The Body in the True Crime Section

Book #2 of The Crescent Cove Mysteries

(Copyright Mark Waddell, 2023)


Chapter One

Shrouded in gloom, I stared down at the grisly object clutched in my hands. The severed foot was surprisingly heavy, and I found myself at a loss as to what to do with it. Should I hang it from one of the banisters, or leave it sitting on top of a bookshelf?

Around me, the Crescent Cove library was hushed and empty. The last patrons had departed more than an hour ago and the enormous stained-glass panels set into the ceiling overhead had long since dulled to muddy shades of yellow and blue as the sun set outside. Only three or four banker’s lamps remained lit on the polished tables scattered across the main floor, their green shades glowing in the quiet, comforting darkness as I worked to turn the cozy wood-paneled space into a house of horrors.

Halloween was fast approaching and, while I had tremendous respect for schlock and kitsch, I’ve always believed that this particular holiday required a good ol’-fashioned gore-fest. My impulses had been tempered somewhat by a few practical realities—I’d decided against the cackling robotic skeletons out of deference to the whole “quiet-in-the-library” thing—but you can get a lot of visual impact out of a few severed body parts, as it happens. By the time the library opened again tomorrow morning, it would be the scariest place in town.

Thoughtfully hefting the amputated extremity, I decided to position it on the circulation desk, right where people checked out their books. Then I did a slow circuit of the main floor, adjusting decorations here and there. An army of Kleenex ghosts bobbed gently from fishing line in the kids’ area, the romance section contained several naked hearts, all of them oozing fake blood, and a terrifying alien presided over the science fiction shelves. Satisfied, I used one of the two curving staircases that swept up from the main floor and climbed to the mezzanine overhead, which everyone called the second floor. It was open in the middle, allowing the central part of the library to soar up to the stained glass ceiling and people on the mezzanine to peer down at the black-and-white checkerboard tiles below. This is where most of the non-fiction books lived, shelved neatly in beautiful walnut bookcases that marched along all four walls. I’d really gone to town with the fake cobwebs up here, not to mention the two dozen rubber bats dangling from the ceiling. A few unattached hands and feet were scattered around, ready to surprise the unwary reader, alongside a panoply of fake spiders, cockroaches, and toads.

Hands on hips, I took a moment to survey the mezzanine before deciding that I was happy with how things looked. Then I switched off the lamps and wandered back downstairs. I couldn’t wait to see people’s reactions tomorrow when they found themselves plunged into the grisly surroundings. Checking that the twelve-foot doors were locked securely, I turned and paced back across the silent expanse of the beautiful old nineteenth-century building. Tucked away in a back corner was an unobtrusive door with a shiny new brass plaque affixed to it, which I paused to read for the four hundredth time.


                                                                                                    Luke Tremblay


I still wasn’t entirely sure how I’d ended up as Crescent Cove’s resident librarian. The announcement had come at the end of last month’s meeting of the town council, during which I’d been lulled into a light doze by the interminable points of business cluttering the agenda. Startled into wakefulness by a sharp nudge in the ribs from Juliana Kestenbaum, the local doctor, I’d straightened in my chair and inquired muzzily, “What now?”

From his seat next to the mayor, Sergeant Jack Munro, head of the local RCMP detachment, shook his head at me while wearing a faint smirk. What caught my attention, however, was the glowering countenance of Agnes Mcgillicuddy. Beneath her rigid helmet of iron-gray curls, her disapproving gaze was fastened directly on me.

“I said that congratulations are in order. The Crescent Cove Library Committee voted this morning to appoint you our town librarian.” Then she led the room in a round of applause, clearly expecting every single person there to join in.

“I’m what?” I’d blurted out as I sat upright in my chair. “No,” I added, looking around, “there must be some mistake.”

Mrs. Mcgillicuddy’s hands stilled. “The Library Committee does not make mistakes,” she informed me in her sing-song voice. “Your Aunt Marguerite chaired the committee for almost thirty years. We wanted to honor her memory, and you, young man, are in need of employment.”

I stared at her. Agnes Mcgillicuddy looked perfectly capable of dragging me to the library by one ear if I balked, and she wasn’t wrong—I did need a job. “But I don’t know the first thing about running a library,” I said weakly.

“You’ll have all the help you need,” Agnes said with a dismissive sweep of one hand. “Plenty of people have volunteered there over the years.” She fixed me with a gimlet stare. “If Samuel Beckinridge could manage, you’ll do fine.”

Next to me, Jules gave me another nudge as if encouraging me to stand up and say something fulsome and humble as I accepted this great honor, but I batted her elbow away self-consciously. It hadn’t escaped my notice that not everyone seemed thrilled by my surprise appointment. Ken Liu, a local businessman I’d met while investigating a blackmail case some months before, sat in stony silence next to his fellow councillors, and he wasn’t the only one who’d declined to celebrate.

Ken’s reticence wasn’t surprising, I reflected now as I pushed open the door to my office.  To most people in Crescent Cove, I was a stranger. The fact that my aunt had lived here for most of her life didn’t change that. I’d been in residence for a little over three months, settling slowly into the cottage I’d inherited from her, but it would take a lot more than that to make me anything but an outsider. And then, of course, there was the tragic fate of my predecessor. Samuel Beckinridge had been murdered by Evelyn Collingwood, matriarch of one of the wealthiest families on Vancouver Island and this town’s beloved benefactor. Samuel had become an unwitting participant in the events that followed my finding a dead body in the back garden of my aunt’s cottage, and some people in Crescent Cove seemed all too willing to overlook Evelyn’s crimes. The reality, however, was that Samuel had made the mistake of trusting Evelyn and it had cost him his life. I’d trusted her, too, and it had almost cost me my life as well.

The office was small, but I’d turned it into a cozy sanctuary. A wide window on the south wall offered an excellent view of the manicured park that surrounded the building, though at the moment all I could see were the old-fashioned lampposts glowing with a hazy golden light through the misty drizzle. I’d kept the desk and chair that Samuel had used, adding a few inexpensive pieces of art purchased from local galleries and several plants from the botanical plethora filling the cottage until the space felt just right.

Switching on the desk lamp, I eyed the pile of folders strewn across the desk with glum resignation. No one tells you how much paperwork is involved in being a small-town librarian, probably so you end up taking the job before realizing how much of your life will be monopolized by spreadsheets and order forms. I was tempted to let the work sit for another day, but thoughts of Samuel always made me determined to do the best job I possibly could as his successor. The library truly was one of the loveliest places in Crescent Cove, with a history that stretched back to the town’s golden age when the Collingwoods had used their lavish fortune to transform this small corner of the island into a thriving community. Generations of locals had found comfort and solace here, and under my watch they would continue to do so…a few severed feet and plastic cockroaches notwithstanding.

I settled myself behind the desk and turned on the aging computer, and then started detailing my efforts to repair the library’s damp and gloomy basement. Seemingly neglected by generations of librarians, it housed well over a century’s worth of materials related to the town and its history, all of it crammed onto a series of ancient metal shelves that looked ready to fall over at the slightest disturbance. I’d already been in touch with a curator at the University of Victoria’s library to ask for advice and he’d recommended some necessary updates, the first being a series of dehumidifiers that would slow the inexorable transformation of all those records to mildewed pulp. Now I just needed to persuade the town council to cough up a few thousand dollars.

I spent the next hour or so researching costs and writing up a proposal for the upcoming council meeting, and when I looked up again I found that rain was ticking steadily against the window and the gloom outside was all-encompassing. Leaning back in my creaking chair with a long sigh, I rubbed my hands over my face and wondered if I’d done enough work to justify going home and crawling into bed. Having decided that yes, in fact, abandoning this proposal was an excellent idea, I was just reaching to power off the computer when I heard a loud crash from somewhere in the library. I jumped and stared into the darkness that lay outside the office door, then rose to my feet and padded out to the main floor.

Rain drummed steadily against the stained glass ceiling as I advanced several steps through the YA section. My first thought was that one of the heavier Halloween decorations had fallen over—I’d set up an entire plastic skeleton close to the main doors, ready to greet our patrons in the morning, and perhaps it had tipped over onto the marble floors. Shuffling through the deep gloom that surrounded me, I headed past the circulation desk and almost immediately kicked something that spun away with a soft thump. Peering down, I saw that it was a book. Odd. I took a few careful steps forward, finding more books fanned across the marble tiles, and then I saw why: one of the four-foot bookshelves that normally sat in a curving line along one side of the main floor had been knocked over. That must have been the noise I heard.

My skin prickled with goosebumps as I stared down at the fallen shelves. That couldn’t have happened on its own, not unless an infestation of termites had stealthily gnawed away its supports over the past few months. I grabbed my phone from my pocket and was about to switch on the flashlight when I heard a solid-sounding thump reverberating from somewhere above me. My heart skipped a beat. That had come from the second floor.

“Hello?” I called as I turned on my phone’s flashlight. My voice faded into the hushed stillness. “Is someone there?”

I paused and listened, alert for any noise at all. But the silence was absolute, broken only by the monotonous sound of falling rain. Nevertheless, something felt…off. The darkness was watchful, attentive. I shivered as more goosebumps raced across my entire body. Some primitive part of my brain, passed down from small prey-animals cowering in the shadows of dinosaurs, told me that I wasn’t alone.

“If there’s someone in here, I need you to leave,” I said loudly. “Or I’m going to call the police.” I tried to sound gruff, but it came out squeakier than I would have liked.

Nothing. Then, from up on the second floor, I heard another thump, softer than the first. Without stopping to think, I charged up the right-hand staircase and stopped at the top, swinging my phone wildly in all directions. The light spun across a bleached skull, grinning crazily at me from one of the bookcases, and my throat closed involuntarily around a startled yelp. Then I remembered that I was surrounded by spooky Halloween decorations and tried to start breathing again.

“Get a grip, Luke,” I muttered once my heartrate had slowed a little. Walking carefully toward the skull, I gave it a little pat before turning to either side, panning my flashlight across the nearby bookcases. Then I headed to my left, toward the back of the building. Rain lashed against the windows and fake cobwebs glowed with a ghostly pallor in the light of my phone, making the whole scene absurdly gothic in its sensibility. All it needed was a sudden crash of lightning and a sullen, homicidal Mrs. Danvers holding a candle to complete the look. Fortunately, neither materialized.

I had almost reached the back corner when I became aware of a strong, unpleasant smell. It was coppery, familiar, and left an acrid tang at the back of my throat. Then my shoe skidded unexpectedly and my arms windmilled, sending the phone’s flashlight strobing wildly. Catching my balance after a perilous moment, I aimed the light down at the parquet floor and saw a dark red pool spreading from the small gap between the two bookcases that flanked the corner. It looked like the fake blood that I’d used to spice up some of the severed hands and feet we’d scattered around the library. Lifting my shoe with an unpleasant squelching sound, I grimaced at the thick liquid clinging to the sole and then started looking around for the bottle, which I must have left sitting precariously on a shelf. “What a mess,” I muttered as I balanced myself against a bookcase and scraped my shoe on the floor.

There was a soft whisper of sound from the shadowed corner right next to me, and then a woman’s body toppled forward into the harsh glare of my flashlight.