No Shadow (Prodigal Sons of Cane)

BOOK: No Shadow (Prodigal Sons of Cane)
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No Shadow

Prodigal Sons of Cane: Book One

 

S.N. Clemens

This
book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2013 by S.N. Clemens.
 
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

Chapter One

 

Helen Walton stood in the
doorway of her supervisor’s office, nearly hugging herself with excitement. “He’s
selling!” she announced.

Judy, the
director of the university library at Cane College, blinked as she looked away
from her computer screen. “Pardon me?” Judy was an attractive, polished woman
in her mid-fifties, and she was never less than meticulously polite.

Helen grinned,
so happy she was practically shaking with it. “He’s selling.”

“The
manuscript?” Judy’s face changed as she processed the information, and she rose
to her feet behind her desk.

“Yes. The
manuscript. Thomas just called to let me know. He’s definitely selling the
manuscript.” Unable to contain herself any longer, Helen clapped her hands like
a girl. “We can buy it! We can finally get it!”

For the last
five years, Helen had yearned for the original manuscript—written out in the
author’s own hand—of Geneva Bale’s first novel,
Shadow Past
.

Bale was a
nineteenth century Appalachian novelist who had been born and raised in Cane,
Virginia. Helen liked to think of Bale as the American Jane Austen. Buying this
particular manuscript for Cane College’s library collection had been Helen’s
mission for the last six months.

And finally the
library could acquire it.

After
discussing a few plans, Helen left Judy’s office, popping her head into other
offices to share the good news.

Ezra Harrison
had owned the manuscript for the eighty-six years of his life. He’d inherited
it from his father, who’d been Geneva Bale’s great-grandson. Six months ago, Helen
had started talking to Ezra about possibly selling the manuscript to the local
college.

Ezra was on the
point of caving when he had the stroke. After that, of course, the manuscript’s
fate was put on hold. He only partially recovered from the stroke, and four
months later he died from a second one.

The precious
manuscript had passed, with the rest of Ezra’s estate, to his grandson Thomas.
So, after giving him a respectable amount of time to grieve and make
arrangements, Helen approached Thomas about the manuscript on behalf of Cane
College Library.

Just today he’d
made the decision to sell it.

Helen had made
extra sure not to take advantage of the tragedy of Ezra’s death to pursue her
own agenda, but the manuscript was important—to literary scholarship, to the
college, to
her
.

And now it
looked like they might finally get it for the Bale collection.

Helen headed
for the stairs, her chunky heels clipping on the concrete as she descended to
the library basement level, where the English department offices were located.

Dr. Lorraine
Eckols was a tall, attractive black woman in her mid-thirties. She’d worked at
Cane College for eight years, having been hired the same year as Helen. She was
four years older than Helen, but they were both single professional women in a
small town in the Appalachian Mountains where such women were few and far
between. They’d had a lot in common to begin with, and the intervening years
had cemented their friendship.

“What’s wrong?”
Helen asked, as she popped her head in through Lorraine’s partially opened
door.

Lorraine’s
angular features twisted in a tortured expression. “It’s the end of September.
What do you
think
is the matter?”

Helen
recognized the signs, and she didn’t have to find the large stack of papers on
her friend’s desk to understand. With a sympathetic smile, she guessed, “First
papers to grade of the semester?”

Lorraine moaned
and sank her head into her hands.

In too good a
mood to be truly sympathetic, Helen giggled at Lorraine’s exaggerated misery.
Since she had a dual Master’s degree in English and Library Science, Helen had
taught a few freshman English classes herself, and she knew the kind of dread
an English teacher suffered when faced with a big stack of ungraded papers. But
still… “One of the joys of the profession.”

“What are you
all happy and squirmy about?”

Helen hadn’t
realized she’d been so obviously wriggling with delight. She straightened up
and composed herself.  “He’s selling!”

It took Lorraine
only five seconds to process the words. She stood up, raising her hands in the
air, her eyes lifted toward the ceiling. “Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!”

Lorraine, who’d
written one of the two academic articles on Bale published in the last ten
years, had as much of an investment in the manuscript as Helen did.

“Did he agree
to sell to the library?” Lorraine asked, coming around her desk to join Helen.
She was wearing a stylish, urban suit in gray and red. She was originally from
Chicago, and she still didn’t entirely fit into the little mountain town.

Helen forced
herself to sober a bit as she admitted, “No. He just said that he’s decided to
sell it, but who else would want it but the library?” When Lorraine opened her
mouth to respond, Helen hurried on, “You know Geneva Bale isn’t important
enough yet for big research universities or archives to be interested. While
we’re sure she’ll hit it big soon, she hasn’t yet. We’ve got the manuscripts of
her other two novels in the Bale collection. We’re the obvious choice.”

“I know. I
know.” A mischievous quirk lifted the corner of Lorraine’s mouth. “And it
doesn’t hurt that you have such a convenient ‘in’ with the seller.”

To her infinite
annoyance, Helen felt her cheeks start to grow hot.

Lorraine
cackled. “I knew it! You act all innocent and clueless, but he’s definitely
interested in you.”

“He’s not
interested in me. You’re being ridiculous.”

“Of course he
is. Why does he keep calling you up to discuss the manuscript?”

“Because he
wanted to know more about it in order to make a good decision about whether or
not to sell.” Helen stuck out her chin obstinately, silently daring her friend
to doubt her word.

Lorraine just
laughed again. “Oh. I see.”

Thomas Harrison,
Ezra’s grandson, was a widower in his early forties. And, while Helen had told
herself firmly that he was just being kind and interested in the manuscript,
she’d had a few little suspicions that maybe his interest was more personal.

The thought made
her ridiculously shy. She was a mature, intelligent thirty-two year old woman,
but she’d actually had very little experience with men.

In school,
she’d always been shy and bookish—definitely not popular-girl material. In
college she’d dated occasionally, but she’d been wrapped up in her studies, and
none of the guys she was really interested in showed her any attention at all.

In graduate
school, single, straight men who shared her faith had been harder to find, and
she’d come away from her three years in South Carolina still single

She’d moved
back to her hometown then and gotten the job at Cane College. After that, her
dating possibilities had completely dried up. There simply weren’t very many
eligible men in the small rural town or the surrounding communities, and the
ones that were available showed no interest in a quiet woman with two higher
academic degrees.

Helen hadn’t
had a date in almost four years.

So just the
thought that someone might be interested in her—even someone like Thomas, about
whom she wasn’t particularly excited—made her feel rather shy.

“Are you going
over there today?” Lorraine asked, bringing Helen out of her reflections.

“Yeah. Judy
said I could leave at three o’clock to see Thomas. He’s out at the house now. 
Obviously I can’t do any of the real negotiations for the sale, but we want to
make sure we have an understanding with him about the library’s buying the
manuscript.”

“It’s a good
thing you dressed up today then.”

Helen glanced
down at herself. Despite her lack of social life, she privately thought that,
at thirty-two, she was prettier than she’d ever been in her life. Over the
years, she’d developed her own sense of style, and she raided garage sales and
thrift stores to find fun vintage pieces and old-fashioned accessories. Today,
she wore a brown forties-style suit with short fitted jacket, pleated skirt,
and braided silk trim. She combined it with a ruffled pink blouse and faux
pearls.

She knew some
of the students at the college snickered at her old-fashioned style and considered
her the quintessential librarian with her small wire-framed glasses and her
long hair pulled up in a chignon. Helen was no longer insecure about her
appearance or her taste in clothes, however. And she actually liked to
encourage the image of the librarian, since she thought it fit her very well.

She wore her
contacts today, rather than her glasses, and a glimpse in Lorraine’s mirror
proved that she looked very nice—with her blue eyes shining and her clear, fair
skin glowing with excitement.

“You look very
pretty,” Lorraine assured her, having noticed her brief assessment. “I’m sure
Thomas will appreciate it.”

“Lorraine!” Helen
felt her cheeks warming again. “Stop it. I think Thomas is very nice, but we
have no proof he’s interested in me. And, to tell you the truth, I’m not really
attracted to him.”

“I was afraid
you might say that. But who knows? That could change. If he asks you out, would
you even consider accepting?”

Helen knew that
many happy couples hadn’t started with initial attraction. She knew that might
come later, and she would be a fool to dismiss a good man simply because she
wasn’t drawn to him at first sight. Long ago, she’d given up her dreams of
being swept away by a handsome dream guy.

She just wasn’t
the girl those men chose. She wasn’t the girl
any
man chose.

So she gave her
friend her most disdainful sniff. “Thomas is a really good guy, and I haven’t
had a date in four years.
Of course
I would go out with him.”

***

“It really is a wonderful
house,” Helen said, slanting a smile up to Thomas as they sat on a bench in the
front yard of the home that had been in the Harrison family for five
generations.

When she’d
arrived, he’d been working in the yard, trying to clear out some of the
underbrush that had tangled around the dilapidated gazebo. Thomas was a
contractor, and he was doing most of the work around his grandfather’s house on
his own.

“I like it,”
Thomas admitted. He stared up at the sprawling Victorian mansion. It had been
run down in the last twenty years, since Ezra had refused to put much money
into restoring it, but the lines of the porch and gables and the architectural
bones of the house were strong, charming, and a testament to another time. “It
needs a lot of work.”

“Well, it’s a
good thing you’re so good at that sort of work,” she said.

Thomas wasn’t a
handsome man. He had a pleasant face and mild brown eyes, with a receding
hairline and a belly that wasn’t quite flat. She liked his bashful smile,
though, and she couldn’t help but be flattered by the flicker of admiration in
his expression as he looked over at her.

She would have
to be very careful not to flirt with him, just because she liked the attention
and it had been so long since she’d gotten any.

Deciding to
move them on to the purpose of her visit, she said lightly, “So you’ve decided
to sell the manuscript after all?”

“Yeah. It’s out
for appraisal right now. I suppose I could hold onto it and hope it increases
in value. But I really don’t know anything about keeping a manuscript, and I
don’t want it to get damaged. So I might as well sell it. Especially since
there’s interest in it now.”

Helen sucked in
a quick breath, suddenly nervous by the obliqueness of his last words and the
almost embarrassed way he’d glanced away from her. She said very slowly, “The
library has always been interested in obtaining it.”

“Yeah. I know.”
He turned back to meet her eyes. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.
You see, earlier this week, someone else approached me about it. The library is
no longer the only interested buyer.”

Helen swallowed,
clenching her hand at her side and trying to breathe around her sudden surge of
defensiveness. She’d been working on this for so long. Surely he wasn’t going
to sell the precious manuscript to somebody else. “Someone else wants it?” she
said, her voice a little shrill.

Thomas studied
her face in concern. “I knew you’d be upset. I’m not saying I’m going to sell
it to him, but I wanted you to know.”

“Him? So it’s
not another library?” She felt a wash of relief at his nodded affirmation.
Individuals tended to have far fewer resources than institutions like
libraries—even ones as small as Cane College.

“It’s a man,
yes. He’s not connected to any library.”

“Why does he
want the manuscript, then?”

“I don’t really
know. He said something about it being a good investment.”

Helen gasped in
outrage. “An investment! He wants it as an investment!” With effort, she
moderated her tone. “The library really wants it,” she said, “And not as an
investment. It’s important to the history of literature and the history of
Cane. You know Geneva Bale is the only important author in Cane’s history. The
manuscript is so much more important than money.”

“I know. If
money wasn’t an issue, I’d sell it to you in a minute, but fixing up this place
is going to cost a fortune—even just to fix it up enough to sell it.”

Helen’s gut started
to twist in anxiety, as she began to see a whole picture develop. “The library
will be as generous as possible,” she said carefully. She was not equipped to
discuss financial specifics with Thomas. That would have to be done by someone
else.  Judy had met with the Dean a couple of months ago to discuss a budget
for the manuscript purchase. While Helen had some rough estimates about what
the school would be able and willing to pay, she hoped Thomas wouldn’t want to
get into all of that now.

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