Nolan sighed with disappointment as she approached the skate ramps at Paint Branch Park. There were eight guys skating and a few lounging, and it was much busier than normal. She spied Doran’s crayon red head off to the side, watching. She hopped off her board, kicked it up and caught it, then studied the guys on the half pipe with a wry twist to her lips. She acknowledged that there was not enough space to really cut loose. She walked towards Doran, who was leaning up against a tree.
On her way toward Doran, Nolan’s attention wandered to the couple trying to play Frisbee near the ramp. Nolan’s eyebrow arched as she realized with amusement that it was her roommate Ciaran and one of the science professors. The professor gently tossed the Frisbee at the slender brunette, who reached out to catch it as it floated toward her. The plastic disc slid past her and landed softly on the grass. As she turned to pick it up, Ciaran saw Nolan and tried to act nonchalant, picking up the Frisbee awkwardly. Nolan nodded, then continued toward Doran, who was watching the exchange with a grin.
“Hey,” laughed Doran.
Nolan grinned back. “Hey. Whatcha up to?”
“Nothin’ much. I’m about to head over to the Dancing Moon. Gwynneth got a huge shipment of stuff that she needs to sort, and she sent Rhiannon over to offer me lunch and dinner if I help.”
“Really? Do ya think she could use more people?” Nolan asked. The park was full and she was rapidly getting bored.
“Sure,” replied Doran with a shrug.
“Heh.” Nolan had a mischievous grin on her face. “Be right back.” She turned and walked directly towards Ciaran.
Ciaran, when she realized that her odd roommate was coming toward her, flushed with embarrassment and tried to pretend she didn’t see Nolan.
“Yo, Ciaran.” She turned to the professor, who, truth be told, was cute in that intelligent geek way, but still. He was old, like in his thirties.
“Prof,” she acknowledged him with a polite nod. He did manage to get Ciaran outside and away from her gadgets, however, and that in itself was a commendable thing.
Ciaran was holding the neon green disc uncomfortably, with a pained look on her face. “What do you want, Nolan?” she asked abruptly.
“We need your expertise,” replied Nolan cheerfully. “Gwynneth got a whole stack of stuff in and you know how useless we are with cataloging and spreadsheets and stuff. You’re a whiz at all that,” she added. “Plus you have your portable thingy. The… uh… smart phone.”
Ciaran straightened up and glanced over at the professor, then back at Nolan. The chance to show her superiority was too tempting, and she knew she was way smarter than her jock of a roommate. “Well…”
The professor smiled. “I’ll see you in class, Ciaran.”
Ciaran returned the professor’s smile uncertainly and nodded. “Alright. See ya.” She handed him the Frisbee, and watched wistfully as he strode away. Nolan was already moving back toward her skater friend with the weird red hair. Ciaran turned to look at Nolan as she walked. Nolan’s hair was weird, too, dyed that electric blue. No wonder those two were friends. Her nose wrinkled. Then, with a shrug, she followed Nolan.
The Dancing Moon was tucked away in a little alley with several other shops of a similar, though eclectic, genre. The Dancing Moon itself was a shop filled with candles, charms, herbs, incense, and other items related to the pagan and new age subcultures, and books of all kinds, especially on various religions and philosophies. It had a comfortable, almost homey feel to it, and even for one as active as Nolan, she felt a certain sense of peace when entering the creaky door.
Gwynneth, Rhiannon, and Dragen were the back of the store, surrounded by stacks of boxes and crates. Gwynneth looked up at the quiet jingle of the opening door with a slightly harried look in her usually cheerful eyes. “Ah, Doran! Thank goodness you brought some friends!”
She motioned for the girls to come to her, so with a grin and a shrug, Nolan did. “Ok, what I’m doing here is a basic inventory.”
She reached over and handed Doran a pad of paper. “I need you to write the title, author, and ISBN if there is one.” Gwynneth’s brows wrinkled in thought. “If you run across any really old books, add a description to the side, and the publication date.”
She dusted her hands off briskly. “Ms. Williams and I will run the store while you ladies work on this.”
“Sure, Gwynneth.” Doran looked down at the pad of paper in her hands, then over at Nolan.
Nolan shrugged, ice-blue eyes twinkling with laughter. “Don’t look at me. I’m an unpacker, not a writer!”
Ciaran snorted in derision and reached into to her quite full fanny pack. “I can’t believe you were going to do this on paper!”
She pulled out sleek-looking digital gadget, flipped it on with the casual pass of a finger, and pulled out her stylus. “All of you will be ‘unpackers’,” her voice was calm, but touched just a little by condescension, “and I will take all the data down on my phone.”
Nolan grinned openly. “See! I told you we needed you!”
Doran shrugged and set the pad of paper down. She didn’t really care, as long as she got fed. She sat down and started pulling books out of a nearby crate.
The girls worked in relative silence, speaking primarily to read out the book information. Ciaran was typing quickly, easily keeping up with the flow of information. The silence was broken about three hours into the sorting, when Rhiannon made a muffled exclamation.
Nolan looked over at Rhiannon, whose upper half of her body was bent over inside a large crate.
“There’s a false bottom in this crate!” Rhiannon exclaimed. There was a sharp crack, and then Rhiannon pulled herself out of the box, lifting a slat of wood. She moved it out of the way and looked in the crate, her head tilted and eyes glinting with curiosity.
“Hm. It’s a book.” She reached in and pulled it out gingerly.
The cover looked old and was slightly cracked, made of what looked to be black leather, and tied shut with a purple silk ribbon. Nolan stopped what she was doing and moved over to Rhiannon, as did Dragen and Doran. As one, they moved to the nearby table. Rhiannon sat down as the others perched around her. Ciaran stopped her tapping and looked up quizzically. “What’s going on?”
Rhiannon studied the outside of the book slowly, then carefully untied the purple ribbon. Ciaran, curious now, moved over and pulled up a chair next to Rhiannon, who cautiously opened the book.
On the front page, yellowed and old, was written in a small, tight handwriting:
An old black and white photograph of a seated young lady wearing white was taped carefully below this inscription. Her hair was pulled back, emphasizing her heart-shaped face and large, dark eyes. Rhiannon carefully turned the page.
The first entry was the day after Elsabeth’s wedding to a Doctor Elliot Dee dated in 1928. Another entry talked about her first days at the college as one of the first female students. Much later, she wrote about her first fight with her husband. He did not want children, and she desparately did. She considered it a very serious fight, and it made her reconsider her marriage.
As the girls were engrossed in the journal, the front door jingled. They heard a low male voice introducing himself to Gwynneth as Agent Styles, and he stated that he was there to recover a misshipped endowment that was to go to an estate sale. The girls looked at each other, and Dragen took the diary and shelved it carefully, then pulled out another black covered book and dropped it into the bottom of the crate. She replaced the slat of wood at the bottom, over the book. When Gwynneth and Agent Styles appeared at the back, they were all back to sorting books.
“Ladies,” interrupted Gwynneth, “this is Agent Styles. He says that these books belong to an estate sale, and that we must return the items to their boxes.”
They slowly begin re-boxing all the books. While re-boxing, Nolan accidentally knocked over a stack of empty metal cigar cases, causing one of the cases to pop open. A tiny pair of baby shoes landed on the floor. Nolan glanced at Agent Styles, and as his gaze turned away, she neatly kicked the baby shoes underneath a bookshelf, and calmly re-stacked the cases in a box. They carefully helped him load his van, then watch him silently as he drove away.
“Well, that’s that, I suppose,” said Gwynneth wryly. “I still owe you ladies dinner. I’ll have Chinese food delivered. Why don’t you all go to the back room?”
As they went inside, Nolan wandered back to the bookshelf and picked up the tiny shoes as Dragen walked to the shelf to recover the journal. On the way back, Nolan noticed that the baby shoes had tiny dots of rust colored stains on them. Silently, they all walked to the back room and sat down at the table. Dragen gently placed the journal in the center of the table and they all look at it. Nolan gingerly sets the shoes next to the journal.
Rhiannon again was the one to open the book.
“Hey!” Doran exclaimed, watching over Rhiannon’s shoulder, “does she look fatter to you?” She reached over and turned the page back to the front of the book and pointed at the photograph of the young Elsabeth.
Nolan’s forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. “Not really. She looks the same to me…”
“Let me see,” said Ciaran, leaning over. She looked closely at the picture. “Maybe you’re just remembering it wrong,” she stated after a moment, and leaned back.
Rhiannon shrugged, then turned back to where they left off.
Elsabeth and Elliot were going to buy a house on Drazek Circle, and Elsabeth hoped that it was because Elliot now wanted children. Her writing style slowly became more scrawling and haphazard. She wrote more about her husband, who was part of the newly developed archeology department, and her language began to get snippy about him.
On an impulse, Nolan interrupted Rhiannon’s reading. “Hey, how about we close the book and then look at the picture?”
Ciaran snorted derisively, but Rhiannon, Dragen and Doran looked at Nolan in surprise. Rhiannon closed the book, then opened it again to the cover page. The young woman in the photograph did indeed look to be fatter. Rhiannon inspected it more closely.
“I don’t think she’s getting fatter,” Rhiannon said quietly. “I think she’s pregnant.” Startled, all eyes stared at the photograph.
Ciaran shrugged. “I’ll take a picture of that photo. That way we can really tell whether or not it’s changing.” She leaned forward with her smart phone and carefully snapped a digital picture of the photograph.
Rhiannon turned back into the journal.
Elsabeth and Elliot fought all the time now, and after a fight, sometimes she deliberately ruined his things, like burning his shirt with the iron. At Christmas there was a very long entry. She went to a department Christmas party, where she met a young man named Gerald Rhine, who spent a bit of time talking to her. In a later entry she said that Elliot was allowing Gerald to escort her to a play. Then, the last entry she said that she betrayed her husband’s trust.
“….and so I shall close this book for a while,” Rhiannon’s hushed voice trailed off at the end of Elsabeth’s writing.
Rhiannon turned back to the photograph. The young woman in the picture was clearly in her second trimester. Rhiannon closed the book decisively. “We need to tell Gwynneth.”
She stood up, and quietly left the room. A few minutes later she returned with a very puzzled Gwynneth in tow, whose eyes were drawn immediately to the black book lying on the table. “Where did you get that?” she asked sharply.
None of the girls could meet her eyes. Finally, Dragen said, “It was part of the shipment that the fed took away.”
Gwynneth looked at all the girls carefully. “Did you keep anything else?”
Nolan guiltily pointed at the tiny pair of baby shoes sitting in the center of the table. “Those fell out of a cigar box and got… uh… misplaced.” She shuffled her feet for a moment, then looked up. “Ok, I kicked them underneath a bookshelf so the fed wouldn’t notice them.” She shrugged. “I dunno why, though.”
Gwynneth sighed resignedly, and sat down in front of the book as the girls huddled around her. “Since you opened the book, you have started something. What, I do not know, but the ending of it will reveal itself to you.”
The girls stood silently, staring at the book. Gwynneth was pale with worry, and Rhiannon’s expression mirrored her mentor’s. Dragen’s green eyes were bright and determined. Nolan and Doran glanced at each other, then back at the book. Doran shrugged. Ciaran, still sitting comfortably with legs crossed in her chair, was watching Gwynneth with disbelief.
“It will reveal itself to us? A book?” Her lips were compressed into a thin line and her voice was incredulous. “If anything, we will deduce what happened through our hard work and research, just like any good scientist or historiographer.”
Gwynneth smiled slightly and glanced at Ciaran. “That is, of course, what I meant.” Her tone was even now, her palor faded. “So what will you do?”
Ciaran straightened. “Well, first we need to discover just who this Elsabeth Dee person was, and establish whether or not this book is an accounting of actual events or the ramblings of an insane woman. Then we need to find corroborating evidence regarding Elliot Dee and the other people mentioned in the diary. Plus we need to…..”
Nolan’s attention wandered as Ciaran went on, occasionally interrupted by one of the other girls. Her gaze fell on the tiny shoes and she reached over and picked them up, tuning out the peripheral noise. The shoes, originally probably white, had turned into an ancient, delicate ivory. She examined the brown dots, now convinced that they were in fact blood stains. She had seen enough of that in her own clothing from skating accidents.
“These baby shoes are blood stained,” she interrupted. All voices stopped as one, and everyone looked at Nolan. “I think we should find out what happened to the baby, too.”
Ciaran took the shoes from Nolan and looked at them closely. “I think you’re right.” She looked around. “Ok, we need to split up and do some research. I’ll check the internet.”
Nolan shrugged. “I can check the library and faculty information about Elliot Dee.”
“Doran and I can check books here in the shop,” said Rhiannon. Doran nodded.
Dragen looked irritated. “I have class, but I can help with the research after I get out. Wanna meet back here, say around 9pm?”
Everyone nodded. Nolan stood up. “K. See you!” She practically ran for the door, looking forward to the skate to the library, even if it just meant she’d have to sit still longer once she got there.