Though my first impulse was to run away from here, in another way I knew Mere loved this library so much. I owed it to her to show Ruiz what a remarkable place it was.
As we walked through the bronze front door, I felt like a princess who was returning home to the palace where I no longer belonged. I looked around Astor Hall, the huge marble grand entrance space with two swirling staircases on either side. Looking down at a map of the library, Ruiz said, “Wow this is some place. More like a European palace than a library.”
“Well I can see you are a detective with fine taste in architecture. This is New York’s central library and it was built in a style similar to that of the National Library of Paris.”
“It’s fancy all right.”
“It had to be. It was built to rival the great libraries of the world. Astor Hall’s white marble came from the Pantheon. This library is the third largest in the US. It holds about 15 million items. Only around 6 million are books.”
“What are the remaining nine million items?” Ruiz asked.
“All kinds of cool historical documents and artifacts are here.”
“Christopher Columbus’ letter to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand regarding his voyage to the New World. Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, with ideas that show that Jefferson was against slavery. He had to delete those ideas to get the South to agree.”
For a moment Ruiz looked speechless. Then he said, “And I thought libraries were just about books and being quiet. That brings me to another dumb question about the biggest library in the city. Where are the books? Except for some kid’s books downstairs by the bathroom, I don’t see any books.”
The first thing you have to understand is the Forty- Second Street Library , for the last century, has been a research library and had nothing to do with the circulating libraries throughout New York City. That means that the books, materials stay here. You don’t come here to take out a book.”
“So you come here to do research.”
“Yep, and some of the greatest minds in all fields come to this very place to do their research.
Ruiz asked, “Did library elves run up and down all these stairs delivering the books?”
“No, you filled out a call slip in pencil and it was placed in a pneumatic tube that was sucked down into the stacks. A team of librarians retrieved your research and sent it back upstairs to you via a small elevator.”
“Very cool,” Ruiz commented. “But like we were discussing yesterday in your dad’s apartment, you have to wonder how much longer a place like this will exist. With computers, this seems like a huge expensive burden for a taxpayer, like an underpaid detective.”
“Recently there have been arguments between scholars who want this to stay a special place to study and research, and socially conscious media buffs who want to make it more attractive to the public. The battle rages on. The books that had been stored here underground had been moved off site to New Jersey. However, writers and scholars protested so strongly that they are bringing them back to the library. Storage goes down seven stories.
“Seven stories underground!” Ruiz whistled. “I wonder who is roaming around there now? Maybe some of your spirit friends who we can introduce to the psychic when the police department assigns one?”
“Very funny, Ruiz. Just so you are aware, I feel a strong sense of the dead here and right outside in Bryant Park.”
“Well, Halloween is a favorite holiday. Maybe the library can get the spirits to raise some money to save the place.”
“Like I was saying some administrators want to make the library more user friendly with discussions, workshops and a café in the lobby.”
Ruiz looked around again saying. “Well this place is monumental. Take a lot more than a Starbucks in the library to foot the bill. I could see closing it.”
“Closing it,” I yelled. “Wait until I show you around, you will change your mind.”
I pointed to a set of brown wooden doors. “Right here is the Periodical Room where the general public can come to read newspapers and magazines.”
“Right,” said Ruiz. “How many people do that these days? Don’t you just open our laptop or iPad to get a glimpse of what’s happening in the news?”
“Okay, so you don’t have piles of newspapers on the coffee table in your apartment. Do you ever go to museums?”
“When I got a couple of hours off, my first choice isn’t a museum when I can go to a concert or catch a Yankee game. Of course, I have been to museums. Just a couple of weeks ago, I took my seven year old nephew to the Museum of Natural History. I’m really into those dinosaurs - Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops.”
“That big, prehistoric animal with fire coming from its mouth - I could see you and them together.”
He glared at me.
Why did I want to insult him? I’m usually not mean.
“So, if you enjoy exhibitions, Detective, you just might be interested in some of the great exhibitions here.”
“Exhibitions of what?”
“Oh you name it. One Christmastime they had a wonderful exhibit of Charles Dickens with original manuscripts, his writing desk, first edition of A Christmas Carol.
Ruiz smiled. There was that single dimple - definitely cute.
“I like information, research and non-fiction.”
“Well, as a police officer that works in the city I bet something you might really like is the library’s map collection that shows how the city grew from the seaport expanding north. It’s amazing.”
“I do like maps.”
“What about restaurants?” I asked.
“Zoe, now you’re talking my language. One of the best parts of being a cop is discovering places to eat. All kinds of food from countries around the world is being cooked in little New York restaurants run by immigrants. The price they charge is so cheap. ”
" Since you are obviously a foodie, one interesting exhibition was called Lunch Hours of New York that had menus from the great restaurants in the city to a recreation of an automat where New Yorkers put nickels into machines filled with basic food.”
“Hey, Zoe, Do you like Spanish food?”
“Then it’s settled. Someday I’ll take you to my abuela’s in the Bronx.”
“Your grandmother’s? I don’t think so.”
“You can’t get better Spanish food in any place in Manhattan or the five boroughs for that matter. Come with me to my grandmother’s. She’s as tough as any sergeant. You’ll love her.”
Was Ruiz serious? This was too crazy. My grandmother murdered, and the detective on the case hitting on me, even after I just insulted him. Then again I liked the feel of his touch.
How could I even be thinking about this with Mere dead just a little while ago. What was wrong with me?
As I looked toward the staircase, Ruiz said, “If you’re thinking of taking me to the second floor, I have been to the executive offices and already talked too much to the suits who run this place.”
“All right, onto the third floor, the Rose Room, the main reading room.” As we got to the top of the stairs, I yelled, “Stop! Before we go in, I want to show you the rotunda outside the Rose Room. Detective, look up.”
Painted on the ceiling was a sky dotted with puffy clouds with the god Prometheus stealing fire from heaven to enlighten human kind. Along the walls were a series of murals that highlight important moments in the history of the written word from Moses presenting the tablets with the ten commandments to Times Square where The New York Times was first published.
“Who has time to read anymore? I don’t know,” said Ruiz. “English was never one of my favorite classes. You know in English class, they talked and talked about the book, but in the end you never got a definite answer to the questions being discussed. So, if there is no clear cut answers to these literary questions, how could I get a C in Intro to Lit at John Jay. Me, a C? Can you imagine?”
I thought this guy is like my dad, with the sole focus on a grade – a bottom line.
“What about what you learned in the course?”
“Yeah, the meaning of life. That doesn’t do much for me in my line of work, as you can see.”
“So I see, Detective.”
“Listen, enough with that Detective shit. How about from now on you call me Ruiz and I I’ll call you Donovan?”
“Oh, like we’re partners or something?”
“That’s right. We are working together – kind of. Me from planet earth and then where are you coming from again - heaven or maybe that place just below heaven. They got a lot of psychics there.
I just inhaled. “It’s not all that crazy. Sometimes when you are working on a case do you sense the answer isn’t in the facts, but in your feelings, your intuition? You know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t Zoe. You gotta understand something. As a detective, it’s not what you know but what you can prove. I need concrete evidence and I definitely don’t have time for that hocus pocus shit.”
So, no sense in aggravating Ruiz with the news that my grandmother’s spirit visited me in my dad’s apartment and in St. Francis. I moved the tour along.
“Well Ruiz, I don’t know if you can handle the next part of the tour.” We stepped into The Rose Reading Room, a two hundred and fifty three foot room with a fifty foot ceiling and rows of long oak tables with computer stations. Quite a few of America’s great books were researched and written on these very tables. The Rose Room, the heart and soul of the library, was deliberately designed on the upper level so the writers could feel peace and enjoy quiet as they read, researched, and wrote.
“Maybe I’ll write my memoirs here after I become Commissioner.”
I smiled. “No surprise there.”
Ruiz looked around. “Okay, you got a point. This impressive place has got information, plus cool interesting stuff. It’s a shame that it’s going extinct. Let’s face it, two year olds have iPads.”
“Well, access to the information in a building like this is far from extinct. But you’re right about finding this information on line. Most of the research material from this library has been digitally scanned by Google in the DPLA.”
“The DPLA?” Ruiz asked.
“The Digitalization of Public Libraries of America.”
He continued, “I guess this is where administrators start fighting over where to spend the money - on those first editions or high speed computers.
Ruiz’ comments about technology reminded me that I definitely needed to talk to Dylan and his brother Chase.
He continued to make his point. “Sorry, Zoe, but Silicon Valley might be expanding here any nanosecond. Computer is now King.”
“But not for those who love the feel, the smell of the book. Even the type of print, the quality of paper. All that goes into the art of the book. The romance of a book can’t be replaced by the computers. One of my best memories about books is just holding Mere’s 1923 edition of Alice in Wonderland in my hands. It is a navy blue hard cover with large dark bold print. A hand painted cover shows Alice in black patent leather shoes running after the Mad Hatter dressed in a red waist coat looking anxiously down at his watch.”
Ruiz didn’t look impressed. “Well a librarian’s granddaughter would feel like that. For a girl who doesn’t like to read, you sure seem in love with books.”
“I used to read like crazy.”
“Zoe, so what happened that turned you off from books? Wait, let me guess. Boys?”
“Not exactly. My parents got divorced. I was depressed. I started listening to music instead of reading.”
“I hear you. I was a teenager, a rebel with tattoos.”
I was dying to ask where his tattoos were. Nowhere as visible as the gun he carried on his hip.
My attraction quickly turned to anger which shot up like a geyser when Ruiz led me to the spot where the Gutenberg used to be displayed. The empty glass case lay like a desecrated tomb. We just stood there in silence. Ruiz closely watched my facial reaction as if I was hiding information about the Bible. Obviously he too was skeptical.
He finally said, “Zoe, law enforcement knows the Gutenberg is too hot to sell. It’s just a matter of finding out where it’s hidden. Any ideas?”
“You’re sure your grandmother never hinted at a hiding place?”
I was so angry that I just stared at him. He moved right along.
“Zoe, how about going down into the basement?”
“That’s the cellar where my grandmother was killed.”
“I know. I think revisiting the spot may help you remember something.”
I exploded, “Ruiz, are you out of your mind?” Several visitors and staff turned and looked.
“Take it easy,” he replied. “I can see you’re not ready for this.”
“I’m never going down there again. Do you hear me? Never!”
Ruiz just stared at me.
“How about I take you back to your Dad’s now?”
“Not yet. First I need to see Maddy Webber, my grandmother’s friend. She probably saw my grandmother right before she died.
Ruiz quickly rebounded with “Dragon Lady? You’re angry enough to take on Dragon Lady. Zoe, maybe I’ll go with you to protect Ms. Webber?”
I didn’t laugh, but I was embarrassed.
“Just kidding, Zoe. You know what, after seeing all this, I’m going to barge in to Ms. Webber’s office and pick up Charles Dickens’s pen right off the desk.”
“Like to see you try, Detective. Madeline Webber shows no mercy to any human whose hands soil her artifacts or rare books.”
Ruiz responded, “I’m not surprised. I interviewed Dragon Lady. She’s a piece of work all right. Sorry, even though I carry a weapon. I can’t protect you from her.” Ruiz looked around. “This is some place all right. I don’t know how many New Yorkers even know about it. Thanks for the tour. Keep my abuela’s kitchen in mind for future.”
As I walked toward Maddy’s office, I could feel Ruiz still watching me.