It was the end of a very long day at the end of a very long week. The gray and gloom inside my sparsely furnished office reflected the gray and gloom of the dreary day outside. My P.I. business was limping along. Things were grim. I sat at my desk contemplating my dismal future. Looking at My Girl Friday, I said, “All good things must come to an end, sweetheart.” And being the cactus that she is, I got no response, but a prickly tension filled the air.
I was just about to call it quits when I heard the click clack of shoes on the wooden stairs and the jangle of bracelets on someone’s wrist. Suddenly there was a figure silhouetted in my office door window. I sat back down and with a tone of, “yeah, what d’ya want” in my voice I said, “Come in.”
A long haired beauty entered the room. She took in the room and my situation, and a look of doubt was plastered all over her face. She handed me her business card which read Cyndi Burne, Assistant Director, Topsham Public Library. I told her to sit down as I poured her a cup of tepid coffee which she rejected and said, “It’s cold in here.”
After some bit of hesitation on her part and a whole lot of begging on mine, we got down to business. The long and short of it was, a body was found in the library and the police were stumped. She needed help, and she needed it fast.
“Well,” I said, “it so happens that you have caught me between cases. Tell me what you know.”
Cyndi explained that Julie was the one to open the library that morning and she received a panic laden phone call from a her at 8:07am right after the body was found in the fiction stacks between PEN and QUE. That was my first clue. “Someone likes mysteries,” I said, “to place a body between Louise Penny and Ellery Queen is a dead giveaway.”
“Linda loves mysteries. She’s our mystery expert.” Cyndi said.
Hmmm. Linda is a mystery expert, I thought to myself. Then I added, “Who is Linda?”
“Linda is one of our staff members. She facilitates our Mystery Readers’ Roundtable Book Group. She has been with us for fourteen years. She is originally from Ohio, and moved here because her husband was in the Navy.”
I pondered this for a moment then said, “I wish I could have seen the body before it was moved.”
“Oh, the body hasn’t been moved. Dale, our custodian, is still dealing with the plugged toilet in the children’s bathroom. He hasn’t been able to get to the body yet.”
“Lead the way,” I said.
Upon entering the library, I was greeted by the library staff, and the woman I took to be Julie was still swooning from her grisly discovery.
“Is everyone here and accounted for?” I asked.
“Hello. I’m Susan Preece. I’m the director of the Topsham Public Library. First, I just want you to know we are all eager to help you and will fully cooperate with you in this investigation. Most of us are here, but Dale is in the children’s bathroom dealing with a plugged toilet. Dave is stacking boxes of books in the Friends’ closet. Linda is the only one missing.”
Hmmm. Linda is unaccounted for, I thought to myself.
I looked over this ragged bunch of employees. Oh, they all looked sweet and tidy, but I know that librarians are not to be trifled with and a more dangerous creature has yet to be found. I would have to be careful with this crowd.
Susan directed me to the body. Some rascal of the most dastardly sort wearing a Denver Broncos sweatshirt lay dead between the stacks – an arrow sticking out of his chest.
I pondered the recent events as I made my way back to the circulation desk. I was just going to ask them to request Private Investigation for Dummies when I heard one of them gasp.
“What?” I asked.
Yet another stepped forward and said, “I just noticed the book drop had some items in it. They must be from last night! Once the police were alerted, they blocked off the entrance to the library so no one would have been able to return items today.”
“Who are you and what are the items?” I asked, knowing this was a clue of the colossal kind.
“I’m Lynne and it’s two seasons of Midsomer Mystery,” she replied. I noticed the furtive glances they all cast at one another.
“What? What are you not telling me?” I demanded.
Mariah, who I deduced was the children’s librarian because of the guitar she carried with her, answered in a quiet voice, “Midsomer Mystery is one of Linda’s favorite shows.”
Hmmm. Linda’s favorite show, I thought.
Suddenly Helen exclaimed, “There is a disc missing!”
Instantly the staff began chattering wildly amongst themselves. Once I restored order, Emma informed me that only under great stress would Linda return an item missing a disc. It just wasn’t something she would do. Then Cyndi received a call from the chief of police informing her that a witness reported seeing someone wearing an I LOVE ALASKA sweatshirt speeding away from the library last night. Again in her quiet voice, Mariah told me Linda had spent five weeks this past summer visiting family in Alaska.
Hmmm. Linda went to Alaska, I thought.
Dale, finally emerging from the children’s bathroom, spoke up and said, “Weren’t the Patriots and the Packers playing last night? That could be why she was speeding away. They are her favorite teams. She wouldn’t want to miss that game.”
“Tell me all you know about Linda,” I said excitedly, “everything depends on it!”
Everyone began speaking at once. “She likes ketchup on her burgers,” “She prefers lobster over steak,” “She would take salad over soup, fries over coleslaw, and bacon and eggs over pancakes!”
From the back, barely audible over the others, Sharon yelled, “She wants to go to Rome!”
Hmmm. Linda wants to go to Rome, I thought.
We all stopped and looked at one another. Then without speaking, Susan led the way to the travel section. Just as I suspected, all the travel books for Rome were gone!
There was no time to lose! I was going to catch her before she made her getaway. I was hot on her trail, and if I stopped her the publicity would bring so much work I could hire a voluptuous secretary to water My Girl Friday. Acting as one, we all made for our vehicles and raced to Linda’s.
Once there, I barged into her home. I can tell you, Linda was quite surprised to see us all there.
“What is going on?!” She exclaimed.
All at once everyone started talking. “Quiet!” I yelled. “Linda, I have come to take you in, you no good scoundrel. The trail of clues leads directly to you.”
“What are you talking about?” Linda queried.
Cyndi explained the situation to her and Linda proclaimed her innocence, but I was having none of it. Then Cyndi’s phone rang. After a quick conversation, she hung up. “That was the police chief. They’ve arrested the perpetrators. We can all go home now.”
“Who? Who was the culprit?” I demanded.
“The police have arrested a travelling minstrel group. Evidently the man was a part of their act. It is a case of a Hunger Games re-enactment gone terribly wrong.”
When the staff saw the dejection all over my face, they offered to get me a cup of tea. We arrived back at the library just as Dave was finishing in the closet.
“What? What did I miss?” He asked.
The preceding story is the third in a series of staff interviews. Linda is our mystery expert and facilitator of our Mystery Readers Roundtable which meets on the 4th Tuesday of every month (Sept-May) at 3 pm.