THE ACTING LIBRARIAN
by Albert Tucher
“Oh, Mr. Zorn, how you do go on!”
Beatrice Winser felt her smile threaten to become a grimace. Her schoolgirl career lay more than forty years behind her, but lately this man had revived the flutters and giggles of those days. She had known him professionally for half of her life. Why was this happening now?
She refrained from snapping at Mr. Zorn. The Chief Custodian of the Newark Public Library had ample reason to believe that she welcomed his teasing.
Instead she glanced down at the memorandum on her desk and then looked back at him. He took the hint gracefully. He always did, which helped her enjoy his company too much.
“I must get back,” he said.
As easily as that, he was gone from her office. But not from her thoughts.
The memorandum was a three-page affair about pasting labels into books. Such length had become necessary because of the Library's stubbornly high consumption of expensive paste, and because unfinished books were backing up in the Catalogue Department. Normally Miss Winser enjoyed working on the details of Library practice, but today she could not focus her attention.
She told herself that the problem was the stress of Mayor Raymond's recent death. She wondered what would become of the Library that he had loved and supported.
Tomorrow will be even more difficult, she thought.
She had decided to close the Library in honor of the Mayor, because her Assistants wanted to witness the funeral procession through the city. She would let them pay their respects, while only a few custodians remained to perform essential tasks.
The next morning at Trinity Cathedral a policeman in full dress uniform checked her name against a discreet list.
“This way, Ma'am.”
He led her to a pew only three rows from the front. Miss Winser knew she had inherited the deference intended for Mr. John Cotton Dana, the Librarian, whose health had declined too much to let him attend. She took her place next to Miss David, the head of the Library's Catalogue Department and the senior Assistant after her.
“It's a sad day,” said Miss Winser in a low voice.
“We'll survive,” said Miss David.
Miss Winser looked sharply at her colleague. After a moment she decided to say nothing. She reminded herself that grief could manifest itself in strange ways.
But she had detected no grief in Miss David's tone--only hostility. It was most strange. In thirty years she and Miss David had never had a serious professional disagreement. Personal conflict was out of the question. They had no personal dealings.
The organist began to play the processional. Miss Winser rose with the rest of the congregation and forgot everything but her sadness.
The requiem mass did much to restore her calm. Outside, after the service, she looked for something more to help her spirits. She found it. To her left the fall foliage made Military Park even more beautiful than usual.
She had arranged for Mr. Zorn to wait in front of Cathedral in his personal automobile, a new Packard. The same policeman helped her into the passenger seat. As the car in front of them moved off to join the procession to the cemetery, Miss David had still not appeared.
“We must go without her,” said Miss Winser. Mr. Zorn nodded and drove away from the curb.
After the burial she decided that work was what she needed. She would visit the Library to make sure that all was well. She asked Mr. Zorn to leave her at the front entrance.
“You needn't wait,” she told him. “Thank you for your help today.”
She stood in front of the Library on Washington Street. As always, she paused to look up at the beaux-arts exterior of the beloved building. Her restoration was complete. She was the Acting Librarian again.
Miss Winser used her key in the front door.
Something was wrong. She had no idea how she knew it, but she knew. Perhaps the silence was too complete. She should have heard a custodian hammering or sweeping or polishing something.
She knew how to verify her suspicions. She marched straight ahead to the elevator and pushed the handle to the left. She knew how to operate the elevator, but she refrained if anyone was there to witness. Today Mr. Goodkind, the operator, had taken his place along the route to the cemetery.
The doors opened. Miss Winser stepped forward into space.
No, she told herself, go back.
But her right foot refused to listen. It kept going forward and obstinately expected the floor of the elevator to meet it, even as Miss Winser saw that there was nothing to hold her up. She pitched forward, instinctively stretching her arms out in front of her.
Her mind did its best to protect her. Instead of racing ahead to the impact, it insisted on pondering the mystery of the elevator. The car had no business anywhere but here on the main floor.
But the time was too short for detective work. As Miss Winser hit the floor, an agonizing jolt traveled up her arms. She heard a snap but did not know what had broken.
She must have blacked out, because her next thought was guilty relief at the respite from pain. But the pain came, from many directions at once. She had expected her arms to hurt severely, but first she became aware of her knees. The right one hurt more than the left. Her right wrist and shoulder informed her that they had also received some rough handling.
Finally her left arm seemed to say, “I have waited as long as I can. Here.” A wave of agony broke over her. She knew without checking that the wrist was broken. A mere sprain would never hurt like this.
Miss Winser rolled onto her back, as if she could hide from the pain. She looked straight up the shaft. It took a moment for the view to register. There was the elevator car. She had never seen its underside before. Some safety mechanism must have failed, if the doors to the shaft had opened with the car on an upper floor.
For some time she could only lie where she had landed. Finally, she realized that she would have to do something. No one was likely to look for her in the basement. She rolled on her right side, the one that hurt less, and pulled her knees up to her chest. Her right arm proved strong enough to push her body the rest of the way around, until she rested on her knees and right elbow. One leg at a time, she stood up without using her arms to help. She had never demanded so much of her leg muscles before.
Her vision faded nearly to black, and her sense of balance disappeared. She reached out for the wall with her left hand and remembered too late that her wrist was broken. She heard someone scream and recognized her own voice. Still no one came to investigate.
She became aware that she was walking down the hall, but why was she taking this route deeper into the basement? Next she realized that she was angry, and with the anger came the answer to her question. With each step she regained some strength.
Miss Winser arrived at the custodians' locker room and lunch area. Five of the six men on duty sat around the lunch table. Playing cards and money covered the tabletop. She stood in the doorway until one of them noticed her and stopped his banter. Soon all five of them were silent.
“By my watch,” said Miss Winser, “it is neither the lunch hour nor the tea break.”
The men looked up at her, slack-jawed. She sent her gaze around the table and gave a name to each of the men: Horvath, Sentner, Bailey, Hutchinson, and Calabrese.
“You are dismissed. All of you. Go.”
The men sat motionless for a long moment.
“I suggest that you gather your money up. You will need it.”
Finally the men started to move.
Miss Winser wondered what to do next. The men were no longer in her employ. She could not ask any of them to help her to the hospital, and they were unlikely to offer.
The haze of pain made her forget for a moment where the nearest exit was. She had no idea how long it took her to navigate the corridors of the basement, until she had reached the custodians' after-hours entrance. She remembered to lock the door behind her. An hour earlier she would not have congratulated herself for remembering such a basic task. It did not help that she seldom used that door and had trouble recognizing the key.
The sidewalk remained level on the way to Central Avenue, but then she had to turn right and walk uphill to St. Michael‘s, the closest hospital. She had no idea how long the journey took, but she was half-aware of a few passers-by studying her with curiosity. Then a nurse was helping her sit down, and a young physician was injecting something in her arm.
“Is that morphine?” said Miss Winser. “Please, no morphine.”
Morphine was for weaklings.
“Not open to discussion,” said the doctor in a tone more pleasant than his words.
That was all she remembered for a while.
Strong light made her see red inside her eyelids. The light in her own bedroom was never so harsh, even on the brightest morning. Her right hand stroked the sheets, which felt coarser than her own. For some reason her left hand was reluctant to move.
“Good afternoon,” said a familiar voice. But what was the owner of the voice doing where he could watch her wake up?
Miss Winser opened her eyes. Captain Riddick, the commander of the Library's local police station, sat on a plain wooden chair near her bed.
Miss Winser thought.
“This can only be a hospital,” she said.
Captain Riddick smiled and turned his head toward the doorway.
“I think she's okay,” he said to someone. Miss Winser had failed to notice Mr. Zorn standing the doorway. He still wore his funeral suit, but there was more to his discomfort than constraining clothes. Miss Winser agreed with his unease. Receiving gentlemen in her bedroom was not her custom. She looked down and verified that she was modestly covered. The hospital context offered extenuation, but she still hoped to keep this discussion short.
That raised the question--discussion of what?
“I asked Mr. Zorn to join us,” said Captain Riddick. He smiled. “Your custodial staff is a little short of personnel today.”
Mr. Zorn looked miserable.
“I'm so sorry, Miss Winser. I thought I could trust those men. Before today they had never given me cause not to.”
“I fell under the same misapprehension,” she said. “Something must have happened.”
“Something did,” said Captain Riddick. “Have you had … problems with anyone lately?”
“Problems?” she said.
“Would someone want to do you harm?”
It took her a moment to realize what he meant.
“Captain, this is Newark, New Jersey. In the year Nineteen Twenty-Eight.”
“These things happen,” he said. “I could tell you stories about Thirteenth Avenue that would sound more like Chicago.”
He was right, of course. She had read some of the news stories about lethal battles among bootleggers and labor racketeers.
Her city was changing.
Belatedly, it occurred to her to ask, “Why? What happened?”
“I had Mr. Zorn examine the elevator. It was obvious to him that someone had tampered with the safety equipment.”
Again she needed a moment to catch up to the meaning of his words, but then Miss Winser thought seriously. The elevator had worked perfectly the day before. The tampering must have been recent, and it could only have been aimed at her. The custodians were under orders not to use the public elevator in their work clothes. It made a bad impression on the patrons.
“No,” she said after a moment. “I can't think of anyone who would wish me harm. Unless the custodians I dismissed …”
Immediately she felt foolish. The tampering had come before she found the men malingering. Captain Riddick and Mr. Zorn gracefully overlooked her lapse.
“Have you fired anyone else lately?” said the Captain.
“No, I haven't.”
“Done anything that anyone didn't like?”
“Really, Captain, we're talking about people who work with books, not bootleg gin. The worst I've done recently was to require Miss Phillips's retirement.”
Miss Winser closed her mouth abruptly. Miss Phillips had been desperate to remain in her position, but she had become too infirm to discharge her duties. Miss Winser had seen Miss David and Miss Phillips sharing many lunch hours and tea breaks. Maybe their friendship was the cause of Miss David's shortness at the Mayor's funeral.
So I have injured people after all, Miss Winser thought.
It was an unwelcome realization, but she could not deny that her duties required her to do unpopular things. But that was still a long way from making someone want to kill her. Was it not?
“We'll talk more when you're back to work,” said Captain Riddick.
“I'll have Miss Stratford make time on my schedule tomorrow.”
“Of course. The Library will be open. I must be there.”
He considered saying something else but decided against it. Mr. Zorn did not look surprised at all.
“We'll let you rest, then,” said the Captain.
He nodded and turned to go. Mr. Zorn also saw his opportunity to escape. He nearly walked on Captain Riddick's heels.
Sleep sounded like a good idea, but as soon as Miss Winser closed her eyes, she saw Miss David's hostile expression at the Mayor's funeral. Surely the head of the Catalogue Department was too civilized to seek revenge. But life had taught Miss Winser that facts remained facts, however inconvenient they might be. Someone had tampered with the elevator.
Then morning arrived, and the same physician who had given her morphine was threatening to inject her again. She had the feeling that she had awakened him with her wish to leave, but it was, after all, seven o'clock
“You really must stay another day,” he said. “I believe there is nothing amiss other than your broken wrist, but I might be mistaken. Quick action might become essential.”
“Doctor, thank you for what you have done and for your concern. But I have no choice in the matter. The Library is open. I am the Acting Librarian.”
He insisted on having an orderly bring a wheelchair and deliver her to the front door of the hospital, where she found Mr. Zorn waiting for her in his Packard. Climbing into the passenger seat, she had to accept his help. The cast on her arm interfered with her movements more than she would have predicted. His hand on her elbow felt so intimate that she groped for some Library business to discuss.
“We shall have to replace the men I dismissed yesterday,” she said as he drove away from the curb.
He nodded stoically. He seemed distracted and tense, but she reminded herself that she had inflicted considerable stress on him through her actions the previous day. His silence made her feel an irrational urge to apologize, which she throttled. She had acted correctly.
“Had any of those men caused problems before?”
“No. I would have informed you,” he said.
His tone bordered on irritable. They had already covered the topic the day before.
“I'm sorry,” she said. “I suppose I'm looking for some hint of which of them might have had a grievance. But that is police business.”
“The only one who has ever been a problem is Weinroth,” said Mr. Zorn. “And he was not involved in the card game.”
He shook his head.
“He's a sneaky one. I never know what he's thinking--or saying, for that matter.”
It was Miss Winser's turn to nod doubtfully. Mr. Weinroth's English was poor, but linguistic deficiency was an embarrassment, not a crime. Thanks to her father‘s diplomatic career, she had grown up bilingual in Coburg, Germany. She had often wondered what it must be like to be forced to acquire a new language later in life, and she had never envied anyone the task.
“I wonder if you might reconsider dismissing Calabrese,” said Mr. Zorn.
“Why should I reconsider?”
“Just that he's young and easily led.”
“Then he has things to learn. I hope this will help.”
The rest of the brief trip passed in silence.
In her office Miss Winser looked at her accumulated correspondence. By the time she had finished Miss Stratford had arrived, but rather than dictate replies, Miss Winser decided to have the secretary send for Miss David. The memorandum on pasting remained unfinished.
“Good morning,” said Miss David with her usual correctness. She took one of the chairs across from Miss Winser.
“Good morning.” With her right hand Miss Winser held out a carbon copy of the memorandum. She had to lean to the left and reach across her body. Of the two chairs Miss David could have taken, she had chosen the inconvenient one on Miss Winser‘s left.
Miss David hesitated noticeably before taking the copy. They both began to read.
“'… Applying a small amount of paste to the tip of the pasting stick,'” Miss Winser read aloud. “That is less than clear. I suggest, '… Applying a small amount of past to the flat of the pasting stick closest to its tip.'”
“As you wish,” said Miss David.
Miss David was usually more helpful.
“'With the thumb of the left hand, smooth over the hole made in the paste by the stick.' Perhaps it would be better to say, 'cavity,' rather than, 'hole.'”
“I see no difference,” said Miss David.
“There is a world of difference between the right word and an inapt one,” said Miss Winser.
“Who cares about filling in holes, anyway?”
Miss Winser started as if Miss David had slapped her.
“Every detail of Library practice is important,” said Miss Winser, “but I begin to think that we are talking about something else.”
Miss David slumped like a delinquent girl. Miss Winser had never seen such behavior in her longtime Assistant.
No, that was wrong. She had, and recently.
“The Mayor's funeral was a moving occasion. Or so I felt. Do you agree?”
Miss David shrugged. “You made it clear that we were all to be there.”
“Is that why you attended with such poor grace? Because I required it?”
“You require many things.”
“I am the Acting Librarian. It is my responsibility to see that the institution runs smoothly.”
“And if you hurt someone in the process, so be it.”
“Is this about Miss Phillips?” said Miss Winser.
“She had nothing but her work,” said Miss David. “Now she has nothing.”
“Is that true?”
“You don't know, do you. You know nothing about her.”
“I know that she has a brother. I wrote him about her.”
“And he decided for her. He considered his own convenience. He didn't consult her or ask her how she felt. Nor did you.”
“I cannot run the Library like that.”
“No, I suppose not,” said Miss David. “And when Mr. Zorn of no further use to you, he will be gone as well.”
“Use to me? He is employed by the Library.”
“I think you mistake yourself for the Library. You and the institution are not the same thing. I wonder if you remember that.”
“How did we get from Miss Phillips to Mr. Zorn?”
Miss David did not need to answer. In that moment Miss Winser understood. The connection between Miss Phillips and Mr. Zorn was Miss David. She cared for them both.
“I believe,” said Miss Winser, “that it is a mistake to confuse personal and professional concerns.”
“Of course it's a mistake,” said Miss David. “But everyone does it. I do it, and so do you.”
Miss Winser opened her mouth to object, but she found that she could not. Mr. Zorn's face appeared in her mind, and she realized that she had been correct to worry about enjoying his company too much.
She looked at her colleague and was suddenly grateful for the desk between them. The hatred on Miss David's face frightened her more than anything she could remember since earliest childhood.
“And that is why you sabotaged the elevator,” said Miss Winser.
Miss David‘s expression went from hated to contempt. “Don‘t be foolish. Do you really think I would go to prison over you? And when did I acquire the mechanical skills I would have needed?”
It was true. Miss Winser had no evidence, but she also had no doubt. Miss David had not tried to cause her harm--not physical harm, at any rate.
“Very well,” said Miss Winser. “We have concluded our business. I believe you have responsibilities. Please attend to them.”
“Certainly,” said Miss David. She stood up and left.
This has not been a good day's work, Miss Winser thought.
An Assistant hated her enough to kill her. Worse, that Assistant had not tried to kill her, which meant that another Assistant hated her just as much. To say the least, it was a new perspective on her professional life. Or on her life, period.
She went to the outer office and asked Miss Stratford to summon Mr. Zorn.
“Before you do that,” said Miss Winser on impulse.
Miss Stratford looked up expectantly.
“Do you know whether Mr. Zorn has remarried?”
Miss Stratford knew of the death of Mr. Zorn's wife. His request for leave had crossed the secretary's desk on its way to Miss Winser.
“No, he has not.”
Miss Stratford did not hesitate, nor did she show curiosity at Miss Winser's sudden interest.
Remarkable, Miss Winser thought.
It seemed that personal details about Mr. Zorn were common knowledge. It meant that Miss David might not be the only woman among the Assistants to cherish hopes about the man. In fact, Miss Stratford might be an example of such a woman. Her personnel file said that she was fifty-seven years old, but she had something girlish about her. Such a quality did not suit a woman who had accepted the course her life had taken.
Miss Winser suddenly felt herself surrounded by murderous spinsters, until she remembered Miss David's irrefutable point. Miss Stratford was no more likely than Miss David to have learned to sabotage sophisticated machinery.
Miss Winser returned to her inner office. A few moments later someone knocked on the doorframe. She looked up, but instead of Mr Zorn, Miss Treuernicht awaited her attention. The Head of the Lending Department trembled with excitement.
“Miss Winser, I have something you must see.”
Miss Winser sighed to herself. Miss Treuernicht read too many novels, and here was the result. Library business would not continue until she had satisfied her craving for drama. Simply explaining the problem would never do.
Miss Winser started to rise from her chair. She reminded herself that Miss Treuernicht was nonetheless an asset to the Library.
Miss Treuernicht held an object out. It was a wallet. Miss Winser took it from her.
“Please have Miss Stratford come in,” said Miss Winser.
It seemed wise to have witnesses for everything that occurred from this point. Miss Treuernicht went back to the outer office and spoke a few words. She reappeared with Miss Stratford behind her.
Miss Winser resumed her seat behind her desk and set the wallet down in front of her. The next step was obviously to see what the wallet contained, but she hesitated. Prying did not come easily to her.
“Where was it?” she asked
“In the basement,” said Miss Treuernicht. “Near the custodians' entrance.”
Miss Winser pictured the scene. During the daytime, with the artificial lighting off, one window illuminated the corridor. An article like a wallet could have gone unseen for some time if it lay in the shadows.
“You found it?”
What could Miss Treuernicht have been doing in the basement? The corridor was dark and uninviting, and it connected only the custodians' quarters and their separate entrance to the building.
“No, Mr. Weinroth did. He came and found me in Lending to tell me about it.”
Miss Treuernicht did not seem to find that strange.
“Why would he come to you?” said Miss Winser.
“He doesn't really speak English. He comes to me to speak German.”
Miss Winser nodded. She should have realized.
And Mr. Weinroth's supervisor was Mr. Zorn. It would not be surprising if mistrust ran both ways between them.
“So he found the wallet, came to you, and led you back to it?”
It had probably been unwise to leave the wallet unattended, but that couldn't be helped now.
“I take it that no one saw anything to indicate who the owner might be?”
She felt annoyed with herself. Miss Treuernicht would already have told her anything relevant. Now Miss Winser had revealed her own bafflement.
Miss Treuernicht said nothing.
It was an expensive man's wallet of the larger, flatter type that tucked into an inner breast pocket. The smooth leather invited stroking. A man might lose such a wallet if he carelessly removed his coat, but the Library would be a strange place for such a private act of relaxation.
But, she reminded herself, the corridor in the basement was not a public area. What could a visitor to the Library have been doing there? Or did the wallet belong to a Library Assistant, who had not reported the loss? What could have motivated such an omission?
Another possibility that occurred to her was even less palatable. Someone had stolen the wallet in a public area and then tried to escape through the basement. The culprit had known about the staff entrance or had hoped to find such an entrance, and had then panicked or been heedless with the booty.
If that was the case, where was the thief now? Probably long gone from the premises.
There was no putting it off. Miss Winser flipped the wallet open. She found herself looking at nothing--nothing helpful, at least. The pockets and windows for business cards or other identification were empty. She lifted the wallet and opened the currency compartment. It held a banknote, which was wedged in so deeply that she almost failed to see it.
She removed the currency with her fingers. Somehow the act seemed very intimate. What had looked like one note was actually several folded together. As if she were dealing playing cards she laid three twenty-dollar bills on the desktop. She looked up at Miss Treuernicht and Miss Stratford.
“Sixty dollars,” she said.
She waited until each of them had nodded.
“The man who lost the wallet might inquire at the police station. Please go and tell Captain Riddick what we have found. Take a good look. You will need to describe everything exactly.”
Miss Stratford bent over the items on the desk. After a moment she straightened up and left the room.
Miss Winser looked at the three bills. Sixty dollars exceeded a month's salary for a new assistant at the Library. Surely someone would miss that much money.
She opened her desk drawer and found a manila envelope and a white business envelope. Before she could do more, her left wrist in its cast and sling sent her a twinge of pain, as if to rebuke her for expecting too much.
“Would you, please?” said Miss Winser.
Miss Treuernicht sealed the wallet and the money separately in the two envelopes.
“Thank you,” said Miss Winser.
Miss Treuernicht hovered, as if reluctant to leave the matter. After a moment she turned and left the office.
Now the diversion threatened to make Miss Winser late for her regular luncheon with the Trustees of the Library. The meetings took place once a month at the Robert Treat Hotel. This luncheon would be the first since Mayor Raymond's death. He had attended as many meetings as he could, and he had always sent a senior aide in his absence.
Worse than Miss Winser's tardiness was her exhaustion. The hotel was normally a pleasant walk from the Library, but today she dreaded the trek. Her injury had taken a greater toll on her energies than she would have believed. After a moment's hesitation she returned to her outer office and asked Miss Stratford to summon a taxi.
Miss Stratford's eyebrow twitched, and Miss Winser knew why. She had never committed such an extravagance before. She groped for some face-saving way to mention that she would bear the cost herself.
But then she berated herself. Certainly, the circumstances excused her on this occasion, and Miss Stratford was not the arbiter of the Acting Librarian's behavior.
The taxi came promptly, and Miss Winser arrived at the hotel guilty of lateness so minor that only she would have noticed, even if an ambulance had not just been pulling away from the curb. The first person she noticed in the crowd of onlookers was Mr. Blakeslee, the President of her Board of Trustees. An expression of undisguised curiosity occupied his face. His interest bordered on the unseemly.
“My goodness,” he said after greeting her. “That was something one might expect to see down at the docks. At the Treat, ….”
Miss Winser scolded herself silently. Was her interest any more excusable that Mr. Blakeslee's?
“I don't know exactly. The man appeared in the lobby out of nowhere. He asked for help, and it seemed to me that he sounded German.”
That would not be unusual in Newark.
“What was wrong with him?”
“He was obviously in pain, but I couldn't see why.”
Miss Winser shrugged. If the newspapers had more tomorrow, she would read it. Otherwise, the man hadn't suffered his misfortunes for her entertainment.
They made for the dining room.
The meeting went well once Miss Winser had passed the one sticky moment. She felt obligated to report the replacement of Miss Lindstrom's stapling machine at a cost of four dollars and fifty cents. In a moment of absentmindedness, the usually conscientious Assistant had knocked the machine off her desk onto the floor. She had become distraught.
Miss Winser refrained from naming Miss Lindstrom to the Trustees. One of the recent appointees to the Board expressed his displeasure.
“And is this Assistant still employed by the Library.”
“Yes. I weighed the Assistant's record against this lapse and was satisfied. Human nature is frail, Mr. Blount, despite our best efforts to perfect it.”
He still looked dissatisfied.
“In addition,” said Miss Winser, “I have sent a memorandum to the supervisors in the Main Library and the Branches, requiring that all stapling machines be situated a minimum of six inches from the edge of any tabletop or desktop.”
“As long as the expense will not recur,” said Mr. Blount.
The meeting continued.
Back in her office, with human frailty still on her mind, Miss Winser found a visitor. He struck her as disagreeably brash and his suit as too flashy for her taste. Her dislike deepened when he flashed a badge at her and expected it to intimidate her.
“Sergeant Kimball,” he said. “Show me the wallet you found.”
“Why should I show it to you?”
“Because I asked you.”
“No, you ordered me.”
He seemed startled by her resistance.
“It might be evidence,” he said.
“Evidence of what? Has a crime been committed?”
“We don't know. That's what I'm trying to find out.”
“I reported this matter to Captain Riddick. Does he know of your inquiries?”
“Captain Riddick is downtown. Lieutenant Reilly is in charge of the precinct today.”
Miss Winser frowned. She knew Lieutenant Reilly. His lackadaisical methods meant that no one was in charge. Sergeant Kimball had undoubtedly counted on having the freedom to pursue such personal business as a wallet containing sixty unclaimed dollars.
She had no doubt that it was the money that had attracted his interest. She did not care for his suit, but it still should have been too expensive for a police sergeant.
“Captain Riddick knows of this matter,” she said. “He apparently approves of the measures I have taken, because I have heard nothing further from him.”
She paused to let him consider her words.
“You expect the Captain back today, I'm sure.“
He nodded unwillingly.
“You have the details as my assistant reported them. I believe I will wait until Captain Riddick returns, and ask him what further actions might be necessary.”
The man stood up.
“You'll be hearing from the Captain,” he said.
Miss Winser doubted it, but she did plan to speak to the Captain about his subordinate.
He next step was to repeat her earlier instruction to Miss Stratford. Mr. Zorn soon appeared in her doorway.
“I'm afraid I am simply unable to let the matter of the elevator rest,” she said. “If I could see the mechanism, would you be able to explain to me how the tampering was done?”
“I think so,” he said.
She rose from her chair, catching herself before she tried to use her left arm. He led the way to the elevator doors on the third floor.
“Actually,” said Mr. Zorn, “the best thing would be to examine the car from underneath. We will have to do that from the basement. It means taking the elevator out of service for a few minutes.”
Miss Winser knew she should not deprive the patrons of the elevator, but she decided to scold herself about it later. Somehow she knew that she was about to discover something important.
Mr. Zorn pressed the button that summoned the elevator.
“I will meet you in the basement,” he said. He turned toward the stairs. Mr. Zorn knew her feelings about custodians in uniform.
She greeted Mr. Goodkind, the operator.
“The basement, please,” she told him.
The doors closed, and she understood everything. In her mind she saw Mr. Zorn in his uniform. Then she saw him in his suit on the day of the Mayor's funeral.
Mr. Goodkind opened the elevator doors in the basement. Mr. Zorn waited there for her.
“I will not need to see the mechanism after all,” Miss Winser told him. “Please send Mr. Weinroth to my office.”
Mr. Zorn looked puzzled, but then he nodded. For a moment an unpleasant smile appeared on his face.
Miss Winser had barely seated herself in her office when a middle-aged man with a broad Central European face appeared in the doorway.
“Mr. Weinroth,” she said in German. “Please come in. Be seated.”
He obeyed. For a long moment they looked at each other in silence. It was strange. Miss Winser spoke German. She knew that Mr. Weinroth came from Germany, but they had never conversed in their common language before.
“You know,” he said.
“Yes, I know that you tampered with the elevator. But it was Mr. Zorn you intended to hurt. Am I right?”
“Yes. I thought he would be the one to check on us that day.”
“Which is why you did not take part in the card game.”
“I did not join the card game because I am not paid to play cards. I am paid to do my work.”
“Which does not include assaulting other Assistants. Why did you wish to harm him?”
“I am a Jew. Did you know that?”
“I thought it possible.”
“Mr. Zorn does not like Jews. He especially does not like me.”
“Has he made things difficult for you?”
“Yes, you could say that. He uses unpleasant expressions to refer to Jews. He tells crude jokes that he considers clever. And he has tried to contrive accidents. Several times I could have been seriously hurt.”
“Why did you not come to me?”
He was silent for a while.
“Do you know the situation in Europe these days? Conditions are bad for Jews. I expect them to get worse. I thought it would be different here.”
Miss Winser thought she understood. Life had taught him not to look to authority for help. She wondered whether she would have believed him about Mr. Zorn if he had not first taken such desperate measures.
“You thought,” she said, “that if he came in his funeral suit, he would take the elevator downstairs.”
“If you saw him on the elevator, or found out that he had ridden it, you would not reprimand him.”
“But he didn't come to check on you.”
“In that case, I planned to repair the elevator and try something else. I didn't expect you.”
If he had pleaded or blustered, she would have denied him mercy. But he sat across from her as if she had already told him the worst, and he had resigned himself to his ruined life.
She saw that she had contributed to the problem. She had neglected to learn enough about her Assistants, and her own strictures had turned a simple elevator ride into forbidden fruit. She would not have cared about custodial uniforms on the elevator when the Library was closed to the public, but the Assistants would never dare to make such an exception to her rules.
“I do not intend to dismiss you,” she said, “nor inform the police about you. But you have exhausted my goodwill. The next infraction will be your last in this institution.”
He nodded with the same calm that he had shown since entering her office.
“For my part, I will monitor Mr. Zorn's behavior more closely. I promise you that you will not have to worry about him again.
“That will be all.”
Mr. Weinroth rose and departed. Miss Winser cradled her injured arm and thought. She had solved two problems--the mystery of the sabotaged elevator, and her feelings about Mr. Zorn. She would have preferred another solution.
But, she thought, the Acting Librarian does not always get to choose.
It was now late in the afternoon, but Miss Winser had one more task. She asked Miss Stratford to place a call to the police precinct. Captain Riddick had returned to his office. She told him about Sergeant Kimball's visit. For a long moment he said nothing.
“I'm going to have to ask you to bear with me on this one,” he said finally. “I am collecting evidence against Sergeant Kimball, but my case must be very solid. Do you take my meaning?”
She did. Sergeant Kimball must have protectors higher in the police department than Captain Riddick. Such considerations were another byproduct of Prohibition and the corruption that it had brought to law enforcement.
“Of course, Captain. I understand, and I hold you blameless.”
She decided not to end their conversation on such a note.
“There was some excitement at the Robert Treat today.”
She told him of the man who had left the hotel in the ambulance.
“Well, I can tell you some more about that,” he said. “The man died in the hospital.”
“Captain, what are we coming to? Are these bootleggers and gangsters running the city?”
“We don't know that he was a bootlegger. Or gangster. In fact, we don't know who he was at all.”
“He carried no identification?”
“I am told he sounded German, now that I think of it.”
“That's true, and his suit looks European to me.”
“Captain, could the wallet we found have anything to do with it?”
“Maybe.” He sounded doubtful.
“I consider it possible. You have a man without a wallet. I have a wallet without a man.”
“People lose wallets all the time,” he said, “but you're right. We should pursue the possible connection.”
The next morning the Captain himself called on her in her office.
“I will need to have that wallet examined.”
“What changed your mind?”
“Nothing really. Just desperation. We have no other leads to pursue. We have a young, very fit man who is dead.”
“Do you know what killed him?”
“A blow to the head. We don't know with what. Most people would have succumbed quickly, according to the coroner, but it took quite a while to kill him. He was very tough.
“Anyway, as you say, we have a body and a wallet that may belong together.”
She opened her desk drawer and removed the envelopes containing the wallet and money. She slid them across her desk to the Captain.
“Good,” said Riddick. “I don't know whether it was your plan, but you may have preserved any fingerprints on the items. Who has touched them, to your knowledge?”
“Only Miss Treuernicht and I.”
“Then we'll have to record Miss Treuernicht's fingerprints for purposes of elimination,” said the Captain. “And yours also.”
“Oh dear,” said Miss Winser. “She may find that upsetting.”
Or, she thought, Miss Treuernicht may find the whole business so exciting that she embarrasses the Library.
“I will come with her,” said Miss Winser, “and you can take care of both of us. Maybe it will show Miss Treuernicht that you harbor no suspicion of her.”
In other words, Miss Treuernicht might hold her excitement in check in the presence of the Acting Librarian.
“Of course, if you can both get away at the same time.”
Something occurred to Miss Winser.
“I'm still thinking of the German connection. Have you been in touch with the Consulate in New York?”
“It was pretty surprising, how unwilling they were to help. The Consul muttered something about infighting in a very unpleasant political party.”
Captain Riddick took a notebook from his left inner pocket. “The National-Socialist German Workers Party,” he read aloud. “Relatively new.”
He shrugged as if the name failed to impress him.
Miss Winser grimaced. “I have heard of them. Friends in Germany have nothing good to say about them.”
Something niggled at her. She thought, and remembered that she had also heard of the party in the course of her work. A lawyer named Walter Zavatsky had made a substantial donation of German-language books to the Library. She had come to realize that he intended the bulk of the collection to camouflage a relative handful of books, such as the autobiography of the leader of the NSDAP, a man named Hitler.
Captain Riddick thanked her. Miss Winser nodded, preoccupied. She was starting to see possible connections.
When in doubt, she thought, consult the card catalogue.
In fact, she did not need to consult the Library's catalogue. After thirty-two years in the institution, she could reconstruct the book's call number from her knowledge of the Dewey classification and the Cutter table. 943 H63 was her destination. She almost put the task off until the next day. Instead she scolded herself for slacking and started for the book stacks.
But she found the stairs daunting. Unable to swing her arms freely, she found that walking and climbing took more energy than she would have believed. She wondered how long she would have to wear the cast and sling.
As she climbed, Miss Winser entertained herself by trying to guess whether the book would be on the top shelf, almost beyond her reach, or on the bottom, where she would have to bend over for it. She sometimes wondered why nothing she wanted ever occupied the convenient shelves in the middle.
Finally she reached the German language collection and found the book on the top shelf. At least she would not have to stoop and stifle an unseemly grunt.
Out of habit she checked the charge slip pasted in the back of the book. It had circulated five times since it had been accessioned. She turned the book over and opened it to the title page.
“Mein Kampf, von Adolf Hitler.”
She began to read. After only a few minutes she frowned and kept frowning. The prose style made her think of hair and clotted soap pulled from a bathtub drain. This was not the German language that she loved. Worse, the author's writing suited his views. Soon Miss Winser stopped reading and started skimming, but rushing throught the text made the pejorative use of the word “Jew” seem even more relentless.
She replaced the book in its proper place on the shelf. Not even a book like this one deserved to be misfiled and lost to the Lbrary's patrons. She returned to her office. Descending the stairs took less effort but more care. Falling when she lacked two good arms to catch herself would be a bad idea.
Miss Stratford had left for the day. Miss Winser picked up the telephone handpiece and asked the operator for the law office of Mr. Walter Zavatsky on Broad Street near Market. Mr. Zavatsky's secretary told her in a distinct German accent that, yes, Mr. Zavatsky would gladly give her a few minutes just before six o'clock.
Miss Winser had enough time. She decided to atone for her recent extravagance with the taxi and walk downtown.
But she had forgotten her exhaustion. She arrived at her destination with only minutes to spare, and she had to pause in the neat lobby of the four-story office building to recover some strength.
The time was ten minutes to six. She was not late, but the expression on the sixty-ish woman in the outer office said that she was considering scolding Miss Winser for not being early.
“Please go in. Der Herr Anwalt is waiting.”
Miss Winser smiled slightly. She always enjoyed translating German literally into English: “The Mr. Lawyer is waiting.”
Mr. Zavatsky had already risen from his chair. His smile changed to an expression of concern as he noticed her cast and sling.
“Good heavens,” he said in his precise English.
Miss Winser smiled. “Few people know how hazardous librarianship can be.”
“Or what a redoubtable Librarian we have.”
He seemd proud of the word.
“Acting Librarian only,” she said.
“Of course. Has Mr. Dana's health improved?”
“Not much, I'm afraid.”
She looked around his office as she gathered mental strength for what she had to do. Mr. Zavatsky's practice specialized in the law of German-American commerce. Handsome maps of both countries covered some of the dark wood of the walls. She noticed that the maps included territories that were German only in the minds of certain Germans.
“I wanted to thank you again for your donation of books.”
“Please,” he said. “Assisting my community is thanks enough.”
“And also to apologize for not examining your gift more closely at first,” she said. “Since then I found some of the books personally interesting. Very interesting, in fact.”
“I'm glad. Which books would they be?”
“Those that venture to predict great things for Germany.”
“'Venture.' I like that. The German people are bold. We venture much. You are not German yourself?”
“Unfortunately not. But I had the great pleasure of spending my girlhood in Coburg. I learned much. I would like to learn more.”
He studied her for such a long moment that it threatened to become rudeness.
“That should be possible,” he said. “In fact, such an opportunity will present itself tomorrow evening. Some like-minded members of the community will meet and hear a representative of the new Germany. Some of us are overseas Germans, while others are like you--forward-looking friends in America. Does this interest you?”
Surprise made her hesitate a moment. She had hoped for such a chance to further her investigation, but she had not expected it to come so conveniently.
“It certainly does,” she said before he could become suspicious.
He gave her an address on Springfield Avenue.
“I'll be there.”
Miss Winser permitted herself to feel relief that the meeting was not scheduled for the same evening. She had neither the mental nor the physical strength to do more today.
And before she could stop herself, she had asked the secretary in the outer office to call another taxi for her. Her extravagance was beginning to alarm her, and today would not be the end of it. How else would she be able to attend this gathering tomorrow evening?
Maybe she needed to learn to drive an automobile herself.
The arrival of her taxi cut her musings short, for which she allowed herself a moment of gratitude.
At home Miss Winser prepared for bed. She looked longingly at her bathtub, but decided to follow the doctor's orders instead. She sponged herself off at the bathroom sink and suppressed her impatience with her cast.
Her own sheets had never felt so good, but the feeling lasted only a moment. The next thing she knew was bright sunlight, which was impossible. It would mean that she had seriously overslept. The clock on her night table confirmed her fears. She dressed quickly and denied herself breakfast.
She also refused to splurge on yet another taxi, even though that made her lateness worse. She suppressed her urge to justify herself to Miss Stratford, who seemed to accept the late appearance of her superior. They were of similar ages, and Miss Stratford probably understood the loss of youth's resilience.
The day that had started so badly settled down to normal Library business. Miss Winser had almost forgotten how much she enjoyed her usual work. All day she expected Captain Riddick to summon her and Miss Treuernicht for their fingerprinting ordeal, but he too must have had other things to do.
But behind each thought lurked the task she had given herself for that evening. Not even her growing hunger and uncommonly welcome lunch could push her dread away entirely.
At seven-thirty that evening she accepted the driver's help into another taxi. She told herself that she must find another way home that evening. These extravagances must stop. At five minutes to eight she paid the driver in front of 255 Springfield Avenue and studied the nondescript two-story building. Several people passed her on their way inside, as she fought her reluctance to enter. Their unthreatening appearance helped. She started toward the door in time for a gentleman to hold it open for her.
Inside Miss Winser found a nearly bare room. Directly ahead of her stood a lectern. Someone had set up about forty folding wooden chairs in two sections with a center aisle. Enough people to fill about half of the chairs stood talking in small groups. Most were young to middle-aged and fairly prosperous in appearance.
Next to the lectern Mr. Zavatsky conferred with handsome man in his forties. Something about the set of the man's mouth told Miss Winser that his native language was not English.
Mr. Zavatsky stepped behind the lectern.
“Ladies, and gentlemen, I'm sure you are as eager as I to hear a message from those who are creating a new Germany.”
The guests obediently began finding seats.
“My introduction of our speaker will strike you all as a bit strrange. It will not include his name. I intend no rudness by this omission. It is a sign of how dangerous it can be to stand up for Germany. Our speaker is one of those who is risking his life for us. I mean that literally. Therefore, I am sure that you will forgive him and allow him his anonymity.
“But you have not come to listen to me. Therefore, I give you our emissary from the new Germany.”
He and the other man shook hands as the audience applauded politely. The speaker took his place behind the lectern.
“Thank you Mr. Zavatsky,” he began in lightly accented English.
“It is indeed a pleasure to be among friends so far from home. I survey this gathering and take great pleasure in the knowledge that I can multiply our numbers many times. Overseas Germans and friends of Germany are everywhere.
“It also does me much good to see the prosperity in this room. We shall come back to that.”
The man smiled engagingly.
“Germans thrive wherever we go. The German people are industrious, frugal, sober. Those qualities inevitably carry us to the top. But at the same time, is it not a tragic circumstance that so many of our finest young people must emigrate for opportunity, while historic German lands languish under others who are anything but industrious, frugal and sober?”
He paused to let his audience ponder the implications of his words.
“What I am about to tell you about the new Germany will, I believe, fill you with optimism. But before I do that, it is my duty to remind you of how we came to this day. I must remind you of the tragedies that have befallen our beloved Fatherland, and of the betrayals that brought those tragedies about. Yes, I say betrayals, for that is what they are.”
The speaker told the story of the Great War. If a storyteller's art is measured by his engagement of his audience, this storyteller was a master. But if truth is the measure, his performance lacked much. Missing was any recognition of the rights or even the simple humanity of Germany's adversaries.
“Therefore, we must ask, who lost the war? Was it our devoted and courageous soldiers in the field? I say, never! We know where the blame lies--with the politicians who lacked the courage to accept the sacrifices of our soldiers, and of every German in every city and town and village. With the intellectuals and their determination to blame Germany first and last. And with the cosmopolitan elements. You know who the cosmopolitan elements are--those who are citizens of nowhere, who know no loyalty but to themselves and their money.
“The day is coming when we can speak openly of such matters. Speak, and then act.”
Miss Winser thought of Mr. Weinroth. Most Americans would consider him a German, but this man obviously did not.
“And who will act? The German people will act. In fact, the German people are already taking action through the person of the Leader and his Party. Them I will name--Adolf Hitler and the National-Socialist German Workers' Party!”
This time the applause was enthusiastic. Most of the men in the audience stood. Some stamped their feet and shook their fists. Miss Winser tried to hide her consternation.
When the noise had begun to subside, the speaker smiled and said, “Earlier, I mentioned the evident prosperity in this room. Now I ask you to use that prosperity for its proper purpose. As you labored in this foreign land, none of you, I dare say, knew that this day would come. But I believe that destiny brought you here, and then led me to you. I ask you to delve into your resources and give to the new Germany. One day the Fatherland will thank you. But today, the knowledge that you are making the future possible must be your reward.”
As the speaker stepped back, two men appeared in front of the lectern. Each carried a wooden bowl, which he handed to the audience member nearest to hand. Each spectator dropped a contribution into the bowl and passed the bowl on.
Miss Winser stifled a grimace. She saw nothing but paper currency going into the bowl. She had expected the collection and had decided that a small contribution would serve as part of her disguise, but this was asking too much.
When the bowl traversing her side of the room reached her, she dropped a dollar into it. Most of the other bills were fives and even tens.
“The new Germany thanks you,” said Mr. Zavatsky. Miss Winser looked up and saw that he had taken the lectern again. “If you did not come prepared to support the NSDP as you would like, don't worry--emissaries from the Party will soon call on you. You will have your opportunity!”
Those were the words that Miss Winser had come to hear. The evening was a success.
But now she had to get home again. The speaker had disappeard, but at least a dozen men and women surrounded Mr. Zavatsky to congratulate him on the informative evening. She waited for the crowd to disperse and approached Mr. Zavatsky to ask for the use of a telephone.
“Please let me drop you,” he said. “My automobile is right outside.”
Her first thought was reluctance to become indebted to him, but she decided that his offer would make a neat solution to her transportation problem. And she might be able to glean more information from him.
“That is very kind,” she said.
His Packard was indeed right outside in front of the building. He opened the passenger door and helped her climb in. When he had taken his seat and driven away from the curb, he said, “Did you enjoy the evening?”
“Very much. I have friends in Germany. I have been concerned about conditions there since the War.”
She felt good about her answer. It was the truth. If he misunderstood the implications, he would be to blame.
“I'm sure you realize,” he said, “that it was most gratifying to see you there. We are eager to reach an understanding with the American government--to avoid the mistakes that both our countries made last time.”
Miss Winser hoped that he could not see her shiver.
“The support of prominent American citizens could help us a great deal.”
“Speaking of support,” she said. “I assume I can expect a visit soon?”
“Perhaps I can offer some advice,” she said.
“Of course.” He sounded puzzled.
“Americans are used to such appeals. But we require assurances that our assistance will go to its proper destination. Such appeals are, perhaps, insufficiently regulated in this country. I don't for a moment mean to accuse you and your associates of underhandedness. It's just that such things happen, and not everyone understands the German way of doing things.”
She hoped that she hadn't gone too far with her flattery, but he replied immediately.
“I understand. America, for all its greatness, has allowed itself to become contaminated. Not everyone here knows how to behave.”
He hesitated, as if he did not know whether to continue.
“We would know how to handle such behavior and deter future instances of it. If it ever occurred.”
“Then I will be glad to see your representative.”
In a way, even that was true.
They reached her home on Mount Prospect Avenue. She could think of no way to dissuade him from escorting her to the front door. She thanked him again for a fascinating evening and fled inside.
On Sunday morning Miss Winser overslept again. She had already missed the high mass at Grace Episcopal Church, and she decided to face the facts. She had exhausted herself. Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest.
So be it, she thought.
Of course, she did not have the day completely to herself. One Sunday a month she hosted a literary group in her home. The group's makeup varied according to the topic. Today was a day for German literature.
As usual, the guests arrived at two o'clock and stayed until four. After the guests had left, Miss Winser realized that she had barely noticed Miss Treuernicht. Until today the Head of Lending had always taken the floor at least once to declaim a poem by Goethe or Schiller with extravagant gestures, commanding facial expressions, and striking vocal effects. Today she had merely listened.
Something was not right.
The next morning Miss Winser left her home before six o'clock. She had planned to walk to her destination, and she felt fully equal to the effort. A good night's sleep had restored her--not completely, but enough for the day ahead.
Even on foot the trip was short. She wasn't worried about the early hour. By the time she reached Garside Street, most of the people she saw had the rhythm of workers who have been at a familiar task for hours.
Each time she visited this neighborhood the same disorientation seized her. The signs in the immaculate storefronts were all in English, but she understood hardly a word of the boisterous conversations and the peddler cries that she heard around her.
She spoke no Italian, and her French helped only a little.
She found the address. It was a red brick building of four stories. A restaurant of a type that she had never patronized occupied the entire ground floor.
To the right of the entrance to the restaurant was a recessed doorway that presumably gave access to the upper floors. The door was unlocked. Miss Winser opened it.
She took one step inside and stopped, overwhelmed by her senses. Voices seemed to tumble down the stairs and land in a jumble in front of her. The words she recognized as Italian, but what were the odors that came after them? She recognized garlic and onion, but the other ingredients filled her with a mixture of fear of the unknown and regret at what she had missed in life. She now understood why immigrants brought their customary foods with them. Eating what they knew must feel like enjoying the sunlight and warmth of their homeland in a strange, gray country.
She told herself to stop the silliness. She had something to accomplish and limited time for the task.
She knew from the personal file that she had consulted the day before that she wanted apartment number twenty-two. She found the correct door and knocked.
The woman who opened the door was under five feet tall. She could have been fifty years old or eighty, and friendliness was not immediately apparent on her face.
“Good morning,” said Miss Winser. “I am looking for Mr. Calabrese. Young Mr. Calabrese, I think.”
The woman gave no sign that she understood or cared to understand.
Miss Winser wondered what to do next, but then a young man's voice sounded behind the woman in the doorway.
Miss Winser recognized only one word--“Mamma.”
Mr. Calabrese appeared and patted his mother on the shoulder. She grudgingly turned and went back into the apartment. The former custodian turned to Miss Winser. He seemed unhappy at receiving her in his sleeveless vest. She decided to rescue him.
“Good morning, Mr. Calabrese. I have something to discuss with you. I will wait for you in the establishment on the ground floor.”
“Maybe …,” he said, but he could think of no alternative to meeting downstairs. “Yes, Miss Winser. Please give me a few minutes.”
He shut the door. She descended the stairs, walked to her right out of the building, and turned immediately into the restaurant.
It was a Spartan workingman's café. She sat down on a plain wooden chair at an even plainer wooden table. She waited. Behind a counter at the back of the single large room three men in stained white aprons looked in every direction but hers while obviously discussing what to do about an unknown woman.
Finally, the youngest of the three men crossed the room to her and said, “Yes, Ma'am.”
She asked for tea.
“No tea. Coffee.”
Mr. Calabrese arrived at the same time as her thick, fragrant coffee in a small cup.
He sat and raised a finger toward the men behind the counter. Another cup off coffee soon arrived. Mr. Calabrese waited for her to speak.
“I am reconsidering my reaction to your participation in the card game,” she said. “Mr. Zorn tried to dissuade me from dismissing you. He said you were ‘young and easily led.' Would you agree with that?”
“I suppose, Miss Winser. The card game was not my idea, if that's what you mean.”
His light accent, noticeable for the first time, told her that he had learned English recently but well.
“Whose idea was it?”
“I must have an answer if I am to judge you suitable for reemployment.”
“It was Bailey, Miss Winser.”
“That is what I have heard. Before I decide, I must ask you one more thing. What happened at the card game?”
“We played cards.”
“I advise you to reconsider. I believe that something out of the ordinary happened. I cannot have Assistants who withhold the truth from me.”
Mr. Calabrese took a breath.
“A man came into the custodians' room.”
“Did you know him?”
“No, Ma'am, I had never seen him before. I don't think anyone else had either.”
“Where did he come from?”
Mr. Calabrese looked uncomfortable.
“He probably came in through our back entrance. Some of the men were careless about locking it.”
It was what she had expected to hear. Keeping the custodians' entrance secured was a constant battle. Miss Winser suspected that the stranger had done enough reconnaissance to know about the entrance. Perhaps he had even propped the door open in a way that would not be obvious. He had probably read the newspapers and known that the Library would be nearly deserted on the day of the Mayor's funeral.
“What did he do?”
“He didn't really do anything--just looked around the table at each of us. I think he was looking for someone. I don't mind telling you, I didn't like it. I had the feeling I didn't want to be the one he was looking for.”
“He did a really strange thing. He dropped a twenty-dollar bill on top of our money in the middle of the table. And he said, ‘No need to mention I was here, right?' We didn't say anything, but he had a way of making his point.”
Mr. Calabrese shivered slightly.
“Then he just went away.”
“Have you seen him again?”
“What did he look like?”
“Tall, a little older than me.”
She looked at him.
“Than I. And he looked like a man who could handle himself.”
“I guess. And he sounded foreign. Not Italian.”
It was enough information to think about. Mr. Calabrese sat waiting.
“Very well. You may return to work tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Miss Winser. I won't let you down again.”
His shoulders seemed to settle a good inch lower than he had been holding them.
“This is a relief. I was about to sell my car.”
“You have an automobile?”
“Yes, Ma'am. I bought a used Ford just a few weeks ago.”
“If you are agreeable, I would like to hire you in a private capacity for the rest of today.”
He looked at her cautiously. “What would I be doing?”
“Acting as my driver.”
“I can use the work, Miss Winser. Thank you. Could you let me have a moment? To explain things to my mother?”
Understanding came to her after a moment, and the delay made her blush more fiercely. Most people considered her an unconventional woman, but here in the First Ward she would find even fewer who understood her course in life. She saw herself from Mrs. Calabrese's point of view--an older woman with no husband and a job outside her home. In fact, it was not just a job, but a position at the head of a prestigious institution. Such a woman might think she could simply buy a young man from an honest but powerless family.
She started to stammer that she could fend for herself for one day, but Mr. Calabrese had already gone. Miss Winser stared straight ahead, mortified.
Mr. Calabrese came back and found her still at the table.
“Ma'am, my mother understands. We can go if you're ready.”
Mr. Calabrese looked at ease. He was either a very innocent or a very tactful young man. He seemed to understand that pulling her chair would seem too familiar, which argued for tact. He led the way out to the curb, where a black Model-T waited.
He also understood that opening the passenger door for her was an acceptable courtesy.
“Wait, the bill,” said Miss Winser.
“They know me,” said Mr. Calabrese. “I'll take care of it later. I can afford it now.”
His smile disarmed her.
That ended their conversation for the duration of the trip to the Library, but the silence was not strained. It allowed her to think awkward thoughts, such as what he would do during her long work day. Should she send him home? She could not have him report to Mr. Zorn, because the Library was not paying him for the day.
“Shall I come to your office around five?” he asked.
“That would be fine.”
“Great. I've always wanted to spend the day in the Reading Room.”
He drove off to park his vehicle. She smiled ruefully as she watched him go. Was it that easy to win her heart? Why had no one else done it in nearly sixty years? Even on his best day Mr. Zorn had not come this close.
Or was she editing the past?
Miss Winser greeted Miss Stratford so cheerfully that the secretary looked up for a moment.
“Captain Riddick called. Are you and Miss Treuernicht free to be fingerprinted today? As soon as possible, he said.”
“Please have Miss Treuernicht meet me at the main entrance.”
Something was wrong. Miss Winser had expected Miss Treuernicht to chatter with excitement. Instead the Head of Lending resembled a woman on her way to the electric chair. The two women walked the few blocks to the precinct house. The desk sergeant recognized them.
“Captain said you could go right back. Take your first right, first door on the left.”
Miss Treuernicht had still not spoken a word.
Captain Riddick greeted them in a nearly bare room. It was the kind of room that few saw voluntarily.
“This is Sergeant Finnegan.”
The other man in the room nodded soberly.
“I borrowed the Sergeant from New York. He's one of their fingerprint experts.”
Sergeant Finnegan had two sheets of paper and an ink pad spread out on a plain wooden table in the middle of the room. Each of the sheets had been ruled into two rows of five boxes
“Beg your pardon, ladies, but who would like to go first?”
Miss Treuernicht seemed paralyzed. Miss Winser offered her right hand. The Sergeant rolled each of her fingers in ink and then rolled the same finger in a different box on the sheet of paper.
Miss Winser recognized competence when she saw it. This man had the precise and economical movements of an expert.
He looked at the cast on her left hand.
“Now that's a challenge,” he said.
“I don‘t think you'll need this hand,” she said. “I had already broken it when the wallet came to my attention.”
He handed her a paper towel to wipe her fingers.
Miss Treuernicht stepped forward. She looked as if she would have preferred to die. Sergeant fingerprinted her, but the end of her ordeal gave her no relief.
“I'll let you know, Captain,” said Sergeant Finnegan.
Captain Riddick led the two women to his office. He had a sink where they could wash more thoroughly.
“Thank you both. That will help him match fingerprints. The problem is, if we find prints that don't match the victim's or yours,” he said to Miss Treuernicht, “it won't help much, because we'll have nothing to compare them with.”
Miss Treuernicht sat down as if she felt faint. Captain Riddick gave her a puzzled look and turned to Miss Winser.
“Earlier this year New York started fingerprinting everyone who is arrested for anything. We don't have plans to do anything like that in Newark. Lord knows, New York could never have a good idea.”
He smiled without mirth.
“But even in New York it will take a while to build up a useful file.”
As he spoke, Miss Winser washed her right hand at his sink. It was a difficult thing to do one-handed. Rubbing her fingers together, she cramped her hand. As she fluttered her fingers to relax her muscles, she noticed a black fingerprint that she had left on the clean white porcelain. She wiped the mark away with a damp paper towel.
Miss Treuernicht seemed uninterested in washing. After a moment Captain Riddick thanked them again. Miss Winser led the way out of his office and the stationhouse.
Miss Treuernicht followed along to the Librarian's office. Miss Winser had an idea what was coming. She sat behind her desk and waited. Miss Treuernicht seemed too distraught to sit.
“Miss Winser, I have made a terrible mistake.”
Miss Winser nodded.
Miss Treuernicht flung her arms wide, making Miss Winser glad that her office was spacious and sparsely furnished.
“Mr. Weinroth did touch the wallet. He didn't show it to me. He handed it to me. I asked him where he had found it, and he led me to the spot.”
“Whose idea was it to neglect to mention that?”
“His. He said his position here has become tenuous. Is that true?”
Miss Winser wondered how much to say. It seemed that Mr. Weinroth had not told Miss Treuernicht everything about his probation.
“Not exactly,” said Miss Winser. “He did disappoint me, but I thought I made it clear--if there is no repetition of the behavior, there will be no consequences.”
“I should never have agreed,” said Miss Treuernicht, “but I thought it was harmless. Who would have expected the police to become involved? And fingerprints!”
She said the word as if fingerprint evidence had taken the place of judge, jury, and executioner.
“You did right to tell me, however belatedly,” said Miss Winser. “I will smooth the matter over with Captain Riddick.”
She grimaced inwardly. Captain Riddick did not know it yet, but he was collecting more and more reasons to become angry with her.
She instructed Miss Treuernicht to return to her duties in the Lending Department.
“But please wash before you handle the books.”
Miss Treuernicht nodded distractedly. Miss Winser hoped that she had not made a mistake. Should she have sent Miss Treuernicht home to calm herself?
Miss Winser sat and thought about a black fingerprint on a white porcelain sink. After a few minutes she rose and went to the outer office.
“Miss Stratford,” she said, “would you please arrange tea for three? I think the white bone china is called for. When the tea is ready, please send for Mr. Zorn and Mr. Weinroth.”
The two men arrived at the same time, but Miss Winser doubted that they had walked together. She invited them to sit in the two guest chairs in front of her desk. Miss Winser studied the tableau. Mr. Zorn and Mr. Weinroth looked like colleagues, nothing more. They certainly did not look like enemies who had tried to inflict serious injury on each other.
How could she hope to understand anything about anyone?
She poured without asking who cared for tea. Otherwise, one of them might have refused.
“Mr. Zorn, I have had second thoughts about Mr. Calabrese. Your point about his youth and inexperience is valid, I think. I have invited him to return to his position, and he has accepted, as of tomorrow.”
Mr. Zorn said nothing, but he nodded.
“Of course, we are still very short-handed in our custodial staff. That is why it is imperative for both of you to put your personal antipathy behind you.”
Both men sat silently.
“Obviously, I am waiting for a gesture of reconciliation.”
Mr. Zorn saw that it would be unwise to refuse, but he also did not want to agree. Instead, he sipped tea. His lip twitched slightly, telling Miss Winser that tea was not his habitual drink.
Mr. Weinroth sat stoically. Miss Winser decided that he had failed to understand her. She translated. He resorted to the same evasive tea-drinking as Mr. Zorn. Under other circumstances it might have amused her.
“Very well,” she said. “You do not want to reconcile. So be it. But you must agree to cease hostilities. I want to hear your verbal agreement that you will do that. You need not say good morning to each other, nor wish each other merry Christmas or happy birthday. But you must work together without making war.”
“I understand,” said Mr. Zorn in a flat tone.
“I also,” said Mr. Weinroth.
“Thank you for your agreement. It is the professional thing to do. Now you may return to your duties.”
The two set their teacups down on the desk and stood. They left without speaking, which she accepted under the circumstances.
As silently, Miss Winser studied the tea things in front of her for several moments. Then she lifted her telephone handset and asked the operator to connect her with Captain Riddick.
“Captain, is your fingerprint expert still with you? Good. I have a task for him.”
She scolded herself for sounding so imperious.
“And I have some things to tell you.”
The Captain arrived minutes later with Sergeant Finnegan behind him. Miss Winser pointed to the tea things and explained who had handled them.
“You want both cups dusted?” said Captain Riddick.
She explained why. Sergeant Kimball had already unpacked his equipment. He began to brush a dark powder onto the cups and saucers.
As he worked, Miss Winser told the Captain what she had learned from Mr. Calabrese about the stranger in the Library's basement. The Captain's face and neck reddened.
“Kimball,” he said. “I'm stuck with him. I thought I could get some use out of him. Apparently, that was a mistake.”
He saw her puzzled look.
“Once we started thinking that the wallet belonged to the dead man, I sent Kimball to question the men you dismissed. I guess he couldn't figure out a way to shake them down for money, and that made him lose interest.”
Sergeant Finnegan took several sheets of paper from his briefcase. With a magnifying glass he studied the black smudges on the tea things and then the fingerprints he had pressed onto the sheets.
“Interesting,” he said. He told them what he had concluded.
Miss Winser had to agree. It was indeed interesting--surprising and discouraging, but interesting.
But when she thought about what they now knew, she began to see a way to reach their goal. She told Captain Riddick about her idea.
“Perhaps I should conduct the meeting. I may need to speak some German.”
“Be my guest,” he said. “That's not my territory.”
She went to the outer office and asked Miss Stratford to summon Mr. Zorn and Mr. Weinroth again.
As they arrived, she tried to see the scene from their point of view. It might be crucial to know what they were thinking. They saw her behind her desk. To her left stood Captain Riddick. As they glanced to the right and to the left, Mr. Weinroth and Mr. Zorn saw two uniformed police officers standing against the wall on either side of the inner door.
She hoped that her two subordinates were beginning to feel intimidated.
“Please sit down,” she said. She pointed to the two guest chairs.
“No tea?” said Mr. Zorn.
She saw open mockery in his face.
“No tea,” she said.
So much for intimidation, she thought.
Mr. Weinroth sat as he had sat earlier in the week, while she decided whether to dismiss him or turn him over to the police. She could not read his thoughts at all.
“On the day of the Mayor's funeral,” said Miss Winser, “I closed the Library. I left the building in the care of six custodians, five of whom disappointed me. Instead of doing their assigned work, they played cards in their room in the basement. As they played, a man appeared in the room. He studied their faces and decided that the man he sought was not among them. Through a mixture of bribery and intimidation he secured their silence until recently.
“Mr. Weinroth, have you understood me so far?”
That was interesting. As she had started to suspect, he understood more English than he spoke.
It was a common state of affairs for people learning a new language. Covert comprehension might also become an advantage, one of the few Mr. Weinroth could secure for himself.
“I wondered whether you were his quarry. As you have told me, you are a Jew. You came to the United States to escape anti-Semitism and found it here also. We are reasonably certain that the man of whom I am speaking was an agent of the National-Socialist German Workers Party, who are known for their hatred of Jews.
“I concluded that the man came looking for you, found you, and came out of the encounter fatally wounded. My evidence? His wallet turned up in the Library. We know the wallet was in his possession, because his fingerprints are on it. You said you found the wallet on the stairs, but we have only your word for that. Your fingerprints are on the wallet also. Maybe you found it, as you claimed, or maybe you took it from him as he lay wounded. You wanted to learn who had come for you, but your found no identification in the wallet. It confirmed your worst fears. A man on a murderous errand would be careful to carry nothing that might lead to his superiors--in this case, the NSDAP.
“Such were my conclusions, but I soon realized that I must be wrong. For one thing, the timing was impossible. Both you and he were alive at the end of the day. I believe he was also unhurt at that time. I doubt that even a strong young man could have survived his injuries all night and still made his way to the Robert Treat the following day.
“Could he have failed to find you the first day? Impossible. He was obviously a competent agent, and you were on the premises to be found.
“Then there is the matter of why he would want to kill you. You are a Jew, but to be blunt, Europe is full of Jews. Germany alone has many thousands. Why did an agent of the NSDAP need to come to America and kill an obscure custodian? Unless you are something completely different from what you seem, and I doubt that.”
Mr. Weinroth still had not reacted in any way.
“Have you understood?” she asked in German.
He nodded calmly.
“I concluded that the man did not want you,” she said in English. “He went back the next morning to find someone who had not been on the premises the day before. That someone was not you, Mr. Weinroth.
“Why did he plan to do his dirty work at the Library? It was risky, but less so than trying to find his victim elsewhere. Newark is a crowded city. Witnesses abound. No, the Library, at a time when it was closed to the public, was his best chance.”
She switched to German.
“Did you see a stranger in the building?”
“No, I did not. But he may have seen me. I was not hiding from anyone.”
It was what she had expected to hear. And watching Mr. Zorn during the brief exchange, she saw what she had expected to see. He looked darkly at her, as if he suspected that she had said something about him.
Mr. Zorn did not understand German.
Miss Winser released Mr. Weinroth from her scrutiny and turned to Mr. Zorn.
“I recently met a man whose suit was too expensive for his means. Based on that and, I confess, my personal antipathy toward him, I suspected him of corruption. Unfortunately, he soon proved me correct.”
Captain Riddick did not move, but she knew that he understood. She meant Sergeant Kimball.
“Mr. Zorn, you drive a new Packard that is beyond your means. I know your salary. I set it myself. But I was slow to suspect you of corruption, because … because I was reluctant to think poorly of you.”
She remembered having those feelings, but they had lost their power to hurt.
“I asked myself where you might be able to get the money to buy an expensive automobile, and I soon had a possible answer. You are of German descent. You also have an antipathy toward Jews. I know this, but I cannot say how, because of a promise I made.”
This time Captain Riddick did stir against the wall.
“Captain, I feel that I must apologize to you until you beg me to stop. I fear that I deprived your investigation of a crucial fact.”
The Captain's expression said clearly that they would discuss the matter. She wondered if she could still protect Mr. Weinroth.
She turned back to Mr. Zorn.
“So. At some point you came into contact with representatives of a fairly new political party in Germany--the NSDAP. That party has agents in the United States. Some are right here in Newark, in fact. I have met some of them. They look for sympathizers, and they thought they had found one in you.
“I allowed them to think I also sympathize with their goals, and they have promised that a representative of the party will come to me for a substantial financial contribution.
“I believe that you were recruited as one such representative. You call on potential supporters and ask for funds. But the local party leaders miscalculated. You have a German name, but you don't speak the language. You are interested not in Germany, but in money. I believe that you misappropriated funds, and the party discovered your theft.
“Captain, has Mr. Zavatsky confirmed any of this?”
She watched Mr. Zorn. At the mention of the name Zavatsky, his eyes widened slightly.
“He will,” said Captain Riddick.
Mr. Zorn sneered. “You know nothing.”
“We know a great deal,” said Miss Winser. “We know that the man who came to the Library on the day I closed it was looking for you. He didn't find you that day, because I had asked you to drive me to the funeral. He came back the next day, because his next best opportunity was early in the morning, when only the custodians were in the building. He attacked you, and you fought back. You succeeded in clubbing him down, and you thought you had killed him. You took his wallet from his suit coat, and when you saw that he carried no identification, that only confirmed that he was experienced in lethal errands.”
Miss Winser decided that so far she had done well with the necessary omissions and evasions. The police had not found Mr. Zorn's weapon, and her account of the struggle was only a guess.
“You put the wallet back in the man's coat pocket, but you did it carelessly. You left him while you looked for some way to transport his body. But when you came back, you found that he had regained consciousness and escaped. You looked for him, but he had managed to leave the building. You didn't dare follow him, because your absence might be noted. His wallet fell out of his pocket as he staggered out the back entrance. He was young and fit, and he managed to get all the way to the Robert Treat. I doubt that he consciously wanted to go there, but I know from my own recent experience how disorienting it is to be injured and in pain. And I know that passers-by may become curious, but they are unlikely to offer help until it is asked.
“I believe you may be able to make a case for self-defense, but the Captain tells me that first you must make a full disclosure of what happened.”
She sat back and waited to see if the plan had worked. The signs were not good. Mr. Zorn sneered more openly. His obvious contempt for anything and anyone but himself shook her more than Miss David's hatred.
“You can't prove any of this,” he said.
“Actually, we can.”
“Weinroth's fingerprints are on the wallet. Arrest him.”
“Mr. Weinroth's fingerprints are on the outside. Yours are also on the inside of the wallet. You were the one who opened it to see who the man might be.”
Mr. Zorn relaxed.
“My fingerprints are not on the wallet at all. That's why I drank your silly tea. Did you think I didn't know what you were doing?”
Miss Winser sat back. She had failed.
“Now, if there is nothing else,” said Mr. Zorn, “I have things to do.”
He stood up to go.
“You might want to think again,” said Captain Riddick. “Your friends won't give up. They'll come after you again.”
“I doubt that. Not that I'm admitting anything. They couldn't afford the attention it would bring.”
Mr. Zorn left without another word. Miss Winser and Captain Riddick watched his arrogant back.
“Thank you, Mr. Weinroth,” said Miss Winser.
He also stood and left the office.
“If Zavatsky won't cooperate, we won't be able to do a thing,” said the Captain.
“I'm trying to tell myself that it's not so bad,” she said. “After all, he did kill a man who had come to kill him. Self-defense, surely.”
“I don't know about that. I saw that man's body. He had the kind of scars and old wounds that go with an experienced street fighter. I can't see a man Zorn's age turning the tables on him. I think Zorn struck immediately. Maybe he even ambushed him. Not self-defense as the law means it.”
“Fingerprints aren't a magic bullet,” Sergeant Finnegan had told them. “They're not always there. Sometimes someone will handle an object and leave no trace at all.”
“What kind of person?“
“Someone with dry skin. A man who has done a lot of hard work with his hands. Or a woman who has handled paper all her life, especially, … .“
Sergeant Finnegan had looked at her and paused delicately.
“Throw in cool, dry October weather, and that might make fingerprints even less likely.”
She and Captain Riddick had planned on deceiving Mr. Zorn. He would have no way of knowing that he hadn't left fingerprints.
But the plan had not worked.
“We can only conclude that Mr. Zorn did not handle the wallet at all,” she now told the Captain. “That's the only way he could be sure of not having left fingerprints.”
“But someone must have taken the wallet out of the man's pocket and put it back carelessly,” said Captain Riddick. “Could the victim have done it himself?”
Miss Winser thought of her own disorientation after she had fallen into the elevator shaft. Rummaging in her bag would not have occurred to her.
Then she thought of her own hands, which often cracked with dryness in the cold weather. She began to get an idea.
“Captain, I have failed you repeatedly. I feel that the only sensible thing for you to do would be to trust me yet again. Will you do that?”
For a long moment he looked back at her without expression. She began to fear that she had ruined their working relationship, but then he laughed. Miss Winser laughed with him. Relieved, she told him her theory and her plan.
“Why not?” he said. “We have nothing to lose.”
She called Miss Stratford in and gave her instructions. Captain Riddick left to do his part.
Thirty minutes later Miss David appeared in the doorway of the inner office.
“You have heard?” said Miss Winser.
“Of course I have heard,” said Miss David. “You wanted me to know that the police have arrested Mr. Zorn for murder. I assume you want to gloat.”
“Not gloat. I want to suggest a course of action to you.”
“Why would I trust your advice?”
“Because I believe it will make sense to you. Understand that I have no proof of anything I am about to tell you. But I do believe that it happened, more or less as I will say.”
Miss Winser looked at Miss David and saw a woman in late middle age, one who had passed through the change of life and had handled dry paper for forty years. A woman who left no fingerprints. A woman like herself.
Miss Winsere wondered whether there was a poem to be written about that image. Someone like Rilke or Musil might have done it. If they had not, perhaps she would try it herself.
“You care a great deal for Mr. Zorn,” said Miss Winser. “I think you can help him. The police know he killed a man.”
“If he did,” said Miss David, “it was in self-defense.”
“The police don't think so. The dead man was young and fit and, to be blunt, a kind of gangster. Mr. Zorn could never have overcome such a man on even terms. The police think Mr. Zorn knew that his embezzlement would lead to trouble. They believe he expected the man and ambushed him. That is not self-defense.”
“And what do you suggest?”
“I suggest that you tell the truth.”
“That you went to the basement on the morning of the day after the Mayor's funeral. You wanted to see the man you care for so much. You found him in a desperate situation. He and the other man had already begun to fight, and you saw that the struggle would end badly for Mr. Zorn. Maybe you struck the man yourself, or maybe you distracted him and Mr. Zorn hit him. Either way, the man underestimated you, and he died for it.
“You then went into the man's pocket for his wallet. When you saw that he carried no identification, you knew that your fears about him had been correct. Mr. Zorn then ordered you to go, or he persuaded you to leave the aftermath to him.”
“I don't take orders from men,” said Miss David. “Not even Mr. Zorn.”
Miss Winser nodded. “That was my conclusion. At first I could not believe that you came to me just minutes later to work on the pasting memorandum. You were hostile, but I had no idea that you had just been involved in physical violence.
“Of course, I was wrong to be surprised. We both know that women like us can be more cold-blooded than men about doing what must be done.”
Miss David refused to react. Miss Winser decided to end the meeting. Pushing the other woman too hard would only increase her resistance. Miss Winser definitely did not intend to tell Miss David that Mr. Zorn did not care for her. He cared only for himself, but Miss David would have to learn that on her own.
“As I say, I have no proof. You can persuade the police that the man's death was not murder, or you can leave Mr. Zorn to his fate. Nothing can save him from the consequences of his thievery, but the murder charges are up to you.
“That will be all. I believe you have responsibilities. Perhaps you should attend to them while you decide.”
“Oh, you know perfectly well what I will do,” said Miss David.
“I pity you. You will never sacrifice for anyone else, and certainly no one will ever sacrifice for you.”
She turned and left the office.
Miss Winser sat for a while and pondered Miss David's words.
I have chosen my course in life, she thought. It's to late to change that now.
She opened her desk drawer and took out a pen and the pasting memorandum. The typed page did not look like a poem about her life.
But perhaps, in a way, it was.