Welcome to Bannville, MS, home of the Banned Library and set right in the middle of the dark piney woods where drugs, violence and dark forces are as abundant as the humidity. Our narrator on this journey is Evan Banned, one time director and current owner of the library now trying to bring it back after it burned to the ground and then, right after it reopened, was closed due to funding. Will Evan get the library back on its feet? Recently, local reporter Ashley Weathers and her cameraman Bradley Francis have been making Evan’s life interesting with surprise visits and a party. What kind of craziness can they dig up today?
I heard the shovel hit the dirt and thought I was back in Florida. The sound of the rough sand like soil on the steel, the rasp as the materials met reminded me of filling sandbags before a storm. The woman’s grunt did not hurt either.
I raised my head and looked around, the fire low in the library’s small fire place. My book had fallen from my lap and lay on the floor. A red glow from outside, around the door, filled my heart with terror.
I stood and walked to a window.
The shades creaked and bounced as I put one hand in them and looked out into the night. The glow came from the hole, the shallow grave I had dug not four days ago. I sighed and saw what was being dug and went to the library’s front door.
“Ash,” I said to the woman waist deep in the ground, “What the hell are you doing?”
Ashley froze when she heard the door open. She wore a grey sweater and blue jeans and her hair was tied back in a small ponytail. Head to toe was covered in the red clay she shoveled. She looked up at me and her face was streaked with tears. The red light from the spotlight mounted on the bumper of the Channel 3 van cast dark shadows.
“I was gonna be an actress,” she said, “He said we just needed to get enough money together and we’d leave here. I had a reel from that dumb station, too.”
I walked down to her, out of reach of the shovel in case she decided to swing away. “Who?”
“Brad. Frank. Him,” she said and nodded toward the van. She sniffled and coughed as a sob came from her throat, “It’ll be okay, now, though. Everybody in town saw you digging. They’ll know.”
I looked at the van. I walked around the hole as she started digging again. The back of the van was open and I saw legs sticking out from open door. I looked in and saw Bradley Francis lying flat. His eyes were open and staring at the equipment mounted around the van.
“Ash, what did you do?”
The digging stopped, “I tried to call.”
I leaned in and felt Brad’s throat, as if I knew what to look for. He was dead.
“What happened?” I started, then my head exploded and the world darkened as I fell.
I heard her scream. She yelled at me and the blows came down on me, harder and harder. The shovel found my scars and my pain as Ashley hit me. I raised my hands and felt them swept aside by the shovel. Then more lights and pain and shouting. The blows stopped.
Later, in the hospital, Detective Gerald Parker met me for my statement. I told him about the fight with Brad, about how Ashley had attacked me outside the library. He asked why I did not feel I should have told him at once. I asked him if he wanted to know about every fight that happened in this town he should talk to Josie down at the Tonk, not the town librarian. He clicked his pen and walked away from me.
Officer Jason Albrecht told me the rest.
“I drove by and saw her beat'en the hell outta you. Ms. Weathers and Mr. Francis, well, Detective Parker thinks they've been robbing places for years. We found all kinds of things at Brad’s place and an eBay account in his name. Seems they were casing places before they robbed them by doing stories on them, like Jamie Beder’s last week and Irma Belford’s.”
“They were responsible for Dr. Belford?” I asked.
He nodded, “Yeah. Much as we can figure. Surprised her and took the poor old lady out. He left behind that brass lighter at the scene and she took it. We had it tagged, little description wrote up on it, but I guess she didn’t know that. He’s got it back, had it back anyway. Found it in his pocket and we tied it all back.”
“She killed him, then. Didn’t know she was capable.”
“You’d be surprised, Mr. Banned. Don’t know what set it off, but it don’t take much. Hey, you heard from Irene?” Officer Albrecht said.
We talked about my cousin Imp for a bit and I promised to relay him any information if I heard any. For now, she would stay in custody and he would stay here, thinking about her. I promised to tell her that, should I see or hear from her.
I left and went back to the library then. The hole out front of the building was a crime scene, but the tape was gone and so was the Channel 3 van. I left the dirt untouched and went inside to bed.
For most of today I have been talking to Ocean and her family. I do not think they blame me, but Ocean seemed distant. We promised to get together soon to talk.
A new Channel 3 film crew came by, some tall guy in a blazer with red hair that I did not recognize in front of the camera. I ignored them and kept the library door closed when they knocked. I am done with the news for now.