This is my favorite of my three cozy mysteries. Homeless people often use libraries and this story takes that fact as a theme but it goes in several different directions. I love the ending, and several people have told me they never would have guessed it! Well, you won’t guess it either, at least not from the selections I offer you here. This first one, from Chapter 3, helps to set the stage.
“HEY, Lauren, otherwise how are things doing at the library?” Don asked.
“With all this rain, we’ll have to redo the roof entirely, which will wipe out our emergency funds. I don’t know when we’ll ever get a new building. I’ve been hearing lately that people want us to keep the old Carnegie building because they say it’s cute. And I’m afraid my recent outreach to the homeless has been unpopular.”
“That doesn’t surprise you, does it? After all, people don’t want to think about anything unpleasant.” Momo softened her remark with a soft laugh.
Lauren said, “But all I’m doing with the homeless is encouraging them to use the library like anyone else. Why should that be such a big deal? It’s just fair.”
“Lauren the crusader,” said Don.
“Look who’s talking! You’re a crusader for preparedness, Don. Just because you are Justin’s baby brother doesn’t give you automatic teasing rights,” Lauren said.
She glared at him with the well-practiced look that had always stopped her younger brothers from commenting, but Don just said, “Of course it does! Get used to it!” They all laughed.
Don was a couple of years younger than Justin, and despite the teasing he was the more serious of the two brothers. At thirty, Justin had permanent laugh lines around his eyes and radiated a relaxed confidence Lauren found appealing. Both Justin and Don were good looking, tall, athletic in build, and with trimmed beards. It was obvious that they were brothers, even though Don’s hair was black and his eyes blue while Justin had brown hair and dark brown eyes.
Lauren had met the Russells soon after she came to Silvermine. She first became friends with Betty, and soon afterwards she met Don and then Justin. She and Justin began hiking together, and their love affair had developed from there.
A little background from Chapter 11 about the homeless and libraries:
On Saturday night at home, Lauren wondered how other librarians were dealing with homeless people. Going online with her laptop on the kitchen table, she found that some libraries had passed policies that effectively kept them out. On the other hand, others were reaching out as she was trying to. San Francisco Public Library had some innovative programs to help them. Lauren was moved by a comment from a newly homeless man who appreciated being able to use that library. He said, “It’s very crazy out there, and it’s very sane in here.”
Lauren saw that because libraries were one of the few public spaces where homeless people could doze off or try to clean themselves up in the bathrooms, if a library didn’t allow those activities, it was further marginalizing the poorest, even if inadvertently.
None of the issues were simple, but at least she was comforted that many librarians were struggling with the same questions. And she picked up some new ideas of what she could say to library patrons who complained about homeless people. For one thing, she could quote the Americans with Disabilities Act. Quite a few of the homeless fell under its protection, theoretically at least.
In Chapter 21, Lauren and Justin are asked by Ace, a high school acquaintance of Justin’s who is homeless, to go out in the National Forest and help him look for his younger brother and another man. It has been an exceptionally wet winter and an old cattle pond may be leaking down towards where his brother usually camps. This selection begins when Lauren, Justin, and Ace are already out there:
Ace went on, “My brother uses whatever he can get, booze or drugs. I may have to support him at first, till he gets the idea that we are going down the trail. He’s used to doing what I tell him to, so once he gets it, he should be able to walk out. Lauren, maybe you can grab any gear of theirs that you can carry down.”
“Okay,” she said. “Hey, what if they aren’t there?”
Ace said, “Then let’s go down the old truck track. It’s possible that they know about it and might be camped along it, if they have any inkling of danger from the waters.”
Ace could talk and still hike quickly. Lauren noticed how deftly he moved along the wet trail.
“Might the wetness of the trail through here be related to that pond leaking?” she asked.
Justin spoke immediately, and Lauren thought to herself that there was a subtle competition going on between the guys. They both loved being the expert. He said, “I doubt it. If a pond is leaking, and I am not convinced yet that it is, its waters might not come this far down. I think they would spread out at that camping spot.”
Ace said, “Yes, right, Justin. I’ve been along this trail several times lately and it’s been this wet or even wetter. You’ve probably both noticed the raw earth between the creek and the trail in several spots, where the bank has given way.”
“We haven’t had this much rain any year in my lifetime,” Justin said. “It’s rearranging the landscape all over Colorado.”
Lauren figured he was about to make a comment about climate change, but suddenly she heard him exclaim, “What the—!”
She turned to see him sliding down into the creek as the trail gave way. He was upright, at least. She thought he was about to get very cold feet and legs, but she didn’t sense any danger.
But evidently Ace did. He turned, brushed past Lauren, and grabbed her walking stick as he went by. He ran downstream and called out, “Justin, grab this!” Water was up almost to Justin’s waist in the creek. He was keeping his balance by waving his arms and by moving with the water, but he was just too far downstream to reach the walking stick. As he disappeared out of sight, Lauren heard him yell something.
Guess I’d better leave it at that.