Leonard is Detective Frank Nagler’s friend. Blind and now wheelchair bound, Leonard operates a bookstore in Ironton, N.J., with the help of a caretaker.
During a time when the store is being renovated following an apparent random break-in during which the attacker smashed up displays, tables and shelves, Leonard sits near the sunlit front window and ponders his situation.
This is a scene in “A Game Called Dead,” the sequel to “The Swamps of Jersey.”
“The Swamps of Jersey” was published by Imzadi Publishing, Tulsa, OK.
Also at Clinton Book Shop, Clinton, NJ. Info at http://www.clintonbookshop.com/
Information on independent book sellers is available at : http://www.indiebrand.org
“For years, if Frank’s voice had served as Leonard’s eyes, it was the steady, shuffling walk — that old policeman’s walk, Frank called it — that soothed Leonard greatly. It was that walk, a deliberate step, the grinding of small bits of sand shifting from one foot to the other and a swift scuffle as a heel caught on a crack in the sidewalk, a pace sure and slow as the alternate tick-tock of a pendulum clock: right, left, right, left, that Leonard forever understood as safety. It was that walk that would approach as the tough boys grabbed him as he sat on the corner or would take his few coins and bump him into the street as he would hear the clatter of their swift shoes running down the street; and then he would feel a strong hand at his elbow, a second one brushing the dirt from his pants and jacket and a voice saying, It’s all right, son.
And later, after Leonard had opened the book store, that shuffling would arrive each day near four o’clock and Frank’s voice would review the day’s events.
Frank, he thought suddenly, has left me a years-long debt I can never repay. He took me off the streets and saved my life. There I was a thin frail boy leaning on a lamppost holding out a box of pencils crying, screaming really, for someone to buy one. I haven’t eaten for days, the young boy-Leonard screamed in his memory. And for a moment Leonard felt the cold wind blowing down his collar, the wet shoes on his feet and the sense of death he could never shake even today. In the swirling of the street there seemed to be a darkness so great and heavy Leonard thought he could never overcome it. It seemed like a pit echoing with loud distorted voices and immense honking horns and engines pounding. And then there was a calm voice saying, “Come along with me, son.”
So now I sit in this warm, busy shop surrounded by darkness, but filled with light. This must be what it is to be blessed, Leonard thought. If I were to receive sight I would know what my friend and savior looks like, and with that thought he despaired. It will never happen; the street outside the window filled with whispers.
A door creaked open and footsteps moved across the rear of the store.
Bobby, Leonard thought and began to turn his chair around.
The steps stopped.
When the steps began to move down the right side of the store, Leonard gasped. It wasn’t Bobby. The step were uneven, a shuffle, then a full step with a scuffle of a dragging heel, then a shuffle.
Leonard forced out an overly loud, “Hello,” and tried to fill the room and his embarrassment with cheer. There was no response and the chill that Leonard felt that morning last week when he was robbed returned. His hand felt for the alarm. He wanted dearly for the visitor to speak. But there was nothing but the buzzer and then footsteps and then nothing at all. “May I help you?” Leonard called out. “The shop is closed.” His voice was cracked and dry and the words tasted like straw. When the footsteps began again, Leonard felt a small silent whimper squeeze up from his heart. Not again. Please, not again.
“Oh, there you are. Sorry for the mystery. I didn’t see you. The back door was unlocked…wait a minute, we’ve never met. I’m Tom Miller. I’m working with Detective Nagler on that college murder case.”
Leonard listened as Miller closed the distance between them, Shuffle, scuffle, shuffle. “Sorry if I frightened you.” Miller voice came from way above Leonard’s head. It had a nasal, unfinished quality, nervous, like a teen-ager’s. “Frank wanted me to stop by and see if you needed anything. He’s been tied up at the college all day. But you know better than I do how he gets on a big case.” Miller squeezed out a short laugh.
Leonard coughed. “I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Miller. I’m fine. Please tell Frank.” “Hey, Leonard…Oh, hello?” Bobby stepped into the store and then moved over to greet Miller. “I’m Leonard’s caretaker, Bobby.”
He and Miller shook hands. “I’m Officer Tom Miller. I’m working with Detective Nagler.
“Sure. Glad to meet you.”
Miller glanced around the store and saw the repairs. “Place is shaping up nicely. Sorry to hear about the attack.”
Leonard said thanks and with the wand, turned his chair and rolled it forward slightly.
“Well. I’ll be going,” Miller and moved to the back of the store.
Shuffle, scuffle, shuffle.
Leonard wrapped himself in his trembling arms to calm a rising shiver.”