Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Black Letter Law - an Origin Story. Episode1. Maryanne Wells

The events that follow took place in October - November of 2005.

“It's real, and I refuse to get my fingerprints on it,” Naomi said.

I stepped closer to the study carrel and bent over, angling my head for a closer look. “It's fake,” I said. “I think.”

“So pick it up.”

I straightened up and glared at her. “You pick it up. You've got seniority,” I said.

“You've got more experience with these things.”

“You found it.”

“Doesn't matter because I'm not touching it.”

I sighed. “Fine. We'll call campus police and let them figure it out.”

“That's what I said in the first place,” Naomi said, walking to the front desk. She picked up the phone receiver and dialed the campus safety department.

Naomi O'Conners was a year ahead of me in law school. We met working in the law school library. We were the crazy people who volunteered for the closing shifts, known with dubious affection as the 'graveyard shifts.'

I could never figure out why we were friends. On the surface we were completely different. She was a worldly city girl with a rocker chick look and fearless demeanor. I was the country girl, too smart for my own good and constantly worried that my classmates would discover how much younger than all of them I really was. But for some reason the friendship worked. I guess that deep down we were just the same kind of people. And by that I mean we were both a little off in the brain pan.

Following Naomi to the front desk I said defensively, “Well I wanted to look at it first. If it turns out to be a fake then we will have caused unnecessary trouble for a classmate.”

“Some idiot third year with a practice court case decides to leave all his study material and case evidence in a study carrel and you're going to be sympathetic? Maryanne, we are not responsible for the fate of personal items left in the law library. Everyone knows that. So if somebody leaves something here, they do so with full knowledge that it may be gone by the time they get back.” She gestured to the phone and said, “Still ringing. Can you believe it?”

“Maybe they're busting up some undergrad party that got out of hand.”

“Meanwhile we've got a possibly loaded firearm sitting out on a desk. Great,” Naomi said sarcastically.

I looked back at the study carrel. “I just hate to get anyone in trouble needlessly. What if we're being alarmist and jumping the gun? Maybe I'll pick it up and look closer.”

Naomi grinned. “Jumping the gun? Nice,” she said.

Dang it. I hate puns!

I turned around and strode back to the study carrel. Gnawing a little on my lower lip, I reached out my hand towards the gun. Really, I thought, my trepidation was stupid. I had grown up around guns. My parents had stressed gun safety since I was a kid. I'd been on hunting trips with friends and relatives since I turned twelve. So one little handgun sitting on the edge of a desk in the law school library shouldn't have freaked me out.

But it wasn't the gun that had me on edge. It was everything about the night. Final exams were just around the corner and every student was on edge. Library hours had been extended to provide more study time in a quiet environment. I'd been happy about that at first because it meant more work hours for me. But they were dark hours filled with strange shadows and pale, hollow eyed classmates. And then the noises began.

“I swear I'm not crazy,” a voice said.

I jumped and spun around in the air. “Don't do that,” I gasped. “Don't ever sneak up on me when things are creepy.”

“Sorry,” Nick said.

Nicholas “Nick” Porpington was in his second year at law school, like Naomi. When I first met him I thought him the definition of pretentious. Seriously, the guy was descended from Scottish nobility. And he had this effortless air of cool dignity. There was nobody like him back home in the Panhandle.

Underneath it all he was really nice, and Naomi and I counted him as a friend. Normally I'd be happy to see him, but when he startled me and started talking about his sanity he just added to the general creepiness of the library.

I pointed at the gun. “Real or fake?” I asked Nick.

He peered at the gun and said, “Don't know and don't care.”

“Some help you are.”

“How about helping me? The noises upstairs are getting louder. And I'm not crazy or delusional; something is up there.”

I rubbed my forehead and said, “I believe you. I heard the noises last night when I was closing. I found another student on the floor and dragged him over to the corner bookcase. He heard the scratching too.”

“So,” Nick said grandly.


“So what are you going to do about it?”

“Report it to the head librarian and let her call maintenance.”

“But the noises only happen at night,” Nick pointed out.

Yeah, when I'm on duty. Great. “What do you want me to do about it?”

“The noises are stronger tonight. I've been able to pinpoint the source to a single bookshelf. Come with me and look around,” Nick pleaded.

This job was supposed to be easy. Shelve a few books, study when you can. Why can't it be that simple?