Like mist floating slowly, an eerie atmosphere filled the room. I lay awake in the cold dark knowing Mere was present. I desperately needed her. No matter what the size of my problem, she always knew how to make me feel better. Now her presence in my room confused me. Instead of the happiness and peace I anticipated. I was jolted by this palpable anxiety that grew like a heavy balloon filling up inside my head. Mere, Mere are you here? I miss you so. If we could just talk. The tense atmosphere lingered, but my grandmother definitely had left the room.
Mere was viciously killed. How stupid I was to think she would come back unchanged?
The angst filled atmosphere in the room gave me an understanding of how distressed Mere now was . The police, like Ruiz, probably weren’t open to the spirit world. So I had to push forward even though I understood so little about what was going on.
Just because I believed in the supernatural didn’t mean I understood what happened in death. Since Mere’s death, all I could think about was how I needed her. How selfish of me when her anxious presence in my room demonstrated that she now needed me.
What was I supposed to do? I tried to make sense of what I knew about the murder.
The murderer –a Yankee fan calling Mere a bitch for refusing to give him – what? An object so valuable it cost Mere her life. What was the murderer after? Why wouldn’t she give it up?
I had to find out. But how? I curled up in a fetal position.
Nothing logical in the real life clues. What about supernatural signs? Mere had come back from the dead to visit me. The manifestations were clear – cold spots, the picture of the table in the park where we had a séance, the closet door opening and closing. Should I try to contact her through the Ouija?
Clearly she was restless. Maybe we both were at a loss and didn’t know what to do? I lay awake for what seemed forever. When I finally fell asleep, I dreamt I was playing the guitar, but the strings made this hissing sound, faint at first, but grew louder with each chord, until a small round object, a cobra’s head slowly inched it way out of the sound hole and wound itself around the guitar’s neck. Then it raised its head and looked me in the eye. I woke up in a cold sweat gasping to catch my breath. I was never so glad to be lying on my father’s couch. The news was on the TV but, I didn’t pay attention until I heard the announcer say, “Murder in the Forty- Second Street Library.” As I sat up, my dad reached for the remote.
“It’s okay Dad. Leave it on. I want to see it.”
It broke my heart to see the Forty-Second Street Library, where I practically grew up, cordoned off by yellow NYPD tape. Patience and Fortitude, the two handsome stone lions, originally designed as symbols of strength to get New Yorkers through the Depression, looked on helplessly while my grandmother’s murderer escaped freely into densely crowded New York streets.
Mere’s picture suddenly stretched across the huge flat screen. Unruly gray hair surrounded her slightly smiling broad face with its strong jaw line. I focused on my grandmother’s large expressive eyes - looking out from behind large black eyeglasses.
“Dad?” I turned.
“For God’s sake shut that damn TV off.” He went into the kitchen and started banging dishes.
As the TV news broadcast a picture of the crime scene, the bare gray cement basement, my stomach churned. The image of my grandmother lying in that pool of blood in the library once again flashed inside my brain. The next segment of the story added to the horror.
“Dad, come quick! Have you seen this?”
There on the screen were library security guards standing around and staring at an empty glass case that had displayed the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed for the masses. Some valued the Gutenberg as the most important book in existence. Visitors from all over the world came to see it. Apparently around the time of my grandmother’s murder, the Gutenberg Bible was stolen. I stared in disbelief at the TV.
The Gutenberg dramatically changed communication around the world. Dating from 1450’s, only fourteen copies of the original remained. The one in the Forty - Second Street Library was the first one brought to America. Upon its arrival in our country, the agents that picked it up at the New York pier removed their hats as a sign of respect for the sacred words within.
Now my grandmother’s comment about “In the beginning” while she rode in the ambulance made sense. The Bible opens with the book of Genesis, “In the beginning was the word…” In the ambulance Mere had to be talking about the stolen Gutenberg. I remembered in world history class how the teacher compared the printing of the Gutenberg to the invention of the I-phone. Both the Gutenberg and the cell phones empowered communication among the masses.
When I told my dad what I heard in the ambulance, he just listened.
“Dad, should I tell Ruiz what Mere said?” I didn’t want to ruin my grandmother’s reputation.
My dad didn’t answer. He was lost in the news and had started surfing the channels. All the major news anchors reported how unbelievable it was that the Gutenberg could be stolen from the Forty-Second Street Library. Administrators were saying that in addition to cameras and twenty four hour surveillance, there was a separate security officer assigned to watch the Bible when the public used the library. Due to the intricate security around the Bible, the police believed this had to be an inside job and speculated that Gwendolyn Donovan may very well have been involved in this crime.
“Dad, Dad they’re saying that Mere stole the Gutenberg from the library.”
My dad stood silently watching the screen. By the way his facial muscles tightened, I knew he was furious.
I didn’t want to upset him more now, but I knew I had to tell him.
“Yeah, Dad when I rode with Mere in the ambulance she said more that the first line of the Bible. She started confessing sins. Something about being heartily sorry for offending God. Isn’t that crazy?”
“Zoe, you of all people understand that Mere was a practicing Catholic. They believe it’s important to confess their sins before they die. So you have a clean soul entering heaven. Mere was just probably making her final confession.”
I sensed a deeper meaning to those words. I kept replaying the scene: the cellar, the ambulance ride, the words Mere spoke. Why did she struggle so to reiterate the words “In the beginning” from the Bible? What was she sorry about? That killer in the baseball cap, what would he want with the Gutenberg? This was not going to be easy to find out. But I was determined to try.
In the meantime, my grandmother would be going to her grave labeled the thief of one of civilization’s greatest books. Books –Mere’s passion and life’s work. How unfair and wrong! I wasn’t going to just let it happen.
As my father sat in the chair reading the news stories about the murder, I
yelled, “Watching TV and reading the papers isn’t going to catch a killer. The media are pinning this on Mere. We have to do something.”
“Zoe, don’t be ridiculous. Your grandmother was just murdered. Let the cops handle it.
They won’t even let us get involved, and we shouldn’t.”
“Yes, they will. They need our help. Call that Ruiz. I need to talk to him at the library. Tell him what Mere said in the ambulance. Please Daddy, please.”
Surprisingly my dad agreed and called Ruiz. When dad told him about Mere’s confession in the ambulance, Ruiz said he was in the neighborhood and would be right over.
Meanwhile the TV news report on Mere’s murder focused on the guard outside the employee’s entrance.
“Look, Dad. It’s Pete.”
Since Mere often brought me to the library when she was working, I knew many of the employees and Pete was one of my favorites. The interviewer asked Pete what he thought happened.
Pete said, “I think Gwen Donovan was murdered because she was just too good. Know what I mean?”
“Could you explain,” replied the news woman.
“As I told those detective guys, a lot us who work here grab sandwiches and eat them in Bryant Park right behind the library. Not too long ago I seen Ms. Donovan and her granddaughter by the carrousel.”
“Yeah, that was one of our sweet spots all right,” I said. I started thinking about the times we rode the carrousel together. It seemed like a million years ago.
Pete continued, “The cops do a decent job of keeping the druggies, alcoholics, and perverts out of the park. Sometimes, especially in bad weather or late in the day some lowlife seeps in. Lately, I saw Ms. Donovan talking to a homeless guy, withered up and dirty. It was more than her giving him a dollar or two. They were talking like they knew each other. One time I think I saw her give him books. Like a guy like that would read.”
“Can you remember what he looked like, Pete?”
“That’s exactly what the cops asked me. Old, skinny and dirty. He carried a faded filthy Army supply backpack. Maybe had some kind of chain around his neck. Silver. I’m not sure.”
“Maybe, she knew him,” the reporter replied. “Father John at St. Francis said Ms. Donovan volunteered at the soup kitchen and bread line at St Francis Church.”
“Yeah, maybe she knew him too well. No good deed goes unpunished. One more thing,” Pete added, “That homeless guy wore high tops like the basketball players – only bronze.”
Now my dad and I sat glued to the TV coverage until Detective Ruiz banged on the apartment door with a tray of coffee and a slew of questions. As soon as he came in, I sat up while an uncomfortable feeling came over me. Why did this guy annoy me when he was supposed to be helping us?
“Mr. Donovan, I’m glad you called. I planned on stopping by. What a turn of events - The Gutenberg stolen around the same time as your mother’s death. What do you know about that?
“Nothing,” my dad said. Then Ruiz turned his attention to me. I found myself looking down to avoid his stare.
“Zoe, so tell me again what your grandmother said in the ambulance.”
After I repeated the painful episode, Ruiz barely reacted saying, “Other than the few sentences or two in the ambulance about being sorry, did your grandmother talk about the Gutenberg ?”
“Had she mentioned the Bible recently, even in passing?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I just told you, didn’t I?”
I could feel myself getting upset. Unfazed, Ruiz went right on. “Well with the robbery of the bible, the investigation has widened. This book is a national treasure. The FBI is now heading the investigation. Believe me, the Feds will use their top agents and the most sophisticated scientific tools to solve this.”
“So you are off the case,” I suddenly blurted out. My dad turned towards me with an inquisitive look. Like what is this rudeness about?
Ruiz immediately responded. “No, no way. I’m going to find the bastard who murdered your grandmother. You can count on it.”
In that instance I admired Ruiz’s confidence until he moved on to the autopsy report.
Autopsy, the word seared in my mind. The thought of Mere, such a private person, sliced open like a lab specimen, her organs lying on a cold table for all to see. I kept thinking about my grandmother’s brain that not only constantly absorbed facts and details, but it analyzed information. She rarely just accepted ideas. Most of all, I wondered what about Mere’s infinite capacity to love. Does that register on an autopsy report? As my eyes filled up with tears, I caught Detective Ruiz intently watching me.
Next Ruiz asked, “What about other family? I have already met Zoe. What about Mere’s husband, your father?”
My dad didn’t answer. His father was a subject he hated discussing.
“Was your mom currently married?”
“No. Never married”
“No idea of your father’s identity?”
“Any other siblings?”
Ruiz face remained expressionless during this part of the interview. My father’s jaw tightened.
“Did your mother have any enemies or colleagues that she was arguing with?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Zoe, can you think of any enemies or colleagues that caused problems for your grandmother?”
“No, she loved the library,” I said.
Ruiz shuffled his feet, saying, “Yeah, yeah we have been over to the library. Everyone loved her. She loved the library. There are always cracks in the facade, tension in the work place, differences among the employees. Come on, tell me the dirt.”
My dad shook his head and said, “My mother worked well with department heads, librarians, and patrons. I never heard any serious complaints or major problems about her job.”
Suddenly I interrupted. “But then there is that controversy over the future of the library. Now that people use tablets to read and get information. You do you know about that, Detective?”
Ruiz quickly responded, “Like closing them and saving the taxpayers wads of money. Any time I go in these libraries, they are empty.”
I added, “With e books and the digitization of research there are lots of changes going on in the library. There were definitely differences on where and how to spend the library’s money.”
“Oh, now we might be on to something. Ruiz got interested. “Money can be a motive to kill. Which side was your grandmother on print or digital?”
“Oh, the amazing part of Mere was that she usually saw both sides of controversial issues.”
“Well, isn’t that great? That makes it easy to figure out,” Ruiz said, with a smirk. “We will take a closer look at the geeks and the old school paper hoarders. I got to get over to the library. I’ll be in touch. If you think of anything that might be helpful, call us.”
“Definitely,” my dad said, showing Ruiz out the door.
“That Ruiz makes me crazy.” I said.
“So I noticed,” my dad answered. “Why, Zoe? He’s getting the facts. The FBI is involved. They’re using CSI techniques. What more do you want?”
“That’s the problem, Dad. It’s all factual, scientific. What about intuition, feelings?”
“Oh God, did I hear intuition? The next thing you’ll have a medium in the Rose Room of The Forty - Second Street Library. Listen, Zoe, don’t start that supernatural shit. It’s just too much for me with your grandmother gone. Right after the funeral you should go back to Boston and be with your mom. She cut short trip to China. You would be safer with her.”
I remembered how angry my dad was when I first became interested in the paranormal. My mother claimed this curiosity in the spirit world was just a stage that I was going through. Now with my grandmother’s murder, I couldn’t tell my dad that she had already started communicating. In fact, Mere had the gift. She was intuitive, sensitive to the supernatural. Would my dad ever be open to any of this? Just after two meetings with Ruiz, I knew the paranormal would not be recognized in this case.
“I won’t give up and just leave New York with Mere’s murderer free. Dad, please.”
“Alright, enough. Just let me make this very clear. There is a murderer at bay.
I do not want you interfering with the police work. No psychics, mediums or spiritual healers, or gurus. Do you hear me?”
I didn’t answer. I wanted to scream, “Your mother has been murdered. No, Dad, let’s not let our feelings show. I guess intuition and emotions don’t add up when you’re always looking at the bottom line. But instead I mumbled. “Listen I gotta get out of here. Make a visit to church.”
“Church?” My dad frowned.
“St. Francis, Mere’s church, where she went to mass every Sunday.”
“Of course. I’m waiting for them to call me back about a day and time for the funeral.”
Again I didn’t respond but I thought. Sure, Dad, let’s get Mere buried as quickly as possible. That’s so you, Dad. Immediately clean up the entire mess and go on pretending life is controllable.
“I’m worried about you being on the streets until the cops catch who did this.”
“Dad, it’s daytime on crowded streets in New York City with a population of 8 million. Who knows how long it will take the cops to get this guy?”
“You have your phone?” Dad asked.
“Do you need money?”
“No,” I snapped. Mom gave me extra money.” Money, the fuel to Dad’s power.
“All right, I have to make some calls - I’m having trouble getting in touch with her sister, Claire . She’s the only one left now.”
“What’s up with her sister? Mere avoided talking about her. They both live in New York, but they didn’t see each other or even talk. That’s really weird.”
Dad said, “I don’t know. Some grudge from long ago. Listen, Zoe, just like I told you, if it all works out, we will have the wake tomorrow and the burial the next day.”
I blinked away the tears before Dad could spot them.
“Dad, I gotta go now.”
He looked so alone standing in the living room staring into his laptop. I wanted to hug him but that distance, like an invisible moat he had to protect himself, always kept me back. Maybe that was his way of controlling me.