This story has nothing to do with Classical Rock; @classicalrock is the Twitter handle of my friend, author Jen Selinsky, who has graciously consented to accept the position of Assistant Librarian under Holly Jahangiri (the fictional one).
Holly is in charge of a Living Library, which is a sort of free-room-and-boarding house for people who have memorized books and recite them to patrons. The Holly stories are set on the planet Llannonn, main setting for FORCE OF HABIT, my currently out-of-print sci-fi/cop/farce.
Worth the Extra Fee
by Marian Allen
Being Head Librarian of a Living Library on the planet Llannonn – particularly of the main branch in Council City – was a 25/10 job (24/7, as an Earthling would say). Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri had been proud to take over the job when her former Head, Devra Langsam, retired, but regretted not having had an assistant in training. Now, she had to do all the curating, all the administration, all the paperwork, and all the personnel issues, with only the most grudging help of Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia.
So, when her long-time chum, District Criminal Investigator Pel Darzin, recommended a young woman to her, she jumped at the suggestion.
“She was one of The Irregulars,” Darzin said, referring to a loosely organized network of youngsters who ran about unsupervised. They picked up bihts of change by doing errands, carrying messages, keeping eyes on things and people (sometimes for the police), and – let it be admitted – by picking pockets.
The eldest of five, all named after books in the Earth book known as The Bible, which their father heard recited on a street corner he passed every day on his way to work (a free-lance Living Book, not one of Holly’s), her name was Genesis Selinsky. Her brothers, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and little Deuteronomy, had followed her into The Irregulars, and Genesis hoped to lead them out and into productive lives, with the help of her old friend, Pel Darzin, and her new boss, Holly Jahangiri.
When Darzin first brought her for an interview, Holly was unsure she would do. Genesis seemed too shy and self-effacing to hold up in the rough-and-tumble world of librarianship. But, when Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia had given young Genesis a cup of cold tea and Genesis, with many an apology for being so much trouble, had coaxed a fresh pot of Britain’s Best and a plate of digestive biscuits, Holly had hired her on the spot.
Now, as he did occasionally, District Criminal Investigator Pel Darzin had dropped by to discuss his latest case. Holly’s broad knowledge and quick mind had often helped him, and Genesis’ street experience, he hoped, would add to his crime-fighting arsenal.
“This time, it’s murder, I’m afraid,” he said.
Murder was rare on Llannonn, but sentient beings will be sentient beings, and sometimes “please” and “thank you” just aren’t enough.
“It’s the oddest thing,” said Darzin. “The victim was knocked on the head, dressed in clothes five sizes too large for him, and dropped into a pit.”
“Perhaps he dressed himself in clothes that didn’t fit,” Holly suggested. “Perhaps he thought it was funny.”
“That would explain the murder,” said Darzin, who was no fan of slapstick. “But I haven’t told you the oddest part. The body was covered with fruit.”
“Tinned or fresh? Because, if it was tinned, he might have been put into the pit alive, and killed by tossed or falling tins.”
“Good point,” said Darzin, “but it was fresh fruit.” He held his hands fairly close together. “About this big. Round-ish. Green. We cut one open, and it smelled very fresh and tart. We consulted a forensic botanist, and he said it comes from Earth, and it’s called a lime.”
“Any coconuts?” asked Holly.
“What’s a coconut?”
“Another Earth fruit, I think. I thought they always went together.”
“No,” said Darzin. “Just the limes.”
At this point, Darzin noticed Assistant Librarian Genesis staring into space with a bemused expression.
“What is it, Genesis?”
Her attention returned to him. With an apologetic smile, she said, “I’m sorry. I was just thinking …. The body was in a pit, with clothes too large for it, and covered in limes?”
“And – I apologize for suggesting this – you’ve probably already done it – did you check to see if anybody had purchased a large number of limes from an exotic fruit vendor?”
Disappointed, the District Criminal Investigator said, “We did. The only purchases were made by normal customers, mostly bars and restaurants catering to Earthlings and people who enjoy Earth cuisine.”
Holly said, “Have any of them reported a loss in inventory for their limes?”
“Ah!” Darzin made a call to his squad and requested they look into this.
“Do you have any suspects?” Holly asked.
“A few possibilities,” he said. “People who had business quarrels with the victim. One with a personal grudge.”
Genesis, with that bemused look back on her face, said, “One of them – forgive me, if this is wrong of me; I’m not making an accusation, but think I ought to ask – Is one of the suspects Entrepreneur Bezos Bigly?”
Astounded, Darzin said, “Why, yes! How did you know?”
Holly was accustomed to being the one who astounded the District Criminal Inspector. A lesser woman would have been jealous, but Holly was not a lesser woman.
She was especially gratified when Assistant Librarian Genesis said, “It’s thanks to Holly, actually. She’s put me in charge of attending to the Detective Fiction section, and I’ve been freshening up the ones who haven’t been checked out recently by having them recite themselves to me. Just yesterday, I finished listening to The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. In it, the murderers dress the corpse in clothing the wrong size for him, put the body in a pit, and cover it with lime. Not limes the fruit, but quicklime or caustic lime, a powdered substance supposed to hasten decomposition.”
“What does that have to do with Entrepreneur Bezos Bigly?”
Holly said, “We don’t share our patronage records with law enforcement or anybody.”
“Yes,” said Genesis. “That’s right. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, District Criminal Investigator. I can’t tell you what it has to do with him.”
“For example,” Holly said, “if Bezos Bigly had checked that book out, you couldn’t say so.”
“That’s right,” said Genesis. “And I couldn’t say that The Thin Man told me he had urged Bezos Bigly to pay a small extra fee to check out his Appendix, which explained Earth customs and terms that might be unfamiliar to the Llannonninn reader, but that Bigly declined.”
The policeman’s communications device signaled a call. “Yes,” he said into it. “Yes. Really? Yes. Yes. Yes.”
He snapped the device closed and stowed it in a pocket of his uniform tunic.
“Well, I think we have him. Entrepreneur Bezos Bigly ordered a large party catered by one of those restaurants, specifying they bring plenty of limes for drinks, then kept all the limes they didn’t use when the party was over. It isn’t proof, but it’s cause to question him more closely. It’s a thread that I’ll wager will unravel the case. Thank you, Head Librarian and Assistant Librarian. I can always depend on you.”
Genesis ducked her head to confer privacy on the warm look exchanged by the District Criminal Investigator and the Head Librarian.
“Glad to be of help,” she said.
“I’ll walk you out,” said Holly.
The door closed softly behind them.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: Lime-Away, Holly Jahangiri, Jen Selinsky