I woke up in a sweat. I glanced at the clock on the night table. It flashed 5:00. Today I was determined to find Chase and Dylan in Central Park. They were a key part of this mystery for sure. When I stepped into the living room, I was surprised to see my dad asleep on Mere’s couch.
“Dad,” I called and gently touched his shoulder. He opened his eyes and asked, “Zoe, are you all right? When you didn’t answer my texts, I came over here to check on you. You were sleeping so soundly wrapped in Mere’s sweater, that I didn’t have the heart to wake you. I thought I would just let you get some rest.”
“Thanks, Dad.” I looked at him. He smiled for a moment. He did care for me in his distant way. He was still half asleep. So I said, “Listen, with all this stress, I’m about to jump out of my skin. I need to exercise. I’m going out for a bike ride.”
“Now? What time is it?”
“It’s okay. Go back to sleep. We’ll talk later.”
“Be careful, Z.”
The sun hadn’t come up yet, so the bike storage area was dark and deserted. As I hurried down the ramp, I heard footsteps. I turned around but nobody was there. Security was supposed to be nearby. I thought of phoning for help, but I was afraid to stop. The footsteps grew louder as the stalker came closer. My bike was buried in the back of the bin. As I struggled to pull it out, the footsteps stopped. Obviously whoever was lurking in the dark was watching me. I kept pulling. Once the bike was free, I ran up the ramp and peddled as quickly as possible.
Who was following me? Why was I being followed? Was the stalker dead or alive? I was definitely losing it.
As I rode along in the bike lane, the exercise and the cool air had a calming effect. I enjoyed the movement. The morning light filled the sky as the city came to life. A cacophony of sound sprung into the air from the metal business gates being lifted, the running engines of the double parked delivery trucks and the rumble of the subway below. Commuters rushed up the subway steps on the hunt for their morning coffee. Happily, I turned into Central Park. I loved Strawberry Fields with its sacred path. I always stop to admire John Lennon’s tribute, the black and white mosaic with a single word - IMAGINE. One word that celebrates what I love to do. If I could just write lyrics like that.
From the street I spotted Chase in his black and red hoodie. He and his brother rode into the park toward the loop. The younger brother was tearing down the bike lane like a maniac. I heard, Chase scream, “Hey, hot shot, slow down.”
“I called, “Chase, could I talk to you a minute?” He glared and looked at his watch.
Then he softened and slowed to a stop as he recognized me. He got off his bike. “Zoe, how are you doing? Let’s sit on the bench here and talk.”
“Well I don’t want to ruin your workout, but I’m trying to make sense of what happened.
Let me get to what I need to know. Did you and my grandmother have problems at work?”
“Zoe, apparently the police think so. That guy Ruiz is in my office asking me the same questions over and over. I’m on the police shit list, but truthfully, your grandmother and I got along. I can’t say that about other employees at our library.”
I knew Chase meant Madeline.
Chase continued, “It’s no secret that libraries everywhere, including the Forty-Second Street landmark, are scrambling to redefine their role in our society. The digital revolution comes along and a cultural system built on books is threatened. The fallout involves cutting library funding.”
“They may not have jobs?”
Chase nodded. “It’s more complicated than just the librarians’ jobs or the taxpayers willingness to spend when they have their info in the palm of their hand in a phone. The digital information explosion is an international phenomenon. Are the great minds of the world willing to share information with the poor countries? Or will the most valuable ideas be kept for paid subscriptions to elite universities? How will public libraries fit into distributing information? To complicate matters, international cyber break-ins are the biggest threat to our country’s security and this digital research is all part of the mix.”
“Jeez” I said. “There is a lot at stake.”
“Yes, there is. But as far as my relationship with your grandmother, we respected each other. Not only me, but my kid brother Dylan also loved your grandmother. You know that they shared a lot from conjuring up spirits in the park to some idea for software, some futuristic video game – a book of the future.”
“Whoa, a book of the future, as a video game? Mere never mentioned any of that to me.”
“Cyberspace is exploding with ideas along the line of delving into the brain. Just yesterday at the library I gave a presentation on software that tracks the reader’s reactions to text - what readers skim, skip or devour.
Amazed, I said, “I can see how that could be a game changer for writers being able to know exactly what their readers like.”
Chase earnestly looked into my eyes as if revealing a secret no one would believe said,
“Apparently after many talks with your grandmother, Dylan worked up some software ideas for a new game between the reader and the author about developing a story line. He and your grandmother even sent the software ideas to some startup company which expressed interest in developing this.”
“Wow! Have you seen the program?”
“No,” Chase said as he positioned himself on his bike. “Listen as you can see I can’t keep up with Dylan and my mom will never forgive me if he gets hurt.”
“Oh, sure. We’ll talk about this again,” I said.
“I was stunned by what Chase told me. I didn’t believe Chase for a minute when he said he hadn’t seen that software. Yeah, like this twelve year old kid was negotiating with Silicon Valley without the help of an adult.
Why wouldn’t Mere tell me something exciting like this? Another part of her life she kept from me. This involved more than my hurt feelings from being excluded. This software in the hands of a startup could be a big money making deal. My grandmother was dead. Cut out of the deal. Big problem! My instinct told me“Follow the money.”
Family financial matters was something Dad handled, so I called him and filled him in on what Chase told me. I stressed how concerned I was about the possibility of a deal with an upstart company in Silicon Valley. Could this have had something to do with Mere’s murder?
My dad was unflappable when it came to business. Calmly, he surmised this news was hearsay from Chase, a third party. This may be a case of copyright infringement which is hard to prove especially when one party is dead. He simply said he would have his lawyer look into it. Not surprisingly, he summed up the whole situation with the question, “In short how much is this start-up company willing to pay?”
“I don’t know. Chase was elusive about that,” I replied.
“I’m sure he was. Zoe, this may be worth pursuing or maybe it’s one of your grandmother’s unrealistic worthless fantasies of books in another galaxy.”
“Dad, that’s not exactly fair.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
Would he or would he just brush this off as one of Mere’s absurd ideas? Should I tell Ruiz? Maybe he already knew?
Dylan’s software design opened a whole new direction for the case. If I only knew what this game involved. The police had taken Mere’s computers. Maybe I could get some information about what they found from Ruiz. He was quick to ask questions and find out as much as he could, but guarded when I asked him about specifics in the investigation. When I called him, he was at a meeting with the library administrators. Shortly after he wrapped up with management, we met in the Rose Room.
Immediately I said, “I have to ask you some questions.”
“You have to ask me questions? Well, this is amusing.”
“Are you aware of any software deal that Dylan and my grandmother were making
with a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley?”
The confidence in his voice indicated he had a lead on this.
“I am not able to disclose all I know because the investigation is in progress and a court case will most probably follow. Anything you could share with me would be helpful, Zoe.”
So after I told him about my conversation with Chase concerning the design for a computer game, Ruiz opened his tablet. On the screen a list of files from my grandmother’s computer appeared. Ruiz told me these files had been already been deleted when the police took the computer. Probably the murderer or an accomplice or maybe Mere herself removed the content. The cops were working on retrieving the files. He asked me to take a look and see if any seemed a reason for murder or robbery. The names of the files titles were mostly foreign to me - abbreviation and dates that meant nothing to me. However one stood out: ITH
“Ruiz, ITH! I came up with that abbreviation. It means Inside the Head. This is an acronym that I invented for Mere’s theory on the joy of reading. The ability to get inside another’s head.
“What are you talking about? Hypnotize someone?” Ruiz asked in an annoyed voice.
I tried to explain my grandmother’s theory about a book’s ability to get the reader inside the character’s brain. Even though Mere loved the theater, movies, and TV, she could never get inside the heads of the actors the way she could the characters in a book. She was so much more able to understand a character’s thoughts and feelings in a book.
Ruiz quickly typed in some notes then said, “Listen Zoe, this inside the head mumbo jumbo is pretty flimsy. I got some solid leads I need to check today.”