The bell above the door sprang into life announcing her arrival as she entered the bookshop. Inside there was a comforting musty smell. Piccolo perused the shelves. Typical of this type of establishment there were many volumes by the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. She lingered over a copy of ‘A Christmas Carol’. There were many other authors she had never heard of and subjects she had not encountered. This was, of course, the delight of any bookshop. There was a display of works on the Aztecs and the Incas including what she assumed were curios of the period. How strange to see them here, she thought. In one corner of the shop was a glass-fronted cabinet that on closer inspection was found to contain first editions. It was firmly locked. A man appeared. He was tall and slim and well dressed. He had a small neat beard, his swept back hair greying at the temples. His age was difficult to determine – he had an almost timeless quality about him. Piccolo thought him not unattractive.
‘Oh you startled me’ she said.
‘I am most sorry’ he said in a well educated, almost theatrical voice. ‘Miss Piccolo?’ he added.
‘Why yes’ she replied somewhat surprised.
‘Mortimer Catchpole’ he extended his hand which she took. ‘A great pleasure to meet you’.
‘How did you …?’.
‘Know who you were?’ he finished her sentence. ‘Arthur Morgan telephoned me – you met him at that turgid local History Society. I trust you weren’t too bored at their meeting? He said you might call on me, and here you are’.
‘Actually the meeting was very interesting’ she lied, being quite defensive.
‘I’ve been hoping to meet with you since I learned of your arrival at The Lynn’ he said. ‘Your reputation as an author proceeds you’.
‘I am flattered’ Piccolo said, unsure as to whether or not he was being truthful.
‘Sadly I don’t stock any of your novels. One has to go to a train station WH Smith to buy them I believe?’
Now she couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic, however frightfully politely. Nevertheless he was correct, that was the place to buy her books, and they sold in large numbers (was he aware of that?, she thought). Indeed she had a captive market of bored clerks and frustrated secretaries who flooded into the Metropolis daily via the great railway hubs in The City and the West End, all craving escapism. (She’d learned long ago that if you included the name of somewhere exotic, such as Mesopotamia, in the title it did wonders for sales).
‘Have you owned the shop for long’ Piccolo asked.
‘I inherited it from my Father some years ago, as he had inherited from his Father. It’s been in the family for a long time’.
‘You don’t appear very busy’ she said.
‘You don’t own a book shop to make money’ he explained ‘not unless you stock the more popular fiction, but we, as you see, don’t’.
‘Very much your own world then I imagine’ said Piccolo.
‘Precisely. I prefer it that way. The world out there is not of my liking. But talk of trade must be boring you, may I make you some tea?’
‘No. Thank you. I understand you have a collection of books on the Occult’.
‘You’ve been talking with the delightful Miss Veronica, haven’t you? Well yes I do, and no, I wasn’t involved with whatever occurred at the ruins – I haven’t even seen whatever markings have been left there, though I am curious – perhaps you and I should go and take a look’ Mortimer offered.
‘It’s a tad cold for my liking’ Piccolo said, expertly sidestepping the issue. ‘But I should very much like to see your collection’.
‘Why of course’ he said without hesitation. ‘It’s just through the back, if you’d care to follow me’. She did. They were eventually halted by a wide maroon heavy velvet curtain separating off a part of the shop. ‘Voila’ Mortimer said for effect drawing back the fabric partition. Behind was revealed a mini library of well kempt books arranged on dark wooden shelves (of a much higher quality than those in the front of the shop). There was a round table with a reading lamp and a richly upholstered chair. Quite a place for study, Piccolo thought. She entered the sanctum, walking around, running a leather gloved hand across some of the spines. There was no dust here, and the musty smell had been replaced by that of candle wax.
‘Quite impressive’ she said. ‘Obviously you have a particular interest’.
‘In the works, not in the beliefs. I don’t dabble. Those sorts of forces could be … problematic’.
‘So you acknowledge their existence?’
‘I acknowledge the existence of all sorts of things my dear lady. I’m also sure that there is far more to the universe than the primitive human mind understands’ expanded Mortimer.
‘I couldn’t possibly disagree with you’ Piccolo said, and she meant it. She appreciated how limiting even imagination was.
‘So what do you make of the Bessinghams?’ he asked. ‘I know you’ve met with them a number of times with your husband’.
‘I couldn’t claim to know them’ Piccolo said, almost flirtingly. ‘But they seem no different than I would have expected’ she added cryptically. ‘Do you know them?’.
‘Oh yes’ Mortimer answered. ‘Our paths have crossed. They are loathsome wasters who have inherited too much and worked too little’. The candour of this response surprised Piccolo somewhat. She wondered whatever else he had to say on the subject. Something that might be germane to investigations, perhaps? Time for her to do some digging.
‘Might I change my mind and have that cup of tea now?’ she asked.