If books could kill, p.14

If Books Could Kill, page 14

 

If Books Could Kill
 


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  I stared at the faded handwriting, fascinated. Then I shook myself. I was wasting time. I knew where I needed to go for a look at the Cathcart marriage certificate: the stacks. I stared at the narrow aisles of tall bookshelves that climbed to the ceiling and stretched all the way to the back wall. The room was like a warehouse. Here and there in some of the aisles were industrial-type ladders on wheels, used for reaching the highest shelves.

  There had to be thousands of ledgers and journals in those shelves too. Maybe millions. Good grief.

  I looked around. The room was still empty of people, and I wondered briefly if I should’ve asked for a special pass to come in here. At the same time I felt excitement. I could geek out for hours in this room, poring through the fascinating family histories contained in these books.

  But I didn’t have hours of time to waste. I checked my watch. I’d give myself a half hour to find the certificate; then I was going to go back to my hotel room for a late lunch and a nap.

  And wasn’t I the party girl?

  I checked my coordinates and found the shelf I needed, but there were easily a hundred thin ledgers on that shelf.

  “Got to start somewhere,” I murmured, and went looking for a library ladder. It was on wheels but heavy and unyielding. After dragging it over to my section, I grabbed the flimsy railing and climbed seven steps up until I could reach the top shelf.

  These narrow back aisles were claustrophobic and musty, and the shelves were so high that not much light illuminated the area. Moldering leather ledgers and journals were crammed into rows and rows of high, wooden bookshelves. I sneezed as I pulled one dusty old book out and read through pages and pages of names.

  I swore mildly when I found nothing about Cathcart and McVee. At this rate, I had little hope of finding my happy couple. I pushed the ledger back in and pulled another one out.

  That was when I heard a distant, quiet thud. It sounded as if the room’s heavy wooden door had closed. If that was a librarian, I was willing to admit I could use some help.

  “Hello?” I called, but there was no answer. I took a deep breath and let it out. The creaks and groans from the bookshelves shifting and settling were making me jumpy.

  “Meow.”

  “Holy-” My heart stuttered in my chest and I grabbed hold of the railing to keep from falling. I looked down and saw a fluffy, tiger-striped cat staring up at me.

  A cat?

  I slowly let out a breath and tried to get a grip. The cat jumped on the first step, then hopped up to the next step. Then he stopped and stared at me again.

  “Well, come on up if you want,” I said, and moved over on the platform as the cat bounded up. As I thumbed through the next ledger, the cat wound its way around and between my legs.

  I leaned over to pet the cat and earned a soft purr as it stretched its neck for maximum scratching benefits. “You’re awfully friendly, aren’t you? Not in a cloying, puppy-dog way, of course. No, you’re very elegant. You remind me of my friend Splinters, back home. He’s an Abyssinian. Are you? I think you might be.”

  The cat said nothing but seemed happy to stick around, despite the foolish human trying to carry on a conversation. It dawned on me that I was glad to be right here in this strange room with a friendly kitty instead of at the book fair, where I would’ve spent all my time and energy avoiding Minka and Perry.

  When I got back to the hotel, I was going to track down Helen and see if she wanted to meet for that drink. Then I would ask her what in the world she was thinking, hanging out with her dead lover’s wife, Serena.

  As I turned the ledger page and scanned down the list of names, my mind casually wandered off in Derek’s direction. I wondered where he’d gone off to this morning. We hadn’t made plans to meet, but I assumed I’d run into him at some point today. I realized he’d never told me what he was doing in Edinburgh, besides keeping me out of jail.

  And there was the kissing.

  That thought caused my stomach to tilt, and I must’ve jolted, because the ladder began to sway and the cat meowed in complaint. I clutched the ladder’s railing again to keep myself steady.

  Good grief, the man was dangerous to my health in more ways than one. His tall good looks and all-seeing, all-knowing eyes, his quirky smile and sardonic wit could overpower my puny will at times. If I hadn’t seen him at Heathrow with the woman and her baby, I probably would’ve jumped into bed with him while we were here. But now I was hesitant, even knowing the woman was just his sister-in-law. That shock had gone a long way toward reminding me that I needed to think before I jumped.

  After all, I wasn’t exactly the best judge when it came to choosing boyfriends, as I’d been reminded so many times by my family members. But hey, they always liked the guys I dated, so maybe it was a genetic thing.

  Seriously, Derek Stone was just a bad choice for a boyfriend. Not that I’d ever call him a boy. Anyway, besides the fact that he lived six thousand miles away from me, the man carried a gun.

  So even if I were to get involved with Derek this week-and yes, by getting involved, we were talking sex-eventually we would drift apart and I’d forget all about him and his thighs of steel.

  “Whoa.” Okay, the genealogy search was no longer providing the distraction I required. Shaking off all thoughts of Derek and, you know, his thighs of steel, I tried to concentrate on the job at hand.

  A scuffing noise from the next aisle over surprised me, and I wobbled on the step, causing the cat to meow again loudly.

  “Hello?” I called.

  Nothing.

  I blew out a breath and gazed up and down the aisle. My imagination was going a little crazy, I supposed. It was easy to get spooked back here in these constricted spaces, surrounded by the ghosts of history.

  The cat settled itself across my feet as I pulled another ledger out, opened the page and stared at the marriage certificate of Doreen Cathcart and Russell McVee.

  “Holy mackerel,” I said. “Kitty, look what I found.” The cat made mewing noises, as if he were just as happy as I was. I figured he was just humoring me.

  I gazed at the faded legal paper and thought of Kyle. So at least part of his story was true. Maybe if I did more research, I could find out the truth about Robert Burns and the princess. But I couldn’t do anything else today.

  I pressed the book back into place on the shelf. “Come on, kitty. It’s time to-”

  Without warning, the bookshelf began to tremble.

  “What the-”

  An earthquake? For real?

  A few books from the highest shelf tumbled down on top of me.

  “Crap!” I covered my head with my hand to keep from getting hit, but it was impossible. The bookshelf was rocking so hard, I needed to keep both hands on the ladder railing.

  The cat howled and leapt ten feet to the ground, then ran down the narrow aisle and disappeared.

  The shaking grew even more violent, and hundreds of books slid out and down, battering me, their sharp leather edges scraping my skin.

  “Ack!” The massive bookshelf banged against the ladder, throwing me back and forth like a sailor on a storm-tossed sea. I held on to the insubstantial railing and tried to climb down, but books were everywhere. I tripped over one and lost my footing, fell hard on my ass and slid the rest of the way down to the floor, bumping my backbone against each ladder step as books continued to fall and hit me.

  I landed on the ground and stared up at the heavy wood bookshelf as it leaned precariously over me. My throat closed up. I was in serious danger of being crushed. I scrambled to my knees, then tried to stand, but I kept slipping on books. As panic set in, I scurried down the narrow aisle on my knees. Finally, I pushed myself up to run but slid on another damn book. As I fell, I felt my ankle twist painfully.

  The bookshelf groaned as it sprang free from whatever bolts had held it in place. I watched it careen and bounce against the bookshelf across the aisle from it. It made an awkward half spiral and I screamed as it crashed to the floor inc
hes away from me.

  The silence was sudden. Seconds later, I heard the heavy door slam shut and knew there hadn’t been an earthquake.

  Chapter 10

  I tried to stand but shards of pain shot up my leg and I moaned.

  “Okay, that hurts,” I admitted under my breath. Had I really twisted my ankle? It didn’t matter. I didn’t expect emergency medical help to show up anytime soon, so I had to get myself out of there.

  Just for a moment, I lay on the floor and tried to pull myself together, afraid to move too quickly. I stared at the bottom edge of another bookshelf, one that was still standing, and saw that it was bolted to the floor. Checking the seam between the two shelves, I couldn’t see any brackets holding them together. I guessed they didn’t have earthquake problems in Scotland. If this were California, there would be brackets upon brackets to hold everything in place in case of a temblor.

  “Meow.”

  “Hi, kitty,” I whispered.

  “Meow,” the cat said more loudly, as though he might be complaining about the mess I’d made.

  “I know.” I gritted my teeth and pulled myself to my knees. The cat bumped his head against my thigh as if that would help me get up.

  Finally, I managed to stand, and the fact that my legs were still working was such a relief, I almost cried. I found my purse and jacket among the piles of ledgers and, with the cat bounding over books to lead the way, slowly made it out of the stacks.

  My ankle throbbed but I could walk. Sort of. Slowly. It hurt but it was manageable. I slung my purse across my chest and hopped on my good foot over to one of the low cabinets, then stopped to get myself situated.

  At that moment, the door opened and two women walked in and glanced around. They both wore badges attached to their jacket lapels, so I assumed they were librarians.

  “I swear I heard something crash in here,” the taller one said. She wore her hair pulled back in a severe bun and she scowled as she surveyed the area.

  “Maybe it was upstairs,” said the other woman, a short, older woman with curly gray hair. “They’ve painters working in the offices.” At that moment, she noticed me. “Oh, hello.”

  “Hello.” I clutched a nearby drawer pull to keep myself upright. My ankle throbbed and I was getting a headache. “The crash you heard was one of the bookshelves in back. It came unhinged and fell to the floor. The books are scattered everywhere. It’s a real mess.”

  The taller woman rushed across the room to inspect the damage. “Good heavens, it’s chaos. Have you ever seen such a disaster?”

  “How in the world did this happen?” the shorter one asked as she patted her chest in distress.

  “I have no idea,” I said, fairly certain they wouldn’t believe me if I told them someone was trying to kill me. “But I fell off the ladder and the bookshelf almost landed on top of me.”

  “Goodness, you could’ve been killed.” She took a moment to consider me. “You don’t look at all well, miss. Do you need assistance?”

  I was so grateful, I almost wept. “No, thank you. I just want to get back to my hotel and rest.”

  The taller librarian’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you in here? You’re not allowed to use this room without a special certificate.”

  “Ah,” I said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “That explains it, then.”

  She sniffed in annoyance.

  “Shirleen, the girl is injured,” the nice librarian said.

  Shirleen pursed her lips in displeasure. “She shouldn’t be in here. Will you look at this horrible disarray? I’m going to have to report this upstairs.”

  She stomped off. I couldn’t do anything about the mess, and my head was pounding in earnest now. “I’m sorry, but I need to leave.”

  “Of course, dear. Let me help you out.” The nice woman took hold of my elbow and walked me to the door. As soon as she opened it, the cat flew out and down the hall.

  She jumped back. “Good grief, was that a cat?”

  “I didn’t see anything,” I said, not willing to get the cat in trouble, too. “Thank you for your help. You’re very kind.”

  I limped down the hall to the street entrance, where the cat sat waiting patiently. I opened the door and walked outside and the cat followed. On the sidewalk, the cat looked up at me and meowed once, then took off running.

  “Thanks, kitty,” I said, and smiled as the cat disappeared down an alley. “Adios, amigo.”

  The wind had died down and the sun felt wonderful on my back. It was a beautiful day for a walk, or a slow shuffle, in my case. The fact that I could put pressure on my foot told me I hadn’t broken anything. It was just sore and bruised, along with the rest of me. Frankly, my butt ached more than my ankle. I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and take a couple of aspirin and a long, hot bath.

  As I limped across the George IV Bridge street at the High Road, a black taxi screeched to a stop. I jumped to the sidewalk to avoid being hit and landed on my bad foot.

  “Gaaaahh!” I cried.

  A man stepped out from the backseat and grabbed hold of me. “Ah, now that’s a shame, isn’t it? Let me help you, miss.”

  He was really good-looking, with closely cropped dark reddish hair, and was nicely dressed in black wool trousers and a black turtleneck sweater. Normally I would’ve been more polite, but I was tired and in pain and just wanted to get back to the hotel.

  “I’m fine,” I said. “The cab startled me.” I started to leave, but he held my arm.

  “There, now, miss,” he crooned. “You must be more careful.”

  I smiled. “Yes, I’ll be careful. Thanks.” If the cab hadn’t spooked me, I wouldn’t have to be so careful. I pulled my arm away, but he wouldn’t let me go.

  I no longer cared how cute he was. I was getting mad. “I don’t have time for-”

  “You’ll make time,” he said, and shoved something hard against my back.

  A gun?

  I froze. I couldn’t breathe.

  “There, now, I think we understand each other. Let me help you to the cab.”

  “No way,” I said, knowing that if I got in, I might never be seen again.

  “Get in the cab or I’ll-”

  “I’ll scream.”

  “It’ll do you no good.”

  I screamed anyway, as loud as I could.

  “Jesus, that’s not necessary,” he said, wincing.

  I kept screaming as the back door swung open and another man yanked me into the backseat next to him. The gunman jumped in after me, and the driver peeled off around the corner.

  If I weren’t so scared to death I’d be totally pissed off. I was already in pain, and now I was being kidnapped? Who were these guys? I glanced at the two sitting on either side of me. They looked like nice guys who enjoyed a whisky at the pub once or twice a week, not hired gunmen.

  “I don’t have any money,” I said. Not on me, anyway.

  The good-looking guy next to me frowned. “We don’t want your money.”

  “What do you want? Where are you taking me? I need to get back to my hotel. People are waiting for me. And there were witnesses. Somebody had to have seen me and they’ll-”

  “Darlin’, please,” the driver said, meeting my gaze through his rearview mirror. “We’re just wanting your word that ye’ll not be making a mackedy of our Rabbie.”

  “A mackedy?” I repeated. “What’s a mackedy?”

  “It’s what we’re stopping you from doing,” the third guy said firmly.

  The driver turned and glared at me. “Ye’ll not be mocking our beloved hero.”

  “Oh.” Mockery, he’d said. Not mackedy. So much for a common language.

  “I would never mock your hero,” I protested.

  Frowning, the gunman eyed me. “The society looks askance at such disrespect.”

  “You have a society?”

  “Aye, the Robert Burns Society,” the third man said, beaming. “We’re Freemasons, sworn to uphold the dignity and good na
me of our own best man.”

  “Aye, Rabbie Burns,” the gunman said, nodding.

  “Miss, are ye familiar with the sights of our fair town?” the driver asked.

  “I beg your pardon?”

  He pointed out the window. “If ye’ll look between the two hills, you’ll catch a glimpse of the engineering marvel that is the Forth Bridge.”

  “Crosses the Firth of Forth,” the gunman elucidated, then leaned back to give me a better view out the window.

  “Can you see it now?” he asked.

  “A beautiful sight, that,” the driver said proudly.

  “Um, yeah.” I stared out the window to my right. “It’s beautiful.” And it was. Dramatic and impressive. On my last visit to Edinburgh I’d taken a tour of the city, during which I’d learned firsthand that Scotsmen were fiercely proud and knowledgeable of their history and heritage-and their bridge. The tour guide had positively gushed as he explained that the Forth Bridge was one of the world’s first major steel bridges. Its unique cantilever design was considered a miracle of modern technology back in the 1890s.

  But what in hell did that have to do with me and these men and this cab? What was I doing here? I furtively checked my watch. I’d been on the road with these would-be kidnappers for less than ten minutes and still had no idea what they wanted from me.

  The cute gunman noticed me looking at my watch and tapped the driver’s shoulder. “We should get her back.”

  “Aye,” the driver said.

  “But we’ll need your word on this matter, miss,” the third man said.

  “Okay,” I said hesitantly. I was willing to agree to almost anything, but God only knew what he was going to insist upon. They all seemed a little nutty, as though I’d stumbled upon a Freemasons’ mad tea party.

  The gunman held up his finger. “First, this notion that our Rabbie might’ve loved a royal Sassenach bitch?”

  The third man glared at the gunman, then said pointedly, “You’ll pardon Tommy’s French.”

  The gunman, Tommy, grimaced. “Ach, pardon my French, miss. But it’s daft.”

 
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