Bobbing for Clues, a Cozy Mystery
November 05, 2012
Here's the next two chapters...
That Saturday was supposed to be quiet at the library.
At least, that’s what Alice Watson was trying to convince herself. Alice didn’t make it a point to work Saturdays at her library (because that’s how she thought of it – hers), but Carol needed this weekend off for the grandkids. And, with Halloween right around the corner, it seemed like everyone else had party plans, costumes to search for, and decorating to finish up.
When all else failed, the head librarian stepped in. Her hopes of a quiet Saturday were dashed almost instantly. First, there was the frantic call from Carol with the tale of her hubby’s failed fishing excursion, and the news of Jack Hamilton being her husband’s largest catch yet.
"I shouldn’t joke, I know," Carol admonished herself, "But you know he was such a scoundrel."
Carol lived for the gossip and if Alice was being honest with herself, she loved it, too. It was part of the list Alice made in her mind daily. She loved her job because… That was the list.
Alice worked in a nice town with nice people whose names she knew bouncing in and out of her life daily. She knew everyone’s story, and her favorite part of each story was the role her library played.
There were children who learned to read, parents who came for job skills classes, and elderly friends who reconnected at their book clubs – not to mention the 10 community members who made a career for themselves alongside Alice at the Walker Public Library.
At the end of every happy day, there was another great mystery, a cup of Earl Grey and her orange tabby Hopper waiting for Alice to curl up with at home. She was a booklover for as long as she could remember. Alice loved a good whodunit better than anything else, and she prided herself on her ability to spot the bad guy (or girl) early in the story.
In her mind, she was often the super-sleuth, the heroine of her own tale. She found her temporary fix in the everyday puzzles of her patrons, crosswords, and trivia TV, but the stories were her favorite diversion. Alice was the answer girl if nothing else.
This story from Carol was really something. It could have been a plotline to any of the cozy mysteries she ran through nightly.
"So, do you think he was offed?" Alice asked, proudly using the criminal verbiage.
"Aly said he drowned Alice. I don’t think there’s more to it than that. You know that man likes his bourbon," Carol said.
"A commonly held truth," Alice admitted.
Noticing the time, Alice wrapped up their conversation. The day was already a buzz, and now it was time for her to unlock the doors and open the library.
It was going to be a long day, like it or not.
Of course the news of Jack’s death was the topic du jour. Alice barely had a chance to look up. It was like the hub-bub got people out of the house despite the cold, and in the small town, the library was the only place to go. There was more conversation about the mysterious circumstances than about the new mysteries lining the shelves.
It’s to be expected in Walker.
Sarah McCoy had theories. "I bet he was tanked. Probably out there planning a land grab," she told Alice.
"I heard he jumped off the Wagner Road overpass," Ginny Francis speculated as she reshelved cookbooks in the nonfiction section. "Guilt builds up in a man."
"Let’s wait to hear what the official report is," Alice reminded her favorite volunteer.
The official report was just what she was waiting for. The best part of Alice’s hectic day was the best part of any other day for the librarian. Her favorite patron stopped by to pick up another book from the list of titles she’d pieced together for him.
In the beginning, he’d simply stopped in out of boredom. Long days spent sitting in his car or at his desk waiting for something to happen in a place where something rarely makes an appearance led him to the library. Alice never passed up a chance to try and make a reader out of skeptical new comer, but Steven Michaels stood out from the others.
Alice believed he’d stand out anywhere, and she made a mental note that being bored and handsome was her new favorite combination. Better than pepperoni and spinach on a pizza, better than chocolate and more chocolate on anything else, being bored and handsome brought Steven into her world.
Her micro-crush on the town sheriff had caused her clumsiness to kick into high gear. She’d tripped over her own feet, walked into shelves, and toppled over a toddler in his presence. She had been so sure the clumsy thing went away after college and could only hope this reemergence didn’t also lead to acne and big hair to make a comeback.
Fortunately for her dwindling pride, he didn’t seem to piece it together. They had a friendly chat each time he stopped by, which was now two or three times a week, and sometime even swapped a little gossip.
Given the hype, she had to see what she could drag out of the sometimes loose-lipped Sheriff.
"I swear, Jack Hamilton is the only name I’ve heard today," She started. "I guess that’s what I get for complaining that no one else talks about anybody but James Patterson all the time."
The literary jab went right over Steven’s head. He was into the classics and, at Alice’s insistence, was making his way through a list of mystery authors. But it was mainly Lucy Burdette and Diane Mott Davidson. Patterson was a realm unto the literary world itself and justified in his cult-like following, but Alice didn’t care for his themes. She didn’t recommend him.
"Not that the publisher is losing dollars or sleep due to my lack of support," she thought every five patrons as yet another Patterson request was placed.
"Yea, the Hamilton thing," Steven pulled her from her thoughts. "That’s gonna be a fun one," he added sarcastically.
Scandal to Scale
The town of Walker, Pennsylvania had its moment of growth, but over the last 10 years, it was not as steady as the previous decade. It had dropped down and pulled itself back up, but only by the slightest degrees. Positive change was back, as the late councilman liked to say, but slow to spot if you were a resident not campaigning for reelection.
In ten years they had moved from 1,109 residents to 1,488. It’s a big percentage of a little life, but had taken 10 full years to realize. The most noticeable changes were undeniably to downtown.
Townspeople either liked to assign blame to credit fallout of 2008 or Jack Hamilton when they talked about the revolving door of businesses, depending on their view.
Bordered by farmland and small unfinished suburbs, the town square barely carved out all four sides needed to call it a square. The town almost-square was all storefront shops, although not nearly as many as there used to be. City hall was in the middle, with the sheriff’s department and library right behind it. All the buildings were one story.
It was a sort of village aesthetic.
Apart from downtown, Walker is known best for fishing and small town life. Fishing was an industry, and when all others are scarce, tourism always fills the void nicely.
Business names follow a maritime theme like: The Harbor Inn, Sunken Treasures tchotchke shop, and The River’s Bend Diner. Being cozily situated in between the Allegheny and Juniata Rivers, you learn to capitalize on what you have in surplus.
In the case of Walker, the surplus was weekend fisherman.
The last time any real crime had touched Walker was in the late nineties. A man suspected in an armed car theft fled a Pittsburg hideout and was apprehended at The Harbor Inn. While the stand-off was brief and no fire-fight ensued, the villagers talked about it like Bonnie and Clyde had blown through.
"What are they going to do with this," Steven thought.
"Are we going to hold a press conference," Carl asked, pulling the deputy from his thoughts.
Steven took a moment to think about Arnie McCoy, the only reporter at The Fish Wrap. Arnie was the type of guy to assemble fishing reports, write-ups related to agriculture, and for five failed editions… a column about being a single guy in a small town. He liked to talk about his various allergies, and that was truly the most interesting thing he generally had to say.
To assume The Fish Wrap was prepared to deal with a big, splashy homicide headline was like assuming The Watering Hole was going to suddenly introduce hygiene in the men’s room and Martini Mondays. Some things just don’t go over in small towns.
"Carl, I don’t think we’ll jump right to the media. Let’s get that together. I want to start speaking to people who knew Jack, who saw him this week,” and most importantly he thought, who saw him last?
The Claycomo Staff