Monday, August 30, 2010

Spy Letters and a Brighter Axis Tomorrow

American spy letters fall under the broad category of theological books, no? I love the strange stuff we get into in this business. From the Americans keeping an eye on the Commies in Madrid:

Another page:

From the periodical, L'Esquella de la Torratxa (of Barcelona?). The cartooning by Picarol:

A touching encounter between two old chums, pictured here on a fascist calendar. Says it, "The Europe of the young Nations fights for a better future." They're just dripping with mutual esteem, can't you see it!?
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

This is Bizarre

The latest weird things to be found in books - I don't quite know what these are. They were found in a volume of Histoire Générale de l'Église, and they consist of 1.5 x 1.5 inch squares in pencil, each on its own little sheet of paper. Inside the squares are drawn (in pencil) hundreds of little circles. Outside each box is written a number which I assume is the count of little circles in the box. What is this for!? Meditation -- each is a Hail Mary? Punishment -- some poor child was told to draw way too many little circles within a teacher's carefully drawn square? Mathematics -- a really tedious way to add? Fun? Sheer boredom? I don't know. (The pictures here are larger than actual size.)

Also found was a bill of lading for the Boston and Maine Railroad. In it, 470 lbs of clothing are being shipped to a Mr. Wilfrid Rosseau in Montreal. Perhaps he was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his parcels, whose carrier was late, and, being bored to death, conducted an experiment in concentration and hand-eye coordination -- this instead of reading on the history of the Church. He certainly had a fine-tip pencil at hand, otherwise this feat would have been impossible.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sexual Abuse and Fr. Dowling

Dear Misfits,

We met on Wednesday last to discuss The Prudence of the Flesh, a mystery novel written by the recently deceased, Ralph McInerny (February 24, 1929 – January 29, 2010). 

Professor McInerny taught at Notre Dame for fifty years and in that time, published dozens of mystery novels as well as numerous other fiction and non-fiction books.  The Prudence of the Flesh is the 27th mystery novel in what is known as  the Father Dowling Mystery series.   All told, Professor McInerny published 29 Father Dowling mystery novels, approximately one a year beginning in 1977.

In the Prudence of the Flesh, we find Catholic priest Father Dowling working behind the scenes to help clear a former seminarian classmate, Gregory Barrett,  of the charge of sexually abusing a child.  Barrett, who left the priesthood shortly after ordination,  denies the charges, but we see the evidence mounting against him. The story line in the novel is very contemporary. The novel alludes to the history of the Churches response to sexual abuse allegations and weaves that response into the events in the the story. Multiple points of view move the plot along though the writing style is somewhat detached.  That said, the Catholicism reflected in the novel is authentic and parish life is realistically described.  The Catholicity of the story line lends an authenticity that is one of the best attributes of the novel.

Although we did find the topic interesting and certainly contemporary, the somewhat convoluted story line, while adding suspense to the novel, ultimately  left the key characters in the story underdeveloped.  Further, if you haven't read the other novels in the series, you would have found Father Dowling's character to be somewhat superficial.  He is generally a background player in a story where one would have expected him to have played a greater role .  Thus, even though Father Dowling did work some of  his analytical detective skills,  McInerny  seemed to concentrate more on the homicide in the mystery than on whether or not a priest acted as a sexual predator. We concluded that The Prudence of the Flesh perhaps could have been better a better novel with more character development and if McInerny had used less clichéd references to the foibles of all concerned.  We believe that it is probably a fine whodunit for the fans of the series but it is not McInerny's best effort.  However, let us conclude by praying, "Grant Eternal rest unto Professor McInerny's soul, O Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him."

To the Future: 

For September, 2010:  We will  read another book by Brian Moore.  (We read his novel Catholics in August, 2006 ).  This time we will read his highly acclaimed  historical novel, Black Robe which describes the French attempts to colonize the wilderness that was early Canada. “The Jesuits who accompanied the French saw the Savages (as they called them) as souls to be saved. The natives saw the Black Robes (as they called them) as destroyers, threatening the gods and sorceries by which their lives were ordered. Out of that conflict between two cultures, two worlds, Moore has fashioned an extraordinary novel.”  Be advised, for some this may prove to be a somewhat troubling novel. Moore undertook considerable research to develop the background to the historical novel he has written.  In his preface he notes, " The Huron, Iroquois, and Algonkin were a handsome, brave, incredibly cruel people who, at that early stage, were in no way dependent on the white man and, in fact, judged him to be their physical and mental inferior.  They were warlike, they practiced ritual cannibalism and, for reasons of religion, subjected their enemies to prolonged and unbearable tortures.

For October 2010:  By popular demand, we are going to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  This has become a timeless classic and marked the beginning of horror story fiction.  It was written in the summer of 1816 by Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, a young woman traveling in Switzerland with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she later married.  She penned the story while vacationing with Shelly as a part of a contest to see who could write the best ghost story.  Mary won the contest and thus was born the character, Frankenstein.  Percy later edited Mary’s manuscript for Frankenstein and is commonly believed to have written the preface under her name. Frankenstein was published on January 1, 1818, and became an immediate bestseller.

For November 2010:  We have decided to read William Blatty's , latest novel, Dimiter.  (Blatty is best known as the author of The Exorcist.) This is going to be another challenging read.  One reviewer writes that a  "plot synopses cannot do justice to the tightly woven suspense of this novel, due to elemental spirituality that lies beyond the gripping plot and elevates the work to something more than a "thriller." As is typical of Blatty, his characters are eccentric, complicated, at times funny, and likeable. For the long-time Blatty fan, this novel will provide some rewarding moments of the off-beat humor within his previous work, but this book is noticeably different also.

No one else writes quite like this author. This has been evident at least since The Exorcist, and in Dimiter, we see a unique and gifted author at his most refined. His sentences are at once long, rhythmic, and beautifully descriptive. We are allowed to experience not only the artful presentation of bad things that happen to good people and the ensuing, surmounting dread, but also a good long look at an inexplicable goodness that causes evil to scream its throat raw and in vain." 

So, that should keep you busy reading through the rest of the summer and into the fall.  Please contact me at any time with book recommendations for the future.  We aren't running out of great Catholic books to read.  We just need to find more time to read them. 

Misfit Buzz

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Roman Bindery Bibliosite

Here's a bookmark from a Roman book bindery (and gift shop). This was from the days when folks would buy books in "original wrappers", then go have them bound according to taste and/or budget. It would also likely have served the needs of the Gregorian in binding dissertations and such. I'm fairly certain this shop no longer exists. If you're in Rome, let me know if there's any sign of it remaining -- on the corner of Via della Dataria and Via dei Lucchesi, just up from the Gregorian.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bug in a Book

I remain convinced that a whole field of study within historical entomology consists in researching the smushed bugs found in old books. This squashed little friend in an antiquated book is possibly over 100 years old - not the oldest we've come across, but interesting nonetheless.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Story of the Wreck of the 'Argent Eagle'

By Dr. Thursday

[In previous posts we featured The Story of 'Driftwood', as well as The Story of 'Serendipity', both of which precede the present story in the order of their telling.]

"Thanks, Jeff, for telling me about 'Serendipity'," Mary Weaver said. "Maybe someday I'll be able to see it."
"Likely sometime next year," Jeff Smargada replied, putting his empty coffee mug down on the counter. "Seems like it appears every other year or so."
"Yes, it comes in odd-numbered years as I recall," Angela Biddell said, "though I'd want to check my diary about that."
"I was born in an odd-numbered year," Mary mused.
"And that third story, the Adventure, the wreck of the Argent Eagle, when did that happen?" asked Ray Ludlow.
"Oh, you can't be telling that story too!" moaned Jeff Smargada, checking his watch again. "I gotta go catch some fish! You don't know how Mabel gets when she don't get her fresh fish on a Friday!"
"No, Jeff - go ahead. We'll do it another time," Mary assured him.
"It is getting late for me too," said Gloria Adamantine, who had worked the third shift at the hospital.
"And I have some business I must attend to," Ray added. "But I'm curious... El, didn't you say this has something to do with the local music scene?"
"I should say," Elwood Porter smiled broadly. His deep voice, always gentle and slow, was even more warm. "That huge instrument up the hill in St. Ambrose's. The excellent refurbished instrument in the Town Hall. The chamber orchestra. The Town Choir..."
"What about your jazz group, El?" Lisa Richards hinted.
"No, ma'am; that's come about at Rudy Weller's urging. Martin Appleton wasn't much into jazz, but I'm not faulting him! He's made music an important part of our town, and jazz benefits from it as much as the classical forms do. Even rock."
"But..." Mary's eyes were closed as she thought. "Martin Appleton. You know, I was at Benny's for it, but I don't think I can remember what he looked like."
Jeff Smargada shook his head, and unzipped his coat. "All right! If you're gonna go into that story, I'd better hang around. But if I don't catch some fish and have to go to the fish market - and then Mabel finds out..." He shrugged, then rubbed his hands together. "Let's just do it."
"Go right ahead, Jeff," Angela Biddell said.
The others stared at him, but he scratched his head with hesitation. "Yes, but... er... there's parts I don't know about."
"Jeff, maybe you should start with the Coast Guard banquet the night before?" suggested Nick Soffia, eying him with curiosity.
"Oh, that's right!" Mary said. "That banquet - I remember how everyone talked about it. There was some sort of food poisoning. Mom wouldn't get mushrooms for years afterwards!"
Nick Soffia nodded. "Right. They had someone visiting from Washington, one of the Naval secretaries, as I recall, and they put on a big banquet. Just about everyone from the base was there, except for the lighthouse crew and those who were on duty at the port."
"Don't they keep a boat on patrol round the clock?"
"Yeah - and that crew wasn't at the banquet - but I'll get to that in a moment. Anyway, the whole bunch came down with acute stomach pains... Out of respect for Gloria, I won't go into the symptoms, but thank God it wasn't serious. However, it was certainly enough to incapacitate everyone for the next day or so." He smirked. "Except of course for their guest, who never eats any sort of mushroom. But he left before the wreck."
Ray Ludlow was wondering why Jeff seemed so uncomfortable as Nick told the tale. "When was this, Nick?"
"Back in 1993, uh... Wasn't it in November, Angela?"
"I think that's right, but I can't recall the date... I think the wreck was on a Tuesday in the middle of the month."
A view of the Port Authority and Coast Guard headquarters, near the western end of the south side, just below the Bay Bridge. One can vaguely make out the little cemetery through the trees, and even the old "Haunted House" (the Scotia mansion). You can also see a little of "Valley Road" going through the rocks and under the bridge. The round area to the north of the building is the helicopter landing pad for the Coast Guard. If you are wondering where the chopper is, this view was taken from it.
Mary had pulled out an almanac with a universal calendar. "Maybe the ninth? Or the 16th?"
"The ninth - I think that's right, yes..." Nick nodded. "It was getting into that sort of late-fall early-winter mess that we get here sometimes - freezing rain had been falling on and off that whole night. Nobody thought very much of the fact that just about the whole local contingent of the Coast Guard was out of action until their patrol boat came in late Monday night. The captain went into the base and didn't find anybody there except the guard and the radio man - they told him what had happened. He turned to go back out to the boat to tell the crew, and he slipped and fell, and broke his arm."
"Knocked himself out, too," Lisa added. "That was what the paper said."
"In any case," Nick went on, "he wasn't fit to go back out anyway, and the crew was still in training - that's why they got the active duty during the banquet. Again, nobody thought much of this - for the time being, the Coast Guard was effectively off duty for Quayment and vicinity."
"Oh my," Mary said. "It sounds horrifying."
"It's not as bad as that, Mary," Nick said. "For one, there was still someone listening for emergency calls, and they could call for help if they needed it. For another, the sea traffic was light just then, and most local people don't deal with sea travel in bad weather unless they're used to it."
"This sounds like a classic example of Murphy's law," Ray Ludlow said.
"Murphy? Oh, yes - the worst thing happens at the worst time. Yeah, that's about right, Ray. Tuesday the weather continued to get worse - a stiff east wind, gouts of hail and ice and all that sort of mess. The bay had an odd look - almost like a hurricane was expected." Nick Soffia closed his eyes, recalling the eerie sights of that day. "I happened to go up to the observation tower around noon... it was unsettling, and I didn't eat my lunch. The only guardsman there was Hal Pinot. He was on edge, since he was new - he had gone in right after high school - a fine young man - he's gone on, of course, he's somewhere on the west coast these days. But he had to hold down the place by himself, everyone else being incapacitated. He was glad to see me, but I reminded him I was with the Port Authority, not the Coast Guard. I let him show me around and it was clear he was doing fine anyway. We peered out the window - I tried their big binoculars - and even he said how strange the bay looked. Choppy and that odd yellow-gray tone... It was one of those times when the water looks lighter than the sky..." He stopped and took a deep breath. "And then, of course, came the call."
The ladies trembled, the older ones gasping faintly - and even the men's faces took on a certain tense look.
"The radio crackled, and a nervous voice said, 'Mayday! Mayday! This is Argent Eagle, we've hit a rock, got water coming in...' Immediately Pinot jumped for the radio and got their location. 'They're on the shoals!' he told me, and he hit the base alert signal. Of course, all that did was get the handful of others in the place all nervous. A couple guys ran in, but neither of them were ready to take the cruiser out in such weather. I told him they had to set off the other signal, the marine emergency, to alert the town."
Mary shook then. "The one on top of this store..."
"Yes. It's the same system as used by the town Fire Department," Nick explained for Ray's benefit, "just a different kind of signal. Long before there was a Coast Guard, Quayment had perfected a certain heroic virtue in responding to maritime emergencies - you all know about the shoals, and since this was a sea-going community, every mariner was prepared to go to the assistance of another. Even those who would not set foot in a boat were there for support, either by physical work, by supplies of food and drink and warmth, or shelter for the victims - or the even more essential spiritual support by prayer. They used to ring the bells in special patterns... Mary, your grandfather - or perhaps great-grandfather - had a booklet about this, very rare these days." She nodded and he went on. "Nowadays, the Coast Guard handles most emergencies, and all too often nobody hears about their heroic work. But every so often, when the situation grows beyond their abilities, they set off the alert, and then the good people of Quayment do what they can."
"Yeah. Everyone cooks up pots of stew and chowder, or buys boxes of donuts at Gail's, and they all go over to Benny's to talk and eat - while a few local heroes dare the elements to rescue the poor unfortunates out on the shoals," Jeff groaned, his eyes downcast.
The others stared at him curiously, but Nick only nodded. "Exactly, Jeff. That's how it was two or more centuries ago, and that's how it still is. It's just a lot less frequent since we have good lighthouses and radios - and we have the Coast Guard."
"But that day, back in 1993, the Coast Guard was all but out of commission," Elwood Porter said. "I was working at Benny's then... I heard the signal." He sighed. "That was back when Rob Felsen was still alive... Of course he was the first one to show up."
Angela bit her lip, holding a handkerchief to her eyes, and Lisa sobbed audibly.
"Yes, yes," Nick said, trying to hold himself in control. He noticed Ray's eyes also flickering strangely. "Ray, you need to know that Felsen's keeps a marine radio in their store, powered up, tuned in... they're always alert to what's happening in our area, and Rob Felsen had an emergency light for his car - he shot down to Benny's as soon as he knew the situation."
"Who went out?" Mary asked. "We came later... after school. I had to help Mom watch the triplets, they were only seven."
"Stan Allgauer took his father's - Karol's - boat. And Tim Tilsiter went with him - that was before he was Fire Chief. And..." Jeff Smargada cleared his throat, and Nick Soffia glanced at him before he continued, "And... uh, also, Phil Fenster took his own boat."
"Fenster..." Mary repeated uncertainly.
"He died back in 2004. His daughter Lucy married John Outis," Angela Biddell stated. "They have a son about your age, I think."
"Oh certainly. I know Joe, he's just a year younger than me. He went out for the Phosploion."
"That's right; he's in television now, or something, but Phil trained him well. Phil was in the Navy," Nick explained, "and just about the closest thing the town has to a war hero - but if I started in on those stories, we'd be here for weeks - right, Jeff?"
Jeff cleared his throat again, but his voice sounded strange. "You said it, Nick. He used to tell us the most hair-raising tales over at Felsen's - but you best get on with this tale, Nick, the morning is flying by!"
"Didn't anybody go with Phil Fenster?" Mary asked, looking curiously at Jeff.
"Certainly," Nick replied. "Rob Felsen."
"I wondered what he was doing," Mary nodded. "So let me see if I have the whole picture. Stan and Tim were in one boat. Phil and Rob were in the other. You, Nick, were over at the Coast Guard base, up in the observation tower. El, you were at Benny's..."
"Making coffee, keeping people from getting lost, important things like that."
"Lisa and I had gone to the chapel by the hospital - it was too messy to go very far," Angela Biddell added. "Besides, they had closed the Bay Bridge because of icing."
"I was in high school then, and worked part-time at the hospital," Gloria said, "and when I heard the signal, I hoped they would send me down to the Emergency Room, but no such luck."
"And Jeff? Where were you?" Mary asked, turning towards him.
But he turned away from the group, trembling.
"Jeff went with Stan," Nick said softly and with reverence.
"Then you ought to be telling this, Jeff!" Mary said - but he shook his head without turning around.
"It wasn't an easy task, Mary," Nick said, trying to divert her admiring stare away from Jeff, but knowing he was only bound to make things worse. "They were out there for a long time. We heard them over the base radio, as the two rescue boats kept talking with the Argent Eagle and with each other - and Benny had a marine radio tuned in over in their office."
"I remember hearing a little," Mary said, "but I was with the triplets and other kids in another room, and they made a lot of noise."
"Wherever you were, it was hard to hear - and hard to listen to," Nick said with some emotion. "I won't try to give you all the details now. The Argent Eagle was a good-size private boat - a 'gutsy craft' as Phil Fenster put it: well-built, and with all the modern equipment - but she had managed to get herself stuck on a rock nearly a third of the way into the dangerous area. Phil figured she must have been carried over the outermost rocks on a heavy swell, and gotten dropped into the middle of the worst bit. The wind made it very hard to do anything, and even Phil's little boat couldn't risk getting too close - with the crazy waves, you could see the rocks every so often. It was a very nasty time."
Mary came out from behind the counter and put her arms around Jeff Smargada. He smiled at her and nodded, then she went and got him another mug of coffee.
"So what happened?" she asked as she returned to her place behind the counter.
Nick replied, "It took 'em a while, but finally they were able to rescue the people on the Argent Eagle."
"They won't talk, but my guess is that Stan sent somebody out in a small boat with a line... and somehow they managed to bring everyone off. There were five - three men, a woman, and a girl of about nine. The captain was Martin Appleton; the others were his nephew Mike Appleton, Mike's wife Bernadette, their daughter Ann, and Bernadette's brother John Lolek. John was in the Navy, but on leave; somehow he managed to trick Martin into going across before him, so that he (John) was the last one off the sinking ship."
"Phil told me later..." Jeff said after a deep sigh, "Phil told me that John blamed himself... because he had the wheel when they hit the shoals. It took all Phil's persuasive talents to convince him otherwise."
"But they all got back to land?" Ray Ludlow asked.
"Certainly. The Argent Eagle was reduced to bits by the storm, of course, but all arrived back at Benny's later that evening, to a great sound of rejoicing. There was plenty of good things to eat, and a nice representation of people there to welcome them. They stayed a day or two to recuperate, then took the train up to North Belloc where they lived."
Ray nodded. "But Nick - where does the music fit in?"
"Martin Appleton is one of those very popular musicians whose works are very well known, but his connection with those works is almost totally unknown. He writes dittys for television commercials, sitcom theme songs and their incidental music - all kinds of popular stuff. He died back in 2003, out in California. He had a marvellous talent, but he was a bit of a character too, and he had plenty of money. But there was something else, connected with our story, which links his music to our town. You see, when his boat wrecked with his entire family on board, Martin Appleton swore a vow."
"No one knows exactly what he swore, but we can guess from what resulted. The old Stern organ in St. Ambrose's was removed, and a huge new one built by Starkenholz was installed. The other local big Stern instrument - the one in the town hall - was refurbished, using some of the salvageable parts from the St. Ambrose instrument. There were endowments of scholarships and concerts - the Town Choir was organized, and the Chamber Orchestra - there was a lot of cultural activity in town... and, strange to say, he ended up having even more money once he was all finished with these projects. I'm not sure what has happened since then - I think his nephew inherited it and has made a few careful investments; he's an engineer and very wise. Someone told me he owns the old Ottavina quarry now..."

Again came the chime of the front door. The young man was dressed in the deep blue uniform of the Ferens overnight delivery company. He doffed his deep blue hat as he approached the counter, snow cascading from it. His face was red from the cold, and he smiled nervously as he held out an electronic clipboard. "Hi, Mary... it's for you." He put a package down on the counter next to his hat. "Sure is cold out there."
"Good morning, Paul," she smiled as she signed her name. "Why not help yourself to some coffee and donuts?"
"Thanks... nice and warm in here. I'll have to tell Dad."
Mary handed back the clipboard. "His father works for Kaminos - they take care of our heating system," she explained to the regulars. She examined the package. "Something from Milan..." She got out the scissors again and opened the package. She smirked. "A box of chocolates... and a card from Matt."
Paul's eyes narrowed with emotion. Carefully he set the coffee cup down. "Excuse me... thanks for the coffee, Mary." He grabbed his hat, checked his clipboard, then hurried out of the bookstore.
Mary shook her head, smiling wryly.
"I feel that I've just missed something," Ray Ludlow murmured.
Angela Biddell said, "Ray, let's just call it - ah - the natural collision of rivals seeking attention."
"Call it what you will," Mary chuckled. "I may just get another box of chocolates out of it. It's not the first time Paul has forgotten I have three brothers who send me gifts on my birthday, and gotten jealous about being forced to deliver what he thought was a rival's gift."
The others chuckled at that, but Angela Biddell murmured, "Young love is never easy."
Jeff Smargada looked at his watch. "Well, if we're done discussing local history, I'll say good-bye and get out on the bay..."
"It was fascinating," Mary said. "Thanks, everyone!"

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Thursday

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Visit by Archbishop Raymond Burke

We were very pleased to welcome Archbishop Raymond Burke yesterday afternoon. He has been a Loome patron for many years and is, furthermore, a decidedly bookish character. Bookishness, mind you, is a virtue. A bookish person is one who reads often and well, knows about books and the things contained in books. The opposing vice (for those who need to know) is booklust, which is akin to greed and several other wicked habits. But as I was saying, the Archbishop is possessed of a good dose of healthy bookishness. Judging from his book picks over some time, I should say his general interests are broad, yet he delves deeply in some areas; I believe he has gathered books from nearly every section in the store. Allow me also to add that the Archbishop strikes me as a very kind man; kindness and bookishness, being virtues, go hand in hand.

Asked when he ever has a chance to read (for archbishops are rather busy people), Burke answered (with a grin) that he finds time to read at night, very late at night. Asked what he has been reading recently which he has enjoyed, the archbishop responded that he has been reading Journet on the Eucharist.

Our very best wishes to you, Archbishop Burke! We look forward to seeing you again.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

The Story of 'Serendipity'

By Dr. Thursday

[In a previous post we featured The Story of 'Driftwood', which precedes the present story in the order of its telling.]

"That's a great story, Angela," Mary Weaver said with a happy sigh. "Thanks so much!"
Jeff Smargada nodded too. "Not near as mushy as I expected. And I don't know about brilliant, but Harry Carvey..."
"Luke," corrected Angela Biddell.
"Yeah. Luke Carvey is a good fisherman. I've been out with him once or twice. Nice fellow. Strong as nails, too."
"Driftwood is a nice bookstore," agreed Elwood Porter. "I'm grateful to hear more of its history."
"As I am," added Ray Ludlow. "There's so much about this town and its bookstores I've yet to learn. Though I must admit to being particularly curious about something which was mentioned a bit earlier."
"What was that, Ray?" asked Angela Biddell. "I mentioned several of the well-known stories..."
"You forget that I'm not originally from Quayment," Ray replied. Jeff's eyes narrowed but he said nothing. "But you mentioned one which is too tantalizing for me to postpone learning at least the basic facts. I mean this magic bookstore, this 'Serendipity'."
"Oh." Angela put her hand to her mouth as she smiled. "I certainly don't mean that they sell magic books or anything occult. People say it's magic because it appears overnight - and disappears just as quickly."
Ray stared curiously at the little old woman, then glanced around at the others. "Really?"
"Oh yes," Mary Weaver confirmed. "It's an amazing..."
Jeff Smargada put his hand up. "Excuse me, but maybe I ought to tell this one, since I need to get out and catch my Friday fish for Mabel. But I won't spoil it for you, Mary - I'll just stick to what everyone knows that's been there."
Ray Ludlow looked around at the others. "You mean it's real - it's not a local legend?"
Elwood Porter sighed. "Yes, it's real. But it's only real for a brief period - it appears at unexpected times, and even in unexpected places. But as I recall, it was Jeff here who was the first one to find it the last time... was it last summer?"
"That's right, El. And yeah, I was the first one last time... It was over a year ago. September 8, 2005, a Thursday. The sun was barely up. I had gone out early on the bay, and forgot to have any breakfast... Nothing was biting. I was so hungry, I put in at the public dock on the south side and walked up, figuring I could get something at one of the little eateries over there. I stopped in the first one I found and got an egg sandwich and a mug of coffee - I always have my travel mug in the boat, some places'll knock off a nickel when you bring your own. I had 'em wrap the sandwich, 'cause I'd eat on the boat. And when I came out, I went past that empty storefront where Yelter's used to be - and I saw there were lights on, and the door was standing open."
"Yelter's?" Ray asked. "Where's that?"
"The southeast corner of Ottavina and Penn. Yelter's was one of those 'we-sell-everything' pharmacies, but there was something shady about it, and one day back in early 2004 it closed, and a couple weeks later there were a bunch of guys packing all the remaining stock onto an 18-wheeler. They left all the store fixtures, though. It was kinda sad, an empty store like that, right there in town, but at least it wasn't too near the town square, and Yelter's weren't no nice place either."
"My gosh, what used to be there, before?" Angela asked, rather rhetorically. "Ottavina and Penn... I don't think I can recall."
But Lisa said, "That was where the old Weller warehouse was, that burnt down back in the 90's, wasn't it?"
"Oh that's right, Lisa! Yes - and then they built..."
But Jeff interrupted them. "Hold on ladies, this isn't a lecture on Quayment history! Anyhow, that morning when I went past, I saw the lights were on, and the door was open - and I wondered what was going on, so I went in to look around. Maybe some new store was gonna open. Little did I know it had already opened."
"And it was this bookstore? Serendipity?"
"That's right. Course, soon as I got inside I saw it was a bookstore. I gobbled down my sandwich and swilled my coffee - tweren't very hot - and I set off to look around. With all that handy shelving in place, it was easy enough for 'em to set up. The books were nice and neat, like here at Weaver's or anywhere else - except they weren't in any order."
"You mean..."
"I mean like in all the big bookstores in town, they put the books together on the shelves, so you got your fiction and your romance, your sci-fi and your mysteries, your biographies and your religion and your science and all the rest. Everything orderly. Some places do it better, they put 'em into order by names or whatever. But not this place."
"Now, just a moment, Jeff," Lisa said. "Maybe you think they weren't in any order, but I know differently."
Jeff Smargada peered at her suspiciously. "And just how would you know, Mrs. Richards?"
"Because I went there myself," she smirked. "You know as well as I do that Rudy Weller was blasting it every ten minutes or so on WQUA-the-Voice-of-Quayment!"
"Oh. Yeah, that's true. Well..."
"And you may not think that the books were in order, but someone with an eye for color had put them onto those shelves. It was humorous, really, but..."
"It reminded me of those famous 'color' fairy tale books of Andrew Lang," commented Angela Biddell.
"Exactly. Each shelf held books of a particular hue, and they were almost always arranged from small to large," finished Lisa Richards.
Jeff Smargada controlled himself with an effort. "That's right, ladies, thank you very much. As I was saying, the books weren't in no useful order - but an old hand like me is always game to cast my line in unfished waters." The others chuckled at his angling metaphor. "I mean, I'm no word-wizard like these Weavers - well, Mary, my dear, it runs in your family, you know it does - but I do know the meaning of 'serendipity', and that's why we call it that."
"What do the owners call it?" Ray Ludlow asked.
Jeff shrugged. "How are we supposed to know? To my knowledge, nobody has ever talked to the owners. That's why Angela puts this story under the category of Mystery."
Ray stared, rather amused. "You mean it's self-serve?"
"Of course not, Ray, don't be ridiculous. There's a lady at the checkout counter, and I've seen a big brute of a man wandering around, though of course he may have been a customer, but I doubt it."
"He had one of those big motorcycle helmets on his head, and you couldn't even see his eyes. But I saw the lady nod to him once or twice, so I guessed he had something to do with the place."
"I didn't see him when I was there," Lisa Richards said.
"He was a big man. All in black, with black gloves too. Never made a sound, just wandered up and down the aisles, shoving books into a neat line."
"There were two ladies working the checkout when I was there," Lisa added. "I knew one of them, Gail Bultmann, that married Curley Norton - you recall, Angela?"
"Oh yes. But I didn't get there that day, Lisa. I've been inside, but that time it was in another place, but the books were sorted by colors, and as Jeff says, there was a very large man there with his face concealed." She smirked. "I wanted to call him the Count - you know, of Monte Cristo. He was all in black, though he used an elegant black ski mask that time, and mirror goggles, a thick black turtleneck... it was February, I think, bitter cold."
Elwood nodded. "Yes, I was there that time. It was in one of those small warehouses at the west end. I got me the Sayers translation of 'The Divine Comedy', could hardly believe it!"
"Yes, and I found a set of Msgr. Benson's novels, bound uniformly... That's the delight of it, you never know what you will find. But you have to explore, you really do, and be prepared for surprises."
"How was the selection? And prices?"
"Oh, the prices are comparable to the rest of the town," Jeff shrugged, "and as far as the selection goes, it's hit-or-miss. Like that famous thing in the gospels, about the net they dropped into the sea that got good fish and junk..." [Mt 13:47-48] He chuckled, and his face was uncannily boyish. "Whoever wrote that sure knew what fishing is like! And that's what shopping at 'Serendipity' is like too. You might find paperback reprint stuff you can get anywhere, the same-old-same-old like what Phil Weaver puts in the cheap bins out in the lobby. Or you might find that odd title you've hunted after for years. Or you just might find some really interesting rare thing - American, British... sometimes odd foreign titles."
"Dad once found a rare 17th-century theology text there," Mary Weaver said. "I've never seen it myself, but he's told me stories..." She sighed. "Perhaps it's just as well. I think there's something alluring in that black-clad mystery man: he has the glamour of all the great adventure-heroes: Zorro, the Count of Monte Cristo, the Scarlet Pimpernell, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh..." She shook herself and turned to straighten out the stack of cheapies they kept near the cash register.
Jeff nodded, trying to grab back the reins of the conversation. "And of course for all these years since it's been appearing, the whole town's been trying to guess who it is that's behind this, and even more, they've been trying to get a glimpse of his trick of loading and unloading the place..."
"You'd think that ought to be easy enough," Ray said.
"You'd think. But nobody has ever managed it. He must do it in the wee hours, and he knows every last sleight-of-hand trick..."
Angela gasped. "Oh my... I just though of something. Lisa, remember those stories about the magicians during World War II?"
"What, that cast the horoscopes for Hitler?"
"No, no! They made battalions and tanks appear - or disappear... what was their name? Quint and Pelliser... They were a young English couple, got married just at the start of the war... Oh, I'm wool-gathering today..." [See Carter Dickson's He Wouldn't Kill Patience for more on this couple.]
Jeff cleared his throat with a rumble. "Yes, thanks Angela. However they do it, the store appears in a night, and it disappears the next night - and even now, nobody knows who it is."
"What about the authorities?" Ray asked.
"Nah, Ray - the police won't poke at it since there's never been a complaint about their use of unoccupied premises. People have tried using Town Hall to learn more, but they get nowhere. See, the town don't care as long as taxes are paid... and besides, they love the mystique."
"Of course, for us younger folks, 'Serendipity' is almost a legend," Gloria Adamantine said. (She tended to avoid comments during these meetings, partly as she was so much younger than the others, except for Mary Weaver, and also because she was usually exhausted from her third-shift nursing job at the hospital.) "I've never been there myself, but someday perhaps I'll manage it."
"But it's a nice legend," Mary Weaver nodded. "I know of a mystery story about a toy shop like that - or was it a candy store? I forget." [Mary is thinking of The Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin.] "But that was sheer trickery with similar houses and disguise, and a man who wasn't familiar with the locale. This is quite different. Someone comes into an empty place, in the dead of night, and converts it into a well-stocked used bookstore. And after a day of sales, it disappears, and the next day the place is as empty as it had been the day before."
"How often... er, maybe I ought to ask, how long has this been happening?"
The group peered at each other questioningly. "Maybe eight-ten times in a score of years," Jeff guessed, and the others nodded.
"Very curious," Ray Ludlow replied. "If it should appear again, I hope that one of you will inform me."
"You mean you still don't have all the books ever printed?" Jeff asked.
"Oh heavens, no," Ray laughed. "And I surely wouldn't want every book ever printed - not when so many have been trash. But there are dozens and dozens I've been seeking for many years - I have a want list at every store in town, and the idea that there could be a new store appearing overnight is invigorating. I dislike traveling to Philadelphia or New York for such things."
Lisa Richards shook her finger in warning "But it is a bit frustrating, Ray. There's no order to the books!"
"That's what I said, Lisa!" Jeff griped.
"But you meant it differently than I did," she said primly. She turned back to Ray Ludlow. "You'll be there all day, just poking around."
"I wonder why he leaves them in such a state," Ray mused.
Elwood Porter said, "I expect it has something to do with the 'trick' of transporting the store into and out of the chosen location. Probably they keep everything in boxes..."
"But they could sort the boxes, El!"
"I can't explain it, Jeff. That's why I said it the way I did. He's got some trick..."
"You've been awfully quiet, Nick," Mary said, smiling at Nick Soffia who had been leaning against the nearest bookshelf during Jeff's narrative. "Even more quiet than Gloria."
"Jeff did a good job," Nick said. "I have nothing to add, though I can tell you that I've been to just about every one of its appearances."
"I've seen you at others," Jeff said, his eyes narrowing.
"But somehow, Nick, I think you know something you're not letting on."
"What would I know?" Nick chuckled. "You don't think it's me, do you?"
"Of course not! Leastways, you're not that black-suited man, you're too short, and he walks too normal. Not like you."
"Well, Jeff - either I really don't know anything about 'Serendipity', or I do know something, and have some good reason for not telling what I know."
"Yeah. So which one is it?"
"I'll give you a hint. My son Rafael tells me the tech world has a code word for it. It's the explanation for something unusual that happens in ways that nobody seems to be able to predict. When they had to record the reason in their logs, they'd write three letters: P-O-M. It stands for 'Phases Of the Moon'."
The group chuckled at that.
"Of course, just to be fair, my other son Isaac has an alternative explanation. His code - if he used such things - would probably be the unpronounceable N-N-W/S, but he would merely quote Shakespeare:
I am but mad north-north-west:
when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. ["Hamlet", II,2]
Jeff snorted. "Yeah, so? What good does either of them do us?"
Nick smiled. "I said I would give you a hint, Jeff - not the solution. Besides, I don't know who it is anyway, even with the hint."
Again Jeff's eyes narrowed. "You've got a guess..."
But Nick merely said, "I thought you said something about going fishing?"
Jeff checked his watch. "Oh, man. Yeah, I did. So, we'll let the mystery of 'Serendipity' rest for..."

The sound of the pleasant chime interrupted, and another young man entered. He was wearing a dark gray uniform, and carried a cardboard box and an electronic clipboard. "Hello, Miss Weaver!" he said as he came up to the checkout counter, his voice casual but friendly. Rob was a local driver for Fex-Ed; he made many deliveries, often quite heavy ones, to Weaver's, and he was happiest when Mary was there to sign for them. "Kind of a small one for you this time..." He held out the electronic clipboard and stylus.
"Thanks, Rob," she said and signed the registry. She handed it back to him, then he gave her the box. He didn't move as she examined it. "It's from Milan, PA. I'll have to check, maybe Dad was expecting something..."
"I think it's to you directly, Mary," Rob said, his eyes on her.
"Oh." She nodded, but kept staring at the package. "You're right." She pulled out a pair of scissors and slit it open. "Speaking of Shakespeare! A copy of Armour's Twisted Tales From Shakespeare!" She looked inside the front cover, and closed it quickly. "It's from Mike." Suddenly aware of Rob still watching her, she said, "My brother Mike and I were talking about this last summer - he knew I've been hunting a copy, and he must have found this - they have a book sale at the library every semester." Finally, she looked up at Rob. "It must be cold out there, Rob - why don't you help yourself to some coffee? There's still some donuts left, too."
But now, with her eyes full on him, Rob melted like an ice cube under a blowtorch. "Gee, thanks..." He gulped. "Uh, thanks, Mary, but... uh, I've, I've got... to get going." He checked his watch, then tapped the electronic clipboard. "They say they can't track us with this gadget, but you never know. Bye." He hurried out, looking very glum.

In moments they heard the diesel grumble of the delivery truck fade as it went off, and Mary sighed faintly. Ray Ludlow broke the tension. "I'm not familiar with that volume." He peered carefully at the cover.
"He's an English scholar, just having some good fun with the Bard," Mary said. "In high school, the English teacher read them to us - she had us rolling on the floor!"
Ray Ludlow scribbled in his notebook. "Thanks... I'm always glad to hear about such things."
She patted the book, then put it back in the box and shoved it under the counter. "In the note, Mike says to keep this hidden from Mark."
"Why?" asked Gloria Adamantine.
"That goofy sort of humor makes him laugh so hard, he gets light-headed."
The nurse smirked. "I understand; there certainly are physiological reactions to humor. Once I had an alarm go off for a patient's heart-monitor. I raced to the room - and found him reading a book of jokes and laughing in delight, tears running down his cheeks."
Jeff grunted. "Kind of a literary drug, eh? Don't let the culture cops hear about that. Some people can't take a joke."
Nick nodded. "Jeff, perhaps that's the secret of 'Serendipity'. It's like Poe's Purloined Letter: hiding a bookstore among other bookstores. It's somebody's idea of a joke - playful, humorous, a good-natured ribbing." He chuckled. "Maybe our town needs a healthy prank like that every so often. It's the Quayment prescription: take one magic bookstore every other year..."
The others joined in his laughter - except for Jeff, who zipped up his coat and shrugged. "Maybe. You take these things too damn lightly, Nick."
"That's a better way to live, Jeff," Angela Biddell commented, smiling wryly. "People like to quote Chesterton about angels flying, and they forget his concluding remark on the topic: 'Satan fell by force of gravity'." [GKC Orthodoxy CW1:326]
"Oh. Yeah." He frowned. "Sure don't want to follow that loser. But still - I'd like to know who the joker behind 'Serendipity' is. He sure has managed to make me happy - and not just me! I forgot to tell you - when I was there last year, I found a copy of Janney's The Miracle of the Bells... Mabel had been pining for that for ages, and I went to every store in the town, and couldn't find a copy! 'Serendipity' may be a joke, but if it's a joke, it's a damn good one." He nodded to the group. "But if I don't go catch some fish, it won't be a laughing matter when I get home."

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Thursday

Friday, August 6, 2010

Harry Potter (sort of)

I had not been aware of the fact that Harry Potter wrote a book on capital punishment. According to the quickie description on the back cover, it's a history of the Church of England's role in preserving (for some time) and finally abolishing (in the 1960s) the death penalty. Though somewhat interesting, I do not think I will read it. If interested, you might check its availability in our shop by clicking on the word HANGING.

And I suppose that if asked whether we carry any Harry Potter, I can now truthfully answer in the affirmative.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Story of 'Driftwood'

By Dr. Thursday
(Written for my friends at Loome)

It was a cold Friday, the eighth of December of 2006, and a faint mist was falling from the gray morning sky in the little town called Quayment – the famous book-town on the Atlantic shore about two hours south of Philadelphia. Mary Weaver hurried down the front stairs of St. Ambrose's, where the 8 o'clock Mass had just finished. She was taller than average, dark-haired and beautiful, and today was her 25th birthday. She peered across the little bay, where she could make out the flash of the lighthouse sweeping around – then she raised her eyes to the huge central tower of the church, where the partner of the lighthouse lamp gleamed out to the sea. Out on the bay, a ship's horn sounded, and she set off for her father's bookstore where she was the manager.

The Weaver bookstore is the largest of the 13 major bookstores of Quayment: the only one on the north side of the bay, housed in the former "Psephic Church of God" up on the hill not far from St. Ambrose's. This curiously shaped old building had been closed for some years when it was bought in 1907 by John Weaver, the youngest son of Ebenezer Davis Weaver, the famous mayor of Quayment; John was the great grandfather of Philip, the current owner and Mary's father. A strong love of books ran in the Weaver family, and imitation or opposition soon led to the founding of other bookstores, though these were all on the south side of the little bay, in the "downtown" part of Quayment.

As Mary walked she wondered what could be waiting for her there: her three younger triplet brothers were juniors at the Ambrosian in western Pennsylvania, and they were known for playing remote-controlled pranks, even though they would undoubtedly throw her a celebration when they came home during Christmas break. She didn't mind their joking. Besides – whether as in past years they would send her a stuffed groundhog with reading glasses, or an incredibly hilarious triplet-produced Reading For Dummies by overnight post, there was sure to be something nice waiting for her. The Weavers tried to maintain an austere Advent, but today, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, they would have a little party in the store. It was just a simple thing – coffee and donuts, music, a few small gifts for the regular customers – but it was always special for Mary. The five years she had spent at college she had missed it, and its simple joy appealed to her true childlike character.

Dorene Smith was already in the store when Mary came in. Employed as clerk, Dorene was an old friend of the family, almost an aunt, and she gave Mary a quick hug as she wished her a happy birthday. "I guess you miss those three truant brothers of yours," she smiled. Mary took off her coat and hat, and gave a quick brush to her hair. "Oh yes. Of course you never know with them – they're clever at making this day exciting for me, even from far-off Pennsylvania. But they're juniors now, and slowly maturing, so I expect they'll take me to breakfast over the break. They're good about important things – like meals, birthdays, and parties – you know, things with food."
"Don't I know it!" Dorene said. "What a nice dress, Mary." It was deep blue, edged with a lighter blue. Mary was a very bookish young woman, but she was also very lovely. When she began working in the store, many young men of Quayment began to express a distinct and hitherto neglected interest in used books. Mary was always friendly with them, though she had a few special friends – she was far too serious about her life to make any major decisions without careful study. But her dignified aloofness just seemed to increase the attraction, and she took advantage of their interest to get good books into their hands. But there were plenty of others besides these young men who frequented the Weaver bookstore. Quayment, one of the greatest book-towns in the world, preserved its pleasant "small town America" style – besides, it was a sea-side town. For many reasons, then, Quayment attracted a continual flux of tourists – for fishing or for nostalgia or for a delight in small towns. Some visitors were caught by the town's 13-fold literary lure and had taken up residence there. Others could trace their family lines in the area for 150 years or longer, and though others of their family had set out into the wide world, they remained there and watched the waters of the Hardystone River flowing through their little bay and into the Atlantic. Bibliophiles of all types who lived in the area came with more or less regular frequency to their favorite bookstores, and for those who were regulars at Weaver's, today was a festival day.

That Friday, soon after the store opened at nine, a handful of these regulars had arrived:
Nick Soffia, a stocky, gray-haired, pleasant man, the father of twin sons; he was retired from the Port Authority, and divided his time between the bookstores and fishing.
Mrs. Angela Biddell, a short gray-haired widow from the south side; she seemed to be of delicate build and withdrawn disposition – her friendly smile concealed so much. Mrs. Lisa Tenniel Richards, another widow and a close friend and neighbor of Angela; a lady of culture who has been everywhere.
Ray Ludlow, a cheery and robust man, rumored to have almost incredible wealth – and a secret sorrow.
Jeff Smargada – the local curmudgeon whose wife Mabel gave him free rein to dawdle in bookstores or in the fishing department at Felsen's – providing he brought her freshly caught fish every Friday.
Elwood Porter, tall and ebony-skinned, a grandfather and an insatiable reader, who played stand-up bass in a local jazz band.
Miss Gloria Adamantine, a young nurse at the Quayment Hospital; she worked third shift, and often came at the end of her "day" to relax with friends among the quiet and the books.
There were others, of course, but these were some of the most loyal of regulars at Weaver's. They were standing around the check-out counter, drinking mugs of coffee or tea, and eating donuts. As usual, Jeff was speaking – or perhaps the verb ought to be griping...
From left to right: Ray Ludlow, Jeff Smargada, Mary Weaver, Mrs. Lisa Tenniel Richards, Mrs. Angela Biddell, Elwood Porter, Nick Soffia (sorry Gloria Adamantine got there after we took the photo)

"Another bland day in the Morning News today! Why Dave Carmody doesn't print some of the local stories for our edification I'll never know."
"Let it rest, Jeff," Elwood smiled as he sipped some coffee. "Today's Miss Mary's birthday, it's not a day for griping about the newspaper."
"Thanks Elwood," Mary laughed, "but actually, I'm curious. What stories do you mean, Jeff?"
"Heh!" Jeff blurted. "There are dozens. I know some but I'd like to hear the others. I'm sure none of us could tell the story better than you, Mary, about old Ebenezer Davis Weaver – except of course your father. And all of us know about the Dacker place and World War II, or the Verney fire, or the Chandler railroad. And I can't even begin to list the sea-faring tales! Then there are others which are still hidden..." He glanced with a strange leer at Ray Ludlow, who ignored it.
Angela Biddell shrugged. "Any town has countless such stories, Jeff. But what kind would you wish, Mary? A mystery, or a romance, or an adventure?"
"Adventure," stated Elwood and Nick.
"Romance," voted Lisa and Gloria.
"Mystery," chose Ray and Jeff.
"Since the Chair must abstain," Angela pointed to herself, "that means you, Mary, must cast the deciding vote. Which shall it be? Romance, or Mystery, or Adventure?"
"What's the difference?" Mary smirked. "Any good story has to have some of all three."
"Certainly," Elwood nodded. "But often one or the other theme is dominant. It's the same with music..."
"What sort of Quayment story would fall under the Romance head?" she asked.
Angela winked at Lisa and replied, "Oh – dozens. One of my favorites is the story of 'Driftwood'."
"I don't know that one," Mary said. "You mean the bookstore that has the bed-and-breakfast upstairs, next to Harry's Pier?"
"That's right," Angela replied. "And for Mystery, I'd pick the tale of Serendipity."
All the others began to chatter at this. "Oh!" Mary gasped. "That is a mystery all right. I get goosebumps just thinking of it: a magical bookstore which appears in a single night – and disappears just as quickly."
Even Angela shivered with joy. "Yes! And for Adventure – well... we've all seen our share of wrecks. And it's been too recent – barely five years – for anyone to speak of the Phosploion without tears."
"Perhaps the story of the Argent Eagle?" Lisa said hopefully.
"Ah!" Elwood gasped. "The rescue of Martin Appleton... a great name in the musical history of our town."
"What choices – a veritable feast," Mary smiled. "But I remember that wreck too... it certainly was an adventure, even for a 12 year old girl. And somehow, even if one of you knows the truth about Serendipity, I cannot bear to have that mystery shattered – it's just too entrancing a vision. So I shall cast my deciding vote for Romance – and ask to hear about Driftwood."
"Very well," Jeff shook his head with disappointment. "But if it's one of those dull 'pretty' stories, I'm going fishing."
"Please stay, Jeff," Angela put her hand out. "I think there's enough adventure in it for you... it's a shame Attorney Drucker isn't here today; no doubt she would have some useful insights. But, ah," she paused in thought, "where to begin?"
"Begin at the beginning," Ray Ludlow insisted. "Go on until you reach the end, and then stop." (He knew his Alice – or perhaps he knew something about computer science.) "No – give us the dramatis personae first, if you please."
"Well – I'll see what I can do, Ray. I won't go into the complications of who was related to whom – some of you will recognize the local family names... but – ah – let's see. The story starts a fair number of years ago, when a local man named Roger Stillman married a local girl named Veronica Carmichael. They lived over on the south side; neither had anything to do with books. As I recall, Roger worked in one of the warehouses... Roger and Ronnie had a daughter named Joanne, and Roger died soon after she was born."
"Of what?" demanded Jeff Smargada, seeing an odd look on her face.
"Well, they said it was a heart attack. There's a little mystery for you if you need it – just don't expect me to give you the solution, as I do not have it! But the important thing about Roger Stillman is that at some point during his life, he acquired the deed to the 'Driftwood' property, which passed at his death to his wife Ronnie. But – of course you understand this was some years back – there was no Driftwood, and no bed-and-breakfast – and that nice pub was just another trashy sea-front bar. The Stillmans lived further up the south hill."
Jeff grunted. "All right. Go on."
"Anyway, Joanne grew up, pretty and intelligent and good-hearted – unfortunately, she also grew to despise the town. It wasn't really a hatred, but a lack of love. Nothing in Quayment gave her any delight – not the townspeople, not the sea, not the books – nobody, nothing. Her mother never got over Roger's death, you see, and slowly withdrew from existence – and from her daughter."
"So that's why the 'Driftwood' place was run down?"
"No doubt, Elwood – but Joanne was also run down. For her, the town was an agony. She had just graduated from high school – and she was a waitress at the Coney Island restaurant on the south side when he walked into her life..."
"He?" Jeff asked. "I guess this is where the Romance comes in."
Angela smiled primly at him. "He was Willis Hacker. People say he breezed in on some ship – but nobody really knew how he had gotten here. Tall, blond, hardy and handsome, with a good sense of humor, and something powerful... people like to call it 'personality'. And he fell into love with that girl who brought him a couple of chili dogs and a soda. In two weeks they had left town for somewhere out west. Ronnie (that's Joanne's mother) always claimed she had given her blessing – and, as you'll see, Joanne stayed in her mother's good graces. I don't know if it was mining or some other sort of engineering Hacker did, but he had money and he certainly lavished it on Joanne. I don't want to leave anything to your imagination, Jeff, so don't make faces! They moved somewhere out west, they were married and they were happy – he worked hard at whatever it was, and she gave him a good home, and eventually they had a daughter named Jen."
Angela sipped some coffee then said, "Jen was about five when word came that the mine had collapsed."
Mary Weaver was biting her lip. "And he died?"
"Yes." Angela passed Lisa a hanky. "Joanne Hacker found herself with a young daughter and a mortgage – there was insurance, and some savings, so things weren't desperate for her, but she couldn't be idle, it would be too much for her. So she took a job at a neighborhood restaurant where the owner and the cook also had young children... Such was the state of affairs when, scant weeks after Willis Hacker died, a letter came to Joanne from Quayment. From the law offices of Evanston, Nodell, and Drucker."
Ray met Nick's eyes; Jeff snorted; Elwood took a deep breath; Lisa and Gloria made little gasps, and Mary said, "Oh no."
"Yes. Her mother had died, and had left her everything – such as it was. The little house up on the south hill, and the property down by the docks..."
"And Joanne came home to Quayment and renewed the place and everything was wonderful – right?" Ray Ludlow guessed with a quirky expression.
"No, Ray – but I think you knew that already. Joanne shook her head and tossed the letter into the trash and went in to work. Until the cook found her sobbing in the pantry." Angela handed Lisa another hanky, and sipped the fresh cup Ray had brought her.
"'I can't go back there!' Joanne wept. 'You have to, Joanne,' the cook told her. 'Just go, get them to sell the property, then come back. Do it for Jen's sake.' The cook sent her home for the night, and the next day Joanne came in to request time off. She went out and bought new outfits for herself and for Jen, packed and came back to Quayment."
"Ah... and that was when things changed."
"Not quite, Ray! She had to be frugal about money; she didn't know how much she would inherit, and she had to think about Jen's needs, and her own – she hardly could imagine going to college or a technical school; she was chained down by emotion and loss, and by her tender care for her child. She came back to town, and took a room in a little hotel called Bert's." Angela smirked. "You all know you won't find it if you go to the south side now – no matter how hard you search – not any more." She shook her head. "This sort of story doesn't work so well when the audience is intimately familiar with the geography of the place!" She giggled. "But it stood where the Driftwood parking lot is now."
"Oh!" Ray chuckled warmly, thoroughly entranced.
"Yes. And even though the old bar (the predecessor of Harry's Pier) was just a waterfront bar, they did have a cook who was better than ordinary, and they had an old wooden patio on the western end where you could sit under big old beach umbrellas and have your lunch – or your beers – and watch the ships docking over at Benny's."
She paused; the others waited patiently for her to continue.
"Of course when Joanne came to Quayment, there was some sort of stupid delay. Kurt Nodell was called to Baltimore for another case, and she had to wait for him to return. She rode the train up to Blueville to speak with the court officials there, but they told her in no uncertain terms to wait for Nodell. So she returned to Quayment – she could not bring herself to examine her old home, or her other inheritance – she had already seen the old bar and its patio – so she took her daughter to the beach, or to the bookstores, or on walks around the town – and she ate at the old bar, since it was a sea-side tavern and comparatively inexpensive."
"I thought you said this was a Romance," Jeff grumbled. "Or did you mean that fizzle-out thing with the dead engineer?"
"Just hold your horses," Angela scolded him, "You're spoiling the niceties of the drama. Now where was I? Oh. So Joanne took Jen on walks around town, and Jen began to fall in love."
"Oh! The Romance is in the rising generation!" Jeff smirked.
Angela ignored him. "It was a nice place for a little girl. There were things to see, there was a lovely beach, there were bookstores, there were cats which hung about the patio where they ate. Yes, Jeff – there was a Romance in the rising generation. Jen fell in love with the town... but there was another way of using that verb, and that is where the Romance enters. You see, Joanne had gotten used to eating on the patio – she became a regular there. She came at the same times, she sat in the same place, she ordered the same meals. She knew the various waitresses, and began to know several of the regulars. Sailors being what they are, and she being a lovely young woman, she got the occasional invitation or fresh remark, but she had a strong personality, and she had a daughter, which is an even stronger argument – and the regulars were wise enough not to make more than one attempt. As I said, she got to know them, or at least recognize them, even if she didn't know their names. And among them there was one who had that strange skill – the desideratum of all authentic detectives – the skill of being so ordinary that nobody notices you."
"Indeed," Ray Ludlow nodded. "But Joanne came to notice him."
"Exactly. There was a certain man who came by around the time she was eating. He came up a little wooden staircase that went down to the beach below the bar – you know there's a small inlet off the bay, and a couple of old buildings clustered around it... Back then there was a tiny dock below the bar, and a couple of fishermen would tie up there and sell their day's catch to the bar kitchen, since the cook was particularly good at seafood. Anyway, this certain nondescript, normal-looking man docked there and came up those steps nearly every day, carrying his creel or trap. He wasn't a bum, but he was always wearing old beat-up clothes, and an old blue cap. He nodded to Joanne the first couple of times, then ignored her. But – hold on Jeff! – as I know very well, there are different kinds of being ignored, and he was no more neglecting her than he neglected the planks of the patio upon which he walked. He greeted neither, not from any sense of disrespect, but from a simple sense of familiarity. He had too much dignity to be rude – either to her or to the planks."
"How can you possibly know this, Angela?" Elwood asked, his eyes wide.
"Oh, you'll find out, El," Angela smiled. "Anyway she neglected him too, since he did return her smile that first time or two, and she got used to seeing him with his catch, and so she paid him no more attention. Thank God he was alert, even if she wasn't... for one day a new cat appeared on the patio when Joanne and her daughter had just sat down for dinner. It must have been someone's pet – something fancy, I've never found out whose it was, or even what it looked like – but something about it must have beckoned to Jen."
"A witch's familiar, eh?" jeered Jeff.
"Or a saint's, as you shall see. Joanne had finally obtained a copy of her mother's will and was reading it as she waited for dinner. She didn't even notice that Jen had left the table to follow the cat... down the stairs to the little dock. But there was some loose board, or a rotten plank, and..." She got out a third hanky for Lisa – but Lisa shook her head this time. "Joanne didn't even notice the splash."
"Ah, 'fallen in' – not into love, but into the sea!" Jeff chortled. "I get it."
"That's right. As I said, Joanne didn't even notice she was gone. But that nondescript fisherman had just pulled up to the dock in his little rowboat, and he saw Jen plunge into the water. In a flash, he dived in after her. That inlet isn't very deep, but it's not a very nice place for a swim – too many drains lead into it, and there's lots of junk, and it's dark underneath the dock... But as you must have guessed, this nondescript man was an excellent fisherman, and his biggest catch that day was a little girl named Jen Hacker. And no matter what spell of invisibility he may have possessed, it failed utterly when Joanne heard her daughter's screams and she saw this man carrying Jen – both dripping wet – up the old wooden stairs to the patio."
Everyone broke into applause.
"And of course we all know that man's name," Jeff broke in. "He's no other than Harry Carvey."
"Luke," Angela corrected him. "His real name is Luke, though just about everyone in town does call him Harry."
Jeff stared. "Wait a second. Then who's Harry?"
She smirked. "Harry is the cook, who now works at Harry's Pier, – he's still well-known for his fabulous seafood dishes. But you're jumping ahead again. Anyway, no matter how much she loves her husband, a mother finds something strongly attractive about a man who has just rescued her child... and in this particular case, Joanne Hacker happened to be free to pour out her love on this bland-looking but attentive young fisherman. They were dating seriously before Kurt Nodell returned from his Baltimore case, and Luke gave Joanne good advice about proceeding to deal with her inheritance. For it turned out there was a nice little sum waiting for her, invested by her father long ago, but forgotten by her mother in the complexities attendant upon his death. Joanne was soon deeply in love with Luke – and Luke with Joanne. And neither of them could bear to take Jen away from Jen's beloved Quayment. So they got married – they lived in Luke's tiny apartment while the old Stillman home was refurbished. Meanwhile, they began work on the dockside property... and all of you have seen what it is today. A very nice seaside pub and restaurant, a fascinating bookstore for maritime works and colonial Americana, and upstairs, an elegant bed-and-breakfast." (This time Lisa accepted Angela's offer of the hanky.)
"And right next door, a clean, well-lighted parking lot – not to mention a completely new dock by the patio," added Ray Ludlow. "Nick and I have docked there several times."
"So that's the story of the Driftwood," Mary Weaver sighed with a happy smile. "I've heard a little about it, but mostly rumors."
"Yes... I've forgotten what grade Jen is in, she's growing to be a lovely young lady, very intelligent; she has a dashing little half-brother now..."
"Joanne – uh – Carvey runs the bookstore?" Ray asked.
"She runs the bed-and-breakfast. They hired Barbara Stern to run the bookstore, but Joanne has a keen awareness of literature...."
"Dad says she has a real knack for the trade," Mary said.
"Yes – after all, she reads a lot. And every so often she travels up and down the coast for stock – she's very sharp. And of course Luke handles the restaurant and pub, though I doubt he has much time to fish. Such a couple – they work so well as a team, but then he is a brilliant man..." Angela broke off rather abruptly.
"Yes?" Jeff snapped. "Go on. How is he brilliant?"
"Well," Angela looked a bit embarrassed. "I guess that's the part of this story that falls into the 'Mystery' category."
"Ah..." Mary smiled. "That's good. It's better that way... maybe at another party I'll get to hear some more."
"Or maybe you'll meet him and you can find out directly," chided Jeff.
Mary shook her head. "I'll let you do that sort of research, Jeff; it's more your style. But there is one little question I'm still curious about..."

A pleasant chime interrupted her. Shortly afterwards a young man in a dark brown winter uniform came up to the group. He was carrying a huge something swaddled in tissue paper. He smiled nervously at Mary but out of habit he glanced at his clipboard and asked, "Mary Weaver?"
"Yes, Kerry?" she smirked. (He often stopped in to browse the books, even when he didn't have a delivery to make.)
Carefully he sat the wrapped something down on the counter, and handed her the clipboard and pen. "Just sign here..." he pointed, but his eyes were on her face.
"Here you go." She handed the clipboard back, but he just stood there casually, enjoying the atmosphere.
Lisa noted melting flakes in Kerry's hair and said, "I see it's started to snow."
"Snow? Sure has," Kerry said, his eyes on Mary.
"Oh, blast! And I've still got to catch some fish!" Jeff grumbled. "I'll finish this mug then get outta here."
Mary pointed to the refreshments. "Kerry, why not relax for a minute and have some coffee? Or a donut?"
But under her friendly gaze he smiled awkwardly and looked away for a moment. "Thanks, Mary – but I got other deliveries to make." He tapped the clipboard, then looked at her again. "Uh... you'll wanna be careful when you unwrap it – it's fragile." He sighed faintly as he turned away. "Bye." He trudged back out, though Mary saw him turn back at the door for another glance at her.

Mary rubbed her chin as she looked at the wrapped object. "It's almost certainly something from the boys..." With narrowed eyes, she carefully began to unwrap the thing, removing yards and yards of tissue. The others watched with anticipation. In moments she saw it was a dozen huge red roses in an oddly shaped glass vase. Their scent filled the air. There was a little card nestled among the greens – she pulled it off, and glanced at it. "It's from the triplets..." she murmured as she stuck it into her pocket.
Noting her unease, Angela said, "What lovely roses! They're especially delightful at this time of year – they remind me of another story..."
"Excuse me," Mary interrupted her. She shifted the vase to a safe position on the counter. "Before I forget – Angela, I had a question about this story, though perhaps it's another mystery. Why did they pick the name 'Driftwood'? It's a very nice name, I think."
"Appropriate, too," added Lisa.
"Ah," Angela smirked. "It just so happens that I know the answer."
"You do seem to know a lot about them, Angela," Elwood said with just a hint of expectation.
"Yeah, and frankly we had enough mysteries for today," snapped Jeff as he set down his empty mug.
Angela smirked. "That's because I was Veronica Carmichael Stillman's childhood friend – and later her executrix. Joanne was cool to me at first, but soon after she became pregnant again we became friends – and she told me all these other details. It's funny, Elwood, because I asked her myself about that name. As Lisa said, 'Driftwood' does seem to be a very appropriate name for a bookstore on the beach..."
"On the waterfront, perhaps?" Ray suggested.
"Yes; thanks, Ray – that's more precise. Likewise, there is a precise reason Joanne selected that name." Angela sighed, then pulled out yet another hanky – this time for her own use. "Every time I think of it, I start to cry... you see, it's because of what Luke said as he brought poor water-logged Jen up the stairs to her mother."
"What did he say?" Mary asked.
"'I think this lovely Driftwood belongs to you'."

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Thursday