Authors: Leslie Leigh
MELODY and MURDER
Melody, The Librarian Mysteries 1
L E S L I E L E I G H
My Aim Is True
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This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to events, businesses, companies, institutions, and real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
If one were to draw up a list of Life’s Most Terrifying Moments, job interviews would likely rate near the top, right up there with public speaking, losing one’s virginity and marriage – though not necessarily in that order.
There is a distressing element of schizophrenia involved in job interviews, trying to convince one or more complete strangers sitting in judgment over you that you’re the ideal candidate for the position – extolling your professional experience, flaunting your personal virtues, shamelessly singing your own praises – while simultaneously striving to appear humble, or at the least, not a raging megalomaniac.
Navigating through a job interview is an emotional tightrope, for sure. Fortunately, this time around, I felt free of most of that drama for three reasons.
First, I felt secure in my suitability for the position at the Nathan P. Cooke Public Library. Six years of experience at a major metropolitan library had provided me with a well-rounded administrative background in preparing budgets, writing grant proposals, and supervising staff, as well as performing more general librarian tasks.
Second, I knew the people who would be interviewing me. That was both good and bad, but at least there wouldn’t be any surprises, and that made me feel more comfortable.
Third, I wasn’t desperate for the job. My present job in Detroit was secure and, truth be told, the money was better there. I had reasons for seeking the Cooke Library position, but if it didn’t work out, I’d be content to stay where I was.
The most stressful part of the process was deciding what to wear for the interview. I’d brought two business suits, one with slacks, the other with a skirt. I still couldn’t make up my mind. Part of me wanted to wear the skirt, thinking it was more traditional and might appeal to the board members; on the other hand, if I wore the slacks, I could head back home after the interview without changing. That seemed more practical.
I arrived early and was handed a clipboard with an application form attached to it. At first I was mildly annoyed, believing that my resume covered all the pertinent information, but then I realized that the application addressed areas that my resume did not, including: blocks to list all of my misdemeanor and felony offenses (probably not something one would ordinarily note on their resume); my marital status (not just whether I was currently single, but more pointedly, whether I was a divorcee or widow); and, rather shockingly, any and all use of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and whether I had ever been a member of an organization which advocated the violent overthrow of the U. S. government.
Well, you just can’t be too careful with those librarian types, can you? If they’re not off sniffing glue in the Periodicals Room (all those magazine pages stuck together…disgraceful!), then they’re likely researching how to build bombs in their basements!
I wondered if this had anything to do with those “militant radical librarians” in Connecticut who refused to provide the FBI with patron information in 2006. Some librarians literally wore the FBI agents’ “militant radical librarians” characterization as a badge of honor when the ALA printed and sold buttons emblazoned with the phrase.
“Good morning, Melody,” a familiar voice said sweetly. It was Marian Schultz, the current Managing Librarian, soon to be retired. I stood and gave her a hug. Marian had been the librarian back when I was in junior high and our family had moved to Lake Hare. Marian was a big reason for my deciding to become a librarian.
“I’ll bet you’re excited,” she gushed. “Oh, I’m so glad you applied for the position! Of course, we’ve had a good response to the posting. I was surprised to have so many from out of state! But it’s hard to be impartial when a hometown girl throws her hat into the ring!”
“Well, I know you’ll do what’s best for the future of the library, Marian. If it weren’t for you, we probably wouldn’t have had a library in this neck of the woods.”
“I’m going to miss it, that’s for sure,” she sighed. “But I sure don’t miss the old building that used to house us. Between the leaks and the drafts and warped floors, it’s a wonder
survived, let alone our collection. Say what you will about Nathan P. Cooke, he did build a facility worthy of his name.” She leaned in, lowering her voice. “Speak of the devil.”
Actually, it was The Bride of Satan who now approached, Charlene Bradshaw-Cooke. Mrs. Hacksaw-Croak, we kids used to call her behind her back. (The Cooke surname was pronounced the same as a certain soft drink.) When she walked down Main Street, it seemed as if the sun slipped behind the clouds, flowers shriveled and animals whimpered in fear, sensing danger.
Well, perhaps my memories are slightly subjective, but I do remember that we averted our eyes when we spied her coming our way. Children can sense when an adult has no affinity for their kind and, as regards Charlene Bradshaw-Cooke, this theory was given some credence by the fact that she never had any children of her own. (Although, to be fair, my mother would no doubt take me to task for the same offense, not having provided her with grandchildren long ago.)
I was envious of those who now turned away as she walked along the aisle, but this time I had to hold my ground, staring straight into the face of evil as she neared. Actually, recalling my childhood reaction to Charlene almost had me giggling, but I knew that would be absolutely the wrong thing to do.
“Good morning, Ms. Reed,” Charlene said crisply. Then, turning to Marian, she asked, “Are we all present?”
“Just waiting for Gus to arrive,” Marian replied.
“No surprise there,” she sniffed. “Well, let us prepare and hope that he’s not…under the weather.”
They entered the conference room and closed the door. Gus was the former mayor of Lake Hare, and must be nearing 200 years of age by now. Gus was a sweetheart, one of the nicest men I’ve ever met, but he was also a bit of an imbiber, shall we say. Apparently, his fondness for drink would be a lifetime pursuit, right up to the end.
Eventually, Gus did arrive. I could hear his jovial voice calling out “Good morning” to every person he encountered. He was a tall, thin man and propelled himself forward with a wobbly gait. When he saw me, he stopped and stared.
“Melody Reed, is that you?” I smiled and stood, shaking his hand and holding onto it as we walked toward the conference room, as much out of affection as for support. “Goodness, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you! Or it might have been last week…I can’t tell anymore. That’s the good thing about getting senile: a pleasant surprise always awaits you!”
He stood at the door and spoke confidentially. “Now, I’m going to go in there and huddle with Marian and the Dragon Lady. Then we’ll come and get you and get started, okay? Don’t you worry about a thing, Harmony.”
“Melody,” I corrected.
He gave me a conspiratorial wink. “Oh, that’s right. Melody, hee hee. Alright, Melody, just remember, we’re all friends here. Don’t be nervous. Don’t forget to smile. And whatever, you do, don’t faint because then I’d have to perform CPR on you, and you wouldn’t want that, would you? Hee hee.”
Gus rapped on the door as he turned the knob. I heard Marian greet him with a cheerful, “Good morning, Gus,” followed by Charlene’s icy silence. Now that the countdown had begun, I was surprised to feel myself getting nervous. After a few minutes, Marian opened the door and smiled.
“Come on in, Melody. We’re ready to begin.”
“And then what happened? Tell me everything!”
Mom had been waiting for me at Dink’s Diner, which turned out to be a great plan. I hadn’t eaten breakfast this morning and was famished. Apparently, one can work up an appetite whilst sweating bullets during a job interview. I’d just placed my order for a “Big Salad,” and wanted to relay the bulk of my report prior to the first mouthful.
“I thought it went really well: not quite as bad as the Spanish Inquisition; more cordial than the Nuremberg. Very thorough. Charlene had a legal pad filled with things to ask and she went through every one of them, ticking them off one at a time. Then she flipped the page and did the same thing again.”
“Well, she wouldn’t let common sense intrude on all of her efforts, would she? Hmmm. I wonder if she did that because of me.”
Mom and Charlene had never gotten along. Considering the size of Lake Hare (population 2,000 – more during the summer tourist season, fewer during the Arctic months – considerable effort would be required to avoid accidentally bumping into anyone, but Charlene and Mom had, for the most part, dedicated themselves to that end for at least thirty years.
“Once I discerned her method, I just tried to be patient. She was like one of those tennis ball shooters, firing one question after another. None of them were fastballs, but you worry that your arm will give out after a while.”
“Marian was great. She would lay out part of the operation, along with some of the challenges and progresses made, and then say, ‘What do you think, Melody?’ Just vast, open-ended questions that you could discuss for hours. That loosened me up a bit, but I kept it succinct. And Gus…Gus was a hoot! He kept looking out the window, spacing out, and then his attention would return and he’d look started, like ‘How did I get here?’”
“God bless Gus,” Mom said. “You know, his wife used to keep a tight rein on his drinking, but since she passed away seven years ago….” She paused as our salads were served. “Fortunately, he doesn’t drive anymore. He does quite well, getting around at his age, considering.”
“Well, Mom, while I hope everything works out, there were several other applicants, according to Marian, and it could be that someone’s experience is stronger than mine.”
“Sure, that’s always a possibility, Melody, but you must think positively. If it were me making the decision, I’d have to give some consideration to the fact that you’re a local girl whose history is known to me, whose character can be vouched for, as opposed to some hot-shot from Chicago or wherever. Someone like that…you know they’re probably running away from something.”
For a moment, Mom’s expression reminded me of Charlene.
“I’m just being realistic, Mom. You’ve hired people at your shop, right? It’s all subjective. Sometimes it just comes down to liking this person or disliking that one, and qualifications be damned.”
Mom held up her hands, as if conceding the point. “All I’m saying is to just stay positive. If everyone in this country thought positive thoughts….”
“What a wonderful world we’d be living in,” I finished, with a wistful sigh.
“Your brother is very excited about this,” Mom volunteered, changing the subject, sort of.
“Haven’t heard from him in a while. How’s he doing?”
“Oh, always on the go, as usual. With the state budget cuts, he’s covering more and more territory.” Brother Michael is a detective with the Michigan State Police. He’s also a family man, with a wife and three kids, a lifestyle not entirely compatible with his occupational obligations. “The only saving grace is that, of course, Northern Michigan doesn’t have the volume of crime they have downstate where you live.”
“I get to see him about as often as I do you, but we have to take what we can get. Oh, you should see my grandchildren! He must be feeding them right; they just grow and grow.”
Ouch again! I took comfort in the knowledge that my kid brother had provided Mom with grandchildren, unlike her barren, relationship-less daughter.
“But if you do get this position, it would be just wonderful! Of course, you’re welcome to stay with me as long as you like. It’s been a little lonely since your father died. I mean, I’m fine, I have friends, but there’s no substitute for family.”
I wondered how long I could last under Mom’s roof. A month? A week?
“Speaking of company, you’ll have plenty of prospects in this area. Granted, it’s a smaller pond, but there are plenty of good catches to be had.”
I played dumb. “Mom, I haven’t gone fishing since that time Dad made me bait my own hook.”
“You know what I mean, Melody,” she said. “There’s something to be said for living a simple life in a small town. Those big cities aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. You know that better than I. Night clubs and the arts are no substitute for settling down with someone you love. And the crime, the murders…I don’t know how you ever go out at night to enjoy the cultural amenities.”
“Actually, Detroit is no longer the murder capital of the U.S.,” I offered, matter-of-factly. “East St. Louis holds that honor at present, I believe, although Saginaw, for its size, is certainly a contender. But it’s not for lack of effort; Detroit’s population has been declining for decades, so there are fewer opportunities.”
“Always a glib answer with you,” Mom said. “Just think about what I said. No more long commutes to work. Less crime, less noise…”
“Less everything,” I interjected. “Look, Mom, I know you’re a member of the Chamber of Commerce and all, but you don’t have to sell me. I’d love to return to Lake Hare! I’ve got so many great memories of growing up here. Sure, it’s changed a little, but not much, and that’s good.” I affected a jaded tone. “And now that I’ve seen the
, the charms of your quaint, little village might
I leaned over and whispered. “Just think of the fun we could have together! You and I, cruising together for
“I’ve had my fun, missy. You just worry about yourself so that I don’t have to!”
“Well,” I said, stabbing the last spinach leaf with my fork, “it’s been fun, Mom, but I’ve got to hit the road.” I’d packed the car before the interview. It had been a nice two-day visit, but it was a four-hour drive to Birmingham.
“Are you sure you can’t stay another night?” I was tempted. I know Mom would have enjoyed speculating further about the job and my returning to stay but at this point, it was just that – speculation.
“I wish I could, but I’ve gotta work tomorrow, and a certain kitty-cat would never forgive me.”
Mom shook her head as she dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “That cat…. You’re always so considerate of your cat’s needs and feelings, never your mother’s.” Mom was in full martyr mode, but I could tell she was kidding. Mom was an avowed dog person – though I didn’t hold it against her – and she never understood how anyone could have feelings for a pet that didn’t jump up and down and slime its owner with slobber. Cheap love, I called it.
“That’s because I don’t have to feed you or clean your box, Mother. Not yet, anyway.” Mom bought lunch. As we walked to my car, she dispensed a litany of driving tips. Finally, we hugged. Her eyes looked watery.
“And don’t forget to send a thank you note to the board. It may sound old-fashioned, but it could make all the difference, especially if everybody else does and you don’t!”
“Goodbye, Mom,” I called out, as I backed out of the parking space. “I’ll let you know when I hear something!”
Mom looked kind of small as she stood waving in the rear view mirror.
Funny, now my eyes were watery, too.