The Detection Club

The cold damp of November nipped at Jemina’s heels as she scurried up the high street. If only it wasn’t raining, if only old Mr. Oglethorpe hadn’t stopped her to discuss vegetable marrow recipes, if only the chemist hadn’t taken so long filling Mother’s prescriptions, if only she hadn’t spent twenty minutes trying on jumpers. She put on her Ngaio Marsh mask in the vestibule and caught a ghost of her reflection in the glass covered map of MeadowMarsh. Horrors. Jemina beelined for the ladies. The humming fluorescent overhead took no prisoners. Jemina shrieked at her own reflection. She looked like a waterlogged corpse. For seven whole minutes Jemina tried to dry her Titian curls with the hand dryer and paint on a new face. Stop it, stop it this minute this is not a date it is a book club at a library for heaven’s sake. Pull it together.
Jemina left the restroom in a gray fog.
The library was Covid crowded meaning more than three unrelated people sharing the same space. Weary mums halfheartedly shushed frenetic toddlers as aged pensioners navigated the World Wide Web. Jemina marched past mysteries, histories, and how tos for the Willa Cather room. It was empty.
Jemina took a took a seat on the clean but worn sofa. She was late and mostly likely the only one to show up to the Detection Club. She crumpled for a moment but then rallied. In the before times she had come to a few library events, local author book signings and book sales. But after eighteen months of social distancing Jemina was chomping to get off the sofa, meet people, get out of her own head. The important thing was trying something new. She fished in her copious rucksack for this month’s book.
The rain splattered and ran into slick dark pools. Mick pulled his hat down a little lower shielding himself from the driving rain and eyes of strangers. So many people. Mick’s steps sliced through the crowds avoiding shoppers and strollers. The sky was as dark and gray as his mood. Why am I out here risking death? Or worse small talk? I should be working on my novel or cleaning my apartment. I haven’t been inside of a library since I was eleven. Mick caught his reflection in the hardware store window. He was tall with horn rimmed glasses and a body that could grow to fat if he wasn’t careful. He needed a haircut, a shave, and a good night sleep or three. Mick walked faster, his feet pounding driving out self-doubt. He had wasted the morning trying to find a shirt that made him look good without looking as if he were trying. I know why I’m going to the library. I don’t like people but I like a person and after a summer of Zoom book club meetings and texts I want something real.
Mick burst into the library’s lobby with a Red Harvest mask and desperate look in his eyes. There was some kind of puppet show/story telling/enhanced interrogation thing going on with kids to his right and a bank of monitors and old timers to his left. Mick looked left, Mick looked right. With a violet beehive and a sleeve of tattoos, the librarian glanced up from her desktop and said, “Willa Cather Room, back left corner.” Mick thanked her and she offered a Cheshire smile.
Jemina retrieved Eight Perfect Murders as Mick opened the door.
“So tell me you hated this thing as much as I did.”
“I can tell you I hated it in eight different ways.”
Laughter splashed out of the Willa Cather room as the door closed.

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