Hot coffee spilled on Patty’s trembling hand. Her husband looked up from the sports section.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Patty raised her burned hand to her lips, suddenly aware that her whole family was watching her.
“No. Fine. Hot coffee,” she muttered as she rose from the table and placed her mug in the sink. “Jay, I’m going in a little early. Can you take the girls to school?”
“Sure. You positive you’re OK?”
“I just remembered a stack of notices that have to go in the morning mail. I’m still way behind since our vacation.”
Patty grabbed her keys and bag and fled the house. She climbed into the driver’s seat of her green VW Beetle and turned the ignition. They must think I’m crazy. I’ll have to call Jay later and explain. That man in the paper...please God...don’t let it be him.
Twenty minutes later Patty was walking through the staff entrance of the DeLeon County Library. She flipped on the lights in the reference office, threw her bag on the floor and strode to a gray filing cabinet. She pulled out the drawer containing “M” and began flipping through the cards.
Normally, a computer database maintains the list of books that are checked out from the library. Once the books are returned and checked-in, the patron’s record is cleared. However, in DeLeon’s interlibrary loan department, the librarians still collected hand printed requests on note cards. Patty used these to locate books that their library didn’t own, but could borrow from another library somewhere in the US. She kept these cards on file for a few months just in case a researcher needed to request the same book again. It saved time and made her patrons happy.
Now she hoped that she hadn’t cleaned out the files too soon.
Patty’s stomach clenched as she pulled one card from the drawer. Then another. And another. How many books did we get for him? She placed three request cards side-by-side on her desk: a survey of a water treatment facility, structural engineering documentation for a bridge, a proposal for building a dam. They’re all government documents--available to anyone. And I got them for him.
Patty glanced at the clock. It was still early, but Norman Lefler, the library’s director would probably be at his desk. She scooped up the cards and hurried through the reference section toward administration, stopping by the public desk to grab the newspapers, still folded in their delivery wrappers.
Norm answered Patty’s soft knock on his office door. “Morning Patty. You’re here early. Catching up?”
“Actually, I...uh, we may have a problem. May I close your door?”
Norm nodded and Patty pulled the door until it clicked.
She laid the cards on Norm’s desk and unwrapped a newspaper. She removed the world news section and carefully refolded it, framing a dark, scowling visage.
“The FBI is looking for him as a suspected terrorist and I think I’ve seen him here.”
“I know I’ve seen him,” she paused, “It gets worse. His name is on each of those cards. Look at the titles he requested.”
In a rare loss of composure, Norm swore under his breath. “You’re positive about this?”
“Yes, I remember talking to him. He wasn’t very chatty, but some of those researchers aren’t.”
A brisk knock on the door interrupted their conversation. “Norm? It’s Judy. Are you there?”
Assistant Director, Judy Norcross, burst into the room. “Norm, have you seen the news? Oh...sorry, Patty.”
Norm motioned Patty to close the door. “We were just discussing this.” Judy followed his gaze toward the cards. “I’m calling the FBI.”
“What about confidentiality? We can’t release patron records to anyone without a warrant.”
“We may have information regarding a terrorist.”
“Suspected terrorist. What if they want to see the records of every man with an Arab sounding name?”
“Well, we won’t release those. But we have this man's address, phone number, and signature. It’s up to the FBI to investigate. Patty, just tell them what you know.”
Patty’s eyes widened, “Did I help a terrorist? I thought he was an engineer.”
The three librarians studied the cards.
Do we question everyone who requests a book that someone deems suspicious? Monitor reading habits? This is America. How do we keep our cherished freedoms safe from those who use them to commit evil?
They’d debate those questions later. Norman Lefler picked up the phone.
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