Appealing characters, sly wit, clever plot and chilling suspense mark this first novel in the Measurements of Murder Mystery™ series.
Later, Bernard would remember he had looked around for more blood – not that he knew how much blood there should be. It had just seemed to him that there should have been more. He would also remember how small Agatha Ryton-Storer looked in death; although her considerable poundage remained the same, without the vicious fire of her life, she seemed shrunken, tiny, even feeble. Later, he would remember those things. But, at that moment, he stood frozen by shock, unable to think, his eyes tracing the thick red line that marked her open throat.
Her death had crossed Bernard M. Worthington’s mind before. He often fantasized about it. Earlier that morning, as he drove to work, he had indulged in one of his favorites – the old crone boiling in a pot of oil surrounded by screaming natives who were preparing to sacrifice her to the deep, dark god of libraries. He smiled at the image as he turned the car onto Main, driving past the still-closed shops and businesses that lined the street.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he barely remembered to turn his head away as he passed Hyatt Realty & Accounting. Seeing the name of her father’s office always reminded him of Sherry and the wreck she had made of his life. Of course, he admitted, trying to remember to not look also made him think of her.
He sighed and concentrated on the drive to the Ryton Memorial Library, his mind fogged by another sleepless night. He didn’t know why he was going to work early. The library wouldn’t open until nine, but he needed to go somewhere. And this early in the morning, he would have the library to himself for a couple of hours before Hagatha (he liked to add the ‘H’) arrived.
He never looked forward to her arrival, but this morning, he dreaded it. Every Tuesday, Agatha held her weekly library meeting where she would rave about the wrongs that Bernard and the library aides had committed to her domain. Bernard rated the meetings on his list of Favorite Things To Do right below having a root canal without an anesthetic. And he expected to be flayed alive in today’s meeting because he was responsible for allowing Jay Jones, the library janitor, in her office yesterday while she was gone on her usual two-hour lunch.
Her scream of rage had echoed throughout the library and brought Bernard running down the stairs. When he reached her office, he halted at the door. Her tantrum was already in full tirade. Jones stood in the middle of the room, a vacuum cleaner by his side.
“How dare you come in here!” she snarled, stabbing a finger at the hapless Jones. “This office is private, do you hear me, private!”
“I was going to clean –” Jones began, his face beginning to flush with anger.
“You are to clean my office only on the second Monday of each month,” she cut in. “That is the way we’ve done it for years. And this is not the second Monday! This is the first Monday! Or did you forget how to count?”
“Mrs. Ryton-Storer, I told him to do it,” Bernard said, stepping into her office and immediately regretting it as she turned on him.
“Who do you think you are?” she shouted. “I’m the Head Librarian here! This staff answers to me and me only! Who do you think you are? Answer me!” Wisps of gray hair escaped from her tight habitual bun as she shook with rage.
“Jay is going to take his vacation next week,” Bernard said, his stomach knotting up. “He asked me about cleaning your office while you were gone for lunch, and I told him to take care of it now.”
“You have no right to make any decisions,” she snarled. “Just because he will be gone means nothing!”
“I’m sorry –”
“Shut up! SHUT UP! Get out! Both of you get out!”
Bernard and Jones got. She slammed the door behind them.
The two men looked at each other.
“Well, that was pleasant,” Bernard said. “I’m sorry I got you into it.”
“Wasn’t your fault,” Jones grunted, picking up his vacuum. “She’s always in a tizzy about something. Been that way the whole time I’ve worked here, and I’ve been here nearly twenty years. She’s not going to change.” He started to walk away. “But she can’t live forever.” He grinned. “No, sir, she can’t live forever, and no one will care when she goes. I might even dance on her grave.” He headed for the storage closet, chuckling.
Agatha sulked in her office and refused to talk to anyone for the rest of the day. Bernard was certain, however, she would have plenty to say at the meeting.
He was dropping her headfirst in a vat of acid when he noticed her car was already in the parking lot. Agatha never arrived before ten, and it was only eight. He frowned, considered going back home for a while, but decided that he might as well go on in since he was already there. And the library – even with Agatha in residence – was better than the emptiness of his apartment.
Bernard had attempted to like Agatha, but it was a doomed effort from the beginning. Agatha Ryton-Storer had held the library in her claws for the past thirty years, and she was not impressed by Bernard’s master’s degree. “It’s nothing but a piece of paper,” she had said. “Experience is what counts.”
Unfortunately, for all her thirty years of experience, she was a terrible librarian. Bernard had discovered so many misshelved books that he wondered if she and the aides even knew how to count, much less understand the Dewey Decimal system. Half the books in the library weren’t even in the card catalog. The Library Board had recognized she was slipping when she started refusing to allow people to check out books. As she put it, “How do you expect this library to have any books at all if we let anyone who wanders in off the streets to take them at will!”
The Board had politely suggested retirement; she had impolitely told them to eat dirt and die. They would have fired her, but they couldn’t. When Eliah Ryton, her grandfather, donated the Ryton mansion to the city to be used as the library and gave a generous endowment for the care of the same, he made one condition: any of his direct descendants must be given the Head Librarian’s job for as long as the descendant wanted it. Agatha Ryton-Storer had wanted the job for the last thirty years.
Fresh out of college with a master’s in library science, Bernard seemed perfect to modernize the Ryton Library. The Library Board told him that Agatha would resent him, but she would slowly be won over. They told him that his title would be Assistant Librarian, but he would have the real authority. They lied.
“You’ll change this library over my dead body,” Agatha said, shaking her finger under Bernard’s nose. This was in the first five minutes of their introduction. Bernard thought the relationship couldn’t get worse, which he later decided was proof he was not a prophet. Any idea he wanted to try was treated as if he’d suggested they all strip naked and dance down Main Street singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” He complained to the Board members who, collectively, sighed, shook their respective heads, and changed the subject. Sherry had told him to wait Agatha out. He stopped that thought immediately. Thinking of Sherry could only make this already dreary morning worse.
Bernard closed his car door and walked down the sidewalk to the side entrance. After six months, he spared the library only a short glance. At first, its architectural style – which could only be classified as Colonial Gothic – had sent his mind spinning into conjectures about Eliah Ryton and whatever had possessed the old man to add a tower and a turreted roof to a huge house already well on its way to ugly. He did notice that the shrubs along the street still needed to be trimmed. He made a mental note to tell Jay about it again. He hated to nag the janitor, but it seemed to be only way to get any work out of the man. If I keep bringing it up, Bernard thought, he’ll trim them eventually. That or run a mop through my body. Either way, I win.
A piece of paper fluttering in the breeze caught his eye. He picked it up. It was a shipping invoice for new books. I’d better make sure this gets filed or Hagatha will hit the roof, he thought. He opened the door. He found it odd that the lights were off. Agatha was not one to stumble around in the dark, and she certainly didn’t care about conserving energy.
He flipped the light switches, and the overhead fluorescent bulbs flickered on and illuminated the rows and rows of books. He turned left, slowly walking up a narrow aisle to the front of the library, taking time to savor the quiet. Despite Agatha, the library had a fair number of patrons, and during open hours, it echoed with sound: pages turning, people whispering, footsteps as people walked across the marble floors, the occasional book falling followed invariably by the giggles of teenagers. These sounds would return when the library opened at nine. A few minutes before that time, Millie Sader, the librarian day aide, would rush up and unlock the doors, and the Ryton Memorial Library would be open to the public.
He furtively glanced at the door to Agatha’s office. It was shut. Good, he thought. If luck is with me, I’ll be lost in the shelves before she thinks to look for me. Agatha’s ample size was maintained by her love for sweets of all sorts and her hate of work and anything remotely resembling it. She would rather lie in wait than hunt him down.
Quietly he took a cart filled with books that needed to be shelved and wheeled it toward the elevator. Once it had carried him to the second floor where the nonfiction was kept, he sighed in relief. Another confrontation avoided for a few hours.
As he shelved books and spot-read the shelves, he began to weigh the job offers he was considering. Any of them would be better than staying in Ryton where he ran into Sherry at least three times a week. He grimaced and tried to think of something else, but he failed this time. Sometimes he had to scratch at the wound.
It unrolled for him again as it had so often the past few weeks. Meeting Sherry Hyatt in college and falling in love. The way her hair caught the light. The walks by Theta Pond. Her sharp wit and force of will. The way she walked. The soft hairs at the base of her neck that felt cool when he ran his lips across her neck. Her calmness when he asked her to marry him. His delight when she said yes. All the laughter they shared. And all the pain that followed.
She was the reason Bernard was in Ryton. With his degree, Bernard could have gone almost anywhere and set his own salary, but Sherry convinced him to come to her hometown to live. Ryton would be good place to raise their children, she said. Her father had pull in the town and convinced the Library Board to hire him. So here he was, in a rotten job, and Sherry, while still in Ryton, was not with him. In fact, she had made it plain that she would never be with Bernard again.
“You don’t have it anymore,” Sherry had said.
“What does that mean? Have what?” he asked.
“It’s just not there. You’ve lost it.” Sherry turned away. Then she said the words that nearly shattered him and haunted him now. “We’re done. I don’t love you anymore. Don’t you understand? I don’t love you.”
Bernard gave himself a mental shake. It did not help to replay the fights that followed over the next few days. It had been two months. Sherry was not coming back. He would leave Ryton and find a life somewhere else. He tried to push the cart forward, but it caught on something. He looked down. The cart’s wheels were lodged against an ankle. His eyes traveled up the dark-hosed leg, to the polyester plaid skirt, to the crumpled sweater, and to the dark line of blood that marked the slit throat of the quite-dead Agatha Ryton-Storer.
So later he would remember the lack of blood and how small she seemed, and he would also decide that he handled the situation well. He walked to the front of the library, called the police, hung up, met Millie at the door, and told her that Mrs. Ryton-Storer had suffered an accident and was dead and that the library should remain closed until the police arrived. Millie was agog with curiosity, but he firmly told her to wait outside. He went into the restroom, splashed cold water on his ashen face and shaking hands, and threw up until the police arrived.
Carefully, she eased out of bed, hampered only slightly by the jackhammer that was cutting through her brain. Leonard groaned, but didn’t wake up. Where was her bra? She looked around. It was lying on a chair, next to a pair of tiger-striped men’s bikini briefs. Lisa had actually been drunk enough to go to bed with a man who wore tiger-striped briefs. Bikini briefs. She felt sick.
She dressed as quickly and quietly as she could and made her wobbly way to his front door. What were the odds, she wondered, of Leonard being too drunk to remember she had gone home with him? Not good. And he would brag about it to the rest of the boys in the backshop. Then she remembered that he couldn’t and why she had gone to Rochelle’s Bar and Grill with him and the boys last night; she had wanted to forget her life was ruined.
The Ryton Journal & News was closed, finished, done. The publisher told them yesterday that he couldn’t afford to keep the paper open any longer. The local economy was in a slump, and the paper was in debt up to its figurative neck. As news reporter/headline writer/paste-up person, Lisa was out of a job. Out of the best job she had ever had. Other jobs had paid her more money, but this one had been special in what it had given her.
She heard Leonard groan, and she quickly stepped outside. She couldn’t face his leering face this morning. She looked around for her car. Leonard had been so late to pick her up that she had driven to his apartment last night to see if he had remembered their date. She was glad now that she had done so. Probably the only smart thing I did last night, she thought.
She vaguely remembered parking her car near the street so she walked around the building, finally spotting her beat-up Topaz hidden by a truck parked next to it. I would have to park all the way over there, she thought, wincing at the sun.
She got into her car, but she didn’t start it. She couldn’t decide where to go. Home, she guessed. It felt so strange to not go to work. In the four years she had worked for the Journal, she had been absent only one day and that was because she had to attend a funeral. She closed her eyes, resting her head on the steering wheel. The sun was too bright, but its warmth was welcome. She felt cold, tired, and beaten.
Beaten by the loss of a job. She shook her head slightly, remembering how she had felt when she joined the Journal. She had believed her chance had finally come, that she could finally overcome her poor past. Not that she was ashamed of her mother or, for that matter, even her father despite what people said about him. Sometimes late at night, when she was tired, she would indulge in a fantasy where they would pick up a Journal and see her byline and read her stories. Her mother would have been especially proud. She had always bragged about her daughter’s grades as she poured coffee and took orders at Al’s Truck Stop.
Lisa had made good grades in school, hoping for a scholarship to a college. She received one, but it wasn’t much. She would have still attempted to go, but cancer seized her mother. She stayed in Ryton, working at the truck stop, driving her mother back and forth to the hospital for the year it took Abigail Trent to die. Then her dear, sweet, befuddled father finished drinking his life away. She buried him six months later.
For a year, she wandered through her life, going to work, coming home, having a few messy flings with truck drivers, drinking too much, and crying alone. One rainy day in May as she hurried down Main Street, a notice in the window of the Journal caught her eye. ‘Office Help Wanted,’ it read. In the hard rain, she stopped. Something broke free inside her, and the hard knot of grief was pushed aside. She went through the door, determined to have that job.
Two years later, after she had pushed and nagged her way into reporting, John Towers, the editor, said he had only hired her because no one else applied for the job, but it was one of his all-time best decisions. She worked hard to become an excellent reporter, and she enjoyed how the locals responded to her. People who before thought it was beneath them to notice her now smiled and said hi.
“You’ve won their respect,” Towers said. “But don’t get the big head. You’re a small-town reporter on a small-town rag. You’re not ready for The New York Times yet.”
Now she never would be. Thinking of her prospects, she was tempted to climb back into bed with Leonard. He would be a little better than being alone, which had been the only reason she had agreed to go out with him last night.
Remembering those tiger stripes, she dug her keys out of her jeans and started the car. Perhaps some coffee would help. She decided to go by the truck stop. If worse came to worse, she knew she could always get rehired there. And it might come to that. She simply didn’t know how to get another reporting job. How could she compete with people who had college degrees in journalism? Towers had always said that experience counted more than college, but what real experience did she have? Writing obituaries and covering agricultural news hardly qualified her for the big city newspapers. She supposed she could maybe get a job with some other small town paper and start all over again. But where in the world would she get the money to move? She had a savings account, but it barely had enough to cover her bills for a month.
She drove down Main, heading for the truck stop. Sunk as she was in her thoughts, she still noticed the police cars, their lights flashing, heading the other way. First, one car, then two others. For a moment she resisted the impulse to follow them, but she decided that it wouldn’t hurt to find out what was causing the activity. The cars turned in at the library entrance. She slowly drove past, taking in all the police cars – at least four, which was half of Ryton’s force – and the County Coroner’s van.
Something big has happened, she thought, her pulse quickening. Maybe big enough to impress an editor at another newspaper. Like that editor at The Oklahoma City Dispatch. What is his name? Cameron Veit. If I call him with a big enough story, who knows? It could be a beginning.
She turned around and drove up the library driveway.
Five years ago, the chief purchased an orchard, a “peach of a deal” as the real estate agent had put it. His wife didn’t see it that way.
“A waste of money,” Maggie had said, pacing around their kitchen. She turned and faced the chief. “You should have taken our retirement money and burned it. At least that way, we would have got some heat from it!”
“You wait. That orchard will give us a good living when I retire,” he told his wife.
Maggie looked coldly at him, and, for the first time in their many long years of marriage, turned and walked out. The kitchen door closed decisively behind her. The chief should have realized the door was an omen, but he was relieved – and puzzled – because it hadn’t been as bad as he thought it was going to be. She’ll come around when those peaches start bringing in money, he thought.
That might have been true if the orchard had cooperated. The first year, the weather warmed early, then froze again, killing the peach buds. The second year was a repeat of the first with a drought thrown in to keep things interesting. The third year, the weather was perfect for both the peaches and bugs. Lots of bugs. Biblical levels of bugs. The county agent said the orchard should have been sprayed early. The chief sprayed late, but to keep the bugs to some controllable level, he had to spray so much that he finally decided that it was cheaper to let the bugs have the crop that year and spray early next year. The fourth year, nothing happened. But few of the trees budded. Too much stress, the county agent said. The comment was about the trees, but the chief was under a strain, too. This year, everything looked good. The chief kept waiting for another disaster to happen, and the suspense was keeping his ulcer aggravated.
And one of the most annoying things about it was that Maggie refused to comment on the orchard. She wouldn’t talk about it, neither good nor bad. No ‘I told you so’s’. No ‘You should have known better’s’. For five years, not a word about it passed her lips. It didn’t exist for her.
“The orchard looked good today,” the chief would say.
“Debbie – you know, Edith Worney’s granddaughter – has the chicken pox,” Maggie would say. “I do hope none of the rest of the kids get it. Although it’s probably best they get it now when they’re young. Darlene Ogg got it real bad when she was twenty-five.”
“I think we’re going to have a good crop.”
“Darlene had a horrible time with it,” Maggie would continue. “You could hardly see her face for the sores.”
And if Maggie didn’t bring up Darlene, it was Alison Henderson’s cats or P.C. McGetty’s drinking. If the chief kept pursuing the subject, she left the room. He had done everything he could think of, but she remained silent about the orchard. The chief had made Maggie mad before – after all, they’d been married for nearly forty years – but she had never done this before. Usually, after giving him a good scolding, she would forgive him. He would have never thought he could want a tongue-lashing, but he had discovered it was preferable to silence.
He’d been at the orchard when this call came through. Murders didn’t happen often in Ryton, The last one had been about six months ago and resulted from a domestic squabble. The wife turned herself in. Hardly any investigation was needed. In his experience, the chief had found murders were usually easy to solve. If you questioned the husband, wife, boyfriend, mistress, or business partner, you found the murderer. People killed other people for passion or profit. Bernard, for instance, might gain by Agatha’s death since he would probably become the Head Librarian. People had been killed for less.
Yet, as the chief sat behind a desk in Bernard’s office, watching Bernard answer questions, he was thinking he had never seen a more unlikely murder suspect. Something in the way Bernard held himself and the shocked look in his eyes told the chief that murder was not in Bernard’s working vocabulary.
“So what did you do after you found the body?” Lieutenant Ron Sims asked Bernard.
“I went up front and called the police and told Millie – Millie Sader, she’s the day aide – that Mrs. Ryton-Storer had been in an accident and that we shouldn’t open the library until the police came, and then ... then I was sick.” Bernard looked pale.
“Did you see or hear anything suspicious?” Sims asked.
“No.” Bernard shook his head. “There was no one around.”
“Why didn’t you leave the library and wait outside?” the chief asked.
“Should I have?” Bernard asked. “Because I might have disturbed the evidence?”
“Well, there’s that, too,” the chief said. “But what if the murderer had been inside still?”
“I never thought of that,” Bernard said slowly. “Do you think he was?”
The chief shrugged. “Maybe. If so, he’s gone now. Did you notice anything missing? Does the library keep any money in the building?”
“We have about twenty dollars that we keep for change if someone needs to pay a fine. I don’t know if it’s missing. I didn’t look around so I don’t know if anything’s gone, but the library doesn’t have much besides books, a couple of typewriters, and a photocopier.”
“I’ve read where rare books are worth lots of money,” the chief said.
“Yes, but we don’t have any that I know of.”
“Computers? Fax machines? TVs?”
Bernard shook his head. “Mrs. Ryton-Storer didn’t allow them.”
The chief thought for a moment. “Maybe someone was mad at her. Had she fought with anyone that you know of in the past couple of days?”
“Well, practically everyone who came in here,” Bernard said. “She wasn’t very friendly, you know, but I don’t think she made anyone mad enough to kill her.”
“What did she fight with them about?”
“Mostly about the books. If they kept them too long or if she thought they were in worse shape than when they were checked out. Sometimes she would inspect the books before she’d let them be checked in, and if they were damaged, she’d try to make the person pay for them. She really made a lot of people mad. To be fair, she had a point. A lot of books are destroyed or stolen here. It’s quite a problem.”
“Did she fight with the staff?” the chief asked.
“Well, yes.” Bernard seemed reluctant to continue.
“Did she scrap with anyone in particular?” The chief leaned back, but he watched Bernard closely.
“Yesterday, Jay Jones, the janitor, got on her wrong side. Her office is supposed to be cleaned only on the second Monday of the month. Jay’s going on vacation next week so I told him to clean it yesterday.” Bernard grimaced. “She wasn’t pleased with him or me, and she let us know about it. But he blew it off, and so did I. If you let everything she did annoy you, you wouldn’t last long here.”
“Did you like her?” the chief asked.
“I ... No, she resented me being here,” Bernard said. “I was going to leave in a month or so. I have some job offers I’m looking into.”
“Who all has keys to this place?” the chief asked.
“I do. Millie does. Jay has a set. And I think that’s it.” Bernard frowned. “In fact, a couple of months ago, the county assessor wanted to get in here after hours, and they had to call Mrs. Ryton-Storer because City Hall didn’t have a set. She was extremely careful about security.”
“Were the doors unlocked this morning?” the chief asked.
“No. I remember unlocking the side one to let myself in and the front one to talk to Millie. The other two doors are fire exits, and if they were open, the alarms would be going off.”
“Have you ever been arrested before?”
“I keep thinking I’ve heard your name before.”
“I’ve never even had a parking ticket here.”
The chief studied him for a moment and then turned to Sims. “Take Mr. Worthington around the library and see if anything’s missing or not where it should be.”
Sims left the room with Bernard in tow. Deputy James Harris stuck his head in the office and asked, “Do you want to talk to the Sader girl now?”
“What’s her story?” the chief asked.
“Basically she doesn’t have one. Worthington didn’t let her in when she came to work because of the victim’s ‘accident.’ She went to the drugstore and picked up some stuff and came back here.”
“In that case, no. Just send her on home and tell her we may need to talk to her later. What about Jay Jones? Is he out there?” the chief asked.
Harris shook his head.
“Tell Worthington that I want to see Jones as soon as he gets here.” Harris left. The chief sighed and decided to see if the coroner had anything for him. He stepped out into the library and looked around the lobby. He had visited the library once about four years ago and probably only a couple of times in the years before that, and he needed to set the layout in his mind again.
A huge check-out desk dominated the small lobby, squatting squarely in the middle of the room. To the right of the front doors were Agatha’s office, which was the tower room, then Bernard’s much smaller office, and finally the lounge. To the left were the two restrooms, a workroom, and the elevator. About twenty feet behind the checkout desk, wide marble stairs rose gradually, leading to the second floor. A large storage closet was underneath the stairs. Going around the stairs would lead into the fiction area, which was filled with rows of shelves. Down the center of the room were reading carrels.
The chief strode across the black and white marble floor and up the stairs and paused at the top. The layout of the second floor where the nonfiction was kept was similar to the fiction area but smaller lengthwise, beginning where the elevator opened, allowing a two-story ceiling for the lobby below. It had no carrels, although there was room for them. The body had been found on the right side of the room, a few feet from a wall display case that featured Civil War items. The chief remembered the display from his visit four years ago when he was trying to find some books on raising fruit trees. He also remembered that Agatha hadn’t been much help in locating any – not that she had put out much effort to do so.
The chief walked over to where County Coroner Josh Dimes was preparing the body for shipping. As he watched Dimes, he began to get angry. The chief had never cared much for the old broad, having listened to her complaints about the money the police department received when it should be going to her precious library, but no old lady, no matter how sour she was, deserved to have her throat slit open like a butchered pig.
Harris approached the chief. “Worthington says Jones was supposed to come in at nine. He hasn’t heard from him.”
“Take Hayden with you and see if you can locate Jones,” the chief said. “Ask Worthington for the address.” Harris turned to leave. “And be careful, just in case Jones is our killer.” Harris nodded and went down the stairs.
Dimes finished and directed a couple of deputies to carry the body out. He took off his rubber gloves, dropped them into a small plastic baggie, and dropped the baggie into a case that contained his tools. The chief stepped forward.
“Well?” he asked.
“Won’t know anything for sure until I get it back to the morgue,” Dimes said. “You know that. I can’t think of how many times you’ve asked me for information before I’ve even had a chance to find anything out.”
“And I can’t think how many times you’ve said that and then given me what I wanted,” the chief said. “So give me what you’ve got so far, Josh.”
Their ritual completed, Dimes looked around and said, “Well, first thing, she wasn’t killed here.” He gestured at the floor. “Not enough blood. Of course, you’ve probably already figured that.” At the chief’s nod, he continued. “I’d guess she died around seven or eight this morning. I think the murder weapon is probably one of those hunting knives that are serrated near the hilt because the cut is a bit ragged on the left side and some skin is missing. I couldn’t find any signs of bruising or any other wounds so unless something turns up in the autopsy, that’s what killed her.” Dimes paused. “That’s about it.”
“Was she ...” The chief hesitated.
“Raped?” Dimes frowned. “Don’t think so. No signs, but I’ll know for sure later. Do you have reason to think she was?”
“No, but in this day and age, you can never tell what kind of sick bastards are running around.”
“True enough,” Dimes said. “Any suspects?”
“Not really. The assistant librarian found her. He’s the best so far, but I don’t think he did it. No stomach for it. He’s been puking for the past hour.”
“I know Bernard. Met him at church,” Dimes said. “Seems nice enough, although I’ve always wondered what a young man was doing as a librarian.”
“I’ve been told librarians with a degree can make a pretty good living,” the chief said.
“So what’s he doing here?” Dimes asked. “The city couldn’t be paying him much.”
“It doesn’t pay him. When Ryton gave this place to the city, he also left most of his money in a trust for the library. The City Council is also the Library Board, and they administer it. He probably makes more than both of us combined.”
Sims had walked up while the chief was talking and was waiting patiently. The chief motioned at him.
“We’ve finished searching the place,” Sims said. “All except the victim’s office. It’s locked, and Bernard doesn’t have a key. Otherwise, no signs of anything that shouldn’t be here. No signs of a forced entry. We found nothing.”
“Were her keys on her body?” the chief asked Dimes.
“No,” Dimes answered. “In fact, she wasn’t carrying anything except some tissues.”
The chief motioned to one of the other deputies. “Edwards, get a locksmith here and open that door.”
“Yes, sir.” Edwards left.
“You’d better stick around a bit,” the chief told Dimes. The coroner nodded. The chief and Sims walked downstairs to the front desk.
“Anything missing?” the chief asked.
“Not as far as Bimmer could tell,” Sims replied.
“Yeah, that’s what we call Bernard because his initials are like the car ... B.M.W. And Bimmer’s the car’s nickname.”
The chief grunted. He had figured it was something dumb.
“He’s pretty shook up,” Sims continued. “I sent him outside for some air.”
“You know him very well?”
“I guess so,” Sims said. “He used to play softball with me on the First Baptist team until he split up with Sherry Hyatt. I haven’t seen him much lately, but he seems like a good guy. Do you think he did it? I wondered why Sherry dumped him. Maybe she sensed –”
“I don’t think anything yet except that someone killed an old lady and we have to find out who it was,” the chief said pointedly. “Get some men and look around the neighborhood. See if anyone saw or heard anything.” The chief didn’t hold much hope of finding any witnesses, though. If Agatha had been killed in the library and at the time that Dimes thought, the businesses surrounding the library would have been closed. Still, they could get lucky.
“Yes, sir,” Sims said.
“And tell Worthington to stay close. I’ll want him here when we open her office.”
“Okay. Chief, City Records finally found a phone number for her next of kin,” Sims said, handing the chief a piece of paper. “It’s the only relative she listed on her health forms. It’s her brother-in-law.”
The chief read the name. Richard Storer. It was an Oklahoma City phone number. “Well, I guess I’d better call him. Tell Worthington I’m going to use his office.” He let the number ring several times, but no one answered. He hung up, reminding himself to try later. The chief sighed. He could already feel his ulcer churning. No suspects worth having. No clues. A big fat nothing. The City Council was going to love this.
Leonard chuckled, thinking about Teddy’s shock when the paper folded. Bet it’s going to be hard to keep his brats in food now, Leonard gloated. Leonard wasn’t particularly worried about the job loss. He figured to draw unemployment for a while. Maybe he could convince Lisa to move in to share bills. It’d be nice to have a woman around. With his and her unemployment, they could have some good times. At least until he got tired of her.
And a man could get sick of Lisa pretty quick, he thought, remembering how she had treated him in the past. Uppity, that’s what she is. Always acting like she’s so much better than the rest of us when everybody in the county knows what her old man was. And her mother was just a waitress that everyone knows got tips for being real friendly after hours. Still, Lisa does have nice –
The doorbell rang. Leonard swore and decided to ignore it. He didn’t have anyone that he particularly wanted to see this morning. It was probably a salesman or some religious nut. He reached down for the bar of soap. The doorbell rang again. He soaped his arms and chest, jumping when the bell sounded again. Then again. And again.
Swearing savagely with all his considerable skill and extensive profane vocabulary, he stepped out of the tub, slipping on the wet floor and only saving himself from a nasty fall by catching the side of the sink, which certainly didn’t improve his mood. He grabbed his towel. Whoever is leaning on that bell is going to be real sorry when I get through with him, he thought angrily. As he knotted the towel around his waist, the bell rang again.
“I’m coming,” he yelled, stalking in the living room. “Ring that bell again and I’ll rip off your head and spit in your neck!” He hit his shin on the coffee table and sent a couple choice words its direction. The bell rang again.
Reaching the door, he started to jerk it open when a thought hit him. What if it was Lisa wanting her purse? It’d be just like her to lean on the bell. He decided that it wouldn’t do to appear angry. Why give her a reason to miss out on a second helping of the Leonard love machine? He put on his best smile.
He opened the door. It wasn’t Lisa; it was some man.
“What do you want –”
A blur of motion.
Hot pain tore through Leonard. He raised his hands and clutched the hilt of a knife protruding from his chest. He stumbled back, trying to yell, gaping at the man who lunged forward and pushed him further into the room. Leonard fell to his knees. He couldn’t catch his breath. The man leaned over, grabbing at the knife. Leonard swayed and pitched forward to the floor, driving the knife deeper into his chest. He tried to rise, then darkness covered him and took the pain away forever.
Copyright 2013 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without express advance permission from the author and publisher.