The Unexpected Return
Sometimes It's Better Not To Know
There was an hour left until closing time, when suddenly the door slammed open, followed by thudding footsteps and heavy breathing. I looked up from my computer screen to see a man gasping for breath and looking around frantically, searching the entirety of the library. My curiosity was definitely piqued as I asked, “May I help you?” “How often do you check the return drop box?” he asked. I informed him that it was checked at least once a day, but I didn’t think he heard my answer as he hurried to the back of the library, glancing around nervously as he moved. I brush off the strange behavior of our new guest and resume my final tasks of the night. One of our librarians was out sick, so my work load was doubled and I was hoping to finish so I didn’t have to stay too long past closing time.
A few minutes later I heard the door slam open again and I wondered what our poor door had done to deserve all this slamming today! I look up again to see two more gentleman enter the library, searching the area with a stern look covering their faces. I swallowed nervously and asked, my voice about an octave higher than intended, “Can I help you gentlemen?” They pushed passed me, giving me a curt “NO” as they split up and began to make their way deeper inside. A thought suddenly popped into my mind, “Did these guys have anything to do with my first mystery man?” No sooner had that thought entered my mind, it was quickly cleared out by the sound of books crashing to the floor. My thoughts immediately flashed to Brenda, my coworker in the back. I called out to her, asking if she needed any help. No answer.
Great. These men were either holding her hostage or had already killed her.
I shook those thoughts from my head and decided to stop reading so many murder mysteries before they made me totally paranoid. I got up from my desk and decided to check on her, grabbing a few books for that area along the way.
“Brenda! I’m putting away the rest of the books back here before we close in 15mins! Do you need anymore help back here?” She peeked her head out from the back room and gave me a weird look, shaking her head. I breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that she was okay. I looked around and in the corner, saw my first mystery man crouched behind the shelf, peering through the books looking at the other two men. I cleared my throat, startling him as he put his finger to his lips, shushing me. Imagine that: me, shushed in my own library! As I readied myself to ask him what he was doing down there, I could see the desperation in his face as his eyes pleaded with me for my silence. I don’t know what came over me, but I knew I had to help. Keeping my hand low, I pointed to our side door and gave him a thumbs up. I put on my best customer service face and headed into the next aisle where the other two gentlemen where speaking in hushed tones. “Hi!” I said with as much fake glee as I could muster. “I just wanted to let you gentleman know that our library closes in the next 10 minutes. Is there anything I can help you find before we close for the evening?”
Just then we all heard the side door close and they looked at me one final time before rushing out after whoever had just exited. I didn’t know what was going on, but I hoped that the few minute head start was enough for that mystery man to do what he needed.
As we waiting for the last few minutes of our shift to tick by, Brenda asked me what all the commotion was about. But I shook my head, as I knew there was no way she would ever believe me.
I couldn’t shake the events of the night from my head all night. Questions were flooding brain as I lay in bed that night: Who were these men? Spies? Hitmen? FBI?
I tossed and turned, my need to know weighing on me and keeping me from sleeping that night. I got up and decided to sit on the couch with my two cats and watch some TV, hoping that the background noise would be enough to lull me into a deep and desperately needed sleep.
After what felt like only a few minutes, I was suddenly jolted out of my sleep by a horrid screeching sound. I groaned as I rolled off the couch in search of my phone. As much as I hated the sound of my alarm, it was the only one that I didn’t sleep through. I yawned and stretched, willing my body to shake the tiredness that seemed to have cemented itself into my body. I quickly got dressed and peeked outside to grab the local newspaper, after all it was part of my job to know the local happenings. I threw the paper on to the kitchen table and grabbed my cereal from the counter. I about dropped my bowl when I saw the headline of the first page “Unidentified Man Found Dead, Local Authorities Suspect Foul Play”.
I powered through the article, searching for my own clues. Was this my mystery man? Why was he murdered? What was he doing in my library?
I sat down at the table and slumped down, putting my head into my hands. So many questions and not a single answer. I replayed the events of yesterday in my head, hoping to remember something…anything…
When suddenly I remembered the mystery guy asking that weird question about our drop box. I was stuck between wanting to run into work to check it out and feeling like my crime novels were making my brain work overtime. Eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to go in early to check out the drop box. I figured even if I was wrong, I could still get a few extra hours of work in while no one was there. The drive to the library seemed to take forever and my need to know grew stronger with every passing second. After what seemed like a million miles, I finally pulled in to my parking spot at work. I decided not to head inside first, but instead immediately went to the drop box and began sorting the keys on my ring to find the one that would finally sate my need to know if my drop box held any clues to the events that had begun to unfold yesterday. My fingers finally grasped the correct key and I bent down to level myself with the lock on the box. I placed the key into the lock and paused for a moment. Maybe I didn’t want to know. Maybe I should call the police…after all it would be evidence wouldn’t it? But one little peek couldn’t hurt… I wouldn’t want to waste valuable police time by calling them out to come look inside the box that may not even have anything of interest inside. Its not like they would be thrilled to find out they had been called out just to find a box full of late library books that patrons tried to hide to avoid paying fines for. As much as that was annoying, it sadly wasn’t a crime.
“Screw it” I thought, turning the key in the lock and letting the door fall open. The typical items slid out, but something caught my eye. I leaned down to get a better look inside and saw a manila envelope that was partially caught and dangling down from the top of the box. It must have gotten stuck when someone shoved it inside. Was it another destroyed book being snuck back to us? Or was it something left from the mystery man that he had hoped to retrieve later?
Seeing as how the second choice was no longer an option, I decided that my only option was to rip open the envelope and see for myself what was inside. My hands were shaking as I reached inside to dislodge the envelope. I calmly scooped everything up and headed inside to see once and for all what my mystery guest had left behind. I dropped the books on the front counter to be sorted and headed to my desk with the envelope. I sat down and took a deep breath. Nervously I ripped open the top of the envelope and dumped out the contents inside. OH MY GOD. The first thing to hit my desk was a small black notebook, then came the cash. Sooo much cash. It looked to be about $20,000 worth of bills, neatly bundled into two small stacks. And lastly a small black flip phone came tumbling out. Still holding the torn envelope in one hand, my other hand went to cover my open mouth. I know my jaw must’ve been on the floor. I turned in my chair and leaned back. What was going on? Who would leave this behind and what was in that book?
Before I could even sit back up to search the book for clues, I heard a noise coming from my desk.
BUZZ BUZZ…BUZZ BUZZ…
I turned slowly to face my desk to see the phone lit up and vibrating across my desk, making its way to the edge before finally falling to the floor. I bent down to pick it up, turning the front screen to face me so I could read the screen to see who was calling the phone…
It read BLOCKED CALLER
I sat there for a moment, wondering what to do. Do I answer it? Is now the time when I should call the police?
I flipped open the phone and put it to my ear, “Hello?”