The town I work and live in is a mess of mysteries. Industry has blossomed and vanished, leaving an empty feeling around the ghostly remains of the abandoned textile mills. Downtown businesses enjoyed a period of steady growth, but started closing their doors and skipping out once the money stopped rolling in. Enormous brick buildings, once filled with a cacophony of whirling machinery powered by the river through a series of canals, now loom as a depressing backdrop. Broken windows stand out like missing teeth in the skeletal remains.
Every few decades a mill will go up in flames, and the whole city will gather to watch it burn, saddened by the disappearance of another part of their past. Yet after the smoke clears they still see the building standing there amidst the rubble, a phantom memory that haunts them eternally. Nothing ever truly vanishes.
A ghost town, you might say.
A ghost town is what I was looking for.
I am, after all, the Dreaded Librarian. It’s informally written into my title to seek out crime and stop it dread—I mean dead—in its tracks, and there’s no better place to hunt for such dreadful behavior than ghost towns. It’s easy for crime to disappear into the shadows, but at some point or another most everyone is going to pass through the public library. People need their public computer porn, tax forms, bathrooms, and books on topics ranging from hand gun sales to backyard barbecue. No right-minded criminal is going to jump into action without doing their research first. So in my unassuming role as Teen Librarian, I have the ultimate cover: not only do I have access to free, unlimited books and databases for my crime-fighting research, but I can also keep an eye out for the lawless characters attempting to blend in with the masses. If I had my way, I’d get them all locked up for good.
Enough with the dreadlock puns. It’s just hard to resist when they become such a permanent feature and integral asset to my dual personality: the edgy but innocent librarian versus the focused bloodhound. One time while pursuing a complicated drug trafficking scandal I managed to fly undercover as the “Rasta,” gaining entry into increasingly smaller concentric circles of the PSDC (Pine Street Drug Chain) until I found myself in the same room as the infamous Rad, a well known pimp and ringleader among the group. That’s one case I shouldn’t have been involved with. The rest of the gang had gone out for a beer run when he found the false lens in my eyeglasses that transmitted video footage via secure wireless connection to my vamped up laptop. Shit hit the fan, hard. Rad picked up a vodka bottle by the neck (Orloff, I believe) and smashed it against the doorframe. The bottom half of the bottle dissolved into glass splinters that sparked through the room in snowy incandescence. The jagged neck remained firmly in his grasp as he descended upon me.
I’ve had dreadlocks for over 3 years now, and by this point they reach more than halfway down my back. I ran into trouble back when I got into swing dance and I ended up smacking my partner in the face with a heavy load of hair every time he gave me a spin. That was back when I had baby dreads—they barely reached my shoulders. These days, my 60 dreadlocks are more deadly, loaded with a combination of wooden and glass beads, copper wire, and even a twisted silver spoon handle. If someone were to spin me now without allowing me to first adequately restrain my hair in a series of complicated knots that even Boy Scouts would be proud of, then they’d be in for one hell of a knock-out experience.
As Rad lurched towards me, ragged bottle neck extended, I launched into action. Years of chopping wood on my family’s rural Maine farm have bulked up my arms enough that I can usually fend for myself against moderately sized felons. However, Rad was well over 6 feet tall and incredibly angry. I could practically see the adrenaline seeping from his skin. I knew I couldn’t by any means get out of there alive using mere brute force, so I switched tactics and went into defense mode. I needed him to get a bit closer before I reacted, so I began retreating until my back was eight inches from the wall.
The bottle neck was three feet from my face, two feet, and then Rad swept his arm out to the right in anticipation of the delivery of a grizzly blow and stepped in closer. I took the tiny opening he provided while the bottle neck was extended to the side and quickly spun on my heel. My heavy hair arched in a swirling circle and made impact across the lower portion of Rad’s face. The move had the desired effect—he recoiled in pain, having just been whipped forcefully in the face by 60 dreadlocks and losing a tooth thanks to the silver spoon handle. He began dropping to his knees as I completed my circuit, and a few rogue dreads found themselves tangled in the jaws of the bottle still held in his hand. I felt a tug and then realized that one of them had been sliced clean through. I followed my spin with a quick kick to his right hand that sent the remainder of the bottle flying until it crashed and splintered upon impact with the floor, then circled back with a side kick that hit Rad at the shoulder with enough force to knock him sideways, but not seriously injure him. I grabbed the severed dreadlock from where it lay on the floor and used it to tie his hands behind his back before picking up my ancient flip-phone and dialing my friends at the Police Department.
“You’re where?” Officer Labreck asked.
“You heard me. I’m at the PSDC Headquarters with video footage of their latest operations from the last 6 months, and I’ve got Rad. He’s tied up, but you should send back-up before his crew gets back from their beer run.” My cell phone was started to beep at me. I quickly looked at the screen. The library was calling. Shit, it’s already 3pm.
“Copy that. Ladd, you’ve got a lot to explain. Once again, I have no idea how you did it.”
“I’ll tell you the whole story later, Labreck, but I’ve got to get back to the library. The kids will be arriving soon for afterschool. We can grab a brew at the Blue Moose after I get off work, say 8pm?”
“I’ll be there.”
“Oh yeah, one more thing,” I added quickly. “Rad is tied up with a personal belonging. I’d like to make sure I get it back.”
“A personal belonging? Like your belt?”
“Not exactly. You’ll see. Just make sure I get it back, ok?” As I spoke, I reached up to finger the stubby remains of the severed dreadlock. I’ll try to sew it back on tomorrow.
“Copy that. See you at 8.”
Rad stared up at me from his place on the floor with such contempt that I almost felt sorry for him. The shattered remains of the vodka bottle looked like snow on the hardwood floor.
I found a book at the library once that said human hair is one of the strongest natural fibers in the world, and I don’t doubt it. In this case, it proved stronger than my muscles would have been, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that my dreadlocks are one of my strongest assets in my role as the Dreaded Librarian. I remember walking out of the ragged headquarters on Pine Street, stepping over Rad, now in handcuffs, and having a final, entertaining thought to conclude my day’s adventure:
I could beat Willow Smith in a hair whipping competition any day.