Elliot Sawyer pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He had been at the office since seven in the morning, which he felt was criminal, especially as it was a Saturday. Still, it had been worth it. He saved the brief he'd just finished and stood up. His joints popped and snapped after sitting for so long, but he didn't mind. It felt good. Putting on his coat and hat, he walked to the elevator. He dropped 46 floors in the steel box, until he reached parking level three. Exiting the elevator, he walked to his parking spot, but his car was gone.
Swearing, Elliot looking around, made sure he was in the right spot, and once he verified that he was not losing his mind, stormed off to find someone to blame.
Two and a half hours later, after the police had come and building management had reviewed their cameras, it was confirmed that someone had stolen his Audi. The police offered to give Elliot a ride home, but he declined. He wanted a drink and so he headed to a nearby bar called, "Echoes in Eternity." Pulling up a stool, he ordered a double scotch and looked at himself in the mirror behind the bar. His reflection showed a man of average height in his late thirties that was was neither fat nor thin and who had brown eyes and hair. His face was a bit on the longer side, and he had a crooked nose-- a memento from where a grounder that had hit a rock and popped up and smacked him in the face as a teen. Otherwise though, he was as ordinary as ordinary could be.
Elliot nursed his scotch and tried to decide what to do. His anger, which had been red-hot a few hours before, seemed to have burned itself out, making him indecisive. He did not want to go home, and he did not want to return to work. Although, work was a bit of a misnomer that implied he had a life elsewhere. The truth was he worked just as much at his apartment as he did at the office, and felt almost more at home at his office than at his apartment. Lately though...it all felt wrong. After nearly fifteen years working as a patent lawyer, he never wanted to hear the word "infringement" again, and he had a sneaking suspicion that something important had slipped by him.
Finishing his scotch, Elliot paid and left. He could have taken a cab home, but for some reason he felt like walking. The early March air was brisk. Blustery wind knifed through his jacked, but he paid it no attention. He just walked. Walked to think. Walked to get lost. Walked because he wanted to feel the pavement under the stiff leather of his Allen Edmond shoes.
Moving aimlessly through the city, Elliot was soon lost, but still he pressed on. His feet began to protest, but something about the pain reminded him that he was alive, and more than just a cog in a wheel, so he kept placing one foot in front of another and watched the neighborhoods change until he rounded a corner and found a street totally unfamiliar to him. It was lined with old brick buildings that boasted storefronts that looked to be from the 19th Century. Paint was peeling off of several of the faded signs and Elliot noticed that graffiti covered many of the exposed walls. Yet it was not the normal gang tags or barely decipherable words.
One wall had a mural on it that showed a giant mouth opened wide, so that the viewer was looking down the throat. Inside the throat of the mouth was a castle ripped straight out of a Disney movie, and in the foreground of the castle there was a griffin and a Chinese dragon playing poker. The whole thing made no sense to Elliot, but he nevertheless remained transfixed in front of it for several moments. Moving further down the street, he saw sharks bursting through the pavement; a ten story building that had one entire exterior wall painted with a oversized woman who was leaning over with a magnifying glass, creating the illusion that she was getting ready to burn all the pedestrians in the same way a cruel child might burn ants; a different building that held a cafe sported Wonder Woman, reading Wonder Woman comic books, a look of deep bewilderment etched on her amazonian face.
Elliot began to move down this street, and felt the air change. It was lighter here, which he knew (scientifically speaking) could not be true. He was just pondering that fact when he noticed what looked to be an old transformer-box with a woman on it. The woman was painted in black and white and was reading a book. Her eyes were down, focused on the print, but there was something about it that forced Elliot to stop. He could not say what it was, but it refused to let go of him and that drew him in. Made him explore.
Examining the building the transformer box sat in front of, Elliot found a second-hand book store that had an old wooden sign that proclaimed "Dog Eared Publications: Where even the worst doggerel is welcome!" Curious, he opened the door. The smell of coffee, old paper, and exotic flowers hit him like a runaway bullet-train. Bookcases of every size and shape were crammed into the tiny shop, and each were loaded with an endless array of books of all shapes and size.
Instantly Elliot's eyes were mesmerized by a case sheltering refugees from the dime-novel era. Cheap paperbacks with lurid cover art and titles like Montezuma the Merciless, Trouble Is My Business, and Spicy Detective, stood at attention, saluting a bygone era. And just like soldiers, some were battle damaged. Elliot spotted a whole shelf of books that were so creased and dented it was a wonder they were for sale (Six for $6!). Another case held classics. There were many in paperback form bearing the Penguin or Barnes & Noble markings, but just as many were in old, cracked-leather covers with worn spines. There were tottering stacks of history, a voluminous mystery section, piles of do-it-yourself books (some of which looked to date to the beginning of the last century) that took up their own corner, and everything between.
Elliot crept further into the interior of the shop, trying to remember the last book he had actually read for fun. When nothing came to mind, he felt a moment of regret akin to realizing he'd lost touch with an old friend. The feeling was made all the stronger as he knew it had not been done intentionally.
"Hello. Can I help you?" said a voice that was as soft and supple as a piece of silk yet as forceful as the steel of a samurai sword.
Elliot started and then whipped around to face the source of the question. She turned out to be a woman who came up to about his sternum; had sparkling aqua colored eyes framed by square, wire-framed glasses; olive skin; and radiant coal-black hair tied back by three ribbons matching the color of her eyes into a ponytail that cascaded down to her waist.
"Um. I'm not sure. It's been a long time since I read a book for fun. And, uh, I don't know. I thought I might pick something out."
The woman smiled the kind of smile that men start wars over and said, "Did you have anything in mind?"
"To be honest, no. I don't even know where I am. My car was stolen and I was just walking when I saw your shop," Elliot said, and instantly began to mentally berate himself for sounding like an
"Well I'm sorry to hear about your car, but I'm happy to know that its loss might bring you back to a good book. Few things are as worthwhile as a book that you can lose yourself in. Don't you agree?" Elliot nodded, dumbstruck, which made the woman smile. "Good. Now, my name is Yasmin, and if you don't mind, I'd like to help you find a book."
"Why?" Elliot blurted.
"It is something I try to do with everyone that comes to my shop for the first time. You see, I believe there is a perfect book for everyone here. My job is to help people find it, no matter what it is. But first things first, I don't know your name."
"Elliot," he said with a smile. "But why do you think there is a perfect book for everyone? I mean, even if you had a shop as big as a Barnes & Noble, you might not have a perfect book for me."
"How do you know that the sun will rise and the moon will wax and wane? Because you have seen it a thousand times before, or because science tells you it must be so? My job is to introduce people to books that will become more than just something they read," Yasmin said as the smile on her lips became just a little mischievous and a light, old and radiant, began to shine in her eyes. "Between you and me and without trying to sound too boastful, I'm very good at my job. Now, Elliot, no more arguing. What do you like?"
Elliot still wanted to argue, but at the same time, he was curious to see where this would go, so he racked his brain trying to think of something to say. The problem was that he worked so much he didn't really have any hobbies or ideas. "Uh. I'm not too sure. I used to like comics when I was a kid, but I haven't read those in years, and like I said, it's been a long time since I read anything for fun. Any recommendations for someone who has no idea what they like?"
Yasmin flashed that smile again, and only said, "I very much doubt that you have no idea about what you do and do not like. But I'll tell you what, why don't you walk around for a bit. Pick a book that strikes your fancy and then bring it to me. I'll know if it is the right one or not, and if it isn't the one for you, well at least I will have an idea."
Elliot wanted to argue, but before the words even made it to his lips, Yasmin slid behind one of the mountains of books, leaving only the smell of her perfume and a befuddled man in her wake. Elliot took a step forward and inhaled deeply, letting the heady smell permeate his senses, and suddenly he had a vision of himself finding the perfect book on his own. One that he could show to Yasmin and have her give her approval. One that would make her see that he was more than just the hapless guy who'd had his car stolen. Squaring his shoulders, he made his way further into the store, trying to figure out what would be the perfect book for him, while letting his mind drift away, enchanted by the possibility of impressing Yasmin.
Almost without thinking, he walked towards the technology and science sections to see what was there. The first book he saw was called Wired for War by P.W. Singer, which purported to explain how robots were going to change the face of battle. Picking it up, he flipped through some of the pages and found that while it interested him, it didn't really catch his attention. He couldn't say why, but he knew it would become something that would sit on his shelves, acting more as a reminder of what he was never going to do than what he would do.
Putting the book down, he moved on to Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. Intrigued, Elliot picked it up and flipped through it, but quickly put the book back down when he read a bit about a rat's tail being "lost" in a penis. "Definitely not," he muttered.
Moving into history he found books on every war you could think of and some he didn't even know about. There were books on the history of books, like The Ten Cent Plague, and piles and piles of biographies. Still he didn't find anything that looked like it would impress Yasmin in the way that he wanted. Moving on to fiction, he found old copies of Huckleberry Fin, one of which had an old, warn green cover that advertised illustrations inside. He picked it up, feeling how worn the spine was and noting how yellowed the pages had become. The book smelled old and loved, and it brought back memories of seeing a similar book in his grandmother's house when was been a boy. Elliot smiled, and suddenly he was very glad that e-readers had not existed when he was a cild.
Putting the book back on the shelf reverently, he moved on. Reaching the non-fiction section he sorted through a few and quickly found two books that seemed to speak to him. He had seen both before, he knew. In fact, he was sure that he had passed them by in airports and kiosks in malls, but they reared up in this store like a viper in long grass. The first, The Lost City of Z was about the search for El Dorado in the 19th century by Percy Fawcett, an Englishman who
explored the Amazon on behalf of the Royal Geographic Society. The second,
Into Thin Air, was about a disaster on Mt. Everest where several climbers had lost their lives.
Collecting the books, Elliot took a deep breath, trying to find Yasmin the way a bloodhound would track a fox. Following the smell of her perfume, Elliot wandered towards one corner of the store, where he found a circular staircase that had eluded notice before. Climbing it, he found himself on the second floor, which had been converted into a lounge and cafe. Gypsy jazz played softly from well hidden speakers, mixing with the gurgling hiss of milk being steamed and the soft buzz of several different conversations. Behind the bar there were two people: a younger woman with brightly-dyed blue hair and a sickly pallor and a behemoth of a man who had a closely shaved head, bodybuilder's physique, and movie-star good looks marred by savage scars criss-crossing his face.
After sweeping his gaze through the cafe, Elliot descended back down the stairs, still looking for Yasmin. He eventually found her back by the pulp rack, where she was advising a stringy looking teen on books that he'd enjoy. Once she was done, he walked up and said, "So I didn't find a book. I found two. I assume that is not a problem."
The dazzling smiled flashed, and Yasmin said, "Of course not. Here, let me see what you have?" and she gently extricated the books from his grip.
Looking them over she pursed her lips a bit and scrunched up her face just enough that a small thought-line appeared on the bride of her nose, where the skin bunched up under the frame of her glasses. Elliot quickly caught himself transfixed by it, and then tried to shake himself out of staring. Don't be creepy! he thought, which was made much more difficult as Yasmin's face suddenly lit up with the full radiance of a 4th of July fireworks grand-finale. "I have it! Come with me," and she set off towards the history section, talking over her shoulder as she went. "We've got this in from one of our regulars. To be honest, I'm surprised it is not more popular than it is, but I think it is the perfect combination of these two books," she said holding up the titles she had taken from Elliot. "It should be just the thing you're looking for."
Yasmin stopped in front of a book case and began burrowing through the titles until she almost reached the back of the case. From there, she pulled out The Floor of Heaven, a title that lived up to its billing as nearly a perfect marriage of the two books that Elliot had previously found. A history of the Yukon Gold Rush and some of the more colorful characters surrounding it, it was a that Elliot knew he would never have found on his own. Handing it to him Yasmin said, "Here you are--your perfect book."
Elliot was about to say something when he heard a voice so deep that it seemed to vibrate the floorboards say, "Hey baby. Vicki says she is feeling really sick and needs to go home. Is there anyway you can call Scott and have him come and help me out for the rest of the day?"
Yasmin turned and smiled at the large man who had been working in the cafe upstairs. "Sure. Just give me a few minutes. I'm almost done helping Elliot, and then I'll call him." Then, turning back to Elliot she said, "Elliot, let me introduce you to my husband, Patrick Reeves."
Elliot shook the other man's hand, making sure he gave a firm handshake. "Nice to meet you. I know most of the regulars, so are you new to the store?" said the scarred man.
"Yes. It's a great store by the way."
"Yasmin and I think so. We built it from the ground up."
"Well, you've done a great job. It's very inviting," Elliot said, and suddenly wishing that he could get away, he turned to Yasmin and said, "This looks great. I'll take it."
"I thought you'd like it," Yasmin said. "If you'd like, Patrick can ring you up in the cafe and you can have a coffee and start reading now, or I can check you out down here."
"I think I need to deal with the insurance company...tell them about my car, so I'm going to pass on the coffee. Maybe next time," Elliot said as smoothly as he could.
"We'd like that," Yasmin said "Now, if you will follow me, I'll ring you up," and she turned and began to make her way back towards the front of the store.
"It was nice to meet you," Elliot said to Patrick.
"Likewise. Grab some coffee next time you come by. We've got the
best in the city."
"Sounds good," Elliot said, and followed Yasmin to the front of the store, deflated.
Yasmin smiled her dazzling grin as she rang Elliot up and assured him that he would love the book. He smiled back, agreed, and then paid. Walking out of the store, he saw a taxi passing by, and without hesitation, he flagged it down. He gave the driver his home address and then closed his eyes, while trying to shut out the drone of the ads assaulting him from the TV inserted into the front-passenger headrest. When the cab dropped him off, he left the book on the backseat.
Walking inside of his apartment, Elliot looked around. There was little in the fridge, and no sign that a woman had been there in a long time. Going over to his computer, Elliot logged into his work account and checked how much leave time he had accrued. He was shocked by how large the number was.
Over the next few hours Elliot sat at the computer, firing off emails, and sending documents out, arranging for his absence It was mundane work, but just the thought of doing something other than fighting about "infringements" sent a thrill though his body. Something that he had not felt in a long time. Once the office paperwork was settled, he called his insurance agent and filed a claim. It took less time then he thought it would, and after paying the deductible, he stood up. As before, his joints popped. "I'm really not getting any younger," he said. and walked back to his bedroom, where he packed a bag with a few pair of old jeans that he found at the bottom of one his drawers and some old, comfortable shirts. He also threw in an old pair of swim trunks and a jacket. "You never know," he said.
Finally he walked to the lone bookshelf in his room. It was dusty. None of
the contents had been moved in a long time. Unsurprisingly, as Elliot ran his
eyes over the titles, he saw books that he'd forgot he owned, as well as a few
that he didn't recognize. Without looking, he picked three and put these in his
bag as well.
An hour and a half later, another taxi dropped Elliot off at a car dealer. A tall blond woman with a friendly face approached him. "Can I help you today sir?"
"Yes. I need a car. I want something with no frills, that has lots of get-up-and-go, and that I can go across the county in without any problems."
The woman smiled and said, "No problem. I've got something right over here that I think you will find to be perfect."
Elliot returned the smile and said, "Lead the way." To the sales woman, it
was the smile of a man ready to go to war. It was a smile that she did not see
often, and it made him stand out.
The next Stupendous tale:
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