Adam Krane’s life was complicated even before he was born. So complicated it’s going to take an entire book to explain what’s involved. First, there was the woman who was supposed to become Adam’s mother. Dying the day after the wedding just doesn’t work out well for anyone—unless you accidentally find out you’ve married into the Hitler family and death seems the only way out.  The woman who was supposed to become Adam’s mother, Maria Tasler, died because she found that out, and she was so upset she didn’t wait until she’d heard the whole story. She ran out of the marriage home crying and went to a bar, where a literary agent, distraught that his phone calls were being unanswered and everyone was being very polite, went on a shooting spree.  Wrong place, wrong time. But if she’d just let Joe Krane finish, he would have told her that his mother was not a Hitler, but a Hidler, from Vienna. So the moral of the story was to stick around to the end, until you heard the whole story.

After two years of grief, Joe Krane then married Beatrice Novak so that Adam Krane could be born and get started on his search for a story that explained everything that needed explaining. He wrote non-fiction books and then he wrote a novel, and here we are. The fact that Adam’s mother, Beatrice Novak, also died, two years after Adam was born, has nothing to do directly with this story, though eventually it will figure as a complicating factor.

 

Even with the crowd just managing not to elbow the book displays as it inched towards his book-signing table at the back and all the chatter around him, Adam Krane could feel someone staring at him from the front of the store, someone female it seemed from the way his posture adjusted itself. He glanced around quickly but with hands respectfully pushing novels into his face, it was difficult to notice anything else.

As if it was all a party rather than just a sell-and-sign occasion with no drinks other than indifferent coffee and packaged cookies. So thought disappointed West Van literati.  But, at least Pemberton Books in West Vancouver had outdone itself in decorating its window with books and exotic silks, and the interior with posters and pink balloons to celebrate the presence of best-selling author Adam Krane and his novel Love and Poison. To Krane it seemed he was being presented as a debutante rather than a writer, but if the people liked it, and judging by the turnout some must have, who was he to argue with the populace. In case anyone had come into the store not knowing anything about the event, a large poster behind him and in three other places announced that Krane, author of the best-sellers Tennis Wives, On the Orinoco, and How Not To Wake Up Married To a Local Gal in the Hindu Kush, had just published his first novel, a steamy murder mystery. Krane forgot about the staring as he signed each copy, but every time he prepared himself for the next expectant fan, he felt his cheeks flushing slightly with the awareness of probing. Thirty minutes later, Adam could see that a woman was waiting for the other fans to leave, standing deliberately to one side so that she could be identified as the one staring. A tall, darkhaired woman, just under 30, with beautiful legs and intense eyes, looking at him with familiarity. Now that he saw the source, he was unmoved. Just another detail of the work day. Twenty minutes before closing, the shop emptied itself of the other fans and she approached.

“Hi,” she said as she gave him the book. “I was waiting so we could have a conversation.”

Adam wondered whether she was the type who wanted to talk at length about some detail from the novel or whether she was a writer herself who wanted him to read her manuscript. But her use of the word ‘conversation’ unsettled him again.

“I’ve read all your books. But this one’s the best.” She spoke without hurry and without taking her large, green eyes from him.

“Thank you. It’s nice to be read.”

“The other thing is, well, how can I put it: you’re easy to look at. Let’s face it, most writers especially with all that time in front of a computer tend to be pasty and paunchy. And old. But you’re different. Handsome and kinda rugged. That doesn’t hurt.”

“Well, as long as you enjoy the novel. That’s the most important thing.”

Adam sat with his pen poised, ready to write an inscription, but she wasn’t about to stop talking.

“I used to be a chocaholic. Loved all that yummy sweetness melting on my tongue. I guess I still am. Once a chocaholic…My therapist figured that all the chocolate addiction was a replacement for sex. I just wasn’t having any, and, well, you can’t jump into the sack with just anyone. And you can’t make someone love you. And who wants to get fat on a replacement? So I’ve switched to books. Good books. Like yours. Difference is in the voice. A good book has this special voice. Someone’s talking to you. Inside you. And with books, when a book’s good, there’s nothing that can beat it.”

“Not even chocolate?”

She made a show of thinking about it. “Um….no, not even chocolate,” she said and smiled.

“So? What should I write here?”

“Write ‘Dearest Alma, Love Adam’ and anything else you can think of.”

Adam smiled and wrote “To a lovely fan of mysteries.”

“Say, do you have an e-mail or something?”

“I do. But write my publisher if you have questions.”

“It’s just that I can see you like women.”

“They account for half my readership.”

“Probably more. You dating?”

“I’m engaged.”

“What?” She looked at him with incredulity.

“I’m getting married.”

“You don’t strike me as the marrying kind.”

“Come on. Don’t say that. You don’t know me.”

“Oh, I know you. I’ve read your book. I’ve heard you speak.”

“With respect, it takes more than reading someone’s novel to know that person.”

“I’ve read it 14 times. And I’ve read your other books. And I’ve been to all three of your readings.”

“Fourteen times? It’s only been out six weeks!”

“It’ll never work. You like the gals too much.”

“I have to leave,” he said.

“Thank you for your interest,” he said when she didn’t reply, and he stood up so quickly that his chair fell over. Without looking at the woman, he righted the chair, excused himself with a mumbled thanks, and walked into the little office at the back, his neck feeling vulnerable to whatever was being projected his way.

——————

As he drove to his fiancee’s apartment, Adam thought briefly about the woman called Alma and book signings in general. Anyone could come. That was the thing—not just critically perceptive and tastefully arranged literary folk willing to spend $29.95 plus tax, but loonies with guns, book burners, and gushing fans who ‘knew’ you, though they’d never met you before. Even the start of the signing had been odd when a girl about seven or eight with golden pigtails and red Judy Garland shoes had approached him as he was arranging his table and said, “how are you?” Her confidence charmed him, though she just stared at him. “Fine, thanks,” he’d replied. “What books do you like?” he’d asked her. She’d ignored his question and responded with, “Why? Why are you?” He blinked, unsure of what to say to this child, this innocent being, who’d suddenly picked him up and held him over a precipice, and so he’d just smiled and returned to his work. But he was off his game for the rest of the signing. Now as he drove back to normality, he felt at the back of his mind the questions of who he was and what he was and where he was going, questions he thought had dried up after his college sophomore year.

The sight of Leah’s building brightened his mood—so much, that he bounded the steps two at a time and buzzed her number.

“Leah,” he breathed into the intercom.

“Adam.” She spoke with an Open Sesame expectation of treasure.

When she opened the apartment door, they embraced and kissed deeply. “I missed you,” they both said at the same time.

She looked at him appraisingly. “It was just yesterday,” she laughed. “But, yes, I missed you.”

Adam looked at her, as he tried each day, with the intent of seeing her afresh. Short, blonde hair framing a face that managed to be beautiful and alert without high maintenance, with the high cheek bones and skin of a model, and the focused look of someone used to analyzing documents and making decisions quickly (she was a lawyer, for God’s sake), the body of an athlete, no, make that a sexy athlete, because, though lithe, she didn’t have unsightly corded muscles, but instead firm tone and softness in the right places: well, obviously, she was perfect.

“Hey, you two love-birds! What do you say about getting changed, Adam? We’re going to be late for the club. You know how Grant wants you to be in your best form. It’s not every day that he can say the Club Tennis Champ, Club Squash Champ, Club Sailing Champ, best-selling author, future son-in-law, is going to take on all comers in billiards for the Edith Winslow Scholarship Fund.” She spoke with mock sternness, but Molly Duncan was beaming with pleasure over the engagement, and almost nothing these days could upset her.

“I have to say that I’ve never seen two people so in love,” she said, her voice softening. “This will be such a good wedding, and a beautiful marriage. I can feel it right here,“ she added, touching her breastbone.

“Okay, Molly. But no pressure. It affects my game,” he kidded with a smile, as he moved toward the bedroom where his game bag and casual clothes were waiting.

“I’m ready, Adam.” Leah said. “Don’t you be too long. What does it look like if the girl has to wait for the guy?”

“Hey, no worries, Alma.”

A couple of beats of silence from the other room, and then, Leah spoke up. “What did you say, Adam?”

“I said, no worries. I’ll just be a sec.”

“No, I mean what did you just call me?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart. What did I say?”

– End of Chapter One – 

 

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