Ellen’s heel caught in the grating of the step leading up to the children’s trailer, as it did most mornings.
“Darn,” she said, juggling her chai tea and bag of cake pops as she pulled on the shoe to free itself. She could feel herself falling backward when a strong hand caught her back.
“Whoa, Miss Bell,” a deep voice said, “Gotta be careful.”
Ellen jumped in surprise, her foot coming out of the heel. She turned to look into the blue eyes of Detective Jon Norsworthy. Sgt. Steve stood behind him.
Detective Steve, she thought, he’s not in the uniform anymore.
She reached down and pulled the heel free from the step, balancing on one foot, “Good morning, detectives. What can I do for you?”
“We just wanted to go over the Allen child?”
“Still missing then?”
“Yeah, his mom’s in fits.”
“Let’s go inside,” she said. Baker came around and opened the door for her as she put her shoe back on and walked inside. The air conditioner chilled her for a moment.
She walked over to her desk and tried to remember what the boy had looked like. They all looked alike to her, the little kids running around. But she had to recall the little one that could not color, because the detectives would ask her again and again what happened. Like they had yesterday.
Ellen’s eyes adjusted enough to see Debbie sitting behind the children’s desk. Ellen put down her tea and offered the bag of treats to Debbie.
“Sorry I’m late, coffee shop was packed, but I brought cake pops for you and Reshonda if you want one. Detectives, there’s a few in there extra if you want one.”
Debbie clicked a few times on the mouse and stood and took the bag. She looked in and took out a chocolate one, then offered it to the men. They shook their heads.
“I watched the department for you because Reshonda said you called late,” Debbie said, biting into the cake pop, “Hey, Jon.”
The blonde detective smiled at her.
“Thanks, Debbie,” Ellen said, “Is Reshonda watching the circ desk?”
“No,” Debbie said, walking through the umbilical to the other trailer.
“Bye, Debbie,” Det. Norsworthy said.
“The library often staff empty areas?” Det. Baker asked.
“The children’s department is considered a priority zone for safety, especially since yesterday.”
The detective nodded. His partner walked around, picking up various books and smiled. They were probably the only books he’d ever read, Ellen thought.
“We just have a few questions about yesterday, if you have time.”
“Sure, anything to help.”
“Right. Did you see anyone suspicious?”
“Nope. Just the usual. Everybody was pretty normal.”
“Do people in the computer lab come through this area to enter or exit?”
“The regulars do. Some stray around or come through the main trailer. We try to keep the adult areas and the children’s areas separate.”
“Why is that?”
“Why is what?”
“The separation. For safety?”
“In a way, but we aren’t a daycare. Its mostly about giving the kids their own place. This is for their books, their crafts, their space to be kids. Helps gives them a special identity with the library.”
“What about the older kids?”
“We keep the teen stuff near the circ desk in the other trailer. With the adult stuff but separate. Do you think a teenager was involved?”
“Just curious. We hear you’re looking for an apartment.”
“I’ve been living in my cousins a while, just want my own space.”
“Hear from your cousin?” Det. Jon said, dropping a copy of Curious George back into the bin.
“Cassidy? Not since she was freed and joined the freedom fighters or whatever.”
“Odd story, getting captured like that and getting free?”
“I’m sorry, but what does this have to do with a missing child?”
“Well, I’ll be straight Miss Bell,” Baker said, “The children’s librarian is missing, a child is missing, something’s weird about all this.”
“Are you accusing me, detective?”
Norsworthy shared a glance with Baker. They took a moment before continuing.
“We don’t have any evidence you had anything to do with this. Witnesses had you arguing with all people, my wife, at the time.”
“We were not arguing, she just-”
Baker put up a hand, “We need to look at all the angles, Miss Bell, and we are getting pressure. The mother has gone to the mayor with this and is looking for a resolution?”
Ellen pulled tears, “So I’m hanging out to dry? This wasn’t my fault.”
Baker pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her, “We don’t think you did anything wrong, Miss Bell, but this might get out of our hands so we need to work fast, okay?”
Ellen dabbed her eyes and nodded.
And they went over every detail of yesterday again. And again. And again, until school let out and children flooded the area.
Later, Ellen walked home and walked past the ruins of the old library without stopping. She could not go back tonight. Not right now cause might be watching. Ask even more questions. More questions with answers she would not answer. Not before she could get all the answers, anyway.