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Authors: Gillian Roberts

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BOOK: Adam and Evil
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With courtly charm he managed to detach and send off his groupie, and then he looked directly at me. “An’ you, ma’am? Do you recall a woman screamin’ ‘Adam’?”

“I had forgotten, but apparently, yes.”

“Where is he? You brought your seniors, if I recall?”

So he did listen. Selectively. That made it worse. He listened like somebody going through a cocktail mix and picking out the cashews, and most of what I said was peanuts. “I can’t find him,” I said.

“Why’d you scream his name?”

I have seldom felt worse than I did at that moment. I’d wanted to protect Adam all along, and it was glaringly apparent that I was instead constantly compounding his problems. “I couldn’t find him, thought maybe he was hurt, hurt himself—I didn’t know what had happened.” Might as well, I decided. I’d mentioned Adam’s daily wardrobe, and I bet Mackenzie had stored that away and would make the connection once he saw the statue. Might as well offer the information up myself. “I saw—there’s a scarf like the one he wears every day on the statue over there. And I thought that if he’d tossed it up, or even if somebody else had grabbed and tossed it, he’d be here, trying to get it back, and he wasn’t. So I thought it had fallen or been tossed from above, from where the alarm seemed to be coming. I don’t know what came over me. It was just that he’s been on my mind to the point of obsession. I’ve been so worried about him, and after yesterday’s fiasco with his parents—”

Mackenzie looked confused. He hadn’t ignored that one— he hadn’t been home for the telling. I didn’t know which of our problems was worse.

“I don’t know,” I said lamely. “Don’t give it another thought. Please.”

“An’ the scarf on the statue?”

“Kids do things like that. I’ve been here when there was a bra on the statue. And once, one big clunky shoe where feet should be. It doesn’t mean a thing.”

“And the sound the woman said she heard?”

I shook my head. “I didn’t hear it. But Mackenzie, about my calling out his name—it was nothing. A worried reflex. I would
have forgotten all about having done it if that—that wretched woman, that
, hadn’t been desperate to impress you.”

He lifted an eyebrow as I sputtered along. In my next life I’d aim for subtlety. It was too late even to hope for it in this one.

We had acquired more gapers and observers, including two of my students, and before they burst forth and captured Mackenzie’s attention, I had to ask. “Who is it, can you tell me? And what happened?”

He glanced at a piece of paper in his hand. “Assistant librarian named Heidi Fisher.”


“You know her?”

“A Ms. Fisher gave my class the tour.” I felt nauseous. “Took us around.” And chastised Adam, who glowered at her from then on. Would anybody else remember their interplay? And what should I do with my own memory of it?

“She was strangled,” Mackenzie said. “Not manually. No fingerprint or nail marks on her, but no apparent ligature marks.”


“The thing that strangled her. It’d leave marks, and the marks would help identify the weapon. A narrow belt leaves a different sort of mark than a wire, or—”

“Got it.” Each image was worse than the one before.

“No ligature marks. Something soft—a towel, say— doesn’t leave marks if it’s removed right after being used.” He turned his head back toward the statue in the center.

“That’s a scarf,” I said. “Only a woolen scarf. Surely a scarf couldn’t—”

“Remember Isadora Duncan? Her scarf caught in the spokes of her car’s wheel and she—”

“I know.” Isadora Duncan, strangled by her own scarf. Very dramatic finale, very famous story.

I looked back at the reader in the tree on which its dark intruder, the black scarf, roosted like a bird of prey.


the mode of transportation that their parents had stipulated— feet, bus, commuter train, car pool—all without undue conversation with anyone about today’s library events.

All no longer present but accounted for. Except Adam.

Even though the police had done the same before me, more efficiently, I searched everywhere, calling for him. I commandeered a librarian as he was leaving to go home—the bespectacled, rumpled man who’d shown us the Elkins Library.

“Ah,” he said. “Miss Pepper, isn’t it? How can I …?”

I waved in the direction of the men’s room. “Mr. Labordeaux, if you’d be so kind …”

He looked from the door to me, then waited with a half smile. “I really don’t need to …” he said in the sort of voice one might use with a dotty old woman. “Besides, if you’re going to be making suggestions like that, might as well drop the formality and call me Terry.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m being—would you mind checking to see whether one of my students is in there? A young man dressed all in black. Adam’s his name. I can’t account for his whereabouts.”

“No problem,” Terry said, but there continued to be one, because Adam wasn’t in the men’s room, either.

I checked the ladies’ rooms, just in case, and in one found a woman all but stripped, layers of clothing at her feet, as she bathed at the sink. She was shampooing her hair when I
walked in, and she looked faint with fear until I convinced her I was not library personnel, and I left.

I scanned the abandoned and closed cafeteria and the conference room upstairs. Both my anxiety and my anger rose as I exhausted my patience and time searching, knowing that if he wanted to hide from me, he could do so—right in the rooms I was checking. I hadn’t the time, manpower, or authority to open cabinets, enter stacks, check behind each display. And I also lacked the desire. If I found Adam, I wouldn’t know what to do with him. I had just wanted to find him before the police did.

“Is there anywhere else at all?” I asked a comfy middle-aged woman who looked concerned and desperately eager to be of help—the perfect librarian. But she was also wise enough to comprehend the futility of the whole search. “There is a basement,” she said softly, making it clear this was a feeble last-gasp idea, a sop to make me feel better. “But he couldn’t have gone down there without somebody noticing. It’s obviously not accessible. And the police have already checked everywhere.”

“It’s my student. I’m terrified about this. And he’s—he’s not the most logical kid in town.” I didn’t want to be any more explicit.

“How he’d get down there, I can’t imagine,” she said, “and why he’d want to is beyond my comprehension.”

I didn’t want to make her nervous by explaining that comprehensibility wasn’t Adam’s strong suit. “He might feel easier responding to me than to the police,” I said.

“You know what?” She spoke so overbrightly that I knew she wanted me to seize whatever she was going to say and run with it. All the way out of the building. “He’s a senior in high school on the verge of graduation,” she said. “It isn’t right, but he probably went through the same process you’re going through now—searched for you, couldn’t find you, and decided to leave on his own. After all, he isn’t a child. There’s nothing to worry about.”

But of course he hadn’t looked for me—didn’t need to. I’d been in the same room, watching him. At least, until I was dreaming of other rooms where I could be the student, not the teacher.

Nonetheless, she rounded up a maintenance man to escort
me into the part of the library that in no way resembled the Trianon. Or perhaps this is how a palace’s basement looks. The guts and intestines of the building were everywhere visible, pipes and other innards jutting at odd angles. “Put in air-conditioning way after the fact,” my guide said as we ducked to avoid a diagonally running duct.

This was a subterranean attic, a massive junk drawer, where lamps, tables, file cabinets, at least one piano, and lots of books looked as if they’d been tossed down the stairs to stay wherever they landed. There seemed miles of storage rooms, side rooms, rooms with doors, open spaces, all so convoluted and impossible to examine that I gave up hope. A truck could be hidden here and not be found, so it wasn’t the least bit surprising that we didn’t see or hear Adam.

“Is there anywhere left?” I asked. “Anywhere?”

The maintenance man was silent. There were countless places left. “There’s the between floors, but …” He shook his head, eliminating that possibility.

“The what?”

“The between floors, storage … what would the word be—corridors—is that it?”

I nodded.

“They’re between the floors of the building, like between the first and second floors.”

I must have still looked blank, because he sighed. “Okay,” he said. “You got these two–three-story-high public rooms, like, say, the lending library, right? But then, you got space behind its wall, before the room across the way actually begins, so there’s these other floors fit into those spaces. Whole building’s more or less lined with them. Makes my life a lot harder ’cause they’re crazy, go every which way, like a maze. You go down a flight of stairs in one department and come out the other side of the building sometimes. Too easy to get lost.”

“Well, then, couldn’t he be—”

“The kid wouldn’t know about them. And if he did—if he went into them?” He shook his head again. “No point looking. Never find him.”

And that seemed that.

I left the library alone and awash in anger—at myself for letting Adam out of my sight, and at Philly Prep and
Adam’s parents. Why did I have a student I had to watch that carefully?

I had to notify the school and Adam’s parents that he’d left the premises. I had to remember to say it that way—not that I’d lost track of him, but that he’d taken it upon himself to leave, unauthorized. All the same, and whatever I said, what I was really doing was taking my little shovel and digging myself a still-deeper grave.

, I
bone-, muscle-, and mind-tired, tired in more ways and of more things than I wanted to admit or enumerate. The phone call to the Evans household had been frosty enough to usher in another ice age—and yet his parents hadn’t sounded sufficiently concerned. As if their subtext was
You have allowed a reprehensible thing to happen and we will have your hide for it—but it’s okay. We ’re not really worried about Adam.

Which made me think they knew his whereabouts.

And when I’d called the school to put it on record that Adam Evans had left the library unsupervised, Helga the Office Witch didn’t run for the troops and didn’t rake me over the coals. Which pretty much confirmed the theory that Adam was safe, but that neither the Evanses nor Helga wanted to give me the comfort of knowing that. Need I mention that this theory, the only one that made sense, did not further endear either my place of employment or the Evans family to me?

Whatever the case, I needed to stop thinking about dead Ms. Fisher. She’d been such an odd woman—so tense and rigid. She hardly seemed the type to inspire whatever twisted passion might end in murder.

Unless the murderer was crazy. I couldn’t help but keep returning to that place I didn’t want to go to at all.

I turned to schoolwork for diversion. I had half prepared the props for a writing lesson later in the week, and I decided to finish that up. It was an enjoyable assignment, having my ninth graders turn into garbologists who studied the leavings of characters they’d then have to describe.

At eight-thirty I realized I’d been staring at the artifacts I’d so far accumulated, those I’d fabricated and the rest of which, to tell the truth, I’d gathered by being a garbologist myself—
picking through neighboring trash cans. What I had spread out before me was supposedly the contents of an apartment discovered after its occupants had gone elsewhere—a teen fanzine, toenail clippers, a candy wrapper, ticket stubs to an action movie, half a jar of hair-restoring cream, a will-call receipt for a dress, a birthday card, a pearl necklace, men’s garters, a sepia photo of a foreign-looking gentleman, a tie, old-fashioned curlers, a Bible, a raveling audiotape called “How to Make Your First Million,” and three to-do lists on different papers in different hands with cryptic notations like
h/h, btr, thurs 9? I
wanted to provide lots of options. The collection was incomplete, but I couldn’t think straight enough to continue with it, or to do anything much except wait for the city’s finest to come home.

I plumped the sofa pillows and picked up the novel I was reading, ready to get lost in somebody else’s story. Anybody’s. My own annoyed me.

When the phone rang at 9:05 and the cat leaped across me, I realized I’d been asleep sitting up, the book open and unread in my hands. I blinked and looked at the cat, who was now deciding if he’d needed to bolt in the first place. Maybe his ponder-free philosophy was correct. React. Run. Avoid. Then check out whether you were unsafe in the first place. Maybe cats have only one life. They just so often overdramatize the situation, behaving as if they’d had a near-death experience when nothing whatsoever has happened, that the PR about nine lives took root.

By the third ring, Macavity decided he’d survived another disaster and that now the coast was clear. Time to rediscover wonderful me, purring, softly bumping his head against me, licking the side of my face with his sandpaper tongue. It was a cynical show, a pragmatic investment and insurance plan, reminding me that he’d been solely my cat originally, buying protection in case Mackenzie, his late-in-life love, never reappeared. But nice all the same. I had an awful thought—if the cop and I broke up, who’d get the feline? Would we have a cat fight?

I picked up the phone, surprised when the voice on the other end was my sister’s. Beth, the suburban matron who believed that calls after nine
were an intrusion, an affront against civilization and family life.

“What is it?” I said. “Who? Mom? Dad? Are they—”

“Of course not. You’ve told me I had ridiculously early cutoffs and that you’re always up at this hour, so I thought you could tell me more, tell me what happened precisely. The news—”

“What news? You said Mom was okay.” My mother was the only news carrier I could think of. The only one who’d involve Beth.

“About Emmy!”

“Listen, Beth, I’m sorry, but I was asleep and I don’t have a clue—”

“Emmy Buttonwood! My friend—the one who was going to be in your book group, remember? You said you’d call her.”

Was it actually possible that my sister was in a tizzy because I hadn’t yet snapped to? Did she have any comprehension whatsoever of what my life was like? “Calm down,” I said, advising something that I was finding damn near impossible myself. “I’ll call her as soon as I can.”

“You can’t! She’s dead!”

She was dead? Dead? God forgive me, I hadn’t known the woman, I only knew Beth’s nagging, and I felt just the smallest wave—a ripple, really—of relief. I didn’t have to meet her and make her feel at home in the big city. Didn’t have to annoy my book group by suggesting they change their new rules on my behalf. Dead got me off the hook. “I’m really sorry. I know you were good friends, but why call me about—”

“I was just at her housewarming Sunday. After we left you.”

“I remember.” I sipped the cold tea I’d poured an hour and a half earlier, before I zonked out. “I can see why you’d be upset.” But I still couldn’t see why she had to involve me in it. Maybe she just needed to talk to someone. Sam was sweet, but a bit of a stick. “It’s hard to lose a friend,” I said, stifling another yawn.

“I’d think you’d show a little more feeling,” she said. She sounded as if she’d been crying before she called. “You sound … you sound totally uninvolved. Like it doesn’t matter to you.”

What was this? Why should it matter to me? “I don’t want you to be unhappy,” I said. “I can hear how upset this has
made you, but I’m sure your good memories will be a comfort, even though the loss of a friend is terrible.”

“What’s wrong with you? You’re talking like a greeting card!”

“I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry for you. Tell me more about her. I’d like to hear. And what … what happened to her? Was she ill?”

“Of course not! I went to her housewarming five days ago. She was fine. I wanted you to come with me, remember? Weren’t you even listening?”

I had a vision of the whole of humanity shouting,
Helloooo! Who is hearing me? Anybody?
But I had been listening. “If
were listening, you’ll remember that you just woke me out of a sound sleep. I’m still not awake.”

“Nobody goes to sleep this early. Even I don’t. You told me—”

“I’ve had an exhausting day. One of the worst ever. My head hurts and—”

“Well, I’m sure you have and I’m sure it does. That’s why I called. The news—one of those flashes between programs— said they’re looking for a Philly Prep student. And that made Sam and me remember. When we were there, you were upset about a boy with mental problems. His name was Adam, too.”

? They’re looking for an Adam? You heard his name?”

“They’re talking like this is another schoolboy gone berserk.”

“What does Adam have to do with your friend Emmy Buttonwood?”

“I don’t know if he does—the police think he does. Because they were both at the library, where she works. Why am I telling you any of this? You know it all. I told you that—”

“You never told me she worked there! You said she loved books, is all. Hated people, loved books.”

“Who cares? She’s dead. Strangled at the library!”

I exhaled in relief. “Poor Beth, you misheard. I don’t know how you confused it, but the woman who died was named Fisher. Heidi Fisher.”

“Her real first name was Heidi. She never used it. She signed things H. Emily. And I told you—she was getting divorced. She must have taken back her maiden name for her
new job. Her new life. Emmy Buttonwood is dead, Mandy. Murdered, and I cannot believe it. And your student killed her.”

BOOK: Adam and Evil
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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