By Marilyn Baron
Good Luck and Death Wishes
The last thing Désirée Devereaux needed was trouble on her first day in charge at the opening of the newest library branch in Harrow County, Georgia. But as she unlocked the door, turned on the lights and sniffed the stale, climate-controlled air in the empty facility, she sensed something was terribly wrong.
Instead of the wonderful scent of new book smells, she was overwhelmed by a tinny aroma. The mid-morning sun was rising in the sky and the air felt ripe with the foul smell. Maybe the exterminator had been there over the weekend.
Her boss, Ada Rawlings, was away for two weeks on a much-needed vacation and was probably reading a romance novel on an ocean liner somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean. Miss Rawlings had signed up for a singles cruise in search of love. In her absence, she had promoted Désirée to assistant head librarian.
Désirée began to walk the stacks. Her new high heels clicked on the hardwood floors and slipped quietly onto the carpet.
She passed the fiction and nonfiction aisles, 000-999. The putrid smell was growing more powerful. Désirée followed her nose past the Biographies aisle, which took up an entire row, and saw nothing out of order.
Then she headed for Dreams and Mystery—135—her favorite section in nonfiction, under Paranormal phenomena. As she rounded the corner into Mysteries, past the real-life mysteries—The Lindbergh baby kidnapping and such—and famous crimes—363 and 364—she nearly tripped and stumbled and reached for a metal divider to keep her balance. Miss Rawlings must have left a stool in the aisle Friday night before she locked up. Perhaps she was placing a book on the shelf, making sure everything was ship-shape for the opening before she left on her cruise.
When Désirée looked up, she found herself in MYSTERY CHR, Agatha Christie, one of her best-loved authors. When she looked down, she found something far more sinister—a dead body, lying in a pool of blood that had already soaked through the brand-new beige institutional carpet.
Désirée gasped. She raised the back of her hand to her mouth to keep from retching and suffered a sucker punch to her gut. The victim wasn’t a stranger. It was none other than Ada Rawlings, clutching Stephanie Bond’s latest romance paperback in her hand, which she was most likely ready to check out and enjoy on her cruise.
Not everyone got along with Ada Rawlings, but she had chosen Désirée from a long list of candidates for the job at her library branch. Miss Rawlings had taken a chance on her, and for that, Désirée would always be grateful.
Had Miss Rawlings accidentally tripped and hit her head on the edge of a sharp shelf? Or had she been brutally murdered? Had the killer surprised Miss Rawlings or had she known her assailant? Why had the killer chosen this particular library? Why the new branch? Was the murderer a patron? More to the point, was the murderer still in the stacks, lying in wait in the 921’s, for his next victim?
Désirée needed to call 911 but she remained frozen in front of the body. Gingerly, she stooped down and pried the blood-soaked paperback from Miss Rawlings’ rigid, naked hand. Miss Rawlings had had such high hopes for her time on the high seas. She’d confided to Désirée that she expected to come back with a ring on her finger and a fiancé.
She opened the paperback. Désirée was a book whisperer. The books talked to her. Each book had its own story, embellished by the previous patron who had checked it out. When she emptied the book drop and scanned the books to check them in, she felt the vibes they emitted: an angry argument between husband and wife over finances; a child’s hungry cry; the rattle of dishes in a busy kitchen; a mother’s calming voice soothing a cranky child as she read the opening of a fairy story.
Désirée squeezed her eyes shut to block out the body in front of her and concentrated on the page prints. This tale was a bloody nightmare.
The page prints were noisy. There had been a desperate struggle. The spirit of an overpowering evil presence filled the empty rows of books, uncorked like a genie from a bottle. There were words, nasty words slammed like a slingshot to hit their target. And fear. She could almost smell it in the book, in the air. First shock and betrayal, then screams, followed by pleas for mercy. A flash of steel. Flesh violated. Gurgling, gasping sounds. Final breaths. And then cold silence.
Désirée skimmed through the pages of the paperback until she found the words scrawled on the very last page.
“Good Luck and Death Wishes.”
Désirée recoiled from the killer’s twisted play on what should have been happy words, glad tidings before a bon voyage – “Good Luck and Best Wishes.”
She grasped the book tightly in her hands to keep from fainting. Inching backwards, away from the body, she steadied herself on the shelf behind her. This incident would not reflect well on her, even though it wasn’t Désirée’s fault that a dead body had been found on her watch.
Miss Rawlings would be very upset. Who knew what she’d do? Désirée blinked away the tears, realizing that Miss Rawlings wouldn’t do anything, ever again.
Désirée walked back to the office and with shaky fingers managed to dialed 911. The closest police station was thirty minutes away. Harrow County’s newest library branch was in the boondocks, on the fringes of the suburbs, in what could barely be considered civilization.
The newest county library stood between the Pentecostal Church and the cemetery, which was convenient, since a person could get prayed over and put into the ground, all in a two-block radius. Then down the street, they could reminisce about the dearly departed at the Blue Crab Café. There were more people buried in the county cemetery than currently lived in the town.
Désirée sank into a chair at the wooden table in the center of the library, laid down her head and waited for help to come.
Help came in the form of one Detective Danny Bonner, who, under different circumstances, Désirée would have found attractive. He was a big man, tall, powerfully muscled, unshaven, his fierce demeanor softened only by the twinkle in his large brown eyes. When he flashed his shield, she noticed he was packing a firearm, which she didn’t find the least bit reassuring. Detective Bonner looked like the kind of man with an itchy trigger finger. He sure could catch a football. She had been to every one of his high school games. She doubted he even knew she existed. If he did, his poker face wasn’t displaying even a flicker of recognition.
Désirée started to lead Detective Bonner over to the stacks where the body was located, when she tripped and found herself anchored in his strong arms. Apparently, he was also used to catching swooning women.
“Is there something wrong with your feet?” he asked.
“I’m a bit wobbly. I’m not used to these high heels.”
“Are those Jimmy Choos?” he guessed.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“I have three sisters who love to shop.”
“Hey, look, do you have some ID?” he asked, as he returned her to a standing position.
Désirée walked carefully around the circulation area back to the office to get her purse, which she’d stuffed into the drawer of her desk. Detective Bonner followed. She removed her wallet and handed him her driver’s license.
“Désirée Devereaux,” he read. “What kind of a name is that?”
“French. My mother loves anything French, including my father; at least she did before their divorce.”
“Désirée Devereaux is a lousy name for a librarian,” he said.
“Why do you say that?”
“First of all, it doesn’t fit your profession. Aren’t librarians supposed to be named Marian?”
“That’s not original, so just drop it or else-”
“Or else, what? We’ll have Trouble right here in River City. Trouble with a capital T? What do people call you – Desi? ‘Hey Desi, where’s Lucy?’”
Désirée rolled her eyes.
“Sorry, but you just don’t strike me as a Désirée,” he explained. “When I think of Désirée, I think of flouncy lingerie, you know, intimate apparel. Unless you’re wearing some of that under that dress.”
Désirée blushed. Her usual undergarments came packaged from Jockey and even that was a stretch.
Detective Bonner gave her a long, languorous appraisal.
“What you’re trying to say is Désirée is sexy, fun and playful and I’m none of those things.”
“You said it, not me. It just sounds a little pretentious, like it belongs to a glamorous movie star or a sultry stripper, anything but a librarian. Can you just picture yourself being wheeled around in a nursing home in fifty years, along with the other Tiffany’s, Brittany’s and Aynsleys?”
She wasn’t going to give Detective Danny Bonner the satisfaction of knowing she found that image hilarious.
The name Désirée was an asset in the Internet dating world. However, once the prospective match actually met her, the dates never lasted very long. The men simply couldn’t reconcile the promising profile and naughty name with the face that had too many freckles, the mousey brown hair and the body that wasn’t slim enough for their tastes.
“You’ve changed,” he accused, staring at her license photo. “What did you do to your hair?”
“I got it cut, but I don’t see what that has to do with the investigation.”
What she didn’t tell him was that she’d spent half a day and half her weekly paycheck yesterday at a high-priced salon, getting her hair colored and submitting to a Keratin treatment (how very French). She’d walked out with straight, sleek, dark hair, a beauty makeover to cover the freckles and highlight what her friends called her most compelling feature, her sea-green eyes, a French manicure (of course) and a pedicure.
And she certainly didn’t tell him she had lingered at the mall and brought home shopping bags full of form-fitting clothes and lacy unmentionables, followed by a magnificent pair of fashionable, if uncomfortable, shoes.
She definitely didn’t divulge the reason why she had gone to such expense—so she could be transformed into an alluring new woman with a new attitude that the FedEx Guy, a particularly sexy patron and her secret crush, could not ignore. She was a sucker for a man in uniform.
“It’s out of place,” said Detective Bonner. “When something is out of place, you generally have to pay particular attention to it. What about your freckles? Where did they go?”
“The case of the missing freckles,” Désirée stated with a straight face.
Detective Bonner was not smiling.
“They’re still there. I covered them with makeup.”
“Speaking of touch-ups, did you touch anything when you came in this morning?”
“Well, I did pick up the book Miss Rawlings, uh, the victim, was holding in her hand. It was the new Stephanie Bond.”
“I don’t care if it was a James Bond. I wish you hadn’t done that, Ms. Devereaux. These books are evidence. We have to cart them down to the station.”
“There’s a clue here. The killer wrote something at the back of the book. Here, I’ll show you.”
“Are you a detective as well as a librarian, Ms. Devereaux?”
“No. I just thought you might be interested.”
“When I need your help with this investigation, I’ll let you know.”
Désirée blanched. “I didn’t mean to-”
“Then what possessed you to pick up that book?” Detective Bonner chided.
“It’s what I do. Books don’t belong on the floor. And they don’t belong at a police station. They’re here for the enjoyment of the patrons.”
“They’re now the property of the Harrow County Sheriff’s Department, until further notice.”
“You can’t remove these books. Patrons are waiting for them.”
“Well they’ll just have to wait a little longer. This library is a crime scene. Nobody gets in or out of this building without my approval. My men are outside right now, covering the entrance with crime scene tape.”
“You can’t do that,” Désirée scowled. “This is opening day. We’re expecting a lot of visitors.”
“They’ll have to come back. As soon as we process the books for prints, we’ll return them to you.”
“Be careful of the spines,” Désirée cautioned weakly, swaying as she remembered the blood on Poor Ada Rawling’s body. “They’re very fragile.” Tears streamed down Désirée’s face, but she wiped them away with the back of her hand. She wasn’t going to break down in front of this insensitive brute.
“Did you know the victim?” Detective Bonner asked.
“Yes, she was my boss, Ada Rawlings. She was supposed to be on a cruise. It was her dream trip. She was hoping to meet someone.”
“Someone she knew?”
“She’d been talking to a man on the Internet and they were finally going to meet on the cruise. It was all very romantic–two strangers meeting out on the open seas, under the stars.”
“It sounds like an ill-advised scheme to me. I’ll need his name, if you know it, and anything else you can tell me about him, and the home address of the victim. I’ll need to see her home computer and the computer in her office. Was the victim married?”
“No, that’s why she was going on a singles cruise.”
“So, she was a spinster.”
“That’s a cruel way of putting it.”
Detective Bonner ignored Désirée and started scribbling notes on his pad.
“Have there been any other incidents at this library?”
“We haven’t even opened.”
“Did the victim have any enemies?”
“Not that I know of. She was a librarian.”
“You’d be surprised,” said Detective Bonner. “What about the property?”
“It was formerly pasture land, owned by a Mr. Howard Bennett. He and his wife retired to Florida and sold the land to the county.”
“You notice any weirdos hanging around the library? Regulars? Unusual people?”
“I told you we haven’t even opened.”
“At the old branch, then.”
“Well, there are the Hookers.”
His brow rose. “Prostitutes hang out at the public library?”
“Not those kind of hookers. They’re a group of women who come to the library to crochet once a week in the Quiet Room.”
“What about perverts, have you noticed any of them?”
“Adults are allowed unfiltered sessions on the Internet. They can access MySpace and Facebook and Twitter. If we notice them accessing any unsavory sites, we ask them to leave.”
“Well, there’s Skirt Boy, but he’s harmless.”
“That’s just a name we call him. He wears a skirt and a Tee-shirt and hangs out with an au pair who takes care of two kids. We think he sleeps in the empty lot next door in the shed at the old branch.”
“I’ll need you to describe where that shed is later on.”
“Some patrons come into the library to catch up on their sleep, or in between appointments, on their lunch hours, like-” Desiree hesitated.
“What were you going to say?”
“Like the FedEx guy.”
“What about the FedEx guy?”
“There’s this FedEx guy who stops by on his lunch hour to surf the net and read books.”
“FedEx, hmmm. No wonder we never get our packages on time. I need to call this in. Does FedEx Guy have a name?”
Désirée nodded and pulled up the name on her computer. But of course she already knew his name. She had checked out books for him many times and she had checked him out at the same time. She fantasized about the look on FedEx Guy’s face when he got an eyeful of the new, improved Désirée Devereaux.
FedEx Guy spent his lunch hour almost every day at the old branch, reading thrillers and mysteries. FedEx guy was a mystery himself.
They hadn’t really talked yet. Désirée often recommended books to FedEx Guy. Read-Alikes. If you like John Grisham, try David Baldacci or Greg Iles. But today she had planned to initiate a real conversation, albeit in hushed tones. This was a library, after all. If he followed her to the new branch.
The detective pulled out his cell phone.
“You can’t use a cell phone in here. That’s a rule.”
“You are a piece of work, lady. This is a murder scene. All your rules are officially out the window.”
Désirée bristled. The guy would be cute if he weren’t so gruff.
“Anything else? Any disturbances?”
“Well, once the police came when they got a phone call from a pay phone in the library that this girl’s boyfriend was going to commit suicide, so she called the sheriff.”
“Don’t hold back.”
“And once a life flight helicopter landed at the library to pick up an injured man in the parking lot.”
“You seem to have an affinity for mayhem, Miss Devereaux,” said Detective Bonner.
Strange and sometimes wondrous things did seem to happen on Desiree’s watch. There was the time when Miss Rawlings had an early morning doctor’s appointment, and Désirée had offered to open the library. While pulling the holds patrons had requested, she’d discovered a stray kitten, hungry and mewling. Désirée had taken a dish from the break room, filled it with water and watched while the kitten lapped up the whole bowl. And she’d bought some cat food during her lunch break for the tiniest librarian, whom she’d named Deci, after the Dewey decimal system. Deci was now a permanent fixture in the library.
Désirée had posted a note in the branch and was ecstatic when no one claimed the kitten after the proper waiting time had passed. The staff had officially adopted Deci, who was a favorite with young patrons, as their new mascot. Deci was at home today, but Désirée planned to bring her into the new branch later in the week.
“Do you have anything else to report? If not, then kindly get out of my way and let me do my job.”
“I can help you,” Désirée offered. “I read page prints.”
“Page prints? Is that some kind of Braille?”
“Patrons leave traces of themselves in the books they’ve checked out,” Désirée explained. “And the killer might have left a clue if he returned a book in our chute last night. People typically leave photos, letters, cards, bookmarks, receipts, airline tickets and other personal things behind. Once I even found a piece of ham.”
“Did you eat it?’
“No, I wouldn’t do that.”
“Of course not.” Detective Bonner smirked. “It’s probably against the rules.”
“I was just joking, Miss Devereaux. And the sheriff’s office is perfectly capable of finding its own clues. We don’t need any part-time palm readers.”
“I said I’m a page print reader, not a palm reader, although you shouldn’t discount that profession. I’m just saying that you might be able to tell if the killer checked out a book about crime, or serial murders, or mysteries. Especially if you don’t have any leads. And I think it’s telling that the body was placed in the Mystery section. We certainly have a mystery on our hands. Now if it had been left in the History section, that would be a different story. History flows like water. You can try to dam it up, but eventually-”
“Are you always this talkative? Do you feel compelled to spew forth everything that’s on your mind?”
“You asked me a question.”
“Thank you, Miss Devereaux. But there’s no need to elaborate. Just answer the question.”
“Just the facts, ma’am, right?”
“When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.”
“Bonehead,” she muttered.
“What did you say?”
“Bonner, I said Bonner, Detective Bonner.”
“What about the other staff? Do any of them have a beef against the victim?”
“They hardly know her. Some of them have never met her. They were transferred from other branches in the county to pick up the slack. The county had enough money to build the new branch and stock it with books, but there was no money left over for staff. So we’re all volunteering to work overtime to staff the newest branch.”
“That must have caused some resentment.”
“Not enough to kill over.”
“I’ll need the names of the other employees.”
“Some of them are part-time.”
“All the names,” he ordered. “Then you’re free to go, but don’t leave Harrow County.”
Maybe she looked like the traveling type but the truth was she’d never been out of the country. She didn’t even own a passport. She traveled the world in books.
“I have a lot of work to do before we open,” Désirée protested.
“Maybe you weren’t listening. This branch is not open for business. Not until we solve this murder. And I’m going to need your prints. And I don’t mean your page prints. I’m not ruling you out as a suspect.”
Who killed Ada Rawlings and wrote those awful words in the book? And what’s up with this Detective Bonner? Tune in tomorrow and find out more.
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