by Frank G. Murdock
Cambridge, Massachusetts, November 1, 1988:
The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, commonly known as Widener Library, was the primary building of the library system of Harvard University. Located on the south side of Harvard Yard directly across from Memorial Church, Widener served as the centerpiece of the 15.6-million-volume library, the largest university library system in the world.
The 320,000-square-foot Beaux-arts brick building housed fifty-seven miles of bookshelves and three million volumes. Among them was one of the few remaining perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Widener included many special collections, including African, American, Asian, Germanic, Judaic, Iberian, Middle-Eastern, Modern Greek, and Slavic texts of antiquity.
It was a typical Tuesday morning for Ms. Monica Friedman. As the head librarian of the Widener Library, she began her day early with a stop by the local bakery, where she purchased a cinnamon bagel and cup of coffee. At the age of fifty-seven, she was in reasonably good shape for a woman of her years who had maintained a sensible diet of low carbohydrates, lean meats, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. The exercising of her mind through the joys of reading had always superseded that of the physical sort, but one could hardly say that Ms. Friedman had let herself go.
Pulling into the library, she noticed she was the first to arrive. The parking lot was empty, except for the three cars belonging to the library security guards, Moe, Larry, and Joe. She and the guards had a running gag between themselves regarding the coincidence of their names to those of the classic slapstick trio. She had told them that someday they would have a real situation to deal with in the library, and the bad guys would laugh themselves stupidly into custody once they had read their name-tags. This had, of course, sent the three guards into an ad-hock impressionist’s mode of their respective namesakes.
Ms. Friedman made her way to the front doors and was surprised to find that no one in security was there to let her in. It was a rare occasion when one of the three security guards was not sitting at the main desk to let employees in before the official hours of operation — rare, but not unheard of. She recalled the time she had come in early many years ago and something similar had happened. Security had been called away to assist a student aid who had slipped and fallen down a small flight of stairs while carrying a stack of books. The student had needed to be assisted to the campus health center due to an ankle sprain.
Sure it was nothing so serious, Ms. Friedman unlocked the doors with her employee card key and entered the building, letting the door close soundly behind. Moving past the front desk, she turned right and headed up the stairs into the stacks where her office lay just beyond. She was almost to her destination when her foot was caught on something, causing her to stumble a bit in the dimly lit building. The librarian was taken aback to see it was a hat belonging to one of the security guards.
A touch of caution washed across her manner as Ms. Friedman cautioned forward and turned the next corner, where her office door was but ten steps away. When she did, she saw a sight that stopped her cold in her tracks. Hot coffee splashed across the floor as she raised her hands to her gasping mouth.