DEATH IN THE STACKS (#8)
September in New England was about as perfect a season as there was on earth. The days became cooler, pumpkins ripened, and colorful leaves decorated the trees like they were getting ready for a party, the last colorful gala before winter.
Lindsey Norris, director of the Briar Creek Public Library, rode her bike into work, enjoying the crisp snap to the air and the fresh smell of the briny sea as it rolled in for high tide. She felt a happy burst of optimism fill her up as everything in her world seemed to be all right especially at work. She’d been in charge of the small library for a couple of years now and she had come to love the seaside community in which she resided.
Today was Thursday, her favorite day of the week as it was the day that the crafternoon group met at lunchtime to share a meal, a craft, and a discussion about the book they were reading, which currently was The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.
She stopped in front of the building and parked her bike in the rack. She wrapped the thick cable and lock around the wheel and the frame and grabbed her purse and book bag out of the basket.
The book bag was just as heavy as it had been the night before when she brought it home. As she hefted it over her shoulder, she decided she needed to reevaluate this compulsion that caused her to bring what amounted to luggage, but was actually books she was reading, planning to read, or had just finished reading, to and from work every day. She told herself it was because she was never sure what she wanted to read and she liked to have choices but she suspected it was more like a security blanket type of thing.
Her life only felt centered and well balanced if she had a stack of books to read with her wherever she went. Granted she had an e-reader and even read books on her smart phone but she was a book addict and only the comforting feel of paper beneath her fingertips could truly soothe her.
As the ache in her shoulder testified, however, she had to face the fact that there was no way she could plow through this many books in one night and bringing them back and forth was an exercise in futility, then again at least it was exercise. She strode to the front door and stepped on the rubber mat that triggered the automatic doors. They whooshed open and she stepped inside and took a deep breath, inhaling the wonderful scent of books.
“Good morning,” she said to Ms. Cole and Paula Turner, the library’s two employees in charge of circulation.
Ms. Cole, also known as the lemon for her rather puckered disposition, pursed her lips and gave her a nod of acknowledgment, which coming from her was practically a hug. Known as a monochromatic dresser, Ms. Cole’s color du jour was orange, fitting with the season for sure, but her palette ran from the pumpkin orange of her sweater to the safety cone orange of her slacks, which when Lindsey stared too long, started to make her eyes water.
Paula on the other hand perked right up and gave Lindsey a cheery wave and a wide, warm smile while she continued assisting a customer. Her long, thick braid was dyed a fantastic shade of deep purple, which stood out against her bright red sweater. Looking at the two women, Lindsey was reminded of the brilliant leaves outside and felt more than a little drab in her gray sweater. Tomorrow she vowed to dress more in season.
She rounded the circulation desk and was halfway to her office when a cow crossed her path. Yes, a cow, black and white with ears, a tail, and udders, the whole bovine package.
“’Stomp your feet, clap your hands, everybody ready for a barnyard dance’,” sang the cow, also known as Beth Stanley the children’s librarian.
“Moo,” Lindsey said.
Beth pushed back her white hoodie with the the big black spots and cow ears sewn onto it and grinned at her.
“You’re supposed to bow the cow,” Beth said.
“I thought you bow to the horse first,” Lindsey said.
“You’re right!” Beth opened the burlap sack she carried over her shoulder and pulled out a stuffed horse. “But the horse says, ‘Neigh’.”
“Cute,” Lindsey said as she peeked into the burlap sack to see the rest of the farm animals.
“Miss Beth,” a little voice cried and they both turned to see a two-year-old boy, peddling his legs as fast as he could in Beth’s direction. Beth dropped the bag and crouched just in time as the boy launched himself at her when he was within a yard of her.
“Good morning, Sawyer,” she said as she scooped him up. “Are you ready for a barnyard dance?”
The boy nodded his head, almost clocking Beth in the nose, but she was a pro and shifted him to her hip before he connected.
“I take it today is Sandra Boynton day?” Lindsey asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Beth said. “We’re doing all the faves Barnyard Dance, But Not the Hippopotamus, Pajama Time, and Moo Baa La La La.“
“Remember those, Sam?” Sawyer’s mom, Tara, asked her older son as they joined them.
“I’m too old for those,” Sam said with the dignity only a five-year-old could muster.
“I know but since you don’t have school today, you get to come to the library with your little brother,” Tara said. Sam did not look thrilled and Tara exchanged an amused look with Beth as she held out her arms to take Sawyer.
“You’re right, Sam,” Beth said, handing over the younger boy. “You are too old for toddler time, how about if you’re my assistant librarian today?”
Sam gave her a considering look as if he suspected this was code for having to clean up the room or some other undesirable chore. Smart boy.
“You get to hand out the instruments for music time and…” Beth paused for dramatic effect, before she said, “You can give out the hand stamp at the end of class.”
Sam’s eyes went wide. He grabbed his mother’s free hand and tugged her toward the story time room. “Come on, Mom, let’s go. I have work to do.”
Tara gave them a delighted laugh as she carried one boy and was dragged by the other to the back room. Lindsey felt her heart swell. There was nothing she loved better than laughter in the library.
“Everybody’s doing the barnyard dance’,” Beth sang as she took back her horse and picked up her bag and followed her people into the children’s area.
“See you at crafternoon,” Lindsey called after her.
Lindsey shouldered her own bag, thinking it weighed enough to have a barnyard of animals in it and continued toward her office. When she strode into the work room, she noted that the door to her office was open, which was weird because she usually kept it shut when she wasn’t here, not locked, but definitely closed.
She pushed the door open wide as she stepped inside and then drew up short. There was a woman sitting at her desk, talking on her phone. The woman had her back to the door, giving Lindsey a moment to try and figure out how to demand what the hell are you doing in my office? without the hell part or the yelling. She couldn’t manage it.
Instead, she dropped her book bag on the floor with a thump, causing the woman to jump and swivel her chair toward the door. Lindsey wasn’t normally a very turfy person, but still, this was her office.
“Hello, Olive,” she said.
Olive Boyle, the new president of the library board, stared at back at her. Lindsey should have known it would be her. Olive had beaten out Milton Duffy, Lindsey’s long time friend, for the position of president in an election over the summer, and since she’d taken the post, she had gone out of her way to be a thorn in Lindsey’s backside.
Olive held up her finger, indicating that she just needed a minute. Lindsey took a deep breath and debated the repercussion of pressing the disconnect button on the phone. Knowing Olive and her dramatic streak, it would be unpleasant but the daydream kept Lindsey from gnashing her teeth, mostly.
“I do not care what your previous arrangement with the library board was,” Olive was saying. “I want you to donate all of the food to the Dinner in the Stacks event for free.”
Lindsey felt her eyes go wide. Olive was speaking to either Mary or Ian Murphy, the owners of Briar Creek’s only restaurant the Blue Anchor, and she was demanding that they provide the food for the library’s biggest fund raiser of the year for free. A dinner that charged fifty bucks a plate to well over two hundred people. Lindsey felt her finger twitch with the need to end the call.
“What? What did you say to me? You’re going to put me in a sack and throw me off the pier?” Olive cried into the phone. “How dare you!”
Lindsey could hear a male voice, so it was Ian then, letting loose a stream of unhappy that she had never heard come out of the affable restaurateur before. Then it was suddenly silent and Lindsey had the feeling someone on the other end of the line, his wife Mary most likely, had ended the call.
“Hello? Hello?” Olive called. When there was no answer she huffed out an annoyed breath and slammed the phone into the receiver. She glanced up at Lindsey, and said, “We’ll need to find a new restaurant for the dinner. The Blue Anchor is too pedestrian for what I’m trying to achieve anyway.”
Lindsey sucked in a deep breath. She could feel her temples contracting and the urge to bodily toss Olive from her office was almost more than she could resist.
Somewhere in her late forties, skeletally thin, with hair dyed a perfect shade of copper and styled in delicate waves that framed her oval face, Olive had that spoiled ice queen thing going that Lindsey found incredibly off-putting and she wasn’t the only one.
Olive had lived in town for over ten years and yet didn’t know anyone’s name, except for her select group of friends, because she considered most residents beneath her. No one was sure why she’d run for the library board, but given that she had also gotten on the school board and the zoning board, there were rumors that she was planning a run for mayor.
Olive lived in a stretch of colossal McMansions that ran along the shore on the north side of town. The houses were reviled by the locals as they’d been put in right after several historic homes had been washed away by a hurricane. The monster houses blocked the view of the ocean from the neighborhood behind them and the residents of the new houses had put in a tall wooden fence to keep the locals out of their beach area.
It was a bone of contention that had been going on for several years and every now and then it boiled to the surface and oozed out all over a zoning board meeting. These meetings had become grand entertainment for the town and most everyone attended them, bringing their own popcorn and jujubes.
“The dinner is just a week away,” Lindsey said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a challenge, if not impossible, to get a new caterer in such a short amount of time.”
Olive stared at her for a moment and then tipped her head to the side as if Lindsey was some sort of unknown insect that she had found in her garden. The scrutiny made Lindsey overly self conscious about her lack of make-up -- she was a mascara and coffee and go sort of gal -- her windswept long blond curls, and her casual denim skirt, brown boots, and gray pullover sweater.
“Don’t you think that as the director of the library, you should perhaps dress the part?” Olive asked her. “I mean, this washed out, middle-aged mom look you’ve got going really doesn’t do your position justice, does it?”
Lindsey closed one eye and took a deep breath, trying to and ward off the pounding in her right temple. No such luck. She opened her eye and focused on Olive.
“Given that my job requires me to do a wide variety of things, not the least of which is unclogging the occasional stopped up toilet, I think my wardrobe is more than adequate,” she said.
She stared at Olive with an air of expectancy, trying to get her to vacate her chair. Olive was not taking the hint.
“Close the door and sit down,” Olive said.
Lindsey stared at her. Surely, she didn’t think that Lindsey was going to sit on the visitor’s side of her own desk, did she?
Olive gestured to the vacant seats that faced Lindsey’s desk. Okay, then, she did.
Lindsey was unclear on how to handle this. Did she insist on being directorial and sit in her own seat? Did she play pleasant hostess and let Olive have her desk chair? She was uncertain. No one had ever put her in this position before. She didn’t like it.
Deciding the best course of action was to have Olive say her piece and leave as soon as possible, Lindsey decided to play pleasant hostess. She shut the door and took a seat.
“I hope you weren’t offended by my observations about your wardrobe,” Olive said. “I’m just being helpful.”
“Of course not,” Lindsey said, still playing nice.
“Good because I have drafted a proposal for a dress code for all of the library staff that I’ll be introducing at the next board meeting,” Olive said.
“I’m sorry, a what?” Lindsey asked.
“Dress code,” Olive said. “I just can’t abide coming in here and seeing the staff dressed as they are with purple hair, clashing colors, why, I saw one of your people dressed as a cow this morning.”
“That’s the children’s librarian,” Lindsey said, fighting to keep her tone even. “She was in costume for story time.”
“Well, I think that’s excessive,” Olive said. “She’ll have to wear the uniform just like everyone else.”
“Uniform?” Lindsey choked.
“Yes, I think we’ll go with black pants and white dress shirts,” Olive said.
“For everyone?” Lindsey asked. She could not even imagine telling her staff about the latest Olive Boyle brain spasm. Nor could she envision dressing like that herself.
“I think it will make the staff look very smart,” Olive said.
“Or, you know, like waiters in a restaurant,” Lindsey said.
Olive snapped her fingers at Lindsey as if she was finally catching on, clearly missing the sarcasm in Lindsey’s tone. “Exactly, after all you do serve the public but with books instead of burgers.”
A sharp metallic taste alerted Lindsey to the fact that she had bitten her lip so hard, she’d drawn blood. Another first.