Today's Reading

But he's wrong. After the auctioneer starts rippling her tongue in an impenetrable torrent of words, people start raising their hands. When the contents go for $850, Zach is flabbergasted. The other units surely contain more impressive stuff than this and should generate even higher bids.

Some do, some don't, and two are completely empty. "Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!"

When the auctioneer unlocks the door of #357, there's a collective gasp. The interior looks like a stage waiting for the evening performance to commence: a complete upscale office suite, including a desk, bookshelves, and a small conference table surrounded by four chairs. Bizarre. It goes for $3,500.

On the fifth floor is a tiny and perfectly immaculate unit: a neatly made single bed, an intricately carved rolltop desk, a chair, a small bureau. Nothing else. One thousand dollars. In #454, there's another bizarre tableau. Creepy, actually. It appears to belong to a couple of teenagers. Two desks piled with books and trophies, walls covered with movie posters, and corkboards adorned with invitations and photos and newspaper clippings. Did they come here to study? To hide? Zach stretches his neck in as far as he can without the auctioneer cutting it off.

She almost does. "Step back, sir!" she yells, her voice stiletto- sharp. "This minute!" Everyone looks at him as if he's committed a heinous crime. "Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!"

Annoyed, he does as she orders, but he wants to see more, surprised to find himself interested in the lives lived here. This is something he'd never considered before, or to be more correct, he had thought about it, but only as a means to get the bad guys out of the building and clean up his own act. Now the questions surge. Who were these people? Why these particular items? And, most intriguing of all, why did they leave so much behind?

Unit 421 is another stage, but this one is freakish in its attention to detail. It's a double unit with two round windows, and it looks like an upscale studio apartment, perhaps a pied-à-terre. Against one wall, a queen-size bed is covered by a rumpled silk bedspread and an unreasonable number of pillows. A nightstand holding a lamp and a clock sits to its right side; a large abstract painting is centered over the headboard. At the other end of the unit is an overstuffed reading chair, a writing desk, and a sectional couch, also with too many pillows, facing a large-screen television. In the corner, there's a small table, two chairs, and a compact kitchen featuring cabinets, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a fancy hot plate.

"Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!"

This time there's no doubt in Zach's mind to whom the unit belongs, or rather, to whom it had belonged. Liddy Haines. He closes his eyes and presses his forefinger to the bridge of his nose in an attempt to make the horrific image go away, which it does not. Six thousand dollars.

Unit 514 was apparently used as a darkroom, and from the looks of it, also as a bedroom. He stares at the sheets pooling at the edge of a cot, at the dirty clothes heaped on the floor. He's seen three beds in three different units over the last hour, and he clenches his fists to contain his anger. If Rose didn't know people were living here, she should have. It was a lawsuit waiting to happen— even if it wasn't the lawsuit now upending his life. An irony he'd appreciate more if he weren't so damn furious.

In contrast to Liddy Haines's unit, there's no expensive furniture here, but there is a lot of high-quality photographic equipment. A long table edges the south side of the room, overflowing with trays, chemicals, jugs, paper, an enlarger, and an assortment of spools, filters, thermometers, and timers. A clothesline with pins attached stretches over the jumble, and there are at least a dozen five- gallon Poland Spring containers, most of them full, along with another dozen warehouse-size cartons of energy bars.

A Rolleiflex camera is perched atop a stack of cartons, its well- worn leather strap dangling.

Zach recognizes it because of the nature photography he's been doing lately, his current obsession. Highpointing, climbing the highest peak in every state, was his last one, and that's what got him into taking landscape pictures in the first place. But his interest in mountaineering has been waning—thirty-two states is more than enough—as his new interest in photography has waxed. He's usually only good for one obsession at a time, dropping the previous one when another grabs his fancy. He's an all-in or all-out kind of guy.

The Rolleiflex is a twin-lens reflex, medium format, which hardly anyone uses anymore. But if you know what you're doing, it takes remarkable photos. Zach rented one when he was at Bryce last year, and the first time he looked down into the viewfinder—which is at waist, rather than eye, level—he was blown away.

The vastness of the mountains and the big sky in front of him were perfectly reflected through the lens, without the tunnel vision effect of a standard camera. When he returned to Boston, he kept it a few extra days and experimented with street photography. The cool part is that because you're looking down rather than directly at your subject, no one is aware they're being photographed. Vivian Maier, arguably one of the greatest street photographers ever, used a Rolleiflex.

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