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The Life and Tomes of Patty Tolan

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Look, everyone had their corners of the HQ, and it was just human nature to mark your territory. Holtzmann did it literally, what with the scorch marks and puffs of smoke. Kevin’s receptionist desk was covered in a sticky residue that Abby analyzed in their spectrophotometer and concluded was a mixture of hair gel, corn syrup, and protein shake powder. Patty introduced him to the concept of coasters and told Abby they should be grateful - one guy at the MTA had hid nudie pics in the ticketing booths. While Kevin could be frustrating as a co-worker, she was relieved his problem was just spilling drinks.

As long as he kept his liquids away from her books, Patty was chill. That went for Abby’s takeout containers, and Hotlzmann’s acids and whatnot, too. Everyone knew that Patty did not like anyone messing with her books - though only Erin seemed to really get it.

The two of them sometimes went book shopping together, on quiet afternoons when the supernatural forces had retreated from their unholy crusades and the filing was all done. Patty knew practically every bookstore, stall, outlet shop, antiquarian seller, secondhand place and library in the city, and Erin could always be convinced to put aside whatever had her in a tizz at the moment to go track down some obscure text.

When they entered a bookstore together, Patty would always find a place to pause and relish the feeling of all those books surrounding her. Erin would scuttle off, claiming she needed to track down an obscure academic title. Patty suspected she was really hunting down the full set of the Angelus Centauri books, a teen fantasy series that she and Abby had read in the eighties. Patty had spied on her Amazon wishlist, it wasn’t exactly hard to, Erin never remembered to log off the computers. Angelus Centauri was seventeen novels, not including the companion board game guide, but the fourth, twelfth, and final books in the series were incredibly rare. Online message boards had rumors that copies had been pulped by the publisher after some PTA in Wisconsin complained about supposed satanic messages in the storylines.

Which was just stupid. No one would stick secret instructions for summoning dark forces in a bunch of pulpy fiction books read by angsty kids. The real satanic messages were hidden in the index of a Management Accounting for Corporate Strategy (3rd Edition) textbook from 1991. She and Abby had incinerated a copy as part of an investigation into random instances of spontaneous combustion taking place in Brooklyn. A hipster girl called Betty had decided to deal with her broken heart by raining hellfire on her ex-boyfriend. It had all gone wrong, as dark magick and double-entry tended to.

As Patty had explained to Betty, as the whole team stood with her in the smoking ruins of artisanal organic vegan cafe, acts of revenge only ever came back to bite you on the ass. The best way to deal with heartbreak was to listen to a lot of Erykah Badu, eat good food, and get a fierce haircut. Betty nodded sadly. Her aunt had given her the accounting textbook years ago before passing away in mysterious circumstances.

Patty shook her head. “Well, no one was hurt this time, and it seems that insurance will cover the damage. But you better leave spreadsheets alone for a few years.”

They had unceremoniously tossed the textbook in the incinerator. Patty loved books, but she didn’t have an ounce of sorrow at watching that one turn to ash.

But her own books, those she cherished. She had memorized Martha Stewart’s tips for care, and when she brought a mildewy book back to their headquarters for research, she would painstakingly lay paper towels between the pages and store it in the dry warmth of the bespoke cedar shelves her uncle had helped her build. They were in the corner that was totally hers, with her own desk, her own chair - one with decent lumbar support and adjustable for a woman of height, unlike the rinky-dink stools she’d perched on in the booth - and under the framed photos of her family and Shirley Chisholm, and her Nancy Pearl Librarian action figure.

Patty loved sitting at her desk and getting absorbed in a text. It didn’t matter what racket the others were making, if she was in charge of hunting down a missing piece of information, she could block everything out to focus completely.

It wasn’t her favorite place to read, though. That was fifteen blocks away, where Patty lived. On a clear day, she would climb up to the rooftop of her apartment, her books under one arm, a flask of coffee and notebook in the other. There was an old sun lounger up there and a view of the city that Patty loved. Some people might not think it was all that special, just a rundown warehouse, a parking building, and a dry cleaners with a sign that said: ALL CURTAINS ½ PRIC

But Patty looked at it and saw what lay beneath; the location where engineers had completed the city’s first plumbing works, where clean water had flowed through to houses and public fountains. It was where a subway line ran between two stations, which Edward Hopper, Allen Ginsberg, and Kool Herc had all traveled between. There had been a dentist on the same site where Alexander Hamilton had once gotten a tooth pulled. And sometimes, from her rooftop, Patty could look up to the sky and see a pair of Peregrine falcons swooping through the air, and that was when she felt that there was no better city in the whole wide world, and that she was lucky enough to be part of it.