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Big Book Betrayal: A Scrappy Librarian Mystery, #4

Big Book Betrayal: A Scrappy Librarian Mystery, #4

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Big Book Betrayal: A Scrappy Librarian Mystery, #4

5/5 (1 rating)
330 pages
4 hours
Jun 18, 2017


Big Book Betrayal is the fourth in a mystery series featuring Juanita Wills, intrepid (aka nosy) public librarian in the small town of Wyndham, Oklahoma. Juanita delves into the world of 12-step groups, seeking to help a friend in the throes of addiction. But intertwined with the issues of alcohol are darker demons that soon lead to foul play.

Will the answers come from the “Big Book,” AA’s classic tome of redemption via a higher power, group support, and practical steps to recovery? But there is no recovery from murder, only efforts by amateur sleuth Juanita and her friend Wayne Cleary of the Wyndham Police to see justice done.

“The series mixes mystery, humor, and literary nuggets. First rate and fun!” – Carolyn Hart.

Marion Moore Hill is the author of the scrappy Librarian mystery series and the Deadly Past mysteries. she lives in Durant, Oklahoma. Her website: www.MarionMooreHill.net.

Jun 18, 2017

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Big Book Betrayal - Marion Moore Hill


Chapter 1

Pink liquid splashed onto white linen as Clarissa Davenport’s hand wobbled, causing the ladle to miss the glass cup. She grimaced for a second, but finished pouring the punch and handed it to a female guest, who took it and moved on. Clarissa dabbed the stain on the tablecloth with a napkin, then laid that aside to resume her erect posture and smile, once more the unflappable President of Friends of the Wyndham Library, known affectionately by its members as FOWL.

Really, Mom? Already? the young woman next in line murmured. Sherry Rollins, even tinier than her slim mother, tossed her blonde French braid over a shoulder, her expression mingling concern and disgust.

Et tu, Sherry? Already with the ‘really’s’? Eyes defiant, Clarissa lifted her chin and with exaggerated care poured another cup of punch and offered it to her daughter.

Shaking her head sadly, Sherry accepted the drink, moved to a nearby table and began filling a plate with delicate sandwiches, tiny quiches, and petits fours.

Your mom’s such a gracious hostess, Librarian Juanita Wills murmured as she slipped up next to the younger woman. The Friends are lucky to have Clarissa representing them.

Not counting that bobble with the punch, you mean? Mom’s lucky that FOWL occupies so much of her time. Though not enough, unfortunately. Sherry glanced around the room. Nice turnout.

Well, opening a new wing on a public library is a big deal these days. So many libraries are dealing with budget cuts or closing altogether.

The earlier part of the program to dedicate the wing had included speeches by Wyndham’s mayor and a city councilman, plus one by the President of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, who had traveled from Oklahoma City for the occasion, plus one by honoree Ward McAffee, who had funded the new addition. Then, Juanita had conducted a tour of the new facilities, proudly displaying a story room with tiny chairs and tables, a classroom for computer instruction, meeting areas of various sizes, and this biggest space, which doubled as a black-box theater and reception hall. Wyndham’s library had always filled a niche as a community gathering spot, and the new wing enhanced that function.

Juanita allowed herself a moment of pride after months of working with architects and contractors and dealing with questions of plumbing, lighting, and floor and wall coverings.

How’d you pry so much money out of McAffee? Sherry asked. He’s tight with a buck, from what I hear.

Both women turned to look at the short, balding, rosy-cheeked man wearing a neat navy suit and talking with a tall, white-haired gentleman in tan sports jacket and turtleneck. Ward McAffee was Chief Executive Officer of Midwest Home Products, a Chicago-based conglomerate with tentacles reaching into seven states. The other man, Fletcher Jones, reed-thin, tanned, and fit, had headed the accounting division of a company under the Midwest Home umbrella until his retirement a year earlier.

Fletcher apparently knows just when and how to approach a potential donor, Juanita said with a grin. He reached out to Ward soon after his mother died, when he was feeling sentimental and eager to honor her memory somehow.

McAffee’s mother deserved this tribute whether her son did or not, Juanita mentally added. Marvella McAffee had taught first grade in the Wyndham public schools for umpteen years and had worked tirelessly on behalf of the Wyndham Public Library, organizing used-book drives and bake sales to build an excellent children’s collection and fund other library needs. She had been a founder and the first president of FOWL. Marvella had spent her last years away from the town she loved, marooned in a Tulsa nursing home, sinking into the horrors of Alzheimer’s. Juanita wished she could have known the woman who had apparently combined compassion and courage in equal measures.

What’s Fletcher Jones’ story? Sherry asked. Mom’s spending lots of time with him lately.

I don’t know him well, but he’s a real find for FOWL and this town. Besides being Wyndham’s new city manager—doing a great job by all reports—he’s a marvelous fund-raiser for the library.

Juanita’s eyes roamed the roomful of local citizens and invited bigwigs and noticed someone else gazing at the two men. Laurel Higgins, tall, gray-haired, and attractive in a lower-key way than her friend Clarissa, owned Acme Building Supplies in Wyndham and was vice-president of FOWL. Laurel’s expression as she watched the men seemed to hold a blend of emotions, from curiosity to fondness.

Abruptly, McAffee left Jones’s side, set his plate on a tray of used dishes and moved to the beverage table, where Clarissa was for the moment alone. He slipped an arm around her slender waist and murmured something into her ear. Without breaking her fixed smile, Clarissa deftly removed the hand and, almost with the same motion, placed a full cup of punch in it.

Neatly played, Juanita thought. But then, the woman must have learned to fend off unwanted advances while hobnobbing with the great and near-great as her now-deceased husband, Desmond Davenport, schmoozed his way to making piles of money in oil and real estate. The long-time president of FOWL, Clarissa had presided over many meetings and social occasions in her cool, elegant way, so the earlier moment of clumsiness with the punch seemed quite unlike her. Also uncharacteristic was the way she had slurred the name of Theo Abernathy, the city’s purchasing director, as she introduced him during the dedication ceremony along with other town and county officials.

Everyone was entitled to an occasional slip, Juanita reminded herself. Even Clarissa.

As Juanita watched out of the corner of her eye, Clarissa beckoned to Laurel to replace her at the punch table. The FOWL president excused herself and strolled toward the hallway that housed the public restrooms. At the opening into the hall, though, Clarissa stumbled and had to reach out to brace herself against the doorframe. She clung to the facing an instant, then drew herself up, patted her platinum hair and adjusted the skirt of her ecru designer dress. Without a glance back into the meeting room, she was about to stride on, as if nothing had happened, when Theo Abernathy scurried over to her. Apparently holding no grudge over her fumbling his name earlier, the purchasing director drew close and spoke softly to her, then offered an arm. She flung it away, brushed past him and disappeared out into the hall.

Juanita frowned. That near-tumble was unlike Clarissa, who typically was assured and graceful. Was the FOWL president over-tired today for some reason? Or—scary thought—could she be suffering from some illness she didn’t want known? Something like Parkinson’s? Juanita fervently hoped not.

Abernathy gazed down the hall a moment, as if to make sure Clarissa was all right, then strolled back towards Juanita. Fiftyish, stocky and well-muscled, with a ready grin, an aquiline nose, and neat brown locks edging a receding hairline, he was considered a catch by many Wyndham women. He was a considerate person, too. If assistance of any sort was called for, Theo was always there, not calling attention to himself but rendering unobtrusive aid.

He smiled at Juanita and began filling a plate with treats from a refreshments table.

Congratulations, Library Lady, Doug Darrow said as he stepped up to add his used plate to a stack on a tray. Getting a new wing’s quite a coup for a library these days. What guilty secret of McAffee’s did you blackmail him with? Doug, a history teacher at Wyndham High School and a long-time friend of Juanita’s, passed a hand through wavy, sandy hair, graying at the temples. His strapping build showed signs of developing a paunch, but she still thought him one of the handsomest men in Wyndham. And how did you ferret out that damaging information?

Doug loved to tease Juanita about her reputation for nosiness, although he well knew that Wyndham Police had solved more than one puzzling case with her help.

Not that Detective Lieutenant Wayne Cleary, her significant other, liked to admit how useful she had been. He regularly warned Juanita to leave detecting to those who got paid to do it. Sometimes, she even listened.

I can’t reveal my methods, she told Doug now. I may need to find out something to use against you one of these days.

Impossible. My life’s an open book. Appropriate expression in a library, isn’t it?

Noticing Theo’s raised eyebrow, Doug added, You do know that Library Lady moonlights as an unpaid detective for Wyndham’s finest, don’t you?

That so? Theo half-grinned, as if he was unsure whether Doug was kidding him now.

I have a healthy curiosity, Juanita admitted. But I can also keep a confidence. I’m not a gossip.

So even if you should learn my guiltiest secrets, I wouldn’t have to worry that the knowledge would go further? Theo winked, part of the game now.

Perhaps you’d make it worth my while to keep silent, Juanita said with an enigmatic smile.

We now know how Ms. Wills affords all those new books on the shelves. Theo smiled conspiratorially at Doug. Another mystery solved.

Doug nodded. I see I’ll have to watch my step.

Shhhh, she said, finger to lips. Wyndham City Council members think city funds support the library.

With a grin, Theo turned away. His employee, Pattisue Yellen, approached him, her lips parted as if she had something to say, but the purchasing director walked right past her and gravitated to Clarissa’s daughter, Sherry, who smiled at him as they began a quiet conversation.

Pattisue paused, clamping her mouth shut with a frown. Then she shrugged her shoulders and turned away, coming over to join Juanita behind the pastries table.

Shall I relieve you here? she asked with a bright smile, all but elbowing Juanita away from her position.

Wearing a splashy red-white-and-black top, a very brief black skirt, and huge dangly earrings today, Pattisue was as unlike her cousin, Mavis Ralston, as could be. Whereas Juanita’s second-in-command at the library always wore attire as modest as any sparrow’s, her younger cousin’s was bird-of-paradise flamboyant. Mavis didn’t hold with women wearing short skirts or pants—often signifying with a raised eyebrow or lifted chin her disapproval of the trousers favored by Juanita and female part-timers—but surprisingly she found no fault with Pattisue’s sartorial choices. In fact, the dissimilar cousins seemed fond of each other.

Pattisue was more brisk of manner and speech than her cousin, as well. Though Mavis had been known to deliver a snide comment with whiplash speed, the wiry sixty-something assistant librarian usually moved and spoke with deliberation. Pattisue, on the other hand, had the air of a woman in a hurry, eager to wrap up one project and move onto the next thing.

She also was a climber, in Juanita’s view. For most of the reception, Pattisue had been floating from one official person to another, including the mayor, city manager, and city council members, ostensibly collecting used dishes but also flattering or fawning on these guests. And Pattisue had openly flirted with McAffee.

Of course, since Pattisue’s husband was employed in some capacity by McAffee, Juanita guessed the flirtation was intended to advance his career.

Besides her employment in the purchasing office in City Hall, Pattisue also volunteered for several community organizations. Cynically, Juanita suspected the woman’s real motivation for so much volunteering was the opportunity it provided to make valuable contacts, people who might help Pattisue rise through the ranks of city government or Wyndham society.

But volunteers were great whatever their motives, Juanita reminded herself. If Pattisue wanted to assist with FOWL events, including helping serve food at this reception, the librarian shouldn’t complain.

Thanks, Pattisue, Juanita said now, relinquishing her spot. I’ll circulate a bit more. She drifted off to see what was happening elsewhere in the big room.

After having been brushed off by Clarissa, McAffee had joined a group of Friends ladies clustered around an architect’s rendering of the new wing. Apparently delighted at being so close to the man of the hour, several complimented McAffee on his munificence, and he was soon radiating good will again. However, as Juanita watched, she saw him put a hand on one woman’s wrist, drawing her hand to his, seemingly interested in her bracelet but his grip bordering on the too-familiar. Juanita decided to intervene.

Has anyone told you about all the new databases the Friends are funding now, Mr. McAffee? she gushed, shifting to lecturer mode. Mango gives instruction in twelve different languages; its lessons not only let people learn a different language but help Latinos and other immigrants improve their English. Also, we have the Overdrive program, which lets patrons download e-books from our website without even coming into the library. She reached out to take his hand, allowing the other woman to slip hers away. Would you like to see it in action?

Juanita wasn’t worried that he would come on to her. It was well known that her boyfriend was a police detective. Anyway, she must have a good thirty pounds on the short McAffee. If he stepped far out of line, she could deck him, big contributor to the library or no.

Sounds like you’re going beyond books, Ms. Wills, McAffee said. He glanced regretfully after the other women, who had all quickly dispersed to other parts of the room. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to call yourself a library any more.

Technology has changed the definition of ‘library,’ for sure,’ Juanita said with a smile. We no longer get calls to look up the capital of Iceland or the main export of Trinidad, since patrons can Google their questions. But people have to use the internet to search for a job or apply for public assistance. Not everyone has a computer at home, so many people depend on the library’s public-access computers.

Yeah. Well, thanks for putting on this nice ‘do.’ Mom would’ve liked it.

"Your mother was very important to this library and this town. And of course we’re very grateful to you for providing funds for the new wing."

McAffee’s eyes wandered to the punch table, where Clarissa and Fletcher were huddled in close conversation. Laurel lingered nearby, straightening a tablecloth here, rearranging plates or cups there.

After a bit of small talk, McAffee moved away, and soon he and Abernathy, who had ended his chat with Sherry, were engaged in what appeared to be a serious discussion.

Juanita went back to the foods table, casually snagging another lobster bite. She’d had seven already, but this was a special occasion, she told herself. Pattisue turned from adding pastries to the mayor’s plate in time to see Juanita help herself. She flashed a conspiratorial smile, as if to say, I see you’re overindulging—again—but I won’t tell.

As she munched, Juanita studied the honoree. Grateful as she felt to the library’s biggest benefactor, she had to admit she didn’t much like him. McAffee might be a power in the corporate world, but his self-congratulatory speech during the dedication had been totally unlike the impression Juanita had of his modest, worker-bee mother. Too, his behavior around women had something of the naughty schoolboy about it. Juanita had detected an odor of alcohol when she’d spoken with him just now, which might account for his inappropriate actions. Or maybe he just had a lofty opinion of himself and thought the rules of polite society didn’t apply to him.

Sherry handed her used plate to Pattisue, who smiled ingratiatingly and carried it to a tray of dirty dishes. Juanita took the opportunity to follow up on something Clarissa’s daughter had said earlier.

You don’t think your mother’s busy enough? Beside all of her club activities, I’d have thought spoiling her only grandchild would be a full-time job.

’Spoiling’ isn’t a problem with Kolt, Sherry said, a spark of irritation in her hazel eyes. He’s a levelheaded kid. Besides, I limit the amount of time he spends with Mom.

Really? Juanita lifted an eyebrow.

Excuse me, Juanita, I need to speak to someone.

Of course. Nice to see you again, Sherry.

Clarissa’s daughter moved to stand by Theo, whose consultation with McAffee had ended, and soon the two were chatting again. Interesting, Juanita thought. Sherry was a young widow, so might this be a budding romance? She wouldn’t have picked the two out for each other but had learned that people who seemed an unlikely combination could become a happy couple.

Juanita returned to her chore of manning the refreshments table, and Pattisue moved over to the beverage table, chatting with (or sucking up to, as Juanita’s evil little inner voice termed the action) Laurel Higgins.

It was one of the facts of life in Wyndham that, when a nice reception was required, the town’s best hostesses could be counted on to supply splendid décor elements—cut glass, silver, floral arrangements—and delightful refreshments. Today’s edibles included Laurel’s caramel-apple torte; Clarissa’s canapés of melon and prosciutto; and Eva Brompton’s lobster bites, the little delicacies of crustacean meat in cream sauce encased in phyllo pastry that had single-handedly destroyed Juanita’s dieting resolve for the day.

She tried to salve her conscience by helping herself liberally to a heaping tray of berries, grapes, kiwi slices, and pineapple and banana chunks.

Grand spread, Fletcher said to Juanita as he straightened his large, black-rimmed glasses. Wish I could taste it all.

You can’t taste food? she said in surprise.

I had an oral virus a while back that damaged cells in my tongue, he said ruefully. Unfortunately, it left me unable to distinguish flavors.

That’s awful! I think my life would be over if I couldn’t enjoy food.

At least I have vivid memories of what my favorite dishes taste like. For instance, I know I adore Miss Elsa’s cranberry curls, which she brought to the Methodist church bake sale to raise funds for the new organ. A bright-eyed man with crisp white hair and an athletic body that exuded energy, Fletcher took several cranberry pastries, then added a few fresh-fruit pieces to his plate. I used to like kiwi a lot till I found out I was allergic. Since I can’t taste it now anyway, it’s no problem for me to pass it by.

Theo and Sherry had returned to the food table for second helpings.

Sherry picked carefully through the fruit tray. I’m not allergic to bananas, just don’t like ’em, she said with a rueful smile.

That’s me and pineapple, Theo said with a grin. Otherwise, I love all fruit, and have no allergies.

Juanita laughed. "It’d be better for my waistline if I were allergic to Laurel’s caramel-apple torte."

Fletcher excused himself and moved on to the beverage table. May I have another cup of punch, Mrs. Higgins?

Laurel, please, Fletcher, the server responded with a flirtatious smile. Surely we know each other well enough for first names.

He flashed his dazzling grin. Right you are, Laurel. First names it is.

You should be an honoree today, along with Mr. McAffee, she went on. I understand it’s all due to you that he donated the money for this wing.

Not really, Fletcher said self-deprecatingly. Ward was looking for a way to honor his mother’s memory. I simply reminded him how much she had cared about this library and mentioned how happy she’d be to see a new wing on it.

You’re being way too modest, Fletcher, Clarissa said, returning to the punch table and touching his arm.

Very true, Mrs. Davenport, Pattisue interjected from nearby. But some of us know the truth, don’t we?

Thanks, Clarissa, Fletcher said. That means a lot, coming from you. He glanced at Pattisue. And uh, you, Mrs. Yellen.

Pattisue looked smug, having successfully inserted herself into their conversation. Clarissa looked a trifle annoyed.

I’ll take over here now, Laurel, the FOWL president said to her friend. Thanks for filling in.

Laurel hesitated, but with a smile and a shrug yielded her place behind the punch bowl. Not for the first time, Juanita marveled at the devotion between the two women. Laurel did workmanlike service when called on by any group, but her contributions were typically overshadowed by those of Clarissa, who was thought of first to head any important project in Wyndham.

Juanita loved her little city, which sat in a valley with tree-covered hills rising on all sides. Approaching 30,000 in population, Wyndham featured a community college, a good-sized lake for water sports, a small manufacturing plant or two, and plenty of good retail shops and small restaurants. Motels catered to tourists and traveling business people and also housed the overflow of throngs who came to gamble at nearby casinos each week. But, like any town, Wyndham had a definite hierarchy, and Clarissa Davenport occupied its pinnacle.

That neither of the women seemed to feel jealousy or enmity toward the other, Juanita saw as sweet refutation of the old adage that women were competitive to the point of sabotaging other women, even those closest to them.

I need to get back to the office, Sherry said, interrupting Juanita’s reverie. The reception was beautiful.

Sherry was a nurse employed by a pediatrician in town. Although left wealthy when her husband died, she hadn’t chosen a life of leisure.

My Sherry loves caring for kids, Clarissa had once told Juanita with motherly pride. And she’s a terrific nurse.

Thanks for coming, Juanita said now. Your mother’s a great help with anything the library does.

Yeah. She does a good job. At least when she . . .


Nothing. See you later.

The young blonde left. Juanita stood watching her and wondering how Sherry would have finished that sentence.


Chapter 2

The next afternoon, Juanita stood at the circulation desk, checking out a biography of a Civil War general for Doug Darrow.

I heard a rumor that you’re about to take the plunge into matrimony, Doug, she commented. And I’d thought you were saving yourself for me.

Can’t expect me to wait forever, Juanita. I know you’ve only been seeing Wayne to make me jealous, but enough’s enough.

Win some, lose some. I don’t believe I know the lucky lady. Bridget Someone, I’ve heard?

He nodded. Bridget Donaldson. She works as a substance-abuse counselor in the Wyndham office of a Tulsa outfit, McClure Life-Needs Services. She just moved here a few months ago.

So when’s the big date?

We haven’t settled on one, nor on the kind of wedding to have. Bridget wants a big extravaganza with a cast of thousands. I want to elope to Vegas. The less complicated, the better, I say.

If you can find a happy compromise on that, you should both be in the diplomatic corps.

Doug shrugged ruefully. I know how things’ll shake out, he said with a wry grin. We’ll be hiring a hall and inviting everyone either of us has ever met.

You’re smarter than I gave you credit for, Darrow. If you see the need to let your bride have her way on wedding plans, maybe you are husband material, after all.

You’re hardly the authority on marriage, Juanita. After one brief ‘go’ at it, you swore off.

Wayne and I are just happy with things as they are. Why rock the boat?

Juanita and Wayne had been seeing each other exclusively for a few years, but neither had pushed for a wedding. Her marriage to a charming daredevil had left her a widow after an ill-fated skydiving accident. Wayne was divorced from a wife who had chosen her wealthy doctor-employer over him.

My thinking exactly, Doug said. But Bridget wants a ring on her finger, and I want Bridget to be happy.

You’re going to disappoint a lot of Wyndham women, removing the town’s most eligible bachelor from the pickings.

"If I was

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  • (5/5)
    A very powerful middle-grade book that deals with some very serious themes. Extremely well written, with parts that will make your heart heavy and ones that make laughter bubble out of you like a fresh mountain spring. You'll find yourself completely entwined in Phoebe's life, and finishing the book is like leaving a good friend behind.