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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Children Lost on The Darkest Of Nights: The Legend of Peg Powler - Chapter 16


Children Lost on The Darkest Of Nights:

The Legend of Peg Powler

(A Sewing Box Mystery)

Chapter 13: Monday, October 31, 2011, 11:02 am

 Chapter 16 - Monday, October 31, 2011, 11:55 am

“Waitaminute, waitaminute, waitaminute…”

 All three women’s bodies lurched forward as the the car bit into the gravel edge of the paved road and came to a sudden stop.

 “Where are we going?”

 Jeanette and her mother answered at the same time; her aunt saying, “newspaper,” while her mother said, “library.”

 Missy sighed and admitted, “I thought we were going to the town hall.”

 Jeanette offered her niece a flat-palmed hand and said, “No. We can’t do that.” She reasoned, “That girl, Darlene, she said the guy was difficult. We do not want to walk into his office unprepared and as of right now, we have nothing.” After adjusting herself comfortably in her seat, she added, “And I bet you dollars to donuts that Darlene was on the phone to warn him we were coming before the front door hit our backsides. That hornet’s nest will just have to wait.”

 “But she also said that if we didn’t get Dustin, that the other guy who works at the newspaper could be a bit of jerk,”countered Missy.

 “And, since it’s almost noon, they will probably both be out at lunch, and no one likes to be disturbed on their lunch hour,” piped in Dorie, who, having found some Tylenol in a coin purse in her clutch, was busy sucking on a bottle of water. “That leaves the library; a place that will have a copy or record of every issue of the local newspaper and a place anybody can go, anytime it’s open to get some work done. Besides,” she added, “I don’t think librarians take lunch.”

 Both Missy and Jeanette turned in their seats simultaneously and gave their tag-along rider a look of surprise.

 “Well, done, Mother.”

 “I’m more than just a pretty face.”

 “Not a hell of a lot more…” grumbled Jeanette, who, at the mention of lunch, had both her hands in the bag of snacks which sat at her feet on the floorboard on the passenger side.

 “Alright, then… off to the library. Anybody know where it is?

 “Just Google it on your phone.”

 “No phone coverage, Mom. We will just have to ask around, I guess.”

 Jeanette, having chosen a box of Triscuits, nodded her head to the road in front of them. “Go straight ahead. All roads lead to the town hall and from there we’ll find our way back downtown. Or do you think the college would be a better bet?”

 Putting the car into gear, Missy crept back onto the blacktop, “I don’t think so. Besides, it’s a seminary, isn’t it? Or some religious thing? I don’t think they’d welcome a group of ladies poking around campus.”

 “I’m pretty good with college guys,” offered Dorie, causing Jeanette to nearly choke on a Triscuit. “Whaaat? It’s true. They respond to me really well.”

 Missy didn’t dare look at her Aunt, “Thanks for sharing.”

Recovered, Jeanette pointed toward the wind shield, “Just keep going forward. I’m sure they’ve got some little red-brick building full of romance novels and the latest Tom Clancy tucked next to the post office.”

--- ---

After stopping an older woman walking her dog near the park downtown, who indicated that the public library was on the other side of the block, across from the park, the three ladies stood in front of the car contemplating what passed for a library in St. Petersburg.

 It was a massive, Victorian-style mansion, in mint condition, not a slate tile out of place on it’s numerous roofs. The wide front steps looked inviting, as did the rounded-topped double doors which had been painted a festive sky blue.

 Walking into the great front hall, the heels of their shoes echoed like a tap class out of sync. Behind the tall, ornate reception desk sat a woman wearing cat-eye glasses and sporting a teased beehive the color of night. Her attention never strayed from the 3”X5” index cards she was busy sorting as the women approached. With a single raised eyebrow, the librarian peered over the top of her glasses and said, “Yes.”

 The three women looked to one another, for they had neglected to select a spokesperson.

 “Do you have the local newspaper on microfiche? And if so, how far back does it go?” It was Dorie. Missy and Jeanette shrugged. Sure, why not. This was her idea… let her drive.

 “They go all the way back to the paper’s inception in 1861. All microfiche can be found on the third floor. You’ll have to use the stairs, as we’re not equipped with an elevator. Are you familiar with the machines?”

 Dorie looked to her companions.

 “Well, it’s been awhile. I haven’t used one since college.”

 “Would you like a refresher?”

 “If it wouldn’t be a bother.”


 “I beg your…”

 “An imposition,” she clarified, standing, before coming down and around a set of small stairs to the left of the imposing desk. “It can’t be a ‘bother’. It’s my job.”

 “There’s a difference?”

 The librarian offered a flat, stretched-lip smile. “Oh, I think there is.”

 She stood before them now. Her clothing somewhat matched the building. Her starch-stiffed, fitted long-sleeved white blouse was buttoned all the way up, including the lace collar upon which her pointed chin came to a rest. She was thin, but had nice hips, which the wrap of her black pencil skirt only magnified. After allowing them the opportunity to take a full accounting, perched atop a pair of black, pointed high heels, she swiftly swiveled on them and coldly commanded, “This way.”

 Wordlessly, the three women followed, gawking at the opulence of the wall sconces, the leaded and colored glass of the windows, the heavy, rich woodwork which dominated the interior, and the sparkling glory of the pendulous chandeliers. Using the ornate banister to steady themselves as they climbed, the women stared at a series of large portraits which lined the staircase wall. The librarian, without so much as a glance, walked in the center of the steps without aid, sharing name after name as she passed each portrait. “…Madeline De Hartburn, Mortimer De Hartburn, Silas Washington, Deborah Washington…”

 Beneath the gaze of a two-story tall stained glass window the width of the great hall, they turned at the top of the stairs and walked the carpeted expanse to the next set of steps. Done in pale yellows and creams, the window added a bit of warmth to the house. Ascending the next flight of stairs, the women were again greeted by another series of tall portraits, more narrow than those along the first flight. Again, the librarian droned a list of names without looking at the painting attached to the name  she uttered, “…Jasper De Hartburn, Duncan De Hartburn, Melva Washington, Sweetie Washington…” until, stopping on the top step of the second landing she, turned and faced the women who stood below her. “And Mitzi.”

 The three women’s heads spun on their necks. Had they heard correctly? “Mitzi, Sweetie Washington’s beloved cockapoo,” cooly cooed the librarian, her mouth twisting with distaste as she emphasized the syllable ‘poo’. “It is thanks to the generosity of Mitzi and Sweetie that the city of St. Petersburg was gifted their magnificent ancestral home, which was to serve as a library to enlighten the people of this sheltered community.” Then, as if anticipating a question, she dully added, “The family line ended with Mitzi.”

 Suppressing the desire to laugh, Missy’s attention swerved to the portrait of the dog in question, as she thought, ‘How nice of Mitzi.’

 As the librarian again turned on her heels, her painted mouth pulled downward in an effort to conceal her own amusement. The trio was then led down a long, high-ceiling hallway, lined with heavy-looking doors, most of which were closed. Passing by one of the open ones, Missy spied a reading table surrounded by shelves of books.

 The third set of stairs were much less grand than the previous two, no doubt because they led to what were once the servants quarters, not that expense or dimension had been reined in when designed, for this floor was also nicely appointed. Smaller works of art covered the walls on either side of a long hallway. About mid-point, the librarian, whose name the women still did not know, stepped through a door on the right side, which opened up to a large, well-lit room, still fitted with elaborate wall sconces and twin chandeliers. It was the light from the large, floor to ceiling windows, covered with luminous sheers and framed by heavy drapery which provided most of the room’s illumination. The windows faced the park across the street, offering Missy the opportunity to make a quick check on her car parked below.

 With little fanfare, the librarian stood in the middle of the room and indicated with a blood-red manicured finger where they might find things. “The card catalogue for The St. Petersburg Herald is here, the actual microfiche are filed over there - please don’t attempt to refile any microfiche you view. Instead, leave them in this tray,” she indicated an old wooden desk tray near the door. “The machines are here, you simply slide the microfiche under the secured holders, and move it back and forth to look at the various pages. You’ll find the on and off switch is located on the bottom left of the machines - please turn off after using.” She paused briefly, as if to assess the three women. Assessment complete, she continued, “I see none of you have paper or a writing implement, and you will, no doubt, wish to take notes. You’ll find scratch pads and pencils - courtesy of the local Ben Franklins -  in the desk at the end of the room. Return pencils and unused paper to the drawer once your research is completed.” Folding her hands mid-skirt, the woman looked at them, appearing to indicate that her job was done.

 “Any questions?” she pointedly asked.

 Missy looked to the other two. What was there to ask? But, of course, Dorie had a question.

 “Who does your hair?”

 Missy suddenly wish the floor would open up and swallow them up, but the librarian seemed nonplussed and took it in stride.

 “Pearls House Of Curls. If you live here, it is the only option.”

 “Interesting,” replied Missy’s mother.

 “Isn’t it.”

 Jeanette broke in, to save the day, “Well, thank you for your time, Miss…?” She was hoping to learn the woman’s name, but the librarian was not playing.

 “You’re very welcome. Let me know if I can be of further assistance. Enjoy your time here, at the library.”

 Jeanette decided to go the direct approach instead. “Your name is…?”

 The woman did a check of their three faces, mistrust souring her otherwise pleasant face.

 “You’re not reporters?”

 Jeanette guffawed. “No.”

 “Very well. You may call me, Madeline. Miss Madeline Tollefson.” And with that, she turned, once again, on her finely appointed heels and exited the room.

 Jeanette exhaled loudly. “Phew. She’s a bit severe, even for this place.”

 “I liked her look,” offered Dorie, who was enjoying the view outside.

 “Well, she didn’t think we were a threat, so that’s good,” reasoned Missy. “Let’s get to work.” Missy took in the room and began calculating exactly what it was they needed to find. “Okay, this is going to take forever… unless we split it up. What do you think?”

 Dorie simply shrugged as Jeanette’s head began nodding in agreement. “Put us to work, my dear.”

 “Okay.” Missy parceled out the assignments. She’d look at the issues of the newspaper a week prior to October 31, 1931 and the week after. Jeanette would use the card catalogue and find anything associated with Hedda Brandt. Dorie would help run microfiche back and forth between the machines and the big wooden file cabinets where they resided.

 “That sounds like work,” whined Dorie.

 “Just do it,” barked Jeanette.

 Missy sat down at the nearest viewing machine and fired it up. The large screen slowly glowed white as the cooling fan kicked in, adding a bit of white noise to the lifeless environment. Jeanette stood in front of the wooden card catalogue, and pulled a drawer with a big ‘H’ on it. Removing the heavy drawer from the case, she set it on the large table in the center of the room and took a seat.

 Dorie moved into the spot vacated by Jeanette in front of the card catalogue and also pulled out a drawer. Missy was perplexed.

 “What are you looking for?”

 Dorie smiled and moved to a chair on the opposite side of the table from Jeanette. With the gauzy covered windows acting as backing light, she smiled and said…

 “Why, Peggy Powler, of course!”

--- ---

Librarian - My Mourning Jacket

1 comment:

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

And I love me a librarian with perfectly coiffed hair and ruby red nails...