Authors: Laurinda Wallace
Gracie sat in the library parking lot, watching patrons leave as the nine o’clock closing time got closer. Haley was in the back seat, fogging up the windows with her hot, panting breath.
“I’m not sure it was such a bright idea to bring you tonight,” Gracie grumbled to her dog.
Haley merely thumped her tail and tried to push her way over the console and into the front seat. Gracie rubbed the dog’s face and gave her chest a push.
“Hey, there. Stay in the back seat on your nice bed. I paid good money for that.”
Haley sat back down on the seat, covered with a fleece pad, still looking like she could leap to the front at any second. The last of the cars left the parking lot, and Gracie climbed out into slushy snow.
“You’d better stay here, girl. I’ll be right back.”
Haley’s ears drooped lower, her eyes full of disappointment. She pressed her muzzle against the smeary window, watching Gracie trudge up the steps of the library.
With any luck, Terry was there, and if she could answer a couple of questions, maybe things would be clearer. Like the connection to Mr. Robinson and if she knew anything about the mysterious Cornelia Becker.
Hothouse-like warmth slammed her in the face when she entered through the double doors. No wonder the heat bill was so high. They must be growing orchids in the back. Patti, who was placing books on the cart for re-shelving, looked up in surprise.
“Hi, Gracie. We’re almost ready to close, you know.”
“I know. Is Terry here?” She hadn’t seen her car, but maybe she had walked.
“No. She had a meeting at the Historical Society tonight. Something to do with the fundraiser.” Patti pushed the cart to the side of the huge counter.
“Oh. I’ll catch up with her later then. But if you’ve got a minute, I was hoping to talk to you and Sybil.” The opportunity had presented itself, so why wait for Will to figure out a good time?
“What about?” Sybil appeared from reference section with her hands on her hips. Her lips were pressed together, her eyes narrowed.
“I wanted to see how you both were doing, especially you, Sybil. I know your situation can’t be easy right now.”
“That’s an understatement,” Sybil huffed.
“I imagine it is. I’m sure Jack will get cleared though.” A small fib couldn’t hurt to warm up the unfriendly duo.
Wariness washed over Sybil’s face, and the perpetual frown lines of her mouth went even deeper.
“You’re in the minority. Even his family thinks he did it. He’s got a public defender for a lawyer. The guy’s just a kid. Jack doesn’t have a chance with that kind of lawyer.” A flush of red crept up from her neck into her cheeks. Her hands were trembling.
“There are some things we need to clear up. I just need a quick word …”
“I’m tired of talking to everybody. I know the board is looking for a way to fire me. I need this job. Jack’s not making any money sitting in jail. Somebody’s gotta pay the bills.”
“We both need our jobs,” Patti piped up. “We’ve done everything Will told us, and we’ve told the police everything we know. If the board had hired Sybil as librarian, we wouldn’t—”
“Shut up, Patti,” her cousin growled.
“Why would the board want to fire you? No one’s said anything about that to me.”
Gracie turned her full attention to Sybil, who was now blotchy-faced. Her bottom lip was quivering.
“But there is the question about the book business.”
Sybil stalked to the small desk behind the circulation counter. She pulled her purse out of the bottom drawer. “Come on, Patti. It’s time to close.”
“Go ahead and close, but I think we need to talk about an interesting spreadsheet and the boxes of books.”
Sybil’s hard face fell, and Patti gasped, dropping a book to the floor.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Sybil spat out defensively.
“I knew it was a mistake,” cried Patti. “I told you, Sybil ….” Patti bent over to grab the fallen book and clutched it to her chest.
“Shut up, Patti,” Sybil ordered.
“I think it would be good to talk about it, before the police ask you,” Gracie said firmly. She motioned for the two women to take seats by the fireplace reading area.
“Now, please explain,” she said once they were all seated.
Gracie’s suspicions were confirmed over the next few minutes. Patti was a gushing fountain of information. Sybil sat in stony silence, arms folded. According to Patti, Sybil had decided to make a little extra money in the beginning by selling discarded books on the Internet. When the business began to get lucrative, Sybil started selling a few off the shelves and coded the titles to show up in the system as lost. Then she started padding book orders to get extra copies of new books to add to the inventory. The books from the basement were donations to the summer book sale.
“Sybil? Do you have anything to add?” Gracie asked at the end of Patti’s exposé. “I’d like to try and help you.”
“Help me! You’ve got to be kidding. I’ll be sitting next to my husband in jail, thanks to my loyal coworker, here,” she looked menacingly at Patti, who began to tear up suddenly and sniffed.
“We can work out a plan of restitution or …”
“Or what? You can’t work anything out for me. You’ll see that I’m fired and then …” She crumpled, twisting her hands, trying not to cry. “I can’t pay any restitution. We barely make ends meet now. I was supposed to get the librarian job. If they’d given it to me years ago, when they should have, we wouldn’t be in this situation. I’ve been a dedicated, loyal employee. I know more about this library than any so-called college librarian. Just ask any one of the former librarians. They knew the deal, and they let me run the place, because they couldn’t. Who do you think got the computer grant and brought the library up to snuff with the new cataloguing software? It wasn’t any of them
Patti looked away from her cousin, frowning. Gracie was now in a bit of a quandary. Should she call the police, Will, or call it a night? Since the pump was primed, maybe they knew something about the letters.
“Have either of you heard about a person called Cornelia Becker? She lived in Schoharie, New York. A historical figure I think.”
Sybil’s face was a blank. “No. I have no idea who that is.”
Patti hesitated. “Cornelia, and not Cordelia?”
“Oh,” Patti said dully. “You know the library in Castile is the Cordelia Greene Library.”
“Right. But what about a man looking for Alice? A bald guy by the name of Robinson.”
Sybil cleared her throat and shifted her feet.
“No. I don’t remember anyone.”
“I don’t remember anybody either,” Patti chimed in.
“I just know that Alice was in money trouble up to her neck. Alice owed Jack almost a $1,000 and couldn’t pay him. He’d bought things at the hardware for her places, and she hadn’t reimbursed him. Dan was taking that bill out of Jack’s check, and then he laid him off. Now because Jack asked her to pay him what he was owed, he’s sitting in jail,” Sybil finished almost savagely.
“When did he ask her? Not the night of the …”
“Yeah, it was. That’s the other reason. Jack’s timing has always stunk. But we needed that money. He went to the house, not the library though.”
“Did he take her car that night or drive her somewhere?”
“No, of course not,” Sybil snapped. “Her car wouldn’t start one morning, and Jack gave her a jump. That’s why his fingerprints were in the car. The cops don’t believe him. No good deed goes unpunished.”
Gracie shook her head. “I guess not.”
“So what are you going to do? Turn me in to the police or the board?” Sybil demanded.
“I really don’t know. Isn’t there some way you could pay back the library over time? I’m willing to go to bat for you.”
The double doors opened, and Marc walked in. Haley was at his side, wagging her tail joyfully.
“Hey, why’d you leave Haley all alone in an unlocked vehicle? I’ve been looking for you.” He stopped mid-step immediately, assessing the various emotional states of the three woman glaring at each other.
“OK, Gracie, what’s going on?”
Marc sat warming his hands around a mug of hot chocolate in Gracie’s living room. Haley was already sleeping on her back, legs sporadically running after imaginary rabbits or maybe porcupines.
“So, what are you going to do?” Marc asked.
“I’ll talk to Will about a little mercy in the situation. Sybil can’t lose her job. Who knows what any of us would do in the same situation? She kinda went off the tracks. It’s not like it’s thousands of dollars. It’s a few hundred at the most.”
Gracie flopped onto the couch next to Marc. “You got any better ideas?”
“No. I think a little discretion would be wise in this case. Jack’s wife has it tough right now, but she was stealing from the library. She had a position of trust and—”
“I know, but I’d hate to see her lose everything.”
“Talk it over with Will. It’s not your decision.”
“True,” she said, curling her feet up on the couch. “But what do you think about Sybil’s explanation of Jack’s alibi?”
“It looks like Jack killed Alice because she wouldn’t pay him. People have killed for a lot less. And that’s why he’s sitting in jail. Fingerprints in her car, no witnesses to verify where he really was, and he was covering up the body in the library parking lot.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” she admitted. “Jack is one of those guys who looks guilty from the get-go. But to me, that makes him less likely to have killed her.”
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that’s Jack,” Marc answered.
“It might be, but murders aren’t usually linear, are they?” Gracie said, closing her eyes and leaning against the comfortable sofa. She sat up and looked at Marc. “Why were you looking for me? We got sidetracked.”
He smiled, his brown eyes warm with affection. “I missed you.”
Gracie tossed and turned, annoying Haley, who finally got off the bed and went to sleep in the living room. She peered at the illuminated face of the alarm clock on the nightstand, bedcovers drawn around her head. It was 2:07 a.m. Only three hours until the alarm. It was too bad she’d flushed all the sleeping pills last summer. Maybe there were one or two pills left in the medicine cabinet. It wouldn’t hurt to look. She crawled out from the warm bed, and her feet finally found slippers. The nightlight gave a hazy glow over the sink as she dug through bottles of OTC remedies. There wasn’t even any night-time cold medicine. She settled for a drink of cold water and resigned herself to another night without sleep. Haley padded into the bathroom and whined.
“And you have to go out since, I’m up. Am I right?”
Haley whined louder and trotted back through the bedroom. Gracie grabbed her robe from the footboard on the four-poster bed and threw it around her shoulders. A bright half-moon hung silently in the frosty winter sky. She shivered while Haley ran out to color the snow.
Conversations over the past few days swam like darting tadpoles through her very tired brain. The sad and angry faces of Pearl and Sybil whirled through her thoughts. Jack’s ranting and Chuck Woodson’s blustering broke through. Then Irene’s sad face joined Pearl’s and Sybil’s.
Then there was Marc. He’d missed her. She couldn’t say the same. Why not? He was suddenly moving way too fast. At this rate, he’d be popping the question. If he did ask what would she say? How would she have to adjust her new life to make marriage work? And what if something happened to Marc? He was a cop after all. That in itself was troubling. It was too much right now.