Treacle and Ink

March 18, 2008

Marsh-Ayre Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — adrian @ 1:01 pm
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The shop is charming, truly. I knew before I even stepped inside that I’d take it. It is on a little parade of shops in Muswell Hill, it has a bowed front window with 1940s utility hardbacks displayed delightfully on a green back-cloth as if tumbling over a meadow.

The shop even smells right. I pushed open the door, setting a small bell ringing, and the proper scent of bookshops engulfed me: old paper and leather, dust and binding glue, candlewax and furniture polish. A young man with a sharply-cut floppy fringe and a pair of very tight trousers was standing behind the display case containing rare books at the front desk.

“I’m here to see Mr Ayre,” I said.
“Mr Ayre, ‘e ‘as gone,” he said. And before you all ask, yes, his accent was absurdly French and there’s really no other way to convey it. “
“But where has he gone? When will he return?”
The man shrugged his shoulders, as if to indicate that he neither knew nor cared.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, who are you?” “I am Jacques,” he said, smiling thinly, “can I ‘elp you with something?”
“Ah,” I said, “I’m… Alice Klein. I rather thought I’d be taking over running this shop while Mr Ayre was away. But, um… look, really, do you think he’ll be gone long?”
“Oh,” he said, “I ‘ave ‘eard of you. Mr Ayre, he left me a note for you.” He rummaged in the drawers under the desk, muttering to himself “always with the notes, all these notes everywhere…”
At last, he retrieved a large brown paper envelope and handed it to me. I pulled out a folded note written in neat, old-fashioned handwriting.

“My dear Miss Klein,” it began,

“I do apologise for hastening my departure such that I am not able to greet you. However, I have heard such marvellous things about you from Bernard that I am delighted to leave you with temporary charge of my little corner of the world of books. The keys to the shop, and to the rooms upstairs which are used by H. Loon’s Antiques-Emporium in Grove Street for storage, are enclosed. I do not advise you to enter the storage room; some of the objects are precariously placed and I would not wish you to place yourself into danger.”

I tipped a large bunch of keys out into my hand.

“Jacques will be able to show you the ropes, as they say. I do not expect to be gone long, not more than a month, or six weeks at the very most. My business simply could not wait, I’m afraid. You are very welcome to inhabit my rooms, at the back and above the shop, if they please you. I have also enclosed an honorarium as thanks for your assistance in taking care of the shop. Do look after yourself. I shan’t be long.

Yours with all best wishes,
T. Marsh-Ayre”

I tipped the last object out of the envelope: it was a largeish bundle of £50 notes, tied together with an elastic band. More money than I’ve seen in one place for a long time. Jacques whistled under his breath. We both stared at the money for a moment.

“So,” Jacques said at last, “you will be staying?”
“Yes,” I said, “I suppose I shall.”

I am writing this from the back-bedroom of the shop. Jacques is just closing up downstairs, and he’s promised that tonight we’ll open a bottle of wine and he’ll tell me all he knows about Mr Marsh-Ayre. And tomorrow, I’m going to take a proper look around: “precarious objects” be damned, I want to know what’s in there!

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