Walking into the library, I watched the librarians perk up like prairie dogs at the sight of the cake box I carried carefully thru the main doors. Passing by the main circulation desk, the staff forced me to revise my choice of wee beastie when they caught the fragrance of cake & icing emanating from the box and started chirping in understated excitement to one another. (We are in a library after all.)
Marmots, they reminded me of marmots.
Without breaking stride or making eye contact, I followed the roundabout route through the stacks to the perch of all research for the Rye Public Library System – the desk of Mrs. Schmit. The Librarian Extraordinaire was replacing the phone receiver when I turned the corner and covered the last few yards of space between us.
Mrs. Schmit: “What on earth did you bring in that box? I’ve fielded three calls about it!”
Placing it carefully on the counter, I lifted the lid and gave her a sneak peek before answering her question.
Me: “My part of our bargain.”
My Librarian Extraordinaire, as I’ve mentioned requires a commensurately complex sweet to question ratio – the more offbeat the question is, the more elaborate sugary treat I must provide (book/music recommendations are free btw). When homemade treats enter the equation, she knows I mean business.
In this case? The query wasn’t complex, so much as convoluted.
I need a sound strategy to work Ira’s list of establishments Big Ben might be patronizing. Hope, in my experience, is often as fickle as Luck and counting on either mistress to locate Big Ben felt foolhardy at best.
Especially since I’m conducting my search over the phone and from three states away.
However, last night’s discourse over dinner (i.e., the convergence of odd coincidences in Nevermore) left me in possession of two opposing desires – wanting everyone in Silver City, New Mexico, aware of my search for Big Ben and no one in Rye alert to my quest.
Placing Mrs. Schmit unintentionally in the position of needing to produce an answer with one arm tied behind her back. (Hopefully, she’ll take my informational reticence as a challenge and not as an insult.)
Hence the famed cake, half-payment/half-apology.
Sliding the box closer to her side of the counter, she carefully pushed the lid of the box further back and took a good long look & sniff of my offering (I’d taken extra time to decorate it).
Mrs. Schmit: “Your Aunt’s Orange Blossom Honey Cake?”
Me: “Made fresh this morning.”
Mrs. Schmit: “Do you need help unraveling the meaning of life?”
Me: “I already have that answer. It’s forty-two. No, I need…”
Mrs. Schmit: “Hold that thought. Come around to this side of the counter and take a seat. I need to tuck this away, so the vultures stop circling.”
Rotating on my axis (aka my ankles), I discovered she wasn’t joking. Apparently, word’s gotten out about our arrangement. I counted no less than six staffers, not so subtly trying to catch a glimpse of the contents of the cake box. One librarian might have actually been assisting a patron, but her cohorts? Their actions were dubious at best, or perhaps one of Mrs. Schmit’s colleagues attended the Unseen University and learned to anticipate required call numbers? It would explain why the piece of paper he repeatedly referenced while edging his way towards the counter was blank. My favorite, other than the volunteer cleaning a shelf by waving a feather duster four inches above it, was the librarian who’d climbed one of the nearby rolling ladders to reshelve a mass-market paperback in the midsts of the Main Branch’s encyclopedia collection. (I wasn’t kidding when I said my Aunt’s cake is legendary town fave.)
Suppressing a smile at their antics, I followed Mrs. Schmit’s instructions and found my familiar chair.
Mrs. Schmit: “Their noses are better than a bloodhound’s when buttercream’s involved. Now that they’re dispersing, what answer do you need that requires your Aunt’s blue ribbon winner?”
Me: “I need help finding someone who isn’t missing.”
Mrs. Schmit: “Come again?”
It took a while to explain (without giving the game away), but eventually, Mrs. Schmit leaned back in her chair, her mind rapidly translating my theoretical explanation into practical application. The thoughtful silence and reclined attitude lasted for less than a minute before her fingers flew over her keyboard.
Mrs. Schmit: “Wait here and keep an eye on my cake, please.”
Standing up abruptly, Mrs. Schmit strode into the stacks, call numbers in hand. Fortunately, fisticuffs weren’t needed to defend her treat – my presence proved a sufficient enough deterrent to keep the frosting poachers at bay until the formidable Mrs. Schmit returned, books in hand.
Mrs. Schmit: “You need to perform an old fashion skiptrace. Though since you’re looking for a friend who fell off the grid, rather than someone actively dodging you, you should have an easier time of it.”
An hour later, Mrs. Schmit accompanied me to the main counter and checked out a stack of books with titles like How To Find Deadbeats, Dirtbags, and Cheats; Bill Collecting & You and Missing Persons And Where To Find Them. (BTW, the Librarian Extraordinaire was taking an early lunch so she could run her cake home, far away from her overly solicitous colleagues.)
None of the books entirely addressed my current needs. Still, they did provide inspiration on how to tackle the employees of the greasy spoons, motels, hotels, tackle shops, and taverns; I’m sure will feature on Ira’s list without sounding like a deranged stalker or an inept Private Investigator.