As readers of this blog know, my ongoing story, The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge, is set in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. I’ve traveled all over the region myself, indeed have visited every town in the region. I’ve stood at the mouth of the Hoosac Tunnel in the summertime and felt the cool breeze rushing out of it. I’ve gone down to Mount Washington (the town, not the mountain, and they are nowhere near each other) and walked a half dozen miles of the Appalachian Trail looking over the Housatonic Valley. I’ve had to brake for a line of turkeys crossing the road in Tyringham.
And once I was under suspicion of having engaged in criminal activities.
It happened in Monterey, Massachusetts. Monterey, which acquired its name from a battle in the Mexican War, was and is a small town. There were about 800 people living in it when I came calling. Downtown is not very big. On the south side of the highway, running west to east, are the post office, the general store, and the library. Attached to the library on its east side is an annex, another room, used by the town’s historical society. Here’s a picture of the library. It is the scene of my not-quite crime.
I was exploring the history and demographics of the region, so the library seemed a natural stop. There was no parking lot there, so I pulled into the one by the general store. It was a nice sunny day. Suspecting nothing, I strolled over to the library, pulled open the screen door, and walked inside.
There was nobody there.
Well, small towns can be trusting, but a library without a librarian was just not believable. I looked around a bit, didn’t see anyone, but did see various books and computers that would have been worth stealing. Wondering at the negligence, I went outside to walk around the building to see if I could find someone.
That’s when I discovered the annex for the historical society. I was there for history, so I figured I might step in and take a look. I walked up the stairs, put my thumb on the latch, and pressed down.
The door opened. And an alarm went off. A burglar alarm.
Here I was, a total stranger in town, and I had just set off a burglar alarm, with no one to witness that I was innocent on any crime. Not good. So I decided to play it safe, and go back into the library, and await people coming to answer the alarm.
I closed the annex door, walked over to the library, reached for its screen door, and pulled it open. And another burglar alarm went off.
Now I started to get worried. I hadn’t done anything, but I had set off two burglar alarms. I needed to contact the authorities. It was a small town, and I didn’t see a police station handy, so I walked over to the post office, figuring they could help me by telling me how to reach the librarian. They couldn’t tell me anything. So I doubled back and tried the general store. There was one woman in it, working the cash register. Getting desperate to explain this to someone with a local reputation, I announced, “I’ve accidentally set off the burglar alarm in the library. Can you tell me who I should contact about this?”
Before the woman could answer, a man stepped in from the the side door facing the library. He said to me, “Is that what that noise is? Well, the library should be opening at about 3, so you can talk to the librarian then.”
I was thinking to myself, this is an awfully casual attitude. And then I looked at my watch. It was 2:45. But the library doesn’t open until 3? Then why was it open?
Completely confused, I thanked the man, and headed out the front door and back to the library. What else could I do? As I cleared the end of the general store, an elderly woman emerged from the library, looking quite worried. At last, I thought, someone! I hailed her. “Are you the librarian?”
She kept coming toward me. “Yes.”
“Well, I’m the person who set off the alarms,” I told her.
We went back into the library, she turned the alarms off, and I explained who I was, why I was in town, and what happened. As I was explaining, I realized how absurd the whole story sounded. And the librarian’s face was getting longer and longer. She clearly didn’t believe me, but was at a loss to explain what had happened. Finally, I left my name and phone number and took off.
Two weeks later, I went back. I made sure to arrive in Monterey after 3 o’clock. No way was I going to run into a mysteriously open library and be suspected of who knows what again. Pulled into the same parking lot, walked up to the library, very cautiously opened the screen door, and walked inside.
The librarian was finishing with a customer. I waited until she was done, and greeted her by saying, “Anyone else set off any alarms?” Tactful me.
She laughed. “We finally figured out what happened,” she told me. On that day, her son had come over to mow the library’s lawn. He had opened up the building to air it out so it would not be stifling hot when his mother arrived. However, the town’s fire whistle went off. The son was a volunteer, and had to abandon the library and go fight the fire. That explained why the library was open but vacant when I showed up.
The alarms were a more complicated story. The historical society met in that annex once a month. At their previous meeting, the last person out had armed the burglar alarm, but failed to lock the door! In the two weeks or so since the last meeting, no one had happened by to try to open that door. It was left for me to do so, and set off the alarm.
Now the son had turned off the library’s alarm system when he opened the building, which explained why it did not sound when I first went in. However, it was not just that the annex and the library were connected; their alarm systems were connected. My triggering the annex’s alarm turned the library’s system back on. And so, when I tried to return to the library, I set off that alarm the moment I touched the screen door.
I was glad to get that all straightened out, and know I didn’t face an arrest warrant if I ever set foot again in Monterey. I’ve actually passed through the town several times since then. But I’ve never stopped, and I have definitely not tried to visit the library again. I have this horrible feeling that they’ll have upgraded the burglar alarm system on account of me, and that it will trap me inside . . . until someone bothers to investigate and find out what that noise is that is coming from the library!