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Miss Zukas and the Stroke of Death (Miss Zukas Mysteries)by Jo Dereske
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneSudden DeathOn Wednesday evening, when Binky died, Miss Helma Zukas had remained late at the Bellehaven Public Library, struggling to compose a persuasive memo to Ms. Moon, the library director, regarding Ms. Moon's newest scheme: to hold overnight "camp-outs" for grade-schoolers in the library building.Other than her pale blue computer screen, Helma Zukas's desk lamp was the only illumination in the cramped library workroom. She'd turned off the buzzing fluorescent tubes overhead and now the room settled broodingly around Helma's blue-lit cubicle as the evening lengthened. Beyond the closed workroom door, the public still used the library but the workroom itself had been deserted for hours, providing a perfect place for endeavors that required intense concentration. Helma backspaced, obliterated the word "lunacy," and swiftly replaced it with "injudicious.""I read they hold 'camp-outs' in the Denver Museum of Natural History with great success," Ms. Moon had said at yesterday's staff meeting, her blue eyes fervently wide and distantly focused. "It gives children the feeling of ownership of the facility."Helma didn't bother to point out that Bellehaven, Washington was hardly Denver, Colorado — thankfully. Although she did mention that giving ten-year-olds the illusion they owned the Bellehaven Public Library might not exactly be to the library's advantage.A stealthy rustle like the gentle crumpling of paper came from the small staff lounge at the rear of the workroom. Helma ignored it, wondering briefly if Eve had left the cookies out again and whether Jack the janitor had remembered to set another mousetrap.George Melville, the catalog librarian who staffed the referencedesk on Wednesday evenings, opened the door and stuck his bearded head inside the workroom. A triangle of light from the public area illuminated his thinning hair and cast disproportionate shadows across the walls."Buttoning this place up in five minutes, Helma," George said. "Time for all good librarians to head home and recharge for another exciting day in the information trenches.""Thank you," Helma said, glancing at her watch and noting the disturbing way that time evaporated when she concentrated, especially when a computer was involved."What are you working on?" George asked."A memo about the camp-outs."George laughed. "I don't believe you've heard the whole sordid story yet.""What do you mean?" Helma asked. Behind George, a woman carrying a stack of books squinted into the workroom over his shoulder."There's another devilish component to the Moonbeam's plan. Only rumors so far and I know how you hate rumors so I won't bore you with them." He wagged his fingers at Helma and shook his head. "Wait'll you hear! Ta-ta."Helma returned to her computer screen, doubting Ms. Moon could have anything more farfetched up her sleeve than flocks of children bedded down in the middle of library stacks. She pushed F-10 to save her memo, exited her word processing I program, and flicked off her computer, hoping a night's sleep would provide her with further argument. It frequently did.As she pulled out of the staff parking lot, Miss Zukas pretended not to see George Melville pushing his bicycle, headlight shining, rear lights blinking, from the bookmobile entrance where he hid it on nights he worked. Reflector strips criss-crossed his helmet and pedals, yellow lights were strapped to his calves.George's doctor had ordered more exercise, Roberta, the genealogy librarian, had confided to the whole staff, and this was George's response. He only rode his bicycle after dark because — again from Roberta — "he's embarrassed by the size of his bum."Helma drove her Buick two miles over the speed limit along the shore of Washington Bay toward her apartment in the Bayside Arms. Traffic on the boulevard was sparse. It was too early in the year for tourists, too late in the evening for sunset watchers. A few lights twinkled across Washington Bay, the water between a crescent of darkness.It was Miss Zukas's sixteenth spring in Bellehaven, Washington, sixteen years since she'd left Michigan for her first professional library job and still she couldn't take for granted the mountains and islands, the temperate climate, and the verdant growth. It was cold, as it usually was on an April evening in Bellehaven, but Helma rolled down her window two inches and let the fragrance of sea water and spring growth blow into her car.The clouds had cleared off that afternoon and as Helma walked across the parking lot to the Bayside Arms she paused to study the night sky where she knew the starry outline of Ursa Major was located. But the lights of Bellehaven were too bright to see the constellation.Helma's apartment was on the third floor of the Bayside Arms, accessible by a flight of outside stairs or an elevator Helma had never ridden. Even when Helma moved into the Bayside Arms sixteen years ago, she'd lugged her belongings up three flights of stairs rather than ride the elevator.By the light over her door Helma noted that for the second time in a week the Bellehaven Daily News had been properlyinserted into the newspaper tube beside her apartment door. She nodded in approval and tucked it beneath her arm while she unlocked the door to apartment 3F, pausing on the threshold to ascertain everything was in order. Helma Zukas had a sense about order and disorder, able to detect the latter, even in the chaotic belongings of others.But no, her apartment was exactly as she'd left it: kitchen spotless, living room tidily in place, drapes pulled.
Librarian par excellence Miss Helma Zukas is a woman of many talents—and civic-minded to boot. Which is why she agrees, albeit reluctantly, to employ her long-dormant canoeing skills in the service of the Bellehaven Library relay race team in the famous Snow to Surf Race. But first she has a more pressing obligation—namely keeping her dear, somewhat flaky artist friend, Ruth Winthrop, off Death Row.
Flamboyant Ruth, it seems, has rejected the advances of a dirty old man in a local bar, who later, rather inconveniently, turns up dead just outside her studio. Helma knows Ruth is no killer, even though the police consider her the prime suspect. Now, time is running out. By asking too many questions about one unsavory dead man, Miss Zukas is paddling in dangerous waters. And the carefully buried scandals her snooping is uncovering could sink the inquisitive librarian permanently.
Civic-minded librarian Miss Helma Zukas has reluctantly agreed to use her long-dormant skills as a canoeist to paddle down Washington Bay on behalf of the Bellehaven Library relay race team. But before Helma has a chance to test her aquatic talents, she is once again matching wits with the local police over the identity of a killer. And this time it involves keeping her somewhat flaky artist friend, Ruth Winthrop, off Death Row.
When the flamboyant Ruth rejected the attention of a dirty old man in a local bar, she never thought it would be to put him off permanently.But when his body shows up just outside her studio, the police consider her a prime suspect. Helma knows for sure that Ruth is no killer, but she didn't suspect that asking too many questions about the life of the unsavory dead man would unearth some long-buried scandals...and cause someone to want to close the book on one inquisitive librarian.
About the Author
Jo Dereske grew up in western Michigan, and is a former librarian who now lives in the northwestern corner of Washington State.
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