Books of a Feather
The air inside the old bookshop was thick with the heady scents of aged vellum and rich old leathers. Heaven. I breathed in the lovely, pulpy odors as I climbed the precarious rolling ladder up to the crowded top shelf to start cataloging books.
The aisles of the shop were narrow, barely three feet wide, which meant I could reach out and touch the volumes on both sides of the aisle—if I was willing to let go of the wobbly handrail, which I wasn't.
I had spent the last week helping my friend Genevieve Taylor conduct an inventory of the thousands of books that had been crammed onto these shelves over the last forty years. It was a dirty, back-straining, mind-numbing job, yet I didn't mind too much. It was fun to visit with Genevieve, a fellow book nerd; plus I was surrounded by old books. How could that be bad?
My name is Brooklyn Wainwright and I'm a bookbinder specializing in rare book restoration. I hadn't been back to visit Taylor's Fine Books since Genevieve's father was murdered here almost a year ago. I hated to think of that moment when I found his body, tucked in a corner behind one of the brocade wingback chairs in the antiquarian book room. His throat had been slashed with a type of knife used in papermaking and bookbinding. Naturally, there was blood. A horrifying amount of blood. I'm a pathetic wimp when it comes to blood and tend to faint dead away at the slightest hint of a paper cut. For Genevieve's dad, though, I managed to keep it together, but it was a close call. Not something I was proud of.
Recalling that image, I had to clutch the ladder rail, feeling woozy all over again at the picture of all that blood seeping into the faded Oriental carpet beneath poor Joe Taylor's body. With all the dead bodies I'd come across since then, you would think I'd matured enough to at least maintain consciousness at the sight of blood oozing from an unfortunate victim. But it was still touch-and-go for me.
"I just found another first edition," Genevieve announced from the next aisle over.
I was grateful for the distraction. "What is it?"
"Bram Stoker's Dracula. Printed in 1897. Boards are slightly soiled, but the hinges are intact. Slight foxing. Spine's a little faded."
She said the words as though she were reading from a bookseller's brochure.
"A faded spine's to be expected," I said philosophically. "If it's in good condition otherwise, it's still probably worth ten thousand."
"Oh, wait," she said. "The pages are untrimmed."
"And the price just shot up to fifteen thousand."
She laughed. "That's what I like to hear."
I glanced down at the short stack of books on the floor. "So that makes what?" I wondered aloud. "At least a dozen first editions we've found just today."
"Fourteen by my count," she said, but seconds later I could hear her "tsk-tsking" in dismay. "I'm excited to find them all, but I'm also a little flipped out that they were just sitting here on the shelves. I love my dad, but he had a real humdinger of a filing system. I just wish I could figure out what it was."
I smiled. "At least he kept the books in alphabetical order. Sort of."
"Sort of," she muttered. "I found the Dracula crammed in with a bunch of paperback Charles Dickens novels."
"Well, they all start with D. Sort of."
She laughed, but I detected a bittersweet tone and I couldn't blame her. It had to be difficult going to work every day in the same shop where her father had died. But Genevieve was determined to carry on her dad's legacy as the premier antiquarian and rare bookseller in San Francisco. And given the dearth of good neighborhood bookstores out there, I wanted to support her in any way I could.
Besides the obvious disarray on the shelves, the shop had suffered at least three burglaries over the past few months. The thieves hadn't stolen money from the cash register; they had stolen books. Genevieve knew what had been taken, but she couldn't find a record of the books in her father's hopelessly antiquated filing system, which meant she couldn't file an insurance claim. That was when she decided it was time to do a major inventory.
All day long customers came and went while we kept working. They usually took their time, perusing the shelves and picking out a book or two. Some quietly minded their own business while others chatted away with Genevieve or her assistant, Billy. The store was busy, thanks to its location on Clement Street, a popular, ethnically diverse shopping and dining area in the heart of the Richmond District.
I continued to write down titles on the inventory form Genevieve had created for the task. Besides the book title, she wanted the author's name and the aisle and shelf numbers. The work was slow but steady and when I finished with one shelf, I climbed a few steps up the ladder to work on the next one. I knew I'd reached the top shelf when my head skimmed the ceiling. I felt a little sorry for these books on the top shelves. A reader would have to be willing to risk an almost certain attack of acrophobia to explore all the way up here.
Hours later, I checked my watch and realized how late it was getting. "I'd better call it a day," I announced, and started to descend the ladder—but stopped when something caught my eye on the opposite shelf. With one arm looped around the ladder's edge for safety's sake, I leaned over and reached for the book, easing it out of its cramped spot. The title and splashy dust jacket was what had captured my attention.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It was one of my mother's favorite books. After taking a minute to admire the almost pristine condition of the dust jacket—which proclaimed the price to be four dollars and ninety-five cents—I looked inside and found the author's flamboyant signature scribbled in blue marker on the front free endpaper. Ken Kesey. Was the autograph for real? I turned to the copyright page—1962.
"I think I found another first edition," I murmured, tingling with excitement at the find. Call me a weirdo, but books could do that to me.
"Cool," Gen said from the next aisle over. "What is it?"
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. And guess what. It's signed."
"Are you kidding?" she asked, her voice rising two octaves.
"Nope. The author's signature is right here on the flyleaf."
"Is the book a mess?"
"No, it's in beautiful condition except for a small rip in the dust jacket, but that can be fixed."
Gen didn't answer right away, probably pausing to calculate. "It's got to be worth ten or twelve thousand dollars."
"At least." I closed the book and turned it around to study it from all angles. "I mean, it's in really good shape."
"Will you fix the rip?"
"Sure." Was she kidding? I would kill to work on this book! Even if it was something as simple as fixing a measly little tear in the jacket.
Instead of sliding the Cuckoo's Nest back onto the shelf, I scurried down the ladder and placed it on the short stack of books destined for the antiquarian room. That was where Genevieve, like her father before her, showcased the pricier volumes that would appeal to collectors and other booksellers.
Before I left for the day, Genevieve went to the computer and ran some comps on the seventeen first editions we'd found that day. I stood next to her and we both took guesses as to which book we thought was the most valuable—and we were both wrong. It turned out that a sweet little copy of The Maltese Falcon she'd discovered earlier that morning was similar to one that had sold recently for ninety-five thousand dollars.
Holy moly. I had to catch my breath. "I know someone who might be interested in The Maltese Falcon."
"Please let them know about it," Genevieve said. "They can call or come by anytime to look at it."
"I'll call them tomorrow." I had to laugh at her expression. "You look gobsmacked."
"I'm beyond thrilled," she exclaimed, tossing her long, dark braid off her shoulder. "Can you believe all these beautiful books were buried in the stacks? I can't thank you enough for helping me out, Brooklyn."
"I'm having fun," I said, giving her a hug.
She snorted. "I wouldn't call it fun, exactly. But I appreciate everything you're doing."
"I'll be back Friday to help some more."
"I won't hold you to it."
"I'll be here," I said firmly, and started to leave, but then remembered something. "Hey, are you going to the Covington opening tomorrow night?"
The Covington Library was unveiling their new Audubon exhibit, the centerpiece of which was the massive Audubon masterpiece, Birds of America. The Covington was like Mecca for book lovers, so I was hoping Genevieve would be there.
Her eyes brightened. "I wouldn't miss it."
"I'm glad. So I'll see you there."
As I walked to my car, I had to admit I was pretty thrilled to be walking out with eight wonderful books to refurbish, including a battered copy of The Grapes of Wrath, a charming hardcover edition of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown, the signed Cuckoo's Nest, Dracula, and The Maltese Falcon. It was a win-win for both me and Gen and a nice reward for all my hard work.
It was a minor miracle that I was actually pulling into my apartment garage half an hour later. Driving from the Richmond District across town at this hour of the day when traffic was at its worst should've taken much longer, but I wasn't going to argue about my good luck. I parked the car and took the freight elevator up to the sixth floor. The noisy old wood-planked elevator was one of the wonderful holdovers from the 1900s, when this building had been a flourishing corset factory. It had sat empty for decades until recently when it was refurbished and converted to trendy artists' loft-style apartments. The smart builders had kept the elevator intact, along with the original brick walls, the beautiful hardwood floors, and the large, double-paned wire-reinforced windows.
Officially, we lived in the area of San Francisco known as SOMA, or South of Market, but since we were only a few blocks from AT&T Park where the hometown Giants played baseball, some people considered the area more China Basin adjacent than SOMA. I wasn't too picky about these things, but San Franciscans took their neighborhood differentiations very seriously.
As soon as I closed and locked my front door, I sagged in relief. I usually worked at home, so being gone all day was unusual for me. But after a moment, I perked up, knowing Derek was already here; I'd seen his car parked in the space next to mine.
Derek Stone was my fiancé and . . .
Fiancé. I had to stop and breathe in the word. It was still so odd to say it aloud, let alone think it. But it was true. It was real. We were getting married, and how crazy was that? The two of us had almost nothing in common. I'd been raised in a peace-love-and-happiness artistic commune in the wine country and wore Birkenstocks to work. Derek had been a highly trained operative with England's military intelligence and he carried a gun. Think James Bond but more dangerous, more handsome, more everything. I was crazy in love with him. I figured that the old adage that opposites attract had to be true, because he loved me right back.
He had proposed two months ago, the night my friend Robin married my brother Austin. Of course I said yes. Duh! Since then, we'd barely had a chance to talk about a wedding or anything else related to getting married. We'd been living temporarily in Dharma in the Sonoma wine country, next door to my parents. Derek had been commuting to the city while our apartment in town was being remodeled. The reason for the remodel was that Derek had purchased the smaller apartment next door to mine for the purpose of joining the two places together to make one very large residence.
Now the work was done and we had been back in town a week. Our place was still in a state of flux, to put it mildly. We'd been rearranging furniture and picking out new stuff and doing all those things you do when you suddenly have two extra bedrooms and a much bigger living room. It was fun and time-consuming and a little bit mind-boggling. I occasionally had to stop and pinch myself.
So no, there hadn't been much time to discuss wedding plans. We'd get around to it one of these days.
With a happy sigh, I slid the case that held my bookbinding tools under my worktable and set my satchel on the counter.
"Derek, I'm home," I called, even though he probably knew it already. He was preternaturally aware of everything that went on around us. Besides, our freight elevator tended to shake the entire building when it rose from the basement parking garage, thus acting as an early warning signal. I liked to think the noisy contraption made it more difficult for bad guys to sneak up on us, and yet they still tried it every so often.
"I've got books to show you," I shouted, excited to share my project with Derek.
"We are in here, darling," he called from somewhere in the vicinity of the kitchen.
I heard a burst of male laughter, confirming that Derek was not alone. So much for showing him my stack of fabulous books from Genevieve's shop. I hung up my pea coat in the small closet by the door, trying to recall if we had made plans to see friends tonight. I was pretty sure we hadn't.
Not that I was paranoid, but I had to find a place to hide the books. Okay, maybe I was paranoid. I'd taken elaborate precautions before leaving Genevieve's shop, tucking the books away in a zippered compartment inside my satchel, which I wore strapped across my torso and clutched all the way to my car. I never took chances with books. Especially rare, valuable books. Our home had been broken into on more than one occasion by unscrupulous people who were determined to steal a book from me.
Our friends and family were all completely trustworthy, of course, and I was sure that trust extended to whoever was visiting us tonight. Everyone knew I worked with rare and often priceless books, yet I rarely showed off the books I was working on. It was safer for everyone that way.
"I'll be right there," I called out, and turned in a circle, scanning my workshop for a long moment, looking for a good hiding place. There were lots of them. Besides my worktable in the center of the room, I had three walls of cupboards and counters and drawers that held all sorts of equipment and supplies. At the end of one counter was my built-in desk.
I grabbed my satchel and pulled out the eight books—the eight rare, extremely valuable books that I'd been entrusted with—and carefully slipped them into the deep bottom drawer of my desk and locked it. I would've preferred to stash them all inside the steel-lined safe in the hall closet near our bedroom, but this would have to do for now.
I felt almost silly for taking such precautions. It shouldn't have been necessary, since I was inside my own house. I wondered if I was being overly suspicious. But the answer was no, absolutely not. I was all too aware that there were people in the world who would lie, cheat, steal, or kill for a book. So better to be safe than sorry, I thought, and was about to rush out to greet Derek and whoever was visiting us when I spied a fluffy bundle of fur clawing at the old sandals I wore for work and kept under my desk.
"Hello, my little peanut," I said, and reached down to pick her up. "You're getting so big." I lifted her into my arms and rubbed my nose against her soft furry coat. It made me a little sad to realize that Charlie, our beautiful little kitten, was growing up.
"Who's visiting us?" I whispered. She simply purred, and I hoped that meant that our visitor was friendly. I held on to her as I walked through the archway that led from my office workshop into our living room.
Derek stood by the wide counter that separated the kitchen from the dining and living area, pouring red wine into three glasses. Another man, wearing a beautiful navy suit, had his back to me. I couldn't see his face, but I noticed he had straight black hair and was nearly as tall as Derek. He had just said something that caused Derek to laugh. I stopped and listened to that deep, sexy sound.
"And there she is," Derek said, spying me at last. "Darling, come meet Crane, one of my oldest friends."
"I'm not that old," the other man joked as he turned toward me. "Ah, how delightful."
If I'd been walking, I might've stumbled. The man was Asian and spoke with a British accent and he was simply . . . beautiful. Not as dashing or as blatantly masculine and tough as Derek, but then, who was? Still, Crane's smile was brilliant and his dark eyes twinkled with humor. He was clearly a confident man, and that made him even more attractive. But no man should be that pretty, I thought vaguely.
It was a bit overwhelming to have two such gorgeous males smiling at me, but I decided I could endure it. I set Charlie down and hurried over to the bar to give Derek a quick hug and kiss, then turned to our guest and extended my hand.
"Hello, Mr. Crane. I'm Brooklyn."
"It's just Crane," he explained, and his smile grew as he gripped my hand warmly. "Nobody calls me 'mister' unless they're soliciting for money."
I laughed. "Crane, then. It's nice to meet you."
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, too, Brooklyn. I've heard many wonderful things about you."
I glanced at Derek. He'd never said one word to me about his friend Crane before. And yet the man knew all about me? Hmm.
Derek bit back a grin, clearly reading my mind. "Darling, Crane and I were in school together. We haven't seen each other in at least five years."
"Closer to six," his friend admitted. "Although we chat on the phone occasionally."
Derek set the wine bottle down. "It's a good thing. I'm always wondering if you've ended up in a federal penitentiary somewhere."
I raised an eyebrow, but Crane just laughed. "And I always figured you'd be the one to wind up on the wrong side of the law." He shook his head in mock dismay. "Instead you joined forces with the good guys."
Derek shrugged. "Considering our misspent youth, it's surprising we both turned out this well."
Crane nodded at me. "It was always a competition to see which of us could cause the most havoc in school."
"You won in the end," Derek admitted, handing each of us a wineglass. "But only through a technicality."
I gazed at Crane. "How did you win?"
"He cheated," Derek said dryly. "His grandmother left him a sizable inheritance and nothing was the same after that."
"It's true, money changes everything," Crane confessed with a worldly sigh. "It's not as much fun getting into trouble when you know you can simply bribe your way out of a jam."
Derek chuckled. "I, for one, am grateful for a few of those bribes."
I looked from one man to the other. "I'd love to hear some stories of Derek causing havoc."
Crane leaned close. "I'll tell you everything, but first . . ." Straightening, he held up his glass. "I'd like to propose a toast, to old friends and new."
We clinked glasses and took our initial sips of the excellent Pinot Noir Derek had poured.
"And as long as we're toasting," Crane added, "I understand congratulations and best wishes are in order."
"Oh." I gazed up at Derek and touched my glass to his. I didn't know why, but I was truly moved that he'd told his friend about our engagement. Especially as the two of us had barely discussed it since we'd been home from Dharma. I looked over at his friend. "Thank you, Crane. That's so nice of you."
Crane raised an eyebrow and seemed to be gauging my sincerity. After a moment, he nodded briefly and turned to Derek. "You're a lucky man, Stone."
"I know," Derek said, and met my gaze as he leaned close and kissed my cheek.
Happily flustered, I...
(Visit the Secret Room to read the rest of Chapter 1!)
© Kate Carlisle
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