Here’s a supernatural bonus story for fans of Miss Livingstone who’ve come to the blog to learn more. This is the backstory of when the mysterious Mr. Niccoló Manush met Miss Livingstone’s fine Scottish book-seller, Mr. Thomas Worthington, in Paris near the turn of the century. The unlikely pair later become business partners in the American west, along with the monstrously mammoth cabinet desk.
An Orchestrated Meeting
Niccoló brushed his hand over the strangely carved desk that loomed in the dusky depths of the shop. Dusting books for his tante bored him, but she’d taken him in upon his arrival to Paris. It was fitting he should serve in some capacity. He studied the intricate shapes high on the heavy doors concealing the desk’s cabinet – deeply sculpted like an oversized cuckoo clock. It seemed an odd accoutrement to an overcrowded bookshop. An encroachment on his profit – space better filled with his acquisitions. His tante had agreed to pay him handsomely for rare or excellent literature expanding the Manush family’s collection. He rubbed at the polished wood ornamentation, lost in ambitious thought.
“Quoi!” he cried out. His hand flew from the desk’s surface as a startling melody commenced. The clamor of a full circus orchestra inhabited the room, though nary a troubadour could be seen. And such could never have squeezed between the packed in shelves even if roaming players ducked from the bustling streets to entertain or taunt him.
Niccoló glared at the crown of the desk. The flamboyant chorus seemed to issue from the wooden behemoth. His heavy dark brows drew down, and the parasol-like symbol at its pinnacle, transformed to a violin. He shook his head, blinked, and gazed again. The parasol topped the carvings, just as before. But a deep shadow permeated the cramped space between him and the desk, as if the figure bowing the fiddle pressed in on him. And the frolic of the circus melody turned frantic and frightening.
Rubbing his eyes, he again assured himself the carved violin was mere illusion. “Ha!” he spoke to the desk, in defiance. He set both hands on its thick-stained surface, confronting its trickery. The music receded. But a smudged and wispy version of the same melody wafted through the shelves from beyond the shop’s door.
The music sprung from the street all along, Niccoló concluded with a sneer at the furniture. He was drawn toward the cobbles of the rue de Richelieu to confirm the presence of the rollicking musicians. Despite his cocky smirk at the desk, he harbored desperate urgency to dispel the dark phantom that encroached on his senses.
He rushed from the shop. As the brass doorbell jingled his exit, the distant music fell into cacophony and the world beyond tattered to shreds like an old playbill coming unglued from a theatre marquee. The discordant notes faded away, but one woman’s inquisitive face remained, frozen in the frayed framework of the rue. Her dark curly hair was shockingly short and wild. A shadow passed, and the cohesive street came together again – strangely empty of life and sound. Only Niccoló and the buttery-sweet aroma of the neighboring pâtisserie inhabited the space beyond the door of Librairie d’Occasion Curiosità.
But Niccoló was certain the elusive orchestra was nearby. He marched across the eerily quiet street to the Bibliothèque nationale de France and cupped his hands against the stately library’s window. He peered within, as though the scholarly confines had gone mad with whimsy and procured the wayward players to weave merrily amongst its pompous shelves. The institution remained staid and stolid.
Enthralled, Niccoló stumbled along the silent cobblestones to the corner at the foot of Fontaine Molière. He stared at the bronze-wrought playwright above, as if the statue would burst into raucous tune. A scruffy lad spooked him, flashing a crooked smile in passing, and was gone. No one else could be seen. Where were the bustling crowds which descended each day? Niccoló set quivering hand to the fountain’s imposing base and scoured the rue de Molière with his eyes. He scrutinized each cranny – devoid of traffic and humanity. A fuzzy grey feline padded along the storefronts, alone. He leaned outward, searching further along the rue de Richlieu. It was still as stone.
A lone trumpet tone came from behind him. Niccoló swung to trembling action as the circus orchestra joined in. The sound grew ahead where he gazed, though he couldn’t see the players. He flew along the rue de Richlieu toward the bookshop from which he’d come, straining desperately to see the blaring band. The traffic resumed with voluminous vigor on the rue de Molière. He threw it a stymied glance as he scurried along the deserted rue de Richlieu in pursuit of the mysterious musicians.
As he progressed, the beguiling tune fled until he once again reached his tante’s bookshop. Distant yet distinct melodies drifted around the shop’s door, alluring as the smoke of the Romani campfires of his youth. The musicians were surely within the Librairie d’Occasion Curiosità after all. The bobbing brass doorbell jingled frantically as he swooped in to catch his prize. But silence inhabited the cluttered space and no orchestra evidenced the music that teased his ears moments before. Books crowded the shop – but not a soul could be seen. Even his tante had not returned. He realized with a start the scolding she’d have given him if she had. He’d foolishly abandoned the collection while running willy-nilly down the rue. Whatever had possessed him?
He turned from the light of the windows, and the now populated street. The disturbing dark desk drew him into the shadowy corner. Indistinct carvings writhed in the murky dusk. His dizzy mind wandered.
Niccoló reached out to steady himself. His hand splayed upon the dim desk’s surface. The lone trumpet resumed its tune – a muffled melody wending through the sealed alley door at the opposite end of the bookshop. He lunged through the shelves, bumping amongst the clutter of dusty stacks. His clutching fist twisted the knob to the alley. But the unyielding door trapped him in desperation. He set his shoulder stoutly against the sturdy wood and pushed with his full might, but the door stood firm against him.
A glint of silver caught his eye as he rolled them wildly around the doorframe seeking escape. Whisking a small stubby key from it hiding place, he jammed and turned it in the keyhole. With a whoosh of wind and flash of light Niccoló was thrown into the alleyway.
He recovered equilibrium and ran with great urgency toward the sound of the full circus orchestra. Hope flamed within as he witnessed a stray elbow flicking in and out of sight near the wall at the end of the block – as if a trombone player finessed his slide – though he couldn’t make out the instrument in the distance. As he drew near, the music faded away to a pounding rhythm that skipped a beat in most random fashion.
Niccoló rounded the corner and a deep groan brought the symphony of pounding fists on flesh into sharp focus. This was no random rhythm. It was a beating indeed. Four ruffians on one young gent. “Arrête!” Niccoló shouted and pulled the nearest filthy urchin from the fray. His mighty fist broke a tooth from the lad’s crooked grin and dispatched him from the fight. Niccoló moved to the next, and as their leader fell on the cobbles under his wrath, the other two disappeared down the rue with all haste.
Their victim lay between fine books strewn in every direction, slumped against a stone wall beneath an old theatre marquee. Niccoló shuddered at the tattered playbill for a circus troupe on one side, and a shadowy figure etched in coal grime on the other. A peeling scrap held a woman’s face, which faded from Niccoló’s focus as a dire groan issued from the book collector below, and he knelt to his aid.
by Kennedy J Quinn, aka Sheri J. Kennedy
All Rights Reserved