Authors: Andrew MacRae
Mainly Murder Press, LLC
PO Box 290586
Wethersfield, CT 06129-0586
Mainly Murder Press
Copy Editor: Jack Ryan
Executive Editor: Judith K. Ivie
Cover Designer: Karen A. Phillips
All rights reserved
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Copyright © 2014 by Andrew MacRae
Paperback ISBN 978-0-9913628-2-0
E-book ISBN 978-0-9913628-3-7
Published in the United States of America
Mainly Murder Press
PO Box 290586
Wethersfield, CT 06129
For the real Barbara and Doris,
family and friends, and Susanna
My wallet was gone.
It had been stolen out of my jacket without my noticing a thing. I controlled a frantic impulse to check the other pockets of my suit, along with an equally strong wish to kick myself. I kept my hands where they were and concentrated on figuring out when and where it could have happened.
I was standing in front of a book dealer’s table on the grassy field at Fort Williams. The annual used book show was in full swing, and a sea of dealers’ booths surrounded me. Bright nylon sunshades on poles protected the books and the vendors from the glare of the afternoon sun and covered the grassy grounds with color. Under each tent were rows of tables stacked with used books, rare books and worthless books. Pickings were slim, as it was the last afternoon of the show. I’m a conservative buyer, so I had only half a dozen books in the knapsack on my shoulder. The sun warmed my shoulders, and the sounds and smells of the bay filled the air.
Fort Williams is an old, decommissioned US Army embarkation facility on the bay that had been transformed into a popular outdoor park and center of events. The voices of two million men who had sailed off into the Pacific War so many decades ago were now replaced by the cries of swirling seagulls competing with fanciful kites for airspace overhead. A strong breeze rippled the sunshades and carried the tolling of bells on buoys anchored in the bay. Those maritime sounds blended with calls and shouts from a nearby soccer match, children on a nearby playground, the sound of city traffic and the chatter of several thousand avid book lovers. The breeze also brought a heady fragrance of fish and saltwater mixed with the scent of new-mown grass from the playing fields.
When could my wallet have been taken?
In my head I retraced my route among the crowded tables. I had just come from Sartain’s Rare Books, and before that Dupin’s. That was it, Dupin’s New & Used Books. I had been looking at a first edition Perry Mason from 1954 when someone brushed up against me. I hadn’t given it any thought at the time, but that had to be when my wallet disappeared. I tried to conjure up an image of the person who had done it, but all I remembered was an arm reaching past me, an arm clothed in brown tweed with a leather patch on the elbow. I shook my head as a wave of chagrin washed over me. A year ago, before I gave up picking pockets, it never would have happened.
I put the book I was looking at, a Craig Rice novel from the early forties with the dust jacket in fair condition, back on the table and slowly turned around. I scanned the people around me, trying not to let my concern show in my face. There was no one with a tweed jacket in sight.
I asked the dealer if I could park my knapsack with him for a few minutes. Paul knew me and agreed.
“You want me to put this away for you?” He held up the Craig Rice.
“Go ahead and leave it out. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” I wanted the book, but if I couldn’t get my wallet back, I would have to head home with my pride well and duly dinged.
I put myself in the pickpocket’s position, not exactly a difficult thing for me to do, given my former profession. If I had lifted a wallet over by Dupin’s table, I would have headed toward the refreshment stands. Far more people were over there, and it was at the edge of the event in case a quick getaway was needed. Also, if I were the pickpocket, I would be looking for someone looking for me, so following straight in his footsteps was not going to work.
Instead I went at a right angle to my destination, walking slowly and stopping for a moment at each table, exchanging greetings if I knew the dealer and scanning through the titles on display as though nothing was amiss. I reached a dealer who had banners on one side of his booth, protecting his vintage and fragile sheet music from the breeze. I shrugged off my coat as I passed behind the banners and draped it over my arm. I emerged from their shadow and continued to the next booth, one that specialized in science fiction.
I found a copy of
from the mid-1970s with a photo of a grinning George Pal sitting in The Time Machine on the cover. I bought it with the few loose dollars I had left in my pocket and bent my face down close to the magazine as I walked away as if giving it intense study. I let my shoulders drop and my knees give a little at the same time. I had now changed my outward appearance, height and manner of walking. Those are the visual cues we all use when watching for someone, and if I was lucky, it would be enough to fool my pickpocket.
I reached the end of the row of dealer booths and headed toward the refreshment stands, still scanning the crowd from behind the magazine.
A book fair attracts all sorts of people. I saw a Mulligan stew of the American public, milling about while looking at books, talking about books, buying books and selling books. I continued my search.
I passed a bearded, leather-clad Goth haggling over an early edition of
The Bell Jar
with a geriatric beatnik woman. He must have outweighed the woman by a good two hundred pounds, but she was his match in spirit as they competed over who would get the best bargain.
At another booth a buttoned-down corporate dude perused a collection of Manga comics, shoulder to shoulder with long-haired teens in ragged jeans and torn tee shirts. Still farther along, a man with a toddler in a backpack and an infant in a front sling sorted through a large collection of
National Geographic Magazines
I saw people of every age, wearing clothes of most every style and color, but no one I saw wore a brown tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. I wondered if I had lost my wallet for good and began to take inventory in my head of what was in it and what would need stopping or replacing. Still I kept walking, searching and scanning the crowd.
Finally I hit pay dirt.
He stood about thirty feet in front of me near a seated trio of two violinists and a cellist playing a jazzed-up version of a classical piece. The guy was young, perhaps in his mid-twenties with short blond hair, a wide, full face, about my height but with more muscle. He was dressed in a preppy style that I never cared for – a tweed jacket over a dress shirt, khaki slacks and canvas deck shoes. He stood in profile to me, looking back in the direction of Dupin’s tables, possibly checking to see if I had twigged to my wallet being gone. In one hand he carried a shopping bag, and I was confident with the certainty of experience that my wallet would be somewhere within it. I kept walking toward him, continuing to use the magazine to hide my face.
I was within two steps of my quarry before he realized it, and even then he showed no signs of recognizing me as he tried to step out of my way. We collided, and I hooked his left leg to make certain he came down with my contrived fall. In two seconds we were on the ground in a Gordian knot of arms and legs. The musicians stopped playing, and people turned to watch us.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled while clumsily grasping and letting go of his wrist, his arms and the lapels of his coat as I tried to regain my footing. We got to our feet at the same time. I bent over to pick up my magazine. I let him get a good look at my face as I straightened. He gave a start of recognition and began to say something, but he seemed to realize people were watching us. The last thing a pickpocket needs is a crowd of people looking at him.
“Sorry,” I said again as the musicians resumed playing, and people lost interest in the scene. I walked away, letting my body straighten out to its normal height. On reaching a table near the refreshment stand, I put down the magazine and slipped my jacket back on. Then I looked back at him. As I expected, he was watching me.
It was time to let my young friend know what was what.
I held a wallet up for him to see. I smiled as he patted each of his pockets as if unwilling to believe what he saw. I dropped his wallet onto the table and nonchalantly took a seat with my back to him.
It took him two minutes to make up his mind. I timed him. I looked up as he came around the table and faced me. His eyes darted from side to side as he tried to figure out how to play the scene, then he reached for his wallet. I put my hand on top of it before he could snag it and shook my head.
“Nope. Even trade or nothing.”
His shoulders drooped. “Okay.” He sat down in a chair opposite me and began fishing in the paper bag. He brought out several wallets, one at a time and holding them low, near the top of the bag, until I spotted mine. I nodded, and he set it on the table.
I let go of his wallet and picked up mine. He grabbed his wallet, and we both checked the contents before stowing them back in our respective pockets.
I found him studying my face.
“Hey, I know you,” he said. “I’ve seen you before. You’re The Kid, aren’t you?”
“Close. I used to be The Kid. I’m out of the business these days.”
“I’m Chad,” he offered, not that I was interested. “How come you quit? Everyone says you were the best.”
. It wouldn’t have been easy to explain to him, nor did I have an inclination to do so. As far as I was concerned, The Kid was dead and buried. “Let’s just say I found a better gig,” I said.
I saw how well dressed he was and put two and two together. “You’re one of Doris Whitaker’s crew, aren’t you?”
He was offended. “I work for Mrs. Whitaker.” He emphasized his employer’s title.
I waved a hand. “Sorry. It’s just that I’ve heard so many stories about when Doris, I mean Mrs. Whitaker, was only a hugger mugger.”
I couldn’t tell from the expression on Chad’s face if he was more offended at my being on first name terms with his boss or my claim that she used to roll drunks, not that it mattered to me. I didn’t bother to tell him that Doris had tried to recruit me back when I was his age. I got up and made to leave.
Chad leaned back and gave a laugh. “Just think, I boosted The Kid’s wallet. Guess it’s a good thing you quit when you did.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Good thing. With competition like you I wouldn’t stand a chance.” He smiled with smug satisfaction.
I took a step away and then turned back. I really didn’t like the smirk on his face. “Hey, Chad, you wouldn’t happen to know what time it is, would you?”
He stuck out his left arm and let the cuff ride up. His wrist was bare. He looked at me, his eyes wide. I tossed his watch down on the table and left.
God, that felt good.
“You got your wallet stolen? Gee, what a shame.” I could see Lynn was trying not to smile. Barbara was nice enough to take a sudden interest in the ceiling.
I glared at Lynn. “It’s not funny.”
Lynn, Barbara and I sat at the table in the back room-kitchen of our store, The Book Nook. It’s a bookstore often described by our customers as eclectic and almost as often described as eccentric. We are open twenty-fours a day, unless we feel like closing up for a few hours. The store is on the ground floor of an old three-story brownstone on Knickerbocker Lane, a mostly forgotten side street in the heart of downtown.
“Well,” chimed in Barbara with more than a trace of a smile on her ancient, wise face. “You have to admit there’s a certain poetic justice in it, Greg.”
I tried to glare at Barbara, but that’s not really possible. Barbara Jenkins is my oldest friend, both in the number of years I have known her and in age. Lynn and I bought the store and the building from Barbara when we got married a year ago. I manage the bookstore while Lynn gives lessons in a dance studio on the third floor. A condition of our purchase was that Barbara stayed on living there with us. Neither Lynn nor I nor any of our customers could imagine The Book Nook without Barbara’s comforting presence.
It was close to eight in the evening, and we were eating our supper. We usually ate around then. Lynn, Barbara and I are night owls by nature, and these unhurried, late night meals give us a chance to compare and catch up our calendars, and unwind.
It was Barbara’s turn to prepare supper that day, and the kitchen was filled with the smell of homemade soup and bread. We had already finished off a colorful garden salad that Barbara called a wildflower salad. It was made with arugula, nasturtium blossoms and kale, topped with shredded Brussels sprouts and Barbara’s homemade poppy seed dressing.
I buttered another piece of wheat bread, baked by Barbara that afternoon, and explained to my two best friends what had happened that afternoon at the used book show.