Rose DeCourtney and Jim Morey were looking at books. The municipal library was reducing its collection, and for fifty cents a book, Morey’s Bookstore was getting first choice over the people who’d be showing up tomorrow to fill grocery bags for five dollars each.
Rose was drifting through the stacks of books, running her hands across row after row of spines, and picking out books to put into a basket without even taking time to look at the titles. Jim was following her, dumbfounded at her choices.
Lots of the books she was picking out were damaged. Here was a copy of Webster’s unabridged that some obsessive loon had gone through with a pen, meticulously filling in the loop in every lowercase ‘e’. So meticulously, in fact, that at first he’d thought it was a printing error. Rose looked positively ecstatic when she touched it; she passed it to him saying, “you can price this one triple.”
Another one was a copy of Winnie The Pooh with water damage. Rose loved it, but Jim looked at it dubiously. “Are you sure about these, Rose?”
Rose arched one eyebrow at him. “You’re the one who thinks I’m a divvy,” she reminded him, tossing a book on Sumerian civilization and architecture onto the stack without looking at it. “I’m telling you these are the ones you want.”
Morey stared blankly at the book. It had spent ten years traveling from one place to another through interlibrary loan, and its battered cloth cover was coming loose. It was technical and dry and nobody would be interested in it except academics and researchers; books like these only traveled through the loan program by explicit request in the first place. But he remembered the battered copy of Alternative Housebuilding that had sold the previous week when the newer copy got ignored, and he shut up. If they didn’t sell for double, he didn’t have to pay any extra. And if they did, the extra profits eclipsed his usual profit per book by a factor of four, even after splitting it with Rose.
Rose ran a hand over an entire shelf of donated bodice-rippers, pulling out ten of them without stopping to think and rejecting the rest. Mister Morey dutifully bagged them, looking speculatively at other books, same title, same edition, same printing as some of the ones she’d grabbed, still on the shelf. There was nothing special about the ones she’d picked out; they were just as lurid, just as formulaic, and just as badly written as the ones she’d rejected. Next was a book on competitive gardening that had stains on the cover, and after that three volumes out of a complete set of Rudyard Kipling, which she separated from their mates without hesitation or compunction. After that came a ‘Hamster Huey’ kid’s book with some faint crayon marks on the pages!
The visit actually wound up being very brief; Rose quickly filled two shopping carts with books, rarely stopping to look at the titles and never even opening them to check their condition. She took the shelves at nearly walking speed, and never looked back at a shelf she’d already passed. When she came to the end of the last shelf, she was done. Mister Morey had reserved the whole morning for the expedition, but what Rose did, she did in just a half-hour.
He used the rest of the morning filling ten more shopping carts with the best choices he knew how to make. He went for popular stuff, interesting stuff, stuff he knew parents wanted their kids to have and stuff he knew the students would need. He bought books that were in good condition, occasionally managed to nab first printings of some popular things that movies had been made of, and he tried not to think about the haphazard selection Rose had made; if this batch didn’t move in the magical way the “best loved books” she’d picked out before moved, he’d be so stuck with unwanted inventory it would hurt.
But they did move. People came in and bought them. And they paid double, and they smiled, and they said they’d tell their friends about it. And their friends came in, and bought more, and they paid double, and they were happy about it too. The books Mister Morey had picked out moved, like they had always moved, at regular prices and one or two at a time. But the people who wanted the Best Loved Books that Rose had picked out never seemed to be able to get enough of them. They became regulars, haunting the bookstore like aimless ghosts, and every payday, they’d descend on Rose’s shelf like junkies after a fix. They seemed nice enough, if a little strange, but some of them gave Mister Morey the creeps a little bit. At any rate, over the next few months, “Best Loved Books”, which was never more than a fifteenth of their inventory, accounted for a quarter of their sales. Even after paying Rose her twenty-five percent of sale as finders fee, the Best Loved Books section counted for a solid half of Mister Morey’s profits. Morey’s Bookstore, which had limped along covering its expenses and making a very modest living for fifteen years, was suddenly a quite profitable enterprise.
He felt guilty about Rose’s finder’s fee though; she always took it in books, and usually off the premium shelf she helped stock. So he gave her an employee discount that offset the price premium, and she gave him a smile so startling and warm that he felt her joy tingling in him all the way down to his bones. Damn, he thought. A man would do almost anything to see a smile like that every day. And Rose must have read it in his face, because her smile broadened even more.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.