Holly Jahangiri (the fictional one) is Head Librarian of the Council City Earth English Living Library on the planet Llannonn, where politeness isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law.
This is the last Sunday in May, so this is the last Holly Jahangiri (fictional) story for the year. I’m already looking forward to 2023, which is something I never thought I’d live to say when I was very young. I wasn’t certain years went that high.
ANYWAY, here’s today’s story.
Holly and the Other Detective
by Marian Allen
There was an annoyed sort of scratching at Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri’s office door. That, coupled with a disdainful sniff, told her that Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia was requesting entrance.
Holly, wondering why she ever bothered closing the door at all, invited her to come in.
The very superior Parlourmaid handed Holly a FAXed document, crossed her arms, and assumed her Prepared To Wait Until The End of Time expression.
“He wants an answer,” she said. “I’m waiting to send it, in case you’re too busy to do it for yourself.”
Holly had often hoped that Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia would bid for a position elsewhere. She had lowered the charge for Council City Earth English Living Library Parlourmaid until the job could have been claimed by a volunteer, but Miznalia always bid higher than she had the year before, and the Employment Exchange was obliged by law (and by financial prudence) to take the highest bid. Although such a speculation was at odds with the very superior Parlourmaid’s attitude, Holly was forced to consider the possibility that Miznalia actually liked working at the Library.
Of course, Miznalia’s sweetheart, who had memorized Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog, had become one of the Library’s most popular volumes and wasn’t likely to retire any time soon. So there was that.
Holly read the FAX:
Is there a book with a quite heavy man in white shorts, a white shirt with a blue neckerchief, and a white pillbox hat with a blue ribbon hanging down the back? Because there’s one at the station making impertinent remarks, and we thought he belonged in the Home for the Confused, Rude, and Ill-Dressed, but then I wondered if he might be a Book. Please reply ASAP.
It was signed District Criminal Investigator Pel Darzin.
ASAP, of course, stands for A Supplication and A Plea, a very strong request for compliance.
“I won’t answer,” Holly said. She rose, grabbed her signature purple feather boa, and wrapped it around her neck. “I’ll go have a look for myself.”
The parlour of the policing station was nearly as warm and welcoming as the Library’s. As soon as she walked through the door, the butler greeted her with a smile, offered to take her wrap (which she declined), and asked if she’d care for tea and biscuits.
“I’ve been called to assist DCI Pel Darzin,” she said.
The butler said, “Of course, Madam,” bowed, and gestured her toward the Duty Sergeant, who appeared very comfortable seated behind his large oak desk with all the curlicues carved in it by unrepentant vandals.
The sergeant nodded to his right and said, “Interrogation Room B.” He shook his head. “None of us know what to make of this fellow. We were about to arrest him for Petty Rudeness, but then the Chief thought of you. We’re all certain you can help, Ma’am.”
Holly hoped she wasn’t vain, but it was most gratifying to inspire such confidence in Llannonn’s thin tunic-clad line.
She scratched at the door of Interrogation Room B and softly called, “It is I, Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri.”
Pel Darzin opened the door. Scarcely taller than Holly, the District Criminal Inspector was just on the verge of being plumpish, with limp black hair and large, warmly brown eyes.
Darzin and Holly hooked thumbs, lingering over the greeting, gazing at one another in acknowledgement of their Understanding.
Then it was on to business.
“This is he,” said Darzin, stepping aside.
The man wore, not a white and blue outfit, but a body suit the color of his skin, a soft hat with a bill in the back and a bill in the front, and a patently false black beard. The blue outfit lay folded neatly under his chair.
Darzin explained, “I stepped out to get us tea and biscuits and, when I came back, he had changed outfits.”
“See here,” said the rotund man, “What is the meaning of this? Can’t a man go about his business without being interfered with? How would you like it if you were writing a parking ticket and I came up and started bothering you?”
“He’s been like this since the costume change,” said Darzin. “He was saucily impertinent before, but now he’s just a touch – indignant, I suppose.”
“Sir,” said Holly, with all the stern yet respectful command of the born Librarian, “what is your name, if you please?”
The man crossed his arms and looked shifty.
“Don’t have to tell you.”
“I’m sure District Criminal Investigator Pel Darzin has introduced himself to you. I’m Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri.”
The man looked suitably impressed, and nodded courteously, but said nothing.
“Won’t you introduce yourself in turn?”
With a stubborn scowl, the man said, “Shan’t.”
Darzin led Holly back into the hall.
“What do you think? Is he a book?”
“Not one with which I’m familiar. But there’s somebody at the Library who may know more. May I use your FAX?”
“Anything for a Librarian, of course,” said Darzin. With a melting look that brought a blush to the Librarian’s cheeks, he added, “And for you, my dear.”
Not long thereafter, a familiar young woman joined Darzin and Holly in the hall outside the interrogation room.
It was Genesis Selinsky, who had almost finished her apprenticeship as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. She was wearing a very odd contraption on her head: She had taken a stiff black head band and glued black triangles, points up, to it.
“What on Llannonn is that?” asked Holly.
“Trust me,” said young Genesis.
The very stout man had turned his white pillbox hat inside out. It was now a black bonnet, tied under his chin in a bow.
“Ah,” the man said in a high voice, “is it back you’re comin’? Can I trouble ye for anither spot o’ tay? I’m that thirsty, so I am.”
Living Book Trainee Genesis Selinsky stepped forward.
The man’s jaw dropped.
Genesis put her fists on her hips and said, “Doggone it, Freddy, what are you causing all this ruckus for, anyway? Don’t you know everybody’s got enough to do, without your being so silly?”
“I’m not being silly, Jinx! For your information, I’m … investigating ….”
The man pulled the hat from his head and sobbed into it.
Genesis removed her head band. “He thinks he’s Freddy the Pig.”
Holly explained to Darzin: “Young Genesis had a hard time deciding which Book she wanted to be when she grew up. When she had narrowed it down to children’s literature, she read widely in the genre. I thought she might recognize this character from her research. It seems she has.”
“There’s a whole series of books about Freddy the Pig,” Genesis said. “Twenty-six of them. No matter what he’s doing, he generally has to solve a mystery, and he generally wears a disguise to do it.”
“Those were disguises?” Darzin asked, in a tone that was very nearly an insult to the stout gentleman’s ability at transformation.
“Those were Freddy the Pig disguises.” She shrugged and repeated the Living Book motto: “The text is the text.”
Holly pulled up a chair and sat next to the weeping man. “Is the problem that you can’t decide which Freddy book you want to be?”
The man nodded, face still buried in his hat.
“You could be all of them,” Holly said doubtfully. She did have Volumes of Complete Works, but they tended to be steady, serious people (except for Wodehouse, of course), and she wondered if this fellow was up to the task.
Genesis Selinsky snapped her fingers in the universal sign for By George, I think I’ve got it!
“He could be The Collected Poems of Freddy the Pig! They contain a lot of the books’ characters, and almost all of them have a disguise in the illustration!”
The very heavy man looked up with dawning hope. “Do you have a copy I could study?”
“No, but I know where I can steal – I know where I can buy one.” Young Genesis was a former disreputable street urchin, and sometimes misspoke.
“Come with us now,” said Holly. “We’ll find you a bed in Apprentice House. Young Genesis can bring you your text and you can begin studying as soon as you feel up to it.”
“Gosh!” he said, pulling his shorts on over his body suit. “That’ll be swell!”
The shorts looked extremely odd, coupled with the soggy black bonnet he jammed back on his head, but courtesy forbade any staring or remarks.
As the three civilians left the policing station, Holly paused to hook thumbs with Darzin again. She wondered how long it would be before their seconds arranged for them to exchange matching thumb rings. She hoped the time would come soon, for her heart was as full as the Georgian Romance section of the Library.
MY PROMPT TODAY: My favorite children’s book series, Freddy the Pig by Walter R. Brooks.