Madeline Webber had been a special collections librarian for over thirty years. Madeline, a woman around my grandmother’s age with ramrod posture, was now reaming out Chase, a tech expert at the library. Chase had introduced my grandmother to his brother Dylan, baby wizard and our digital consultant at the séance. Chase sat stone faced in response to Madeline’s lecture. That pose was not unusual for him. Even when Chase told a joke, he seemed painfully uncomfortable like a stiff white shirt and tie at a rock concert.
From outside the door, I heard remnants of the conversation between them.
Chase was begging, “Just give this virtual reality program a try. It’s amazing in its ability to make the reader proactive in reliving history. Just imagine if you were an actor in the Globe Theater. Shakespeare himself becomes your director.
Maddy wasn’t buying any of it. “Why must we always participate? You can learn a lot from observing. It’s not always about us, Chase.”
“Madeline, try to be reasonable.”
“You are telling me to be logical. All your suggestions are tech based. I’m surprised you came to this meeting in person and didn’t send an avatar.
Just to let you know, Chase, you can’t razzle dazzle me with this computer wizardry. I’m on to you and the hordes of techies who have invaded the library system. One Friday after you’re running this place, I know I’ll get a tweet from you that my services are no longer needed. An electronic pink slip! All the information here has been stored on a chip that is up for sale at Christie’s Auction House. You will have no problem in firing me in 140 characters or less.”
In response Chase calmly got up from his seat and in an even toned voice said, “Madeline, you do know what happens to those who fail to adapt? They go extinct.”
“Is that a threat, Chase?”
He barely nodded as he walked past me. I waited a minute or two to give Maddy a
chance to get herself together. She prided herself on always being in control. I knocked gently on the office door and called, “Madeline.” The thin, meticulously dressed librarian stood up and quickly took a breath.
“Zoe,” she called. For a moment tears filled her eyes as she extended her open arms around me as I sort of stepped back. Then I saw her strong gaze restored and heard her deep carefully measured authoritarian tone.
“O Zoe, I firmly disapprove of you coming here so soon.”
“I just had to come, Maddy.”
“How about some hot tea and I have a homemade scone squirreled away in my bag?
I hope you haven’t succumbed to eating the over priced processed pastry the library now sells in the café in Astor Hall. Imagine! The Astor family must be rolling in their graves.”
I just shook my head no. Actually I enjoyed their pastry.
Maddy could be scary until you got to know her. I remembered how kind she was to me over the years when I visited my grandmother at work. She often took the time to share with me a sheet of music from the beginning of Rock or some quirky poem that most would find crazy but would tickle my off beat imagination. An avid bird watcher, she introduced me to Pale Male, the famous red tailed hawk that swooped and glided over Fifth Avenue.
More importantly Maddy was a loyal friend to my grandmother. She and Mere enjoyed intellectual discussions about books, political events, philosophical ideas. After work they often visited the Met . they shared a subscription to the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. cr. Just being in her office made me feel closer to Mere.
“Maddy, I just can’t imagine that she died here. You know how much she loved this library.”
“If she hadn’t died in such a horrible way, the library would have been her choice for her last day on earth. I just hope they get the bastard who did it.”
As Maddy spoke of the killer, outrage registered in her eyes.
I asked, “Have you heard any more about the case?”
Little passed Maddy’s microscopic eye. She was often a good source of information, as well as gossip.
“The library is teeming with police, but I don’t hear any concrete evidence that would indicate they are closer to catching the murderer. Now the Gutenberg is gone too. Ironic now that the Bible is missing, the world takes note of its value. A book that spawned literacy for the masses returns to the spotlight through robbery.”
“I don’t know. The more I ask, the more complicated it seems. I so much want to make sense of it. Tell me what happened the day of the murder. You were probably the last person to see her.”
“Everyone is asking that question. That detective was here this morning.”
“Detective Ruiz? I just left him downstairs.”
“Yes, Ruiz, That’s right. As I told him Gwen came in late. She had a meeting scheduled with techies who are integrating the latest software into our computer system. Well that comes as no surprise to you. You just heard Chase and my lively discussion over virtual reality in the collection - absurd. You know your grandmother didn’t see it my way. She was the naive liberal, championing new ideas, meeting the techies with an open mind. One day I just had enough of the paperless digital age and all its promises, so I asked Gwen point blank, “You do know all these young computer gurus that you are in awe of are hell bent in putting old dead tree killers like us out of a job?”
“How did my grandmother react to that?”
She said, “Oh Maddy, don’t be such a reactionary. The book is simply evolving.”
Clearly Maddy didn’t like that idea and she honed in on the messenger, Chase. She viewed him as unemotional as the computers he loved. I smiled to myself imagining Maddy’s reaction if she ever found out that Mere and I included Dylan in our séance to resurrect Steve Jobs.
“Maddy, this morning I saw Chase and Dylan riding their bikes outside the library. Chase made a clear effort to acknowledge me. I could tell he was saddened by Mere’s death.
The sarcastic tone in Maddy’s voice clearly indicated her disbelief. “How sorry was he, out bike riding?”
In a futile effort to defend Chase, I replied,” Well, bicycling is part of his everyday routine. He can work anywhere he has access to a computer.”
She rolled her eyes. “Today Chase is working from Central Park where he and his baby brother are competing in some bicycle race. Apparently they ride in the park every morning around six.”
“Where in the park?”
“Around the loop? Chase’s brother, Baby Wizard, probably still has training wheels on his bike.”
Our eyes met. Maddy was on a snarky roll which I could not stop. I knew exactly where they worked out. Madeline clearly resented their digital power within the library and she wasn’t alone. I made a mental note to meet them in the park and away from the library as soon as I could.
“Maddy, what about the day of the murder?”
“On the afternoon of your grandmother’s death, she mentioned that she might be a little late getting back from lunch.”
“She was quite late. I hate to say it, but this wasn’t the first time she left me hanging. All the years we worked together your grandmother was so professional, punctual, and dependable. You don’t find those qualities in most people. I feel badly because our last conversation was tense. I remember saying, “Gwen, we’re friends. You know I don’t mind helping you. Is everything all right?”
“What did she say?”
She said, “Madeline, a problem from my past has resurfaced. It needs to be taken care of during business hours. I believe it’s coming to a close.”
It was coming to a close all right – a horrible ending I thought.
Madeline further explained, “When Detective Ruiz was here this morning, he took your grandmother’s computer and was asking a lot of questions.”
“The first thing he asked was did I notice any change in her behavior?”
“I told him no, but now that I come to think about it, she had been acting rather strange in the past months. A few times I came in on conversations that she definitely didn’t want me to hear. I didn’t tell the police this, but I thought maybe your grandmother was involved romantically with someone.”
“Mere, romantic? Well this is news.”
“Do you know anything about that, Zoe?”
“No, I can’t believe she would keep something like that when I told her about every guy who caught my eye.”
Madeline didn’t smile.
“Well when your grandmother started to take these long lunch hours, she would take extra care with her appearance. She gave more attention to her makeup. Even her clothes improved.”
“Don’t tell me she finally trashed those classic blazers,” I said.
“Let’s say a slight upgrade. Definitely added a scarf or jewelry.”
I couldn’t wait to tell my mom.
“Zoe, not that I’m the type to pry into a friend’s private affairs, but her calendar had quite a few recent visits to the Antiquarian Books store on Madison Avenue. Do you know anything about that?”
“Not really, but like you, my grandmother loved old books - first editions, Moroccan leather covers, finely detailed illustrations. However, I don’t think she ever mentioned that particular store to me. Not that I remember, anyway.”
“I also salvaged some personal correspondence from her desk before the police took out everything. Nothing the police would find helpful. I thought you might want it.”
As I left Madeline’s office, I quickly looked through what appeared to be mostly junk mail, but one little note card jumped out. The address on the envelope was printed. The return address was from a New York law firm. Above the company logo, the name Edwin Spencer had been handwritten in script. Inside on a small heavy crème colored note card was a handwritten message.
Share with me an opportunity to acquire the rarest of books, the find of a lifetime.
Let’s meet at my office @5:30. We can negotiate over dinner at Le Bernardin.
Who was Edwin? Should I get Ruiz involved? What should I do next? Mere in a romance-this was getting crazier by the minute.
I texted Ruiz to meet me by the Lions. Ironic seeing him pacing next to the library stone lion named Patience. I had to smile.
As soon as he spotted me, he said, “Let’s roll.”
Getting into his black sedan, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Mere dressed in her beige raincoat walking down the block. She was headed toward the library cellar. Was I losing my mind? When I turned to get a better look, suddenly she was gone. Then I noticed in the lower portion of the library, black shadows moving in the basement windows of the empty stacks. Shadows right below the place where Mere was murdered. What did this mean?
“Hey Zoe, you’re looking rather weird!” Ruiz yelled.
He had just told me his only interest was in what could be proven? I couldn’t tell this unimaginative cop I was chasing my grandmother’s ghost. I would investigate this alone. But hadn’t I sworn I would never return to that cellar where Mere was killed?
Driving myself crazy about how to find out more about the shadows, I was relieved when my phone beeped. A text from Dad: Meet me at the diamond counter at Tiffany’s on Fifth Ave.
“Detective, my dad is waiting for me at Tiffany’s.”
“What does your dad do for a living again?” Just then a uniform cop called to Ruiz,
“Hey they want you in the elevator– some kind of evidence.”
Evidence. I wanted to stick around and find out what, but my dad’s text sounded more urgent.
I hopped out of the car and hurried toward the subway entrance. I could hear Ruiz calling after me, “Wait, Zoe...”
Since it was the middle of the day, the dark gray subway station was nearly empty and it really creeped me out. Why didn’t I wait for Ruiz? My head spun when I looked down the subway platform. Could it be? I just saw my grandmother headed for the library cellar. Now here she was again on the far end of the subway station. She was bent over talking to a homeless man lying on the ground. Horatio?
As I rushed toward them, the train roared in. By the time I got to the spot only Horatio sat against the subway wall.
Horatio whispered, “Your grandmother has a message for you.”
As I turned and looked into his sunken face, I tried not to act afraid, but I was terrified.
“So that was her, here talking to you?”
Horatio chose to ignore my question and asked,
“Do you know what she’s upset about?”
“Yes, I said. “Her killer is still out there. The world is blaming her for taking one of the most important books ever.”
“No, Miss. She’s says you are in danger.”
I just started yelling, “Danger – what do you mean? The killer is after me. Is he close by? ”
As Horatio rushed toward the exit, I stood there calling after him on an empty train platform.
“Do you know where the killer is now?”
Once again Horatio chose not to answer.
I ran back up the stairs to the street filled with people. I jumped into a cab. I was still shaking when we pulled up in front of Tiffany’s. I didn’t want to freak out my Dad. What was I going to tell him? Not that I saw my dead grandmother running into the cellar, and that Horatio, the homeless murder suspect, told me I was in danger.
However, when I saw dad holding a diamond engagement ring in his hand with an employee from the store looking at it, I blurted out, “So Dad, you’re getting married again and this is the way you’re telling me?”
“Oh, so snarky is the new you,” my dad replied. “Let me guess. You just finished up with Detective Ruiz? Zoe, you will be surprised to find out that this diamond ring is yours. Your grandmother left it to you in her will. I’m here with the appraiser.”
As my eyes took in the large oval sparkling diamond I said, “I never saw it before. Did you, Dad?”
“Nope. A rather large stone.”
“Is that real?” I questioned.
“Tiffany’s on Fifth says two karats.” All I could think of was Edwin Spencer and that address of the law firm I had in my bag. Dad thanked the man behind the counter and we walked out on to Fifth Avenue.
“Daddy, who gave Mere this ring?”
“Don’t have a clue.”
“It probably was your father.”
“How any times do I have to tell you, Zoe? I don’t know and I don’t care who my father is.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Well, that’s your mistake.” My dad was getting ruffled. I saw him close his eyes for a second and then he calmly continued.
“I know all this - the murder, now this ring. It’s a lot to take in. My head is reeling too. You’re hell bent on staying. Your mother thinks it’s part of the grieving process. I don’t know, but I since you are here, I could use some help. I have been on the phone nonstop with the church, the funeral home, the cemetery. The funeral parlor wants us to display pictures or videos. I just can’t handle it and all that stuff in Mere’s apartment. I’m overwhelmed.”
“Thanks Z. Listen, people don’t even look at those pictures. Maybe we could hire a company to come in and get rid of that stuff. I realize some of her books are valuable. We’ll have them appraised and sell them.”
“Stop, Daddy, just stop. Obviously none of Mere’s things means anything to you, but they mean a lot to me. It’s all I have left of her. We are not going to just throw Mere’s life in the trash in fifteen minutes or less. I need time to do this. I want to do it and I have to check on Percy.”
“Mere’s cat. Remember?”
“Oh that cat that makes my eyes water. Some young musician who lives above Mere is watching the cat until we decide what we want to do with it. Try to convince him to keep that psycho cat.”
“Dad! Mere loved that cat.”
“She did, but I don’t. We will deal with the cat later. Thanks again, Zoe. This is a big help. You’re sure you don’t mind doing this alone?”
“No, Dad, I don’t.”
That was really the truth. As we walked to the West Side, I felt going to Mere’s apartment was my chance of being alone with Mere. Already I sensed her at my Dad’s place and spotted her at St. Francis and the subway. Her apartment probably would be the best place to get some definite answers and find out about these photos on my phone. Walking usually cleared my head, but today my thoughts focused on the ring, a remembrance from Mere’s lover and possibly my grandfather.
Right before my dad and I parted, he said, “Zoe, there’s one more thing Mere left you.”
“I don’t want them.”