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Gets notice


  • pg 1
									                                                                           WORD COUNT: 4,857
Ann Marie Maloney
(443) 995-5598
PO Box 2187, Annapolis, MD 21404

                                          Literary Justice

       Matt knew he could get caught staring any minute but he didn‟t care. “Come on,

graybeard, move your hand,” he said quietly.

       He was straining to see the title of the book that the man in the corner booth was reading.

Matt loved books and was always looking at what other people were reading. From his seat at the

counter, he could make out a “the” and “woman” so far.

       Matt was not a voyeur, just cursed by a random curiosity that, once triggered, had to be

satisfied. Radio stations tortured Matt with their trivia quizzes that forced him to wait through

endless commercials for things he didn‟t care about just to find out the answer. He didn‟t always

care about the subject of the trivia question either, he just had to know the answer.

       Occasionally, this curiosity got Matt in trouble. Last year, he got pulled over for

tailgating a car to read its bumper sticker (“My child will beat up your honor student at

Greenview High” was definitely not worth it).

       Staring at the space after “the”, Matt realized that the top half of the man‟s left index

finger was missing. “Must have been a bad accident,” he thought. He started to look at the other

customers when a movement caught his eye – the man in the corner booth was turning down the

corner of the page with his stubbed finger, his head still immersed in the book.
                                                                                  Literary Justice   2

       The fingers suddenly stopped moving, then quickly smoothed the paper out to eliminate

the crease. The man looked up from his book and quickly turned his head as if looking for

someone. Matt wondered why he looked so scared. “Dude, it‟s just a book. Well, whatever.”

       “Hon, can I get you the usual?” He spun around on the stool to face the counter. The

plump, red-haired waitress was smiling at Matt, poised to pour a refill for his coffee. Matt smiled

back. He had been looking forward to this meal all day.

       Two French dips with fries and a slice of cherry pie later, Matt headed home. He grabbed

the mail out of the mailbox, relieved to see that neither of the two envelopes looked like a bill.

Intrigued by the formal, hand addressed envelope with no return address, Matt opened that one

first and scanned its contents.

       He stared at the letter. The stiff, white paper in his hands felt like the stationery his mom

used. Matt‟s mother was old school – she insisted on formal, handwritten notes for almost any

correspondence. He wondered what his mother would have to say about this. It was a summons

from the Greenview Public Library, telling him that his presence was expected at a hearing,

starting at 8 p.m. on June 24 in Room 112.

       Matt started walking back to his house from the mailbox, reading portions of it out loud

to himself. “The board requests that all recipients of this notice be present no later than 7:45.

Food and drink are strictly prohibited.”

“What is this BS?” he asked his roommate, Ivan, who was sitting at the kitchen counter.


“I got a subpoena from the library. Do you believe this?”

       Ivan looked up from his laptop and raised a heavy eyebrow. “Your library, it have

subpoena power? What, you check out too many Playboys?”

                                                                                 Literary Justice    3

       “Yeah, right.” Matt chuckled. Ivan‟s thick Ukranian accent reminded Matt of the bad

guys in James Bond movies so it sounded even funnier when he made a joke. “It says here,

where is it, oh yeah, „pattern of excessive delay in returning library materials. Payment of fines

since January 7, 1995, totaling $1,510.21.‟ 1995? Are they serious? I was 13 years old!”

        Matt started to rip the paper in half but stopped. This notice deserved saving. He ran

upstairs and tacked the notice up on the corkboard in his bedroom. He had to hunt for a spot first

as he and Ivan had already covered the board with news clippings about government screwups.

It was Matt‟s latest obsession.

       Matt Lee was no anarchist. He had been raised to do the right thing - pay taxes on time,

don‟t argue with cops (even when they‟re wrong), and pick up litter even if it wasn‟t his. But

after a protracted battle with the university bureaucracy over a parking permit and a more recent

dispute with the local water and sewer agency, he was starting to get disgusted. And living with a

guy who supplied endless horror stories about the Ukranian government‟s treatment of its

citizens didn‟t help.

       While Matt prided himself on being a good citizen, he was the first to admit he was bad

about returning books to the library. When he was in the 7th grade, Matt‟s name often appeared

on the “most wanted” list that the school librarian posted at the front counter to embarrass the

late returners. His mother lost it when he stupidly told her about it the first time. Mrs. Lee had

never returned anything late in her life and told Matt he was bringing dishonor on the family.

Matt apologized, but had silently reached a different conclusion.

                                                                                  Literary Justice    4

       He was too chicken to really act up like Andy Coster, who got suspended after Sister

Diane figured out he was the one who painted a penguin on the hood of her Chevy Nova. “Most

wanted” for library books was the next best thing.

       After college, Matt finally started buying books instead; he figured it cost about the same

after the inevitable library fines. He still checked out library books occasionally, partially to save

money but more because he still loved going to the library. Matt was sure he was caught up on

his fines, so why they were coming after him now was beyond him.

“Well, screw them,” he thought. “I‟m not going to any stupid hearing.”

       Matt slouched in the leather recliner, staring at the TV. He couldn‟t believe how badly

his team was playing. He was glad he had passed up tickets to go see the afternoon game – his

kid sister could play better baseball than these guys. The phone rang and Matt absentmindedly

picked it up, his eyes still on the TV.

“Mr. Lee?”


“Good afternoon or should I say good evening. This is Melinda from the Library Board, just

calling to remind you of the hearing tonight.”

       Matt instantly felt irritated and a little uneasy. It had been a month since he had received

that strange notice and he had forgotten all about it. He pushed the mute button on the remote.

“How did you get this number? It‟s unlisted.”

“I don‟t know, Mr. Lee. It‟s just the number that was on file.”

“Well, I‟d like you to take it out of the file – I know I didn‟t give it to anyone there.” Matt

wondered what else they had on file.

                                                                                  Literary Justice   5

“Of course, Mr. Lee. I‟ll do that right away,” she said, sounding eager to soothe him. “And

please bring the notice that…”

“Look,” Matt interrupted. “I‟m not bringing anything because I‟m not going. I don‟t know who

you people think you are but I‟ve got better things to do with my time than go to the library over

some overdue books.”

“Mr. Lee, I don‟t think that‟s a good idea,” Melinda responded.

“Why, are the library police going to come and take me away?”

“No, of course not. It‟s just. . .” she paused, “well, it really would be better if you came.”

“Well, that‟s not a good enough reason,” he said and hung up.

       Matt picked up the remote to turn up the sound for the game, then got up and took a beer

out of the fridge. He plopped himself back into the recliner to watch the rest of the game but he

couldn‟t focus, even though his team was finally looking ready to score with the bases loaded.

His mind whirled from the phone conversation. It was just too weird. How did they get his

number? Why did that woman sound so serious about his showing up?

       “And why can‟t I be like normal people and just not care about not knowing?” Matt

sighed. Maybe he could just sit in the back to check it out. He watched more of the game but

kept an eye on the Mickey Mouse clock on the wall. When Mickey‟s white gloved hand pointed

to the 7 and the 6, Matt got up and grabbed his keys and a magazine off the kitchen table and

headed toward the front door. He stopped to check his reflection in the mirror – the brown curly

hair was a mop, as usual, and he could probably use a shave, but otherwise, OK. He flicked an

errant brown hair off his forehead and walked out.

                                                                               Literary Justice     6

        He pulled into the library‟s crowded parking lot and found a space near the far end. Matt

walked through the familiar sliding glass doors and saw a neatly lettered sign that said “Room

112” with an arrow pointing right toward a wooden door labeled “Library Services.” He pushed

the door open and descended a narrow staircase – Matt was surprised to see another level to the

building. He guessed they used it for extra books and those heavy AV machines that always

broke down in class before a presentation

        After reaching the bottom step, he entered through another door and stopped. Matt

couldn‟t believe what he was seeing. Or not seeing. No green paint on the moldings, no gray

carpet, and no pale yellow cinder block walls covered with bulletin boards and children‟s

drawings. The hallway looked more like the lobby of a hotel, a very expensive hotel. Framed oil

paintings of historically dressed figures decorated the cream-colored walls. Milton, Austen,

Shakespeare, they were all here. “Shakespeare looks kind of bored,” Matt decided.

        He took out his phone and snapped a couple of pictures to show his mom. He doubted she

had ever seen this. The long red-carpeted hallway was softly lit by chandeliers. Matt wondered

how the library could afford them.

        He approached two large doors covered with dark red leather panels and peeked inside

the one partially open. The room resembled court scenes in old movies. Wooden pews flanked

an aisle in the middle of the room that led to a dark wood judge‟s bench. The simple chandeliers

in this room offered even weaker light, making it hard for Matt to see. He noticed most people

in the room were already seated so Matt walked in further and darted into the back pew on the


        “Sir, can I help you?” Matt turned around to see the source of the voice that sounded

rather annoyed. Damn, so much for slipping in. The beefy, balding man sitting behind an

                                                                                 Literary Justice     7

antique desk along the back wall was now standing and beckoning Matt, who got up and pulled

the summons out of his back pocket. The bespectacled man looked at the notice, nodded briefly

at Matt, then bent his head down to write in a large ledger. A black nameplate said “Byron

Stifler” in gold lettering.

        “That is one serious comb-over,” Matt thought. He stood there for a minute, not sure if

he should wait for more direction, when the man told him, without looking up, to take a seat.

Matt scanned the courtroom before he slid back into the pew. He didn‟t see anyone he knew.

        Matt turned his head and noticed the man sitting to his left. He was trying not to stare at

him but he didn‟t see too many Native Americans in Greenview. None, in fact. The man wore

his hair in a long dark ponytail that was graying at the roots. The expression on his brown

weathered face intrigued Matt - it was the look of a man who had suffered a lot but retained his

dignity. “Silence, everyone,” a voice boomed from the front of the room. “The honorable

Rebecca Sharp presiding.”

        A tall, dark-haired woman stepped up to the bench. Rebecca Sharp was straight out of

central casting for librarian, Matt thought. Right down to the half moon glasses that hung on a

chain around her neck. And the hair, pulled tightly into a bun. Still, Matt thought if she made an

effort, Rebecca Sharp could actually be pretty.

“Theresa Coffman, is Theresa Coffman here?”

        A petite, blonde-haired young woman stood up and raised her hand, then quickly brought

it down again.

“Here, your honor,” she said, her voice barely audible.

“Please approach the bench.”

                                                                                 Literary Justice   8

“Ms. Coffman, it says here that you have repeatedly returned books to the library with the pages

dog-eared. Apparently, this has happened 7 times? What do you have to do you say for


“Um, I don‟t know. I guess it‟s a nervous habit. I don‟t know that I‟m doing it.” Coffman put

her hands in the pockets of her jeans, and looked around the courtroom, avoiding the librarian‟s


“What do you think is an appropriate punishment?”

“Uh, well, I could stop.”

“But what if you don‟t? We can‟t have books mutilated in this fashion, Ms. Coffman. The

library simply cannot afford it.”

“I‟m sorry.”

“Well, sorry doesn‟t cut it. People can lose fingers this way.” Matt flinched. The matter-of-fact

tone in which she said the last sentence gave him an involuntary chill. He thought of Graybeard

at the diner. It must be a coincidence.

“But since this is your first offense, I will be lenient. I am suspending your library privileges for

six months. During that time, you will help the library take inventory of all of its damaged

books. Please see Byron on your way out about the schedule.”

        Matt turned his head to watch as Theresa Coffman walked down the aisle and past his

row. Theresa‟s white blouse made her tanned skin stand out even more. Her blonde hair was

long enough to touch the desk as she leaned over to talk to Byron, who looked over and caught

Matt staring. Matt turned his head quickly and pretended to be reading his Sports Illustrated until

he heard a man‟s voice begging. “It‟s not my fault, you have to believe me.”

                                                                                 Literary Justice     9

        Matt tried to get a look at the pleader and caught the profile of a short man that he

guessed to be in his late „50s. “Mr. Jacobs, calm down. You knew these were the consequences.

You have been convicted five times for speaking, and rather loudly, to other patrons in the library

and three times for underlining books. We also have it on good authority that you were eating on

several occasions in the nonfiction section. These are serious offenses. Byron, please.”

        Matt was biting his top lip, trying not to laugh as Rebecca Sharp recounted the offenses –

the way her rage peaked on the word “eating” reminded him of Cruella DeVil spitting out the

word “puppies” in 101 Dalmations.

        Byron walked over and took the man by the arm. The man named Mr. Jacobs tried to sit

on the floor to resist being moved. “Oh honestly, we don‟t have time for this.” Rebecca Sharp

rolled her eyes and leaned down to her right so that her head momentarily disappeared from


        Matt thought he heard a whooshing sound that reminded him of elevator doors closing,

when another noise to distracted him. The Native American man who had been sitting quietly

began to tap his feet and drum his hands on his legs to an imaginary beat. The timing of his

hands and feet were in perfect synchrony. When he looked back to the front of the room, Mr.

Jacobs was gone.

        “Mr. Lee. Matthew Lee.” Matt did not want to go up, even though the wooden pew was

starting to hurt. But he had come this far, might as well get it over with. He reluctantly stood up

and walked up to the front of the dark wooden bench, trying not to stare too hard at the woman

who was presiding over this bizarre court.

“Mr. Lee, how are you this evening?”

                                                                                Literary Justice 10

“I‟m fine, thank you.” Matt stood with his hands clasped behind him, holding the rolled up

Sports Illustrated out of view.

“Good, good. Your mother is a pillar of this community – she really is the model patron.”

“Oh, thank you.”

         Matt was rethinking whether Rebecca Sharp could be pretty. She had smooth, flawless

skin and a perfect bow-shaped mouth that Matt found incredibly sexy. She also carried an

elegance that he didn‟t find in many women and with her hair down, she would look softer, but

there was something . . . off. What was it? Her eyes, he decided. The large, black pupils seemed

almost flat, like a doll‟s. Matt realized that Rebecca Sharp might be just as insane as Cruella

DeVil and far more frightening. Rebecca Sharp was real.

         Matt shifted his gaze to her perfectly shaped eyebrows, hoping she didn‟t notice he

wasn‟t looking her in the eye.

“Mr Lee,” Rebecca continued. “I‟m sorry to see you here but we have a system to run and this,

this chronic lateness. Well, it‟s unacceptable.”

         “I‟m sorry,” he said, and started to shrug but stopped himself. She would not take a

shrug kindly. “I just really love to read books and I have a hard time getting them all read in


         “I see,” Rebecca answered, thoughtfully rubbing her chin with her forefinger. “You‟re

lucky, your mother is so well respected. So, I‟m going to let you off lightly. Your privileges are

suspended for six months and I will give you a choice in how you can compensate the library for

its loss.”

         “But my fines have all been paid,” Matt said, frowning. “There must be a mistake?”

                                                                                 Literary Justice 11

“No, there‟s no mistake. It‟s true you have paid all the fines that were owed, though I think we

forgave a debt over a missing book a few years ago. But while you were hoarding these books,

Mr. Lee, our patrons were not able to enjoy them. They cannot be compensated and certainly, 10

cents a day did not adequately reimburse the library. So, you can pay the interest owed on your

late books, which totals approximately $15,000 or you can volunteer while you are suspended –

there is currently an opening in. . . What is it, Byron?”

“Stories for Sleepyheads,” Byron answered, in an effeminate voice that both grated and amused

Matt. Byron seemed to be both enforcer and secretary at this human circus. “Every Wednesday

at 7 p.m.”

“What? Are you nuts?”

       He could not believe this. Wednesday was poker night. Plus, kids were definitely not his

thing. The last time he did something involving kids was a church play - his girlfriend at the time

roped him into helping. One kid got so nervous that she threw up on Matt, another one cried

every time Matt tried to tell him not to scream his lines. And that was only the first day.

“Mr. Lee, I would advise you to watch your tone. The library will be expecting you Wednesday

at 6:30. You are dismissed.”

Matt strode quickly through the hall and ran up the stairs. On his way out, a neon green paper on

the door caught his eye and he stopped to read it.

                                                                                Literary Justice 12

“Stories for Sleepyheads. Curl up at the Greenview Library in your PJs and slippers! Bring your

favorite snuggle buddy to keep you company while you listen to bedtime tales and make a special


          Matt pulled his hand through his hair. This was going to be a disaster. “I am so

screwed,” he muttered.

          A few days later, Matt walked into the archives building, out of breath from running from

the parking lot. His boss Joanna was cool about a lot of things but being late wasn‟t one of them.

Working for her was one of the best parts about his job so he hated to annoy her.

          Matt was constantly in awe of Joanna, especially the way she handled people. It was no

accident Joanna‟s office fared well during the state budget cuts – the legislators liked her and

they were also afraid of her. Matt hoped he could find a younger version of her. Part Philippine,

49-year old Joanna Mangahas was striking. Her short black hair was always perfectly coiffed

and her brightly colored linen suits showed off her dark skin.

          Matt noticed it oddly quiet when he entered the office. “Sam what‟s up? Why is Joanna‟s

door closed?” The office intern handed Matt a newspaper. “Joanna‟s uncle is missing. She‟s

freaking out.”

          A picture of a smiling, fiftyish man accompanied the headline “Local Man Missing.”

Matt scanned the first paragraph: “Police are asking residents to report any sightings of Ron

Jacobs, whose was reported missing two days ago after he failed to come home from work. His

wife Amy told the Examiner, “No one would want to hurt Ron. It doesn‟t make sense. But I

know something has happened - he would never just disappear like this.”

                                                                                  Literary Justice 13

          Matt skipped to the end, reading that the county named Jacobs Citizen of the Year in

2005 for his advocacy for the deaf. He could hear Rebecca Sharp‟s cold, irritated voice. “Mr.

Jacobs, you knew the consequences.”

          “And you know you can‟t leave this alone,” his inner voice whispered. Matt knocked

softly on Joanna‟s door. “Come in.” Joanna was standing at the window. She turned to face

Matt and he was shocked. He had never seen Joanna like this, pale, no make up, hair frizzed.

Her eyes were red.

“Sam told you?”

Matt nodded, not sure what to say.

“I thought coming here would distract me but it‟s not working. He wasn‟t just my uncle, Matt.

After Dad died, he stepped and took care of everything. He‟s the reason I was able to go to


          Joanna turned her head slightly toward the window, then leaned her whole body against

it. “The not knowing,” she said slowly, “is almost worse than knowing.”

Matt drew a deep breath and sat in the chair closest to her desk.

“Joanna, I may know who‟s responsible. It sounds crazy but I‟m not making it up.”

          Matt launched into his story of the court. Joanna stared at him, her face expressionless

until he described the dialogue between Mr. Jacobs and Rebecca Sharp. Her eyebrows went up

and she raised her right thumb to bite a perfectly manicured red nail.

“I know it sounds nuts…” he trailed off, not sure what else to say. “I believe you, Matt,” she

said softly. “Can you talk to the police?”


                                                                                 Literary Justice 14

           Joanna picked up the phone, then put it down. “Let‟s just go over there.” Two hours

later, Matt and Joanna walked out of the police station, Joanna‟s hands were furiously moving

through the air as she talked. “Those ----ers!” she yelled.

“Shhh,” Matt said, grabbing her arm as uniformed officers looked over at them as they walked to

the car.

           “Matt, we have to do something!” She looked up at him. It was the first time in a long

time that he realized how short she was. And today, how vulnerable. Joanna was such a force

that being 5‟3 never mattered.

           She was right, something had to be done but the cops were not going to help. The police

detective politely took Matt‟s statement and looked at the pictures of the secret hallway on

Matt‟s cell phone, but it was clear he thought this was fiction.

           He dropped Joanna at home and drove back to the office. If Ron Jacobs truly

disappeared that night, Matt wondered if he was still in the library. But where? And was he still


“Can‟t think that way,” Matt thought.

“Blueprints, stupid.” Thank God the archives hired the best, if not the oddest, reference

librarians. They could find anything. Matt ran down the stairs to see Terrence, the archives


           A few days later, Matt dragged himself to the library for his “Sleepytime” service. A

woman with long blonde hair caught his eye as he crossed the parking lot. She looked like the

woman at the library court, the dog ear criminal. Matt hurried up to catch up with her.

                                                                                Literary Justice 15

          “Hey, you don‟t know me but I saw you last week,” Matt said. He hoped he didn‟t sound

stupid. He hated introducing himself to women, it never went well.

She shook her head.

“The court thing? You got in trouble for dog earing books?”

Her face clouded. “You were there?”

“Yeah, apparently my late fines were not enough to make them happy. I gotta volunteer at this

stupid Sleepytime thing. Listen, I don‟t want to keep you.”

          Matt did not want her to leave. He was getting a better view of Theresa than he had in

the dim courtroom. Something kept her from being pretty in the conventional sense, maybe the

mouth was a little too big or something, but Matt liked looking at her.

“Um. Would you like to meet up later for a drink or something? I actually need to talk to you

about something that night.”

Theresa wavered, looking off to the distance, then nodded.

“Great. Let‟s meet at Jenna‟s Diner. Is 9 OK?”


          Over milkshakes, Matt explained his theory of what happened to Ron Jacobs. Theresa

shook her head. “I wasn‟t there when he was up there so I didn‟t see him. But that woman and

Byron…” Theresa made a face. “God, he‟s gross. I wouldn‟t put it past them.”

          “Neither would I. And I don‟t have much faith in the cops checking out my story. It was

pretty obvious they thought I was nuts.” Matt paused to take a sip of water. He wasn‟t sure how

to broach the next subject.

                                                                               Literary Justice 16

        “You know, I‟ve been looking at old blueprints of the library. That place is a lot bigger

than it looks. Ron could be there.”

        Theresa narrowed her eyes. “You‟re not going to break in, are you?” she leaned over the

table to ask him. Matt nodded and smiled.

“It‟s nuts, but yeah.”

“I want to help you.”


Theresa‟s light blue eyes were challenging him.

“Just cuz I‟m a “girl” doesn‟t mean I don‟t know how to do stuff. I want those psychos behind

bars. I‟m pretty sure they‟re responsible for turning my friend Kristin into a head case.”

“Head case? What do you mean?”

Theresa looked down at her milkshake, fingering the cold glass. Matt hoped she wasn‟t going to

start crying.

        “Kristen used to be normal,” she began, “a lot of fun, then she just dropped off the face

of the earth for a while. The next time I saw her, she was like a zombie. You may have seen her

at the library stocking shelves. Kind of short, with long brown hair, always dressed in jumpers?”

Matt shook his head.

        “Well, anyway, remember the day we had that huge ice storm? I tried to convince

Kristin it was OK to return a book a day late but she would not budge. She was like a robot.

Kept repeating, „we cannot keep books past their due date.‟ It was like she had been


        As Matt listened, his conviction in his plan deepened. They had to be stopped. Now that

he knew that Ron Jacobs could end up as some kind of Stepford library patron (assuming he was

                                                                               Literary Justice 17

still alive), Matt wanted to move even faster. And though Ron had not been accused of dog-

earing books, Matt‟s belief that Rebecca Sharp and her nutty assistant were quite capable of

chopping off fingers and God knows what else added to his anxiety – he did not want to see any

more mutilated fingers, especially Theresa‟s.

       After making repeated trips to the library to check out its nighttime security and

consulting with a friend of Ivan‟s, who knew a disturbing amount about lock picking for

someone who was not a professional locksmith, he decided they were ready. Matt asked Theresa

to meet him at the library tomorrow night at 11.

       He shivered as he leaned against the rough bark of the tree. “Can it be this cool in

August?” he wondered. Or maybe it was just his nerves. He twisted around to survey the

building that stood 100 feet behind him. Matt figured he had spent hundreds of hours of his life

in there and had always felt welcome.

       But tonight, the modest brick building looked incredibly dark against the sky. The gently

sloped alcove that had protected Matt when he waited in the rain for his mom to pick him up

now harbored pitch blackness.

       He really wanted to go home and be in his living room, catching the rest of the game like

a normal person, but he owed this to Joanna.

“Where is Theresa, damn it?” Matt looked toward the parking lot to see if he could spot any

moving shapes.

“Matt, is that you?” a female voice was whispering somewhere from his right.

“Yeah, over here. Hurry up, we got to get started.”

       Matt hoped that they would not end up doing time for breaking into the Greenview Public

Library but then, they may be safer in jail anyway.


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