Damaged Goods

Damaged Goods

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by Heather Sharfeddin
     
 

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In this stirring new novel, Heather Sharfeddin reveals an unforgettable portrait of two people scarred by life and healed by each other.
 
Hershel Swift remembers nothing from the night of his accident, or the days leading up to it. Now, three months later, he’s back at work at his auction house, but the unsympathetic faces of his

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Overview

In this stirring new novel, Heather Sharfeddin reveals an unforgettable portrait of two people scarred by life and healed by each other.
 
Hershel Swift remembers nothing from the night of his accident, or the days leading up to it. Now, three months later, he’s back at work at his auction house, but the unsympathetic faces of his employees and customers tell the story of a man who has engendered much ill-will. Hershel can’t remember that man, or what he was doing on that dark road the night he crashed. But he senses sinister secrets waiting to destroy the better person he’s trying to become.

Silvie Thorne is on the run when her car breaks down in Oregon. When Hershel offers a hand, she has no choice but to grab it. She itches to keep moving, to lose the sheriff who must, by now, be after her—and the lockbox in her possession. Forced to stay put, Silvie shares with Hershel something of her own shattered past. But even as they struggle to put their lives back together, Silvie and Hershel are being thrust into the sights of a desperate and vicious man.

With lyrical, atmospheric prose, Heather Sharfeddin depicts ordinary people in the grip of mythic tragedy. This novel is every bit as electrifying as her acclaimed earlier works Sweetwater Burning and Windless Summer.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Deftly plotted, with parallel threads of tension and tenderness running through it.”—Johanna Moran, author of The Wives of Henry Oades

Praise for Heather Sharfeddin
 
“Juicy reading [with] some powerful themes . . . faith versus religion, sin and forgiveness.”—The San Diego Union-Tribune, on Sweetwater Burning
 
“Sharfeddin’s eye for detail . . . and her unsentimental compassion for her characters . . . will entrance readers.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review), on Windless Summer

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385341882
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/22/2011
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
1,244,699
Product dimensions:
7.80(w) x 5.18(h) x 0.63(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

1

"I can't believe all these people waited for him to open his doors again," Linda whispered. "It can't be because they missed him."

"They're here for the deals." Stuart scouted the cramped booth and plucked up grease pens. "There ain't no one here tonight that gives a damn about that asshole."

Hershel paused outside the door, listening as his staff gossiped. His stomach tightened at their words. Tonight would be the first auction Hershel had conducted since the accident, and his chest and hands tingled with nerves. A sensation he'd never known before, even when he was young and just starting out. What if he forgot the numbers? What if he couldn't remember the names of the things he would sell that evening? Lawn mowers and washers and hydraulic lifts.

A line of fifteen or so people snaked out of the building, into the weedy parking lot and the late-October chill. Bidders signed in and collected their numbers, glancing curiously in Hershel's direction. None smiling. Swift Consignment Auction was a Tuesday-night institution in the farming community of Scholls, and it appeared that people had missed the weekly event, if not him, these past three months.

He decided not to ask if Linda needed anything, but left the two employees alone before they saw him standing near the door. He poured himself a Coke from the concession stand and didn't bother to say hello to the teenage girl—another unfamiliar face—who was setting up for the evening. He thought he should know her. Was certain he should. There were only eight employees, and he'd hired each one personally. The smell of popcorn was rapidly overtaking the aroma of axle grease in the hulking warehouse building. The girl poured hot water into the coffeemaker without looking up. She was diligent in her duties, but seemed self-conscious in his presence. He assessed her more carefully. She was thin and wore a leather thong around her neck with a bear claw dangling at her throat. Red hair, long. Freckles, of course. A modern hippie or a greeny. She wore Birkenstocks with thick wool socks against the chill of the cement floor.

"Have everything you need?" he asked.

"Yes, Mr. Swift. Thanks." She was polite and soft-spoken. Wouldn't make eye contact, though.

What did she think of him? "Are you the runner tonight?"

Now she looked up, pale eyes catching the last of the sunlight through the cloudy window behind him. "I can't run tickets and do the concessions at the same time. I usually have a line."

Hershel grunted. "I thought you were just helping out the regular girl tonight."

She furrowed her brow at the stream of coffee trickling into the pot. "I . . . am the regular girl, Mr. Swift."

Hershel nodded. He gave her an awkward thumbs-up gesture, turned, his face hot, and headed down the corridor from the concession stand through the long, alley-like storage area beneath the bleachers. It ran the length of the building on the north side and was where the sold items were marked and shelved until their purchasers collected them. A dark catacomb of cubbyholes with numbers scrawled in permanent marker on bare studs—251-75, 226-50, 200-25 on down. He came out into a small room at the west end of the building, toward the glaring light of the open warehouse and the hum of myriad conversations. He nodded at the man who would accept and organize the sale items into their allotted cubbies. Hershel tried to remember his name. He had looked it up that afternoon. A balding fellow with broad shoulders and thick arms, who bent over his task of tearing off three-inch bits of masking tape and sticking them to the edge of the battered workbench in a neat row. The man's back pocket was crammed with grease pens ready to jot winning numbers on the scraps of tape. He looked up as Hershel passed. A wary eye, as if expecting something unpleasant.

"Walter," Hershel said, hoping he'd gotten it right.

"Boss." The man turned back to his task, but his eye followed Hershel out of the back room, out of his dark warren and onto the sale floor.

Hershel nodded to the life-size cardboard cutout of John Wayne near the bathroom. It looked so damn real that he thought it was an actual person. He felt thick and retarded when he realized what it was.

Out on the floor, he moved along the narrow path between the bleachers and a three-month backlog of ready-to-be-sold merchandise taller than his own head in places. He was the object of blatantly curious stares. As he edged by the three men working the floor—Stuart, Carl, and Henry—he repeated their names in his head. He'd been doing it all evening. These were the men he'd direct, and the ones whose names he most needed to recall on the fly. Stuart and Henry were in their late thirties, old enough to appreciate a good deal. They were pawing through the items even at the last minute, looking for treasures alongside other bidders. Henry examined a set of wrenches. He was a plumber and a family man who always looked for pipe fittings, sinks, and water heaters as they came through the sale. Stuart plucked at the strings of an acoustic guitar to see if it would hold a tune. He was a second-rate musician who played in a band down at the Elks Lodge in Salem. He was married—at least that seemed right to Hershel now. It was the microwaves and stereos he picked up here that kept him tinkering on the weekends and out of trouble.

Carl, the third man, was nearing sixty. He didn't poke at the merchandise like the others but looked out over the sea of items—shopping with his eyes. He still had a strong back, though, for moving washers and refrigerators.

Hershel let his eyes settle on Carl for a moment. Carl was the only one who had visited Hershel in the hospital, standing awkwardly near the door, asking if he needed anything. Hershel had vague recollections of the man recounting information about his business, his house, but the facts had dissolved in that drug haze of convalescence. Carl chatted sociably with the regulars in the front row tonight, illustrating his stories with broad gestures. A stream of laughter from that direction rose above the crowd, irritating Hershel's nerves. He'd seen Carl finally pick up an old box fan. Of everything there, he picked up the box fan, and that irritated Hershel as well. Carl was a ne'er-do-well Vietnam vet who bought whatever struck his fancy. Hershel guessed the man was a junkie.

The front row of the bleachers, where the regulars sat, most of whose names Hershel gratefully remembered, was filling fast. Number twelve, Bart Hanson, owner of Hanson Second Hand in Hillsboro. Number thirty-one, Winona Freehauf, an antiques dealer from Portland. Sixteen . . . Hershel couldn't remember his name. A Greek-looking fellow with a heavy mustache and dark eyes. The man nodded solemnly as Hershel walked by.

Hershel paused at the center of the sale floor, overwhelmed by the task ahead. The bright lights burned his eyes, and the noise made his head ache. Above him taxidermy moose and deer heads gazed down with dull eyes. He took his place on the platform.

His clerk, Marilyn somebody, sat on the stool next to his, bent over, testing out ballpoint pens by scribbling on the desk-size calendar that covered her work surface. Her eyes shifted in his direction, but she went on, silently separating the pens into piles of those that worked and those that didn't.

"Guess I should pick up some new pens this week," he said, noticing that the defunct pile was larger and growing.

She glanced up, seemingly surprised. "I can bring some in from the school like I always do," she said with a tone of apology.

Oh yeah, Marilyn Stromm. She worked as a secretary at Groner Elementary during the day. As he looked out over the amassing crowd, he noticed her sneaking glances at him from the corner of her eye.

It was five after six, and he picked up the microphone. His hand trembled as he turned it on, and he gripped the metal handle tighter to still his nerves. He cleared his throat and lifted the mike to his lips.

"Good evening, everyone. Thanks for coming. We're gonna get started now."

The crowd applauded, startling Hershel. His hand shook harder. A whoop went up from the group in the front row. Hershel smiled tensely, his breath catching in his throat.

"Make room up in the bleachers, would you?" he said, trying to appear calm. "We've got a lot of folks still getting numbers down here."

"What've you got, boys?" Hershel asked, and Carl thrust a toaster oven into the air. "Okay, let's open it up with a bid of twenty dollars."

The crowd continued to talk among themselves, keeping a half-interested eye on the item in Carl's hand. But this was the way it went.

"Give me fifteen, then."

No one bid, and Carl flipped open the little door and showed it around with a graceful sweep of his hand. "She's a good little toaster oven," Carl called, showing off his missing front teeth. "Just look at her. Practically brand-new."

"Give me ten," Hershel sang into the microphone, but he didn't get a bite until he dropped the opening bid down to two bucks. It was rapidly bid back up to seven dollars and sold to Bart Hanson for his secondhand store. As Carl ran the toaster oven back to Walter in the storage area, Stuart held up a sewing machine and Hershel began to feel the rhythm of his work once again as it rolled along in that smooth way. A rapid singsong of numbers: "Gimme five, five, five, who'll give me five? Three then, gimme three, three, three. There's three, how 'bout five now. Got five, gimme eight, eight, now ten, ten, now twelve. Who'll gimme twelve? C'mon, folks, it's a decent little sewing machine. Twelve, twelve, that's right, fifteen." And on until he'd sold it for seventeen dollars to a woman standing in the aisle.

At eight o'clock Hershel stared down at the still-full warehouse. They seemed to have made no progress in the mountain of things yet to be sold. His head ached above his eyes, a heavy throbbing in that place so familiar since the accident. He cupped his hand over the microphone and leaned down to speak to Marilyn.

"You need a break?"

She glanced up, her mouth open in confusion. "Who'll record the sale items?"

He scowled. "Don't . . . isn't . . ." Hershel waffled between trying to remember who usually gave Marilyn a break and the intense desire to sound as if he knew what he was doing. "Who usually relieves you when you take a break?"

"You don't let me take a break." She continued to stare at him, waiting for him to say something.

"What d'you mean? I make you sit here all night?"

"Uh-huh," she said, still not looking away. "When you hired me you asked how strong my bladder was, 'cause there wouldn't be a bathroom break."

He straightened up again, removing his hand from the microphone. A sea of expectant faces all looked back at him. They were waiting for him to move on to the next item.

"Guess you really did hit your head," she whispered to herself.

He stuttered out the opening bid on a rotary-dial telephone.

Marilyn spent the rest of the evening stealing furtive glances at Hershel as they worked their way through the heap of household castoffs, until the crowd in the bleachers had thinned to a dozen people and the line at the cashier's booth once again wound its way out into the cool and moist Oregon night.

Hershel thanked everyone for coming and slumped down on the stool with his aching head resting in his palms.

"Are you okay, Mr. Swift?" Marilyn asked.

"Yes, just tired."

"It was a good idea to keep it short tonight."

Hershel rolled his hand back and studied his watch. It was just past ten. He'd routinely run sales that went as late as one and two in the morning before. He couldn't imagine doing a marathon like that now. Even the smell of the popcorn had begun to wear on him.

"You'll get your speed back," she said as she gathered up the last tickets and shoved her pens to the back of the desk. "Some things just take time."

He sighed. His rhythm had been fine, even therapeutic, but he knew that he was moving through the merchandise at half his usual pace. As he surveyed the floor in front of the podium now, he saw that there were still large stacks of items he hadn't gotten to. The stove and dishwasher in avocado green, the sea trunk with its faded stickers and rusty lock, the cardboard boxes filled with books, and the antique banister rails salvaged from some long-ago architecture. It would all be here waiting for him next week. He could hardly face the idea.

He lumbered down onto the floor, and Stuart slapped his shoulder on his way past. "Good to have you back, boss." The sentiment rang empty, especially after the glare he had given Hershel the third time he couldn't articulate the name of the item Stuart had held up.

"Blender," Stuart had called out to the crowd with clear annoyance. "It's a blender, folks."

Hershel slept until noon the following day. He woke several times that morning, feeling as though he should get up and head over to the auction barn. People would be returning for items that they couldn't haul away the night before—unplanned purchases and miscalculated sizes. But Carl would be there. Carl always worked on Wednesday mornings, which Hershel knew only because it was included in the note taped to his refrigerator. A page of yellow legal paper with a tight and slightly backward slanting script. It had random bits of information, like what day the garbageman showed up, when advertisements needed to be submitted to the Hillsboro Argus or the Sunday Oregonian, the combination to his safe. It wasn't the only note like this, and Hershel was pretty sure he hadn't written them. But he'd added to the collection, decorating mirrors and doors.

Hershel briefly wondered if it was a good idea to leave Carl in charge of his business. Had he always done that?

He moaned as he sat up and held his head gingerly with both hands. He was so tired of the pain. He'd tried to return to work too soon; he wasn't ready. He was irreversibly altered by the accident. He'd suffered a serious brain injury. Brain damaged, they had called it. The doctors warned him that his cognitive skills might never return to the level where they had once been. Everything felt different and wrong. He thought back on the conversation he'd overheard between Linda and Stuart. Those words people associated with him. And those hostile looks he caught out of the corner of his eye from everyone. This morning he'd had other distractions to keep him from looking at the raw seed in the center of it all. Did people really dislike him that much? He felt vaguely nauseated. What had he done to earn such contempt?

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Damaged Goods 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Willamette Valley, Oregon three months ago, Swift Consignment Auction owner and auctioneer Hershel Swift was in a car accident. Although healed sort of, his memory is like Swiss cheese filled with holes. However, as he struggles with memory failures and language issues, he sees the looks of his employees filled with loathing and his customers displaying contempt. Hershel vows with his second life to be a considerate of others better person; while he wonders why he was driving at night on a dark isolated road. When Silvie Thorne's vehicle brakes down, Herschel rescues her and gives her a place to stay, but illegally sells her junker and what it contains. She knows she must keep moving as the psychopath stalks her to reclaim the lockbox she took from him; this predator will use excessive force including murder and molestation to gain what he wants while hiding his destructive nature behind a badge. Silvie fears staying put will hurt her Good Samaritan while Hershel begins to learn about his unethical business practices and the hurt he made his mom feel. He believes, unlike Sylvie, he caused his own problems, Silvie is an innocent caught in an unattainable situation. He will be there for her if she lets him. This is an exciting suspense thriller with a romantic subplot that is wisely kept in a secondary support role. Although memory loss is an ancient device, the fresh story line is character driven by the lead pair as each has issues to contend with from their respective pasts, but most pressing is her immediate problem as this potentially is deadly. Harriet Klausner