Where Even Weirder Things Are

Okay, it’s time to finish this story.

Maybe I should treat this like a television show, with an announcement of “Previously on Dr. Furious . . .

Just imagine me saying that in a rich baritone, and we’re set.

So I’m off to the second bookstore.  What I didn’t include in the previous post was the fact that the Little Woman was with me, although she wasn’t in the store.  That particular used bookstore is in a strip-mall, so while I browsed the shelves, she was next door doing her own thing.  My escape from Ted Baxter was fortuitous, as she had just exited her store and together we got to the car and drove off.

When I was younger, I used to drive what I called “The Circuit.”  It was a path of several miles – almost 20 – that took me to three major used bookstores, a couple of smaller ones, and a few computer shops (as I was really big on computer games at one point).  I don’t run the Circuit much anymore; most of the stores are no longer in business.  Only these two stores – the one I’d just left, and the one I was heading towards – remain.

Anyway, fifteen minutes after making the Great Escape, and I was pulling into the parking lot of the second store.  Unlike the previous stop, the Little Woman came in with me, as she decided that she’d see if they had any copies of books from one of her favorite authors.  Like before, I headed to the military history section.  Hey, I found one of those books; maybe I’d be lucky enough to find another.

Nope – I found something worse. 

As I entered the aisle filled with military history, there was a man already browsing the titles.  Tall (again), but young – probably early 30s – with short, blond hair.  Where my previous encounter seemed self-confident, this guy did not.  He held himself rather rigid and was clearly taken aback by my arrival.

Now, the way this store arranged its books, once you entered the aisle – really, more of an alcove, since there was only one entrance/exit – you start of with general military history, followed by ancient warfare topics, medieval, Napoleonic, and so forth, ending in the modern age.  The blond man was in the middle of the World War II section, which oddly, was where I’d wanted to be.  As I made an attempt to walk around him, excusing myself and giving him some distance, the blond man repositioned himself.  It took me a moment to realize what he’d done.  I don’t know if I should be impressed by how slick it was done, or if I should be pissed by the fact he’d done it.

You see, by moving just a couple of steps, he’d given me space and prevented me from going around him.  There was no way I was advancing further into this area without his approval, and it was clear that he wasn’t going to grant that until he’d scanned through every title.  After the earlier incident, I wasn’t interested in another confrontation.  The guy seemed harmless, so I humored him.  I’d let him scan through a section and once he’d moved on, then I’d look.  Fine, I thought.  I’ve got time.

But then I noticed something – a publisher’s logo.

There’s a particular publisher of military history that does some rather awesome work.  The problem is that being a foreign press, their books are usually available through special order only; their catalog lists hundreds of titles, but I’ve only encountered a handful on Barnes and Noble’s shelves.  I have found several in used bookstores, however, but not in the quantities I was seeing now.

Apparently, the publisher released overstock and this store has them on their shelves.  I’m not talking one copy (like the used German WWI book), but several copies of the same titles.  So there were ten copies of Book A on one shelf, and eight copies of Book B on another.  There were at least eight titles (and multiple copies of each) available.  Unless a flood of military history enthusiasts were to suddenly push through that front door, there was no need to fear losing out on a copy of these titles.

This is when I got tired of the waiting game.  When the blond man reached for a book on a lower shelf, I decided to act – I quickly pirouetted around him (I’m quite nimble when I need to be), and ended up in the Forbidden Zone – the part he hadn’t yet reached.  The look on his face – completely stunned that I’d done that – and unable to process what had just occurred.  The title in question – a military unit’s history in World War II – had several copies, all but one were shrink-wrapped.  I grabbed the only open copy and then quickly exited the aisle.

Two rows over was the Little Woman, trying to remember which of her author’s books she had at home, and which titles she still needed to read.  I walked to her and then began to thumb through the book I’d just snatched, trying to decide if it was what I’d wanted.  That’s when it happened:  The blond man walked by our aisle.  He was hesitant at first, as if he wasn’t sure which row I’d disappeared into, but once he saw me, he was satisfied.  He didn’t enter the row; he just walked by it and gave me a strange look.  It was the kind of look someone gives you when they know you’ve done them wrong; an accusing look.

I ignored him and continued to examine my prize.  He walked by our row again.  And a few minutes later, there he was yet again.  It was painfully obvious that he was not looking for any books; he was looking for me.  And each time he passed by, he had the same look on his face.

What did I do to the Universe that I had to encounter nothing but craziness??

Of course, I’d figured out that, yes – he wanted my book.  But there were at least EIGHT OTHER COPIES on the shelf.  Mine wasn’t special; it wasn’t rare.  The only thing that made the book stand out was that I’d gotten to it before he did.

Before I continue, a question:  Have you ever watched the 1990s drama, Homicide: Life in the Streets?  It covers the trials, tribulations, and cases, of a group of detectives in Baltimore.  It’s an excellent series that ended far too soon.  Go get it and watch it, if you haven’t seen it.  Anyway, here’s a spoiler:  There’s a case where a man is killed at the library by another patron with a strange obsession.  I won’t tell you what it is, because it’s really fascinating to see how the episode plays out.  But it has to do with someone believing he’s entitled to something because . . . well, just because.

That episode popped into my head while the blond man made his fourth pass.  And while I’ve already demonstrated that I was willing to be stupid on my own, I wouldn’t do that with the Little Woman nearby.  If something happened to her because I chose to be obstinate . . .

I asked her to wait and I went back to the military history aisle.  The blond man was no where in sight, so I put the book back on the shelf.  To be fair, the book wasn’t what I’d thought it’d be, and it wasn’t one that I was interested in buying; I just wanted to examine it.  I left the aisle and went back to the Little Woman.

Within seconds of me leaving the aisle, the blond man ran back in that direction.  He had to be spying on me from afar, but I don’t know where he could have been standing to do it.  I knew what was going to happen next, although I really didn’t want to believe it would.  If I was right, then . . . well, let’s see.  Sure enough, a few moments later, the blond man walked by our aisle for a fifth time, this time with a book tightly pressed against his chest.  He gave me another strange look – one of success.  He flashed a tight smile before racing to the front cash station as quickly as he could.

I turned to the Little Woman.  “Come with me.  I want to see if I’m right.”

We ventured to the military history section.  The eight shrink-wrapped copies of that book were still there.  The only missing copy – the one which the blond man purchased – was the one copy I’d examined.  He wanted my book.

Unlike the first guy who was just obnoxious, I honestly believe that the blond man would have made genuine trouble for me had I attempted to leave the store with that particular copy of the book.  It’s a stretch to say that he would have done bodily harm, but just pick up a newspaper and you’ll see people murdered for less.  The guy was strange, period. And while I could have easily gone and grabbed one of the other copies after he’d gone, I was serious in my rejection of the title – it wasn’t want I wanted.

He can have it.

After today, I think I might just shop at Barnes and Noble for a while.  I suspect that buying new books might be fraught with less danger.

At least I hope so.

One Comment Add yours

  1. What book-buying adventures you’re having! I’ll be sure to watch my back on my next used bookstore visits after reading this!

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