Browsing in the bookstore
One thing about owning your own business was that you decided when you were going to open that day. It left out the middle management part of things where you had to delegate what got done when. It left room for some leeway between opening early and letting things ride for a few minutes.
The downside of this was that only the owner was to blame if things didn’t go right in one way or another, like if a shipment got mixed up and you ended up with two dozen fewer books than you’d planned to receive. Delegation might be trouble sometimes, but every now and then it would have been nice to have a second in command to deal with things if everything didn’t go exactly according to plan.
That morning found Judy turning the sign on the door from ‘Closed’ to ‘Open’ at nine sharp, since she’d been up since seven and was ready to start to day on schedule. One thing about a bookstore, they might not do business really early in the morning, but the townsfolk liked seeing her open on time since it made the other shops around her look good. The blonde retreated from the storefront and into the shop itself, adjusting minor items as she passed the shelves. Hopefully today would be a good day.
With no meetings to attend in the city and all the work finished on Poplar Grove, Marguerite let herself sleep well into the morning. She’d been up until the wee hours anyway, dining on a tourist who’d been in remarkable shape for his age with the stamina to match. It had almost been a shame to consume him completely but by that point Marguerite had been too far gone in the moment to care. Fortunately her staff were well trained for such events and there would be nothing to connect her to the body, in the unlikely event the man’s remains were ever to be found.
After a hot bath and leisurely breakfast she changed out of her silk bathrobe and into a deceptively simple looking yellow sundress and leather sandals for the day’s attire. It was almost lunchtime before she parked her car in front of Best Kept Secrets, where she intended to learn more about the resources Judy had to offer.
It was kind of a slow morning, with only a few customers drifting in, but Judy knew that the afternoons usually meant more business so she hadn’t given up hope yet. She re-arranged the candles that were on display, setting them up so that they ranged from small to large, before getting her lunch from upstairs. Chicken salad today, and if she could avoid spilling any of it on her white caftan that would be a blessing.
The doorchime rang just as she was coming back into the shop, and she hurriedly put the container down on the counter to go and greet the new customer. “Yes, can I help you?”
Unsurprisingly the store was empty except for herself and the proprietress, and Marguerite gave the woman a polite smile as she approached the counter. “Ah, Ms. Montague. Good to see you again.” She waved a hand around to indicate the store in general. “I had some time today, I thought I’d see what you had to offer.”
“Oh, hello, Ms. Dufoix. Didn’t expect to see you in here so soon after our talk. Guess you really must have been curious.” Judy thought of offering her hand for a shake, but they’d already been through that little ritual so maybe doing it again would be overkill. “I’ve actually just made a fresh pot of tea, would you like a cup? It’s going to be another scorcher today, I’m afraid, but I find that iced mint tea cuts through a lot of the heat. I was just about to have some myself, should I pour two cups?”
“I had some spare time today,” Marguerite repeated, “so I thought I’d indulge my curiosity.” It was true. She had a fair collection of tomes on magic as well as obscure religions, but couldn’t hurt to see what the woman had to offer. “I’d love a cup, thank you.”
The bookseller got the cups from a cabinet, then set about pouring the tea. Ice cubes clinked against the inside of the cups as she poured, and she said, “How is everything going at Poplar Grove? I know you said you’d just moved in, but it must have taken a lot of work getting the place into shape for living in. I don’t think anyone’s lived there for a long time.”
“It had been some time,” Marguerite nodded in agreement. “Fortunately the family kept it at least structurally sound and in good repair, if not brought up to modern standards. It took substantial funds to bring it to modern code and prepare it for life in this century but I’m happy with the result, it was and remains a beautiful home.”
‘Substantial funds.’ How substantial was substantial? In a recession that could mean anything, but Judy was trying not to get visions of dollar signs dancing in her head. Still, it couldn’t hurt to make a sale today.
She handed one of the beverages to Marguerite, then sipped at hers. “Is there something specific you wanted to see today or did you just want to look around?”
“I wouldn’t mind looking about,” the brunette allowed, nodding as she took a sip of the tea. “But I was also curious as to what you had in the ‘special stock’ you mentioned in our last meeting.”
“Well, today I have some books about magic use and how to channel the earth’s energy to cast spells,” Judy answered, dropping her voice a notch even though the two women were alone in the shop. Such secrecy got to be a habit after a while, and having learned how to play the incognito game it was difficult to do things any other way. “Its a little formulaic to start out with, but it’s also a really good beginner’s guide.”
“I see.” Marguerite kept her expression unchanged. If the woman thought she was a novice it was probably best to keep it that way. “I’d be interested in taking a look at that. I’m also curious as to what you have on ancient religions, researching them is something of a hobby of mine. Not the typical Hellenistic pantheon mind you, everyone knows them already, but the Sumerian and Babylonian deities.” It was unlikely that Judy would have anything that Marguerite herself hadn’t seen on Inanna but it was a possibility.
“I do have something on Babylonia, now that you mention it,” Judy replied, setting aside her cup so that she could move over to the computer on the counter. “Only the first volume of a five-volume set, but the rest are on order.” Keys clacked as she typed in the author’s name, then waited while the machine pulled up the information she wanted. “Yeah, I still have a couple of copies in stock. We could go in the back and look at them now if you wanted to.”
Marguerite nodded and set her cup down. “That would be an excellent idea. If the first book proves satisfactory I’ll purchase it and you can assume I’ll take the rest of the set as well.”
Judy bustled towards the back room where she kept all of what she called ‘the good stuff’, chattering as she went. “I really hope you’ll find the book to your liking. Normally I only show special items by appointment, but just for today I’ll make an exception. Is there anything else you’d like to see while you’re back here? I have a couple of books on Eastern religions if you were interested in Oriental philosophy, or you can just browse around and see if there’s anything you’d like to take a closer look at.”
‘Just for today’? Who did the bookseller think she was kidding? Marguerite managed to keep her poker face intact, though the effort it took to keep from rolling her eyes was considerable. Maybe she was spoiled, but she was long used to the special treatment given to the wealthy. The idea that the merchant wouldn’t bend the rules to make a sale was laughable.
“I think I’ll stay with this book and the one on earth magic for now,” she told Judy as she followed the woman back. Appearing hesitant would help establish herself as someone just starting to learn about all things supernatural. “I wouldn’t want to try to do too much too fast after all.”
“Good point. If you try to go too far too fast, its like riding a motorcycle when you haven’t even taken the training wheels off of your bicycle yet.” And Judy spoke from experience on that score, since she’d overdone it on the first few good luck charms she’d tried to make and ended up with the whole house stinking of burned sage. So as far as she was concerned it was definitely better to proceed with caution.
The back room was a jumble of boxes and half-empty shelves, and the blonde stepped over to the closest one to begin her search. “I should really organize this stuff better, but it seems as if there’s never time,” she said, speaking over her shoulder as she rummaged. “And now its too hot, since its got to be at least ninety degrees today. Maybe come fall I’ll finally whip this place into shape. That way I won’t have to spend so much time looking for everything.”
She finally found the book she was searching for, then turned around to face Marguerite again. “And one book on earth magic. Now if I can just find the one about Babylonian mythology.”
Marguerite accepted the first book and she flipped it open to briefly scan the first few pages. It was possible she could learn something new from it, after all. Unlikely, but possible. Earth magic wasn’t her strong suit by any means, but given preparation time and concentration and she could pull it off.
“Procrastination is something to guard against.” She intoned, closing the book and returning her attention to Judy. “We all struggle with it from time to time.”
The second book turned out to be on the shelf farthest across the room, and Judy pulled it down with the help of a stool before saying, “I just need more motivation, that’s all. Eh, maybe I’ll get to it in a week or two if the weather cools off. There’s always hope for tomorrow, right?”
The book was large, with a hardcover protecting the pages within, and she passed it off to the brunette with a small flourish. “Hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for in there,” she said with a cheerful expression. “Its not every day I get somebody actually asking to see something that doesn’t revolve around the Greek pantheon. Is there anything else you were interested in?”
“Not at the moment,” Marguerite replied as she accepted the book. “I think I’ve all I need at present. Once I skim through the book I’ll let you know if I’d like the others. I shouldn’t need but a few days to let you know my decision.”
“All right, then.” Judy started to lead the way back towards the area of the shop with the sales counter in it, saying, “It’s really good to have someone around who knows the value of this stuff. Have you delved into magic study before? I only ask because earth magic is pretty basic, even for a newbie. Have you been interested in the subject for long?”
“I’ve done a little experimentation with it,” was the response as Marguerite idly glanced at some of the items on display. “briefly, in college. I hadn’t had time to do much more than dabble.” Best to keep it vague but give the impression she knew little. “Some of my sorority sisters were interested in it and I learned bits and pieces from them.”
So you’re a self-starter? That’s good to hear. I’ve always thought that what most dabblers need is a good kick in the pants to really get them interested,” Judy said thoughtfully. “Not that, you know, I plan to kick you in the pants or anything, but still, its nice that you’re motivated enough to do some self-study.”
The cash register began to make noise as she rang up the purchases, and she added, “Good to see you’re a progressive thinker. Most newcomers in town would avoid this place just out of a superstitious belief that lightning would strike them. Glad to see not everyone believes that.”
“I believe in determining the truth in things myself,” Marguerite replied. It wasn’t as if she were likely to die anytime soon, and her soul wouldn’t be going to the christian realm if she did. “Just the same, I’d appreciate your discretion about this. I doubt most of the good citizens are ready to know.”
“Oh, of course, I never tell tales,” Judy assured Marguerite as she put the two books into a large plastic bag. “Whatever you learn here is strictly between you and me, and then between you and whoever or whatever you believe in. Gossiping about this kind of stuff only gets you funny looks around here, and then sometimes prank phone calls in the middle of the night. So you don’t have to worry about me saying anything, Ms. Dufoix., Mum is totally the watchword around here.”
“That’s good to know.” Marguerite nodded in acceptance of the shopkeeper’s words. If she really wanted to know about practitioners in the area she could easily find out through other means, and it was good to know that Judy took the privacy of her patrons seriously.
After glancing at the bill, she opened her purse to get at her billfold and the money within it. Cash would always be accepted while the same could not be said for credit cards or checks, and she had little to fear from any robber. If someone were to try and steal her purse it would be the last thing they ever did.
The vampire counted out the bills to cover the purchase and waited for the blonde to make change.
The cash register drawer dinged when it opened, and Judy tucked the money into the slot before counting out Marguerite’s change. Coins clinked together as she added the receipt to the contents of the bag, saying, “This is just in case your purchases aren’t completely to your satisfaction, since I have a money-back guarantee if you want to bring something back. Hopefully you’ll find everything to your liking.”
“I’m certain I will,” Marguerite reassured her, depositing the change in her billfold before placing it back in the purse. The purse strap went back over her shoulder and she moved to pick up the bag containing the two books. “I’ll let you know about the other volumes in a few days.”
“Well, I’ll be here,” Judy said cheerfully, and she couldn’t help but think that Ms. Dufoix seemed like a very nice woman. The blonde patted the cash register when the doorchime jingled and wondered how fast she could get those other books on order. Maybe she should go ahead and request them, just in case.