Buried in Books
"The name is Wainwright," I said to the conference volunteer seated at the registration table before me. "Brooklyn Wainwright."
The young woman gave an absent nod and began to skim the thick stack of envelopes standing upright in the box in front of her. Not exactly the friendliest greeting, but the crowd was huge and the woman was probably feeling overwhelmed. Halfway through the row, she stopped suddenly and gaped up at me. "Wait. You're Brooklyn Wainwright? Wow. I signed up for your workshop."
"Oh." I smiled. "I hope you'll enjoy it."
"I know it'll be fantastic," she said brightly. "I'm, like, your biggest fan."
"That's so nice." I peered at her badge to catch her name. "Thanks, Lucy."
For the fifth year in a row, I had been asked to present the bookbinding workshop for the annual National Librarians Association conference. It was a real honor to be asked because there had to be hundreds of talented bookbinders among the librarians who attended every year. I was doubly thrilled that the conference was being held in San Francisco this year so I wouldn't have to lug all of my supplies and equipment halfway across the country.
Sighing inwardly, I admitted that I would've been looking forward to the workshop a lot more if I hadn't botched up my schedule so badly. But nobody here needed to know that.
Lucy flipped her pink-streaked hair away from her face and continued to stare at me as though I were a rock star. Her former boredom had turned into wide-eyed excitement. It was fun, but also a little intimidating. She knew me and my work. What if she hated the workshop?
"I saw your Alice in Wonderland pop-up display at the Covington Library," she said. "It was amazing."
"Thank you." I sensed the people in line behind me getting antsy to move things along. I turned and flashed an apologetic smile.
But my new biggest fan didn't seem to notice the impatient crowd. Instead, she leaned forward and whispered loudly, "Everyone says you're going to dish about the murders during the workshop. I'm so psyched!"
"Uh . . . what?"
She nodded eagerly. "Is it true you found a body inside the Covington? What a rush!"
"Umm, no, I . . ." I had no words. The fact was, I had found a body inside the Covington. More than once, to be honest. But I wasn't about to discuss the details with a stranger.
She frowned at me, clearly confused by my reticence. Then she began to nod slowly as if she and I were in on a secret together. "Ah, I get it. You're saving the gory details for the workshop. I understand. Don't worry. I can wait."
Snapping back into work mode, she pulled a manila envelope from the stack and handed it to me. "Here you go. This envelope contains your badge and your program book. It's got all the events listed, as well as the speakers' bios. And there's a map of the convention center inside the back cover. This place is huge, so we don't want anyone to get lost." She pointed toward the opposite side of the massive hall. "You can pick up a book bag at the south end of the auditorium."
"Okay. Thanks, Lucy."
"Enjoy the conference, Brooklyn." She gave me a conspiratorial wink. "See you at the workshop."
"You bet." A little dazed and a touch breathless, I stepped away from the registration table feeling like I'd just run a sprint. Pulling my rolling briefcase behind me, I began the long trek across the crowded room.
An enormous woman in pink bumped into me and kept walking, obviously in a hurry to get her conference bag. My head was so filled with questions, I hardly noticed.
Was someone spreading the word that I would be talking about murder? Seriously? I didn't even like thinking about the bodies I'd stumbled across, let alone using them as filler in my workshop program. It wasn't going to happen. Which meant that there were going to be some disappointed people—like Lucy, for instance. I sighed and shook my head. The conference had just gotten more complicated.
I'm a bookbinder specializing in rare book restoration, which means I make my living refurbishing old books. I also enjoy creating handmade books when I'm feeling particularly artistic. Unfortunately, in connection with my work, I happened to have stumbled across more than a few dead bodies over the past several years. And yes, the victims were all connected to the various books I had been working on at the time.
But that didn't mean I was an expert on the subject of murder! I absolutely refused to draw attention to myself or to these crimes simply because of my weird proclivity for finding dead people. Why would anyone think I would take time out of a bookbinding class to talk about murder?
When it came to any connection between rare books and murder, the only bit of information I was willing to offer was this: If you thought that books weren't worth killing for, you were dead wrong.
I scanned the enormous hall, noting that in the time it had taken me to register, hundreds more people had arrived for the conference. Dozens were waiting in line to register. Some peered around anxiously, trying to get their bearings. Others were gathered in small groups chatting and laughing and, in the case of the cluster of five women closest to me, shrieking.
I did a quick mental calculation as I studied the diverse crowd. There had to be at least eight hundred people milling around this cavernous space. Probably closer to a thousand. No wonder the noise level was deafening.
The racket didn't bother me. These were my people. Librarians. Book nerds. "And apparently a few murder fans," I muttered to myself.
I headed toward the south end of the convention center, asking myself all the way: Did I really need a book bag?
More importantly, did I really need to be here at all?
The organizers had called me months ago to ask if I would give a bookbinding workshop during the conference. I had said yes because I loved giving that workshop and it was a real thrill to be asked. Then somewhere along the way they had also roped me into giving a speech on book conservation. And if that wasn't enough, I had also agreed to donate a raffle prize. I was all for fundraising for librarians, but I had to ask myself why I couldn't have simply given a basket of books or a gift card. No, I had offered to take twenty lucky librarians on a three-hour "Book Lovers' Tour" of San Francisco. We were renting a bus and everything. Good grief. What had I been thinking?
Of course, all those months ago, I had never dreamed that I would be getting married to Derek Stone this weekend.
My gaze softened and I sighed happily at the thought of marriage to Derek—and almost crashed into a gray-haired man minding his own business reading the program booklet.
"Sorry," I stammered, and kept walking. It wasn't the first time I'd spaced out and almost injured someone lately. Whenever I thought of Derek and our upcoming wedding, I sort of lost consciousness for a few seconds.
I had considered cancelling my conference events this week, but after talking it over with Derek, we decided that it would be a good idea for me to keep to my original conference schedule. Because amazingly, every last detail of the wedding was taken care of. And Derek had pointed out that attending the conference would—hopefully—distract me from any pre-wedding jitters I might be susceptible to. He had a good argument there, seeing as how I was more than a little overwhelmed by the fact that his entire family—including his parents, four brothers and their spouses and children, and various aunts and uncles—had arrived from England several days ago. They had gone directly to Sonoma to visit my family so I wouldn't see them until the day of the wedding, but that didn't mean I would be worried about them.
Derek had insisted that his family would be fine in the wine country without us and that my family would provide them with plenty of fun and friendship. It all sounded good in theory. But now that I was here, staring at this massive convention space and all of these people, I began to wonder if there wasn't something I should've been doing to welcome his family more personally. And what about the rest of the wedding preparations? Had I really completed everything on my list of bridal duties? I checked my watch. Would it be wrong to leave the conference after I'd just arrived?
Not just wrong, but stupid, I silently lectured myself as I made my way through the crowd toward the book bag counter. Attending this conference would be great for my business, my career, I reminded myself. I would make new contacts, possibly acquire some new clients, and reacquaint myself with old friends.
So I was here to stay. At least for a few hours. As I wound my way through the crowd, I realized that despite my neurotic compulsion to check all of my wedding lists on an hourly basis, I was happy to be here. I had always enjoyed this conference and I was grateful to the organization for all the good things I'd received by being a part of it. Besides, being among all these librarians made me feel nostalgic for my post-graduate years. Those were good times.
Even though I had never planned to work as a librarian, I knew that starting out with a degree in Library Science was one of the best routes to a career as a bookbinder. Consequently, everyone I knew in school had been working feverishly toward their master of library science degrees back then. I had to admit it had been daunting to be surrounded by all of those highly intelligent, compulsively organized, overwhelmingly detail-oriented people. I used to cope by wearing T-shirts that said things like: How many times have you washed your hands today? and Do you spell anal retentive with a hyphen?
Instead of the quick laugh I always expected when I showed up wearing one of my dumb T-shirts, my gifted friends would actually spend an hour or two seriously discussing whatever statement I was displaying.
"It's simple really. You spell it with a hyphen when it's used as a descriptive. For instance, if you said, 'I hate my anal-retentive professor,' that would require a hyphen. But if you said 'I'm feeling rather anal retentive today,' no hyphen is necessary."
I chuckled at the memory. God, I missed them!
I finally snagged my book bag, a sporty navy blue backpack that everyone around me agreed was highly impressive. Especially compared to last year's offering, a cheap beige fiber tote that barely held up for the length of the event. Free conference bags—and free books—were an important part of the conference experience and clearly a contentious issue.
I tested the weight of the book-laden backpack and then slipped my arms through the straps. I decided to head for the coffee kiosk, when I heard someone call my name.
"Brooklyn? Is that you?"
(Visit the Secret Room to read the rest of Chapter 1!)
© Kate Carlisle
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