Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Myles of Books, Part the Sixth - of Sharks and Cousteau

On the other side of campus sat the shop of Grant Murray, Midnight Stand Books. The Stand was one of the regular routes for Topher when he was buying books for the shop. Grant had a tendency to buy a bit more than he could afford, and a couple times Topher was able to take advantage of deals Grant would offer him, and even pick up a few books for himself.

20 minutes later, Topher found a good parking space just down the block from Grant's shop. As he walked up to the door, he went by the long front window. Grant's sign was on an awning above so the window gave a clear view into the shop. Or rather it would have, if books had not been stacked against it across half its length, like colorful wood shavings in a hamster's nest. Occasionally Topher would see something that looked interesting buried in the stack, but since the width of was as great as its length, Topher usually passed on digging it out. The shape and arrangement of the mound did change every so often, so someone must have decided to go to dig towards China once in a while.

Topher pulled open the door and stepped inside. The smell of books and must and dust came to him, not overwhelming but heavy. The shelves, like the window, were thick with books standing, stacked, and shoved on top, all they way to the top of the high ceiling. Most did not look like they had been touched in some time. Here and there a chair or an ottoman stood, piled with old newspapers, books, or fan magazines of some sort. In between them and piles of books on the floor were short step ladders, far too low to reach the higher parts, yet ready and waiting to help the hopeful.

In the middle of the shop sat a tall, cluttered desk, currently occupied by several stacks of books, a battered electronic cash register and a pile of papers. The only partially clear space was directly in front of the owner of the shop, Mr. Grant Murray himself, clad in his habitual t-shirt and, probably, university logo-splashed running shorts thankfully hidden by the desk and surge of books spilling from under it. He was bargaining mildly with another bookish denizen of the town, Ned Pack.

"Hey Topher, what's up?" said Murray leaving his earlier conversation in mid-haggle. Ned looked over and smiled broadly, and leaned back against the desk.

Topher smiled back at both men. "Not much. I've been in the shop all week, and missed my old routine."

Ned nodded. "I know the feeling. If I don't bring my books into some shop to be whined down to poverty every so often, it doesn't seem normal. So your shop is going pretty good? You organize those mysteries like I told you?"

"I did, I did. All the New York mysteries are in one group, with the rest by author. Works pretty well. You have to bring me some more if sales keep up," Topher looked at the books on the desk. "But it looks like you're selling all your books to Grant here."

Ned smiled and shook his head of slightly overgrown afro curls. "I wish," said Murray. "These here he brought are good stock, but nothing to retire on. He's holding those back. Hell, I bet we won't get those until he gets mashed at the dump going through those bins."

"At least they'll be cheap then. I bet we'll pick them up for a dollar a book." Topher said with a grin.

Ned shook his finger at the two bookmen. "No way, I'll have them buried with me first. See, Grant, that's the thanks I get. Teach this guy how to find a good book on the street, show him the good sales and the resale shops, and he's already doin' a vulture over my books. You I expect it from. Owning a bookstore taints a man, I swear."

Murray raised his hands . "Fine, fine, we'll pay two dollars for them and you can go to your grave in spacious comfort. Now how about three dollars each for these? That'll be eighteen dollars total, or twenty-seven credit."

"Sounds good," agreed Ned. "and let Topher here use the credit. My way of a shop-opening present. I need you to do well so I can retire to a leather chair in a corner of your shop an' lie about my book adventures to tourists."

"Fair enough, " Murray said. "Topher, my treasures await you." He then pulled the stack of books over and piled them on top of an already teetering pile.

Topher raised his eyebrows and then offered Ned his hand. "Wow, that's really nice of you Ned. Thanks. And thanks for all the advice you've given me too. You saved me a lot of mistakes."

Ned shook Topher's hand. "You'll make your own, and big ones too. We all do, man. Just don't get in a rut. That'll be the worst thing."

"No worries there. A lady came in and asked me to look at an old furniture book. I don't know much about them actually. I can look on the web and see if there is a listing for it, but sometimes there is not much information on the book, just price and condition. Either of you know of a good reference?"

Ned and Murray looked at each other. Murray shrugged, his thin shoulders sharply rising under his t-shirt.

Ned turned back to Topher. " How old? I mean, old to a regular citizen, like from the teens or twenties, or old to a bookseller?"

"I don't know yet," Topher said. "She just said old, and many 'neat' pictures. It made me realize I didn't have a much of a clue about furniture books, old or new."

"Hmm... well, I'll do some looking around. I'm not sure. I'll ask Arthur too, and you should if you see him before me. If he doesn't know, try the university."

"Great, I'll do that. And thanks again for the credit. And I promise to do as much damage as i can with it."

Ned laughed and swung his canvas bookbag over his broad shoulders. "That's the way. I'm glad your sales are good, and I'll drop by when I get a chance. Grant, thanks. I'll bring some more stuff in next week."

"I'll try and sell a couple of these before you do. Bring me a Mormon Bible and I'll buy you a steak dinner." Murray said.

Ned turned on his way out the door. "I bring you a Mormon bible, and you buy me a small herd of beef." he waved and headed out of the shop.

Murray said, "He's right you know. Even a rough copy of that book will pay the rent for a year."

Topher shook his head. 'Well, if he does bring it in, call me. I'd like to see it. I doubt I will ever handle an expensive book like that, but it'd be fun to see."

"Will do. So, pick away. If you don't use all your credit, I'll make a note and you can finish it later. Holler if you need anything."

Topher moved off into Murray's shop, navigating through and over the piles and messy spreads of books in the aisles. Blocked by a large yet fragile assemblage in the local history section, Topher found a path the windingly led to the mystery novels. The books there were so wildly shoved and stacked on the shelves, Topher felt he was playing some odd form of tiddlywinks, but was able to pull out a western mystery by Hockensmith, not a first but a nice copy in a stunning jacket. He also found a biography of Jacques Cousteau in great shape, and another of Annie Oakley. With only a dollar left in credit, he figured that was close enough.

Topher placed the books on the counter. Murray looked them over. "That was quick. Good call on the mystery. Firsts on that are doing well. Wish I had a poster of that dust jacket to hang in the shop." Topher glanced around, wondering where amid the shelves and knickknacks on the wall such a poster would fit.

Murray stopped at the Cousteau book, the last of the three. "Now why'n the hell did you take this? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to have it gone, but it's not gonna be a fast seller."

"That one's for me." Topher said. "When I was a kid his books were always around, and I loved his pictures. Plus he said my favorite quote. 'When you enter the ocean, you enter the food chain, and not necessarily at the top'. When ever I feel I'm over my head, I think of that line."

Murray smiled. "Good enough. When you read it, tell me how many times he got himself bit by sharks. Might come in handy in conversation. You have a buck left for credit. Wanna look at the paperbacks? "

Topher waved him off. "Nah, I'm good. Thanks for these. Drop by the shop sometime if you get a chance." Topher gathered the books and headed out of the shop.


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