If you’re kind enough to read my blog on a regular basis, then you may remember that I had a competition here last month, the winner to receive a custom-made story. Congratulations to Janet Fearnley on winning the competition! And thanks for the inspiration. Here is Part I of the story I wrote for her. Part II (of two) will be posted tomorrow!
One Special Treasure
Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to welcome you to San Francisco, where the local time is three o’clock. Please remain in your seats with your safety belt securely fastened until the plane has come to a stop at the gate, and the pilot has turned off the ‘Fasten Safety Belt’ sign.
Amanda barely listened to the flight attendant’s instructions as she closed her book and put it in the tote bag by her feet. After sitting in the same seat for the last four hours, she was eager to get off the plane and to her hotel. Finally, the signal was given. Passengers started shuffling into the narrow aisle, lifting carry-on luggage out of the overhead compartments and excusing themselves as they bumped into each other. After about ten minutes, the plane began to empty and Amanda joined the rest of the passengers as they made their way into the terminal.
Less than an hour later, Amanda stepped off the rapid-transit train and walked the three blocks to the Fitzwater Hotel. It was foggy, but dry, so the walk wasn’t a problem. Amanda liked the hotel before she even went inside. Built in the Queen Anne style, it had a light grey exterior with white trim. It felt almost elegant, in an old-fashioned sort of way, and that suited her.
The lobby was just as attractive, with cherry furniture and prints on the walls. The reception desk was also cherry, polished to a mirror-like shine. The receptionist greeted her as she approached.
‘Welcome to the Fitzwater. How can I help you?’
‘I’m checking in, please. I’m here for the West Coast Rare Books Society meeting.’
‘Oh, yes, of course. Name, please?’
‘Sadler. Amanda Sadler.’
‘Here it is. And you’ll be with us for…three nights?’
After finishing the details of checking in, Amanda took the handle of her rolling suitcase and headed towards a bank of elevators that were down a short hall to the left of the lobby. She got off at the third floor and went to her room, which was also done in the Queen Anne style. She checked her watch; there’d be plenty of time to unpack, shower and change, and even check her email before this evening’s welcome event.
At seven-thirty, Amanda combed her medium-length, chestnut hair, went downstairs and headed to the hotel’s elegant main ballroom to join the members of the Society for drinks and hors-d’oeuvres. It was all white napery, crystal and silver, very much in keeping with the hotel’s décor, and Amanda thought it was the perfect setting for discussions about rare books. She’d only been in the room for a few moments when a server passed by with a tray of glasses filled with red and white wine. Amanda chose a white wine and murmured her thanks.
‘I don’t think I know you,’ said a sharp voice beside her. ‘Have we met?’
Amanda turned to see a small, not-quite-plump woman, just a shade shorter than Amanda was herself. She had short, graying-blonde hair and pale blue eyes.
‘No, I don’t think so. I’m Amanda Sadler.’
‘Jenna DeRoche. Are you a member?’
‘Oh, no,’ Amanda explained. ‘I’m just here to give a talk tomorrow.’
‘Really? What about?’
‘I’ll be talking about book preservation in libraries.’
‘So you’re a librarian?’
‘That’s right. I’m the rare books curator at Kreslyn College.’
‘And where is that?’
‘Oh. The Midwest.’ Then Jenna gave her a cold nod, excused herself and moved off.
Amanda raised an eyebrow and shook her head.
‘Don’t pay any attention to her,’ said another voice. ‘This group’s been here before. She thinks anyone who isn’t from one of the First Families of San Francisco is not quite human.’
The voice belonged to a man of medium height and average build, dressed flawlessly in a tailcoat that fit in perfectly with the atmosphere. Every detail was right; even the ends of his salt-and-pepper moustache were perfectly waxed and in place. He smiled, put his hand out, and said expansively, ‘I’m Gerard Cooper. I’m the hotel manager here. Anything you need – anything at all – do let me know.’
‘Thank you.’ Amanda shook his hand. ‘I’m Amanda Sadler.’
‘Well, Amanda Sadler, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make the rounds. Be sure you have another glass of wine, and something to eat. The crab puffs are your best bet.’
Within seconds he was shaking hands with another couple of attendees, with just as much exuberance as he’d shown Amanda. She smiled a little, shook her head again and moved to the hors-d’oeuvres table that ran down the middle of the room. Gerard Cooper had been right: the crab puffs were scrumptious.
When Amanda woke up the next morning, she saw that overnight, the fog had changed to a misty rain. Just as well she planned to stay in the hotel that day. She’d decided to go over her talk one more time during the Society’s closed Board meeting this morning. Then there would be a general membership meeting, to which she’d been invited. After that would be her presentation.
After showering and dressing, Amanda started rehearsing, clicking on each slide of her Power Point presentation as she went. Then it occurred to her: she’d forgotten to pack a printed copy of her notes. Damn! She’d have to find out if the hotel had a place where she could print them. Irritated at herself, she went down to the main lobby. As she stepped off the elevator, she saw Jenna DeRoche at the reception desk, talking to a teenage boy who was holding a box. That was odd. Wasn’t Jenna supposed to be at the closed Board meeting? Whatever was going on, Amanda had no desire for another conversation with Jenna, so she moved over quickly to the lobby bar, where she hoped she wouldn’t be seen. She’d wait until the lobby cleared before finding out about a hotel printer.
‘…at a very important presentation,’ Jenna’s sharp, strident tones echoed across the lobby.‘Let’s just get this done!’
She grabbed a pen from the reception desk and crisply signed for the box. Then she abruptly turned her back and stalked out of the lobby, probably on her way back to the meeting.
The delivery boy brushed past Amanda on his way out the door, muttering some things that she couldn’t blame him for saying. As he left, she just caught the name stitched on the back of his jacket: Special Treasures. That could mean any sort of store, but the box had been shaped like a book. Telling herself that she really ought to be aware of resources for books, Amanda went over to the reception desk.
‘Excuse me,’ she said to the uniformed receptionist – her name badge said, ‘Meghan.’
‘May I help you?’
‘I’m only in town for a couple of days, but I’d love to visit some of the local bookstores if there are any close by. Do you know of any?’ It was grasping at straws, but it might work.
‘Well, not really within walking distance, I don’t think. But if you’re willing to take a cab, the closest one’s about a mile and a half away. It’s a small place, though, not one of the big chains.’ Bingo!
‘So much the better,’ Amanda said. ‘I like the small places.’
‘You’ll love this one, then. It’s called Special Treasures. Would you like me to call a cab for you?’
Now, that was service. ‘No, thanks,’ Amanda said. ‘I’ll probably stop by there tomorrow – lots of meetings and things today.’
‘No problem,’ Meghan said.
‘ – why it’s so important to avoid direct light on books or manuscripts that you want to preserve,’ Amanda said as she finished her presentation. ‘Now, I’ve gone on long enough. Does anyone have any questions?’
She was lucky in a way. Jenna hadn’t shown up at her talk. The questions she got were supportive and it seemed as though everyone was interested. She was just answering the last question when she noticed Gerard Cooper hovering just outside the door of the conference room. When he caught her eye, he gestured with his hand. She nodded slightly and thanked everyone for listening. Then she quickly gathered her things and left the room.
Just outside, Gerard pulled Amanda aside. Placing a hand on her upper arm, he asked her, ‘Jenna DeRoche didn’t sit in on your presentation, did she?’
‘No,’ Amanda shook her head. ‘I didn’t see her here at all.’
He bit his bottom lip. ‘You’re sure?’
‘I haven’t seen her since earlier today. Why? Is – is something wrong?’
‘I hope not. It’s just that she was supposed to be at the Board meeting, but she never showed. I had someone call up to her room, but no answer. And she’s not answering her own ‘phone, either.’
‘And she’s not in her room?’
‘Housekeeping said she wasn’t there when they went up to clean about half an hour ago.’
‘I’m really sorry, but I haven’t seen her in the last couple of hours.’