Sophia and Lynette had just placed their jackets on chairs when Lynette gulped, then lowered her sunglasses over her eyes. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Sophia blinked. Even if her nostrils itched from the smell of mildewed books, she wondered why Lynette had made such an abrupt decision. Did she suffer from allergies, too? Before she could ask her that, Lynette grabbed her right arm and plunged down an aisle in the direction opposite from the table where they’d just stood. “Don’t look now,” Lynette whispered. “But when you get a chance, take in that old lady with the silver, knotted hair. She’s Miss Fieldspot, the librarian I’ve been trying to avoid in Denver. I travel 2,000 miles to research anonymously and—here she is.”
“Shhh. Don’t let anyone hear you,” Sophia said and shook her head.
Although Lynette had planned to research explosives in the Library of Congress, Sophia had convinced her to go to a quiet library in Arlington, Virginia. “They almost take your fingerprints when you step into the Library of Congress,” she’d explained. “First, the government booted up security after the bomb threats. And since 9-11, you almost need your birth certificate, confirmation papers, and passport to use the place. And considering your quest, you’d better not leave a research trail.”
Now, in this tiny library, Sophia considered whether Lynette’s intuition—if certainly not her logic—had been right. Who would have imagined they’d run into the librarian Lynette had been eluding?
“Is she psychic or what?” Lynette asked and shook her head as the two of them shimmied through the stacks. The moldy smells grew thicker, and suddenly, Sophia sneezed. Then she stopped moving. “Wait a minute. This is crazy. You can’t hide here without arousing suspicion. Just act delighted to see her.”
Lynette shook her head.
“You don’t have to tell her anything. Act like you’re on vacation and merely want to pick up some light reading.”
“You don’t understand.” Lynette sniffed. “The woman’s probably in the CIA.”
“You’re paranoid.” Sophia sighed.
Lynette crossed her arms. “Like I don’t have reason to be super careful?”
“Okay.” After sighing again, Sophia added, “I’ll stay here. I’ve been wanting to look up Black Berthold anyway.”
Lynette gaped. “Black Berthold?”
Sophia smiled. “He was more or less the fourteenth-century Father Berrigan.”
“He invented gunpowder, and some historians think he was a monk.” Sophia cleared her throat. “Though Hans Jacob didn’t—he thought Black Bert was merely an alchemist, trying to kill Mercury’s spirit.” Sophia shrugged. “But then, Heinrich was a poet. Just the same, Black Bert stirred up saltpeter and hot sulfur with charcoal and linseed oil.”
Lynette’s pupils enlarged, and she grinned. “We can buy that stuff at Osco’s. She craned her neck and looked back at the table where they sat. “Fieldspot’s gone now. I wonder—”
“Mrs. LaSonde—what are you doing here?” a frail voice trilled from the other side of the stacks.
Lynette whirled toward the direction of the voice. It was Fieldspot’s. “I’m here to visit Francois.” Lynette squinted at the woman. “But it’s a surprise.” Then she ran an arm around Sophia’s shoulder. “And while I’m here, I’m helping my friend research.”
The librarian loped along the stack and turned into the aisle where the two women stood. “What are you ladies researching? We’re having our conference here, and I’ve just toured this library so perhaps I can help.”
Lynette squeezed closer to Sophia to cut off the gray-haired woman’s lunge. Sophia spoke rapidly, “Thanks so much. That’s very sweet of you. But I’m a graduate research assistant, and I’m not allowed to accept a librarian’s assistance on this project.” She smiled. “Top secret.”
Miss Fieldspot frowned and stopped. Her forehead furrowed and her body seemed to wilt when she gasped, “Top secret?”
Miss Fieldspot forced a smile. Sophia could see bits of crackers clinging to her teeth, and she smelled curdled milk and salt on the older woman’s breath. Then the librarian inhaled deeply and arched her back. “Well, you know a librarian can be taken into confidence. It’s our professional—”
Sophia smiled broader. “It isn’t that. I’d trust you implicitly. We simply cannot accept professional help with this research. We’d be cheating.” She tilted her head toward Lynette. “I mean, we can seek other help. It’s okay for Lynette to drive me around and help because she isn’t a librarian—a professional like you.”
Miss Fieldspot’s bosom first raised, then she seemed to wilt again. She sniffed, then, as if recharged, she beamed at Lynette. “Which newspaper does Francois write for again?”
“The Post,” Lynette lied.
No longer smiling, the librarian glanced to the left then tilted her head. “I’ve never seen his byline there.”
“He does obits. No bylines.”
“Oh.” Miss Fieldspot frowned and sniffed again. “It’s amazing he can afford to fly you here.”
Lynette twitched her nose, then shot a glance at Sophia, who continued smiling. Sophia nodded, and Lynette looked back at the librarian. “Yes, truly amazing.”
“It’d be clever of him to have you research a top secret—”
“No,” Lynette snapped. “I don’t study dead people.” She forced a smile, then tugged one of Sophia’s arms. “Good seeing you, Miss Fieldspot. But we must be moving along.”
The librarian gaped, sniffed, and eyed Sophia and Lynette a few seconds more. Then she turned and trotted out of the aisle, swung by the table, and went out the door.
Sophia chuckled. “I guess that takes care of her.”
“For now maybe.” Lynette exhaled loudly and shook her head. “Don’t be overconfident.” Her shaking head sent her bangs across her eyes. “We’ve just lit her wick.”
“You are paranoid.”
“No, no.” Lynette continued shaking her heard. “A realist.” She sighed. “Listen, I know I must seem like a flake. But Miss Fieldspot didn’t just happen to pop up in my local library. Ever since we joined the church, the woman appears everywhere—she’s like the ghost of every library. I tried to avoid her by going to the downtown library. Then I tried the Englewood branch, the Littleton branch, the Lakewood branch, the Wheatridge branch. But wherever I went, she’d crawl out of the woodwork and step up to me, always snooping, always curious about what I was reading. It was as if she stalked me. I’d check for her face when I entered each branch. She wouldn’t be there, not until I started searching through the library’s site on the computer—or started checking the shelves. Then she’d be right at my shoulder, peering onto the screen or watching which book I pulled from a shelf. It’s incredible. Something’s up with her. Something’s cooking. But I can’t figure out what—or why.”
“Maybe she’s lonely.” Sophia pursed her lips. “Or perhaps she needs to feel needed.”
“No. It’s more than that. I can sense it.” Lynette shivered. “It’s like a Boo Radley moment, you know?”