Story Excerpts

Art by
Andrew Wright

For Want of a Book

by Anna Castle

The cold wind blowing down Paternoster Row snatched at Francis Bacon’s hat. He grabbed it before it flew from his head and pulled it firmly down, hunching forward into the wind. He ought to be snug in his bed with a fur-lined coverlet and a hot posset, absorbed in his study of Niccolò Machiavelli’s works, not risking his health out of doors so early on a March morning.

But in order to develop his thoughts about realism as a moral stance, he needed to reread Lucretius’s De rerum natura and he didn’t have a copy in his chambers. Someone at Gray’s Inn undoubtedly owned the work, but his fellow barristers had been out of sorts with him since his recent promotion to a seat on the governing bench. Never mind that his late father had been the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal or that the position was merely probationary. Never mind that he knew as much about the law as the rest of them put together. The outcry had risen, loud and bitter. “He’s only twenty-five! He’s barely passed the bar! He’s never argued a single case in court!”

The fuss would die down when a fresh scandal came along. In the meantime, he had a compelling desire to read a book he did not possess and was thus driven out of doors to trudge through the icy London streets.

His favorite bookseller, Oliver Brocksby, traded under the sign of the owl at the top of the row. The street behind St. Paul’s Cathedral, usually crowded with men in legal and scholarly robes, seemed deserted. Was it too early for the shops to be open? The sun had been up at the point when he realized he needed the Lucretius, so he’d simply dressed and hurried out without giving a thought to the time. He hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be Sunday or a holiday.

Never mind; Brocksby lived above his shop. He’d be there. Now if only Francis could persuade him to let him have another book on credit . . .

He tucked his chin against an icy gust and pushed on the door, half expecting it to be locked. But it swung open as if pulled from the other side, drawing him abruptly into the shop, straight into the arms of the bookseller.

“Thank God it’s only you, Mr. Bacon. You must help me!”

Francis blinked at him, uncomprehending and blinded by the dimness. “I’m hoping you have a copy of De rerum natura that you could—”

“Not now! The most horrible—” Brocksby flapped his hands in distress. He peered through a gap in the shutters, then turned the key in the lock, trapping them inside. “You must help me, Mr. Bacon. I don’t know what to do!”

The fine hairs rose on the back of Francis’s neck. The man seemed completely bereft of his wits. “What do you want from me?”

“Come! Come!” Brocksby plucked at Francis’s cloak to draw him deeper into the shop. “I beg you!” He now stood between Francis and the door.

There seemed no alternative but to placate him. Francis followed him through the bookstore and into the printing shop behind it. The familiar acrid smells of ink and metal struck his nose as he passed the threshold.  READ MORE



Art by Ron Chironna

Damsels in Distress

by S. L. Franklin

Please, Mr. Carr, please find our baby. 

When Dawn O’Dell’s parents showed up ten minutes early for their appointment, it was easy to see that they were nervous as well as troubled. I was on the phone in the inner sanctum, which meant that they had to wait in the reception area for a while, and neither one could seem to sit still. The father paced, the mother wandered, and through the open doorway I watched their paths cross several times as I held the line to get an insurance question answered.

This was my new office, the one on North Harlem—thick carpeting, modern oak furniture, glass exterior wall—and regardless of their nervousness, the O’Dells looked as misplaced there as I’d felt myself the day I moved in. Twenty years of working out of my old office—about which the term dump was a magnanimous description—hadn’t prepared me to take on the appearance of affluence in my surroundings. My guess was that the O’Dells were having a similar difficulty, but from the perspective of simple people burdened with big trouble on one hand and a small bank balance on the other.

They were mid-fifties in age, overweight, unhealthy looking, and dressed, both of them, in work uniforms. He was a gofer for the service department of a car dealership, I learned later, and she was some kind of drudge in the kitchen of a nursing home. As potential clients for detective services, in other words, they were highly unusual if not unique. Further, in the interview that ensued, they turned out to be digressive talkers, also incoherent, at times both at once.

The following is a summary:

Mike and Kai O’Dell lived in a two bedroom apartment in Norridge not far from my office. He was Chicago Irish and she was half American sailor and half Hawaiian. They’d met in Honolulu when he was taking some leave from foot-soldiering in Korea in 1952, and he’d brought her back to Chicago with him at the end of the war. Unskilled blue-collar jobs were fairly well paying and easy to come by at the time, and he’d lucked into one at a factory on the west side. She’d been a stay at home mom to three children, two born in the mid fifties and their “baby,” Dawn, in 1963.

In 1981 Mike’s job evaporated when the factory closed, and at age forty-nine, untrained and—a guess—pretty much untrainable, he spent over two years on the unemployment rolls. They sold their bungalow to stay afloat. Kai, even less skilled and not much more trainable—another guess—became gainfully employed for the first time at age forty-six doing the menial kitchen work she was still doing seven years later. To say they had no money to finance a missing person’s search was to exaggerate a little, though. Forty-five dollars changed hands before they escaped the office.

Please, Mr. Carr, please find our baby.


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