“What do we have here?” A husky, elderly man standing behind the counter smiled, reached over, and lifted my bag.
“They’re books.” I punched my number in the check-out key-pad calling each by name.
“I know they’re books. You’re in a library at the check-out desk. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out – they’re books.”
He made air quotes when he said “they’re books” and emptied my bag examining each book before waving the check-out stick over each of them. “You have some fine choices here.”
Handing me three of my five books, he slipped the other two off to the side. “Can I have those two, please?”
He smiled gaping at the book with the bull on the cover. “Ferdinand. I didn’t think kids read this anymore.” Flipping through pages, he paused to admire the ones with pictures and a smile of admiration covered his face. Then he lowered his plump body in the brown leather chair reading the book aloud like he was a teacher in a kindergarten classroom.
“Are you going to let me check those books out or what?” I reached over the desk gazing at him still seated in the chair. He stood up, removed a handkerchief from his top pocket, and dabbed the corner of his eyes. Then he waved the check-out stick over the remaining books before handing them to me. “I’m sorry. This just took me back in time when I was a -.” He stopped in the middle of his sentence wiping away the tears forming in his eyes. I took my books, crammed them in my bag, and sat in an empty chair by the door waiting for my sister, Claudia. She waddled towards me, hunched over, carrying a tower of books.
Claudia loved to read. If it has words on the page, you best believe she’ll be reading it. In a quote from her Facebook page, “I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to books. I read it all – big books, little books, books with pictures, books without pictures, books about real people, books about fake people. I read it all.” As a result of reading so much, Claudia thinks she knows everything. Daddy and Momma said reading is a good thing. But when Claudia starts correcting them, then Daddy said, “That girl reads too much!”
“Did you find all the books Lucy told you about?” asked Claudia.
“They had all the books except the “The Enchanted Castle” by the Nesbitt lady and The Tower of Treasures by that Franklin guy.”
“How do you expect to find the books if you don’t even know the names of the authors. Did you ask the librarian?”
“No. I checked the shelf and they weren’t there.”
“Go asked a librarian. We are trying to solve a mystery. The clues are in the books. Go find the books!” Claudia stumbled to the desk with gazillion books in her hands. But before unloading them, she followed my every move with her beady little eyeballs.
“Find a librarian, go!” she bellowed across the library like she was searching for me at an amusement park.
“Shhh! This is a no talking zone.” The man at the counter pointed to a sign before reaching over and taking the books from Claudia’s arm. “I’m sorry young lady, but you can only check out five books at a time.”
“Five books? I’ll be finished with those in a half-a-day. What am I supposed to do with the other half of my day?” Claudia walked to the end of the counter, chose two more books, adding them to her pile. Two boys watched from a distance before strolling to the counter. They stood patiently watching Claudia browse the book rack at the end of the counter. The tallest boy blew his curly dark hair from his eyes. “Are you almost done?”
“Does it look like I’m done?” Claudia continued to browse the rack of graphic novels before grabbing two more books adding them to her batch. She moved back to the front of the counter staring at the boys.
“I‘m sorry to upset you,” said the librarian, “but five books. That’s the rule.”
“Change the rule. I want to read. I will read. And you will not stop me. In Chicago, you can check out like thirty books at a time.”
“Well this is not Chicago. It’s Wade City, Florida. And here, our rule states five books.”
Claudia walked towards the boys in the line, took their books, and read the titles out loud – “Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Wonder, and Extra Yarn.” She looked at the man, then the boys, and back to the man.
“I have an idea. Since they can check out five books each and they each have less than five, I will take their additional book checkout.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” said the man. “They have to check their books out, you cannot use their accounts.”
“We’re family. Look at us. See the resemblance. They’re black and we’re black. See…Family.”
“We’re not black,” the short boy interjected hiding behind the tall one. “We’re Mexicans.”
“Mexicans, blacks, we’re all the same. The white man stole Texas from your people, stole America from the Native Americans, and stole Black people from Africa. Then they forced black people to work the stolen land and pay your people half what they would pay regular people. Then they beat and torture black people when they tried to get freedom. Then they turned around and promised black people forty-acres and mule-which we are still waiting on. And now since those things weren’t bad enough, now you’re telling me there is a law that doesn’t want me to read.”
“Fine. Just take ‘em.” The librarian annoyed by Claudia’s spontaneous American History lecture, threw his hands up, and gathered the books in one big pile. “The kids ‘round here never check the books out anyways.”
Claudia punched her number in the key-pad. He waved the check-out stick over the books and handed them to her. “Bring ‘em back in 28 days.”
“I’ll have them back in 10. By the way, where can I find some information about the farm on Elm Street?”
The man took a deep breath, rolled his eyes, and grabbed a bunch of books from under the desk. He loaded them on a rolling cart and pushed the cart between two aisles lined with picture books. Then he motioned for us to follow along which Claudia gladly obliged. Standing in the sections separated by alphabets, he found the authors’ names, and slid the books in their places on the shelf.
Claudia scribbled on a piece of paper. “What are you doing?” I asked taking her backpack throwing it around my shoulders.
“I’m taking notes. Good detectives asked questions and take notes. That’s what we do.”
“Are you guys coming?” The man asked grabbing another handful of books sliding them on the shelf. Claudia and I caught up to him, but I was the only one who offered assistance. I handed him the books from the cart one by one. He found its place on the shelf, and sliding it into its spot. “Okay,” he said. “Ask away. What do you want to know?”
“I want to know about a girl who used to live around here long time ago.”
“Young lady, you have to be more specific than that. This is a town and a lot of girls used to live around here long time ago.” He reached over, took a handful of books from my hands, and lowered himself to stack them on the ground shelf.
“I think she might have been murdered.” As Claudia uttered the words, the man fell backwards knocking the cart over sending books flying in the air. Books landed everywhere – floor, tables, and other shelves. He hurriedly gathered them and walked fast along the aisle. His face paled like a vampire drained five pints of blood from his vein.
“Hey man, you a’ight?” I asked collecting the remaining books lying on the floor handing them to him. He snatched the books, avoided making eye contact, and walked briskly almost running away from us.
“I, I, I don’t think I can help you.” He said headed towards the double door in the back.
“Well, will you please point us in the direction of someone who can?” Claudia asked closing her notepad. She put the cover over the point of the pen and put both of them in her purse. Claudia giggled as she watched the man disappeared in the back of the library.
“What’s so funny?” I asked. “Why are you laughing?”
“This is no ordinary laugh. This is the laugh of progress. We just had our first break in the case.”