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The old brick building stood sentinel at the end of the street, part of a town square that once was the center and hub of a community that was its own haven of commerce, industry and homes. It was a tall, wide but shallow brick design, in the tradition of the old New England architecture sporting a high cupola. The octagonal protrusion from the the high-pitched ceiling had eight windows overlooking the valley, the river, the forested hills to the north and the town's homes and affluent subdivisions from each of its eras. Through those heavily wooded hills nestling snugly around the village, a tiny blacktop ribbon wound casually away toward neighboring, larger suburbs. A 45-minute journey over that rolling, winding road brought them to the little hamlet, and another five minutes of through-town wandering brought them to the foot of the sturdy old brick library, with its concrete steps gradually narrowing toward the double wood-panel doors sent behind the colonial arches and stark white pediment.
JD rolled to a stop in one of the numerous open parking spots just in front of the building, ringed with ancient and beautifully autumn-clad trees and admired the little town's nostalgia not just for days gone by, but for centuries gone by.
He glanced over at Dillon, soundly sleeping -- in fact, snoring -- in the fully reclined passenger seat beside him.
He sat back and rubbed his chin contemplatively, watching Dillon sleep. He scratched somnolently at the ever-present stubble on his jaw, and dropped his hand back onto his chest, resuming his snoring rhythm.
JD leaned carefully over.
"DILLON!! DILLLLLLLOOOOOOONNNN!!!!" he screamed as if being attacked, putting his hands on his chest and shoulder and shaking violently.
Dillon screamed, abject terror stamped over his visage, his eyes glassy and unfocused, limbs gyrating like a bundle of boiled spaghetti tossed helter-skelter into the air. He tried to sit upright but the safety belt snapped taut against his panicked motion and both choked and slammed him solidly back down. JD shook once more then sat back, and finally Dillon's wail of horror died in the confines of the car.
He was panting, mouth slightly agape, trying to gather his bearings.
"Whuh???" he puffed weakly, hand clutched tightly over his heart, "whuh???"
"We're here, Dillon," JD said calmly.
Dillon stared in disbelief, still fighting for breath, and then his head fell heavily back onto the seat as he groaned.
"God ... oh, God ... I so hate you, dude ... I so effing hate you ..."
JD laughed hysterically then, just for a few moments, then collected himself again. "C'mon, let's go. You can't scope library babes from out here."
"I can't go in, dickhead. I have to change my drawers, man. You, like, made me soil my tighty-whities, jackass."
"See you after you wipe, then."
Dillon righted the seat while JD started to open his door.
"I'm so gonna get you for that -- ya know that, right?"
"Please. That's repayment for all the slanderous remarks you made about me last night."
Dillon stretched and a guttural grunt slowly escaped him as he pulled himself up onto tiptoes, long and luxuriant as a cat. Then he surveyed the library with hands on hips, and shook his head.
"Aw, man. There ain't no hot chicks here."
"What made you think there would be?"
"Dude, hot brainy chicks hang out at libraries. Most of 'em have coffee shops 'n crap inside now, too, so you can get yer flirt on an' shit without bein' in the bookwork part. But this? Dude, there ain't nothin' in there but, like, a dried up ol' lady librarian with her hair pulled so tight she can't sneeze or she'll tear her face."
JD stared at his friend in wonder, chuckling and shaking his head. "You have this all figured out, I see."
Dillon shrugged. "I been around. I ain't like you, dork-wad."
JD sighed, still grinning, then headed up the stairs. Dillon followed beside him and they crossed through the wide, heavy wooden doors together. Just inside to the left was a men's room. Dillon slugged JD hard on the shoulder, and gestured toward the facility.
"Thanks t'your ass, I gotta stop here first," he said, slipping inside the bathroom.
JD made sure he was gone, then grimace in pain, rubbing his shoulder and mouthing "OW" largely but silently as he passed through an inner door to the main reception area of the library.
It was richly appointed with beautifully varnished wainscoting and wood accoutrements, the thick, plush hunter green carpet deadening the sound of footfalls as he approached the main desk.
Dillon, it seemed, was right: the woman behind the counter, a stiff, elderly woman with rigid posture and reading glasses perched at the end of her beak-like nose, was the only person he could see. Her shoulders were draped with a black webbing of knit shawl, her hair pulled viciously into a tight bun and pierced with what looked like a pair of miniature knitting needles. JD stifled his laugh, still rubbing his shoulder, and approached the desk.
The librarian looked up at him quizzically before an unexpectedly warm smile crossed over her regal features.
"Good morning," she said softly, obviously accustomed to working in the quiet hallows of a library for decades, "may I help you?" JD noticed the name tag perched just beneath her collar bone that read:
HELLO! My name is BEA."
"Good morning, ma'am," JD said as pleasantly as he could without exceeding her volume, "I certainly hope so. I'm trying to find some town records, and I'm specifically interested in newspaper articles and media items that might relate to the town's history and crime events."
"Oh?" she said, her face genuinely curious. "There really isn't very much crime in our town's history ... it's a very nice place to raise children."
"Oh, absolutely," JD agreed heartily, trying to be pleasant and not intimate that the town was crime-ridden. "I'm looking for a potential missing person report, or perhaps a murder. Because nothing like that ever happens, I'm sure, it would have made the news and I'd like to see those reports."
"Oh, I see," she said, her smile returning. "I thought you may be someone looking to relocate here."
"I'm actually doing some research for clients. I was wondering about town legends and myths, that sort of thing. It's quite fascinating."
"Yes, it is. If you'll follow me I'll show you where the microfiche files are and you can also look through the town documents if you'd like specific information about a location. Those are found in the Reference section, just through the door there," she pointed a prim but aged finger at the sign hanging from the high, white ceiling.
"Oh, thank you very much," JD said as warmly as he could. "I really appreciate your help." He followed a half-step behind her, then ventured another question. "Are you a resident here, ma'am?"
She turned and beamed proudly. "Oh, please, call me Bea. Yes, I've lived here my whole life. In fact, my parents moved here just after the depression. I've been here my whole life."
"Oh, that's wonderful," JD said, the wheels in his head turning. "Then you'd be familiar with any town legends and stories about murders and things like that."
"Oh, yes," she continued, still proudly smiling as she led JD through an open doorway into a hallway with several tiny rooms branching from it. "But there really isn't much of that sort of thing here."
"Oh no," JD said reassuringly. "As I said, the rarity of it would probably make it stand out in your memory ..." he trailed off, trying to prod her.
"Now that you have me thinking of it," she said, tapping her lower lip with the tip of her finger, "there WAS an incident a long, long time ago ..." she was thinking, staring off into the middle distance between them. JD watched her face closely. "... when was that? Oh, goodness, that had to be -- oh, before you were born, I'd guess ..."
JD wanted desperately to help her remember and decided against it. The research had to be factually based, not random -- and potentially false -- memories of interviewed townspeople.
"Let's see," she continued, and opened a door to a room with a desk that held two microfiche machines, each one on the opposite side of a two-person desk, back to back. She went to a wall beyond the desk and opened one of a large bank of drawers, her fingers quickly fishing through the stacks of film plates there.
"I just don't remember the time frame," she said, "but I'm certain there was a person killed here about 30 or 40 years ago," she said. "It shouldn't be too hard to find ... I think if you search the Internet for the town name, the newspaper, and put in some criteria, you'll find what you want. In the meanwhile, I'll see if I can dig up something here. Will that be all right?"
"Well, I don't want to take too much of your time ... you seem to be here alone ..." JD said carefully.
"Oh, that's all right. There's a bell if someone needs help. I'll just be a few minutes. We have computers in the room across the hall. If you need to print something, please see me, though. There are a few processes to go through before you have an account to print."
"Bea, I can't thank you enough," JD said, smiling. "I would've been here for hours searching without your guidance."
"I'm happy to assist," she said smiling back. JD left and went across the hall, opening a glass-paned door to reveal a sterile, white-walled room with two computer set-ups. He sat down at one of the terminals, and launched the web browser.
He thought for a moment, then entered the address of the old Victorian in that affluent subdivision; he typed in the town name; finally, he entered the term "police officer murder" into the search bar and clicked on the "SEARCH" button.
"Sir?" the soft voice said from behind him. Bea spoke so gently he didn't start despite not hearing her on the soft carpeting.
He turned, "Hi," he said smiling.
"I've found some tapes of those articles I mentioned," she said smiling proudly again. "I'll have them at the front desk for you when you're ready to use the fiche machines."
"That's fantastic, thank you!" he said genuinely. He was actually amazed at how easy this was, and felt a bit guilty about making the trip. He could have done it on the Internet from home.
But he felt certain that the local folklore would prove valuable yet, and what Bea produced may yet yield something more than he could find online, particularly if the local newspaper wasn't fully digital yet.
As Bea padded quietly away, he heard her gentle voice drift from the hall. "May I help you?"
"Didja see a dweeb in here somewhere? Nerdy guy, lookin' fer weird stuff?"
Bea said nothing but a moment later Dillon entered the computer room.
"Didja find it yet?"
"Find what yet?"
"Whatever the heck yer lookin' for, dork," Dillon said. "Jeez, dude, don' tell me ya don' know whatcher doin' again."
"Dillon, this is going to take a while. Did you find anyone else you can annoy while I do this?"
"Pff. You gotta be kiddin', dude. Place is a MORGUE -- what's t'do here?"
"I thought you said you were going to 'scope women', or something."
"I toldja, there ain't none. The only chicks in this dump're gonna be, like, fifth graders an' shit."
"I saw a diner up the street," JD said flatly, "why don't you see if you have better luck there?"
"You tryin'a get ridda me or somethin'?"
"Because you're easily bored, I have work to do, and you have the attention span of a goldfish."
"Why don'tcha think I can help ya?"
"Because you're easily bored, I have work to do, and you have the attention span of a goldfish," JD repeated monotonously.
"Dude," Dillon said, "y'gotta lighten up on me. You're just ... you're just flat rude t'me, y'know?"
"Does that hurt your feelings?"
"Yeah. Not really. But still, I can help."
JD sighed, looking up from the monitor. "Okay. Bea has some microfiche films at the front desk. They contain some news articles that she says are about a crime that took place several decades ago. It would help expedite things if you read those and told me whether they're related to what we're doing or not."
"Okay, so ... wait, what now?"
JD sighed. "Forget it."
"Naw, naw," Dillon emphasized, "jus' gimme that one more time."
"You'll forget what I said before you reach the front desk."
"Yes you will. I'll bet you can't even remember why we're here."
"We're lookin' for th' ghost, jerk."
"See?" JD said, gesturing evidentially toward Dillon. "I told you."
"Ain't that what we're doin'?"
"What're we doin' then?"
"We're researching the events we witnessed last night."
"It wasn't a ghost."
"Uh-HUH. Gotcha. It was a movie, right?"
"Dillon, please let me ..."
"Waitaminnit -- that's what you said, right? We didn't see no ghost. We seen a movie 'bout a ghost. The house, or the yard, or somethin' stupid like that, recorded the movie. Ain't that what you said last night?"
JD stared at him, a bit shocked. "The water tape theory was just a potential explanation. It wasn't the actual event happening is all I was trying to say."
"So how'd Aunt Bea know how to look it up an' stuff?"
"She remembered hearing about it. She's lived here a long time, and her parents lived here, too."
"So what're you doin', if she found everything you need?"
"She didn't find everything I need. She found something. I want you to check and see if it's something we need."
"Now it's 'we'?"
"Do you want to help or not?"
"Not ... but everything else is boring too, so what the hell?"
"I don't want to put you out or anything," JD said snidely.
"Too late for that, dumbass."
"You wanted to come."
"I wanted to hunt ghosts, lamebrain. Not, like, spend my day bein' bored as all get-out at the frickin' library. That's for nerds like you, dude."
"I told you it was going to be research and that it was boring. I even used the word 'boring' so you'd understand that it was boring. You wanted to come along."
Dillon shrugged. "It beats work."
"The fiches, if you will."
"Will what, dude?"
"Go. Look. At. The. Micro. Fiche. Tapes. The. Librarian. Has. Them."
"See? ... rude."
Dillon left the room, and JD dropped his head into his palms, shaking it slightly, then returned to the monitor.
What he found there was extremely enlightening.
Ready to go on to Part 10?