"Crap! I wish I hadn't seen Ricky on the sidewalk."

"You will be fine for 31 minutes. You will be dead in 32 minutes."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I left town with two boxes of books I figured I could trade at any interesting used bookstore I encountered on the road. 

I found a suitable place in Albuquerque and hauled both boxes to the front counter. The woman who greeted me was very nice, and I started poking around the shelves while she computed my trade. I was looking for vintage paperbacks, but there wasn't much.  

A Touch of Death by Charles Williams (Gold Medal K1353, 1963)
Message From Marise by Paul Kruger (Gold Medal K1323, 1963)
I found these two Gold Medals right off, which is exactly what I'm looking for. Pretty much any reasonably priced mystery or science fiction novel from the '50s or '60s published by Gold Medal, Signet, or Ballantine is something I want to take home. I scoured the shelves but couldn't find much else.  No John D. MacDonald or Ross McDonald, no Chandler or Hammett, no Heinlein or Bradbury or anything else.  

I checked back in at the trade counter and the woman told me she could offer me $193 in credit. I asked her how much I owed her for the two books in my hand.  "With trade credit, those are fifty cents each," she said.

I explained I was just passing through and didn't know when I'd be back. Was there a cash offer?  "I don't pay cash for books," she said, which I respect. She asked me if I had any friends who could use my trade credit. I told her no, I didn't have any friends.

We got to talking and she told me she bought the bookstore from her father.  "I've been working here 43 years," she said. "I've been paying social security since I was five years old." She was a pretty woman, tiny but tough, with a good sense of humor and a small dusting of weariness that suggested she'd been through some shit, either hers or someone else's.  

She told me her name (Elizabeth) and the amount of time it takes to get from Albuquerque to Fort Collins, CO by bus (13 hours). "I put my daughter on that bus yesterday," she said, which explained some of the fatigue I saw in her face.

Elizabth pulled a bartending guide from my stack of trade and asked me if I had any favorite recipes. She said the local tavern didn't open until 11 and I joked about picking up beer from a convenience store and getting started early.  

She asked what I wanted to do with my books and I asked her if she had any more vintage paperbacks. She told me I was welcome to look behind her counter and I quickly found a few more things.

Bad Day For a Black Brother by B. B. Johnson (Paperback Library 64-482, 1970)
Shaft Has a Ball by Ernest Tidyman (Bantam N7699, 1973)
Naked Lunch by William Burroughs (Grove BC-115, 1966)
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Beagle Books 95123, 1971)
The Shuttered Room & Other Tales (Ballantine 23229, 1974)
The Lurking Fear & Other Stories (Ballantine 03230, 1974)
A couple of Lovecrafts, the Burroughs, Superspade #5, a Shaft novel. I asked Elizabeth to choose enough books to cover my purchase and gladly paid the extra fifty cents per book.

She reboxed my books and I grabbed one carton and she grabbed the other. I told her I didn't mind walking back to the car myself but she insisted on walking out with me. As I opened my car she pointed to a box. "Is that a comics box?" I told her it was, but that it contained compact discs. "Too bad," she said. I asked her if she had any comics and she told me to wait a moment. She went back inside the store while I packed the books into my car and she returned with a remote.

"Come with me," she said.  Behind the store was a gate, which swung open when Elizabeth pressed the remote.  "Is this where I end up chained to a radiator in the basement or you stab me or something?" She laughed. "Sure is," she said. 

Behind the gate was a small structure which Elizabeth unlocked. This is where she stored her comics, all neatly arranged by publisher. "There's nothing too valuable back here, but if you want to make an appointment I can show you some Silver Age stuff."

I looked around for a minute and thanked her for her time. She told me she was having a big sale that weekend and I told her I'd come back another time.  "Bring some more books," she said. I promised I would.

We walked back to my car. I asked her if there was a gas station nearby and she said there was, but that we weren't in a great part of town. Someone really had been stabbed a couple of weeks ago.  I asked her if she'd done it. "No," she said, laughing. "It wasn't me."

I got back in my car and followed my GPS to the freeway. I got gas three hours later in a quiet little town where nobody had been stabbed in over a year.

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