Part 1

Chapter One

Earlier that night found me racing around my little studio apartment, cell phone pressed to an ear with one hand, the other rustling through the closet. I find the dress I’m looking for and rip it off its hanger.

“Elise, I’m almost ready. I’ll see you there in twenty minutes at the most.”

“I can’t believe you’re not here already, Skylar,” Elise said teasingly. “I’m here all alone at the bar staring at Reid.”

“Twenty minutes,” I insist, ending the call, throwing the phone in the general direction of the handbag sitting on the edge of the Murphy bed. My studio is so snug that it has one of those beds that pulls out of the wall and can be folded up and stowed away when it’s not in use.

My mind drifts and I picture Reid and I hanging out on it sometime, maybe even later tonight, and laugh quietly. Reid is our hot bartender friend, much in demand by the ladies who hang out in the bar where Elise is right now, the place where I’m headed. Friends since undergrad, Elise and I spent a lot of time at Reid’s bar the last two years — it was one of the things that got me through graduate school.

Wriggling into the black knit dress, I pull it down over the skinny jeans I wear underneath, and fluff my long brown hair out of the neckline. Here in San Francisco the temperature always hovers around sixty degrees, even with summer just around the corner. At night when the fog rolls in, the freezing wind can make it too intense for bare legs, so you have to layer. I step into my loafers, slip into a vintage khaki trench with plaid lining, and grab my handbag and phone.

As I turn to lock my apartment, I shudder as I look back at the sight. The state of the place is that books and magazines are stacked high in every corner. Junk spills into the tiny amount of space available to walk between the combined bedroom and living area and the miniature kitchen. Though small, the kitchen is meticulously clean, at least.

I love finally having my own apartment after years of sharing during undergrad and then grad school. It’s just going to take a few weeks to get the place organized and decorated, I think optimistically. Librarians excel at finding and organizing things, so it shouldn’t take too long.

Going through the large, empty lobby area of the apartment building, I admire the ornate cornices that decorate the space and the gilt-edged mirror, beautiful even though slightly burnished. The building is over one hundred years old, constructed a few years after the big hit of the earthquake of 1906. It started a fire that entirely burnt down Nob Hill, my new neighborhood, along with much of the city.

I step outside and over the tracks of the cable car, which buzz incessantly from the mechanics underground that pull them. The bar where I’m meeting Elise is only eight short blocks away, up and over the hill, crossing down to Lower Nob.

And I’m not late, not really. Elise knows that after sending out dozens of resumes I finally landed an interview at a small private library downtown. The meeting, which I just returned from, went well, and I enjoyed talking with all the staff members. We had some great conversations, which is a good sign. I took a gamble when I signed the lease on my new apartment, betting that I would be able to find work as a librarian nearby, and soon.

A little short of breath as I cross the crest of the hill, I start the descent to the bar. I quickly roll down the other side, eager to get there. Gazing at Reid is one of my favorite things about hanging out at the bar. I’ve had a crush on Reid forever, for almost all of the two years that I was in school to be a librarian. And now I’d graduated.

The fitness studios and cafes blur as I speed along, propelled toward the bar by the downhill momentum. I gaze upwards as I stand at the corner waiting for the light to turn. A mixture of clouds and fog move rapidly across the sky, and I wrap the coat around me tighter, a shield against the wind. I grew up in this mystical, fog-covered city, and after twenty-three years I’m almost used to it. My mom and dad live near Noe Valley, a part of the city that’s warmed by just a little bit more sunshine. Even with the different micro-climate, I’m glad I moved out.

The chill makes me practically run across the street down to the middle of the block where the bar is. It’s located next to the art school, and a motley bunch of students mill around outside, smoking. Ignoring them, I enter the bar, a little cave of a place decorated like a bordello.

I don’t immediately see Elise, but Reid’s behind the bar. I slide up to his end and sit down while his back is turned. After several long seconds of staring at him, I realize he still hasn’t seen me, but Elise has.

“Hi,” she breathes as she comes up to me, kissing me first on one cheek, then the other. Tall, blonde and enviously confident, ever since Elise studied abroad in France junior year she’s been slightly affected. “I was in the ladies’ doing my lips.”

I take in her blood red pout, blotted to matte perfection, and look around the bar. “Who have you seen?” I ask her. For Elise to take such an interest in the perfection of her lips means only one thing.

She sits onto the stool next to me and places her bejeweled clutch handbag on the bar. “Over there,” she says quietly, her head nodding towards a velvet couch. I glance over discreetly and see a couple of guys in jeans and button downs drinking two fingers of amber colored liquid over ice.

“You’re too much,” I kid her playfully. “Let’s order something.”

“Okay,” Elise agrees. She reaches for the little cocktail menu sitting on the bar. “Hey Reid,” she calls out. “What are you making us tonight?”

Reid finally turns to us, the tattoos running the length of his inner forearm flashing as he bends his biceps to pick up a steaming crate of clean pint glasses. “Hello Skylar, Elise,” he says, nodding at us. He places the glasses gently on the rear counter, where the bar back can put them away, and comes over.

I smile at him, noticing how cute his dark hair looks now that it’s cut shorter. A strand falls into his eyes, and he casually brushes it away.

“Concoct something special for me,” I tell him.

Reid grins and leans forward on the bar towards me. He always tries to be aloof, but there is no denying the attraction crackling between us. It’s electric. A pull I feel from miles away, across city blocks.

“Sure,” he says, taking out two martini glasses from beneath the bar. New cocktail inventions are his specialty. “What are you up to tonight?”

I’m here to stare at you all night, I think. When I don’t say anything, Reid blushes a little. For some reason, Reid is very modest about how gorgeous he is. He has the rugged good looks of a soccer or lacrosse player or something. Try telling this to him, though.

“Skylar had her first interview today, and we’re just celebrating a little,” Elise tells him.

“The wait to see whether or not I get the job is going to be agonizing,” I add. “Digital reference librarian job searches are usually done nationwide, so competition is fierce.”

Reid mixes our martinis in a frosty shaker full of ice, then pours one serving each into the glasses in front of us.

Elise picks one up in a toast. “I’m sure you’ll get it, you sexy librarian you.”

Reid and I both laugh.

“Thanks for the encouragement,” I tell Elise, shaking my head at the stereotype, even though it’s one I love. I quickly take a sip from my overflowing drink then reach over to clink her glass.

“Anytime,” she says mischievously, eyebrows raised in Reid’s direction. “I’m sure tons of guys will come in to check you out.”

I laugh. Elise is always trying to get me to adopt sexy librarian pick up lines. She even emails them to me, seriously.

Reid hovers by our side for a moment, rinsing out the martini shaker then wiping down the bar. When I don’t say anything else, Elise continues.

“Reid, who decorated this place? It’s so whorehouse chic. The owners need to hire someone to redo it.” Elise works as a realtor and considers herself an expert on interior design.

Instead of answering, Reid just rolls his eyes at Elise’s assessment of the place. Meaning to mend any misunderstanding over what was probably another clichéd observation, I feel a need to comment. “Yeah, it does feel like something illicit is gonna happen,” then gulp down a little more of my drink.

“I wish,” Reid said. “About the most criminal thing that happens in here is the students from the art school next door sneak in with their fake IDs, drink too much and throw up. Then I have to clean it up.”

“Gross,” Elise says, putting down her drink.

Reid shrugs, then moves down the bar to wait on a group of pretty girls. He sure seems grumpy tonight.

“Elise, I think you scared him off,” I venture.

“That’s ridiculous,” she retorts.

“I’ve liked him for a long time. I need your help, not you pissing him off.” My love life was in no condition at the moment to take chances. It had been a long time since I had been in a relationship. The last few years were spent surviving a string of immature, mostly crazy fun relationships, a habit going back to my teens.

“Okay, when he comes back I’ll patch things up for you,” Elise promises.

We watch for a moment as Reid slings beverages towards a few disenfranchised stockbroker types forced to slum it and belly up to the bar. I wish he would take me seriously. He works as a bartender to support himself as an artist, his true passion. We could be together, following our dreams. Mutual support like that isn’t cheap.

I can tell Elise is weighing her options — the stockbrokers or the two guys on the sofa. The choice is made for us when the group of pretty girls nearby engulfs the stockbrokers.

“Come on,” Elise sighs audibly into her martini. “Let’s have a change of scenery.” She grabs her handbag and smoothly walks over to the sofa. I watch her as she gestures first to herself, then back to me, introducing us. The guys smile, and I guess they invite us to hang out, because a minute later Elise waves me over. I gather my coat and join them.

“Skylar, this is Tim and Dave,” Elise says by way of introduction.

“Hi.” I manage a small smile as I sit down next to Elise on the adjacent sofa.

“So Elise tells us that you’re a sexy librarian,” Tim starts.

“Yes,” I tell him. “You should come check me out!”

Tim and Dave laugh and Elise gives me an approving smile, but it feels so unnatural to drop shit like that. “Skylar and I were just saying that this place needs redecorated. It looks too much like a brothel, which can give some people the wrong idea, don’t you think?”

The guys laugh again and Elise keeps on talking, dominating the conversation with her witticisms. I laugh along with them, kind of tuning out when Elise announces her plan to redecorate the lounge in black and white. My gaze keeps drifting back to the bar where Reid’s serving drinks to a steady stream of customers. With Reid, I feel I can always be myself.

I’m distracted by a couple sitting near us, in the secluded cluster of chairs paired on the other side of the sofas. The woman just returned from a trip to the ladies’ room, I guessed. As she sits down and crosses her legs, I notice she’s wearing the most fantastic red and white spectator pumps I’ve ever seen. Then I watch the man she’s with give her drink a stir before handing it to her. He stares intently at the woman as she drinks.

“Or maybe some bright Pop art,” I hear Elise continue. “What do you think, Skylar?”

“Noir,” I say distractedly. “San Francisco needs more noir bars.”

As Elise and the guys chatter on, I watch out of the corner of my eye as the man leads the woman out of the bar. She’s not wearing a jacket, just a sleeveless dress, and the way he grips her upper arm seems like it would hurt. It occurs to me that she might be too wasted to feel it.

It’s so early, though, for someone to have had that much to drink.

I look at the clock hanging over the bar. The hands read just after 8 pm.

“I’ll be right back,” I say to Elise and the guys.

I walk up to the bar and wave to get Reid’s attention. He’s between customers and able to come right over.

“Hey, did you see that man and woman sitting together over in those chairs?”

“Yeah, he was drinking bourbon and she had a gimlet.” Reid looks towards the chairs and notices the couple’s vanishing act, although the drinks are barely touched. “They paid for the drinks, though, even if they didn’t drink them,” he shrugs again.

I follow his gaze with a furrowed brow. “Something’s going on.”

Without saying another word I leave the bar. Outside the fog-shrouded night allows for little light. Following my instincts, I turn left and walk the block to the corner. There I go left again, moving downhill.

I cross my arms in front of me against the cold. In my haste, I left my trenchcoat behind in the bar. My penny loafers squeak satisfyingly in hasty pursuit. At least I had worn them instead of sandals. It was usually too cold at night in San Francisco to wear sandals. I peek into every entryway on the block and don’t see them. The sidewalk is empty.

When I reach Post St. the couple is still nowhere in sight. I decide to cross and go down one more block. The hundred-year old Victorian architecture is no longer a blur in the darkness. Bay windows loom overhead, not all with a view.

Walking even more slowly, I happen to see a small light flicker inside a basement apartment. Gazing through the round window, I see a sight that chills me to the bone, never mind that I’m already freezing. A naked woman, half her clothes off her body, is being stabbed. I’m horrified, now completely frozen to the spot and I look more closely. It’s definitely the couple from the bar — I recognize the woman’s shoes. Then the room goes dark.

I turn and run.

+++   ++   +++

Readers: What do you think is going on?! What will happen next? Leave a comment below and receive a tip to the next clue.

Chapter Two

I rush through the fog, away from what I saw in that scene. I’m in shock but not stunned enough to deny that I just witnessed a murder.

That man was stabbing her.

I run back up the hill the entire two blocks to the bar. The synthetic material of my dress is stuck to my back and to other parts of my body, so I pause briefly for some air before going back inside. The cold sweat would force me in soon enough.

I have to tell someone what I saw. I have to tell Reid. We have to call the police.

Most of all, I was afraid of what would happen if he saw me through the window. Or was it only my fear being reflected?

I pull out my phone and dial emergency.

+++   ++   +++

After I call the police, I go back inside. I’m really shivering by this time, and all I want to do is go home and climb into my warm Murphy bed, but the police told me to stay where I am. I stand in the corner of the bar, silently reprimanding myself that I didn’t get a photo of the murderous action with my phone. I couldn’t see after the light was doused.

“Skylar?” Reid comes out from behind the bar towards me. He looks concerned. “What happened? Where did you go?” he asks over the loud level of conversation in the bar.

“The police are on their way,” I tell him.

“What? Why did you call the police?”

I just shake my head. I feel really lightheaded and I must’ve looked it, because the next thing I know Reid catches me.

When the haze clears a few seconds later, I’m slumped against him but he’s holding me up, one arm underneath my shoulders. With his other arm around my waist, he drags me to a nearby sofa.


I hear Elise cry out, and when my vision levels, I stare into both their faces.

“I must have fainted,” I tell them. No longer cold, the packed room is claustrophobically warm.

“Yeah,” Reid says. “You sure did.”

The crowded bar became noticeably hushed and we see a pair of San Francisco police come through the throng. Reid waves them over.

“We’re looking for a Skylar Saffron,” one of them says.

“I’m Skylar,” I say grimly. It makes me really uncomfortable to have the police announce they’re looking for me. The officers, with short and stocky builds, buzz cuts and tattoos peeking out of shirtsleeves, look like the type of guys who spent a lot of their downtime placing bets at sports bars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it would just be ironic.

“I’m Officer Smith, and this is Officer Diaz. We’re responding to your emergency call.”

“Yes,” I say nervously. “I just saw a woman being lured out of the bar. She was drugged, I think. I followed the couple and saw them through the window of a basement apartment around the corner. The man was stabbing her.”

“What?!” Elise cries out.

“Please, everyone stay calm,” Officer Diaz interjects. “Ms. Saffron, we’re going to need you to show us exactly where you witnessed the crime.”

“Okay,” I say weakly. “Just let me get my coat.”

I go over to the sofa where I stowed my stuff and grab it quickly, ignoring the curious looks Tim and Dave throw my way.

“I’m coming with you,” Elise insists, wrapping a scarf over her blazer. Hearing that relieves me.

“Sorry, we can’t take the chance. The potential suspect might still be in the vicinity,” said Officer Smith. “You need to stay here.”

I was about to object, unsure of why Officers Smith and Diaz would take issue with Elise coming with us.

“We’ll make sure Ms. Saffron is safe,” Officer Diaz promises.

Reid’s concern is written all over, but even in the face of it, he’s practical. “Skylar, if it was who you think it was, the couple who were in here earlier, I saved their cocktail glasses.”

His quick thinking impresses me. “It was them,” I say.

“We’ll send forensics to collect the glasses,” Officer Smith tells Reid.

“Stay here?” I ask Elise. “I’ll come back.”

“Okay,” she agrees.

As I leave with the officers, I wonder about Reid catching me after I fainted. It was good he was there. When I look back, however, he’s already behind the bar, engulfed with customers, and I seem forgotten.

The officers and I walk down Sutter St. After sunset, the night is even colder now, the wind ruthless.

“The building is just down Leavenworth, past Post,” I tell the officers. Revisiting the scene of the crime makes me slightly ill, but the officers give me a sense of security, which I hope isn’t false.

When we get to the apartment building, the light is back on in the basement, but there’s nothing to see. The room is empty.

“Are you sure this is the place?” Officer Smith asks. He seems to doubt me.

“Of course I’m sure,” I say, peeking through the window, confused by the emptiness of the room. “I remember the round window with the stained glass decoration.” I gesture to the colored pattern framing the window.

“We’ll go in and check it out,” Officer Diaz adds, pulling out his walkie-talkie to call it in.

“Come on,” Officer Smith says. “I’ll escort you back to the bar.”

With one last look through the round window, I go with him reluctantly. I know what I saw. I don’t know where they went, but the man and woman were in that basement — and I don’t think the woman made it out alive.

+++   ++   +++

The next day finds me sitting in the sun at the café across the street from my apartment building. There’s always a window of summer sunshine in the early afternoon just after lunch. When I can, I take advantage of it. The window closes between two and four, and the fog rolls in.

It’s so great to have a Friday off. Sometimes I go down to Dolores Park, the warmest spot in the city, but I haven’t been in a while because my scooter is broken and I refuse to take Muni.

As I sit there with my cappuccino, I scroll through the local news reports on my mobile. There’s nothing about the man and woman I saw leave the bar.

Last night before we parted, the police gave me a slip of paper with a case incident name and number. I take it out of my handbag and stare at it for several seconds before finally dialing.

I get a voice mail and leave my name and the reason for my call. At this point, any information I can get about the case is going to assuage my overactive mind.

I’m about to leave and walk down to Polk St. when my phone buzzes. I snatch it up but it’s only Larissa, my friend from high school, who’s now a junior law associate at a large firm in the city.

“Hi Larissa.” My voice is friendly but I’m determined to make the conversation short. Right now I have a one-track mind.

“Skye. What are you doing tonight?” Although she’s a few years older than I am, Larissa Loughlin is one of my oldest friends and always calls me by my childhood nickname.

“Um, I don’t know. Why?”

“There’s an event and I need a wingwoman.”

“I don’t know, Larissa. Last night was pretty eventful.”

“But it’s Friday! Come on,” she wheedles.

Another call beeps in. It’s a local area code but I don’t recognize the number.

“Okay,” I relent, mostly so I can take the next call — it may be the police. “Text me the details. Listen, I’ve got to answer this.”

“Great! I’ll see you tonight.”

I pause briefly before answering and hope that whatever I just agreed to isn’t going to be too painful.


A pleasant voice responds, a voice that sounds familiar.

“Skylar? This is Julia Hartfield.”

“Hi!” I say in surprise. Julia Hartfield is the director of the library where I just interviewed.

“Hi. I want to let you know that we came to a decision about hiring a junior digital reference librarian.”

“Yes?” Sitting up straight, my body is alert and waiting for an answer.

“The committee is very impressed with your credentials and we want to offer you the job.”

“That’s wonderful!” After living under the cloud of seriously somber events the past twenty-four hours, this is unexpected, welcome news.

“You said you could start right away, correct? Can you come in on Monday?”

“Yes, I can.”

“Wonderful. Report to the reference desk on the third floor for training at 9 am sharp.”

“Thank you, I’ll be there.” I end the call with amazement. That was fast, I think.

No matter. I’m now employed at one of the most prestigious private libraries in the city. It’s all happening. My life as a librarian is really starting.

After some considerable time on the phone to all the A-list people in my life, to tell them about the recent new employment development, I need to get ready to go out. Larissa’s text revealed she has tickets to a night of deejays and dancing at the Academy of Sciences, and we’re meeting some guys there she knows. I’m aware I should make an effort, and so I head into my tiny little bathroom to touch up my makeup.

Even though Larissa was only dragging me along on her evening, in the end, I’m glad to be going. It would take my mind off of last night. I needed to focus on the positive, on things like the new job I’m starting on Monday.

My phone rings and I lunge for it, expecting a reminder call from Larissa. That however, isn’t who’s calling.

It’s a San Francisco police detective named Paul Chen.

“Ms. Saffron, I understand that you reported a crime you witnessed last evening in a basement on Leavenworth St., between Post and Geary.”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“I wanted to follow up with you because we may need another interview.”

“Did you find out something more?” I ask, heart beating hard in my chest. I had an eerie feeling they did.

“Yes,” Detective Chen admits. “When we searched the basement apartment last night we discovered a body in the closet.”

I gasp.

“The woman was dead, stabbed and possibly strangled.” Detective Chen continues. “Do you think you can come down to 850 Bryant and give a statement?”

“When?” 850 Bryant is South of Market, aka SOMA, the opposite direction of the event that evening.


“I can’t come in tonight. Can I call you tomorrow? I might be able to come down in the morning.”

“Well, if that’s the earliest you can come in, it will have to do.” Detective Chen makes sure I have the correct number to call him back on. “The sooner the better in cases like these.”

After we hang up, I walk slowly back to the bathroom and pick up a smoky eyeliner to finish my makeup. I hesitate as I look in the mirror, and my hand drops without drawing another line.

The woman’s dead. I can’t believe it. I witnessed a murder.

In the end, all the energy I could muster went to applying a thin coat of mascara. Then I brush some gloss lightly over my lips. Wearing makeup seems so pointless, anyway.

I sit on the edge of my Murphy bed, stunned and staring dejectedly into space until Larissa calls to say she’s outside. “I can’t find parking,” she says. “I’ve pulled into a driveway a few doors down from you.”

“I’ll be right out.” I grab my evening essentials — a clutch bag and cashmere wrap — and leave, locking the door securely behind me.

When I walk down the short flight of stairs that lead from the front door of the building and look around the corner, I see that Larissa is driving her little white convertible. The Loughlins really cleaned up in the early days of the Internet boom and pulled out before the economy went bust. Larissa inherited wealth and brilliance from her parents, both of who are programmers.

“Do you want to put the top down?” she says when she sees me.

“That’s okay,” I slip into the bucket seat of the coupe. It’s so comfortable that my mood immediately softens. I swear, if Larissa weren’t so compassionate and involved in so many philanthropies, I would be jealous of her abundance. “I have a story to tell you.”

“Oh, about your job? Congrats, by the way.” She starts to back up but pauses for the cable car coming down the block. “I just love that the cable car goes down your new street!”

“I know! I love it, too. It’s really charming. And thanks about the job, but there’s something else.”

During the thirty minute drive crosstown, I fill her in on what happened at the bar the night before. Me sneaking after the couple, witnessing the murder, calling the police, them finding the body — everything.

“Are they going to ask you to identify the body when you go meet with them tomorrow?”

I hadn’t thought of that. “I don’t know.”

The closer we get to the ocean, the denser the fog is, which means an early sunset, even on a long summer day.

“Just be prepared for it. It’s standard procedure.”

Larissa drives into the park and around the loop where the cultural heart of the city is located, the science center and a large art museum. Housed in a building of mostly glass, the eco-friendly design of the Academy of Sciences also features a living rooftop, with human-made hills of green mixed with solar panels.

After parking in the underground garage, we take the elevator to the main atrium and join the culture. Strobe lights pulse to the thumping music of a deejay, as a throng of twenty- and thirtysomething young professionals mingle on the dance floor. The butterfly rainforest backdrop on one side and three-story aquarium opposite make the scene quite spectacular.

“Come on,” Larissa says, clearly pleased with the crowd. “Let me get you a cocktail to celebrate your new job.”

We go to the bar where I let Larissa buy me a drink. Then I follow her as she navigates our way through the mass of people. Eventually she finds the guy she’s there to meet and introduces us. His friends seem nice, but I’ve got my eye on someone else.

There’s a guy in a black suit with his back to me standing in line for the bar. He seems familiar and I try to place where I know him.

Then he turns and I realize it’s the guy from the bar, from the night before. The man I saw assault and murder that young woman in the awesome spectator shoes.

+++   ++   +++

Chapter Three

For a second I freeze, more frightened than I’ve ever been in my life. Then I quickly gather my wits and realize that I can do something.

The man turns away from the bar with his drink, and I mean to follow him. “I’ll be right back,” I tell Larissa.

She’s so deep into conversation with her date that she barely responds, and I slip after the guy in the black suit, determined to get a picture of him with my phone. I keep my eye on him as he circumnavigates the crowd. He isn’t here with anyone, I realize.

But he’s looking for someone. I’m sure. I watch him as he stops and stares into the throng, eyeing a group of girls who are drunk and dancing.

I take my phone in hand and get ready to shoot. I feel totally different than the night before, on Post and Leavenworth, when I was too shocked and shaky to use my phone before the lights went out. Slowly, I move to the left to get a full view of his face.

There. As the camera shutters, the flash goes off, which makes the man look my way.

Damn. In case he sees me, I instinctively keep my hands in front of my face. Looking at the camera’s screen, I take another picture, like I’m taking a selfie. I swoop around 360 and keep snapping pictures.
For a minute I think my innocent act may have worked, but then I see him walk swiftly towards the front door.

I follow him.

Before I get very far, Larissa catches up with me. “Where are you going? You’re not leaving, are you?”

“I saw the man from last night.”


“Come on.”

She and I race through the glass doors at the entrance. Outside, I look left and right. I don’t see him.

“Where is he?” Larissa demands.

I look straight ahead, at the head of the taxi line, just in time to see the man get into a cab.

“He’s gone,” I tell her.

+++ ++ +++

On the way to 850 Bryant the next morning, I stop by the shop where my scooter is being repaired. The tire popped on the ride to campus a few weeks earlier, and with all the activity of graduation, this is the first chance I had to check in on it.

Fresh off the stupid bus with helmet in hand, I enter the mechanic’s garage and see my baby. I go over to her and place a longing hand on the black and white striped seat. My little burgundy scoot is super fast. I know if I would’ve had it with me last night at the Academy of Sciences, I would’ve been in hot pursuit.

The owner of the repair shop materializes and confirms that my scooter’s fixed and ready to go. I pay him a staggering amount of money that I scraped together from my last work study check and take off in the direction of SOMA. I’m broke, but I have my baby back.

The ride to the Hall of Justice is long, almost forty-five minutes through Saturday’s traffic-clogged Van Ness, but I relish riding my bike again. Once I get to Geary St. the congestion loosens and I make better time.

I ride through Lower Nob Hill, almost directly by the scene of the crime. I have to admit, I’m scared. Was the man I spotted last night the same man I saw murder that woman? What would the police do with the pictures from my phone?

I park in a legal spot on Bryant St. and go inside the municipal building. Passing through security, I take the elevator upstairs to the correct room, announce myself at the front desk, and sit on a bench to wait.

“Ms. Saffron?”

I look up to see a tall, handsome guy, thirty-ish — totally not what I expected. “That’s me.”

“I’m Detective Chen. Come on in.”

We go into a large open office space filled with desks, which seems surprisingly quiet, maybe because it’s the weekend. Detective Chen takes a file from the top of an overflowing inbox, and sits down.
“Have a seat,” he offers. “So, you witnessed this murder?”

“Yes,” I say, my voice as squeaky as the old chair I sit in. “I was at Red Room on Thursday and saw a man put something in his date’s drink, probably a date rape drug. When the drug started to kick in, he led her from the bar, and around the corner to a basement apartment, where I saw him rape and kill her. He was stabbing her.”

“Well,” Chen says and scribbles some notes. “That’s putting it bluntly.”

Ignoring the insinuation that because I was a woman I should be more emotional, I went on, “Also, I have an update for you,” I add confidently.

“What’s that?”

“I was at a party at the Academy of Sciences last night and I think I saw the guy. Same black suit, same complexion, everything. I got a picture of him.”

Chen stops scribbling. “Can I see it?”

I pull the pictures up on my phone and show him. One is too blurry to be useful, but there’s a clear profile shot.

Chen peers at the phone with interest. “Go ahead and email me these, please. Here’s my address.” He takes out a card and hands it to me along with the phone.

Relieved that my phone isn’t going into police custody as evidence, I pocket it immediately. “I will definitely forward them to you. And — ” I hesitate.


“My friend who’s a lawyer said you might ask me to identify the body.”

“Would you be willing to do that?”

“I guess. I’m not exactly thrilled about it, but if you want me to, I’d rather get it over with.”

“Okay. Let me call down to the morgue and see if she’s ready.”

Detective Chen walks out of the room, which means I’m all alone. I start to email him the photos, but pause when I realize the detective left the case file open right on the desk. It’s too tempting.

I hit send on the email, then lean forward to use my exceptional ability to read upside down to glean what information I can from the case file.

Date of Crime: May 10, 2016
Case Name: Female Homicide – Stabbing
Location: Leavenworth St., Lower Nob Hill, 94109
Method of Death: Stab Wounds, Strangulation

Then I see a name.

Victim Name: Hannah Taylor

They must’ve identified the body using DNA, I think. Or maybe someone called and reported her missing. I make note of the name in my handheld.

I hear someone come into the room and pretend to be reading something on my phone. It’s amazing how great these devices are as a distraction from what you’re really up to.

“Okay,” Chen says. “They’re ready for us downstairs.”

I get up and look at Detective Chen guiltily. “I emailed you the pictures.”

“Great,” Chen seems to mistake my guilt for apprehension about seeing the body. “This will only take a minute.

We ride the elevator to the basement level, where I finally realize what the unmistakably morgue-like smell of ammonia and formaldehyde is. I follow Detective Chen to the first room on the right. No one else is in the room. No one else alive, that is.

The detective approaches the body on the stretcher and pulls back the sheet. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a dead body.

But it’s her. Unmistakably, even from just the neck up. It’s the woman from the bar.

“That’s her,” I tell Chen. “That’s the woman I saw leave the bar with that guy.”

Detective Chen nods and pulls the white sheet up over the body. He walks towards the door and motions me to follow him.

As we step into the elevator, I ask, “Do you think you’ll be able to find out who did this?”

I’m mad. A mixture of anger and despair, tinged with depression courses through me.

“I’m heading up a team of our best guys for the case.”

“Do you have any leads?”

Chen shakes his head. “Nothing yet. I will, however, check out the man in the pictures you emailed me.”

I nod. The elevator lets us off in the first floor lobby. Chen’s office is in one direction, the exit is in the other. “Please let me know what you discover.”

“Thanks again, Ms. Saffron.” Chen’s light dismissal of me isn’t rude, but rankles me nonetheless. The police investigators don’t seem to think they’ll need me any longer.

Outside, the late afternoon light lingers, blending into evening as I speed away on my scooter. As I ride uphill, I feel dragged down. I’m completely overwhelmed and still in shock from seeing the dead woman’s body.

Is there something I can do?, I wonder. My plan for the next day includes brunching at my parent’s house. I dread telling them about the drama, and can’t think past that.

I hope the rest of the weekend passes more quietly. I settle into my studio a little more by arranging a sitting area where I can watch tv. Last week I found a secondhand loveseat on Craigslist, and that goes into the corner under the bay window, and I put a tv screen on a little stand in front of the kitchenette.

I spend Saturday night watching movies by myself, snug and warm in my new apartment. The fog in San Francisco can be relentless, and this spring is the coldest in years. Even if this weren’t the case, I’m content to stay in and hibernate like most of the population does. I finally have my own apartment, which is a much better feeling than being out on a bad blind date. And despite everything, I feel safe here.

It takes an incredible amount of willpower, but I only look at my phone to examine the illicit pictures about a hundred times.

My parents live just off the main drag of Noe Valley on Diamond St. As I ride over the next day, I take in the leafy streets and Victorian homes and think, as I always do, that Noe is a really nice place to grow up. Something about the situation that I find myself in now makes it extra apparent. I’m so not looking forward to telling my parents about the murder.

I pull up on the sidewalk in front of our house, park, and pop the lock on the scooter. Running up the long flight of steps to the first floor, I fumble for my house key.

“Mom? John?”

Did I mention my Dad is actually my stepdad? Small but important detail.

“In here, honey.” My Mom calls out from the kitchen area at the rear of the house.

My mother named me Skylar because she doesn’t know who my real dad is. We’re free of that detail. When my Mom was younger, and I say younger because she’s way old now, like 68, she couldn’t find a man who she thought was worth having children with. So, she swore to herself that if she hadn’t met anyone by the time she was 45, she would use a sperm donor.

So that’s my Dad: good old Anonymous.

My Mom thinks naming me Skylar is a symbol of being free to fly; to live my life as I want. A few years after I was born, my Mom met and married John, who’s essentially been my father. When Mom delivered healthy twins, my brother and sister Tyler and Kyra, John adopted me as well.

“Hi.” I give Mom a quick peck, and she in turn grabs me in a big hug.

“That’s great news about your job, Skye.”

“Thanks, Mom. I had no idea it would happen so fast.”

“Well, they obviously had to have you and knew to snap you up before someone else did.” She playfully gives my nose a little tweak. “Now, do you mind snipping some fresh cilantro from the garden?”


While I cut the herb, Mom puts the finishing touches on the huevos rancheros. John comes out to the patio to set the table.

“Congratulations, kid.”

“Thanks, John.”

“I’m going in to get coffee. You want some?”


Mom and John met in the wine business — she’s in marketing and he’s a buyer. They share a fondness for viniculture (and drinking vino) and recently fulfilled the dream of opening a wine store together. Now that the twins are in college, a lot of energy goes into the business.

My parents return with food and beverage, and I sprinkle some cilantro on the plated eggs. Then we all sit down and tuck in to the brunch.

“There’s biscuits, too,” Mom says, passing a basket full of my favorite cheddar dill biscuits covered with a warming cloth.

I smile. The food’s delicious and after I’m about halfway through with my eggs, the time feels right to spill the other news.

“So,” I begin. “I had to call the police on Thursday.” No point in leading into it — I hate teasing.

“What do you mean?” Mom demands with a crinkled brow.

“I witnessed a crime.”

“What kind of crime?” John asks.

“I was at the bar with Elise and I saw this guy drug a woman. Then they left and he dragged her into a basement a few blocks away and stabbed her.”

“Skye, that’s horrible!” Mom blurts. “Is she alright?”

“No,” I shake my head for emphasis. “The police found her body.”

“You know, I think I saw that in the news,” John says. “Let me go search for it.”

Mom stopped eating and was just sitting there looking at me with an unreadable expression on her face.

“This is not good,” she finally says. “You just moved into a place by yourself.”

John returns to the patio, scrolling through the pages of the local San Francisco news website on his tablet. “Here,” he points out. “There’s a small mention of it in yesterday’s paper.”

“Tell us,” my Mom demands.

“A body was pulled from a closet of a vacant Lower Nob Hill basement apartment on early Friday morning,” John reads aloud. “The victim, a woman in her late 20s, has yet to be identified, although the cause of death was stab wounds and strangulation. The police have not yet found the culprit.”

I shiver, goose bumps prickling my flesh even as I sit in the sun-drenched backyard where I played as a child. I fill in most of the details ending with me leaving the police station.

Mom shakes her head again. “In your new neighborhood.”

“Not really, Mom,” I scoff. “It’s ten blocks on the other side of the hill from me. I’m closer to Russian Hill.”

“Still — it’s scary.”

“You saw my new place — it’s in a safe nabe.” The first impression of the residents of my new neighborhood is that they are all Asian families or young professionals.

“Have you thought about taking a self-defense class?”

I hadn’t. “That’s a great idea.”

“Look into it,” Mom says smartly, as she stands to clear the table.

I get up as well, and help bring in the dishes.

“Thanks for brunch.” I hug both of them and grab my helmet.

“Be careful Skye,” Mom implores. “And good luck on your first day tomorrow. Call me with a full report.”
They both come outside and watch as I get on my scooter, and actually wave as I speed away.

Librarian Detective Blog #3

As I said, I’d never seen a dead body before, not even of an elderly relative. I’m lucky enough to still have all four of my grandparents living.

The weird thing is that the dead woman had a peaceful look. You never would guess she had been drugged and raped, stabbed and strangled by a stranger. The wounds were barely visible.

I might be the only person who knows what happened to her. Could I live with that? Could I live without doing anything to help bring Hannah’s killer to justice?

Chapter Four

My parent’s concern touches me, but I’m not surprised. They’ve always been overprotective. As you may have gathered, I conveniently left out the part about following the man. Both times.

As I ride uphill, I feel dragged down, completely overwhelmed from seeing that dead woman’s body and still in shock. Home is the last place I want to be. Instead, I head for the bar.

Since it’s Sunday, the city streets are quiet, and before I know it, I’m parking my scooter perpendicular between two cars on Sutter St. I probably should feel a little guilty for going to a bar — most good girls would be home getting ready for the first day at their new job, but I don’t have time for that. Most people didn’t just witness a murder.

Reid is here, and he’s exactly who I want to see. I notice his profile as soon as I walk in, along with the way he leans against the bar, chatting casually with another guy who works there. According to my irregular heartbeat, there’s something meaningful between us. If only things would click. It seems like every time I think it’s going to happen, something messes up the mechanics.

I slide onto one of the stools at the empty end of the bar and pick up a drink menu, scanning it without much interest. Silently, I will Reid to notice, and as if by magic, he materializes in front of me.

“Skylar! God, I’ve been wondering how to get in touch with you. I can’t stop thinking about what happened. Are you alright?”

“I will be after a dry martini.” I smile ruefully at Reid. So he had been wondering about me.

“Coming right up.”

As Reid concocts my drink, I look around the bar. Not surprisingly, it’s quiet tonight. In the space, it seems as though nothing changed, but for me, everything has.

Reid places my cocktail on the bar, then reaches into his pocket and takes out a business card, which he slides next to the drink. “Here’s my phone number and email address. Now you know how to get in touch.”

“Thanks, Reid.” I pick up the card and read it. I don’t recognize the area code. “Where are you from?”

“Portland. I moved here about five years ago for art school.”

“You still haven’t updated your phone number?” I kid.

“Well — ” An uncomfortable expression flits over his face. “I didn’t plan to stay so long. I thought I was going back to Portland.”

Reid excuses himself to fill an order from a couple of girls who just walked in. I take a pensive sip of my drink and watch. The girls seem to know Reid and I can overhear them flirting with him a little. He hands them their drinks along with a brush off and comes back to resume our conversation.

“Anyway, I want to tell you about the cop who came back here last Thursday. Remember the shorter cop, the one with the attitude?”

“How could I forget Officer Smith,” I say. The whiff of superiority coming off the guy was as overbearing as his cologne. Plus, when I showed him and Officer Diaz the location of the basement, he didn’t seem to think I was a credible witness. I wonder if that changed after they found the body.

“He came back to pick up the glasses I saved behind the bar, the ones belonging to the couple you followed.”

“They were hardly a couple.”

Reid takes my meaning and nods. “I overheard them say they were going to the basement with a forensics team to look for more evidence.”


He nods. “But the best part was when Smith interrogated me.” Reid crosses his arms defensively. “He blamed me for serving the guy, and he accused me of not noticing him drugging the girl. He said I should be more observant of what’s going on in my bar.”

“Oh Reid,” I sigh. “What did Tommy say?” Tommy owns the bar.

“Well, I filled him in on everything, of course. He isn’t too happy about something like that happening in his bar. He doesn’t want the police in here, either.”

I nod sympathetically. “Did you read anything about this in the news? I saw one article, but I can’t believe how little coverage there is. It’s like no one cares.”

“I saw it. It said a stabbed and strangled body was found in the closet.”

“Yes, and it was the same woman that was in here. I went to the police station to identify the body.”

“Shit, Skylar,” Reid slams his hand down on the bar.

“And, I saw her file open on Detective Chen’s desk and they’ve identified her. Her name’s Hannah Taylor.”

“I don’t recognize the name. I never saw the woman before last Thursday.”

“There’s one more thing.” I quickly fill him in on possibly spotting the guy at the Academy of Sciences the night after the murder. “I think it was him.”

“This is getting crazy, Skylar.”

It was, no denying. “But no one seems to be making any headway with solving this case,” I protest. “I want to go check out the crime scene myself. Are you coming?”

“I’m sure it’s locked,” Reid scoffs.

“You never know. I’m going.” I down the rest of the martini and grab my purse, slinging it over my chest cross-body style.


I nod. “You coming?”

“I can’t just leave work.”

“Okay,” I shrug. “I’ll text you after I check it out.”

Before I lose my nerve, I book out of the bar. Passing the scooter, I ignore my ride and opt to walk the two short blocks, because driving and drinking isn’t cool.

By now, I’m experiencing major deja vu. The walk’s the same, even in daylight, and soon I cross Post and come to the building. It’s a basement apartment, which means there are some low windows, right at street level. I peek in, and luckily, the place is still empty. I feel a momentary flicker of regret for the next poor sucker who they rent this apartment to, but then again, ignorance is bliss.

Sitting down on the pavement, and using my body as leverage, one of the windows gives in as I press on it. Sure enough, the hundred-year old wooden frames aren’t secure. The pane moves out, and as I lean in, I hear a small sound of wood splitting, but no matter. No harm done.

Late afternoon daylight fills the space as I drop into the apartment. No larger than my studio, the basement smells of damp mildew and bad karma. Gross.

Looking around, I try and orient myself. I replay the scene I witnessed on Thursday, and picture the couple in place.

They were against the left wall, as I looked in from the street. I go to that spot and get chills as I see a few tiny blood splatters still visible. From the darkness of a heating grate in the floor, a light flashes. I peer in and notice a phone, and it’s flashing on vibrate.

How could have the police missed this? I wonder incredulously. But the phone is ringing now; if it had been dark and silent, the cops may not have had reason to even notice anything.

The heating grate has those horizontal air vents, and it’s easy to slide my long, slim fingers through the top layer. The phone is there, resting on the screen that keeps debris from falling into the heating mechanism.

I pull it out, and on the lock screen, it registers a missed call from Laura Taylor. Someone related to Hannah Taylor, perhaps? I want to call her back right away, but getting out of this creepy basement comes first. The drop into the apartment is at least 10 feet, and there’s no immediate way I can see to prop myself up and back out the window.

No matter. I leave through the front door, and take the stairs up to the street entrance. Walking by the window I shimmied open, I grab the latch and close it. No harm done, at all.

I return to get my Baby and ride home. I don’t want to go back to the bar, or care to share my discovery with Reid, who doubted me. I just want to get somewhere quiet and call Laura Taylor.

Parking is easy, which is something to be grateful for on the Sunday before early-morning street cleaning in Nob Hill. And the month of May is heating up — there’s no fog tonight and it’s balmy. That means hopefully some beach weather soon, since summertime in San Francisco often makes an appearance late spring, then hides again until September.

As I let myself into my apartment, I pull out the phone. Beach weather erased from my mind, I hit the power button and the phone turns on. It’s the same kind as my phone, so I plug it into my own charger and soon it’s on its way back to full strength.

I hit a block when I realize the lock screen is set with a password.

I try a few random passwords that Hannah Taylor may have set, but it’s no use. I open my laptop and do a quick web search for a Laura Taylor in San Francisco, then in the Bay Area. There are so many, how to narrow them down?

Next I do a search for Hannah and Laura Taylor, and open social media to search their names there as well. There are some results, but none look very promising. Hannah Taylor’s social media pages haven’t been updated in weeks.

Looking at the time, I realize I need to think about dinner, and prepare for starting my new job tomorrow. There’s a lot on my mind, and I if I get a good night’s sleep tonight, it will be a miracle.

+++ ++ +++

Even with all this going on inside my head, I sleep soundly and wake with plenty of space to get ready and even eat breakfast. Did I mention that the library where I’m working now is only about a 25 minute stroll from Nob Hill? I would scoot to work but I don’t want to lose my parking space. Plus, I like the exercise.

It’s so energizing to walk through the leafy neighborhoods to Union Square and down into the FiDi. The library is at Post and Kearny, housed in a beautiful Beaux-Arts style building. It’s a historic setting, with an elevator that stops at the first four floors of the library, then goes to the rest of the five floors above that are office space. The best is the stairwell. It’s a circular structure made of iron and marble, spiraling into infinity, and capped with a dome.

When I get there, I head to the reference desk on the third floor and report for duty. The library is quiet at this time of day, with just a couple of people sitting in the leather club chairs, reading.

“Hi, you must be Skylar,” a young woman exclaims in a stage whisper as I approach.

When I nod, she goes on, “So glad to have you here on such short notice. Chris Smith, our former reference librarian left suddenly last week and we’re stranded.” She motions for me to join her behind the reference desk. “I’m Mira. Julia Hartfield, the library director, has instructed me to train you.”

“Hi.” From behind the counter, the library looks smaller and less intimidating. I take a seat in the spare chair behind the long wooden desk, and notice several computers, all with modern monitors, and from what I can see on the desktop, loaded with research software. In technology, there is hope.

During the next hour, Mira takes me through a task list of reference desk duties, everything from how to conduct a basic interview with a member who wants more information, to how to check out, reserve and hold any of the library’s numerous digital and tangible items.

As a modern, digital librarian, I like to think that the world is embracing the new computer-forward era, but then I land in the real world and see the legacy that we can’t help but take into consideration. There are people who are unaware of new ways of existing. There are so many who are fine with being left behind.

But then there’s the 80-year old man who approaches the desk and is looking for a new biography to check out on his iPad. We do live in San Francisco, and I should expect the unexpected, although Mira also directs the man to the hard copy of the book the library carries as well.

Mira goes over the break schedule with me; we’ll be covering each other’s lunch hour. “I take my lunch at noon, so I hope you don’t mind going at 1,” she asks.

“That’s fine with me,” I say, then curiosity gets the better of me. “So what happened to Chris Smith? Did she get another job?”

Mira looks a little panicked, and shakes her head. “She just didn’t come in last week. No one has heard why, or what happened to her.”


“It’s so bizarre. I mean, I worked with her every day for almost two years, and I have no idea what happened. She doesn’t have any family in San Francisco, but when Julia called the building manager of the apartment where Chris lives, they said she was gone; she moved out, took all her things, and didn’t even tell Mechanics or give notice at all.”

“Unbelievable,” I say.

“Yes, well, we’re really not supposed to talk about it, so keep it to yourself.” Mira picks up her backpack from under the counter of the reference desk, next to where I stowed my bag. “I’m off. See you in an hour.”

She leaves for lunch and I delve into some busy work, which includes checking for any incoming reference questions that people may have emailed. As I open the one inquiry we received, and begin typing a response, I get an idea.

What if I were to start a blog, to try and find the answers to so many questions that not only I need answers to, but for others out there as well who may be searching for something they can’t find?

There were a plethora of mysteries in my life at the moment. Suddenly, I’m surrounded by them. Who was the man who murdered Hannah Taylor? Plus how was I going to get into her phone, and/or find her sister Laura? Where did the former reference librarian Chris Smith disappear to? And of course, there’s the question I’d been long hoping for an answer to. Who is my real father?

A blog, where people could submit their own mysteries for me to solve, plus add any tips on the stories I write about in the blog, seems like a proactive way to untangle all these unanswered questions in my head. As I finish answering the online reference question, I realize that for the moment, there’s no one around, and nothing else to do.

I open a new tab on the web browser, navigate to one of the free blogging platforms and register an account under And Skylar Saffron, Librarian Detective is born.

Librarian Detective Blog #4

Finding the victim’s phone is a monumental coup that very well may lead me to the killer. It’s shocking the police missed such a huge clue at the crime scene. In face of their incompetency, I’m starting my own investigation.

Chapter Five

On the blog, I write a few quick entries detailing what’s been going on the past four days: Witnessing the murder and why I have to write about it, taking pictures of the guy who I suspect is the killer and deciding to help solve it, identifying the body and who she is, and finding the victim’s phone in the face of police incompetence. Writing about all of this helps to process the information that’s been overwhelming me. Then I make a list of all the leads I have to follow up on.

First, is finding Laura Taylor. If that doesn’t work, I need someone to hack into Hannah Taylor’s phone. If she had been meeting that guy for a date, the identity of the killer and his contact information could be right on her phone!

I search social media again to see if Hannah’s pages would connect me with any of her friends, and family, but to no avail. The privacy settings are on full strength. Last year I did take some basic coding classes, but not enough to break through this level of security. There are a couple of choices: to learn ethical hacking myself or to find someone to do it for me. Larissa could have a contact in that area.

I also make a list of the other mysteries. Why was I hired so quickly at the Mechanics’ Library? What happened to Chris Smith? And if personal mysteries counted, who is my real Dad? Would my Mom be open to me finally tracking him down?

We never talk about the identity of my biological father. I’m not sure if it was ever released to her. But I’ve always felt the void and want to know why I look so different from the rest of my family. My life is changing rapidly at the moment and it makes me curious about who I really am and where I come from.

Mira returns, and I show her the online reference question I answered.

“Thanks, Skylar. Enjoy your lunch — it’s gorgeous out.”

It’s one of those San Francisco paradoxes that the warmest days bring the most fog. Something about the hot air hitting the cool water. When I leave the library, the sky is blue, but it’s windy, and I can see a wall of fog lingering in the west. I pick up a quick sushi roll in the outdoor mall across from the library, and take a seat in the rooftop garden.

I text Larissa, and ask her if she knows a hacker who can get into Hannah Taylor’s phone. As I take in the view across Market St. and watch a streetcar rattle by, I ponder the different aspects. There must be other avenues of the case to explore in the meantime. I wonder if the police have any new information

As I devour the 8th piece of the sushi roll, I check to see if Detective Chen’s business card is still in my bag.

It is, and I dial the number. He answers right away.

“Hello, Detective? It’s Skylar Saffron. We met on Saturday regarding the Hannah Taylor case. Yes, that’s me. I’m wondering if there are any new developments?”

There’s nothing new. I don’t tell him about finding the phone. If he’s not sharing anything with me, I’m not sharing my coup with him. It would probably just make him mad (especially since I sneaked into the crime scene) and he’d shut me down even more.

His loss. But they don’t seem to me like they’re doing their job. So many cases of violence against women go cold, and are just never bothered to be solved. I couldn’t let that happen here. Not after what happened to my cousin Emma in high school.

I head back to the Mechanics. I take the stairs to three, and use my new ID card to get through security. Mira waves hello, as she helps one of the members find the information they’re looking for. I click onto the reference question submissions on the computer at the desk, and see that there aren’t any new ones. So I scan the floor for any members who might need assistance.

The only members in the library this afternoon are glued to their laptops, working on writing their novel or graduate thesis, or managing their startup business. Mira says that they sometimes need help with their research, but that mostly, the members are just looking for a quiet place to work.

The afternoon passes slowly, which gives me time to edit the blogs I posted earlier. I add every detail I remember. I even upload the pictures of the guy. There’s really nothing distinctive about him; he’s a white male with dark hair and wearing dark clothes, like so many other men in San Francisco. An invisible man.

After school lets out, some preteen kids trickle in. It appears some of our more industrious working parent members have assigned the library as an after school activity for their kids, then swing by and pick up their progeny after the office.

There’s one kid who’s seriously banging the keys on her laptop. She looks interesting, so I walk across the floor of the library, pretending to check the dumbwaiter to see if the second floor sent any books up, but in actuality, I’m spying on her. And what I see on the computer screen impresses me. The kid is coding.

Back at the desk, I hear my phone vibrate from inside the front pocket of my bag. I steal a peek at the lock screen and it’s Larissa, saying she does know a computer hacker but they’re really expensive.

How expensive?, I type back.

Five hundred plus an hour, she texts back.

Oh, that’s not good.

Let me think about it, I reply, and stow the phone.

Coding is a great skill to have — I’m so glad I learned. I like being able to create online tools and experiences, and use them to communicate.

But how, pray tell, does one become a hacker? A quick Internet search reveals a lot about ethical hacking. I sign up for an online course, but only have time to read a little of the intro when Mira comes over.

“Great first day, Skylar. See you tomorrow!” She waves and makes a beeline for the door.

I still have an hour to go before the evening librarian arrives, so I continue the coding tutorial. The best thing about my new job is that, filling in time by learning new skills that may benefit patrons, is a completely appropriate thing to do.

The hour flies by and soon I’m walking back up Nob Hill. As I review my first day, the feeling leaves me unsettled. It may be because it’s early on, but the job is a little boring, and the patrons are so far, mostly uninteresting. I would have to find something more innovative to do there — like maybe suggest some new digital librarian initiatives. I vow to keep an open mind and give the job a chance.

The hill becomes steeper, but I press on. I’m panting, but still answer my phone when I see that it’s Elise calling.

“Hello, stranger.”

“Elise.” We haven’t talked in a few days, since I texted her last Thursday, to say I was safely home. After inspecting the crime scene with the police, I didn’t feel like going back to the bar.

“You’ll never guess what. Remember Dave, one of the guys we were talking to at Red Room last Thursday? Well, we went out again on Friday, and ended up spending all weekend together.”

“Really?” I laugh. “Are you having fun?”

“Oh yes. Listen. Let’s meet at Red Room after work. Are you getting out soon?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m already on my way home.”

“Oh! So, can you meet up? Then you can tell me about your first day and we can talk about what happened last time we were there.”

“Sure, I can be there in 20 minutes.”

“I’m on my way.”

I change course and walk west towards Lower Nob Hill where Red Room is located. Since seeing Reid yesterday, all I’ve been doing is trying not to think about him. There’s something in his doubtful demeanor that unsettles me. And the fact that he let me go to a murder scene by myself. His co-worker could have looked after the bar for a few minutes.

This is Reid I’m talking about, though. The guy I’ve liked forever.

And sure enough when I leave the sunset light-strewn sidewalk of Sutter St. and enter the bat cave-like space that is the bar, I see him first thing. Reid grins when he spots me, and I know any rational thought is hopeless.

“A really, really dirty vodka martini, please, with extra olives,” I order as I hoist my handbag to the bar.

“So, did you find anything yesterday? Were you able to get into the crime scene?” Reid asks as he fills the shaker with ice and alcohol.

I never told him about finding Hannah Taylor’s cell phone.

“Yes,” I say. “I broke in.”


“Skylar!” Elise’s booming voice carries through the Red Room.

“Nothing,” I lie to Reid, instincts prevailing. There’s a niggling at my intuition that Reid knows more than he’s letting on, and I’ll use my knowledge as a weapon as well.

“Hi Reid,” Elise greets us. “I’ll have the same,” she says, gesturing to the martini he’s mixing, which he doubles.

Reid shakes our drinks into frosted glasses, as Elise launches into a full description of her weekend with Dave. I have to admit, it sounds nice. It’s been forever since I’ve dated anyone.

“So, how was your first day as a librarian?” Elise changes the subject.

“Great. The work’s interesting and there’s lots of time to start my own projects. I started a blog today, actually.”

“Really? What about?” Reid asks.

“I’m documenting my research on the crime I witnessed here last Thursday.”

“Are you serious?” Reid is stunned, but Elise isn’t fazed, and the conversation moves on.

“Speaking of your library, Dave knows someone who’s a member there,” Elise chatters on, still infatuated by her new love. She’s obviously twitterpated.

“Really? That’s cool.” As I take a sip of my cocktail, I notice a couple of women enter and approach the bar. They appear uncharacteristically subdued, too unsettled for people looking to relax. One of them motions to Reid. He goes over, and I can’t help but overhear part of their conversation. I inhale sharply.

“Skye, what is it?” Elise asks.

“That’s the sister of the woman who was killed,” I tell her, motioning behind me to one of the women talking to Reid.

“Oh no.” Elise looks grim.

I get up from my stool and walk over to their end of the bar. Reid’s giving me a weird look, but I hover, waiting for the right moment to insert myself into their conversation.

“Is there anything else you can tell us about that night?” one of the women asks Reid.

Reid shakes his head and gives me a warning look, which I ignore.

“I was here last Thursday,” I fearlessly offer. “I saw what happened and called the police.”

“That was you?” the woman says. “I’m Laura Taylor, her sister.”

“I’m so sorry about what happened,” I say. “I’m still shocked, and can only imagine how you feel.”

“Hannah went out with guys she met on dating apps pretty regularly,” Laura went on. “We like to think things like this don’t really happen. But then it happens to someone you love, and — ”

Laura breaks off and her friend puts a consoling arm around her. “I’m Jane, Laura’s partner,” she says.

“Hi,” I say. I take out my phone. “Let’s exchange contact info. If you ever need to talk more about what happened, I can try to help.”

“Thank you,” Laura sniffs. “There’s not much to go on right now, and Reid here says there’s no new clues.”

Reid shakes his head in negative agreement.

“We’re on our way to start dealing with Hannah’s apartment in Hayes Valley. She has — had — the cutest miniature Dalmatian named Ruby, that needs to be taken care of now.”

“Well, remember what I said, Laura. I’d like to be of help, if I can.” I emphasize what I’ve said with an empathetic look.

The women leave, and Reid stares at me with an expression I can’t read.

“Why are you getting involved, Skylar? There’s nothing you can do.”

“Maybe not,” I tell him as I step back to my stool and pick up my drink. “But if it were my sister or cousin who was murdered, I would appreciate anyone who wants to help.”

As I down my drink, I give him a strong-willed glare as Elise continues to chatter on about the new love in her life. I still want to like Reid, but I realize I really don’t know him at all.

+++ ++ +++

The next day at work is going much the same as the day before, when something occurs to me. I think I know what the password to Hannah Taylor’s phone might be.

I go to the area underneath the reference desk where my bag is and start digging for Hannah’s phone. When I pull it out, the screen is blank. Even though the service is still on, no one has called since her sister Laura.

As I enter the four-digit password to test my hunch, my ingenuity is rewarded. The phone unlocks.
Hannah’s password is, like most parents, the name of their precious baby. Which in this case is her dog, Ruby.

I look around the library and it’s still quiet, and my coworker is engrossed with something on her computer screen. “Mira, would you like some coffee? I’m happy to make an afternoon caffeine run.”

She’s thrilled with the idea, and I leave the library in triumph. Coffee sounds good, but what I really want is time alone outside with Hannah’s phone.

I stand on the curb and start scrolling through the phone call list. Nothing I see in the history immediately flags my detectorist senses, but I keep searching, through the apps next, then the notes and calendar.

My own phone vibrates and when I check the screen I see it’s my cousin Emma texting. My younger cousin is a junior at Cal, and we hang out every now and then.

Her text says that there’s a party this weekend at Baker Beach. Some people she knows are throwing a bonfire bash.

Sweet, I think. If the weather stays sunny and fog-free, I am so there.

Switching gears again, I return to examining the contents of Hannah’s phone. I look deeper into her dating app, but still nothing. The chat log doesn’t mention any plans to meet up.
I’m so engrossed that I don’t notice a dark shadow approach until it’s right on top of me.

I hear the screech of tires as I land on the uneven pavement of Post St., which seems to be under perpetual construction. The phones I hold leave my grasp and scatter across its rough surface, as traffic routes around my body, splayed in the middle of the street.

I break the fall with my large messenger style handbag, and as I lay on its soft contents, see the shadow slip away. It’s the man in the black suit. The answer I’m looking for was right on top of me, but has now disappeared into thin air.

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Librarian Detective Blog #5

It’s May Day but I’m okay. My handbag is so big a baby-size burrito could fit in it. Luckily, the bag, stuffed with my laptop, journal, cashmere cardigan and scarf, cushioned my fall.

Readers: What do you think is going on?! What will happen next? Leave a comment below and receive a tip to the next clue.

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