Read an ExcerptAlways Grace
By TIM LAHAYE GREGORY S. DINALLO KENSINGTON BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Tim LaHaye and Gregory S. Dinallo
All right reserved.
Chapter One A bone-chilling wind swept across the platforms of Boston's North Station as a locomotive thundered into view pulling a long line of coaches. Most of the passengers on the crowded train were standing at the windows straining to glimpse the city that would become their new home. Despite the cold, many of them wore clothing suited to more temperate climates. One of them, a young woman, framed by a window that had been opened, wore a tattered scarf that fluttered about her face, and cradled a swaddled infant in her arms as if protecting it from the crush of people behind her.
Within the tableau of faces were moving portraits of childlike innocence and worldly experience, of trembling fear and boundless hope, of weary acceptance and simmering rebellion. But it was the face of the young woman with the infant that had caught Cooper's eye as the train ground to a stop. Her chin raised in triumph, her eyes aglow with the knowledge that her yearning to be free was about to be realized, her heart thumping in anticipation of a long sought-after new beginning.
Cooper knew what would happen next, and waited patiently with his camera as she made her way to the door with her suitcase and child. As he anticipated, she stepped onto the platform and into the billowing cloud of steam that was coming from the train's wheel housings. Shafts of sunlight, streaming through the vapor that swirled around her, gave the scene a providential glow, intensifying its emotional impact. And in a mere sixtieth of a second, with a decisive click of his shutter, Dylan Cooper had captured this moment for all eternity.
That was weeks ago. And Cooper had taken countless photographs at the train station in the interim; photographs of the poor, the tired and the hungry who-as had Cooper years earlier-survived a harrowing sea voyage, endured the indignities of immigration processing, and made their way to America's towns and cities. Yet the image of the intrepid young woman on the train-the Madonna and child as Cooper thought of them-had stayed with him; and it was the first negative he developed and printed when he returned to his room on Dorchester Street in South Boston.
The stout Irish woman who ran the rooming house had shown Cooper a large room in the front when he inquired about vacancies. "Two dollars a week. You keep your own house. And you keep to yourself if I make myself clear?"
Cooper nodded as he looked the place over, drawing thoughtfully on his pipe, which was as much a part of him as his camera. "You wouldn't happen to have one with an electric service, now, would you?"
"Indeed, I would. But it's fifty cents more and it's in the back. Electric service," she sniffed, as she padded down the hall, leading Cooper to a room half the size of the first. "I can't imagine what the likes of you would be doin' with that."
The room was disappointingly small but Cooper was pleased to discover that along with its single electric outlet it also had a large closet. And since moving in, he had spent most of his time in the latter, printing photographs with the bare bulb and pull-chain he had rigged on the ceiling, and hunching over the trays of chemicals he used to develop them. He worked round the clock, leaving the closet only when he could no longer stay awake, or-because the strips of leather he had tacked around the door to keep traces of light out, also kept the smell of bromides in-until he could no longer tolerate the choking fumes. And it was here, in this makeshift darkroom, where Dylan Cooper was making the new beginning that had brought him to America.
A confident fellow with a bit of a swagger, Cooper had a mane of unruly salt-and-pepper curls that defied any attempt to control them-much like their owner. He had no doubt he would one day achieve the artistic acclaim that would afford him proper living quarters and more importantly a professionally equipped darkroom with running water and a sink to wash his prints, not to mention a gas-fired heater with a rotating drum to dry them.
For the time being, having spent his last penny on his prized Graflex view camera, he washed them in the tub in the bathroom down the hall-which did little to endear him to those with whom he shared it-and dried them the way local housewives dried their wash: instead of socks, shirts, and underwear, dozens of luminous eight-by-ten-inch prints hung from the clotheslines crisscrossing his room.
Cooper was convinced these were the best pictures he had ever taken. He had no doubt they would be hailed as works of art. He had become obsessed with getting each print just right with a full range of gray tones set off by velvety rich blacks and pure sparkling whites. When the last print had been made, dried, and adjudged perfect, Cooper carefully placed it in a box with others of equal quality; then he took his mackinaw that hung from a nail on the back of the door and left the rooming house, carrying the box under his arm.
A light snow was falling as he hurried to the trolley stop, trailing a stream of pipe smoke behind him. The streetcars that ran along Massachusetts Avenue linked the working-class neighborhoods of Dorchester and Roxbury to the Back Bay area that paralleled the Charles River. Here, the captains of industry lived in limestone mansions close to their offices in the North End where the investment banks and accounting firms that supported their business ventures were located as were the clothiers, antique dealers, and art galleries that catered to their appetite for opulence.
The Van Dusen Gallery, the one that Cooper hoped would exhibit his work, occupied a grand space on the corner of Beacon and Exeter Streets. He walked the few blocks from the trolley stop, his heart pounding from anticipation rather than exertion as he approached the entrance.
Two display easels stood in the window. One held a sign, which in an elegant flowing script proclaimed: New Impressionist Works. The other held a large, ornately framed painting entitled: Poplars on the Banks of the Epte. It was signed Claude Monet, 1891. A small red tag affixed to the frame indicated it had been sold.
Cooper was about to open the door and step into the vestibule when he noticed a brass plaque next to it that warned: By Appointment Only. The possibility had never occurred to him, and Cooper stood there for a long moment not knowing exactly what to do.
The ornate wrought iron door had a window through which Cooper could see the interior beyond. Raw silk drapery framed the windows. Persian rugs formed an archipelago of subdued color on the parquet floors. Plush sofas allowed clients to commune with a given work prior to acquiring it. A fireplace radiated inviting warmth. Purposely understated to avoid competing with the works of art on display, the sophisticated decor made the brass plaque outside all the more intimidating.
Cooper stepped back and took a deep breath. He had come all the way across town-not to mention across the Atlantic-and was loath to waste the trolley fare. He had come too far to give up so easily, to turn tail and run merely for lack of an appointment. If that was the extent of his gumption, he'd still be in Dumbarton working in the textile mills as his father had before him. He had no doubt the new beginning he sought was on the other side of that door and, after taking a moment to gather his courage, he strode through it purposefully.
Chapter Two Peter Van Dusen, the gallery's owner, was a highly respected purveyor of fine European painting and sculpture. A natty fellow with a well-groomed beard, he was at his desk in the rear of the gallery tending to paperwork when the bell affixed to the front door rang. It wasn't the gentle tinkling that usually announced a client's arrival but a harsh clanging that intensified when the door closed with a jarring slam. Van Dusen flinched at the sound and glared over the top of his spectacles at the man who had charged through the vestibule and was coming straight toward him.
Though the gallery had several rooms, Cooper took no notice whatsoever of the Impressionist masterpieces displayed on their walls, or of the attractive young woman who stood in front of a painting in the splay-footed stance of the dancers it depicted, affixing a red tag to the frame to signify it had been sold.
"Well, it's obvious you're not here to browse," Van Dusen sneered, sweeping his eyes over the wild-haired fellow who stood before him in a threadbare mackinaw dotted with melting snow.
"No, it's not in my nature, sir," Cooper replied, deflecting Van Dusen's salvo. "I've brought you my work. My best work; and if you would-"
"Evidently you failed to notice, or more likely failed to heed, my sign," Van Dusen interrupted. "It clearly states: By appointment only. Even my clients do me the courtesy. Don't they, Grace?"
"They certainly do, Mr. Van Dusen," the young woman replied dutifully, stealing a glance at the brash fellow who had dared to arrive unannounced. Tall and willowy with hair the color of amber that was gathered at her neck and swayed behind her, Grace MacVicar looked as if she might have stepped out of a Dégas and carried herself in a way that did justice to her name.
Van Dusen slipped a timepiece from his vest and glanced at it. "Speaking of clients, we're expecting one shortly. Show the ... the gentleman out, Grace."
"A client?" Cooper said, paying no attention to the young woman who was trying to guide him toward the entrance. "It wouldn't just happen to be one who's interested in collecting photographs, now, would it?"
"Photographs?" Van Dusen echoed with a derisive cackle. He had assumed Cooper's box contained water colors or pastels, or perhaps a few small scale oils that had become popular. "Photographs? No, sir, I daresay it wouldn't."
"Well, I've a feelin' they might soon as they see mine." Cooper placed the box of prints on the desk and went about opening it.
"I'm not at all amused by your arrogance, sir," Van Dusen said, getting to his feet with an angry huff. He intended to take this crass interloper by the arm and show him the door himself, but the print Cooper had slipped onto the desk caught Van Dusen's eye. He paused mid-stride as if he'd heard a gunshot; then all in one motion, he picked it up and placed it on an easel off to one side of his desk, stepping back to study it. It was the picture of the young mother getting off the train. He did this with another print and another, sighing with emotion at the poetic images: a child's innocent face, eyes filled with hope; a teetering pile of worn suitcases, their contents threatening to burst from within; a farmer's scythe bundled in a flower-patterned bedcover; an elderly man clutching a fishing pole and a crucifix. Van Dusen did this with the growing fervor of a man who, long deprived of his favorite delicacy, had come upon an entire box and couldn't consume them fast enough. "They are extraordinary," he said in an amazed whisper. "Truly extraordinary, Mister ...?"
"The name's Cooper," Cooper replied, feeling vindicated as his smile broadened. "Dylan Cooper, though Dylan be more than enough."
"Well, Cooper, your work has rare emotional resonance and an astonishing insight into the penumbra of the soul," Van Dusen went on. "The balance of radiant and softened sunlight, the fully envisioned scheme of tonality. They give it a ... a spirituality that I've never seen in photographs."
"Thank you," Cooper said, genuinely humbled by Van Dusen's praise. "Does that mean you like them well enough to exhibit them?"
Van Dusen turned from the photograph on the easel and settled in his chair, shifting his weight several times as if making a decision. "Yes it does. Believe me, I'm tempted, more than tempted."
"Tempted," Cooper grunted, sensing Van Dusen was burdened. "With all due respect, when I was growing up being tempted meant you were thinking about doin' something you knew you shouldn't be doin'."
Van Dusen broke into a reflective smile. "That is precisely my dilemma."
"If I may?" Grace said in a deferential tone. "I think Mr. Cooper's pictures are all you say and more." Equally captivated, she had moved closer and closer as Van Dusen had placed them on the easel. "In my experience, some temptations are more than worth the risk they require."
"Well, young lady, my experience has taught me that this one definitely isn't," Van Dusen said, his voice taking on a slight edge. "And neither your personal preference nor mine has anything to do with it." He turned back to Cooper and leaned across the desk as if about to share a confidence. "You see, I'm required to be more disciplined than my outspoken assistant. As much as I like your work, Cooper, I must remind myself that I am the seller, not the buyer; and knowing my clients as I do, I don't think they're ready to accept photographs as investment grade art and collect them the way they do paintings and sculpture."
"Maybe they are and maybe they aren't," Cooper protested. "There's really only one way to find out, isn't there?"
Grace nodded in emphatic agreement. "Your outspoken assistant thinks Mr. Cooper makes a valid point, sir. Why not exhibit his work and let your clients decide for themselves?"
The emotion in her voice enriched the lyrical burr of the Highlands Cooper thought he'd detected when she had first spoken, making him smile. "Aye, why not?"
"Because it would be like a shopkeeper stocking his shelves with goods he knows no one is going to buy. I'd be out of business in a month, and"-Van Dusen paused and sent a withering look in Grace's direction-"so would you, I might add." He stepped to the easel, looked longingly at the photograph, then removed it and handed it back to Cooper with the others. "I'm sorry. I hope you understand," he said with a finality that caused Cooper's posture to slacken. "Good luck. You're an extraodinarily talented fellow, Dylan. It was a pleasure seeing your work."
The gallery door creaked open activating the bell, which gave off its gentle tinkle. Van Dusen got to his feet, straightening his waistcoat and hurried toward the vestibule. He greeted his fashionably dressed client effusively and directed her to a room where a number of Cezannes were displayed.
Cooper wasted no time collecting his prints. As soon as he had returned them to the box, he replaced the lid and headed straight for the door, acknowledging Grace with a terse nod as he strode past her.
"Mr. Cooper?" she called out, hurrying after him. Cooper's long strides had taken him to the door by the time she caught up. "Mr. Cooper, I want you to know seeing your work was a pleasure for me, too."
"I daresay you made that quite clear to Mr. Van Dusen," Cooper said, managing an appreciative smile.
Grace responded with one of her own that could have melted the snow falling outside the window. "It's easy to tell the truth. Besides, we Highlanders have to stick together."
"Aye, I knew I heard it in your voice."
"And I in yours. Dumbarton?"
"As am I. I'm really sorry this didn't work out."
"Not half as sorry as I, believe me," Cooper replied, unable to conceal his bitterness. It was a crushing disappointment and even the sympathies of a lovely young woman couldn't ease the pain of it. "Well, thanks for sticking up for my pictures."
Cooper left the gallery, trudging south in the general direction of Dorchester. The snow had begun to accumulate, and he'd have preferred to take the streetcar, but decided to walk and save the fare. It was a long journey on foot but he had another money-saving reason for making it, not to mention the time it would give him to think about Miss Grace MacVicar from Dumbarton in the Scottish Highlands.
Chapter Three The weather had turned bitterly cold, and the storms that swept down across New England from Canada had sheathed the city in a shimmering coat of ice.
One morning, about a week before Cooper's visit to the gallery, an elderly resident of the rooming house was found frozen to death in his bed. He'd run out of coal-which working-class Bostonites burned in cast-iron stoves-and didn't have money for more. Cooper, who had already run out of the former, knew the latter would soon be next, and was determined to avoid the poor fellow's fate. Perhaps more importantly, he was also determined to keep the chemicals he used to process his photographs from freezing.
Upon leaving the Van Dusen Gallery, Cooper avoided the main thoroughfares in favor of side streets and back alleys in which he scavenged for anything that would burn. By the time he reached the rooming house, he had a hefty bundle of broken branches, discarded pieces of lumber and the odd fence picket balanced on his shoulder. It was secured at its girth by the leather belt that usually held up his trousers.
Excerpted from Always Grace by TIM LAHAYE GREGORY S. DINALLO Copyright © 2008 by Tim LaHaye and Gregory S. Dinallo. Excerpted by permission.
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