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All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

To mom and dad


Chapter 1

Richard Bentley knelt inside his bookshop’s window case. Wizened hands adjusted a book here, a creased drape cloth there. He wore his favorite jeans, faded and soft and frayed along the bottoms, a split across each knee. The first sunshine in days lay on the sill like a newly dropped doily, cleaned, starched, and showing the lemony tints of age. Bentley’s hand moved through the sunlight, holding a book. His brown loafers were hooked over the platform edge in the attitude of a Sunday snoozer. His tie swung as he moved, not unlike Poe’s pendulum, he thought, but in this story only helping to dust the book heads. He stopped long enough to look through the window, his way of separating the day into many fragments between work, thought, rest, and a hot meal taken near ten at night.

Bentley breathed. Isn’t it enough to call out to the world I don’t know anything! and be happy with what you have? If said loud enough—in a caustic, soylent voice—you can find enough foresight to help plan the clothes-washing cycle and market shopping. Isn’t that enough? No, no. I’m not cut out to be a bum, he thought. Sometimes none of us knows what the hell we are doing, but I know where to buy used books and how talk to people dithering between titles held in their grabby, scales-of-justice hands, then send them out the door with both books in a bag, their cash in my pocket. That’s useful business and, okay, so take it all and five dollars, too, and you can buy a cup of coffee and … a used book. Not a bad way to spend time. He exhaled.

Outside, Heath-on-the-Wold had awakened late to this year’s spring, and nearing noontime now the sunshine had dried storefronts along High Street, their water stains fading into the brick façades and stone foundations, the eaves less weighted in their sag, windows smiling in blue tint, doors agape with laughter, all having felt the force of sheet rain for a full week running under green-blue clouds, like the scene on a William Turner canvas. Bentley was half-surprised not to see roots growing up from the ground, their white fingers reaching for the sun’s golden life force, shining and blinding. Across the road, a middle-aged mother in blue curlers and red tartan skirt towed her recalcitrant girl child away from a gift shop window. A pointed finger and chilling wail broke the calm warmth the sunlight had promised would stay for a few hours.

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