In case you aren’t sure what a marmot looks like, here’s a pic of a yellow-bellied one!
In case you aren’t sure what a marmot looks like, here’s a pic of a yellow-bellied one!
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.
The next stop on my about town list – the Rye Public Library.
The lair of Mrs. Schmit.
The Librarian’s librarian. The supreme commander of the Reference Desk. No fact, book or bibliography reference resides in obscurity when she needs to locate it. She plays the dewy decimal system with the same passion as her church’s organ during a Sunday solo. When the Board punted the card catalog into the realm of obsoletism, some thought she’d retire – not Mrs. Schmit – computers just made her faster.
I have witness school children descend into fisticuffs to sort out who would prevail upon her skill for a school report (the answer was neither).
I frequent her desk often enough posing odd and esoteric questions Mrs. Schmit imposed a sweets tax – the more exotic the request, the more exotic sweet I must supply (either this is an early warning system, or initially she thought this might discourage me). Occasionally I wonder if this arrangement is standard practice for other patrons, but she’s skinny as a bean pole – so I think not.
I am not sure who felt more dejected when I stood before Mrs. Schmit’s domain, me because she stayed home with the sniffles today or the library volunteer manning the desk when I kept the lid of the pastry box closed. The two dozen pumpkin spiced crinkle cookies, I’d bought at The Alter, added a subtle sweetness to the air. Which made my solo research a bit more pleasant, the volunteer admonished me later for eating, but forgave the violation when I offered him one.
You cannot sit at the left elbow of a treasure like Mrs. Schmit without picking up a few tricks of the trade along the way (like all good teachers – she’ll guide you in a search, but your hand must actually do the work – unless you pay her in sugar, then she’ll man the mouse herself). So in roughly double (or triple, but who’s counting) the time it would take us “together” – the microfiche archive of The Daily Harvest (our punny local paper) provided the basics for my tag-a-long passenger.
Tiffany (Roth) Grindle disappeared over the Fourth of July weekend in 1987 somewhere in the North Cascades National Park.
Delving further into public records (and the pastry box) I added a few more pieces to the picture. Mr. Grindle married Tiffany Roth in October 1985, and they purchased a home together in January 1986 (where he still lived) and in July 1994 (the standard seven years without a hint of life) he had Tiffany declared dead in absentia – almost to the day she disappeared.
The newspaper and public records supported large swaths of my unexpected passenger’s suppositions. However, the most crucial postulation remained utterly unsubstantiated, i.e., that he murdered her. None of The Harvest’s articles ever hinted in the general direction of foul play, let alone leveled an accusation. The consensus seemed to think that Tiffany got lost and died of heat exhaustion or in the wildfires – nature causes basically.
No one suspected Tiffany’s husband of any misdeeds, which fit her story.
Mulling this over (and eating another cookie) I skimmed over the rest of Mr. Grindle’s records. I found two entries somewhat revelatory, the first, a Phillip Roth transferred a piece of property to Mr. Grindle about ten years ago (a summer house I think, judging from the address). The second entry filed a year ago, gave Mr. Grindle power of attorney over the same Phillip Roth. So perhaps the support of Tiffany’s father kept the winds of doubt diverted – if nothing else it shows a continued relationship of some sort there.
Deciding I’d found what I could, the pastry box and I left the Library (much to the consternation of the volunteer, who’d hinted his willingness to take it off my hands). Stymied for the moment, I puttered my way home in the Princess – Beatrice’s map collection far outstripped the Library’s holdings, so I decided to wait until she got back for further research.
Which meant I needed to figure out which task to tackle next – call Sarah or move my boxes.