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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: The USA (01/08/09)

TITLE: Evil Among Us
By Karen Wilber
~2nd Place


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 notecards. 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. Can 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.”

“You think?”

“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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Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 01/15/09
There just has to be more! Sequel, please. But you left us with one of those questions that must haunt a lot of people—where is that line? Well done.
Joanne Sher 01/18/09
Absolutely haunting, and such a thought-provoking entry. I will be pondering this for a long time. Very well done.
Eliza Evans 01/20/09
Really good!

Things I'd cut...Just my opinion

“I just remembered a stack of notices ..."

Stack of notices is N/A as is the relevance of the being behind and the vacation.

So, how about "Yes, fine. I hope so. I just need to get something settled at work right away .." or whatever.

Also I felt it got boggy in the paragraph starting with
" Normally, a computer database maintains ....... "

Too much information.
That paragraph is 94 words.

This is a crucial part in your story so if I was reading this in a book I would skip this automatically.

How can you pare that way down?

Not trying, I came up with a 39 word count and it says basically the same thing.

"The librarians still collected interlibrary loan requests on notecards. Patty 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."

I'm sure you could tweak it up better.

I really like the italicized questions at the end but feel the 'tag on' "they'd debate these later" took the punch right out of it.

I'd consider cutting that, ...so right after the questions you have ....

Norman Lefler picked up the phone.

And you are left with the picture of the librarians studying the cards and internally grappling with these questions while in the background Norman is picking up the phone. It leaves more to the reader's imagination.

That's my opinion anyway, and I could be exactly wrong.

Great entry.:)
Jan Ackerson 01/20/09
Very gripping and thought-provoking. I haven't read anything even remotely like this this week--very good writing.
Glynis Becker01/20/09
These are definitely the important questions of our time in history, aren't they? I wish I knew all the answers ;) Thanks for a wonderfully thought-provoking piece!
Dara Sorensen01/20/09
I was so drawn into this story I couldn't wait to see what happened next! That's the mark of a great piece--making the reader forget the world around them and being drawn into the story. Well done!!
Angela M. Baker-Bridge01/20/09
Engaging piece. I skimmed the paragraph about the computer...it didn't feel like something I needed to know. At first I thought the villain was going to be tied to Oklahoma City or the Twin Towers. Very suspenseful.
Teresa Lee Rainey01/21/09
Very suspense-full and attention grabbing. As has been said - Thought provoking. Really, really hits such an important question for where we are today.
Beth LaBuff 01/21/09
This has become the question of this century… Excellent story!… I DEFINITELY wanted more!
Leah Nichols 01/22/09
Wow! Very unique entry! I enjoyed the suspenseful feeling in this one. I didn't quite connect to the MC, though....maybe writing in first person would help. Just a thought. Well done!
Sheri Gordon01/22/09
Congratulations on your EC, Karen! This is very, very good. Excellent job with the topic.
Beth LaBuff 01/22/09
Karen, super congrats on receiving an EC with this story!
Chely Roach01/22/09
Congratulations on the EC...it was SO worthy. I loved the originality, the suspense, and the moral dilemma. Superb!
Myrna Noyes01/22/09
Well done!! :) Congratulations on writing this excellent story with much "food for thought" and also on your 2nd place EC!!
Gregory Kane01/25/09
Very well done. What I particularly enjoyed about this story was the sense of suspense, the way you unfolded the mystery bit by bit. I thought it entirely appropriate that the actual outcome was left hanging. Congratulations.
Jeanette Oestermyer01/26/09
This sounds like a 'cliff hanger,' for sure. Nice work, and you keep the suspence rolling. Well written, with reality and character speaking - yes, there has to be more.