Daddy’s Little Librarian – Maren Smith

Scotti came awake in the night with a start. She bolted up in bed, her heart already beating in her throat, half because of her dreams and half because of what she’d just heard. Clutching the blanket with both hands, she listened. Silence reigned through her small, split-level house. Outside, wind pushed against the roof. Downstairs, the living room clock was ticking. She’d dreamed it. She must have. Scared, sick to her stomach, and embarrassed to have let herself become so unsettled over something intangible that she couldn’t even remember, she lay back down. Rolling onto her side, she got comfortable on her pillow enough to close her eyes, and that’s when she heard it again. The soft, deliberate jostling of the kitchen window downstairs. She knew that sound, just like she knew exactly which window, because that one had the iffy lock. The one that sometimes came open just by shaking the wooden frame. Having accidentally locked herself out of the house once, she’d discovered that trick while trying to find an unlocked window to crawl back in through. She’d shown that trick to Gopher once, back when they were dating and she still thought he might be The One.

They weren’t still dating now, however. And he definitely was not The One. What he was, was the psycho mistake she wished she’d never made and the man springing the window lock that wouldn’t stay secure so he could break into her house. The lock came undone with a click she could hear, the rattling stopped, and the window slid open. Gopher was now in her house. Grabbing her cellphone off the nightstand, Scotti threw herself off the bed and scrambled under it instead. At the point that she dialed 9-1-1, she could already hear his footsteps coming up the stairs. “911, what is the nature of your emergency?” said the woman who answered the call. “He’s in my house!” she whispered, panic rising the closer those footsteps brought him down the hall. Slow and measured, and not just him. Now she could hear a low scraping accompanying him as he closed the distance, walking past her Disney princess nightlight—temporarily blocking where the light splashed the ceiling and walls—and straight to her open bedroom door. Scotti dropped her cheek to the carpet, peeking through the gap between the pink, ruffled bedskirt and the floor. Tall and lean, dressed all in black from the hood over his head to the gloves on his hands and the boots on his feet, Gopher looked like a shadow as he stood there, frozen in her doorway. A shadow with a knife in his hand, with the tip still gouging a line in the wall where he had scraped. So she would hear it and know he was coming for her.

“He’s in your house?” the woman from 911 repeated. Unlike the pure calm, business voice she had used when first she’d answered the phone, now she only sounded annoyed. “Is this Scotlyn Moore again? Honey, you know pranking 911 is a crime, right? Usually it’s labeled a class 1 misdemeanor, but this is eight times you’ve done this in the last two months. Eight times. For you, they’d be justified in upping this to a felony!” Gopher stepped into her bedroom, pausing just over the threshold, no doubt taking in her empty bed. Tears burning her eyes, Scotti covered her mouth. Please just come. “Hello?” the operator drawled. She didn’t dare answer, but watched under the bedskirt as his booted feet circled from the foot of her bed to the side she liked to sleep on. He sat down practically right above her. “Last time we were in this bed together,” Gopher said, “I had you tied to it.” “Felonies mean you go to jail,” the 911 operator continued through the phone. Closing her eyes, Scotti buried her face in the carpet. She was terrified he could hear her breathing. She was also positive he didn’t just suspect she was hiding nearby, but that he knew it.

He certainly sounded like he knew as, shifting on the mattress above her, he said, “Someday soon, babygirl, I’m going to have you in this bed again. Want to guess what we’re going to do then?” Scotti shuddered. “I hope you’re listening carefully,” the operator said as the mattress springs squeaked when Gopher stood and braced his knee on the bed. “I’m about to do you the biggest favor you’ll ever have.” Scotti flinched, feeling the violence in every punching blow as Gopher brutally stabbed her pillow—her, in absentia—to death. “I’m not going to do anything,” the operator said. “I’m not going to alert the police or log this call.” Gopher’s knife slit through both pillowcase and memory foam, broadening his attack, cutting, slashing, and stabbing all down the length of her mattress as well. And Scotti felt every slice of his knife as if he were carving directly into her back. “Do not call back here again,” the operator warned. “If you do, you will go to jail.” Shaking, Scotti held onto her phone long after the line disconnected. Eventually, Gopher stopped stabbing. Sniffing once, he pushed off her ruined bed. She heard the click of the knife as he put it away.

“You’re mine until I let you go,” he told the room. There was no relief in watching his boots walk away. He got as far as the open doorway, then paused. Turning back around, he lowered himself to one knee and deliberately bent to look at her under the bed. “Mine,” he repeated, while she burst into tears. “Don’t you ever forget that again.” She flinched, scrambling as far away from him as the dubious protection of the bed would allow when he came close again. But when he lifted the pink skirt, it was only long enough to collect Bat Bear (her favorite Build-A-Bear; a dark blue teddy in a Bat Girl costume) off the dresser and offer it to her under the bed. She took it, half out of fear, half out of reflex. It was her favorite and he knew that. It was the one she always turned to when she wanted comforting and no one was there to give it. He knew that, too. “Answer my God damn calls,” Gopher told her as she clung to it. This time when he walked away, he didn’t stop at the door and he didn’t come back. Scotti stayed where she was, hiding under the bed, hugging Bat Bear to her as tight as she could, until she heard the front door open and close again behind him.

Covering her mouth with both hands now, she burst into tears all over again. Chapter Two Pirate Pete’s Squid House looked like a fast food restaurant on the outside and the deck of an old wooden ship on the inside. Ropes, buoys, and fishing nets provided a certain, seaside decoration. A giant saltwater aquarium was positioned right at the door of the fenced-in outside play area where it attracted the eyes of the children who happily lost their minds in this place. Above the cash registers, a massive smiling squid in a sailor’s outfit spread its multitude of arms out around the walls as if it were inviting everyone who placed an order in for a hug. Another slightly more menacing one was perched in the small hallway off to the right where, as it looked to Kurt Doyle as he waited for his job interview to proceed, it perched on the verge of snagging unwary customers on their way to and from the Buoys and Gulls bathrooms. Seated at a wooden table meant to look like a cargo crate, covered in a paper tablecloth meant to be colored on, Kurt jiggled his leg up and down and waited for the day to get him. He knew it would happen. He even had a pretty good idea of how it would happen. It was a Monday, after all, and Mondays had never been good to him. Not even when he was a boy. It was on a Monday when he’d caught his first really good case of the mumps, which had in turn made him too sick to go to his first baseball game with his grandfather. He’d crashed his first car through the window of Jacobson and Meyer’s hardware store when he was sixteen on, of course, a really sucky Monday. He’d loved that car. He’d even kissed his first true love on a Monday.

Ordinarily, that might have counted as a good thing if only the object of his ten-year-old affections had returned his tender sentiment instead of punching him squarely in the nose. And though all that had happened a long, long time ago—before his military days and his scant four years on the force—Mondays were still out to get him. Anymore, they’d even stopped being subtle about it. And already he could tell this particular Monday wasn’t planning on being the exception to the standard rule. He slowly blinked his gunmetal gray eyes at the pimple-faced, peach-fuzz of a goatee-wearing kid sitting at the crate across from him and tried his best not to feel resentful. The kid wore a captain’s hat on his head and a stuffed parrot hanging crookedly off his left shoulder and, more importantly, a plastic name tag on his shirt that read Captain Tommy right under the capitalized title of ‘SHIFT MANAGER’. Captain Tommy couldn’t have been a day over seventeen and here he was, shaking his head as he looked over thirty-two-year-old Kurt’s employment application. Just one more Monday in a long dismal line of the same. “Wow,” Tommy said, flipping the application over to read his work history on the back. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a cop apply at Pirate Pete’s before. What’d you do, arrest the boss’s daughter?” Tommy snorted as he laughed, thoroughly enjoying his own joke, and because his door wasn’t exactly being beaten down by other employment opportunities, Kurt made a half-hearted attempt to smile back. “Ha ha,” he said, not quite deadpanned but close enough so that it wasn’t worth differentiating. “Yeah, that’s funny.



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Updated: 10 May 2021 — 20:58

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