Well, it’s been two weeks, and the club members have had time to work out the puzzle. Based on your guesses for PART ONE, I’ve written the next segment… club meeting #2!
Just in case you’ve forgotten your characters, I’m listing them below again. Doesn’t hurt, right? I had so much fun with this one. I didn’t think I’d like our new main character, but he surprised me. ESPECIALLY at the very end there. That came out of nowhere!
Cast of Characters
Bill Olemann- Rich dead uncle
Wes Olemann- Bookstore owner
Tom Olemann- Wes’ brother
Sadie McGee- Music store owner
Detective Grosser- not to put too fine a point on it but…
Book club members:
- Allison Petty- pediatric nurse
- Jonas West- truck driver
- Mary Margaret Montmorency- old lady from England
- Arlette Hoskins- homemaker
- Gavin Underwood- businessman
- Corey Gray- florist
- Simon Lesourd- printer
- Bernice Boyles- postal worker
- Piper Etherbridge- retail clerk
- Julia Chen- lawyer
- Xander Meers- student
- Carrie Dermott- homeschool mom
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Club Meeting Two
Snowballs rained from dark clouds glowing with city lights. Well, they weren’t actually snowballs, but as big as they were, it looked as if a snowball fight was being waged in the sky. Xander, still not used to snow you didn’t have to drive to find, wandered through it almost wishing he were nine or ten again—back when no one thought a thing of a kid having fun in the snow.
Instead, he turned down Milford Street and stopped to stare into the window of Harmony Music. There, nestled on a stand covered in black silk was the coolest Fender electric guitar—coolest guitar he’d ever seen. Last year, all he’d have had to do was mention it, and Dad would have brought it home the next night. This year, if he even mentioned it, his mother would spend the night crying when she thought he couldn’t hear her.
Book clubs were better anyway. He could spend the meager allowance she could give him on a book, and it would build a library to last him a lifetime.
That’s all he needed.
They’d spent six weeks with his mom’s second cousin in Indiana, and a guy there had told him about books—about the escape they offered. Crazy dude with a tiny bird he took everywhere with him. But he’d been a good listener, and Xander had found himself downloading the whole story. Their flight from SoCal had meant leaving behind everything. His mom had been certain if they just took a suitcase and left, without telling anyone where they were going, they couldn’t be found.
Xander knew a few things she didn’t. First, Dad didn’t care if she left. He’d be glad. Second, it would take less than thirty minutes for a kid with a laptop to track them down. This wasn’t the seventies. People can’t hide anymore.
The snow had started to accumulate on his shoulders as he stood there, no longer seeing the guitar that had piqued his interest. Xander hurried to the door of Olemann’s Books, brushed off his shoulders, and stepped in.
A man stood talking to Wes Olemann—taller, slightly broader, but… he sure looked a lot like Wes. The smaller of the two men smiled at him. “Welcome, Xander. Glad to see you weren’t scared off.”
The other man shot him an enigmatic look. “You’re one of the book club members?”
Without pausing at the counter, Xander strolled past saying, “Yeah. Oh, and did you find out who wrote the note?”
That word should have been thrilling—something to do in this city. Rockland was huge—not Los Angeles huge, but close enough to be full of things to do. But when you had no money to do anything—nothing… “Well, maybe someone has figured it out.”
Something in the man’s tone made Xander turn. “Yeah?”
“I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t one of the group after all—came in earlier in the afternoon and left it on the chair after I set up. It’s not likely, but it could happen.”
“Did you check the cameras?” He pointed to the little white domes mounted around the room.
“Nothing—except for when the balloon guy was in here. Something had to have happened then, but the balloons covered the camera that shows the entrance to the club room for a good five minutes while I helped a customer.”
That sounded interesting. “What’d he want?”
Wes’ mustache twitched. “To deliver the balloons—to 676 Milford.”
The number sounded both right and wrong at the same time. He stared at Wes as if the answer would appear on the guy’s forehead. “And…?”
“We’re 767. Turns out, he’s dysgraphic.”
Xander had just started to correct the guy and say, “It’s dyslexic,” when he realized what Wes meant—trouble with numbers of some kind. He’d heard of that.
The other man—had to be Wes’ brother with the uncanny similarity—stared at him during this exchange, and the moment there was a lull, broke in. “What’s a kid like you doing in a book club?”
Though Xander bristled at the “like you” he decided not to react. Not yet. Besides, his naturally black hair probably looked dyed, and his lip piercing… well… that unsettled most people over thirty or forty. Even his mom winced at it still.
The other man stood with one hand resting on the dark counter set in the middle of the shop and a thumb rubbing the same spot over and over. Something about that set Xander’s nerves on edge, and he wanted to demand what the problem was. Or maybe that desire for an explanation had something to do with the way the guy kept staring at him. What’s your problem?
Wes Olemann broke into his thoughts. “Tom, this is Xander. He applied with the neatest story about a bookstore expert—”
Xander broke in. “Actually, he’s an expert on corporations. He’s just using it to save independent bookstores from extinction, too.”
Tom, who Wes introduced as his brother, muttered, “I doubt the group is going to want to read Harry Potter.”
Can I just slug you now and get it over with? Maybe that wasn’t the right way to go about things. Xander shrugged, not able to produce a smile—even a sardonic attempt at one—and said, “Wasn’t a fan when I read it. Didn’t like Alex Rider, either—in case you were curious. Did like Silas Marner, though. What’d you think of it?”
The way “Tom” huffed told Xander he’d pegged the guy right. He’d never read it.
“This bookstore guy,” interjected Wes, “told Xander to find a good book club that read quality books and start a library that way. Really, I’d love him to come here just to talk to my clubs about books.”
That piqued Xander’s interest. “You should totally do that. I’ve got his email.”
“I’ll get it from you later.”
Though he wanted to ask more about the note and what the police had discovered, the way Tom kept watching him sent Xander on his way. He’d just reached the door and noticed something that sent a chill through him when Tom’s voice reached him.
“Did you figure out the puzzle?”
He hadn’t. He’d never been good at that sort of thing. His mom had gotten stumped at the “Mice and Men” line, and the infinity symbol could mean anything. Xander just kept going as if he hadn’t heard.
The note didn’t say we all had to get it right—just that we had to read the right book. Someone will have it.
Meanwhile, he inched toward the chairs, his heart pounding. He’d acted like the note was no big deal, but seeing two chairs with letters on them this time did something queer to his insides. Will there be more each week? There are only twelve of us, and this is a year-long club. Then what? Start over? We get two? Three? The whole thing made no sense.
As he passed the first, he saw Allison’s name again—the same chair. Same block letters, almost as if they’d been typed, but not quite. Same envelope, presumably with the same seal. He flipped it over to see that yes, it definitely was.
Two steps closer to the next one sent a searing shot through his heart. Xander.
The room with its odd collection of chairs, clusters of books in various cubby holes and small shelves, and a large bookcase showcasing all of the book clubs meeting there and the books they’d chosen pressed in on him. His gaze stood riveted to that shelf. He’d wondered why it was empty at the first meeting, but now he saw it. Each row had enough space to show the front covers of the books each club chose each month. Twelve shelves. The eighth shelf was the only one that had no book on it.
Ignoring the letter, something he now wished he could do forever, Xander went to examine the covers. The top row seemed to be for a sci-fi club. The cover sported a purple and blue background with some sort of galaxy of stars glittering across it, and the ominous silhouette of an enormous spaceship moving from the bottom corner toward the top. Doom. Not much of an original title, but if you liked that sort of thing…
The next shelf held Huckleberry Finn. Classics or banned books? Time would tell.
Romance, mystery—there were three of those—travel. Somehow Wes Olemann had found enough people who liked reading travel books to create an entire club. Impressive.
A gasp behind him told Xander that someone else had arrived. He turned to find Allison standing at the chair. She looked ready to puke. A second later, she dragged her eyes away from the envelope to stare at him. “Another one?”
Xander shrugged. “Two. There’s one on ‘my’ chair, too.”
As if forced down by an invisible hand, Allison sat in the chair, right on top of that envelope. “I almost didn’t come back. Now I wish I hadn’t.”
If that kid did this whole thing for some kind of sick joke, I’m going to demand that Mr. Olemann boot him, or I’m leaving. I’ll tell everyone we can meet at the library or something. This is ridiculous.
“You sat on the letter.”
Allison blinked at him, and that’s when she saw the weird bookshelf with only one book on each shelf. “What’s that?”
“Looks like a visual for us—to see what all the clubs are reading. Great way to promote the clubs for next year, too.” The way he dragged his feet across the floor hinted that he might not be the culprit after all. In fact, the kid just sat down in the chair next to the one with the letter on it. After a glance around him, he dropped his voice and whispered, “I don’t even want to touch it.”
“I know. Me, either.”
That promoted a small smile, but he said nothing.
“You’re touching it anyway.”
The words made no sense. She glanced around, looking for it when she realized what must have happened. Jonas walked in just as she rose to retrieve it. He stopped short next to her chair and sighed. “Another one?”
Allison cringed. “Two. Xander got one, too.”
As if to verify her assertion, he picked up the envelope and stuck it under his leg. Now, why’d you do that?
Three more entered, chattering nervously and in odd undertones but still chattering. Two more followed a minute later. In five, every chair had filled. They all stared at Allison who had retrieved the letter and set it on her lap. Jonas’ face had turned to a scowl, and his gaze darted from one person to the next as if trying to decide what sick creep had done this.
To start them off, Allison turned over the envelope, but this time a single line in tiny print read: Open just before dismissal.
“Apparently, we have to wait until the end to find out if we’re all going to die,” she said as she flapped it like a fan for a moment.
“Just one,” Arletta piped up. “Isn’t that what the last one said—just one would?”
Jonas coughed. “Not quite. I think that was implied, but that’s all. It just said that one or more of us could be dead by December based on how we choose our books.”
Now that the fun of choosing a book had been stripped away, and the reading of it had become a life-or-death scenario, all Allison wanted was to get her assignment, go home, and get the reading over. She’d find one of those BookTube channels that had monthly challenges and read those instead. That’s where she’d get her fun with books.
“Okay,” she said as the group became animated with speculation and for a few of them, irritation. “Let’s just see what everyone came up with for our riddle.”
“Did you figure it out?” Jonas’ question came in an undertone she almost didn’t hear.
Allison nodded. “I think so.”
“Well, it’s obviously L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet,” one of the men said—the one who was a printer of some kind. She hadn’t learned more than that.
A few others nodded their agreement, but Arletta shook her head. “I thought it was The Quiet Earth. I found it on Amazon. You know… the Earth is round so an infinite circle…”
Arguments began—ones Allison didn’t bother to try to staunch. Jonas leaned over and murmured, “Look… It’s on you. You have to decide because I think…” He winced as she turned to him, unable to keep herself from gaping.
He’s going to say it. I know he is.
“I think if we get it wrong, you’re the one who dies. If that even happens. I just wouldn’t test it out.” This time his wince caught the attention of the homeschool mom…
Carrie? She thought so, but…
“What’s wrong, Jonas? That’s the second wince in as many seconds almost.”
“I just think,” he began. His voice lowered a bit as the room grew quiet. “I think Allison has to have the final say. I got the impression that if we get it wrong, and if this whole thing isn’t some sick joke, she’d be the one to…”
A strangled sound broke off the obvious word that came next. Die… she’d die.
It can’t be, though. Can it?
Again, the room erupted in even louder “discussions” about which title was right, if the thing were some great hoax, and if each would be given a letter or if it would all end here. Allison sat there, gut clenching, until it squeezed out tremors that radiated to the tips of fingers and toes and pricked her eyes. She had to stop them before she lost her last drop of self-possession.
“Um, excuse me…” It came out in a whisper.
Jonas barked out, “Hey!” When everyone looked at him, he glanced at her and smiled.
“Thanks.” To the room, she said, “I want to know what everyone came up with. If I could just point to each of you, and you give me your best guess—that’s it… Just the title, please…”
One by one, the room offered up A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle—all except Arletta who said The Quiet Earth “by someone in New Zealand… or about New Zealand… or something.”
That decided for her. “If the detective hadn’t come up with ‘A’ for the first word before we left, I wouldn’t have figured anything out, but after seeing how that worked, I came up with A Quiet Circle, too. It’s eleven to one. We read that.”
If only her voice hadn’t quavered on those final three words.
Wes Olemann’s voice broke through her nerves and said, “That was the one I came up with as well—so did Detective Grossner. He called the next morning with it and an explanation of why. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to look at the puzzle yet.”
All heads had turned to look at him, and the man flushed. “It’s so late in the month. Over halfway over. I need to get these ordered. They’ll be here by Monday. Who needs a copy?”
Every club member but Carrie shot a hand, finger, or pen up in the air. Carrie flushed. “We have everything L’Engle ever wrote. I’ve been reading this one already.” And with that, she dug into the tote bag at her feet. It read: Chaos Coordinator- Homeschool Mom. From it, a sippy cup dropped to her feet as she brought out a book and half-waved it. A second later, she pulled out a notebook and ripped a page out, offering it to him. “But here’s this month’s order…”
Wes smiled, offered everyone an apologetic look, reminded them to eat the refreshments and grab coffee, tea, or water, and disappeared. “You can pay for your books at a twenty-percent discount tonight or full price when you pick them up.”
Two minutes later, just as Allison had become semi-confident, Wes walked into the room with a copy of A Circle of Quiet in hand and set it on the shelf. He caught her watching him and sighed. “Didn’t even know I had a copy on my shelf, but there it was.”
Allison shivered again.
According to the weird homeschool mom, he just had to read A Wrinkle in Time. She’d bring it to him at their next meeting. Xander agreed, but if he hated this book, he’d refuse it when she brought it. Meanwhile, he’d go to the library the next morning and grab their copy to get a head start.
The Asian woman sat alone, her dark gray suit looking even more expensive this week than last. As he passed her, he saw she was reading on her Kindle. The title in the header. A Circle of Quiet. Had she already started it before coming? Why’d she order another book if she had it already?
“Xander! There’s a letter on your chair!” Arlette Hoskins’ voice pierced every corner of the room. And his ears…he’d recover by their next meeting. He hoped. Before he could explain, the woman swept the room with such a withering glare that even he shrank back. “All right, this isn’t funny. Who is doing this?”
“It was there when I got here,” Xander said. “And I got here first.”
The guy who had first named the book—Simon something, if he remembered correctly—rose. “That’s it. I’m done. I don’t have time for these stupid games.”
He’d have left, but Jonas blocked the way. “I don’t think so. Until the police tell us we’re all safe, you’re going to be a decent human being and just put up with whatever this is. I’d love to know it was just a joke, but we’re all readers. We can imagine it not being, so do us the courtesy of allowing us to sleep for the next two weeks and sit down.”
Way to go—pretty articulate for a truck driver. That thought shook him for two reasons. First, where had he gotten the idea Jonas was a truck driver? Second, when had he become such an elitist? Who are you? Son of a mom working at a diner to feed you. You’re nobody, Gam—um Meers. Nobody.
“Can we all sit down and talk about this?” The gray suit lady had put away the Kindle and assumed an air of authority. Xander’s interest turned to suspicion. “I think we need to take note of what we know about this letter person before we go any further.”
Carrie-the-homeschool-mom—he’d think of her like that, all one word, forever now—broke in. “I think it would be best to find out what Xander’s letter says. It might add to our list of clues.” Shock filled the woman’s face and then she smiled at everyone. “I just figured this out, maybe!”
“Do tell,” Allison begged.
“It’s like a mystery dinner! Interactive. We have to figure out the clues et cetera to get through the thing. I bet it was supposed to be for the mystery club up there, but the facilitator someone hired got the wrong group!”
It did make sense, in a weird sort of way. Xander sat down, letter in hand, and waved it. “I think this hints that I’m in charge for February, but Allison’s still in charge now. Do we read this first and then assemble clues, or do we start with clues and end with questions?”
“Read it. The dread is killing me. And maybe we won’t have to rehash.”
That’s all it took. He’d been dying to read it anyway. Xander broke the seal, but before he could reach inside, Wes appeared with those funky ill-fitting food handling gloves. “It’s all I have. I use them to arrange the refreshments on the trays for meetings. At least you won’t leave your fingerprints this time.”
Fumbling with the envelope flap while wearing the gloves—awkward and ineffectual, but eventually, he got it. This time, the envelope only held the index card. Another puzzle. He extracted it and read aloud.
Just as the odd puzzle from the previous week, the poem made no sense. A cough from the doorway prompted Xander to look up. In an instant, he knew that Wes Olemann knew the title. “Well, what is it?”
The man started to speak, but Jonas stopped him. “Technically he’s not in the club. Is it against the unwritten rules?”
Heads turned, eyes shifted from one person to the next, shoulders shrugged. Xander finally spoke. “Can’t hurt to wait until next time, can it? If no one gets it, we ask him and hope it’s okay?”
Heads nodded, and Carrie brought out that notebook and pen. She looked first at Xander and then at Allison. “We need to take pictures of that to help us choose a book, but no one can touch it.” She looked over at Wes still hovering in the doorway but whose eyes were trained into the bookshop.
A customer? Waiting for someone?
The jingle of a bell answered that question. Wes strode away, and just as Xander snapped a picture of the card with his phone, Detective Grosser appeared with Wes. “Good thinking on the gloves, kid.”
“Wes’ idea,” he muttered. Still, it was nice of the guy to offer the compliment. Before the detective took it away, Xander walked around the circle of chairs and allowed each person to take a picture of it with their phones. That done, he slipped the glove off his left hand and handed it to Grosser before offering the card.
Carrie spoke up first. “What do we know from the cameras? Didn’t someone say there were cameras and footage and that stuff?”
The detective shook his head. “Nothing we can pinpoint. A balloon delivery guy covered the one we needed at the time the letter had to have been left.”
“Suspicious,” Simon snapped.
“We think so.” Unlike Simon’s irritated tones, Grosser sounded indifferent… remote.
The suit lady held up her pen and added, “Your idea of this being meant for the murder club is relevant.” A moment later, she added, “As is the fact that actual member names are printed on these envelopes. Does anyone recognize the penmanship?”
All heads shook, and Xander noticed Wes’ did, too. Telling the truth? Did you do this to make sure people don’t drop out? Guaranteed business?
Simon popped up with his own suggestion—a reasonable one, even. “How did everyone hear of this group? Did someone tell you? What if more than one of us found it in the same way?”
Allison spoke first. “I come over here from time to time on my lunch break. I saw the poster.” That sent them all off, one by one.
Jonas: “I saw a notice at the library.”
Mary Margaret Montmorency: “My honorary grandson recommended it. He drops me off each week.” And in an English accent, no less.
Arlette: “My husband told me to do something to get out of the house once a week—do something for myself. So, I Googled ‘Rockland book clubs’ and this one was closest to home.
Gavin: “Overheard a couple of women talking about theirs at the office and wondered if there were any that didn’t focus on chick lit. They recommended Olemann’s because of the variety of genres offered.”
Corey: “Last year, a customer sent Wes flowers at the end of the year—thanks for all he did to make their book club awesome, so I decided to find out what was so great.” She blushed. “I’m not a big reader, but I want to be.”
Simon: “My therapist says I need an outlet. Gave me a list of ideas. This store’s clubs were on the list, so I tried it.”
At this point, Xander noticed that Detective Grosser’s pen scrawled as fast as Carrie’s.
Bernice: I don’t remember where I heard about it, but I went online to find it and called.”
He didn’t believe that for a second. A big, fat, red SUSPECT scrawled across Bernice’s page in his mental notebook.
Piper: “I’ve been coming to Mr. Olemann’s book clubs for… four years?” She glanced over, and visibly relaxed when the man nodded.
Julia: “I had a client who was late to court because her book club got so wrapped up in their discussion, they all lost track of time. It reminded me of the book clubs from college, and I asked my assistant to find me one.”
There, Detective Grosser coughed and interjected, “For those of you who were recommended this specific store for a book club by someone, I’ll need those names before you go.”
All eyes turned to Xander and he shrugged. “Nothing exciting. Met a guy who told me that book clubs were inexpensive ways to build a library and become educated in how to evaluate more than just literature—life and people, too. He made it sound so exciting in a totally boring way, too.” A nervous chuckle escaped before he could stop it. “Bet he never imagined this.”
Someone started to say something, but Detective Grosser turned to Carrie. “We haven’t heard yours.”
Was it him or did Carrie act nervous? She shot Wes a look before sighing. “I was tasked with starting a book club for our fall homeschool co-op, and I didn’t know how to do that well, so I decided to come for a few months to get an idea.” She blushed and added, “I wasn’t going to come back after March or April.”
The way everyone shot her a dirty look, Xander almost felt sorry for the lady. Give her a break. She spends all day with her kids. All night, too. Teaching them. Who wants to spend her few minutes alone talking about more books?
The questions continued. Did anyone think of someone with a grudge against them? Xander had been dreading this. Though he started to raise his hand, he decided to wait until everyone had gone.
Julia, the suit lady, popped up with another question. “Does anyone else wonder if the content or themes of the books have anything to do with an overarching puzzle we will have to solve? Will we need to pay attention to that?”
Someone mumbled something about needing to go, so they tabled that discussion until Allison, food service gloves on hands, opened her envelope and read the contents. He’d heard of faces “draining of color,” but this time he actually saw it. She looked… zombie-like.
Her attempt to read it produced a squeak. She coughed and tried again. “Um… it says…” Her voice trembled and her hand shook. “‘Are you prepared to die for your choice? We’ll soon see.’”
Someone laughed, and Simon commented that it had to be some sick joke. “No sane person would write that.”
“No sane person would do any of this,” Julia insisted. “I thought it was all a game, but I’m not sure any longer. That’s ominous.”
An argument began, and Xander zoned out. What else anyone said, he didn’t hear. Only when the others began standing and calling out goodbyes, did he realize he’d missed a lot. He jumped up and hurried over to Carrie.
“Can I take a picture of your notes? I got lost in my own head there.”
“I noticed. This is a lot for a kid. If you ever need someone to talk to or just a place to go to get away from everything…” As she spoke, she scrawled a number on her notebook and tore the page off, handing it to him. “Just call. I can come get you or tell you what bus to take or whatever.”
She probably had fifteen kids of her own like that crazy family on TV. Why would she want another one? The next big SUSPECT stamp slammed onto his mental notebook. Still, he might just do it to see. Maybe.
Once the room had emptied, he met Detective Grosser’s gaze from across the room. Maybe it was stupid, but Xander leaned back in his chair, feet planted flat on the floor, wide apart, arms crossed over his chest. “You should know,” he began. “My dad is Gio Gambino.”
Grosser just stared.
“I’m from L.A.”
It took a moment, but this time, the detective’s eyes widened just a bit before he shut down to nonchalance again. “Any relation to Tommy Gambino? L.A. Mafia?”
“Cousin. In deep.” The detective swore as Xander turned to Wes and said, “Sorry. I really don’t think he has anything to do with this, but he,” Xander jerked a thumb at the cop. “—would’ve found out.”
The end… for now.
Well? It’s all up to you now!
What is their February read?
The last one I thought was kind of confusing, but this one seems easy to me. We’ll see if you agree. I can give you one small hint. That one reference in the “poem” has an answer in one of my posts about my favorite things. Of course, you’d have to dig to find it, so I doubt it’s worth it to you. Still, sometimes that’s fun if you’re in the mood.
Be sure to share your guesses about the book in the comments below. Someone has to get it right or Xander’s a gonner!
You’ll all find out if you got the right one in January on February 3, 2022. Here’s the one you all chose:
The beloved author of A Wrinkle in Time takes an introspective look at her life and muses on creativity in this memoir, the first of her Crosswicks Journals.
Every so often I need OUT. . . . My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings. . . . I sit there, dangling my legs and looking through the foliage at the sky reflected in the water, and things slowly come back into perspective.
Set against the lush backdrop of Crosswicks, her family’s farmhouse in rural Connecticut, this deeply personal memoir details Madeleine L’Engle’s journey to find balance between her career as a Newbery Medal–winning author and her responsibilities as a wife, mother, teacher, and Christian.
As she considers the roles that creativity, family, citizenship, and faith play in her life, L’Engle reveals the complexities behind the author whose works—honored with the National Book Award, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and countless other prizes—have long been cherished by children and adults alike. Written in simple, profound, and often humorous prose, A Circle of Quiet is an insightful woman’s elegant search for the meaning and purpose of her life.