“What is taking him so long?” Leslie snapped to Jo and Ruben as they sat at a small desk. She glared at the other boys, who had both disappeared behind comic books. Her brow nit together, losing some of the frustration. She looked for the umpteenth time to the library entrance.
“He should have been here by now.” She said, more to herself. Jo and Ruben sat with their noses buried in their favorite comic books. Both were oblivious to Leslie’s agitation.
Patrons moved between the reference and circulation desks, sometimes blocking Leslie’s view. She shifted in her seat, leaning to one side, her mind racing. It wasn’t every day that she narrowly escaped death by fire, let alone finding three new friends, and a dead body.
Well they’re not all my friends. She thought, looking at the two boys trying their hardest to ignore her existence at the same table. Aren’t they worried? They don’t look worried.
She felt her nerves grinding together, making her stomach flip. What are we going to do? We should have said something to the Principle! To our parents. What is Paul thinking?
A group of junior high students moved past their table, the girls laughing at the boys while one struck a posed. Librarians all around them froze in place glaring as the group continued out the door.
Why are boys so stupid? What do girls even see in them?
Agitation growing she turned her attention back to the entrance. In stumbled Paul. Sweat and mud smeared on his face, and clothing. All but gasping the boy lurched into the library, head turning in every direction. Dread all but screamed from his face as he passed the circulation desk. Several library employees paused in their work to stare.
“Oh no.” Leslie gasped, causing both Ruben and Jo drop their books and look. She was already out of her seat, the stuffed chair toppling backwards. Paul saw her and, with a quick glance at the already glaring librarians, stumbled towards them.
“Paul! Paul what happened?” Leslie almost shrieked, but then hissed as the boy sagged against her.
“Get away,” he rasped, “We’ve got to get away.”
Leslie felt bile rise in her throat. She put an arm around his waist, while Ruben stepped in and held his shoulder. “What? What do you mean?”
“We’ve got to hide, they’re coming.” Paul groaned as Jo pulled a seat out for him. Leslie felt the boy shake in her arms. Letting go she reached down, pulling a magenta water bottle out of her school bag.
Ruben was trying to make more sense out of Paul’s words as she pushed the bottle across the table. “Paul, what’s wrong? Come on, you’re freaking us out.”
Jo kept an eye on the librarians, who were starting to stare.
“Paul here, take a drink of water.” I handed him the drink and he stared at it like a dummy. I rolled my eyes,”Um, ya drink from there.”
He looked at me and then took a long swig. Wiping a hand across his mouth he gulped and then said in a hoarse whisper, “We need to hide. There’s not time to explain now, they’ve got to be here by now. Come on, we’ve got to hide in the-“
Paul eyes grew as big as donuts. His three friends as one turned to see what had their friend paralyzed with fear.
Three men all but fell through the main door. Each was dressed in dark clothing, some sported dirt and grime. Noticing the crowd of patrons that had paused to look at the new-comers, they slowed. Together they nodded at glaring librarian walking towards the reference desk, and the table where Jo, Ruben, Leslie, and Paul sat. Except the table was empty, save for two comic books.
The largest of the three men picked up a comic and flipped through the pages, ten tossed it back to table top.
“He’s in here, I know it.” Growled the shortest man, continuing to look all around. His voice grated from his mouth, as if it was passing through crunching gravel. He nodded at his companions and waved a hand in command, “Spread out and find the runt. We know he’s wearing a red jacket and blue shirt. If you find him, kindly escort him to the nearest exit and out to the car.”
The other two nodded their accent and headed off for the Adult non-fiction and AV sections. The short man continued down the side of the Adult fiction shelves, glancing down each one. When he made it to the very last row, he paused. Taking a breath he jumped around the corner, startling two youths. Both flushed red as they saw the man, realizing just how cozy they had made the corner.
“Nuts.” He scowled and headed back towards the front desk. So perturbed was that he failed to notice four crouching forms making their way through a glass door marked: Study Hall.
. . .
“Paul I can’t believe you.” Hissed Leslie, her frustration getting the better of her. “You shouldn’t have come here. You should have gone to the police!”
Paul shook his head, “You don’t understand they were chasing me with their car! They had guns too! I barely made it here without getting run over! We don’t have time for the police, we need to get out of here now. They’re going to kill us!”
Ruben stopped short, causing Jo run into him. Ruben looked at his friend, appraising his seriousness. The room grew silent as all four youths stopped to think. The hall, which ran half the length of the library, echoed ever so faint with their breaths.
Ruben eyes flashed as he looked back out into the library. “You’re not kidding are you.”
Paul stood in the middle of the room, shaking with fear, “Of all the things that have happened today, I think I couldn’t be any more serious right this minute. We have to leave now!”
Jo’s face went white a he looked out one of the glass panels.
“Um guys,” he gulped, pointing back down the hall from where they had entered, “Guys, one of them is coming this way right now!”
They all dropped to the floor and began to crawl on hands and knees to the far side of the study hall. Another glass door opened out into the middle of the non-fiction section. Outside light from a nearby lamp post shone in through the windows.
“Where are the other two?” Whispered Leslie as she peeked up over a desk.
“Somewhere in this section, I watched them go.” Ruben replied, his anger rising.
Leslie was about to ask her friend what to do, when her gaze landed on a wide stairwell.
The children’s section! Of course, downstairs! There’s a way out!
At the far end of the room a door latch clicked open and someone walked into the space. All four kids froze where they sat crouched near the door, behind a large study desk.
Each exchanged wide-eyed looks as panic took hold. Paul started to shake as the miscreant stepped further into the room.
Leslie reached out and grabbed Paul’s arm. The boy twitched and then looked her in the eye.
“Follow me.” She whispered. Making sure the other two were watching, she pointed out the glass door to a wide staircase. Above it hung a sign that said: ‘Children’s Section’.
Ruben nodded while Jo glanced back down the study hall. The tall man was checking under each study cubical, moving with slow deliberate steps.
Ruben turned to face the door, hands pressed against the glass. Behind him Paul leaned, his chest still moving with quick breaths. Leslie was about to say go when Jo’s head snapped back around, his pale face growing near white.
“What is it?” Breathed Leslie, knowing their time was running out. Jo’s breath caught in his throat, but he managed a hoarse whisper.
“It’s him,” he said, voice shaking, “the man from the green house. T-the man c-carrying the b-body bag.”
Leslie mouth fell open, Paul whimpered, and Ruben looked more determined to get out of the room. Hand pressing white against the glass he thrust his head at the door, eyes rolling to Leslie.
For an instant fear paralyzed her, rooting her knees to the carpet. The murderers. The murderers are here, and they’re going to catch us if we don’t move now!
Then, like a crashing tidal wave, her reasoning came back to her.
“Go!” Leslie mouthed. The door swung open without a sound, flooding the hall with the gentle hum of the library. All four kids scrambled down the empty isle. Their feet digging into the soft carpet.
“Hey! Where are you-” The big man’s voice cut off as the door shut without a sound.
It was hard not to yell as the four friends dashed between the towering shelves of books. Their footfalls muffled in the carpet would have alerted half a dozen librarians to the spot, but luck was with them.
Paul let out a small gasp as Ruben hauled him over the first steps of the staircase. The shelves ended a few feet before the railings and for an instant Paul could see all the way down the library. Two men were staring, eyes buldging, at their passing bodies not five shelves away.
“There they are! Get them!” The librarian’s forced tranquility shattered as full-grown men broke into dead sprints. Someone shrieked as one man pushed an elderly man over carrying a full stack of magazines.
“Mind it! Just where do you think you’re going ya hooligan?” The man yelled from as he collided with an overstuffed armchair.
“Go!” screamed Leslie as she pushed at Paul’s back. “Go!”
Behind them glass banged against wood as the big man burst through the study hall door, “Stop it right there!”
He held something metal and shining in his hands, pointed right at their backs. The youths tripped and fell over one another, disappearing down the stairs.
At the bottom step Ruben yelled at them, “Get up! Get up! We’ve got to move!”
Children and parents alike jerked their heads around as the four friends dove around a shelf. At yet another reference desk a librarian stood up, her face indignant.
“What is the meaning of this? What is going on?” Her squawks went unanswered as Ruben, Leslie, Jo and Paul disappeared behind yet another shelf.
Adrenaline coursed through Leslie’s body as she moved with her friends. Pushing her way in front of Ruben she looked down another isle of books. “There’s an emergency door down at the far end of this room. If we can get to it and open it up, it should get the cops down here.”
“You’re brilliant.” Puffed Ruben, he still held Paul in his arms, almost like a parent holding a child. Paul nodded his head in thanks.
“Go! Go! He’s in the stacks!” Cried Jo from behind. Before them a large red emergency door stood, waiting to open.
But before they could get far enough, someone stepped from around a shelf, blocking any avenue of escape.
“Stop right there kids! I’ve got you!”