Loving a good cup of coffee runs in the family for Briar Creek library director Lindsey Norris. But when her brother, Jack, a consultant for a coffee company, goes missing, her favorite beverage becomes a key clue in a dangerous mystery.
Between preparing the library for the holidays and juggling the affections of ex-boyfriend, Captain Mike Sullivan, and her new crush, actor Robbie Vine, Lindsey has her hands full. But the mysterious disappearance of her world-traveling playboy brother takes precedence over all.
Afraid that involving the police could brew trouble for Jack, Lindsey takes matters into her own hands. But as her quest for her brother embroils her in a strange case involving South American business dealings and an enigmatic and exotic woman, it’ll take the help of both her library book club—the crafternooners—and her eager-to-please suitors to keep Jack from ending up in hot water…
INCLUDES READING GROUP RECOMMENDATIONS
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Lindsey Norris, director of the Briar Creek Public Library, strode across the library with her keys in hand. It was lunch hour on Thursday, which meant book talk, crafts and snacks, as their weekly crafternoon book club gathered in a meeting room on the far side of the building.
Out of all the activities the library hosted, this was by far Lindsey’s favorite. She figured it was the book nerd in her that loved it so, but truthfully, these ladies had become her dearest friends since she’d moved to Briar Creek, Connecticut, a few years ago, and any afternoon she shared with them was time well spent.
“Lindsey, wait up!” a voice called to her from the children’s department. She spun around to see an old-fashioned aviator charging toward her.
Lindsey squinted. Beneath the leather cap and goggles, she couldn’t make out much, but she was pretty sure she recognized the upturned nose and stubborn chin as belonging to her children’s librarian, Beth Stanley. But it was hard to say, as the rest of her was dressed in a white scarf, leather bomber jacket, black pants and boots. Not the typical wardrobe for a woman who spent most of her time doing finger plays, felt boards and story times.
“What do you think?” the aviator asked. She planted her hands on her hips and stood as if she were posing for a photo.
“I’m not sure,” Lindsey said. “Who are you?”
“What? Oh!” The woman wrestled her goggles up onto her head. “It’s me—Beth. What do you think of my steampunk outfit?”
“It’s the bomb,” Lindsey said with a laugh. Beth looked positively delighted with herself and with good reason. “You look like you could have stepped right out of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan.”
“Yes!” Beth pumped a fist in the air. “That’s exactly what I was going for. My teen group worked on these at our meeting last night. You should see some of the stuff they made. We’re all getting together at the Blue Anchor tonight to have our holiday blowout and show off our outfits.”
“I love it,” Lindsey said. Not for the first time, she thought how lucky the community was to have Beth, who truly brought reading to life for kids and teens.
“I think you look ridiculous,” a voice said from the circulation desk. “Mr. Tupper never let his staff run around in costume, and certainly not out in public.”
“No one asked you—” Beth began, but Lindsey cut her off.
“That will do, Ms. Cole,” she said. “Beth has done amazing things to get our teens reading.”
Ms. Cole sniffed but didn’t argue, which Lindsey felt was a big improvement. Known as the lemon to the rest of the staff, Ms. Cole was an old-school librarian who longed for the days of shushing loud patrons and shunning late borrowers.
“Walk and talk,” Lindsey said to Beth. “Crafternoon is starting soon, and I need to set up the meeting room.”
“Who’s bringing the food this week?” Beth asked.
“Oh, I hope she baked cookies,” Beth said. Nancy Peyton, who was also Lindsey’s landlord, was known throughout Briar Creek for her exceptional cookie-baking skills. Since it was December and the holidays were just weeks away, Lindsey knew that Nancy had been giving her oven a workout.
“I think that’s a safe bet,” Lindsey said.
She glanced out the window as they turned down the short hallway that led to the crafternoon room. The town maintenance crew had been decorating the old-fashioned lampposts that lined Main Street with garlands of silver and gold tinsel, and hanging green wreaths with red ribbons just below the lamps.
The decorations added just the right amount of festive energy to the air and helped ward off the gloom that seemed to be descending upon them in the form of menacing, steel gray clouds, which were reflected by the water in the bay, giving everything a cold, hard and unforgiving appearance.
The crafternoon room had a small gas fireplace, and Lindsey had a feeling that they were going to need it today to fight off the wintery chill in the air.
“So I was thinking you should come and meet up with me and the teens at the Blue Anchor tonight,” Beth said. “It’ll be fun. I even have enough steampunk gear for you to wear.”
Lindsey glanced at her friend. She could not picture herself looking like a souped-up Amelia Earhart; still Beth had spray-painted the goggles copper and stuck all sorts of knobs and gear and even a dragonfly on them. They were pretty cool.
“I don’t like to leave Heathcliff alone for that long,” she said.
“What alone?” Beth asked. “He’s been mooching cookies off of Nancy all day.”
“No doubt,” Lindsey said. Nancy liked to have Lindsey’s dog, Heathcliff, with her during the day. “Which is why he’s going to need an even longer walk than usual tonight.”
“Aw, come on,” Beth said. “It’ll be fun. Charlie’s band is playing, and who knows? You might run into one of your admirers.”
Lindsey gave her a bland look. “I have no idea to whom you could be referring.”
“Sully or Robbie,” Beth said. “You know they’re both hovering around waiting for you to give any hint of encouragement.”
“Did you finish the book for this week?” Lindsey asked.
“Nice conversational segue—not,” Beth said. “Yes, I finished The Woman in White, but you didn’t answer—”
“Did you know that the novel was so popular that Wilkie Collins had ‘AUTHOR OF “THE WOMAN IN WHITE”’inscribed on his tombstone?”
“Fascinating, but you might want to save that tidbit for when the other crafternooners start to grill you about your love life,” Beth said.
Lindsey turned the key in the lock and pushed it open.
The room was dark, and she flipped the switch to the left of the door before stepping into the room.
Her gaze moved past the door to where she saw a man standing perfectly still. She felt a thrill of recognition surge through her, but the man shook his head from side to side and then put his finger to his lips. Lindsey knew immediately that he didn’t want anyone to know he was there.
She quickly stepped back out of the room, bumping into Beth as she went.
“What’s the matter?” Beth asked.
“It’s freezing in there,” Lindsey said. She shivered as if to prove it. “Even with the fireplace, there’s no way this room will be warm enough to meet in. The heat must have been turned off, or maybe a window was left open. I’ll check it out. In the meantime, could you set up one of the other meeting rooms for us?”
“On it,” Beth said, and she hustled back down the hallway in the direction of the main library.
As soon as she was gone, Lindsey opened the door and hurried inside. She quickly shut and locked it behind her.
“Jack!” she cried.
“Linds!” he said in return.
The ruggedly handsome man met her halfway across the room with his arms open wide. Lindsey leapt at him, and he caught her in a hug that almost, but not quite, crushed her.
When he released her, Lindsey stepped back and stared at the face so similar to her own. She had many people in her life whom she considered close friends, but the bond between siblings was one that could not be surpassed.
“Okay, brother of mine,” she said as she crossed her arms over her chest in a fair imitation of their mother when she was irritated. “Start explaining.”
Where Lindsey was all long blond curls and a face that was handsome more than pretty, Jack was short-cropped honey-colored curls with a face that was almost too pretty for a man. He had hit the genetic lottery with full lips and rich caramel-colored eyes, and Lindsey thought, not for the first time, how unfair it was. Paired with his muscular shoulders, lean hips and formidable height, Jack could have been a male model as easily as an economist, but where Lindsey’s world revolved around words, Jack’s passion had always been for numbers.
“What?” he asked, raising his hands in the air in a questioning gesture. “A brother can’t surprise his favorite sister for the holidays?”
“I’m your only sister, but nice try,” she said. “Of course, you can surprise me but why are you hiding in here?”
“Hiding? What hiding?” he asked. He turned away from her and surveyed the room. “I’m just trying to keep my arrival on the down low for a while.”
“What aren’t you telling me, Jack?” she asked. He could try and fool her all he wanted, but she knew that whenever he was hiding something, he started to pace just like he was doing now.
“Nothing,” he said. He crossed over to the bookshelves and then the fireplace. “I’ve just been doing the usual, you know, solving the business troubles of companies around the world.”
“Then how come I haven’t heard from you in a month, and why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Do Mom and Dad know you’re here? Where have you been anyway? Last I heard, you were in the Fiji Islands,” she said.
“Ugh, so many questions.” Jack groaned. “Can we do the catch-up thing later? Hey, is this a gas fireplace? Can I fire it up? It’s chilly in here. I thought maybe I could catch a nap since I had almost no sleep last night.” As if to prove his statement, he let out a jaw-popping yawn.
Lindsey fretted her lower lip between her teeth. There was only one person on the entire earth that she could never say no to, and that was Jack.
The building policy strictly stated that no one was to be in here without a staff member present, but he did look awfully tired and he was a responsible adult. Surely, Jack, a Cornell-educated economist, would be fine left to his own devices in the meeting room. Besides, she could keep checking on him as needed so she would sort of be in here with him.
“All right,” she said. “But I still want an explanation. How did you get in here anyway? Because I know the door was locked.”
“I am a man of many talents,” he said in a bogus Houdini voice while waving his hands in the air like a magician.
“You found an unlocked window, didn’t you?”
“Yeah.” He dropped his arms, looking deflated. “You should really be more careful, Linds. You never know what kind of bad guy might come in and steal all of your precious books.”
“Uh-huh.” Lindsey switched on the gas fireplace, which clicked three times before it ignited.
Jack launched himself onto the squashy leather couch that faced the fireplace. As he settled in, he looked like a very big cat, finding just the right spot for his nap.
“You know my crafternoon group is supposed to be meeting in here,” Lindsey said. “You owe me one for disrupting our meeting so you can have a nap.”
Jack grabbed her hand as she passed by the couch, stopping her from leaving.
“I do owe you one, Linds, more than you know,” he said. “It’s really good to see you. I’ve missed you.”
She could see the sincerity in his eyes, and she knew he felt the same way she did. The bond they shared, like an invisible cord, stretched as far as the globe could take them away from each other, but it never broke. They were always connected.
Lindsey bent down and kissed his head. “I’ve missed you, too, you big dope. We’ll talk, and I mean that, when you wake up.”
She checked her watch. She was going to be late for crafternoon, but that was okay. Her brother Jack was here, and suddenly the steely gray day outside seemed brimming with holiday cheer.
She couldn’t wait to spend some time with him and hear his latest adventures. Jack was like a crusty old penny with a heavy patina; he had lots of miles and lots of stories on him, and he always turned up when she least expected it.
* * *
“The Woman in White was not what I expected,” Nancy Peyton said while she arranged a tray of cookies on the end of the table. “Why do novels written in the eighteen hundreds always break up the happy couple? It’s annoying.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Violet La Rue said. “It seems to me many novels separate the couple, especially if it’s a series. I suppose we readers just have to read on, trusting the author and being committed to seeing it through.”
“Not unlike most relationships,” Lindsey said. “I suppose you have to decide if you’re the committing type before you start a book, which if you think about it, is a relationship of sorts.”
To Lindsey’s relief, today’s crafternoon actually worked out better in the smaller glassed-in conference room. Since they were recycling candles and were using little electric hot plates to do it, they had more access to outlets in the refurbished conference room than they would have had in the room she’d left to Jack.
“But that doesn’t answer the question,” Mary Murphy agreed. She added a bunch of half-spent candles to the pile in the center of the table. Then she looked pointedly at Lindsey and asked, “Why does the happy couple always break up?”
Lindsey shook her head. Captain Mike Sullivan, known to everyone one as Sully, was Mary Murphy’s older brother, and Lindsey knew Mary well enough to know that she was asking why she and Sully were still broken up. Mary never missed an opportunity to fish for information, and since they both belonged to the library’s crafternoon group, Mary always used it to work in an informal questioning, which felt like an inquisition, into the status of Lindsey’s relationship with Sully.
“Because it’s more dramatic that way,” Charlene La Rue answered for Lindsey. “Right, Mom?”
Charlene La Rue turned to her mother, Violet, a former Broadway actress and the reigning queen of the local community theater.
“Exactly,” Violet agreed. “The story would be over in twenty pages if Walter Hartwright won Laura Fairlie when they first met.”
“And the fact that he’s her poor drawing instructor makes it so much more romantic,” Beth cried.
Nancy snorted. “My grandmother always said, ‘It’s just as easy to love a rich man as a poor one.’”
“True,” Beth agreed. She was still wearing her steampunk cap and goggles, but had taken off the jacket and scarf. “But it just seems like there are so many more poor ones to choose from. You know, the unemployed, underachieving, living in his parents’ basement population has really exploded.”
“And thus, we remain single,” Lindsey said.
“An actor is not unemployed,” Violet said. “Their job prospects are just more eclectic than most.”
Both Violet and Charlene hit Lindsey with their matching mother and daughter dazzling smiles. While Violet was retired from the stage and lived in Briar Creek, Charlene was a newscaster on the local station in New Haven. Both women were tall and thin with rich cocoa skin and warm brown eyes. Together they were a force to be reckoned with, but Lindsey was wise to their game.
The La Rue women were close friends with Robbie Vine, a famous British actor who had recently come to Briar Creek to star in a production of Violet’s while getting reacquainted with his son. He had made no secret of his interest in Lindsey, but even though Robbie charmed her senseless, her heart was still knotted up over Sully, who had dumped her to give her space she had not requested. In a word, it was complicated.
“Pffthbt.” Beth made a scoffing noise. “You know, instead of pushing the head librarian with two beaus to make her choice—yes, I’m sure it’s brutal, Lindsey, really—you all might consider canvassing the area for an available guy for me.”
As one, they all turned to look at Beth in surprise.
“What?” she asked. “Just because my last boyfriend was stabbed to death doesn’t mean I’ve sworn off men forever. Surely, there has to be a man out there who would like a short curvy gal who can recite Shel Silverstein from memory and knows every Mother Goose poem ever written by heart. I mean, honestly, is that asking so much?”
They all blinked at her. Beth was rarely anything but sunny in disposition, which was one of the many reasons why all the children in town adored her.
“She’s right,” Lindsey said. She smiled at Beth. “I’m taking up more than my share; you want one?”
“Sloppy seconds?” Beth asked with a grin. “No, thank you. But I’m sure the collective talent in this room can find me a guy that I won’t be embarrassed to bring home to my mother. She’s getting positively naggy on the subject of a husband and children. I’m going to have to make up an imaginary boyfriend soon if I can’t manage a real one.”
The others all exchanged a look, and Nancy said, “We’ll get right on that.”
“Absolutely,” Charlene said. “Maybe there’s someone at the station.”
“Ian might know someone,” Mary said, referring to her husband, with whom she owned the Blue Anchor, a café known locally as the Anchor.
“I can ask my nephew Charlie if he knows anyone,” Nancy said. She and Lindsey glanced at each other and they both shook their heads.
In Nancy’s three-story captain’s house, Charlie lived in the second-floor apartment between Nancy and Lindsey. He worked for Sully seasonally, but was doggedly pursuing his dream of rock and roll stardom in his downtime. His musician friends, while interesting, were not exactly the bring home to Mom and show off type, as most of them slept all day, played out all night and didn’t have a lock on the concept of regular pay as yet.
“Or not,” Nancy said.
She finished putting out the food she had brought, and the group went back to discussing Wilkie Collins’s novel while they continued melting the wax for their craft project. It was agreed that the novel was a worthy read, and they debated what exactly made it one of the original “sensation” novels.
The time sped past and Lindsey managed to make only two new candles. Using old canning jars, they had tied wicks to hang off a pencil into the jar and then melted the remnants of all their old candles by heating the bits in a small aluminum pan on a hot pot. Lastly, they poured the melted wax into the canning jar up to the top, leaving just enough space for the lid.
Lindsey was quite pleased to have created her candles in alternating red and green recycled wax, giving them a festive holiday look. She had thought to give them away as gifts, but now she wasn’t so sure. They’d look nice on her dining table for the holidays.
As they packed up the room, leaving the candles to cool, Lindsey waved good-bye to the others before hurrying back to where Jack was snoozing. She hoped he’d had a good enough power nap, because she was itching to hear what had brought him to town earlier than expected and how long he was staying.
She really hoped he planned to be here for the entire holiday. With her parents coming down from New Hampshire, this would be the first holiday they had all been together in three years, and she found she was really looking forward to it.
Lindsey slipped the key into the lock and turned it. She didn’t want to startle her brother, so she pushed the door open quietly.
Two things hit her immediately—a bitterly cold draft was blowing in from an open window, and it was dark. She stepped into the room. Maybe the lights had kept him awake and he’d gotten overheated because of the fireplace. It seemed unlikely, but she couldn’t figure why else it was so cold and dark.
“Jack?” she called.
There was no answer. She hurried forward to see over the back of the couch where she’d left him. It was empty. The fire in the fireplace was off, and she shivered as the cold seeped through her sweater to her skin.
She glanced down at the floor in front of the hearth and gasped. A man was lying facedown on the floor. Lindsey raced forward.
“Jack! Are you all right?” she cried.
The gloomy midafternoon light made it hard to see, but Lindsey knew immediately from the bald head, the heavier build and the corduroy coat that this was not Jack.
She rolled the man over onto his back, trying to see what was wrong. His vacant brown eyes stared past her at the ceiling, and Lindsey felt a fist of dread clutch her insides in its meaty fist. The angry red marks around his neck, the lack of a rise and fall from his chest and the cold touch of his skin made it clear. The man was dead.
Lindsey met Police Chief Emma Plewicki at the main doors to the library. She had called Emma directly and told her about the dead stranger. She did not tell anyone on staff. She didn’t want to cause a panic, plus if someone in the library had done the deed, she didn’t want them to slip away.
She had no idea where Jack had gone or what he might know about the man in the room. The only thing she did know was that Jack was no murderer. She didn’t care how bad it looked; she wouldn’t believe it until she heard from Jack himself.
Emma Plewicki was built solid with glossy black hair that framed her heart-shaped face and big velvet brown eyes that, surrounded by long curly eyelashes, had beguiled more than one felon into confessing his crimes.
Emma stepped through the sliding doors and looked at Lindsey in question. Lindsey tipped her head to the side in a follow-me gesture. Emma turned to the two officers who had come with her.
“Cover the exits,” she said. “Close the library. No one enters or leaves without my say-so.”
“What happened?” Emma asked Lindsey. She whispered so as not to alert the other patrons in the building.
It was a wasted effort. Every head swiveled in their direction as they made their way to the back room. One officer checking out a book did not get noticed, but three officers with two blocking the exits were hard to miss.
Lindsey didn’t want to lie to Emma, for not only did she like the chief in a professional capacity but she liked her personally as well. Still, she wasn’t ready to bring her brother into it, so she decided to stick with the facts, just the facts.
“I opened the door to the room to check on the temperature,” she said. “It had been too cold to use earlier, so I was following up. It was even colder this time. When I went in to see why, I found a man lying on the floor in front of the fireplace. When I checked him, I could see he had been strangled.”
Emma snapped her head in Lindsey’s direction. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Lindsey lied. She knew that Emma knew she was lying, but Emma nodded, accepting the big fib, and they hurried down the hallway to the back room.
Beth was standing outside the room. Lindsey had asked her to stay there until she returned with Emma. She didn’t tell Beth why she needed her to stand outside the locked room, and Beth didn’t ask. They had been friends long enough that Beth knew that whatever it was, it was important.
“Okay, Beth,” Lindsey said. “Thanks for keeping an eye.”
Beth looked from her to Emma and back. She had taken off her steampunk hat and goggles and regarded Lindsey with a pensive expression.
“Is it a gas leak or something?” she asked.
“No, nothing like that,” Lindsey said. “I’ll explain later.”
“Wait out here, please,” Emma said as she pulled on a pair of blue latex gloves. Beth nodded.
Lindsey took out her key and unlocked the door. She pushed it open. It was still bitterly cold, as the window was still open. The body was exactly where she had left it.
Emma hurried to the victim’s side. She glanced up at Lindsey. “Was this where he was when you found him?”
“Right here but facedown,” Lindsey said. “I flipped him over to see if he was all right.”
Emma nodded and confirmed what Lindsey had already discovered. “He’s dead. I’m guessing strangled.”
Her tone was dry, and Lindsey knew she was trying to sound as normal as possible, given the extraordinary circumstance. It just wasn’t every day that you found a man strangled to death in the library.
Emma used her shoulder radio to call one of her officers, requesting he place a call into the medical examiner, then she continued examining the body. Lindsey didn’t want to interrupt her, but she wasn’t sure what to do about the library. Did she keep it open? Close it? What?
Emma left the body and was now studying the room. “Lindsey, can you tell if anything is missing from here?”
It was on the tip of Lindsey’s tongue to say, Yes, my brother, but she held it in. She scanned the room. The collection of craft books were on the shelves. The fire was still out. The window was open but otherwise not even the cushions on the comfy couch seemed to have been moved.
Jack, where are you? Lindsey thought but didn’t say. Instead, she said, “No, everything looks fine except for the window.”
Emma crossed to the window and examined it. She checked the lock and then moved back and forth and from side to side as if looking for something. Lindsey watched her.
“We might get lucky with a set of latent prints on the glass. It doesn’t appear to be broken,” she said. “Could it have been left unlocked?”
“It’s possible,” Lindsey said, knowing full well that it had been.
She felt a twinge of guilt at not telling Emma about finding her brother in here, but how could she when she didn’t know where he was or what had happened? She glanced at the dead man, and her knees felt weak with relief at the realization that it could have been Jack lying there. Then she felt bad about being relieved, as perhaps this man had a sister somewhere who would soon be mourning him.
A noise outside brought their attention to the door. The door banged open and Officer Kirkland stepped into the room.
“Sorry, Chief, but the ME is here,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said. “Show him in and then gather everyone in the library into another room.”
“The story time room in the children’s area will work,” Lindsey said. She liked it for two reasons: One, it was big enough, and two, it was on the complete opposite side of the building from the crime scene.
“Excellent,” Emma said. “Thanks.”
“If you don’t need me here . . .” Lindsey let her words trail off. She wanted to be the stalwart library director, but honestly, the dead body was giving her a severe case of the wiggins and she wanted out of this room in the worst possible way.
“Go ahead,” Emma said. “I’m sure Officer Kirkland could use the assistance.”
Lindsey did not wait for her to change her mind. She hurried out of the room, passing Officer Kirkland. He was a big-boned, redheaded farm boy newly minted from his public safety training, and he followed Chief Plewicki around like an eager puppy.
“Are you sure you don’t need me, ma’am?” he asked.
“No, I’m good,” Emma said. “I don’t think our vic is going to put up much of a fight.”
Kirkland narrowed his eyes. “It sure looks like he didn’t at any rate.”
Emma studied him. “What makes you say that, Kirkland?”
It was all the invitation he needed. Kirkland crossed the room to her side and pointed to the vic’s hands. “There’s nothing under his fingernails. If he’d put up a fight, there’d be blood or skin. He looks like he just had a manicure.”
Emma raised her eyebrows. “What else?”
“His clothes aren’t in disarray or torn. There are no scuffs on his shoes. If he’d kicked out at anything or anyone, there is no sign of it,” he said. He pointed out the pristine shine on the man’s leather shoes. “Since he doesn’t appear to have put up a fight, it makes me wonder if he was unconscious when the person attacked or if the strangulation marks are postmortem, trying to throw us off the real cause of death.”
Emma nodded. She clapped him on the shoulder, looking pleased. “That’s exactly what I noticed. Nice work, Kirkland.”
He beamed at her, and Lindsey was surprised he didn’t start wagging. Lindsey bounced on her feet in the hallway. She was really ready to move away now and go search for her brother.
“Emma—” Lindsey began, but the medical examiner pushed past her into the room. “Hi, Dr. Griffiths.”
He gave her a surly nod and Lindsey reminded herself that he wasn’t a bad guy. He liked to read travel books about Europe and dreamed of backpacking there one day, but Lindsey suspected that his pteromerhanophobia held him back and “one day” might turn into “never” if he didn’t get over his fear of flying.
“Go ahead and move the people in the library,” Emma said to Kirkland.
He nodded, looking reluctant to leave. Dr. Griffiths, a small man with a bald head, which was surrounded by a gray fringe that stuck out all around his head just like the bushy gray mustache over his upper lip, gave Kirkland no choice as he elbowed the rookie out of the way.
“Again, Plewicki?” Griffiths asked as he snapped on his own blue gloves. “What is it you people don’t get about being a sleepy coastal community?”
“Sorry, Al,” she said. She held her hands wide. “What can I say? Briar Creek has become a hot bed of murder and intrigue.”
Griffiths snorted and the hairs on his mustache fluttered. Lindsey turned away. She had no interest in watching this. Kirkland was rooted to the spot, obviously fascinated to see what would happen next.
“Come on.” Lindsey nudged him with an elbow. “You think this is interesting? We have patrons we have to disconnect from their Internet session. You may want to keep your Taser handy.”
“Seriously?” Kirkland asked, his eyes wide.
“Haven’t been in the library at closing, have you?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” he said.
“Well, follow me, you’re in for a treat,” she said. She wondered if he could tell she was being sarcastic. A glance at his face, which was eager, made her suspect that he could not.
Lindsey saw Officer Wilcox standing by the door and noted that he and Kirkland exchanged nods. Reassured that everyone was following the same game plan, she cleared her throat, preparing to address the library.
“Everyone, I’d like to have your attention,” she said. A few people turned in her direction, but for the most part she was ignored. Lindsey sighed. She really needed to consider a public address system. “Everyone, please, we have a situation. I need you all to move into the story time room for a few minutes while we get everything sorted out.”
Her voice sounded strained even to her own ears. She forced a reassuring smile. “The officers will escort you back there, and you should be free to go in a matter of minutes.”
“What’s going on?” demanded Peter Schwartz. He was a crotchety older gentleman known for complaining about everything from the hardness of the chairs to the quality of the air-conditioning. And yet he came to the library every day to read the newspaper of which he was not a good sharer.
“The officers will explain in a moment,” Lindsey said. “Please, if you’ll follow me.”
“No, I’m not going,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Unless the building is on fire or there’s a bomb in it, I’m going on with my day.”
He snapped open the newspaper he’d been reading and returned to the sports page as if he were oblivious to the people around him moving reasonably to the back room.
“I’m sorry, sir, but our orders are to have everyone gather in the back room,” Kirkland said.
Lindsey admired his diplomacy. She knew from several accidental fire alarms over the past few years that there was always one customer who refused to budge, as if whatever they were doing was so much more important than avoiding being burned to death. It boggled.
She glanced at the bank of Internet computers and saw that Beth was efficiently locking the sessions in order to get the people moving. Several of their regulars had already gone into the story room to await further instructions.
Ms. Cole and Ann Marie Martin, the part-time circulation clerk, were also helping to guide people in the direction of the story room. Not for the first time, Lindsey was grateful that she had such a crackerjack staff who did as she asked without question.
“My taxes pay your salary!” Mr. Schwartz rose out of his seat and stood up on his tiptoes, trying to intimidate Officer Kirkland.
“Excellent.” Kirkland leaned forward, forcing Mr. Schwartz backward just a little. “Then while we’re in the back room there, we can have a long discussion about why I deserve a raise.”
Mr. Schwartz looked as if he was going to choke on his own spit. Lindsey stepped forward before he stroked out on the spot, not wanting to add another body to her quota for the day.
The next time someone made the observation that working in a library must be lovely because it was so quiet, she didn’t think she’d be able to hold back her laughter.
“If you’ll follow me, Mr. Schwartz,” Lindsey said. “I know that having a senior member of the community present will be very helpful in our current crisis.”
“Crisis?” Mr. Schwartz asked. He puffed himself up and walked beside her toward the back room. He shot Officer Kirkland a nasty look. “Well, anything I can do to help the police with their job.”
Lindsey glanced over her shoulder at Kirkland. He gave her a small smile, and she wondered if they had a course about dealing with difficult people at the police academy, and then she wondered if she could audit it.
* * *
Once they were gathered in the room, Lindsey let Officer Wilcox take over mediating the situation. She assumed there was a police protocol that he would follow to let the people know what was happening without causing them to panic.
Meanwhile, she huddled in the corner with her staff.
“All right, Lindsey, spill it,” Beth said. “What’s going on?”
Ms. Cole and Ann Marie completed their circle, and Lindsey gestured for them to shuffle to the side out of earshot of the rest of the people.
“After our crafternoon meeting today, I went into the back room, where we usually meet,” Lindsey began. She closed her eyes to steady herself as she recalled the horror of what she’d found. With a sharp exhale, she finished by saying, “When I opened the door, I found the window open and a dead body facedown on the floor.”
“What?” squawked Beth. “You found a body in the library?”
“Shh,” Ms. Cole hushed her and then glanced around to make sure no one had heard.
Beth gave her an annoyed look, but lowered her voice. “I just don’t understand how it’s possible. That door is always locked unless there is a meeting under way.”
“Who was it? Was it a patron?” Ann Marie put her hand to her throat as if to steady herself.
“No, it was a stranger,” Lindsey said. “I didn’t recognize him nor did Chief Plewicki.”
The other three visibly relaxed. And Lindsey understood that in a community this small there was a sense of looking out for each other, even for pesky people like Peter Schwartz.
“What’s going to happen now?” Beth asked. “And why do they want us all in this room?”
“I think the chief wants to make sure no one knew the man,” Lindsey said. “Also she probably wants to know if anyone saw anything suspicious.”
The others nodded. Officer Kirkland was taking down the names of all the other people in the room. He had just finished when the doors opened and Chief Plewicki walked in.
The room immediately erupted with questions, but she held up her hands, motioning for everyone to be quiet.
“Thank you all for your cooperation,” she said. “Due to the nature of the event that has taken place out front, my officers and I will be taking you out of the room individually, starting with families first.”
Mr. Schwartz’s face screwed up into an unhappy knot, but Emma froze him with a look.
“Unless, of course, you’d rather we keep the children in here even longer.”
Excerpted from "On Borrowed Time"
Copyright © 2014 Jenn McKinlay.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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