Authors: Susan Lynn Solomon
Main Street Books
he book store has been on Main Street for as long as I remember. With an oval window in an old-fashioned door set between green painted pillars, the shop is in the center of a block several miles north of the carnival atmosphere summer brings to the American side of Niagara Falls. Harold Anaison used to own this shop. Everyone called him Uncle Harry. When I was a child, my mother took me to Main Street Books after church most Sundays. That’s when Uncle Harry would read about Barbar the Elephant King, Eloise’s exploits at the Plaza, and a large cat in a striped hat causing rainy-day mischief. When I was five years-old, those stories transported me to a world of fantasy. By age six, I decided to become a writer. Or, as my agent terms it, a professional liar.
Uncle Harry’s grandson, Zack, runs the shop now. At five foot eight, he isn’t much taller than I. His hair is prematurely gray, and his face is pale, long, and smooth. I imagine this is what a bookworm must look like. In fact, Bookworm Anaison is what the kids used to call Zack when we were in third grade.
Wearing jeans and a light blue thermal vest, Zack greeted me at the door with a hug (he’d long ago forgiven me for my childhood taunting). He kept up a constant line of chatter about the latest works by Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts, and Sue Grafton, while he led us past dusty rows of crowded shelves and tables piled so high with books, a single sneeze would surely have caused them to cascade like the Niagara River over the Falls. Next to me, Roger’s head swiveled from side to side. He seemed the image of a man who’d never seen a place such as this.
Halfway between the door and the back of the store, I saw Amy Woodward browsing through discount books on one of the tables. I was surprised to find her there. Though a bright woman—she was valedictorian of her high school class—from what I’d seen of her in recent years, her reading consisted of no more than thumbing through copies of
while waiting to check out at the supermarket. I smiled, waved to her.
She lifted her head. Her almond-shaped eyes glanced past me, as if looking at someone who’d just come through the door.
“Hi,” I called.
At last she waved back. “I, uh…came to hear you
read.” She pulled a copy of my book from her bag, and held it up.
My smile broadened into a wide grin. While the detective chief’s wife was a practiced hostess, she’d never struck me as particularly friendly. But she’d made a point of standing beside me at Jimmy’s funeral, and now she was here.
Maybe she’s finally warming up
, I thought.
Zack touched my arm. “We oughta get started,” he said.
I waived again to Mrs. Woodward. “See you upstairs.”
She nodded, and began to leaf through a book she picked up.
So much for her warming up,
As I came abreast of an aisle between bookshelves, I heard my name whispered. I stopped.
Again I heard a whispered, “Emlyn!”
I peered down the dim aisle to where an overhead light marked a break in the row. A head poked from behind one of the bookcases. Kevin’s head. His face was paler than it had been when he sat in my living room the day before yesterday, and he sounded out of breath.
“I’m in trouble, Em. Need your help,” he whispered.
“What’s the holdup?” Roger said. He put a hand on my shoulder.
“Everything okay?” Zack was now on the other side of me.
“Kevin,” I said, and pointed to where I’d seen him.
It took Roger only a second to scoot down the aisle. He soon returned shaking his head. “No one there.”
I heard the bell on the shop door tinkle as the door opened then slammed shut. I spun around in time to see my ex’s shabby gray overcoat through the window. His head low, Kevin dashed down the street.
Back at my side, Roger asked, “What did he want?”
“I don’t know. He said he was in trouble.”
My eyes darted from the door to the aisle where Kevin had been. Call it a moment of prescience; call it a remnant of the divination spell I had tried. Whatever the cause, I felt as though Kevin showing up at Main Street Books didn’t bode well for me.
Zack’s eyes flicked from me to Roger then back again, as if he were trying to figure out what just happened. He tugged at his vest, wiped his hands on the back of his jeans. “Um, folks are waiting for us upstairs,” he said.
Roger hung back for a moment. I knew he was trying to decide whether to chase after my ex. Finally, he said, “Yeah, we should get this over with.”
Zack gave me a knowing smile. It appeared as though he took Roger’s remark as a statement from someone who didn’t care much for literature, but was grudgingly here to support me.
At the rear of the shop, we passed through a doorway and climbed a flight of stairs to a meeting room that spanned the length and width of the store. In front of the large windows on the Main Street side of the room, a semi-circle of chairs surrounded a blond-wood table. Copies of my latest short story collection were stacked in two piles on the end of the table. From the doorway, I gazed around, flattered to see what looked to be more than fifty chairs filled.
These are my people,
I thought, and my apprehension dwindled. For the moment I was able to shove Kevin from my mind. In fact, I was able to shove everything aside: Jimmy’s murder, the killer I’d envisioned, the attempt to burn my house.
As I strolled to the desk, I noticed Jennifer Ryan and her husband, Sean, in the fourth row. I stopped next to Jen, leaned down, and whispered, “I can’t believe you came. How’s your mom?”
She gave me a sad smile.
It was Sean who answered. “Marge is doing about as well as you might expect.”
When I glanced at him, it struck me how much he resembled the young James Stewart in
After the Thin Man
. It was an early film from before the time Stewart drew top billing, and one of the few times he played the bad guy.
Jennifer twisted her wedding ring. “Mom didn’t feel up to leaving the house yet,” she said, “but she wanted me…” her eyes turned toward her husband “…uh, us to be here for you.”
I noticed a bruise on her wrist. “Jen, you’ve hurt yourself.” I thought back to the bruise I’d seen beneath her eye after her father’s funeral.
She glanced at the red mark. “Oh, that—” She shrugged. “I banged it on a counter at Mom’s house.”
Sean stroked her hair. “That’s my wife. Clumsy.”
Who did Sean think he was kidding? I looked toward Roger. This wasn’t the time to tell him what I suspected. I’d tell him later. I gave Jen’s cheek a peck and moved on.
“Thank you all for braving the weather to be here,” I said as I slid onto a seat behind the table.
I saw Roger’s head turn as he scanned the room, making note of the people who had come to hear me read. I presumed he wanted to decide if anyone appeared poised to commit murder and mayhem. Apparently satisfied there wasn’t a mortar or an assault rifle tucked into someone’s belt, he settled on a chair near the door.
When I lifted the top book from the pile and opened it, I couldn’t help but smile.
So this is what having a personal bodyguard feels like,
I read aloud for almost forty-five minutes, pausing only
to moisten my vocal chords from the bottle of water Zach had left on the table for me. I didn’t close the book until I reached the point where one more word would have caused me to squawk like the Canada geese that make a rest stop in my yard on their way to and from wherever it is they roost for the winter. Then, a smile painted across my face, I began to sign my name and write a few personalized words on the front plates of books the audience carried to the table.
“Thanks for coming, Gwen,” I said, handing a book back.
“What’s her name?” I asked a second woman who told me her daughter was a fan.
Jennifer was next. At her side, Sean held tight to her arm, as if he were afraid she might go into a swoon if he released her.
I glanced again at Roger then wrote,
I know what he’s doing to you,
in her book. Then I leaned over the table, and gave her another kiss.
When they turned to leave, I came face-to-face with a wonderful surprise. Rebecca Nurse stood next in line. Sean was so tall I hadn’t seen her behind him.
As usual, my friend wore no makeup. She had on her standard uniform: a ribbed turtleneck over loose pants with a floral design, and a maroon knit sweater vest which hung to her knees. Her waist-length salt and pepper curls were pulled back in a tight braid. The design on her very large shoulder bag matched her pants.
“What are you doing here?” I said, beaming.
She leaned over the table and patted my hand. “Had to come to make sure you’d behave yourself.”
I laughed. “How am I doing?”
She looked over her shoulder to where Roger stood with his hands clasped in front. “So far, so good,” she said.
I was in my element. All was right with the world. I sat back, grinning, and gave myself a metaphoric pat on the head.
Then all hell broke loose.
A window to my right shattered. Splinters of glass rained onto my shoulders, the desk, the floor. Smoke billowed from a viscous blob spreading next to the desk. Something hissed. There was a spark, a flash. The black blob flared. The flame raced along the floor, under the desk. In a moment it was at my feet, on the hem of my pants. People ran for the door and got jammed in it as they shoved each other aside in a frenzy to reach the staircase. Somebody screamed—it might have been me, though I’m not sure about that.
The next thing I knew, I lay on the floor near the far wall. Roger was on top of me, his eyes flashing around the large room. Rebecca knelt next to him and slapped at my
pants leg. “She’s lucky,” she said. “None of the glass
shards cut her.”
I moved my eyes from side-to-side, searching for who Rebecca referred to. I raised my head. Zack Anaison stood in the center of the room. A fire extinguisher in his hands, he sprayed foam in every direction.
My eyes turned to Roger. I truly wish I could have uttered a line a Nobel Laureate might have written, or at least a wise-ass remark such as,
We have to stop meeting this way
. But my eyes stung from the smoke and my right leg felt as though it were on fire. All I could think to say—rasp, actually—was the mundane, “What happened?”
Then the initial shock wore off. The pain in my leg flared. I cried out, broke into a whimper.
Roger gave me the briefest of hugs and rose to his knees. “You’ll be okay. I’ll get you the hospital.”
He gazed at Rebecca who stood arms akimbo, with a stern look on her face.
get you to the hospital,” she corrected him.
I was too stunned and in too much pain to react to the byplay between my friends. “What happened?” I asked again.
“Another firebomb,” Roger said. He lifted me from the floor. “Whoever’s doing this built it right this time. Nearly got you. Maybe now you’ll listen to me.”
Strange things run through one’s mind at such a moment. Tears dripping like large raindrops down my cheeks, I said. “My book, did I sign everyone’s copy?”
Roger laughed. “Yeah, every damn one of ’em.”
He hefted me in his arms and hugged me to his chest. Rebecca running interference ahead of us, he carried me to his Trailblazer.
St. Mary’s Medical Center has grown over the years. Now it’s a campus consisting of brick buildings that sprawl over several acres a few miles from a bridge linking the United States to Canada.
I have no idea how we got there so quickly, though I later learned Roger drove like a maniac. I do recall, at one point he yelled at a car in front of us, “Wasn’t that I’d get arrested, I’d blow you the hell off the road!”
I lay on Rebecca’s lap in the back seat, still in a red world of pain. She wiped my tears with one hand, while she rubbed something on my leg with her other. All the while she whispered a chant I didn’t recognize. Whatever she rubbed on the burn helped. By the time we pulled into a parking spot near the doors to the emergency room, my leg had almost stopped screaming. Bless Rebecca and her balm. If panic hadn’t sapped my strength, I would have leaned forward and told Roger to never again deny the healing effect of Sarah Goode’s herb mixtures and chants.
The Trailblazer slammed to a stop. Roger dropped his police tag where it could be seen through the windshield, then jumped out. He reached into the back seat, lifted me.
“I can walk,” I mumbled, and tried to push his hands away.
Rebecca leaned close. “Let him do this.”
“Are you a matchmaker now?” I asked.
She laughed. “No, only a friend.”
As if my body weighed no more than a helium-filled balloon, Roger hoisted me in his arms and took off at a run. He seemed to glide across the icy pavement like a skater. Rebecca ran at his side, my handbag and the blackened remnant of the shoe that had been on my burned right foot in her hands. Once inside the hospital, Roger gently lowered me into a chair. While Rebecca sat next to me, holding my hand, he flashed his badge at people who were queued up to speak to the nurse behind the registry desk.