Book Hunting

Bobbi rode into town with three adults and one teenager. The teenager was desperate to get to the skateboard ramp at a local park before nightfall. The weather was finally warm enough for outdoor activities not involving ice and the park was filled with parents, children and teenagers. The truck had barely slowed down when Andy jumped out with his skateboard tucked under his arm.

“Andrew!” Shouted Rebecca. Andy stopped, turned and glared the do-not-call-me-that-in-public glare. “We’ll be back to pick you up in two hours. Be here. Be ready. Or, I will send your mother looking.”

This threat actually had some teeth. Andy’s mother was a local police officer. His fathered had been living at the Wild Raccoon since the divorce. Andy moved between households according to a standard visitation arrangement.

Andy rolled his eyes, made a vague lukewarm promise to do as he was told, turned, dropped the board and left us behind as fast as his skateboard and carefully maintained teenaged image would allow. His arrival was met with shouts, hoots, one or two back slaps and renewed energy on the ramp.

“Those ramps are dangerous.” Becca muttered. “I don’t know why his parents let him do that.”

Rick laughed. Somehow, Rick could laugh in a way that either invited additional laughter or left others knowing they’d just been insulted.

“Shut up Rick,” Becca snarled.

The next stop was downtown. The truck stopped in front of a gleaming, glossy bookstore with it’s own coffee shop. Both the bookstore and the coffee shop were big-name franchise businesses. They stood out from the rest of main street in a we-clearly-are-not-from-around-here kind of way.

“You sure this is where you want to go?” Becca asked as Bobbi ducked out of truck.

Bobbi shrugged. “This is where they sell books and the library is just a few blocks over. I promised Georgia a book.” Bobbi paused a moment, considering the two hours ahead of her. “Pick me up at Reckless.”

Reckless Dive was a classic small-town combination business. It was a music store, music academy, performance space, coffee shop, and tattoo parlor – although the tattoo portion was publicly defined as a separate business renting out previously unused space.The tattoo artist operated out of a room with a private entrance, located in the far opposite corner from a similar space utilized by the music academy. As a result, children learned to play the violin in one corner, while sober, ID-holding adults permanently embellished patches of skin in another. It was Bobbi’s single favorite place to hang out. It was also located downtown, which meant it was a short walk from the monstrosity laying before her.

With a wave, Bobbi left her companions and stepped inside the glass doors and bright lights. It was like leaving behind the little town and entering into a world made up entirely of giant malls. Music, toys, gift-set pens, electronic devices and the smell of coffee met her just inside. There were books, too. Massive numbers of them. Yet, the store didn’t smell like books, it smelled like coffee and…that combination of cardboard, plastic, disinfectant and newness that seemed to accompany all chain retail businesses. She supposed it was the effect the company was striving to achieve.

After wandering around a few moments, Bobbi started feeling restless. She only had two hours in town and the evening’s live music at Reckless was already well underway. Grabbing a teenager with a name tag that said ‘Stacy’ she asked about the existence of a magic frog and water book. The teenager barely managed to keep from rolling her eyes, but didn’t bother to hide her smirk before asking if Bobbi had bother searching the internet before coming into the store. Apparently retail bookstores expect patrons to do homework before asking for help.

After Bobbi admitted that she had not thought of that, the ‘helpful’ employee directed her to the children’s section with a “probably over there somewhere.”

Feeling particularly angry, Bobbi wandered toward the children’s section, seriously considering going home empty-handed. She was half-way through a reasonably justifiable excuse when a woman bumped into her.

“Oh, sorry,” the woman said, but remained closer than courtesy generally allowed. Bobbi would have scurried off if the woman weren’t giving her a mischievous grin in between looking around the store like someone trying to avoid the police. Under normal circumstances, Bobbi would have taken all of these things as signs it as time to escape, but the woman was so extraordinarily matronly and gleeful in her game, that it was impossible to avoid being swept up in the fun.

There was also something very familiar about this woman, although Bobbi couldn’t place her finger on what or why. The glasses hanging on a chain around her neck, the overly permed hair and the hand-crocheted sweater pulled over an overweight, constantly moving frame were hard to miss.

“You’re in the wrong store,” the woman said in a clandestine whisper that strongly suggested she spent many hours reading spy or mystery genre books. Taking another look around, to make sure no one was watching, she reached into her pocket and handed Bobbi a card while using her free hand to pull a random book off a shelf and making a show of looking over the spine. Bobbi, took the card and slipped it into her pocket while doing the same.

This was fun.

Without another word, she returned the self-help book (Make Those Shoes Work!) to the shelf and slipped out of the store and headed for Reckless. When she was out of sight of the store’s gleaming glass windows and it’s infuriatingly unhelpful staff, Bobbi pulled the card out of her pocket and took a look: Bette’s Book Emporium. It was located on the same street as the public library.

The store was small with a large square wood front that was strongly reminiscent of wild west movies. The sign was hand painted. The front window and glass door were sparkling clean, but the display consisted entirely of piles of books and cats. The cats were living house-cats with brightly colored colors, each with a tiny silver bell. There were at least four of them moving among the books or sitting on top of piles of books and observing the happenings inside the store, or outside the window.

Bobbi pushed open the door. A tinkling bell sounded at the back of the store, announcing her entrance.The smell of old books and dust permeated everything.

The woman sitting behind the counter was thin and wearing a very old hand-knitted sweater. In every other way, she was the mirror image of the spy-wannabe who passed along the card.

“Can I help you?” she asked and Bobbi felt like she was talking to an ultra-helpful librarian – which was when she put the pieces together. The bookstore spy worked in the children’s section at the library.

Pulling the card out of her pocket Bobbi explained what happened, which caused the woman behind the counter to fall into a fit of laughter so deep and heartfelt that Bobbi was chuckling along.

“Bette loves playing spy games,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “She’s the only Bette in town who actually likes that awful place.”

“Other Bette?”

“There’s four of us,” Bette replied with unbridled pride. “Four bookworms who also happen to be retired librarians and school teachers – all named Bette. We opened this store to feed our habit.” She said this last sentence in a whisper, as though she were passing along a particularly scandalous secret.

Sighing with relief, Bobbi leaned across the counter and explained that she had a particularly difficult request. Bette’s eyes twinkled.

“Hit me with your best shot.” She challenged. “Go ahead, try it.”

After passing along Georgia’s request, and the circumstances surrounding it, Bette, tapped her finger against her lower lip a few times, deep in thought, and started muttering to herself while shuffling through books. Every one in a while she would make an exclamation, knock over a book or scold a cat. But, before long, she returned to the counter with an armload of books.

The two of them spent the next half hour examining and discussing the books Bette managed to find in the labyrinthine of shelves, boxes and carts. Bobbi select four very different books, and then added a scientific field guide on local frogs for good measure.

“I am never setting foot in that other place again.” Bobbi said as she paid for the books.

“Oh, the Bette’s will be please.” Bette laughed.

There was still 45 minutes of town-time left to enjoy the music at Reckless. It was an excellent evening.

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