The story concerned a character known only as the Young Bookseller and a ring he found in his little old bookstore. He had tried to find its owner—even going so far as to place an ad in the Lost & Found section of the city’s newspaper. A young woman who worked in the Classified Ads section of the newspaper helped him write and place the ad. It turned out the young woman, Priscilla, was a booklover. There were some mysterious events in the bookstore and elsewhere around this time. A combination of these events resulted in Priscilla not only coming to work at the bookshop, but she and the Young Bookseller also became engaged and then married. The day before the wedding the Young Bookseller tried the ring on for the first time. In a flash, something confusing occurred to his astonishment and Priscilla’s consternation. But since the wedding was the next day, there was no time for either to spend any time in wonderment at the events of the day. This next chapter begins where the last ended. The day after the wedding.
A New Round and Round:
It was a Monday when the Young Bookseller and Priscilla unlocked the front door and entered their bookstore. The silver bell which hung above the door sung its song when the door opened. The Young Bookseller smiled. It did indeed sound very much like Priscilla’s laugh. She had laughed in joy and merriment a great deal the previous day…and night.
A friend and customer had run the shop for them on Sunday—the wedding day. Priscilla was never very pleased when Sallie ran the store for them. She would search for problems or errors that Sallie may have left. Sallie liked leaving notes relating things she thought one or both of them should know about that had happened in their absence. Indeed, the first thing they noticed was a note on the little wooden sales counter that was very near and perpendicular to the front door. It was written on a sheet of yellow legal pad paper. Sallie had anchored it on the counter by setting it under the little metal counter bell customers could ring to summon assistance if there was no one near to help them. Both of them leaned down to better see the note. It read:
“Hope everything went ok. Everything here went fine. The place was a mess when I opened. There were books on the floor everywhere. Maybe you guys need help?”
“Hmpph!” Priscilla ejaculated.
“What?” the Young Bookseller asked in response.
“She wants a job!”
“Awwww. She is just being nice. We did leave the place a bit of a wreck when we left Saturday night.”
“Hehe,” she giggled.
He turned and looked to see if someone had opened the door and caused the bell to ring.
He laughed. “The books were in quite a state of bother as we were walking out. It was almost as if they were celebrating.”
“Ha! Sallie did have quite a mess to pick up from what I heard going on back in the stacks.” Priscilla’s laugh was not so silvery at this time. “Well…?” she continued a little archly.
“Are you going to hire her? I don’t know how we’d pay her.”
“Are WE going to hire her? It is 50/50 remember.”
“Well, maybe just when we need a day off together occasionally.”
“I agree. Now, let’s get the place open. We might get an early customer or seven if we are lucky.”
“I’ll count in if you want to check the aisles and total up the deposit.”
Priscilla went behind the counter and pushed the button on the cash register that opened the drawer. There was a little “ding” and a “clunk” as the drawer slid out and then stopped when it had reach its limit. Some coins in the till jingled when the metal and plastic drawer abruptly stopped.
The Young Bookseller walked up one aisle and then down another. Sallie had picked up all the fallen books…except when he got to literature. He glanced down that aisle, and there was a small pile of books on the floor up against the bookcases on the right-hand side. He was pretty sure he knew what part of the alphabet was there. Sure enough, when turned down that aisle and approached the little mess, he saw they were all Shakespeare books. About a half dozen octavo and quarto volumes were splayed or flat or leaning against the bookcase. They were all old editions. 19th century mostly plus one late 18th century calf quarto.
‘Shakespeare…’ he thought. The memories of the night before last flooded back into his mind uncomfortably. With all the excitement of the wedding day, he had put the fantasy he had experienced out of his mind. Mostly.
“Hmm. I wonder if these dropped after she closed yesterday?”
He bent and picked the books up. There were perfect slots for each on the shelves, and he slid each of them back into their places.
He then headed back to his office in back. He unlocked the door, turned the knob and pushed it open. Upon the floor was an envelope. Sallie had put yesterday’s cash and checks and credit card charges in it and slid it under the door when she’d closed yesterday. He was certain she had left exactly $100 in the cash drawer up front—the day’s starting cash. Priscilla would be double-checking that now and filling out today’s “daily sheet” that would be used for reconciling what the store had spent and taken in during the day when they closed. He bent and picked it up.
When he straightened, he looked at the far wall. The ring hung where he had pinned it the night before last. It glowed warm and golden. If it was reflecting light from elsewhere, he couldn’t ascertain the source.
Neither the office nor the store lights had yet been turned on. There were two ceiling lights out in the store that remained on all the time. Those were emergency or security lights required by the city code. Some morning light bled in through the front door and windows, but it didn’t reach back this far. He reached up to his right and knew instinctively where the toggle for the office lights was. At almost exactly the same moment, there was a thump and electronic hum. Priscilla had switched on the store lights. Throughout the building the shadows ran and hid in nooks and crannies and in the spaces on the bookshelves behind the books.
He looked over toward his desk, and there two foot shaped messes of dried mud next to his chair. He walked to the ring and looked closely at it. It hung there dully in the office light. He went to his desk, opened a drawer and drew out an empty file folder. He knelt and using one of his own bookmarks he scraped the mud onto the folder. There was an orphaned slipcase whose book had gotten separated perhaps decades ago on a shelf nearby. He tipped the dried mud into it. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt he should save it.
He sat down and quickly filled out a deposit slip after totaling the cash, cash and checks. That would go to the bank if not today then tomorrow. He ran a tape on the adding machine of the credit card receipts. They would be phoned in likely during the next hour or so. He paper clipped the charge receipts and left them on his desk. The cash and checks he put into an envelope. He rose from his desk and left the office.
“We open?” he asked when he got to the counter. He knew the answer. Priscilla was punctual with a capital “P.” She looked up from her paperwork and didn’t give him the satisfaction of a response. The Young Bookseller added: “I got 147.73 in cash and 43.27 in charges. Is that what the paperwork says?”
“Sallie is 41 cents over,” she replied with a hint of satisfaction in her tone.
“Maybe she found it on the floor back here. It looks like she swept up. In fact, it looks as though she organized everything around the counter.”
“Hmpphh,” Priscilla ejaculated.
“It has not looked this good behind the counter since, well, I cannot recall.”
“HUMPHH!” Her left foot was tapping the floor at a fairly frenetic tempo.
“I wanted to look something up. Can you hold down the fort for a while?”
“Do YOU feel confidant I’m capable?”
“Call me if you need me.”
He headed back to the literature section. The “S’s” to be precise. He recalled he had seen a book with a title something like “Shakespeare’s London” when he had been shelving the fallen books out there.
And there it was on the second shelf up from the floor. He slipped it from the shelf and inspected it. It was older. Perhaps published in the 1950s. Its dust jacket was still present though a little chipped at the head and foot of the spine.
‘795,’ he thought. And indeed when he opened the cover “$7.95” was penciled in the top tight corner on the front free endpaper. It was priced in Priscilla’s hand.
‘We think alike,’ he thought.
He heard a rather loud thump from the front counter as if Priscilla had dropped a stack of books atop it—none too gently front he sound. She must be pricing some of the new arrival books Sallie had neatly stacked on the floor behind the counter.
‘She is always so grumpy after Sallie has been here,’ he thought.
He turned and ambled back to the office. He sat at his desk and opened the book and began to leaf through it. Near the middle was a double page spread of the London skyline in the early 1600s. It had been drawn by a Dutch artist and was as much a map or guide as it was artwork.
His ten fingers pressed down upon the pages. He felt a tingle up the back of his neck. The view was familiar. Very familiar. He felt he had seen something very similar just two evenings earlier. Only then it had seemed that he had actually been there. He recalled the sounds and smells—there were a lot of smells. The air had been damp and chilly. He recalled evening was just falling.
He continued turning the pages until he came to a full page drawing of the Globe Theatre. It had been done originally in pen and ink. He looked closely at it.
“It is not quite right,” he whispered aloud. “There are more timbers exposed. Not so much of the building was stuccoed or whitewashed as this artist depicts.”
He had only to open his mind’s eye to see the Globe he had “seen” two days before.
He continued browsing the book for a while and then decided it was time to get some work done.
The day was pretty slow—which was average. A few books went out. A few boxes of books came in. Hours passed happily as they almost always do when playing with books.
It was late afternoon when he decided to return to the office and look at the London book again. He glanced at the ring as he entered, and it was as dull and lifeless as gold can possibly be.
There was an intercom upon his desk. Sometime later it crackled a bit with static, and he heard Priscilla speak his name. Her voice was altered by the electronics and sounded a bit hollow. He in turn pushed the “SPEAK” button and spoke toward the machine.
“Coming dearest,” he said in his most bruised feeling mending voice. She had been positively pouty all day long. He had learned it was best to keep his distance on days like that, so they had spent the day doing tasks in opposite ends of the store.
When he got to the counter, there was a man—a rather eccentric character—standing on the opposite side of the counter from Priscilla. He was speaking in a rather loud voice. He was gesticulating with one hand, and the other was swinging a narrow wooden cane about as if he was parrying with an invisible foe. He seemed to be reciting a kind of story—or more a monologue. The Young Bookseller felt the man had most likely told this same tale many times before.
“I told the man ‘NO’ you cannot have these books for such a paltry sum! I KNOW books, and what I am offering is not the kind of common dreck that such an offer would warrant! These are fine books! AND collectible!”
As the Young Bookseller approached, the man’s features became more distinct. He had been backlit by the afternoon sun pouring in through the glass front door so the first impressions were all in silhouette.
He was wearing a wide brimmed fedora. The hat was a bit floppy and parts of it moved in time with the man. Was that…? Why, yes, that was a blue-black cape cast over his shoulders. It was tied at his neck by a magenta cord fastened into a rather large bow. His frame was rather gaunt and angular. He wore rather tight black pants, and were those…? Why, yes, they were black suede boots with rather pointy toes and the leather just above his ankles folded down in a kind of upside down cuff.
The man sensed the approach of the Young Bookseller and turned to face him. The Bookseller looked toward Priscilla to try to get a sense of the situation. She beamed back at him. Her hazel eyes twinkled a bit, and for a split second, he thought he saw a flash of blue in them.
The man drew himself up to his full height—maybe 6′-2″. He wore a monocle and had a silver-gray pencil-thin mustache.
“My dear fellow. I was just regaling your assistant here with the failings of one of your competitors down in the city.”
“She is the owner,” the Bookseller said evenly. “As am I. That is, we are both proprietors. We share the ownership. Uhhh, co-owners.”
“I see!” the man brightened but not without a trace of confusion. “Modern times! Jolly good thing too. About time the distaff side got their due!”
There was a pause, and then the man continued: “I have brought with me some books from my personal collections that I am willing to part with as I require a bit of…of space! Would you like to come out see what I have in my automobile?” he paused. “Both of you, of course!”
Priscilla spoke sotto voce toward her partner: “I wouldn’t miss it.”
All three exited the front door. The little silver bell rang, and the Young Bookseller was not completely sure Priscilla had not chimed in unison.
They crossed the parking lot to a big old bulky sedan. It was a Mercedes Benz that had been built in another era. It was likely from the mid 1950s. Its paint had faded to a dull light gray. The big round trunk was speckled with rust spots. The chrome rear bumper was also dappled with red-brown spots where the shiny metal had been penetrated.
The man pulled a set of keys from his pocket. They were attached to a thin silver chain which was attached to a loop of cloth below his belt. He selected a key and bent toward the trunk. He inserted it and made a show of jiggling the key in the lock. There was a soft clunk when the lock released. He raised the lid with two hands and a bit of effort. It creaked loudly.
“I need to hold it open. It would not do to have this fall upon either of your young noggins!”
The Young Bookseller and Priscilla both bent into the deep dark void of metal. Simultaneously they both exhaled softly. It was not the exhalation of newly discovered treasure but rather of disappointment which must not be conveyed to the owner with his arms raised above them.
They saw about three dozen Heritage Press books. Only about half of them had their original slipcases. None of them were in a condition that could be described as better than very good—which means, in book terms—not so very good.
They straightened and faced the man.
“Would you like me to hold the trunk open a while for you?” Priscilla asked.
“Certainly not! I can hold this open all day if required,” the man paused. “Well, what do you think?”
“I am afraid…” the Young Bookseller started.
“…we have…” Priscilla continued.
“…most of these…”
“…in stock already,” the Young Bookseller finished.
“They are quite nice…” Priscilla added.
“…publications…” he continued.
“…it is just that they…”
“…print so many…”
“…we tend to get…”
“…more copies than…”
“…we can sell,” Priscilla concluded.
The poor man was visibly deflated at this. He let the trunk drop slowly with a loud creak. He turned and faced them. He shoulders slumped, and he seemed several inches reduced.
“But they are wonderful tales,” he said a little sadly.
“They are indeed!” Priscilla ejaculated.
“Classic works by classic authors!” the Young Bookseller added.
Their eyes met one another, and they spoke in unison: “Perhaps we could do something in trade. What sort of books do you like?”
“I like adventure and mystery! Lost worlds and forgotten civilizations! Mysteries like Gaborieau and JS Fletcher wrote. Do you have anything like that?!”
‘Boy, do we!’ They thought, but did not speak, in unison. ‘Those guys never sell.’
“I’m not so sure about works about lost race and forgotten civilizations beyond Edgar Rice Burroughs, but perhaps you can enlighten us,” the Young Bookseller added.
“Perhaps we can work something out.” Priscilla said. “Shall we carry your books inside where we can see them better?”
“Grand! I’ll hold the trunk, and you two youngsters extract the treasures!”
When they got to the front door, the gentleman stepped in front of them and swept the door open with a flourish. The silver bell tinkled with perhaps more conviction than ever before. He then bent in a kind of bow and removed his hat.
“After you!” a long shock of straight silver gray hair fell across his forehead.
The two booksellers set the sad classics atop the sales counter.
“I shall go and see if you have anything worthy of these tomes. Where do you keep your lost civilization books?”
“Mystery and adventure?” she said.
“Fantasy and Science Fiction?” he added.
The man disappeared back into the stacks not waiting for further instructions.
“I have a nose for these things. I shall return!” he called over his shoulder.
He returned about 30 minutes later with a tall stack of short octavo cloth books rising from his cradled hands below his waist nearly to his chin. There were nearly 20 books in his grasp.
“I hope I have enough credit for these,” he said confidently.
Priscilla and the Young Bookseller looked at one another. Their eyes spoke silently to one another. They said something like, ‘He is taking nearly as many as he brought in!’
The Young Bookseller may have actually groaned audibly—which was stifled when a Priscilla’s gentle elbow pressed into his ribs.
“Let’s see what you found,” she said taking handfuls of books from the man’s hands and setting them atop the wooden sales counter.
“I do not think…” the Young Bookseller started to say but was interrupted by a gentle foot trodding upon one of his.
She began reading some of the names on the spines: “Sapper—that’s HC McNeile, Hornung, SS Van Dine, Baroness Orczy, Freeman Wills Croft…Osa Johnson?”
“Adventure! My dear young…ummm…bookseller. Give me adventure,” the dapper old man interjected.
“I do not think…” the Young Bookseller was again interrupted by physical contact from Priscilla. This time it was a gentle pinch upon his…seat.
“My!” she ejaculated. “I don’t recall acquiring many of these titles. Most, most likely.”
“That is because I bought them before we became…”
“…partners,” she finished the statement for him. “That means they’ve been here forever.”
The Heritage Press classics—sad and tatty—were still stacked on the counter. The pile the old man had brought up were approximately “of a height” with them.
“I do not…”
“…think we can do this again.” Priscilla interjected. “But we can call this a trade this time. If you bring us books like these in the future, I’m afraid we could only credit you about a dollar apiece.”
“That seems fair, ” the old man posited. “Be a good fellow and carry these out to my automobile,” he said to the Young Bookseller. “I wish to give the owner here a want list. GOOD books she can keep an eye out for among the chaff that comes your way.”
“We need you to sign our payout book even though it is an even exchange,” Priscilla said setting the battered blank book before him.
The old novels—and a couple true adventures—were boxed and carried to the door. The bell barely rang when the Young Bookseller slowly pushed it open with his shoulder. When he got to the ancient Mercedes, the others were engaged in jolly conversation, and Priscilla was making notes a dozen paces behind him.
The box was placed in the trunk.
Priscilla asked: “If you would like, I can take your phone number. If any of the books you’ve asked about come in.”
“Phone? I have no telephone! Well, I do, but I dread when it rings. Simply put aside what you find in my name.” He stepped back and with a flourish parried the atmosphere about him with his cane. “I shall return! Often! And soon!”
With that, he stepped to the driver’s side of the car. The door opened with a loud creak and shut with a clunk. The old thing roared to life with a small gray cloud of exhaust.
The booksellers stepped aside as the car was put into gear. First it went forward a few inches and bumped the curb. Then with a grinding of gears it rapidly backed up. Then it roared forward with just a hint of skidding and was gone.
The two looked at one another with widened eyes. It was as if they were both checking to see if what just happened had actually occurred.
“You let him take about a hundred dollars worth of books,” the Young Bookseller finally spoke.
“Books that had been here since you opened most likely,” she countered. “We traded bad for bad…and that’s not so bad.”
They returned to the store.
“I am not pricing those,” the Young Bookseller pointed at the sad Heritage Press classics. “This was your…umm…deal.”
Priscilla was looking at the payout book. “You were so grumpy we never introduced ourselves. His name looks familiar. Don Michael Cer…Cer-something. Do you think he’ll come back?”
“He WILL return! You heard him. Plus, he probably thinks we are a soft touch for cra…books of little value.”
It was getting dark out. The man’s visit had lasted quite a while. It was closing time. The Young Bookseller carried the till back to the office.
‘I’ll count this out tomorrow,’ he thought.
Priscilla stayed up front doing the various closing rituals.
When he got to the office, the store lights went out with an electric clunk. He set the till upon his desk and turned to leave the office. He pressed the toggle down, and the office lights went off. As he was pulling the door shut, he looked at the far wall. The ring glowed warmly as if it had it own light.
He met Priscilla at the front door. He took her in has arms and kissed her warmly and deeply.
“What’s that for?” she asked.
“It was a good day.”
“If not very profitable,” she added.
“It will never be if you continue buying cra…books that will never sell.”
As he reached his hands toward the doorframe, they both heard the sound a few books falling to the floor back in the stacks.
“Literature?” she asked.
“Classic,” he replied.
He pushed the door open, and Priscilla laughed, and the bell rang simultaneously. He could not distinguish one sound from the other and that made him smile.