Authors: C. J. Carmichael
Tags: #General Fiction
(a twisted cedars mystery)
C. J. Carmichael
Copyright © 2012 by C.J. Carmichael. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
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The root of the modern day library goes back to the United Kingdom and 1847 when Parliament appointed a committee, led by William Ewart, to consider the necessity of establishing, throughout the nation, free libraries, assessable by all.
- per Michael H. Harris in
The History of Libraries in the Western World
* * *
During the post-Civil War years in the United States, the establishment of public libraries was spearheaded chiefly by women’s clubs. They contributed their own collections of books, conducted lengthy fund raising campaigns for buildings, and lobbied within their communities for financial support for libraries.
- per Paula D. Watson, in
* * *
A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.
- Jo Godwin
* * *
are the collective memory of the human race.
- Donald C. Davis, Jr.
back in the seventies
four women were killed. Librarians....
The odd message arrived in Dougal Lachlan’s Inbox on the last Friday in May, channeled through his website into a special folder he used for fan mail. He was slouched into the sofa in his East Village apartment, going through line-edits on his latest true crime manuscript. His cat Borden, having been denied her favorite perch—the one on his lap—was curled up on the cushion beside him.
Normally Dougal pursued his writing with single-minded devotion. But since his mother’s death last year, he was often, and easily, diverted.
You don’t know me. But you should. I’ve got a story that will be the best of your career. Back in the seventies four women were killed. Librarians. No one ever solved the cases. But I know what happened. Ever hear of Elva Mae Ayer? She was the first. Check it out then let me know if you want the names of the others. I am here and willing to help
The message was from a Hotmail account with the name “Librarianmomma.”
At thirty-four Dougal had been researching murders and serial killers—and writing about them—for about eighteen years. During that time, his website had attracted a fair amount of crackpot emails. Some messages threatening, others claiming insider information about grisly crimes that were beyond the power of his own vivid imagination. In the beginning of his career, he passed these emails to his local NYPD precinct. Over the years, though, he stopped bothering. At conferences, when he spoke with other authors of mystery, thriller, and true crime—they had similar stories to tell.
Getting letters from wing nuts came with the territory. You just ignored them and carried on doing your job.
Which is what Dougal intended to do this time. He switched screens back to his line-edits, working his way through a cup of instant coffee and twenty more pages. Normally he loved this stage of a project—the penultimate fussing with details and tweaking of words before his manuscript went in for printing.
But this last book hadn’t flowed like the others. He hadn’t felt his usual passion. The research was tedious, the writing laborious. Maybe Belinda had been right after all. He should have set the project aside for a while. Taken some time to grieve.
He’d broken off with Belinda instead. And kept writing. He didn’t think the story had suffered as a result...at least his editor seemed pleased with the final result. He wasn’t so sure himself.
The typed lines on the page began to blur and Dougal let his hands drop from the keyboard. Borden blinked, stretched, and then pounced to the hardwood floor, in search of her premium cat food, a special brand formulated for senior cats, which she sometimes deigned to eat.
Dougal needed a break, too. He switched back to email, but there were no new messages.
So he read the one from Librarianmomma again.
It was different from his usual crackpot email. Most of them expounded on the grisly details of the crime, to a nauseating degree. This one was almost clinically detached when referring to the crimes. Also notable was the element of enticement, as evidenced by the invitation to write back, the promise of more details, and the story of his career.
Also, most of his prank mail involved unsolved crimes that had received a lot of press coverage, usually infamous or very recent killings. Whereas Librarianmomma was referring to an obscure murder—or series of murders—that occurred decades ago.
out, the email had said. Maybe he would. Dougal typed “Elva Mae Ayer” into a search engine. There were no exact name matches.
He should let it drop, but his instinct for story kicked in. He grabbed his phone from the table where it sat next to a pile of his unopened mail. Danny Delucy, a former cop who’d been derailed by disability into opening his own private investigation agency, sounded surprised to hear from him. “I didn’t know you were working on a new story.”
“Me either. I’m supposed to be finishing up the latest one. But something just distracted me.” He relayed the essence of the email and the name of the librarian who’d supposedly been murdered.
Two hours later Danny called back. “Wow—that took some digging.” The sound of papers shuffling carried over the line, and then Danny spoke again. “I did find a homicide case from 1972. Victim was Elva Mae Ayer—a forty-year-old librarian. Strangled in the basement of the library where she worked.”
So the woman was real. And she
Dougal’s eyes burned from too little sleep and too much staring at pages on a computer screen. He shut them. What would a librarian in the early 1970’s have been like? He knew the era best from old TV re-runs like The Brady Bunch and, his Mom’s favorite, the Mary Tyler Moore, where the women were portrayed as perky, pretty and morally upstanding.
Whatever the decade, however, a librarian seemed an unlikely target for murder. Dougal pictured a Mary Tyler Moore lookalike in the basement of a library, surrounded by stacks of books, file cabinets, archives. This would be before the computer and internet revolutionized libraries. There would still be cards at the back of every book. Card catalogues and basements filled with aging newsprint.
The librarian would likely be in a knee-length skirt and sweater. She’d be wearing glasses, of course, and as she worked at filing books from a cart he visualized a man with murderous intent sneaking up behind her...
He shook his head. Overactive imagination. Curse of the trade. “Did they find the guy who did it?”
“Nope. This is one cold case. How did you hear about it?”
“After all these years? Bizarre.”
“Agreed.” And it was the extreme weirdness of the message—and the fact that it was grounded in truth—that piqued his curiosity. That and the fact that he was bored of his edits and had no new project waiting in the wings. Not even a germ of an idea. Ten years ago he’d had a notebook crammed with possible book concepts. Last year, after the funeral he hadn’t attended, he’d tossed the notebook.
“Anything else you can tell me?”
“Guess what she was strangled with? A woman’s red silk scarf. That’s weird, huh?”
A memory assailed Dougal, long-forgotten, but vivid. His mother giving him a kiss before she went out for an evening of dancing, the edges of her soft scarf tickling his cheek. This one multi-colored, not red. Dougal had been four at the time. Thirty years ago...
Dougal coughed to get rid of the sudden lump growing in his throat. He’d been having a lot of flashbacks to his childhood in the past year. Stuff he hadn’t thought of in decades. He wished the memories would cease and desist. Hadn’t he moved here eighteen years ago to get rid of that baggage?
“So where did this happen?”
Danny paused, presumably to check his notes. “Roseburg, Oregon.”
Adrenaline pumped through Dougal’s body. His skin literally tingled. “You sure?”
“You heard of the place?”
“I grew up near there.” In a small town by the ocean called Twisted Cedars. He and his sister had lived with their mother in a trailer park on the east side of town. He’d hated that town, that trailer, their life. Right after he graduated high school, he’d left, and he hadn’t been back since.
Had the email come from someone who knew him? Roseburg was only a few hours from Twisted Cedars.
He thanked Danny, then disconnected. For a while he just sat, letting the information soak in and settle. When his stomach gurgled, he noticed he was sitting in the near-dark. No wonder he was hungry. He’d been sitting here working since he’d dragged himself out of bed this morning.
God how his muscles ached—neck, shoulders, back. He rubbed a hand over his face and realized it had been more than just a day or two since he’d shaved.
He ought to shower and clean himself up. Go out and get a meal. Rub elbows with other members of the human race. But he didn’t have the energy for any of it.
Was this depression? Was Belinda right, again? Was that what was the matter with him?
Dougal’s empty stomach growled again. His sated cat, perched on the window ledge, looked at him haughtily, as if to say,
Why don’t you just eat, already?
But there were no cans of people food to open in his kitchen. Not unless he lowered his standards to Borden’s mushy chicken and liver food. His fridge was bare, too. Remembering a brochure for Thai food, he went to the pile on the table and sorted through the mess of unopened envelopes and fliers.
The fancy envelope, which had been delivered two weeks ago, caught his eye. The paper was thick, expensive, the kind used for invitations to life-changing events. The return address was familiar—it had been his for the first eighteen years of his life. He’d wondered if his sister Jamie had sold the old doublewide after their mother died. Apparently not.
He stood in the hallway holding the wedding invitation for a long time. His sister had loved fairy tales when she was little.
Happily ever after
had been her favorite ending. Despite the hard facts of their existence—deserted by their father, dirt poor, living in a trailer—she’d believed in it. Jamie, like their mother, saw the best in everyone. Until recently, that had included him. He expected his sister’s adoration had dimmed somewhat in the past year. After all, what kind of ungrateful son doesn’t come home when his mother is diagnosed with cancer and then doesn’t even show for her funeral?
Belinda had actually booked them plane tickets. Her last action as his girlfriend. He’d asked her to move out after that, and frankly, her departure had been a relief. With her gone he could finally wallow in his misery, without the additional burden of feeling guilty about it.
The envelope felt heavy in his hand. He should either throw it out, or open the damn thing. He opened it and pulled out a “Save the Date” card with a collage of photographs, several of a romantic couple, another with the same couple but including two kids, a boy and a girl.
Dougal’s face burned with anger and shock as he stared at the man posing beside his beautiful, sweet sister. No. Not Kyle.