A new short story - Liam and the Book

2022-04-30

Liam, six feet 2 inches tall, 220 pounds of solid muscle, stood on the street corner and watched. In his left hand was a brown leather case. In his right hand, a case that appeared to be a pool cue. The air around him was cool, fresh, one might even say brisk. Though not quite to the point where Liam's breath would give him away to the one he was watching. The sun had set a while ago, while he was standing on that corner, holding that leather case, and the other that appeared to be a pool cue.

Across the street, busy with people busy with their own lives, their own chores, their own errands, was a man. A man who was balding on the sides and back of his head and only a patch of scraggy black hair on top. At five feet 11 inches and 170 pounds, he was nothing special to look at, nothing noticeable, nothing anyone would pay any attention to, except for what he carried. In his right hand was a pencil and in his left was a black leather pouch. It was the pouch that Liam was interested in, not the pencil. Had he known that the pencil was more than just a pencil he might have chosen a different approach.

The man with the pouch looked to his left, then to his right, then across the street. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that caught his eye as out of place, so he proceeded to cross the street, towards a man with a brown leather case and another case that appeared to be a pool cue. As he crossed the street, he had to dodge a cyclist, then a car, then another car, then a motorcyclist cutting through the middle of the lanes. The man jumped backward to avoid the motorcyclist and found himself in the direct line of sight of a low-slung car - red, menacing front fascia, rumbling engine, and a driver wearing brown leather gloves. The man noticed all of this just as he was knocked over, pushed out of the way of the red car bearing down on him, apparently oblivious to his presence in the middle of the road.

The man stood, looked around him, saw the red car continuing up the street as if nothing had been in its way, saw people looking at him with concerned looks on their faces, and saw nobody else with him. He wondered, 'who saved me? Where is the person who pushed me out of the way of the red car?' He looked around again, making a complete circle, when someone asked, "Hey, mister, are you okay?"

"Uh, yeah," he looked at himself from his feet up, patted his arms and legs, and brushed off a little of the oily dirt from the road. "Yeah, it appears I'm fine."

The crowd nodded their heads, some smiled, some waved, and they dissipated into their own worlds of thought, and continued with their journeys, their chores, their errands. Liam stood on the corner and watched, but this time it was the corner on the opposite side of the road, his brown leather case in his left hand and the case that appeared to be a pool cue in his right. He neither nodded nor continued on his way. He watched.

The man waited for the stoplight to change this time, before trying to cross the street, and then when the light went green, he went to the other side, the side where Liam had been before he saved the man's life. But, did he? Did he do it to save the man's life? Liam followed the man. One block, two blocks, three blocks. Ten minutes, 15 minutes, half an hour. Followed. He walked quietly, his shoes with their rubber soles, made no noise on the concrete sidewalk. The man ahead, the man with the black leather pouch and the pencil, made much noise as he walked, his shoes clunking with his every step. His shoes had hard leather soles that could be heard across the street, and had been. People walking on the other side heard the sound and looked his way. He paid no attention to them; he only made his way forward, to his home.

The man had a feeling, a sense of something else nearby, and stopped walking. Liam also stopped; he turned slightly and leaned against the utility pole that was at the side of the sidewalk. He appeared to be just another person leaning against just another pole, nobody special. The man took no notice of him, and he turned and continued his walk, forward, along the sidewalk. There were fewer people on either side of the road now. Fewer houses on either side of the road now. The evening had gotten colder and the man shivered. Was it because of the colder evening air? Or because he still felt something? He stopped, turned, and saw a man leaning against a white picket fence, looking at an open book in his hand. The man wondered about this stranger - 'a case of some kind and what appears to be a pool cue, a strange combination, for sure.' He only noticed this particular man now because there were no other people in sight. He wondered, 'Did I pass him and not notice him there?' He turned and continued.

Liam continued following him, the brown leather case, and the case that appeared to be a pool cue, swinging at his sides, quietly.

The man approached a house with a low fence, three horizontal logs evenly spaced vertically, between log posts, alongside the sidewalk. He paused, looked around, and behind him. This time nobody. The man he had seen was not anywhere in sight. He let out a sigh of relief. Pushed the low gate open, entered his front yard, closed the gate, and walked the stone path to the front door. Liam stood in the shadow of an Alder tree and watched. The man walked around the house, to the side door, and entered. He went to the back bedroom and turned on one lamp on a nightstand next to a bed. Liam saw the man enter the side door. He went through the man's gate, into his yard, nicely kept with a flower garden along the front edge of the house from the door to each corner. Liam avoided walking in the garden and went to the side door, and then he continued between the house and the garage. He entered the backyard, paused, looked around, and saw no dog, no cat, no animals. He saw a rose garden in the center, rhododendrons along both sides and the back of the yard, a barbecue on the patio, and a couple of wicker chairs near it. He looked at the house and saw one window faintly lighted from within. He approached the window and listened to the voice inside reading from the book he had been carrying in the leather pouch - 'Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley's attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But, no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware;--to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.' The classic Pride and Prejudice, and in this man's hands the one-of-a-kind copy personally signed by the author, Jane Austin.

Liam's blood ran cold in his veins, then hot with anger. Anger at this man, such an average man, an oddly balding man, that such a man could take such a book out into the public, out into the world! He quickly went to the back door of the man's house and kicked it open with one mighty kick. The man in the back bedroom, startled, jumped up from the overstuffed armchair, shoved the book back into the pouch, and quickly hid it under the cushion of the chair. He then slammed the door to the room closed and locked it. Liam had made his way through the house and to the door just as the man turned the lock. It didn't stop Liam. He slammed his body, shoulder first, against the old wooden door, and it split into two pieces and flew open. The man stood in the middle of the room, white as a ghost, his hands high over his head. Liam filled the doorway now freed of its door and the man stared at him, but only for a moment. He then lowered one arm and reached for his pencil. Liam jumped and tackled the man, but he had grabbed the pencil at the very moment he was falling to the floor, and he attempted to stab Liam with it. Liam rolled over and the man missed him. Liam jumped up, grabbed the much smaller man by the collar of his shirt, and yanked him up onto his feet. He then grabbed the pencil and threw it across the room and it bounced off the wall.

"Where's the book?" Liam demanded as he shook the man, almost freeing him of his shoes.

"I don't know what you're talking about!" The man was in the air, feet dangling below, one shoe lay below. Liam had him so high his head just about touched the ceiling.

"I know you have it! Where is it?" He shook the man and his other shoe fell off.

"What book? What are you talking about?" The man wasn't going to give up the book he took from the library without permission.

Liam through the man into the chair, the overstuffed armchair with the book under the cushion. "You were seen with it at the library, you left with it in," he looked at the side table and saw the pouch, "in that pouch!" He pointed at the pouch, grabbed it, and ripped it open. "Where is it?" He shouted at the man, right next to his head.

The man shifted in the chair because it wasn't comfortable with the book under the cushion. Liam suspected something, grabbed the man by the front of his shirt, and threw him across the room. He yanked the cushion off the chair and threw it across the room, and there it was - Pride and Prejudice. Liam gently picked up the book, opened it, and saw the writing and signature of Jane Austin. He gently closed the book, softly caressed the leather cover, and placed it inside the brown leather pouch he had been carrying.

"Come with me!" He shouted at the man cowering in the corner.

"Where are we going?" He stammered out the words in fear for his own life, looking at and wondering what was in the case that appeared to be a pool cue.

"We're going to the library." Liam noticed the man looking at the case that appeared to be a pool cue and said, "Get up! Now!"

The man got up, slowly, and tried to walk on the side opposite the long case. Liam raised the case as if to use it as a weapon and the man shrunk behind him.

They left the house and started walking up the road without saying anything, the man being careful to stay away from that long skinny case.

"What's your problem? Are you afraid of this?" Liam raised the case and gave it a little shake in front of the man. The man nodded his head without saying anything.

Liam said nothing and they continued to walk up the road and before long arrived at the library. The man paused before the entered. Liam grabbed the man's arm and dragged him into the library. They went directly to the librarian, an older woman, maybe 70 years old, with grey hair, frumpy clothes, hair up in a bun, and wearing glasses.

"Here he is," Liam said and he pushed the man into a chair across from the librarian's desk.

She looked over the top of her glasses at the man, saw the scared look on his face, then said to Liam, "Did you have to scare him so much? Look at the poor man! He looks like he's seen a ghost."

"You wanted the book back, here it is, job done," Liam said and then he turned to leave the office and the library.

"So," the librarian said to the man, "You thought you could steal such a great and rare book as this?"

"No, I just wanted to read it. That's all. I just wanted to read it."

"We have other copies you could have checked out and taken to read. Just not this one."

"But, I wanted to feel the original leather, the pages, the signature. The copies just aren't the same. And, who was that man? Does he work for the library?"

"Oh, no, not at all. He's my son. He plays pool."