Sunday, September 22, 2013

Treasure

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I was on my knees this past Tuesday afternoon, painting (and cursing) an old bookcase that obstinately refused to be anything close to useful. I happened to glance up and saw her standing there, silently, watching me.
            “He’s gone.”
            The shop was closed. It always is on Tuesdays. But I had left the front door unlocked, because you never know who is going to wander in. Obviously, today was her day. She had let herself in and found me there, paint-spattered, on my knees and gently damning this inoffensive piece of furniture.
            “Sunday afternoon. He died in his sleep.”
            I let out a groan and got to my feet. I didn’t really know what to say.
            They were an older couple (“older” being a relative term as I close in on that realm myself); maybe mid-80s. I don’t think I ever got their names. But they had been coming into the shop on a more-or-less regular basis for two or three years now. I’d see them every month or two.
            It was always he who bought the books. He’d walk around and look in several areas, but he would always find his way to the same spot; the same books. He would delve into our Treasure Chest.
            The Treasure Chest is really just an old trunk that I found in one of the storage rooms shortly after we took over the place. The handles are missing. What hardware that is left on it is rusted. It certainly doesn’t lock ,and it really is pretty well beat up. Its glory days are long past.
For the first year or two we were operating the store, I would drag it around, trying to find a spot where it might fit. But nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t tall enough to be a display stand. It was too rickety for a table of any sort. And while it did have a certain texture and charm (as in, “I’ll-bet-that-was–really-something-in- its-day” way), it was now, simply, in the way.
Until, that is, we re-worked our paperback fiction area two years ago. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, there was a spot. And! There was a function: older, series paperbacks. They were the sort of paperbacks that few wanted; that wouldn’t command high dollars, or any dollars at all actually. But we had a lot of them left over from the previous owners.
The Treasure Chest
Don Pendelton’s The Executioner series (more than 700 individual titles so far), Able Team, Phoenix Force and Stoney Man. Also the Nick Carter—Killmaster series (250+ titles) and the like. The main characters are all clean cut, square-jawed and handy with both guns and women. Mostly women. The books all contain plenty of bad guys, too. But they’re pretty disposable.  
            We probably had two hundred, or more, of these books when we took over. So we tossed them all into that old trunk and slapped a sign on it, dubbing it our “Treasure Chest.” All books found therein are 50¢.
We don’t sell a lot out of it, perhaps $5 or $6 a month on average. But its fun, and it fills a niche. And it doesn’t eat much, so we keep it.
            I wiped the paint from my hands and took a step closer to her, preparing to give her a hug. But she wasn’t interested in that.  In fact, she wasn’t interested in me, or what I had to say, at all.
            “The last group of books that he got here are still in the bag. They’re on his night stand,” she said.
            I just stood there and looked at her. I still hadn’t said anything.
            “I want to go to the Treasure Chest,” she said. “I want to visit with him there for a minute.”
            She didn’t ask permission. She didn’t say another word. She just went back to the Treasure Chest and spent some quality time there. I don’t think she was interested in the books.
            A little earlier tonight as I walked past, I noticed that our Treasure Chest is starting to look a little empty. And that’s not right.
            I need to start looking for more of The Executioner.
            It’s important.

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