Detective Lance Cosgrove wasn’t a bookworm, but this still seemed just… wrong.
Rutherford B. Hayes, U. S. President from 1877 to 1881, was little remembered and even less honored. But he at least deserved a library collection here in his hometown of Delaware, Ohio. Now, the Hayes Stack had been spread all over the floor, almost like an earthquake had happened.
The intruder had been masked, some rather grainy surveillance video showed. Having entered from an unlocked bathroom window, he (or she) had gone straight to the Hayes collection room. The burglar had ripped books off the shelves as fast as possible, moving his (or her) hands like something out of a martial arts movie. Finally, the thief had grabbed one of the volumes (impossible to tell which one) and left the same way.
Dr. Dworkin, the head librarian, bustled about, asking when they would “release the crime scene” so the books could be restacked.
“This ain’t murder.” Cosgrove shrugged. “We took our photos and the perp wore gloves. You can get going.”
Dworkin and his assistants began picking up books and putting them on wheeled carts. Watching them work, Cosgrove said, “Can anyone think of a motive?”
“Not really,” Dworkin said. “Rutherford… President Hayes was not a well-liked man, then or now. He lost the popular vote in 1876, but was awarded disputed electoral votes by shady political processes; he last received major news coverage in the year 2000, for reasons you can guess. I personally believe his civil service reforms were important, but very few others do. There’s nothing in here that would be of great monetary value.”
“Oh, I’m not sure about that,” another librarian said. She was younger, clearly Dworkin’s subordinate. “This stack had not been cataloged yet. We just got a donation from a Hayes descendant. There could have been something here worth a mint to a collector.”
“Ms. Parker, I was speaking to the detective,” Dworkin said coldly.
“No, I was asking questions of the entire staff,” Cosgrove said. “Ms. Parker, please go on. What do you think could be valuable?”
“Dr. Dworkin was correct about the Hayes presidency,” Parker said. “His administration is only of note to a few historians. Indeed, just after World War I, his birthplace here in the city was torn down to build a gas station.”
“But he was also a general in the Civil War. And the Civil War is hugely popular.”
“More popular than it was at the time, no doubt,” the detective said. He grinned.
“Not only did he serve, but one of the soldiers he commanded was fellow Ohio native, and future President, William McKinley,” she said. “So there’s a lot of interesting material there. When one of Hayes’s descendants died earlier this year, his family donated a bunch of old books and papers to the library for the tax write-off. We’ve all been looking forward to cataloging them to see if there’s some private Civil War correspondence or diary. Something like that could command any price.”
“But how would the burglar find…” Cosgrove said, and stopped.
Dr. Dworkin took up the slack in the conversation. “Ms. Parker’s theory is quite splendid as far as it goes. You’re learning a lot, my dear. But there’s only one problem with that. Look at the books we’re picking up. These are the books that were thrown off the shelves.”
Detective Cosgrove was already looking at them, before Dworkin had said anything. The books weren’t old nineteenth century relics with yellow pages and dark fabric covers. They were modern history books about Hayes and the time period in general, as could be immediately seen by their colorful twenty-first century covers.
“These are secondary reference materials written and published recently, from university presses,” Dworkin said. “They’re worth no more than their cover price. Those were the items that were on the shelf that the burglar tossed around.”
“Well, that’s all very interesting,” Cosgrove said. “But if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got other things to attend to.” He left the building, and called the judge who was on his speed dial.
The search warrant covered all of Dworkin’s house, but they found it on the living room coffee table. The leather-bound volume was a hitherto unknown diary by Hayes covering the Shenandoah Valley battles; any Civil War collector would have paid a fortune for it.
Still, Cosgrove actually believed Dworkin:
“I wasn’t trying to sell it!” he wailed as they cuffed him. “It was for me! No one else would appreciate Rutherford like I do!”
Dworkin had discovered the diary when it first came in, placed it among the modern secondary books, and then staged the burglary. Cosgrove had known it was an inside job when he realized the burglar was throwing books out indiscriminately, just to cover his trail. An outsider would have had to pause to at least glance at each book before throwing it to the ground. Unless you knew exactly where it was, it would have been like finding a needle in a…
Eric Cline writes in Maryland, USA.