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Witch Way to MurderAn Ophelia and Abby Mystery
By Shirley Damsgaard
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Shirley Damsgaard
All right reserved.
I felt someone watching me as I put the returned books away. My hackles stood up and my skin tingled. I sighed and shook my head. My instincts told me it was Mr. Carroll, one of our oldest patrons, all in a twist and waiting to pounce on me about our latest book selections. He treated the library as his personal domain and me as his personal slave. He was not one of my favorites.
Sighing again and plastering a smile on my face, I turned, only it wasn't Mr. Carroll's bleary bloodshot eyes staring at me. My smile faded as I stared into the warmest pair of brown eyes I'd ever seen. I felt a shock of awareness deep in my gut, even though I'd never seen this man before.
He sure wasn't from Summerset. It was almost as if he'd taken a class, "Small Town 101: What the Natives Wear," in order to try and fit in. His blue jeans were properly faded, his leather bomber jacket had a lived-in look, and his work boots were fashionably scuffed. But he'd failed the class. His clothes may have said "small town," but everything else in his demeanor shouted "city." He had a sheen, a polish about him, that someone from Small Town, USA, lacks.
I realized I was gaping and quickly looked away. When I glanced back, he was smiling. Evidently, befuddling women, even a thirty-something librarian, was nothing new to him.
"Hi, my name is Richard Davis," he said, extending his hand. His voice was rich and husky, with a faint accent like someone from Minnesota or Wisconsin, maybe.
One of the quirks I'd developed over the past four years was an aversion to touching people, especially strangers, so rather than accept his hand, I bent to pick up an imaginary paper clip on the floor. When I stood, his hand was no longer extended.
"The girl at the desk said I needed to talk to Ophelia Jensen. Are you Ophelia?" he asked. When I nodded, his eyes widened in surprise.
He laughed. "I'm sorry. You don't look like a librarian."
"Really? And what exactly is a librarian supposed to look like?"
"You know, older, hair in a bun, reading glasses on a chain, pencil stuck behind the ear." He smiled, eyeing my clothes. "I've never met a librarian wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt that says 'Tact is for people not witty enough to use sarcasm.' Or one with a name like Ophelia."
I looked down at my clothes. He was right. Not my normal librarian look. Mentally, I pulled my tattered dignity around me and stood straighter. "I work alone in my office on Fridays." That wasn't any of his business. Why was I explaining? "But it seems the Dewey decimal system is beyond my assistant's scope of understanding, so someone has to put these books away."
His smile never slipped. "That explains the clothes, but what about your name?"
"Do you always ask this many questions, Mr. Davis?"
He shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a curious kind of a guy. So, how did you get the name?"
"Persistent, too, aren't you?" I said, arching an eyebrow.
"Okay, the truth is my mother is a retired English professor, and she always had a thing for Shakespeare. Hamlet happened to be her favorite. I have always felt very lucky I wasn't a boy."
"A retired professor? From what university?"
"University of Iowa."
"In Iowa City, right? Is that where you grew up?" he asked.
"Yes." I shifted and crossed my arms.
"How did you wind up in a small town like Summerset?" he asked.
Boy, did this guy ask a lot of questions.
"They needed a librarian and I needed a job." My eyes slid over to the clock hanging on the wall above the bookshelves, and then back to Mr. Davis. "Now, what can I do to help you?"
He noticed my clock-watching and smiled. "I'm sorry, I'm keeping you from your work, aren't I? I need a library card and your assistant told me to talk to you."
"I'm sorry, but you're not from around here. We don't give cards to people who don't live in Summerset or the surrounding area."
"I had hoped you would make an exception in my case. I'm a chemical salesman, I'll be here for a couple of weeks, and I'll be bored stiff without some books to read. I promise I'll bring them back." He changed the smile to a lopsided grin. Charm rolled off him in waves.
I may have spent most of my life in a small town, but I'm not stupid. I can spot a load of crap when I see one. He was lying. Where was the hat, the jacket, the pens, all with his company's name plastered on them? Without calling him a liar, I couldn't get out of this situation. I mumbled something about how arrangements could be made.
"Oh," he said, still in the charm mode. "I like to look at old newspapers. You know, read what's happening in the community. It helps me get a feel for my customers. You wouldn't have archives, would you?"
"We have our local paper, the Summerset Courier, on file. The archives are in the basement. We also have access to the Des Moines Register on our computer."
"Wow, you have a computer."
"Yes, we do." I felt offended. I get so tired of "city" people treating us like a bunch of hicks from Mayberry. "We're very progressive. We also have running water and indoor plumbing."
Out came the lopsided grin again. "I sounded condescending, didn't I? I'm sorry."
I found myself smiling back. Whatever this Mr. Davis had, he should bottle it and forget about the traveling salesman routine.
Excerpted from Witch Way to Murder by Shirley Damsgaard Copyright © 2005 by Shirley Damsgaard.
Excerpted by permission.
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