Read Death Among The Stacks: The Body In The Law Library Online

Authors: Louise Hathaway

Tags: #'murder mystery, #library, #agatha christie, #law library, #suffocation, #hercule poirot, #government printing office, #shelving malfunction'

Death Among The Stacks: The Body In The Law Library

Death Among The Stacks:

The Body in the Law Library

 

 

 

By Louise Hathaway

Copyright Louise Hathaway
2014

 

 

Smashwords Edition

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

It’s another working day at the Law
Library. The library’s director is the first person to arrive each
morning. She starts her day at 7:00 and is usually the last to
leave. The library has been having financial trouble lately. There
is less money in the budget to buy new books and many subscriptions
to legal publications have had to be cancelled. In previous years,
there were more patrons willing to pay the $100 fee to have
borrowing privileges. The library’s other source of income from
court filing fees is also sharply dropping.

The library has just constructed a
major new wing and there are several problems with its
construction. Nothing is going as planned and the director is
getting increasingly frustrated with all of the cost overruns,
unexpected delays, and setbacks. Adding to all of her other
worries, she’s on edge today because the library is expecting a
visit by an inspector from the United States Government Printing
Office. The inspector, Sean Gaylord, is coming to critique the
library’s marketing of its federal and state depository items that
come to the library free, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

The librarian, Yvonne, who oversees the
depository collection, is also very nervous about the inspector’s
visit. The last time he came, he criticized the way that the
library had been showcasing its depository collection. She and her
assistant had put together a book display of the library’s federal
and state materials and the inspector had said that it was so
ineffective that it “left him cold.” He explained that the purpose
of the entire Government Depository System dates back to the times
of our founding fathers. The public’s “right to know” what its
government is doing is a tenet upon which the whole Constitution
was formed. The inspector is planning to meet with Yvonne to
discuss the guidelines that the library must follow to market its
collection in TV and radio ads. Yvonne’s brother and younger sister
died this year and she is grieving so much that she can barely
function. It’s taking all of her energy just to “suit up and show
up” to drive to work each morning. This was not a good day to be
“under the microscope”; she just wished she could be
invisible.

Yvonne’s assistant, Ms. Kathy Brown,
had retired the previous year. Her assistant had done an excellent
job in designing the Government Documents webpage, writing
bibliographies to hand out to the library’s patrons, and
contributing articles to the library’s house organ. This assistant
had a keen devotion and commitment to the depository program and
Yvonne had grown to depend on her. Yvonne really needs her help
with writing the copy for ads that the inspector will be demanding
because Ms. Brown has Master’s Degree in English and is good with
the written word. Adding to all of those other assets, Ms. Brown
had once worked at an advertising agency writing copy for its TV
ads.

Yvonne envied her former assistant’s
personal life. Ms. Brown and her husband, Randy, had been married
for 35 years and they were still very much in love with each other.
Ms. Brown’s husband treated her like an angel and was every woman’s
dream. He was tall, handsome, smart and kind. They had a very
passionate relationship with lots of ups and downs. Ms. Brown had
once told Yvonne that Randy was like the character, “Mr. Big”, in
the HBO mini-series, “Sex and the City”. Like Carrie in the show,
Ms. Brown loved her man with all of her heart and soul, but felt
insecure with him because he was a “lady’s man.” They would have
arguments, hurt each other, break one another’s heart, but they
always came back to each other’s “secret garden of love”. Ms. Brown
told Yvonne that her master bedroom looked out onto a garden with a
lily pond. It all sounded so romantic. Yvonne had been married to a
psychiatrist in Chicago and she and her former husband had a very
rocky relationship together. After their divorce, Yvonne left
Chicago vowing to never come back.

Ms. Brown’s replacement, Nicole, had
turned out to be a real disappointment to Yvonne. “Nick,” as they
called her, spent large portions of her workday socializing with
her co-workers and surfing the Internet for personal business. Her
Internet surfing was so extreme that some of her co-workers had
nicknamed her “Nic.Com”. One time Yvonne had even caught her doing
a crossword puzzle on company time. Nic spent many long lunches
with her work friend Kelly. Both of them were very frustrated with
all of the “office politics” and they liked to get together and
vent. Kelly had become increasingly frustrated with trying to deal
with of all the maintenance problems due to the faulty design of
the new wing to the library. She was the “Go-to-Girl” during all of
the new construction. In her mind, the architect who designed the
new addition seemed to haunt her everyplace she went, driving her
nuts with his nasty cigar smoking. She couldn’t even go out to
lunch “with the girls” at Original Pete’s without seeing him there,
stinking up the place. “Men!” she’d say, “Can’t live with; and
can’t live without them! They’re all the same!” Nic also has major
trust issues with men. She often quotes lines from a 1980’s song
which asks: “Don’t You Know That It’s Different for Girls? You’re
All The Same.” Both of the women have “a bone to pick” with the
entire male race.

The only man whom they really trusted
was the Public Services Librarian, Hung Tran. Everyone loves him
for his kind and gentle ways. He is the patrons’ favorite librarian
because he always goes way out of his way to answer their
questions. Because he had passed the bar exam, he is the person who
knows the most about legal research. He earned the name, “St.
Hung”, because he reminds everyone of Mother Teresa. He spent his
youth as a monk in his native Viet Nam and knows a lot about
meditation.

During the noon hour at the Library,
Hung would often help the staff with meditation exercises and
stress reduction techniques. He had a cd called, “The Quiet Mind”,
which he sometimes played in the staff lounge. When Ms. Brown was
still working at the Library, he knew that she was having a lot of
neck and back soreness due to all the heavy lifting of boxes of new
legal treatises and heavy microfilm trays with which she was
working. He often would bring her tubes of ointment for muscle
aches. He got it from Viet Nam and it smelled like peppermint.
Sometimes Ms. Brown and her husband would get carried away with
“Hung’s Magic Oil”-- but that’s a separate story.

Today at the Law Library, Hung spends
the morning at the reference desk. Meanwhile, Yvonne is growing
increasingly anxious as she waits for the arrival of the Government
Printing Office inspector. The minutes and hours seem to drag as
she watches the clock. Finally, she decides to take a break and go
out for some fast food. She tells Hung that she’ll be back shortly
in case the inspector happens to show up while she’s gone. At
around 1:30, Nic comes back from her lunch and decides that she is
going to do some filing on the first floor. The staff nicknames
this floor “the dungeon” because it’s dark and a bit spooky. Nobody
ever goes down there anymore because it is filled with archival
materials that are readily available on the Internet. When Nic gets
out of the elevator on this floor, she notices in the distance what
appear to be two black shoes sticking out at odd angles from the
compact shelving. She presses a button that separates the rows of
shelving and screams when she sees that a man’s body is lying on
the ground, crushed between two rows of shelving. She gasps and
runs towards the elevator to tell the rest of the staff what she’s
just seen.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Detective Mark Sledge precariously
balances the two piping-hot Starbuck’s venti coffees on his knee as
he reaches for the car keys in his pocket. Just then his cell phone
rings, erupting with the ‘William Tell Overture’, causing Sledge to
spill both coffees into his lap and drenching his service revolver.
Even though he is sitting inside his car, everyone sitting outside
of Starbucks turns their heads in unison to see the hapless
detective screaming and flailing about inside his car at some
unseen menace. “Damn it,” he screams as his legs and other
unmentionable areas burn with an intensity he hasn’t felt since
spilling bacon grease on his chest as a young boy.

With the coffees empty, he reluctantly
drives through the drive-up and sheepishly orders two more. He had
promised his wife a coffee that afternoon and wasn’t going to let
her down. She is the love of his life and any time spent with her
or for her is his only real happiness and satisfaction in life.
They have been married 20 years last month and they are the
happiest when they are together. He wonders aloud, “Why the heck
did I become a cop? I should’a been a 9-5 kinda guy.”

As he sits in the drive-thru
line, he calls the dispatcher back to find out what the call was
all about. “This better be good!” he mutters. He had just gotten
one of those new “smart” phones that the department was issuing to
all its employees. It could do everything: surf the web, send
email, play music, you name it. Detective Sledge is not a
technology guy; he has only just gotten the hang of a regular cell
phone, now he has to learn this new gizmo. Geez. The department IT
guys had programmed it with special ring tones to help him identify
who was calling by the tone. They asked him if he had a favorite
song or melody that they could assign to any incoming call from
dispatch. “Yeah, I like the William Tell Overture, you know, all
that cavalry-coming-to-the-rescue-stuff.” The IT guys suppressed a
giggle and set him up with his favorite song for dispatch,
purposely turning up the volume to the highest level as a practical
joke.
I’m going to
get them bastards!”
he
thinks.


Hi Lucy, this is Sledge. I
just got a call. What’s up?” Sledge shifts and mushes in his seat
as he pulls up to the coffee window.

Lucy responds, “Seems there’s been a
murder, Detective Sledge. Some federal mucky-muck over at the
Library of Law in downtown.”

Sledge thinks, ‘A murder? In the
Library of Law?’ “Don’t you mean the Law Library, Lucy?”

She indignantly shoots back, “Aw,
whatever. Some library over there in downtown, I’m not exactly
sure. Someone called right after lunch and was screaming that
someone was killed and we needed to get over there right
away.”

Wow,
Sledge thinks,
a murder; this could be
my big chance
. “You sure this isn’t another
gang shooting, Lucy?” he asks.


No,” Lucy replies. “The
lieutenant called and said this was important and that you needed
to get over there right away.”


Okay; thanks Lucy. Tell the
lieutenant I’m heading over now.” Sledge hangs up the phone and
wonders, “Why would the lieutenant get involved in this? This must
be important.”


Hey, didn’t you just get
coffee, officer?” the Starbucks barista snaps at Sledge.


Yes, well, I, er, ah--I
spilled it on the way out. Could I get some half-and-half in those
too, please?” Sledge begs.


Wow, I guess you did,
didn’t you!” the barista says, eyeing his pants. Sledge’s face is
now as red as his crotch as he reaches back into the pool of coffee
for his wallet. He fishes out a few almost dry bills and pays for
the coffees.


Do you want a carrier for
these, hon?”


Yeah, I suppose so. Don’t
want to spill it now,” Sledge answers snarkily. He takes the
coffees, gingerly places them on the floor of the squad car, and
heads home to his wife and some dry pants. “Boy; she’s gonna laugh
at me for this,” he thinks. Even so, with all his pain and
embarrassment, he can’t suppress a grin, thinking about her and
what she will say, as he heads home to the love of his
life.

 

*******

 

Detective Sledge pulls into the Law
Library Parking lot with a fresh pair of clean, dry pants. Only two
blocks from the police department, Sledge knows this area well. He
takes a ticket from the parking meter and pulls into a space near
the entrance to the Library.

The Law Library is situated in the
County Civic Center. Everything legal and judicial that happens in
this county happens here. Sledge has never been to the Law Library
before. No reason to, really. He feels like a fish out of water
actually. Mark graduated from the police academy 20 years ago and
immediately went out in a patrol car policing the baddest areas of
the city. He saw more violence there than he saw in the military
all those years ago. Now, at age 42, he has become a detective,
finally passing the promotion test. Mark worked hard and strove to
become the best he could be. All that Marine Corps training had
made its mark on him. He hoped his father would be proud of him.
His father was a gunnery officer in the Marine Corps who lost his
life fighting in Vietnam when Mark was barely 2 years old. His
mother wouldn’t talk about his dad; she would only tear up when he
mentioned him and say that we shouldn’t hold on to those memories;
they don’t do any of us any good.

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