Logan was browsing a copy of The Axton Herald in the motel lobby, waiting on a fresh pot of coffee to finish brewing, when a thought occurred to him. He set the paper back down on the front desk and pulled his phone out of his pocket.
He Googled the number for the Axton Public Library and dialed.
An older-sounding woman answered.
“Yes, hello, my name is Logan Hayes. I’m a visitor in town and I was wondering if you kept digital records of your local newspaper. If so, can you tell me how far they go back?”
Her tone changed. “Oh, hello Mr. Hayes. You’re that detective! Is this for your case?”
“In a roundabout way,” he said. “I’m just curious about some things.”
“Well, I’m afraid the computer records only go back to 2007, but the microfiche goes back to 1965, when the paper was founded.”
“Perfect,” he said.
“We haven’t got the reader hooked up anymore, but I can roll her out of the closet and fire her up, it’s no bother. I want to help any way I can. Horrible what happened to Mr. Miller. Not even an adulterer should suffer like he did.”
“No,” said Logan. “No one should. Thank, you, Mrs…”
“Grayson. Sharon Grayson.”
“Thank you for your trouble, Mrs. Grayson. I’ll be over there within the next couple of hours, if that’s alright.”
“Absolutely. Is there a specific month and year you’re interested in?”
Logan was silent for a moment. “No, but I’ll find out. I’m thinking sometime between 1976 and 1979.”
“Okay, let me know when you get here then. See you soon.”
He ended the call and dialed Nate Hollis.
It took Logan the better part of the afternoon, but something in all of the papers he’d perused that day finally stood out to him.
Sharon Grayson, who’d been watching him intently even when pretending not to, must’ve picked up on that little burst of elation he always got when he added another piece to a puzzle.
“Did you find something?”
“Maybe. I’ve read several stories about an oil company called Prismaro trying to buy out a nearby town called Groundswell. You know the place?”
“Oh, of course. Only been out there once, when I was a little girl. Place is a ghost town. My brothers used to go out there and shoot out windows with BB guns, look around in all the abandoned buildings. I went with ’em once and I didn’t like it much. Gave me the creeps.”
“Seems like they fought a long battle to get their way. You remember any of that?”
She thought for a moment. “Oh, sure. Sure, yeah. I mean I don’t remember much because I was just a child, but I know the grownups used to talk about it at the dinner table.” She smiled. “When my father got a couple of beers in him he couldn’t stop talking about it. Yeah, some people were really upset about it, but some people were really happy about it, I guess.” She shrugged.
“Interesting. I’ll have to do some further reading.”
She backed away, her hands raised, bumping her ample backside against a book cart and jumping in surprise. “Of course! Don’t let me bother you any! I’ll stay out of your hair.”
Logan gave her a warm smile. “You’re not bothering me at all, ma’am. In fact you’ve been a great help.”
She visibly blushed. “Oh, I’m so glad. Do you need anything to drink? We have coffee. I’ve got some bottled water and Cokes in the fridge back in the office.”
“Sure, I’d love a coffee.”
She smiled and rushed off to pour him a cup and he stepped back into 1977.
The flames of controversy burned hotter and hotter until they finally overtook the townsfolk of Groundswell in November of 1978, when Prismaro was able to convince the last few residents who stubbornly remained to vacate.
Something had happened in the interim to escalate the situation, though–something tragic that was only vaguely hinted at after the fact. He couldn’t determine what exactly it was, because an entire month of the paper from early 1978 was missing from the archives.
He asked the librarian about it, but she had no explanation.
“I can’t imagine what could’ve happened,” she said, genuinely rattled by this revelation. “Maybe someone just forgot to put the card back when they were finished with it.” She scowled. “Happens all the time. Folks come in here, take a book off the shelf, leave it wherever they dang well please…” She sighed.
“Maybe,” said Logan, scratching his stubbly chin and wishing he’d taken the time to shave that morning. “Or maybe someone took it.”
“Stole it? Why on Earth would anyone do that?”
“I don’t know,” he said, staring across the room at an old poster that said “Feed your brain: READ A BOOK!” It had faded to a washed-out purplish hue beneath the light of the long, buzzing fluorescent bulbs hanging from the library’s ceiling. Everything in this town was like that. Old and faded. Sad relics and crumbling memorials to better days gone by.
He turned back to Sharon Grayson. “But I’m going to find out.”