what appeared to be a large key being used as a bookmark. How strange thought Kelly, then she thought about her inscription and looking where others have failed to! Looking around to make sure no one else was looking Kelly tried the door and was amazed to find it not locked but very difficult to open. Entering the doorway, she closed it behind her and looked in front of her, or at least tried to.

There was little light, and everything appeared black or brown it was hard to tell. Taking her cell phone out Kelly switched its light on and saw a corridor stretching in from of her. There were two sets of footprints leading to the door she had just come in which looked fresh in the dust and dirt. This must link up to the wine cellar thought Kelly and inched her way forward. In front of her was an archway which seemed to lead off in two directions. The footprints lead to the right, so she chose the left-hand passageway. She could be easily followed but wanted to see where it led. The passageway became much smaller, and she had to bend almost double to carry on down it. She stumbled on the uneven floor and found etched into the floor was another book and key design on the floor. Why the floor thought Kelly, those who fail to see, part of the inscription she thought and looked directly overhead and sure enough was another book and key etching, and what appeared to be another passageway with an entrance in the ceiling. Kelly jumped up and tried to catch hold of something to pull herself up but failed. Looking for hand holds she found only small semi-circular foot holds, which could have been easily missed. Taking a deep breath, she put one foot in the hole of the left-hand side and half jumping up put her other foot on the right-hand side, and crab like climbed up the wall. She half fell and half climbed into the tunnel.

She lay there for a few minutes to get her breath back, and then heard the same voices she had heard in the night. Whoever it was had returned but would they find her entrance? Not waiting to find out she started to crawl along the tunnel, which seemed to follow the main tunnel direction a few feet below her. Kelly thought, I hope there is something worthwhile at the end of this because I don’t think I can turn around and go back! Voices echoed behind her, with only feint words reaching her, which indicated whoever was following her was finding it even more difficult than she was.

Trying to go as fast but as quietly as possible Kelly moved on, her hand pushed against the wall as she moved along. It was smooth as if the passage of time and people going past it made it smooth. I think this is the right way she thought and continued forward. The tunnel made a sharp right turn and having done so appeared to continue directly in front of her. Much to her surprise as she moved forward the floor gave way; it was a spring-loaded trap door. With her feet spread each side of the tunnel and her hands on the ceiling she crab like crawled across the gap and moved on. I’m going the right way she thought! Noises behind her reminded her that she was being followed so she moved on. Rounding another corner she came to a sudden stop, the wall in front of her was solid! She had to find somewhere to hide. All sorts of thoughts flashed through her mind; none made any sense. The smooth wall, of course it was smooth because lots of people had past it over the years. She would have to cross the trap again and then try and find the way to open the smooth door, and all in a matter of minutes. She came to the trap door and knowing it was there enabled her to get past it without any problems. She now approached the smooth wall, and she pushed and tried to pull but nothing happened. She leaned on the wall trying to get her breath and think what next to do when it moved slightly. Pushing again this time it moved another few inches. She inched past the opening and fell about 3 feet on to a dusty floor. The cave was round and around its edges were very old wooden shelves. The hidden library thought Kelly! But where were the books, the priceless artefacts and other fabled items. Looking around the room there was no sign of any books, lots of dust and a few tattered pieces of paper. Looking more closely she found other pieces of paper, with US Army Signals written on it. What were the US army doing here and when were they here and how on earth did they get there, not the way she came clearly?

On the top of one of the shelves was a note written in faded ink, it was marked receipt for goods, removed 550 items for safe keeping by the US Army November 14th, 1944. What, why thought Kelly. Still no answer as to how this happened. Looking around for another way out of the room thinking how would they remove so many books? Sitting on the floor feeling somewhat defeated she stared at the floor, the walls and the ceiling. The ceiling! Yes, that must be it, but how? Looking more closely she noticed that the ceiling seemed to be a wooden one, with large dust covered planks. Kelly tried to imagine where abouts in the villa she was, she had started in the right-hand corner, and seemed to make her way back under the large courtyard to the far-left hand side. Perhaps being army engineers, they had dug a shaft to extract all the books. OK so that might have worked thought Kelly but for now I need to get out of here. So, if US army engineers had removed the books how had they found them in the first place? This was a big question, and the answer was surprisingly easy. They had been exploring the villa’s basement and making sure it was safe to use after the German army had been removed. There were lots of small passages under the villa, as she had discovered with the wine cellar. So, they had either found a small tunnel and used that or they had found one and made it bigger. Kelly climbed on top of one of the bookcases and tried to either reach the ceiling or see if there was a hole in the wall higher up. Luck was with her, and she found a small hole in the wall that was partly covered in old cardboard, and paper. Moving it aside she took a leap of faith and went through the hole. This then lead her out on to a partly rotten wooden structure. Looking around she discovered she was back in the wine cellar, and she was balanced on top of a wine rack. The wood was clearly rottener than she first thought, and she crashed through the first shelf, and went through 2 more before ending up on the floor.

Somewhat dazed and filthy dirty. Stunned by her fall Kelly checked that she had not broken any bones and moved to get up. Ouch that is going to hurt for a while she said to herself. She walked across the cellar floor and out of the door, and the first person she saw was Professor Edwardo. You look a complete mess he said, are you hurt? Thanks for that said Kelly, a bit bruised and confused but otherwise OK. I could really do with a glass of water. Come with me he said everyone has been looking for you, and two other people. Were you together? It’s a long story said Kelly but let us go and get some sunshine.

Outside in the courtyard a selection of the conference delegates was gathered and when they saw her, they rushed over and started asking questions about where she had been. Kelly held up her hand, and said in a croaky voice, drink first talk later. A large glass of water was passed to her, and she drank it all immediately. Now make it a large glass of wine and I am almost ready. First, I need to check something, she picked up a large rock from the edge of courtyard and walked across to the well that was in the corner. With a few shrieks from the delegates, she threw the heavy weight stone in the well. Moments later there was a crash and looking down the rotten ceiling she had seen previously was visible, and visibly broken. Feint voices could be heard at the bottom of the well. I think that is the other people you are looking for. Now, I am going into the conference bar and ordering a large glass of wine and anyone wanting to ask questions can do so.

All events, places and people are fictious and there is connection to any living person, as this is a piece of fiction. You can follow Kelly Bourne’s adventures in previous editions of Associates starting at Associates: The Electronic Library Support Staff Journal » July 2017 issue ( Copyright is retained by Jim Jackson July 2021