A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 17

English: James Blackstone Memorial Library - F...

The Foster's Glen Library: a weighty institution. ... Image via Wikipedia

Darrell had room for only three in his truck, so James followed in his car, and they parked next to each other near the midpoint of Main Street.

“I guess, to start off, Sara and I’ll go check out the public records at the town office, and you and Wade can go to the library and see what you can find there – take a look at news clippings; there might be something we can use.”

“Alright,” said James.

Darrell and Sara turned into the town office, which was right next to where they parked, and Wade and James walked the short distance west to the library. As they went up the front steps, James glanced sidelong at the police station three blocks away. A police car was parked in front.

They went through the venerable oak doors and spotted Mr. Wayne’s head sticking up behind a stack of books on his desk; a rhythmic “thump … thump” sound coming from behind there was so consistent that it seemed like it had to be the work of a machine.

“Hey, Mr. Wayne.”

The sound stopped. “Oh, hi, Wade. And who– ”

“Hi, Mr. Wayne.”

Mr. Wayne set his stamp down and stood. “James Morgan. Well I’ll be.” They shook hands. “Good to see you, James. What brings you back to town?”

“Oh, just a little visit. I’m stayin’ with Wade an’ his dad.”

“Oh, good, that’s good. Well, I’m sure you didn’t stop in to chit-chat with me. What can I do for you?”

“Just browsin’ today,” said Wade.

“Okay. Well, if you have any questions, you fellas know where to find me.”

Mr. Wayne sat down behind his piles of books and papers, and the “thump … thump” of his stamping resumed.

“So where do we start?” said James. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here; I think I’ll need a refresher course.”

“Well, microfilm machines are way in the back – Mr. Wayne can help us get set up on those if we want; town reports an’ maps an’ that kinda stuff would be in the reference section right there in front of us; an’ over here to our left are magazines an’ newspapers. And of course, there’s all the books.”

“Alright. I think I’ll take a look at some reports.”

“The microfilm worked for me once; I’ll try it again.”

Wade got Mr. Wayne to help him with that while James began browsing the reference section. After glancing at a few area maps, he came across a copy of the most recent town report and leafed through it, but nothing caught his interest. He placed it back on the shelf, stood there a minute tapping his fingers on the bookcase, then walked over to the microfilm section and found Wade peering into one of the machines.

“Hey, Wade. How’s everything goin’?”

“Nothin’ yet. ’Course, I don’t really know what I’m lookin’ for.”

“Yeah. Well, I just looked at a few maps, but I’m feelin’ a little thirsty, so I was gonna run across the road to the store and get somethin’. You want anything?”

“No thanks. I’ll just stay here an’ keep lookin’.”

“Alright. Be back in a bit.”

James walked out into the bright sunlight bursting down; he stood there squinting, feeling the heat radiate off the stone steps, and looked around. It was about eleven o’clock, and a fair number of people were walking the street. Memories ran through his mind: names, faces – people; and dreams new and old, good and terrible, screamed at him from distant places that were nonetheless all too close to his heart. He picked his target and moved.

* * *

Over at the town office – the second-oldest building in town after the library, and just as dignified – Sara filed through tax maps at the counter while Darrell stood by a window at the front, flipping through a book containing minutes of public meetings. Neither of them had found anything interesting, and Darrell’s mind began to wander from boredom.

He gazed out the window, first taking note of who was out on the street, but the warmth of the sunlight pouring through the window soon began to work its magic on him. His eyes started glazing over and his lids drooped, then he did one of those head bobs that are so embarrassing – his eyes closed and his head tilted forward, then it jerked back up and his eyes snapped open. He looked around to see if anyone had noticed.

Bringing his gaze back around, his eyes fell on the window again, then on one particular figure: a man, standing still at the top of the library steps. He recognized him as James, and at once an unexplainable, vague-yet-definite sense of trouble crept into him. James started down the steps, and Darrell shifted closer to the window; Darrell looked up and down the street, but nothing appeared strange or out of place … yet the unsettled feeling was still there.

Police station.

It occurred to him just then that James had not been at all pleased with the sheriff, and the image of Hank holding a shotgun to Harvey’s chin flashed back.

Darrell sprang away from the table he’d been standing at and bounded out the door. Sara turned around in surprise. “Darrell?”

She followed him out the door and onto the broad granite steps of the building.

“Darrell, what’s wrong?”

But Darrell said nothing, staring across the way. He saw James reach the sidewalk at the bottom of the library steps, expected him to turn towards the police station … but he stepped into the road instead. Darrell continued to watch as James crossed the street, hopped up onto the other sidewalk and ducked into Marvin’s Variety. Darrell exhaled a breath of relief and grinned.

Jumpy, Darrell?

“Darrell, what’s going on?” said Sara.

“Nothing. Just my imagination running wild. Let’s go look some more.” And they headed back inside.

* * *

Two minutes later, James emerged from Marvin’s with a bottle of VeryFine fruit punch in one hand. He stopped on the sidewalk in the shade of the store’s awning and guzzled until the punch was almost gone. He looked towards the library, then towards the town office; everyone who might care to know his whereabouts was nowhere in sight. He took one more swig of his drink, finishing it, then headed west.

* * *

Sheriff Danscom sat at his desk, trying to reason with the most unreasonable woman in town.

“Mrs. Fields, I’m very sorry, but there’s nothin’ I can do if I don’t know who knocked over your mailbox, an’ it’s certainly not this department’s or the town’s responsibility to pay for it.”

“ ‘Sorry’ don’t cut it, sheriff. I’m 78 years old, an’ in all my born days I ain’t ever had so much trouble over so small and obvious a matter as this.”

“Obvious? Mrs. Fields– . I don’t know what to tell you. You didn’t see who did it– ”

“But I know who did it.”

“You think you know who did it.”

Just then the bell clanged, but the sheriff was so occupied with Mrs. Fields that he noted only that someone had come in, nevermind who it was. The new arrival sat in a chair next to the door and waited in silence.

“Well be that way if you want, sheriff, but we’ll see what the town council has to say about this.”

“Mrs. Fields, I don’t think– ” But she had turned and stormed towards the door, and the sheriff gave up even before she slammed it behind her, knocking the bell to the floor.

The sheriff lowered his head, shaking it and sighing. “Crazy ol’ bat.” Then he remembered that someone else had come in and was waiting. Mustering the energy, Sheriff Danscom said, “Can I help you?”

The man in the chair had been keeping his head down, but at the sheriff’s words he stood, and he lifted his gaze as he drew up to his full, impressive height.

“Hello, sheriff.”

Harvey did a double-take. “James?”

“Yeah. I see things haven’t changed around here.”

The sheriff snorted. “You mean Mrs. Fields? Yeah, she– ”

“I mean you.”

“What … what are you talkin’ about?”

“I hear you been havin’ trouble with a bear; can’t get a handle on it.”

“Well, no, that situation’s just about under control now. We spotted the bear an’–”

“Control? That why Molly Laske’s dead?”

“That … was unfortunate,” said Harvey, looking at the floor. “But when you got a rogue animal on your hands, what are you gonna do?”

“Now that’s just what I’ve been thinkin’, sheriff: What are you gonna do?”

“Well– ”

James held up a hand. “Or, better yet, what am I gonna do?” He made a move towards his back pocket; Harvey spotted this and went for his gun.

“Whoa,” said James. He brought his hand slowly back around until Harvey could see what he was holding: a bottle. “Nervous, Harv?”

“I– ”

“Well I can understand why, if you got the Daley brothers breathin’ down your neck – your boss prob’ly ain’t too pleased about that.”

“What– ” Harvey closed his eyes for a second and shook his head. “Whaddaya want, James? Those Daley boys drag you into this?”

“They called me an’ told me what was goin’ on, but I came out of my own free will.”

“So what’s that?” said Harvey, nodding at the bottle.

“This?” James held up the bottle. “VeryFine. Good stuff.”

“Yeaah. So?”

“So … I just finished it; wanted to bring it by and leave it with you.”

Harvey leaned on his desk. “Well what for, James?”

James set it on the desk. “So you can cash it in for the nickel.”

Harvey screwed up his face.

“Then call your boss …” James leaned on the desk, his face inches from Harvey’s. “… an’ tell him I’m gonna kill his secret weapon.”

James leaned back, glaring, then turned and walked out.

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