Leonard McCoy was not, had never been, and would never become a morning person. There were days he honestly didn’t know what he had been thinking starting medical school, assuming he would survive the rigors of going days without proper sleep, never mind suffering through the reality of hospital life had he continued on to become a surgeon as he’d intended. Ultimately, he would have been miserable, or at least damned cranky, and he would have made certain everyone else was miserable right along with him.
He was much better suited to his current lifestyle. That wasn’t to say he didn’t grumble a bit when the alarm went off in the morning, but it was half-hearted at best, a token effort that stood little ground in the face of the fact that it was 7:45, a very respectable hour to clamber out of bed, and he could already smell the heavenly aroma of coffee wafting from his kitchen just a few feet away--goddamned ridiculous shoebox of a New York apartment--courtesy of the timer on his fancy coffee maker.
There was a routine, of course. Leonard was nothing if not a creature of habit. He’d smack at the clock to silence it, groan once or twice and let out a few quiet curses, then stretch until he could wrap his hands around the top of the brass headboard, pulling himself up until he felt his spine snap into place. Then he’d exhale audibly, throw back the covers, and drag himself into a sitting position, legs over the side of the bed, feet searching by touch until he found his slippers. A quick visit to the bathroom, then he’d shuffle into the tiny kitchen and pour himself the first installment of his morning fix. It generally took about two thirds of a mug before the coffee hit his blood stream and he started to feel human. He’d down another mug after he was showered and dressed, generally while standing at the kitchen counter and accompanied by a piece of toast or half a bagel with cream cheese if he’d bothered to shop recently, then pour the remainder of the pot into his travel mug.
Lately, however, he’d been sitting down for that second mug of coffee. It had been going on a few weeks, this diversion from his morning routine that found him taking his cup and his plate over to the small desk that hovered between the sleeping area and the living area of his apartment, and settling down in front of his laptop to check his e-mail. Which, if he had to be honest, didn’t make any sense, because he didn’t really know that many people who were even online, at least not in their personal lives. A few of his friends back in Georgia had computer access at work, but most weren’t interested in personal computers, and the internet, as far as they were concerned, was just one more thing that would distract their kids from their homework. Most days, Leonard was lucky to get a couple of hits in his folder, but still he checked, bright and early every morning, and again in the evenings when he got home from closing up the shop. He logged on and waited somewhat breathlessly for that tell-tale electronic voice informing him he had a message.
On this particular morning in early October, Leonard sipped his coffee and watched the screen, a small smile tugging at his lips when the little mail flag icon popped up. He set down his mug and clicked on the icon, entering his mail folder. There it was: E-mail from Cap1701. Leonard swiftly opened the message and began reading.
Subject: Fall in NYC
There’s something about running in New York in the fall. Have I mentioned that I run? Yeah, I’m one of those. Most guys I know go to the gym, and I go if it sucks out, but I’m originally from the Midwest and it takes a hell of a lot for me to classify conditions as sucky (though I’ll tell you, when the sanitation dept. goes on strike in August, I come pretty damn close). But in the fall, all the tourists have cleared out and the kids are back in school and everyone’s back to normal pace, hurrying along to wherever they’re supposed to be, and I can just run down streets, through parks, along rivers--doesn’t matter where--and people clear right out of my way, or make room for me to weave through the crowd. It’s like choreography in some extremely complicated dance number. Feels like flying. Next best thing to riding my bike out of town for the weekend.
Leonard’s smile faded a bit as he read that last sentence. Just because he hadn’t ended up a doctor, didn’t mean he didn’t have a healthy appreciation for the various ways a human being could get themselves killed needlessly. He opened a blank message and began typing.
Subject: your apparent death wish
Here I thought you seemed like an intelligent man, but if by “bike” you mean a motorcycle, I might have to revise my opinion. Do you know what happens to the human body when it crashes going 60 miles an hour on two wheels? And that’s assuming you took the trouble to wear a helmet. If you didn’t, well, what’s left probably shouldn’t be classified as a human body anymore. Please tell me you meant a good old fashioned bicycle.
As for the rest, well, can’t argue with you about New York in autumn. Might be my favorite time of year here, or maybe it’s spring. I like them both, even if they are too damn short. I appreciate the in-between temperatures. Not really much for the heat and humidity--reminds me a bit too much of where I grew up, and as for winter, well, to say I’m thin blooded is probably being kind. Haven’t noticed much choreography going on in the streets, except for with the street performers, but it is nice once the tourists are gone. Fewer fools stopping in the middle of the sidewalk just to look up at the real tall buildings, like they’ve never even heard of a skyscraper, forget seen one.
Jim Kirk had a slight bounce to his step as he approached the construction site on the corner. Plastic tarps flapped over the open doorway and he pushed inside, nodding at the workers busily fitting fixtures into the far wall.
Before he was ten feet into the building, Spock intercepted him, appearing out of nowhere and pressing a hardhat into his hands.
Spock cocked his head. “Christopher would be most distressed if you missed your meeting this afternoon because you were in the hospital with a concussion.”
Jim sighed and donned the bright yellow protective gear. “Fine,” he grumbled, more for show than from true pique. Humming lightly, he pushed past Spock into the center of the expansive open space, making for the sweeping circular stairs that were still no more than a bare framework. He peered upwards toward the second story and noted the exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling. “Electrician coming?”
There was a slight clearing of a throat. “Have you been listening to me at all?” Spock asked.
Jim glanced over at his friend and co-worker. “Sure. I’m wearing the hat, aren’t I?”
Spock shook his head. “As I just mentioned, the electrician has been rescheduled due to a hold up with the permits from the city.”
“What’s the deal?”
“Nothing we have not seen before.”
“Ah,” Jim acknowledged with a nod. City construction was the same everywhere. You greased a few palms, everything went according to schedule. You expected things to fall in place simply because you had filled out the correct paperwork and paid the required fees, you found yourself twiddling your thumbs. “I’m assuming you’ve contacted the proper people?”
Spock raised one eyebrow. “The electrician will resume his duties tomorrow morning. All paperwork will be on hand by then.”
“Great.” Whistling, he took a few dancing steps upward, peering at the rest of the unfinished sheet board. “As soon as the wiring is done, let’s get those plasterers in to take care of this mess,” he commented, waving one hand.
“Of course. It is on the schedule.”
“Something wrong, Spock?” Jim asked, noticing a certain annoyance in his friend’s tone, though it was doubtful anyone else would have sensed anything amiss.
“Not at all. I’m am simply curious. Did you and Gaila solidify your relationship?”
“Huh? Gaila? What does she have to do with anything?”
“I merely queried because you seem in an unusually good mood this morning, and it was my understanding that you had an assignation with Gaila after work last night. I thought perhaps you had decided to take the next step toward commitment.”
Jim felt his own eyebrows arch toward his hairline. “Gaila and I aren’t like that, Spock. She’s a great girl, we have fun, but there’s nothing serious going on.”
“If you say so.”
“I do,” Jim said firmly. Then, considering the rest of Spock’s statement, he felt his lips curve slightly. “No. I’m just in a good mood, you know? I love New York this time of year.” He looked around. “We’re making great progress here. I think it’s time to announce ourselves to the neighborhood. Put up the sign.”
“Are you certain? You are aware that this is the Upper West Side. They will not be particularly welcoming at first.”
“I know, but gotta take the plunge sometime, Spock. Let’s do it.”
“As you wish.”
A crisp breeze ruffled Leonard’s hair off his forehead as he headed briskly down Broadway, sipping coffee from his travel mug, and he made a mental note that he needed a trim. The light changed at the crosswalk just as he reached the curb and he hummed happily at his perfect timing. A jogger heading in the opposite direction wove neatly through the tangle of pedestrians, and he found himself watching him, thinking about Cap1701 and his comments about running in New York. Maybe it really was like some kind of a dance, the way everyone seemed to just make room for each other.
He turned down the side street toward the shop, nodding when he noted Christine Chapel, his right hand and bookkeeper, already waiting out front. She was sitting on the little wooden bench that had been there since long before he owned the store, book open on her lap, her own coffee placed carefully next to her right foot.
“Good morning,” he said, tugging his keys out of his jeans pocket.
Christine glanced up. “You’re certainly feeling chipper today.” She tucked her bookmark in place, claimed her mug and rose as he opened the front door and flipped on the lights. A warm glow illuminated the rows of books and the gleam of the polished, honeyed wooden bookshelves.
“Nice day, that’s all,” Leonard remarked. “I love fall in New York.” He moved through the store into the small back room where he kept the coffee machine--his old one, from before he got the one with the timer--and a mini fridge for employee use. He tucked his bag lunch away and started spooning coffee into a filter.
Christine had followed him, of course. She put her own lunch--yogurt and an apple, more than likely--into the fridge and placed her book and purse in her usual cubby. “Leonard McCoy, it takes more than some autumn foliage for you to hum walking down the street. So what gives? You hear from Joanna this morning?”
He frowned briefly at the mention of his daughter. “No, nothing like that. Does a man need to have a reason to be in a good mood?”
“You do, yes. I’m not saying you’re cranky, exactly, but you’re certainly not roses and sunshine, either.”
Leonard turned to find her leaning against the pass-through window, arms folded and head tilted, an expectant look on her face. He sighed, knowing there was no getting out of this. She would hound him until she got an answer that satisfied her.
“Fine. Have you ever met anyone online?”
“You mean on the internet? Like in a chat room or something?”
“Yeah, exactly,” he admitted, suddenly feeling somewhat sheepish about the whole thing. “Look, it’s not what you’re thinking. Not like those porn rooms or whatever. I just…” He ran a palm through his hair, pushing his bangs off his forehead. “It was back on my birthday,” he admitted. “I was feeling a little down, so I went into this room that was supposed to be New Yorkers looking for friendship, nothing more. There was this guy there and we started talking about books and our favorite restaurants and…nothing special, really. Ordinary stuff. But it was so comfortable and…” He glanced up and saw Christine watching him attentively. “It sounds crazy, right?”
“No, not at all. It’s a long time since you’ve made any new friends over the age of twelve,” she pointed out. “And it’s been even longer since the divorce. It’s natural for you to want someone to talk with, someone besides us in the store and parents looking for book recommendations for their kids. This is a good way to start. Just be careful.”
“It’s not like we’re meeting up for a date or anything,” Leonard said. “Hell, I don’t even know his name. We’ve kept it all very impersonal.”
Christine smiled knowingly. “But you like him.”
He shrugged. “He’s probably straight.”
“Leonard, straight men don’t chat with other straight men online, repeatedly, just for the hell of it.”
The bell rang over the door and a scrawny young man slipped into the store. “Am sorry I am late!” he declared with a thick Russian accent.
“You’re fine, Pavel,” Leonard waved him off. He pinned Christine with a glare. “Not a word,” he muttered.
“My lips are sealed,” she promised. “At least for now,” she added with a grin.
The door, with its gleaming plaque that read Christopher Pike, President, was closed, but Jim only tapped lightly before he let himself into the office. Chris had known him since he was toddling around the farm back in Iowa wearing nothing but a baggy diaper, and had seen him in far worse circumstances since; they never bothered to stand on formalities.
“You’re late,” Chris called out from behind the desk, his back to Jim as he gazed out the window at the Hudson River thirty-five stories down. Distinguished at nearly sixty, hair a mix of blond, light brown and grey, he wore a crisp white shirt with a navy tie, his shirt sleeves neatly rolled to just beneath his elbows. He swiveled toward the room as Jim sank into the chair in front of him.
“Sorry. Needed a pick-me-up.” He lifted his hand, indicating a Styrofoam cup, and brought it to his lips for a quick sip.
“And where’s mine?”
He grinned and raised his other hand from below desk level, brandishing a second coffee. “Light, two sugars, though how you can drink it like that is beyond me.”
“It’s called coffee, regular, for a reason,” Chris admonished, reaching for the proffered beverage. “That’s how most people drink it, not straight up like the sludge you like.”
“Whatever,” Jim murmured with a wave of his hand. He set his cup carefully on a coaster that had a permanent spot at the edge of Chris’s desk. “So, just came from the new site.”
“And? How’s it going?”
“The usual bullshit, but we’re still on schedule. Should be ready to take merchandise deliveries in a couple of weeks, with opening day November first.”
“You break it to them yet?”
“That the big bad chain store is coming?” Jim snorted. “I told Spock to hang the signage tonight, so get ready for the hate mail.”
Chris sighed. “You’d think we were selling drugs instead of books. I never thought I’d end up feeling like one of the bad guys.”
“Cut it out,” Jim said. “There’s nothing wrong with making money, with wanting to be successful at what you do. And what you do is provide people with huge selections of books at reasonable prices, and an atmospheric shopping experience.”
“I know that, and you know that. But does the Upper West Side?”
Jim shrugged. “They’ll figure it out. There’s not much there as it stands. A little mystery bookstore. Owner is ancient. I suspect he’ll just close up and retire. And one children’s bookstore, Shop Around the Corner. That’s closer. Not entirely sure of the story there. It used to be family owned, but the guy who runs it now has only held the business license for a few years.”
Chris nodded slowly, leaning forward so his elbows rested on the desk, fingers steepled in front of him. “Right. So, hear from your mother?”
Jim grimaced. “I take it that means that you did, too?”
“Husband number five,” he muttered. “I’m not sure why she keeps trying.”
“Not sure why you never do,” Jim mumbled under his breath. “Yeah, well,” he said, voice louder, “that’s just Mom. Not happy unless she’s making someone else miserable.”
“What?” He rose from his seat, grabbing his coffee as he moved toward the doorway. “I’ll let you know if there’s any change in our progress.”
“I know you will.” Chris sighed heavily. “Say hi to your brother for me.”
Jim waved over his shoulder in acknowledgement and continued out of the office.
The man I work for is a long-time friend of my family, and he has been in love with my mother since I can remember. Despite the fact that my father died an entire lifetime ago, and my mother has gone on to remarry and divorce numerous times, he has never made a single move. Most of the time I find this incredibly sad. But then I consider her track record and think perhaps he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Subject: RE: star-crossed
My ex took every goddamn thing that was worth something in our divorce. Left me with my books, my bones, and a half bottle of bourbon. I still can’t imagine feeling brave enough to risk that sort of disaster again.
But there’s this old couple living in my building. They’ve been married since 1935--more than sixty years--and they still hold hands when they walk down the street.
Subject: RE: RE: star-crossed
So what you’re telling me is, despite getting taken to the cleaners, you’re still a romantic at heart.
Also, I’m totally calling you Bones from now on.
Subject: seasonal reading
Some books just beg to be read at certain times of year. The minute it starts to get chilly, I reach for Sherlock Holmes. My dad gave me a collection of the short stories when I was laid up one year with the chicken pox. It was cold and damp out, and I remember lying in bed reading those adventures, being so absorbed in the mysteries that I completely forgot to scratch.
Do you read anything specific this time of year?
Subject: Nice try
I pretty much read anything I can get my hands on. Have since I was a kid. Never really changed.
You ever notice how New York is really just a bunch of little neighborhoods? And they all have their own food smells. Garlic, curries, tomato sauce, fish, coffee, bread baking. I think it would be interesting to have someone lead you through the city blindfolded, while you tried to identify where you are based on what you were suddenly craving for lunch.
Jim gave a pleased nod as he passed the scaffolding that had been erected outside the new store. The outline of the sign announcing “Pike Books: Opening Soon” had already been sketched into place, and now two painters were meticulously filling in the letters with bright green paint. Continuing past the store, he ducked into the coffee shop on the corner, holding the door open for a good-looking man as he exited juggling a carrier with several to-go cups and a fat, worn paperback. The man mumbled his thanks as he hurried to catch the walk sign, and Jim went to place his order.
“Did you see it?”
Leonard carefully slid everything he was carrying onto the countertop at the front of the store, making sure his battered copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, vol. 1 was well clear of the hot beverages with their lids of dubious dryness. “Thanks for opening up, Christine,” he called into the back. “I got your coffee here.” He pulled one of the cups from the carrier tray and turned to Hikaru Sulu, his sales assistant. “Did I see what?” he asked, passing him the cup. “Earl Gray, one sugar.”
Sulu took the drink automatically. “Did you see the sign? Outside the construction site. It’s right next to Starbucks, you had to have seen it.”
Leonard frowned as he retrieved his own coffee. It wasn’t as good as what he brewed at home, but he’d had a dentist appointment that morning and this would do until he got the machine in back fired up. For whatever reason, the crotchety contraption only produced drinkable results when he was the one pushing the buttons.
Christine emerged, a frown furrowing her brow. “It’s a Pike Books,” she said. “That’s what’s opening down the block.”
“A Pike Books? One of those big chain deals?” Leonard sat his cup down heavily, flinching when a splash of coffee landed on his hand.
“The very same,” she replied, peeling the lid off her coffee and blowing gently at the steam that wafted up from the surface.
“It shouldn’t matter, right?” Sulu asked, his tone doubtful. “I mean, they sell all kinds of books. No way will they have a children’s department half as comprehensive as ours, when that’s all we sell.”
Leonard leaned back against the counter, his gaze traveling around the shop that had been the entire focus of his life since his divorce. At the shelves filled with books. At the framed poster-sized covers for The Polar Express and Eloise and The Wind in the Willows. At the hot pink beanbag chair where Jo-Jo always sat when she came to visit.
“No, no, it won’t matter,” he said quietly. “We won’t let it matter.” He stood a little straighter. “Let them come, with their fat discounts and their magazine racks and their coffee bar. The neighborhood kids love coming here, and so do their parents. We’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
He turned to find Christine and Sulu both watching him. “Well, what are you waiting for? Back to work, come on.” He grabbed his coffee and a napkin to wipe his hand and the spot on the counter where he’d spilled. “Let’s get the Christmas flyers out this week, okay, Hikaru?”
“Sure, boss, no problem.”
“We’ll show Pike Books that Shop Around the Corner is a force to be reckoned with.”
Continued in Part Two