Caleb Montgomery cut an impressive figure in a black suit and deep blue tie that matched the bows in his wife’s hair and dress. His dark hair was cut short, almost a military buzz that was slicked down with a knife edge part. Blocky shoulders rounded out the look, giving him a commanding air if you added his height. He could look me in the eye, something that I was not used to in my profession. I am tall, around six foot three, and most librarians seem to range in at the five and a half foot mark. That’s not a stereotype, just an observation from the guy who can spot the buffet over the heads of the crowd when entering any library conference.
Tall and slender, Caleb moved with easy grace and confidence like someone who had been talking to crowds his entire life. He had the air of a politician, but I guess all librarians that make director have that about them. The ones that do not inherit the position from their mothers anyway. I’m not bitter, really.
He had his hand on my mother’s shoulder and was talking to her in earnest. She was shaking her head, her mouth drawn up as if she was eating ginger. I could only guess that Parker had told Caleb about Darling and he was passing on the information. I walked up to them and took a sip of the wine.
Caleb saw me first and a practiced smile went to his lips. I do not think he has ever been impressed with me, to be honest, and I have given him no reason. Maybe its my lack of publishing any papers in the profession beyond some notes in library school or my handling of last summer’s events, I do not know. Quite possibly it came down to nights like this, he in his finery and riches with his beautiful wife wondering how hard it could be for a guy like me to get his life straight. I wonder that sometimes myself.
Seriously, I’m not bitter.
He extended his hand as I walked up and I took it. Mom turned and seeing me, put her hand on my elbow.
“Have you heard?” she asked.
“About Darling? Yeah, Captain Stein just filled me in. I guess Parker found you before I did,” I said, directing my question to both of them.
“Yes, he said it was the same person who killed that girl last year,” Caleb said, his voice deep and concerned.
“And we think Betty, too,” Mom said, “Evan, this... This is horrible. Why can’t they find that animal?”
I shook my head, “I dunno.”
“Do we know why he killed them?” Caleb asked.
“He was crazy. Said some pretty harsh things about Ava a couple of times. Betty... I don’t know why he killed Betty,” I said.
That might have been somewhat of a lie. Betty had been protecting something, a book that I had found last year. I still did not know what it meant, just a bunch of old Viking legends that I had never heard of before. I had showed it to the police, but they did not seem to find any relevance to it. I even looked up to see if it was worth anything. Nothing. It was an old text, but there were hundreds like it out there for collectors. There were easier ways to get it than killing an old lady.
But it meant something to Betty when she had written down its call number and died clutching the paper in her hand, so I pulled it from circulation and kept it behind the reference desk. Of course, I could be wrong and I could just be holding a book for a dead woman. Or the number could have meant something else altogether. I may never know.
Caleb nodded in that understanding way that people do when they are thinking of something reassuring to say. Mom would have none of it.
“Well, I hope they kill’em. But we shouldn’t let this get us down. It’s a party, it’s not like he’s going to come here. Let’s have fun!”
She pulled my arm so I would crouch down and kissed me on the cheek. Then she walked off, a large smile on her face.
“I think she might be right,” Caleb said.
“Yeah, don’t let her fool you. She’s strong but she’s worried. If I could, I’d call Dad to come and be with her.”
“Oh, he would, in a heartbeat. But he probably wouldn’t hear the phone. Too many years shooting guns and working offshore,” I covered my ear with my free hand like ear muffs.
“Ah, yeah, my uncle was like that,” Caleb said, “Deaf as a doornail. Evan, I’m glad you came tonight. I had something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Work?” I asked. Suddenly I was a little frightened for my job. Not sure why, but it was there nonetheless.
Caleb nodded, “Can we step outside?”
He gestured toward the front door that led out into the miniature white city of heated tents. I followed him, finishing my wine on the way more to fortify against unpleasant news than the cold.
Gas heaters were hissing outside each small tent. We walked down the middle of them, a few people rushing from one to another. I glanced inside one as a flap was opened. A small table sat in the middle with a few chairs around it. People were sitting and standing, talking as they picked food from serving dishes. My stomach rolled a little looking at the food, but I followed Caleb until we were near the end of the row and sounds of the party long behind us.
Some heat was drifting from a tent nearby, but it seemed occupied by a young couple excited to be alone. We drifted a little farther away to give them some privacy and turned back to look at the house and grounds.
I have to give Caleb and Jessica credit, they brought life back into the old place. Even in the dark, I could see a sense of family and belonging warm the place. With a house with a history as dark as this one, that says a lot.
“First,” Caleb said, “I want to say how glad I am that you are coming back on Monday. Your mom has helped a lot and Natalie and Jessie know their way around, but it’ll be nice to have someone there that knows the entire collection.”
“It’ll be good to have something to do, I guess,” I said, not wanting to give in to how little I really wanted to go back. That’s not to say I did not want to. I had grown up in that library; I knew little else and the thought of just walking away from it... I would always come back in one way or another.
“That leads me to my next idea. Now, hear me out. I’ve talked it over with both the police and your mother and they both like the idea, but ultimately it’ll be on you. I can understand if you want to hold off on it for a while, considering the news tonight, but I think it would be good for the town, the library and you.”
“First you’ll have to tell me what it is,” I said.
He ran a hand over his hair, an unnecessary gesture that showed how nervous he was. But what was he nervous about? Me? I meant nothing in the long run, not to him and not to the library. The idea? Before I left in November he had been clear his “ideas” were final. He was not the type to second guess himself. I did not understand what was going on here.
He laughed a little and looked me in the eye, “I like how direct you can be. It’s nice.”
“Yeah, I’ve never really been one for waiting,” I said, now just confused to no end and trying not to show it.
“I want you to be the Banned Library’s new night librarian.”
Confusion remained, “What do you mean?”
“I want to extend the library’s hours. Stay open to say, midnight. There are members of our community that work late hours and do not get to come in when we close at five. Teenagers have few places to go and it would give them a place to do their homework and stay out of trouble. And there are other concerns about the building being empty for so long during the night. It leads to circumstances like last fall where people see it as a target.”
“So you want me to stay in the library all night by myself? And watch the building like that?”
“That’s the idea,” he said, “But not by yourself. We’ve been training Jessie to work with the public, doing ready reference and basic circulation. He could stay with you and do computer updates. When we’ve done it long enough to establish the busy nights, we could let one of the kids work with you, if their parent say its okay.”
“I like the idea, but what about security? There’s no way I’ll be able to watch the entire building all night.”
“W thought about that. Your mom came up with the idea of closing off everything but the first floor after, say, eight o’clock. Jessie says he can put up a few computers where the magazine rack was.”
“What happened to the magazine rack?” I asked, glad to have a question.
“Too little circulation for the cost. We got rid of everything but the basics. Freed up most of the wall. Jessie thinks he can network a few of the computers there for basic web browsing. Nothing special but there you go.”
“So, what about the books? I go up and get them on request?”
“That’s what we were thinking. And we move the ready reference behind the circulation desk.”
“That’s still a security issue. If I have to keep going upstairs, I mean.”
“True, but Captain Stein has agreed to station a police officer outside the building. Says they normally just roam around wasting gas on weeknights anyway. So this way we keep track of one of his officers and he gives us some protection.”
“And if anything serious does come up?”
“Then the town has more to worry about than small theft at the library,” Caleb said, “I think this could work, Evan.”
“So I come in, what? Five to midnight everyday?”
Caleb shook his head, “Just Monday through Thursday. For the late night you get Friday through Sunday free. Your pay and duties as reference librarian stay the same.”
“I’m not going to lie,” I said, “This seems too good to be true.”
Caleb laughed, “That’s what your mother thought you would say. But I think its just good business. It works out for everybody and helps us reach out a little more. Plus, we don’t need four full time librarians all day. It’s overkill. And will allow us to do some night programs.”
I nodded, thinking of all the times we had tried movie nights, book clubs and other programs after hours. People thought we were closed most of the time and did not show. But if we set it up that we were open and got the idea out there...
“Sounds good, Caleb,” I said.
His face spread into genuine grin, then, and ten years ran off his face. The smile changed him and showed how relieved he was that I was going along with the idea. For some reason, I trusted this genuine expression less than the political one he had given me in the house. There was something else going on here. Was he getting me out of the way, or leading me into something?
We shook hands. As we did, a gas tank from a nearby heater on a tent exploded. We fell to the ground, instincts causing us to cover our heads. I heard screams and fire rushing in the cold night.
Then, gunshots erupted from the house and more panicked screams filled the air.