Ollie was rich. Eccentric. And he hoarded old books. His bookstore, Rereads, was an excuse to justify his habit. He wouldn’t know a rare book if it fell on his foot, which is what almost got him killed. Myrlie was his assistant. She had an impressive knowledge of rare books. It’s why Ollie hired her. It’s also how she saved his life.
The tinkling of the bell on the front door announced Myrlie’s arrival. Ollie’s muffled voice called to her from the storage room at the back of the store, “Good morning,” he sang as he came down the hallway with a worn cardboard box, “have some books for you to shelve.” He placed the box on the counter.
“You shouldn’t leave the front door unlocked unless you’re up here,” she said. She shoved her book bag under the counter. Her concern for his safety amused him. “Are you worried about me,” he said with a coy smile on his face. She shook her head and smiled, “It isn’t smart, that’s all.”
“There’s nothing here but a bunch of used books. Not high on the list of the common criminal.”
“Where am I supposed to put these,” she took the books out of the boxes, inspected them, and stacked them by genre.
“There are four more boxes in the back,” he said with a coy smile. Myrlie cocked an eyebrow at him. “It was an estate sale,” he pleaded, “one room was nothing but books and–”
She interrupted him, “You realize this store is an excuse to hoard books, right?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said with a wink.
“You’re pitiful,” she chuckled. Ollie’s hoarding annoyed her, but she endured it because he was like family to her. The only family she had. She covered her mouth and yawned.
“Someone didn’t get their 8 hours last night.”
“Sorry. Was up late finishing a book. Had to see how it ended.”
“And you say I have a problem?”
Myrlie placed her hand on her hip, “I take my books back to the library when I’m done.”
Ollie looked around at his store. Myrlie did an amazing job organizing it. Before he hired her, the only way to find anything was to browse and hope for the best. Now the shelves had order. They were neat and maintained like a library. The transformation was impressive.
“You need some coffee,” he said, “why don’t I make a run for us?” He walked down the hallway toward the back of the shop.
“We’re not done talking about your hoarding issues,” she said.
“Be back in 20. You’re the greatest,” he yelled as he went out the back door. The alarm keypad chimed his departure. She picked up a large reddish-brown book from the bottom of the box. She ran her hands along the cover. A price tag was taped to the expensive leather binding. Myrlie clucked her teeth and carefully peeled it off. She opened the book with the care of someone handling an antique. The pages were smooth to the touch. The words, written in what looked to be Latin, were in two columns. “There’s no way,” Myrlie said. She closed the book and looked at the price tag again. “Three hundred dollars,” she said in amazement. What she had in front of her wasn’t possible and was worth way more than what Ollie paid for it. She hurried to the front door, locked it, and flipped the sign to closed. She hefted the book off the counter and took it to the back office for a closer inspection.
Ollie returned twenty minutes later. She hurried to the front of the store, let him in, then locked the door again, She pulled him toward the back of the store. Coffee sloshed out of the cups and onto his arms.
“What has gotten into you,” he huffed. Myrlie pointed to the book on his desk. “Congratulations, it’s a book,” he said as he wiped the coffee from his arms with a napkin.
“That isn’t just a book. Look at it,” she said.
He walked over and glanced at it. “Okay, it’s a big book.” Myrlie shook her head, “Where did you get it?”
“I told you from an estate sale.” Someone knocking on the front window interrupted their conversation. Ollie headed for the front door. Myrlie grabbed his arm. “Ollie,” her grip tightened on his arm, “that’s a Gutenberg Bible.”
“Ow,” his face grimaced as he pulled his arm away from her, “so put it in the religious section.”
“Do you know what that means?”
“Genesis. Revelations. A bunch of family lineage in between.”
He tried to walk away. She stopped him again. “There are only twelve copies printed on vellum.”
“Okay, then it goes in the collectibles case.”
Myrlie sighed. “The last complete copy of that book sold for two million dollars. In 1978.”
Ollie stared at her for a moment. “And you’re saying we now have one in our possession?”
“I think so.” The knocking on the front picture window got more belligerent. “I assume this means I’m opening up shop,” Ollie said.
“Unless you became a book expert while you were out getting coffee.” The knocking on the glass turned to banging. Hold your horses,” Ollie yelled to the front of the store.
“If you’re right about this I–”
“You owe me a huge bonus. Go open up before someone breaks down the door.”
Myrlie sat down at the laptop to do some research while Ollie hurried to the front of the store to open up shop. The bell on the door made its tinkling sound. A woman’s voice huffed as he opened the door. “It’s about time. You’re supposed to open at 9. It’s twenty past.”
“Have you got gold bars to sell me or something, Peggy,” he asked. Myrlie was too busy researching to concern herself with Peggy’s complaints. She was a regular but always unhappy about something. But there was a deep voice, one Myrlie didn’t recognize. She stopped to listen.
“How can I help you today,” Ollie said.
“Do you have old books?”
“Only the entire store. Thus the name,” Ollie said with a chuckle. The man didn’t laugh. Ollie cleared his throat. The man spoke. “I’m looking for rare books. One of a kind copies,” the man said. Myrlie padded over to the office door. She hoped Ollie didn’t tell the man about the bible.
“The collectibles case along the back wall is where you’ll want to look. Let me know if you’d like to see anything,” Ollie said.
Myrlie tip-toed back over to the desk and placed the bible in the bottom desk drawer. She inched the drawer shut to keep it from making its usual loud screeching sound. She peeked into the hallway. Neither Ollie nor the man who came in were visible. “It isn’t here,” she heard the man’s voice say.
“Something in particular you’re looking for,” Ollie asked.
“Estate sale books.”
Myrlie closed her eyes and hoped Ollie kept his mouth shut.
“I have a box in back. I’ll get it for you.” Ollie walked down the hallway into the office. Myrlie pulled him behind the door and shoved her hand over his mouth. Ollie’s thick eyebrows formed an angry furrow. She shook her head then put her index finger to her lips. She grabbed a note pad and scribbled on it. “Everything okay back there,” the man said. Ollie read the note she wrote. Something in her eyes told Ollie this was serious. “Be right there, have to find the box,” he said. He grabbed a box of books next to his desk and brought it out front. “Here we are,” he said and placed them on the collectibles case.
“You were back there a long time,” the man said in a doubtful tone.
“Bumped my knee against a chair.”
The man looked at Ollie’s knee. “You don’t seem hurt,” he said.
“Tiny bump,” Ollie said and rubbed his knee for good measure. The man stared at him a moment longer, then rifled through the box. “Is this all you have?”
“Yes. Excuse me for a moment, won’t you,” Ollie walked to the front counter to help Peggy, who was growing impatient.
“How much do I owe you,” Peggy huffed.
“I kept you waiting. Let’s call it an even trade,” Ollie said as he shoved her books into a canvas bag and ushered her out of the store.
He saw Myrlie peek her head out and made a quick shooing motion. She ducked back in the office. Ollie approached the man, “Find what you were looking for?”
“No. Are you certain you don’t have anything else in back?”
“Yes. But leave your contact information and what you’re looking for. I’ll call you if I happen to come across it.”
The man peered into the hallway. “You work here alone?” Ollie prayed Myrlie didn’t stick her head out of the office. “I have an assistant, but she’s seldom reliable. Home sick today.”
“Good help is hard to find,” the man said as he walked to the front door and locked it. He turned and faced Ollie. “The book I’m looking for is of extreme importance.” Ollie scanned the man’s features and noted his eyes: one blue and one green, both of them piercing.
“Without a title I can’t be of much help to you.”
The man searched the store with his eyes then looked back at Ollie. “Lying to me would be detrimental to your health.” A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. Peggy returned. She pointed to the counter. Ollie looked down and noticed her sunglasses sitting next to the cash register. The man unlocked the door, shoved the glasses in her hand, and closed the door in her face. Ollie watched Peggy storm off.
“Let’s have a look in back,” the man said. As he started down the hall the store’s alarm went off. The high-pitched shriek made the man cover his ears. “Turn it off,” he shouted.
Ollie ran behind the front desk and pretended to fumble with the keypad. “I don’t know how. My assistant usually does this.” Ollie’s phone vibrated in his back pocket. Ollie ignored it knowing police would arrive within minutes. He was right. A few moments later two police cars pulled up in front of the store. Ollie unlocked the door and walked out.
“Everything okay here,” one of the officers asked. The man rushed out of the store.
“The alarm went off. Faulty wiring. Been meaning to have that looked at,” Ollie said.
“Turn it off,” the cop demanded as he covered his ears.
“I’m not sure how,” Ollie said, which was a lie. Ollie watched the man with the blue and green eyes get in a black sedan and speed off. The alarm turned off and the other cop walked out. “Used to work for an alarm company. Turned it off for you, but you might want to get that fixed.”
“Sure thing. Sorry for the inconvenience,” Ollie said.
The officers got back in their patrol car and drove off. Ollie went back in the shop, locked the front door, and ran to the office. “Myrlie? Are you okay?” She didn’t answer. “Myrlie!” He looked behind the office door. She was standing against the wall with her fingers jammed in her ears. He breathed a sigh of relief, then put his hand on her shoulder.
“I think I’m gonna be deaf,” she said as she shook her head.
Ollie tried not to chuckle. “Sorry. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Still believe it’s just an old book?”
“Okay, okay. You were right.”
“Do you remember the address of the estate sale? We need to find out who that book belonged to. And how they got it.” Ollie pulled his cell phone from his back pocket and looked at his navigation history. He showed her the address. A few seconds later she had a hit. “Your book habit has gotten you into some serious trouble.”
“What do you mean?
“That man followed you here.”
Ollie waved his hand dismissively, “You’re being paranoid.”
She turned the laptop around and showed him an article about the owner of the estate. “I don’t think so. The man who owned that book is dead. Shot in the chest. Point blank range.” Ollie’s eyes grew wide. Myrlie nodded her head in agreement. “We’ve got to get this book verified,” she said.
“There’s a rare book shop on the other side of town that offers appraisals. We can take it there.”
“Can you trust them?”
“I don’t see why not, but it won’t be cheap.” Myrlie looked up the address for the shop. She emptied out her book bag and placed the bible in it. “We’ll take my car. It’s less conspicuous.” They left out the back door.
The man at the shop told them appraisals were by appointment only. Ollie pulled a money clip from his pocket. He placed five hundred-dollar bills on the counter. The man disappeared and came back a few moments later. He ushered them into a small room at the back of the store. A few moments later, a well-dressed, quiet woman entered the room. She stared at Ollie and Myrlie. Ollie rose to his feet. “There’s no need for that,” the woman said, “how can I help you?”
“We need to verify a book,” Ollie said.
“Let’s have a look,” the woman said. Myrlie put the book bag on the table and took out the bible. Ollie began to speak, “It may be a–” Myrlie touched his arm and shook her head.
“I’m curious what you think it might be,” said Myrlie. The woman sat down at the table.
“May I,” she asked and pointed at the book.
Myrlie slid the book over to her. The woman opened it and ran her index finger over the pages. Myrlie studied the woman’s hands and eyes. Her partner interrupted her inspection. “Pardon the intrusion, Phoebe, but there’s a man out front inquiring about a book. Strange looking fellow, has one blue and one green eye.” Myrlie looked at Ollie. Phoebe stared at both of them. “Is there a problem?”
“Don’t tell the man out front we’re here,” Ollie said.
Phoebe stared at them again. “How did you say you acquired this book?”
“I didn’t,” said Ollie, “but if you must know, at an estate sale.”
“Do you have a bill of sale?”
Myrlie answered this time, “When have you ever gotten a receipt for anything you bought at an estate sale?”
Ollie patted Myrlie’s shoulder. “Phoebe, was it,” Ollie said.
“That’s correct,” she said curtly.
“A man was in my shop this morning inquiring about this book. There was a diversion before he could get…physical. I need your help.”
“This is a respectable establishment. I’ve no interest in shady dealings.”
Ollie took his money clip out of his pocket. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
Thank you for reading! Come back next week to find out what happens to Myrlie and Ollie.