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About the Author: Susan Hammerman’s most recent publications are “Hepcat Christmas” published in the January 2020 issue of The Dark City Crime & Mystery Magazine and “Dominant Hand” published in September 2020 by Mondays Are Murder. She is a recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Hugh Holton Award.

People who turned up at the library were lost in the county court building, there to get a divorce, file a lawsuit, or at the express invitation of the police. The library was closed, had been for hours, and the door was locked. Someone banged on it a second time. John Connelly slapped his hand on his desk at the interruption. Whoever it was didn’t want the library anyway.

Two more bangs were followed by a series of vigorous kicks that rattled the doorknob. It was a full-blown temper tantrum.

It didn’t help to lean back in his desk chair. John couldn’t see the four-foot-long glass panel in the door, not until he stood up, walked over, and got just about on top of it. And when he did, he saw two men. He knew one of them, but what he paid attention to was the baseball bat in the guy’s hand. John dropped back and pressed himself against the wall next to the door, out of sight he hoped. A bat could smash the thin sheet of glass in the door with no problem. He wished he’d been wrong and amended that to he wished he’d stayed out of it.

The lights flickered, clicked, and the room went silent. He flipped the light switch off. That added dark to the quiet. John knew he had to get to the other side of the door. He dropped down and crawled as fast as a forty-three-year-old librarian with bad knees can. The window shattered. Sharp rain poured down on his head. He scrambled forward, jumped up, and wildly ran his hands up the wall. When his fingers found it, he yanked the fire alarm handle. It shrieked to life. Like bears, John thought, they would be scared away by the noise, but they were dumb bears and stayed put. From the light in the hallway, John saw a pork chop hand inch through the attached shards of glass in the window frame and reach for the doorknob and the lock.

Three Hours Earlier

The fluorescent lights buzzed like happy bumblebees lolling on daisies. As the seconds ticked by, the buzzing grew. The bees were joined by friends and then by enemies. The lights flickered twice, clicked, and went silent for fifty seconds. John Connelly’s days fulfilling one pointless task after another as the librarian in the municipal records library were measured in audio segments from the ceiling lights.

More records had come in from the mosquito abatement department. They smelled vaguely of insecticide. Twenty stuffed manila folders were stacked on the library’s wooden counter. John needed to put the pages in some kind of order, remove the staples that would rust and stain the paper, then box the records in grey archival boxes to ensure their preservation. First, he had to check if there was room on the library’s metal shelves for the new records. If there wasn’t, and he was pretty sure there wasn’t, he would have to shift boxes to make room. All the mosquito abatement records, going back to 1971, were shelved together. No one had ever come in to use them.

Bored at the prospect, but with nothing better to do instead, John flipped up the short movable section in the wooden counter and walked through the narrow gap. He always thought it was stupid that he was protected from the public by a wooden counter that stretched the length of the room, and the records were sitting on the open shelves. Anyone could pull library material off a shelf and sit down at one of three large white tables and read it or walk off with it.

The spongy soles of his chukka boots squeaked on the yellow linoleum tiles as he crossed the room to the thirty aisles of shelving.

Before he was halfway down the aisle, he saw the shelves were jam-packed. Scanning in front of him, he tried to figure out the easiest way to shift the old boxes to make room for the new ones. There wasn’t an easy way.

The metal bell on the counter pinged. John heard it clearly, because the lights were in the happy bee phase. He peered back down the aisle and saw two men standing at the counter. He retraced his steps. From the back of them, John knew they were in the wrong place. One guy was in a black leather coat, and the other was in a jean jacket and a baseball cap. They probably wanted the DMV, across the street.

“What can I do you for?” John asked their backs, as he flipped the section of counter up and squeezed through, putting him on the staff side of things.

This story appears in our JUN 2021 Issue
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