A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too, have known autumn too long. - e. e. cummings
There is a point when the truth is absurd. Just ridiculous. But there it is, right in front of you and you have to except it because why else would it be happening otherwise?
Case in point: When I was ten, I found out (SPOILER ALERT) there was no Santa Claus. Sure, I had my doubts and logic started to seep in, but the human brain is nothing without the capacity to keep hope alive. Especially if that hope drops off a buttload of goodies once a year. But my parents, in a nice gesture, took me aside one day and basically said, “Look, we know you are old and probably figured out that Santa Claus isn’t real but don’t tell your sister just yet cause she’s younger than you and should figure that out on her own.” Why they had to tell me my sister was younger than me is odd, but more for the point of exposition than anything.
So the myth that a fat North Polian in a red suit was not breaking and entering in my house as I had been lead to believe all my life was exposed by the very people who had been perpetuating that myth all along. To top it all off, my parents were the one’s dropping off the presents all along. On the next Christmas, when I crawled out of bed early in the morning to look at the haul, my mind flashed with alternating images: The fake one I had believed all my life with the jolly old elf pulling presents from a ginormous bag or the real one with two middle class parents pulling toys out of the attic and stacking them around the tree. The truth was a bitter, strange pill that day. I wanted to believe the lie, because the truth seemed ridiculous based on previous “knowledge.” But there you go.
“What’s going on down there?” said Captain Stein.
The man with the gun and the can opener tattooed on his face waved the gun in such a way that I supposed I should answer.
“We seem to be held up here, sir,” I said, “Might want to get the EMTs for Betty. She’s weak.”
“Will do. Just the one guy?”
Can Opener Man waved the gun again and I shut up.
“Listen, whoever you are, there’s a big storm coming. Hurricane. Would you mind giving up the hostages and coming with us before we all get blown to hell?” Captain Stein said.
I admired the man’s curtness.
“He’s right, sir. Plus, Betty’s pretty bad off. Look, nobody here was there when Ava was killed. We don’t know anything,” I said.
“Don’t call me, sir,” Can Opener Man said.
“Okay, okay. What do you want me to call you?”
“The Pit Man?” Darling asked.
Can Opener Man went to hit Darling again but settled on just spitting on the ground.
“Pittman. Arthur Pittman,” he said, “Most just call me ‘Boot.’ Little bird called me ‘Boot.’”
“Mr. Pittman, please. Let us leave,” I said.
“NOBODY’S GETTING OUT OF HERE UNTIL I FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO MY LITTLE BIRD!” Pittman screamed. At the same time he fired a shot off into the ceiling. I heard a man swear somewhere above us.
“Evan, everything okay down there?” Stein said.
“Yeah, okay, we’re okay. Just a little misunderstanding,” I said up the stairs.
I turned back to Arthur “Boot” Pittman.
“Boot, you have to calm down. Look, I don’t know what happened. None of us do. If we did, we would tell you. Hell, we would tell the police, but we don’t know.”
“Bullshit,” he said, turning the gun on Darling, “He was there.”
“I... I was,” Darling said, “But I left. I saw you and Seth fight then Ava kicked you out. Then we closed down and we... I left. Went home.”
Darling was shaking. The smell of urine filled the air and his pants darkened. I felt bad for the boy.
Can Opener Man Pittman breathed deep, his nostrils flaring. He grunted and turned the gun on Betty.
“I know she left. Had the boy, Seth, take her home. Broke us up from fighting but Seth could have brung her back. Back to my little bird. Hurt my Ava.”
“She’s sick, man. Stroke. Look at her. Betty doesn’t have the strength. Do you know what happened to-”
The gun swung to me. Now I felt bad for me, but somehow my bladder stayed in check.
“I know what happened to Ava. I know how she suffered. Overheard one of the pigs talking about it. Stabbed. Pinned. Pinned my little bird. Also heard you don’t have no alibi. Pigs says you and Ava don’t like each other or maybe you... eh, maybe you was with her. Pigs says you was off walkin. Didn’t meet no woman. Coulda been anywhere. Coulda been pinning my little girl to your damn floor cause she was too good for you.”
“Sir, Mr. Pittman... Boot, please. I didn’t. I was out, I was at the diner then I walked over to the park. I was there. Please, we are telling you the truth. We didn’t have anything to do with her death.”
“Yeah,” Darling said, “Nothing.”
“Can’t prove it,” Pittman said.
“Can’t disprove it, either,” I said, “Whoever did that horrible crime... I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry I didn’t pay enough attention, I’m sorry I wasn’t here... I’m sorry your daughter was killed. Oh God, fuck... It’s true... We didn’t get along...”
I was crying. Openly weeping now into my hands, my head on my knees. The weeks since the murder, since Natalie leaving, since losing my job, my command... They all came crashing down in a cold wave of isolation and helplessness.
“I’m sorry...” was all I could say. I said it over and over and over again.
I heard metal hit the concrete. I stopped and looked up. The gun lay on the ground at Arthur “Can Opener Man” “Boot” Pittman’s feet.
“That’s all you had to say, boy. Hell, I didn’t really think you did it anyway. Just needed to hear it, guess you needed to say it. Nothing wrong with taking the time to break down, so long as you get back up. So now you had your time and I forgive you, but I want you to do something for me. Find out who did this to my little bird,” he said, “Now stop your crying. The pigs are coming.”
He walked to the bottom of the stairs and dropped to his knees with his hands behind his head in a fluid, practiced motion.
“I give up. Come and get me. No harm, no foul,” he said.
“Evan?” Captain Stein said.
“Yeah,” I said, wiping away tears and picking up the gun, “Come on down, I got the gun and he’s surrendering.”
The police advanced down the stairs and handcuffed Pittman. We cleared the outside door, the wind pushing leaves and rain in but allowing the paramedics to more easily move Betty.
The aftermath was calm and organized. Darling and I went back upstairs and finished prepping the library for the storm. After we finished covering the windows, I invited him back to my parents for barbeque and shelter. He waved me off and left.
The storm itself did no great damage to the Banned Library. The trees look as if fall came early and the parking lot was filled with debris, but the building itself only sustained cosmetic damage making for a great argument for building with brick, just as the good pig said. The power surged and knocked out something important with the internet, but that was an easy if costly fix.
Betty is doing fine, if in need of a couple of weeks of rest. I made a note to look up our retirement plan to see if the Board might grant her early retirement. While that would bring the entire full time staff of the library down to just Darling and myself, I felt Betty’s health overrode my own selfish desire to sit in my apartment and watch movies. I could do that on the circulation desk anyway.
The best part came when Dave called a day after the storm. I filled him in on everything that had happened since he left. He seemed surprised. Then he asked me a question:
“You ever let anybody have weddings at the library?”
“Not as a rule, no.”
“Care to make an exception for your ex-tech guy?”
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