"This is all we know"
The ride downtown, they barely spoke. Grant tried to focus on the lunchtime traffic, his GPS, but he couldn’t stop wondering about the framed review they’d read at Noni’s. Jules insisted the braided gold frame was the one Eliot had taken down a week ago. She’d seen her trace its columns with her finger before returning it to the wall. But why would Eliot care about a list of Atlanta’s best entrée salads, especially from two years ago, long before she packed a U-Haul in Chicago and drove it home. The article had run in Creative Loafing, so maybe she knew the writer? But even then, why the need to hold it? Why take a picture of it with her phone?
In the passenger seat, Jules gripped the door handle and winced at every pothole and metal plate.
“Sorry,” Grant said, after a bump on Auburn Ave. “I need new shocks.”
“It’s the bourbon,” she said, gesturing at her stomach. “I’m not used to liquor before lunch.”
“Should we get you food? I think there’s a sandwich place around the corner.”
Jules shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”
Grant wondered, for perhaps the hundredth time, if he should trust this woman. He had only her word that she even knew Eliot, much less dated her, though he couldn’t imagine why Jules would be there if she didn’t. It was just that talking to her reminded him of deboning a fish: the delicate motion, the tug on his knife, the slippery slick meat. He couldn’t help thinking that she knew more than she let on.
They found a parking lot at Luckie and Forsyth and, after feeding dollar bills into a machine, walked the block and a half to the Central Library. He wasn’t sure, exactly, what they were doing there, only that some of the numbers in Eliot’s notebook had formed a phone number for the Ivan Allen Jr. Reference Department, which the woman at the front desk told them was on the second floor. Jules had been right back at Noni’s when she said they might as well check it out. They didn’t have any better ideas. But after she’d told him what Eliot said last Monday, he didn’t want to waste time on dead ends.
A pretty blonde woman sat behind the main desk, talking to a light-skinned man in a track suit. As they waited their turn, Grant surveyed the computers and shelves of cloth-bound books. He wasn’t much of a reader, but he always felt a flush of nostalgia in libraries. As a kid, he’d spent so many Saturdays chasing his brothers around the stacks, tracking down brightly-colored picture books LeVar Burton had recommended. The metal carts, the puff when you opened an old hardback. The Read posters with L.L. Cool J or Shaq. It all reminded him that once life had been simpler, that the answers to his biggest questions had once been filed by call numbers and dates.
“How can I help you?” the woman said. She had green-blue eyes and a smile he couldn’t help but return.
Jules started talking. She was cagey at first, asking what the Reference Department did, why someone might visit there. Questions so vague she could have said them to a wall and gotten as much useful information. But Grant had an idea.
“Have you—can I ask your name?” he interrupted.
“Nice to meet you, Mallory. I’m Grant, and this is Jules. We’re looking for our friend. She’s been missing for a few days, maybe a week.” He raised his phone to show her the screen. “Have you seen her?”
The librarian studied a picture of Eliot the day she moved home, sweaty and tired by the U-Haul, a half-eaten slice of Fellini’s in her hand.
“Sorry,” the woman said.
“Her name is Eliot Wiley. Ring any bells?”
The woman shook her head. “What makes you think she’d be here? Shouldn’t you be talking to the police?”
Grant had wondered the same thing. In Eliot’s apartment, at Noni’s. But he’d seen enough cop shows to guess what they would tell him. Eliot was a grown woman with every right to pick up and leave without warning. Even if the police started to look—calling friends in Chicago, the staff at Sunset Villas—it wouldn’t take long for someone to describe her as “spacy” or a “free spirit,” supporting any theory that this was just another of Eliot’s larks. Plus, going to the police took time, maybe a lot of time, and Grant had the dizzying suspicion that they didn’t have enough of it to spare.
A man in a tie and black-rimmed glasses emerged from the office to their right. Gray-flecked hair and the hint of ink along his breast pocket, he looked like the kind of guy who killed it at team trivia.
“Brian,” he said, when Grant asked his name and showed him the photo. “Maybe,” he said. “We get so many people through here.”
Jules sifted through her purse and took out the notebook, opening it to the page with the phone number. “This is all we know,” she said. “Sometime in the last couple of weeks, she called here.”
The librarians looked at the page. “That’s the direct line to the back office,” Mallory said.
But it’s not the main one people use,” Brian added. “We don’t usually give that number out.”
“So why would someone call this line?” Grant asked.
The woman shrugged. “Maybe another librarian gave it to her. At another branch. In case she had a question?”
“Sometimes we give it to people we’ve been working with. Like if somebody came in here to do a lot of research and had follow up questions, we might tell them to call us there. Unusual, but it happens.”
Jules flipped to other pages. “Can y’all just look through these, see if you recognize anything? A name or anything.”
Brian and Mallory bent over the notebook. As they scanned its pages, Grant paced in messy circles, considering where to go next. Maybe Frank’s apartment? Local hospitals? Try to track down the Braddocks to ask if they’ve heard from her? They needed a plan.
“Wait a second,” Brian said. He pointed to a list of codes. “These numbers—031491, 031591. Could these be dates? March 14, 1991? March 15?”
They all huddled over to look.
“GDE?” Grant asked. “Are those initials? A filing code?”
“Or the name of a newspaper,” Brian suggested. “The Georgia Daily Eagle ran until, what, ’99? 2000?”
Grant could feel his heart through his rib cage, thumping. El could be like the hiccups when she was on a story—persistent, full-bodied. She regularly pulled all-nighters back in Chicago, confirming sources’ details, fact checking her own memory. It was probably nothing, just background for some story she hadn’t written yet, but still. It was worth a look.
“I’ve never heard of the Georgia Daily whatever,” Jules said.
“It wasn’t that great of a paper,” Mallory said. “More of a tabloid in its approach. Not afraid to print gossip as news. If I remember right, it went bankrupt after it published some conspiracy theory about Monica Lewinsky and lost all its ad money.”
“But the ’91 issues. Do y’all have archives of them?” Grant asked.
“Sure,” Brian said. “Mal, you want to show them?”
The librarian walked them to the back wall, where they found chest-high filing cabinets labeled in Eliot’s code. “The GDE boxes should be….” They walked past two, maybe three cabinets before Mallory plucked a square box from the drawer. “Bingo,” she said. “GDE 02/20/91 through 03/21/91.”
Grant could feel the sweat gather on his forehead. Beside him, Jules reached for the canister, her face as blank as the cabinet tops, hard and unyielding.
“It would help, of course, if you knew what you were looking for,” Mallory said, as she led them back to the large matte screens by the stairs. “Early 90s, the GDE was big, maybe 30 pages. Any idea what you hope to find?”
“Not a clue,” Grant said.
Mallory threaded the film under the glass, through the loop, and explained the buttons. “If you want to print,” she said, “it’s 10 cents a page.”
“Thanks.” Grant pulled another chair beside Jules. “Y’all are awesome.”
Mallory smiled again, her eyes kind and sad. “I’ll be right over there, if you need help.”
Sitting down, Grant watched Jules fast-forward through pages of the classifieds and movie times, Wachovia ads, Final Four rankings, op-eds about the first President Bush.
“Here,” Jules said, slowing. “The front page. March 14.”
They both leaned in.
March 14, 1991 had been a Thursday and—judging by the articles on high school baseball teams, low-cost lasagna recipes, and the Roswell quilt show—a slow news day. There was a piece on a high school student arrested for throwing rocks off a highway overpass. Another about the start of a recycling program in Cobb County. The Braves lacked depth in the bullpen, someone argued. The Dow was up 32.68 points. Still, Grant and Jules read every word of every column, zooming in and out, nudging the dial to bring pictures into focus. They even read the fine print on a half-page ad for Lord & Taylor’s upcoming sale on bedding and men’s wear. They were that careful.
Grant was about to get up to stretch his legs and stare at something not six inches from his face when they found it. Local news, section C, page 4. They knew it immediately.