A Luminations Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
Exams are OVER!
Sorry I haven't been posting in a while. Stuff is good. Survived frosh year. Survived exams. Might survive Dad seeing my history grade. I'll let you know in a week or two. Rest of the report card should be okay. Criminal justice exam was last, and I walked out smelling the A. Hopefully that will balance that whole forgetting-the-entire-nineteenth-century thing with Dad. Hopefully.
Enough of school! Summertime!
Here's what the gang has up:
Steph: Back home to one of those rectangular states (*ducks* Kidding, Steph!). Anyway, she's got her summer gig from high school back, lifeguarding at some beach on one of the lakes in the Land of Ten Zillion Lakes. I think it's number 8,521. You all know about how Katy and sunshine don't get along too well, but I wish her all the best. Somebody needs to be out there absorbing all that UV, and it may as well be someone like Steph (with, you know, actual coloration in her skin…).
Jan & Mellie: Inseparable! Invincible! International! They're leaving in three days to do six weeks of intensive language study in Japan. I figure Japan should be ready. They've had lots of experience dealing with all those giant monsters, right?
Rachael: Okay, I can understand the whole thing with Steph. She's getting paid to be outside all summer. But would somebody please explain to me what the appeal is of spending three weeks on a camping trip in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania watching a bunch of people dress up like knights in armor and beat each other with sticks? Seriously, WTF?
Cathryn: Internship with a biotech company in Framingham. She's psyched. Those gigs are pretty hard to get, especially for a freshman.
Kelsie & Greg: Greg gets included here because he's effectively a member of 6A with the minor exception of that whole co-ed by floor thing. They're road-tripping together. Sweet, huh? Visiting his family in their summer place on the Cape, then spending a few weeks with her parents. Ah, young wuv.
Kim: *sniff* Graduating! How dare she? *giggles* Actually, we're all going to see her graduate tomorrow. She'll be a grad student at the University of Maine in the Fall, and she promises to visit in between expeditions to dig around in the mud and whatever.
Me: Back home with the parents. Working. My friend Nancy used to work for a bookstore chain, and she knows the district manager around here. She made a call for me and I just accepted a summer job at the Mall of New Hampshire, where I am hoping to have a dull and uneventful summer. Because that's me. Dull and uneventful. :)
"I need a smoke." Julia made the announcement with her back turned to the cramped break room where Lynn and I sat sipping tea. I'd just come on my "ten", and I kept eyeing the clock, partly because I tend to be generally nervous when I start a new job, and partly because Lynn is a shift supervisor and I hadn't really gotten to know her yet.
I'd already noticed that Julia had a tendency to stretch her breaks out by a minute or three, and she didn't seem in any hurry to go out back for her cig.
"Go with her, kid." Lynn motioned toward the door.
I put down my tea, and probably looked confused. Lynn knew I didn't smoke.
"Some of the mallrats hang out in the back halls. They tried to get fresh with Sasha a few months back. Company policy. Unofficial. No one goes out back alone." Lynn went back to her coffee and her magazine. She didn't bother to see if I understood, which I suppose could be taken as a compliment.
Julia had already made for the back door, and I hopped up and worked my way around the stacks of empty cardboard boxes that the Fire Marshall would probably freak out over if we ever had an inspection. I caught up with Julia and passed through a door under a cracked emergency exit sign and entered the hidden corridors and catacombs of the Mall of New Hampshire.
It sounded more interesting when phrased that way. In reality, shoppers should be glad they don't get to look behind the scenes. Mostly, it's just storage for trash that workers are too lazy to take to the dumpster. There's a faint but noticeable smell of decay that hangs in the air, and the drywall is stained in places with big blotches of God-knows-what.
We emerged onto a back loading dock and Julia lit up.
"Nice to know that McBookstore has a policy of us watching each other's backs, huh?" I looked out across the back parking lot. The heat and humidity was like a wall.
"Unofficial policy," Julia noted. She walked over to where I was standing and we both looked out, waiting to see if there was anything interesting happening out on the asphalt. A couple of old ladies loaded Sears bags into a minivan. A seagull crapped on somebody's BMW and we caught each other trying not to laugh.
"Hey, did they tell you the real reason?" Julia asked.
"It wasn't just some incident with Sasha and some mall punks? Wait, let me guess. The mall is haunted, right?"
"Of course. All malls are. No, seriously, Katy. The thing with Sasha was just the icing on the cake. Two weeks before that, an assistant manager at the video game store followed a kid who'd been shoplifting into the back. The kid had a razor he'd been using to slit the game packages open. He cut that manager guy up bad. Blood everywhere. I heard the mall cop just stood there freaking out over all that blood."
"So I shouldn't expect much help from security, huh?"
She thought about it for a moment. "The head guy, Dan, he's okay. And they've got a new kid who actually tries. Other than that, no. Definitely don't expect the rent-a-cops to be any help."
Julia stamped out her cigarette and turned to go back inside.
"We're not supposed to spread that story," she warned. "Bad for business."
I was pretty sure that Julia had spread the forbidden tale to every new employee she'd had a chance to talk with.
Lynn had a special assignment for me when I got back to work.
"I want to see how you do with guest author relations, Katy. We have a signing on Tuesday. Check in with me before you go off your shift." Business was slow, so a quick meeting had been called to go over scheduling for the next week. There was some grumbling when this was announced, but it didn't sound like I'd pulled some choice job. More like my co-workers were relieved not to be picked.
I asked Julia about it when we were on registers later in the afternoon.
"We never get any real authors," She explained. "We're not on anyone's book tour. They don’t come any further north than Boston unless some store pays them upfront, and we're too cheap to do that."
"So who is this guy?"
Julia shrugged. "Probably some wannabe hawking a print-on-demand book. We set the signing up because we're supposed to be supporting local writers. The problem is that these people have a garageful of their nice, pretty self-published books and they think that makes them big-name authors. Then when they come in for the signing and nobody buys their book, they throw a hissy fit blaming the store for not promoting them."
I could figure out the rest. "And I'm the liaison, so I 'm the one that has to soothe all the griping. Got it."
"Welcome to the publishing biz, Katy." Julia grinned.
Lynn filled me in on the details a little later. The author was Hank Stevenson from Manchester.
His book was called Thirteen Unsolved Mysteries of Southern New Hampshire.
Things started going wrong almost immediately.
Hank Stevenson didn't wait for disappointing sales to have his hissy fit. He had it one day early when he discovered that the books he'd arranged to have shipped to our store had failed to arrive.
Julia pointed him out to me, standing by the customer service desk and looking about as surly as a short, roundish, balding middle-aged man could look.
"Lynn says he's all yours." Julia grinned at me.
I walked over and gave my most cheerful greeting.
"So nice to meet you, Mr. Stevenson. I'm Katy McCormick, and the manager has asked me to make sure everything goes smoothly for you. I understand there had been a problem with your shipment?"
He looked me over, and seemed to come to the conclusion that I might actually be able to help because he dropped the gruff attitude and went straight to lost and bewildered.
"FedEx was supposed to have the shipment here yesterday. No one here knows anything about it." That last detail was almost certainly because Mr. Stevenson had failed to inform us that he was having things shipped to the store.
Fortunately, I'm a fast learner, and I'd sat in on some of the meetings leading up to the big Harry Potter release event right around the time I started the job. There were a ton of special contingencies that came up when we were planning for the release of Deathly Hallows, and I remembered some discussions about what to do if the shipment fails to arrive.
"Do you have the tracking number?" I asked. Stevenson pulled a crumpled yellow slip out of his pocket and handed it over.
I saw the problem immediately. He had the wrong suite number on the mall address, which meant that his books had gone to one of the other stores in the mall. I stepped behind the customer service desk and opened the drawer that had the emergency phone numbers list on it. Toward the bottom of the list was the number for the mall customer service desk.
Customer service informed me that the mistaken address belonged to the goth store down on the south end. They had the phone number but I figured I'd be better off talking to them in person.
"Come with me, please." I tried to sound reassuring. "Don't worry. I'm good at tracking things down."
Chris at the goth store had long green hair that hung over his face when he looked down at his paperwork. He was always happy to see me.
"Heya Katy! Look! New ink!" He proudly pointed to a raven on his inner forearm. Chris was one of the more cheerful goths I knew.
The news about the package was not good.
"Sorry, we returned it when the truck came around this morning."
I'd missed by about an hour. I stepped outside of the store for a moment, leaving Mr. Stevenson to admire the latest goth fashion trends. I got my cell out of my purse and called the FedEx hotline number on the slip I'd gotten from Stevenson.
Fortunately, they're pretty good at tracking packages. It was on the truck. I could have it delivered tomorrow or I could pick it up at the distribution center tonight. I didn’t think to ask Stevenson. I just told them I'd pick it up at the distribution center. At this point I figured it was better to have the books in my hands than deal with them riding around on some truck somewhere.
"I can pick them up for you, Mr. Stevenson." I walked back into the store to give the news. "They'll be there for you when you come in tomorrow. I promise."
Stevenson seemed satisfied with that. He went on his way, and I got permission from Lynn to leave my shift an hour early to get to the Fedex warehouse down in Nashua.
It only took the FedEx people a couple minutes to locate the box when I got there. I signed for the box and hauled it out to my car and suddenly had the thought to check the contents. I figured it would be just my luck to go through all this and find out the POD company had sent out the wrong books.
I pulled up under one of the parking lot streetlights and got my pocket knife out of my purse. The box was neatly packed with books, trade paperback format. Not the best print quality, but not horrible. Julia had pointed out a few self-published and POD books in the final clearance rack at the store. I was starting to be able to distinguish them from the stuff the major publishers put out. These weren't bad, though. The cover was a map showing Portsmouth, Nashua, Manchester, and the towns in between with a blood-drip effect in red foil. Stevenson had certainly paid extra for that, but it looked good.
There was a small picture of Stevenson on the back. I read the bio. Nothing too interesting. A lifelong New Hampshire resident and author of three mystery novels. Also self-published, I was certain. Still curious, I flipped the book open to the table of contents.
"Oh, fuck no."
Halfway down the page was the listing for "Chapter 5: Harrington Construction and the Vanishing of Mattie Ives."
I drove back to the mall that night and called Nancy Mateo from my car. She'd never heard of Hank Stevenson.
"Did you read the chapter?" she asked.
"Skimmed it. I don't think there's anything there that we didn't know already. He implicates Richard Harrington and he goes a little bit into how Harrington died in unusual circumstances a year and a half ago, but he doesn't mention Chess Hall by name, thank God."
Nancy took a moment to work out the implications. "So, he doesn't seem to have any new information. He's just working from publicly available records. Probably just old newspaper stories. Maybe he interviewed a couple of old-timers."
"There's more. He printed one of her poems."
"Oh. That is…"
"Yeah, I know. That's bad. Christina Kenney has some kind of way to take ownership of a person's spirit, right? Living or dead. And some part of that is tied to creativity."
Nancy filled in the gaps for me. "It's a kind of symbolic erasing. You pour your soul into your art, your writing. She takes possession of those things and owns you by extension. So that would mean that if Mattie's poetry got circulated, it would weaken her grip on Mattie."
"I'm calling my friends and getting them to come buy the book." It seemed like a simple solution. Get it into as many hands as possible. And it would help Hank Stevenson out.
Nancy brought up another point. "You realize that Stevenson might have painted a big target on himself by publishing this, right?"
"Way ahead of you. But nobody knows about it. Stevenson isn't a techie. I asked if he'd marketed the book online and he didn't know what I was talking about. He didn't know how the Fedex tracking site worked. And these self-publishing companies make all kinds of promises, but it's all bullshit. They don't really do any marketing for their authors."
"Keep your eyes open just in case," Nancy warned. "You want backup?"
I thought about it, but declined the offer. Nancy had been there for me a lot. I didn’t want her driving out of state every time I suspected trouble. Besides, Stevenson was my responsibility. I was getting used to that idea.
"I got this," I assured Nancy.
"You did what?"
Hank Stevenson shook his head and looked down at his shoes. "I know. It was probably just a big waste of my money."
Money wasn't what I was worried about, but it made a convenient excuse for my reaction. Just as I'd suspected, Hank Stevenson's publisher had not offered diddley-squat in terms of marketing Stevenson's book. That burden all fell on Stevenson's shoulders. But where most authors would make up a few batches of flyers and put them up where they'd just get thrown out, Stevenson had decided he wanted something more. He'd cashed in some stocks he'd been holding and used the cash to buy radio spots to promote his signing.
I figured there were two possibilities, and neither of them involved huge numbers of people coming into the store to buy Stevenson's book because they heard it mentioned on the radio. The first possibility was that he'd get the same lack of turnout (with the possible exception of some friends I'd cajoled into showing up with a story that Stevenson was an old friend of the family who really needed the support) that I was counting on him getting before I heard about the radio ads.
The second possibility was that the radio spots would attract exactly the wrong type of attention.
I pulled Julia aside and described Christina Kenney to her, along with some bullshit about Christina being an abusive ex of Stevenson's. I also made sure to emphasize to her not to talk to Stevenson about it directly.
Damn it. I was telling too many lies. Sooner or later one was gonna come back to haunt me. I just hoped it wouldn't be today.
I helped Stevenson arrange his books on the table we'd set up and then took my place standing behind the table to assist in whatever way I was needed.
As I expected, things were dead for the first couple of hours. No sales. A few curious glances and one or two people who came over and got to hear Stevenson awkwardly pitch the book. None of them bought one.
I stepped out to get coffee and came back to find Rachael and Cathryn getting books signed. I waited a couple of aisles away until they were done and then greeted them out of sight of Stevenson.
I thanked them for stopping by and Rachael dragged Cathryn off to browse the display case of tarot decks.
An hour later I got lunch for Stevenson at the food court. Business picked up a bit. Stevenson sold three or four more books to people I didn't know, plus two that I recognized as friends of friends from UNH. He wasn't going to recap the radio money, but I'd heard stories of signings where not a single book was sold, so it certainly could have been worse.
The signing was scheduled to go until four, and there were occasional but steady visitors to the table through the afternoon. Even some of the regular mallrats took an interest. A couple of them knew some of the cases and talked to Stevenson for a bit, although none seemed interested in putting down the sixteen bucks to buy a copy.
By 3:45 I was thinking we were gonna get through this okay. That's when Julia pointed out Christina Kenney. She was at the front of the store talking with a couple of the punks who'd been chatting Stevenson up.
"Signing's over," I whispered to Julia. Fortunately none of the managers were in, and the shift supervisor was on a dinner break. Julia just shrugged like she couldn't care less about me ending things early.
I walked back to Stevenson, trying to decide how I wanted to explain it to him. I finally decided not to explain at all.
"That's time, Mr. Stevenson. My car is by the loading dock. We can take the books out this way."
The store purchased a half-dozen signed copies, as was standard procedure, and I'd made sure those were paid for and put aside early in the day. I started repacking books into the box as I saw Julia talking to Christina out of the corner of my eye.
Stevenson seemed flabbergasted by the abrupt end to the day, but he couldn't quite figure out an objection and when I lifted the box and headed for the employees only door, he followed.
And of course the back halls were mallrat central.
"Hey, Red!" Some skinhead punk and a couple of his buddies were camped out on a stack of boxes smoking a joint under what was obviously a non-working smoke detector. My purse was hanging off my arm, but both of my arms were straining to carry the box of unsold books. If one of the punks tried something, I didn't think there was any way I could get a hold of the pepper spray in my purse in time. I figured I'd drop the box on the toes of the first one who got in front of me.
None of them got up. We walked past. Stevenson was following more closely now, still not saying anything. Fine by me. Just one more exit sign to the loading dock.
And some skinny goth kid standing in front of the door.
I hoped for the best. "Hey, can you get that door for me? This box weighs a ton."
Then I saw the look. Glazed, hungry. And I smelled him. I wanted to puke. Kid had gone without a bath for, well for too long. There was something else, too. The way he moved, maybe. Something was just off.
I tensed up, ready to throw the box at him with all the strength I had.
I couldn't see what was going on with Stevenson, but I was pretty sure he didn't get it. He might not understand what was happening until either me or this kid was hurt bad.
The kid took one step and the door opened behind him.
"Oh. Do you need a hand, miss?" A guy probably around my age, Asian, wearing a Mall of New Hampshire security uniform. I noticed something that reassured me immediately. Even though he'd spoken to me, the guard had his attention fixed completely on the punk.
The kid took about one second to make his decision and went for the guard's throat.
Instead, he connected with the wall. The guard had handcuffs on him and had radioed for backup before I'd moved three steps.
The guard smiled and pulled the door open for me, the perfect gentleman.
"Thank you," I managed. Stevenson finally found his voice and stammered out indignantly about pressing charges.
"Let's just get you to your car. I'm sure that the police will contact you if they need you to file a report. Right…" I read his nametag. "Joshua?"
"Of course, Miss Katy. We'll handle things from here."
I was halfway across the parking lot before I started wondering how he knew my name. It was another fifteen minutes, after I'd seen off Stevenson and his box of books, when I realized that I was wearing a name tag too.
When I drove by the loading dock on my way out of the parking lot, I spotted Joshua standing there chatting with another one of the guards while a cop loaded the goth kid into a squad car.
Definitely one of the good guys, I thought to myself, smiling.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2008