One Man's Trash

Submitted into Contest #37 in response to: Write a story about a valuable object that goes missing.... view prompt

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Mystery Contemporary Fiction

When Darby Reddington began her day at work, she did not expect it to end with her yelling at a garbage man. It started off as a normal rainy day at the library. Such days hold a certain allure to many, including Darby. There is a coziness to be found in the musty shelves, worn spines and dry pages while rain pelts outside. However, Darby was not in the mood for a rainy day. She was filled with antsy spring energy and the last place she wanted to be was stuck inside. But seeing as she was stuck inside, she decided to use that energy to clean out behind the checkout desk. She found four random items in the lost and found: a plastic pony with bite marks and a missing leg, a singular shoe, a pipe cleaner with G and S beads on it, and a fake pearl earring. 

“Can we throw these out?” Darby asked the Other Librarian, who was getting ready to clock-out. The Other Librarian peeked into the box and chuckled. “That shoe has been in there for five years. Go ahead.”  

Darby emptied out the box into a black trash bag. She passed a patron on her way outside to the dumpster. “Hello, Mr. Johnson.” 

Once the lost and found was disposed of, Darby returned to her cleaning. The Other Librarian left and, for the first time since Darby had started this library job a month ago, she was the only librarian in the building. 

While dusting out the return box, Darby heard a low murmuring. 

“Maybe I left it at home? No. No. I had it. I know I did.” 

Darby lifted her head out of the return box. Over the counter she saw the culprit of the murmuring; a frequent patron, Cecil. Cecil was a little old man of at least seventy-five. He was small and hunched with round glasses, pale blue eyes and a newsboy cap. He came in every Thursday and was one of Darby and the other librarian's favorite patrons. He stood on the other side of the checkout desk with a stack of picture books in his arms - he always got picture books - and was looking about himself as if he had dropped something. 

Darby leaned against the counter. “Are you looking for something, Cecil?” 

The old man looked up at her. His eyes were unusually watery, as if he were close to crying. 

“I’ve lost something very valuable.” His soft, wispy voice was reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh. 

“Oh.” Darby was rather taken aback. It had never occurred to her that the slightly shabby old gentleman had anything valuable to lose. “What is it?”

“A bracelet,” said Cecil sadly. 

The next question slipped out unbidden. “How much is it worth?” 

“It is priceless.” 

Darby’s eyes widened. Priceless! Visions of gold and silver bangles and diamond and ruby jeweled arm clasps swam through her head. 

The reason Darby had become a librarian was because she loved to read. And as many, though not all, who like to read, she had a big imagination and a taste for adventure. 

“And it’s lost in here? In this library?” Darby got excited despite herself.

The old man nodded, looking entirely crestfallen. Darby felt sorry for him, but not to so sorry she couldn't get excited.

What would they call this if she were in a novel? The Case of the Missing Bracelet? The Library Bracelet Hunt? Nothing so exciting or mysterious had ever occurred to Darby at work. And what luck at having it occur when she was the only librarian on duty!

“Don’t worry, Cecil. We will find your bracelet, never fear.” 

“I wouldn’t want to cause you any trouble.” Cecil was always very considerate. 

“Nonsense. I would love to help.” It was completely true. Darby felt a call to adventure. The search would add some spice to an otherwise dull day, if she solved the case she would feel like a real book heroine, and if the bracelet really was worth as much as he said . . . perhaps she might even get a small reward. That seemed the kind of thing that would happen in a real story.

Darby had read enough mysteries to know where to start. “Let’s retrace your steps.” 

They started at the door. Mr. Johnson passed them by as he left. 

 “Have a nice afternoon, Mr. Johnson.” said Darby. “Where did you go after walking through the door, Cecil?” 

“I walked past the desk.” Cecil demonstrated and Darby followed. “Then I went straight to the children’s section.” 

They took an immediate right turn and entered the children’s section. It was small, consisting of five bookshelves, a window, and a beanbag and a basket of baby books in the corner. 

“It must be somewhere in here,” said Darby confidently. 

She began her search of the children’s section. She ran a finger along each row of books, looking for a bracelet on the shelf or stuck between the books. Cecil followed. When these attempts proved unfruitful, Darby got down on her hands and knees and looked beneath the bookshelves. All she found were some guilty gum wrappers and a lot of dust. There was no jeweled bracelet to be seen.

Darby stood up, frowning. “No luck. Where did you go next?” 

“The newspaper stand.” 

They went to look at the newspaper stand. Darby spotted several intriguing headlines, but no bracelet. 

“And where did you go after looking at the newspapers?”

“I was going to check out,” said Cecil miserably. “That’s when I noticed the bracelet was missing.” 

“You were wearing it?” 

Cecil nodded. Darby couldn't help but be curious at that. Why was the old man wearing such a valuable bracelet to the library of all places?

Darby decided to employ the eyes and ears of the other patrons in the library. Cecil protested saying “I wouldn’t want to be a bother.” But Darby knew witnesses and suspects were key in a mystery. 

There were only four other patrons in the library aside from Cecil. A mother and her daughter perusing the shelves, a teen on the computers, and a middle-aged man in the gardening section.

Darby approached them each in turn. She started with the Teen, tapping him on the shoulder. He looked up at her reproachfully. 

“Sorry to bother you. Have you seen a bracelet anywhere?”

The Teen stared at her dully. “Huh?”

“A bracelet has gone missing. A very expensive one. Have you seen it?” 

“Nope.” He went back to his computer. 

Darby walked away, but glanced over her shoulder at the Teen thoughtfully. If anyone in this library had stolen the bracelet . . . he seemed a likely suspect. Then Darby remembered, she had seen the Teen come in an hour ago and he hadn’t left his computer since. He couldn’t have stolen it. 

Darby moved on to the Middle-Aged Man in the gardening aisle. Darby described the bracelet as “silver or gold” and with “possible jewels.” The Middle-Aged Man politely said he had not seen anything like the bracelet she described. In fact, he hadn’t seen any bracelet at all. 

The mom and her daughter were more helpful. 

“I’m sorry, we haven’t seen it,” said the mom. “But we’d be glad to help look for it!” She smiled at her daughter. “Sarah, would you like to help?”

The little girl, who was about six or seven, nodded. “Sure.” 

“There is no need! No need!” said Cecil when he saw the ladies come to help, but they were eager and willing and ignored his protests. 

Together old man, librarian, and mother and daughter scoured the library. The bracelet was nowhere to be found. 

Dejected, the four sat at a table between bookshelves. Everyone else had left and there was only a half an hour until the library closed. 

“I’m sorry, Cecil,” said Darby dully. “It just isn’t anywhere!” 

“It’s alright.” But they could all tell it wasn’t alright. Cecil looked closer to tears than ever. 

“Do you think someone could have stolen it?” asked Sarah’s Mom in a low voice. 

Cecil looked at her surprised. “Why would anyone steal it?” 

Darby shook her head. “I don’t think so. I questioned everyone who was here. They weren’t acting suspiciously.” 

“And no one came in and left before you could question them?” asked Sarah’s Mom. 

Darby shook her head with a frown, thinking back on her day. Then her face lit up. “Mr. Johnson! He left right after Cecil told me he was missing his bracelet!”

“Now, now,” said Cecil in his kindly way. “I’m sure Mr. Johnson would not take it.”

Darby jumped to her feet. Her mind was burning with certainty. “He must have taken it! There is no other explanation! I am going after him.”

Darby ran behind the checkout desk to get her umbrella, completely forgetting that she was supposed to stay in the library with her patrons. As Darby grabbed her umbrella she heard Sarah ask Cecil, “What does your bracelet look like?” 

Darby rushed out from behind the desk and towards the door. 

“It’s made out of a pipe cleaner.” 

Darby froze in place, almost to the door. A . . . pipe cleaner? Had she heard that right? Slowly Darby turned around, her mind blank. She and Sarah’s Mother exchanged a confused look. 

Darby walked back to Cecil’s side. She said slowly, “I thought it was an, um, expensive bracelet?” 

Cecil shook his head at the young librarian in confusion. “Expensive? No! No-no.” 

Darby spoke very carefully. “But . . . you said it was priceless.” 

“To me! Priceless to me.” 

And it was the distinction which changed everything. Darby stared. How could she have gotten it so wrong?

“My granddaughter, Sophie, made it for me,” continued Cecil. “I go to visit her at the hospital every Thursday and read to her. She always makes sure I have my bracelet on.” 

Understanding washed over Darby. She had completely misunderstood everything. It was no gold, ruby encrusted bangle they were looking for, but a bracelet made by a child. She should have asked what the bracelet looked like in the first place. Instead she just went off assumptions, and she felt foolish for it.

Sarah’s Mother was smiling softly. The entire time she’d thought she was looking for some piece of treasure. “Might something like that have ended up in the lost and found?” 

Darby shook her head. She was a little pink in the cheeks as she recalled telling everyone that the bracelet was made out of silver or gold. “No. I emptied the lost and found out this --” Darby froze. She recalled the contents of the lost and found: a plastic pony, a shoe, an earring and a pipe cleaner with beads on it.  “Does it have two beads on it, one G bead and one S bead?” asked Darby. 

Cecil nodded. 

“I know where it is!” 

Outside, there was a beeping noise as a garbage truck pulled up to take the library garbage. Darby’s eyes widened in alarm as she recognized the sound. She gasped, “No!”

Darby turned on her heel, burst out of the library and sprinted across the lawn. 

The garbage man looked out in his window in alarm as the young librarian ran at him, arms flailing and yelling, “Stop! Stop!”

Darby skidded to a stop beside the dumpster. 

“You alright ma’am?” shouted the garbage man out his window and over the grumbling of his truck. 

“I need something out of the dumpster!” Darby shouted back. 

The garbage man gestured at the dumpster as if to say be my guest.

Darby propped open the lid of the dumpster, wrinkling her nose as the putrid smell wafted out. She looked for the black trash bag she had thrown out earlier. It was at the very top.

“There you are!” said Darby in delight, never happier to see a trash bag in her life. 

Darby grabbed the trash bag and let the dumpster top slam shut. She ripped open the trash bag. The trash came tumbling out onto the ground. Darby searched desperately through it. Where was it? Where was it? She found the plastic pony . . . AHA! Darby held the beaded pipe-cleaner aloft. On closer inspection she could see that the it really was a bracelet. 

Darby put the trash back, waved goodbye to the garbage man, then ran, pipe cleaner bracelet held triumphantly in the air, into the library where the others were waiting.

Cecil was overcome when Darby gave him the bracelet. His hands trembled so much Sarah had to help him put it on. All he could say was “Thank you.”

When he’d regained full use of his voice, Cecil offered Darby and the other ladies money for having helped him find the bracelet. 

With a laugh, Darby said, “Seeing as I’m the one who threw it away in the first place, that doesn’t seem right.” 

And so, with the bracelet restored to his wrist, Cecil left to see his granddaughter, saying as he went out the door, “My Sophie will be so happy.” 

And somehow, that was better than finding the most expensive bracelet in the world.


April 16, 2020 03:33

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5 comments

Imogen Bird
14:42 Apr 21, 2020

This is SO GOOD! I was absolutely gripped the whole way through. I love how intriguing the first line is, the misinterpretation of priceless, the suspects you brilliantly incorporated and the lovely ending. Your pacing is spot on and the descriptive language, especially at the beginning is very emotive!

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19:40 Apr 21, 2020

Thank you SO much!!!! The fact that you paid so much attention to the details means the world to me!

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Emily Sperber
22:19 Apr 26, 2020

This was great! I work in a library and these characters seem so real; I could definitely see something like this happening!

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01:43 Apr 28, 2020

Thank you so much!!

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Joshua Hopper
23:26 Apr 22, 2020

I think the title of this was perfectly chosen! I connected with the characters and how Darby and Cecil were the only ones named. They were the only ones important enough. Very nice story! I enjoyed reading it.

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