Home > Double Booked (The Magical Bookshop, #3)

Double Booked (The Magical Bookshop, #3)
Author: Liz Hedgecock

Chapter 1

 

 

Jemma watched the pendulum of the grandfather clock swing backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. If I’m not careful, she thought, I’ll fall asleep right here, at the counter.

It was almost twelve o’clock, and so far they had had one proper customer. A smart man with a brass-buttoned blazer and a rolled umbrella had strolled in, tipped his hat, and stated precisely what he wanted, down to which edition and bindings he was prepared to accept. Maddy had known exactly what he meant, located the book in the designated area of the stockroom, and brought it out in its protective box for inspection. The customer had pronounced himself satisfied, paid the price asked, and left with the box under his arm. He had not browsed, he had not asked about any other books, and Maddy had not attempted to sell him any.

Apart from that customer, perhaps five people had walked in, gazed blankly at the rows of books behind glass, and left. One couple had whispered, ‘It looks expensive, doesn’t it?’ and scurried out with a fearful glance at the counter, as if Jemma might coerce them into buying something.

‘Is it usually this quiet on a Monday?’ she asked Maddy.

Maddy tore her gaze from the copy of the Bookseller’s Companion which she was perusing, and considered. ‘This is normal,’ she said, eventually. ‘This isn’t the sort of bookshop where we have lots of casual browsers. People who come to BJF Antiquarian Books tend to know exactly what they want.’

‘I can see that,’ said Jemma, remembering the man with the umbrella. ‘I’m just used to things being busier.’

‘You worked in a general bookshop, didn’t you?’ Maddy asked, with a slightly pitying note in her voice.

‘Yes, I managed a general bookshop,’ Jemma replied. ‘We had people coming in all the time.’

Maddy shuddered visibly. ‘Churn,’ she said, almost to herself. ‘People picking up the books, and putting down the books, and – and touching the books.’ She rubbed her thumb and forefinger together, then returned to her magazine.

The clock struck twelve like a death knell.

‘I think I’ll take my lunch,’ said Jemma, ‘if that’s OK.’

‘Yes, of course,’ said Maddy, without looking up. ‘You’re the boss.’

Yes, I am, thought Jemma, in an attempt to convince herself. She got her bag, put on her jacket, and set off along the road. She walked quickly, partly because it was chilly out, but also because she didn’t want to waste more of her hour away from the shop than she had to. A couple of minutes later she pushed open the familiar door, and walked into Burns Books.

Raphael was reclining in the armchair, his fingertips on his temples, and Luke stood nearby. Folio sat on the counter between two boxes of books, watching them both. ‘Let’s try again,’ said Raphael. ‘Visualise horror books. Tell yourself that the shop needs horror books.’

Luke screwed his face up. If anything, he looked constipated. ‘All right,’ he said, after a minute or so, ‘I’ve got it.’ He strode towards the stockroom with purpose and returned with another box of books. But when he opened it, it was full of Harlequin romances. ‘I don’t believe it!’ he cried. ‘What am I doing wrong?’

Raphael laughed. ‘Jemma, why don’t you try.’

‘Horror books,’ said Jemma. ‘We need horror stories.’ She walked to the stockroom, selected a random box, and brought it back. But when she opened it, the box was full of books about business management.

‘While I regard that as a horror story,’ said Raphael, ‘I doubt most of our customers would agree.’ He looked from Jemma to Luke. ‘I suspect you both have something on your mind.’ He eyed the box of romance novels, then Luke, who appeared, for him, decidedly pink.

‘I’m thinking about – putting myself out there,’ he said. ‘It’s been a long time since I felt – well, in that frame of mind. But now I’ve got a stable job…’

‘You mean dating?’ asked Jemma.

Luke fidgeted with a black shirt button. ‘I suppose I do,’ he said. ‘Obviously it’s a bit different when you’re undead.’

‘I imagine it would be,’ said Jemma. ‘Do you only date other vampires?’

‘It would make things easier,’ said Luke. ‘But I’m open to new experiences.’ He fidgeted some more. ‘I’ve downloaded an app.’

Raphael rolled his eyes.

‘Don’t be like that,’ said Luke. ‘I haven’t opened it yet. I’m waiting for when things … you know, feel right.’

‘Checking it out can’t hurt,’ said Jemma. ‘I mean, romance is clearly on your mind.’ She nodded towards the boxes, and Luke looked rather resentful.

‘And what about you?’ he asked, indicating the box of business books. ‘Trouble in paradise?’

‘No,’ said Jemma, drawing herself up to her full height, which was still not enough to be remotely on a level with Luke. Then she sighed, and slumped. ‘It’s just so boring. Hardly anyone comes in, the people who do normally run straight out again because the shop scares them, and Maddy is perfectly capable of dealing with any actual customers. It’s barely worth me being there.’

‘I did say,’ Raphael remarked, mildly, ‘that it doesn’t have to stay an antiquarian bookshop.’

‘I know,’ said Jemma. But I’m worried, she added to herself. I’m worried that if I change things it won’t work, and I’ll have messed up a perfectly good bookshop because I didn’t understand it. ‘I guess it’s early days,’ she said. ‘I’m still wondering what to do for the best.’

‘That’s very cautious of you,’ said Raphael. ‘Anyway, I’m pleased that your bookshop is quiet at the moment. It means we have more time to think about the Assistant Keeper problem.’

Jemma blinked. ‘I actually came over to get lunch,’ she said.

‘And Carl being downstairs is incidental,’ said Raphael, with a twinkle.

Jemma smiled. ‘Don’t tell him that his cappuccino’s the main attraction, will you?’ And with that she escaped before any more awkward questions could be asked.

As usual at this time, the large lower bookshop was busy. Customers roamed around the shelves, not quite small enough to be ants in the lofty vaulted space of the shop, but with similar levels of scurrying and industry. Carl himself was dealing with a sizeable queue, making coffees, warming paninis, and exchanging friendly banter with their regulars. It was odd but nice to see him absorbed, not conscious of her. His twists had grown; they stuck straight up from his scalp, maybe an inch and a half now. Has he redone them? I see him almost every day. Why haven’t I noticed? Then Carl caught sight of her and waved.

Jemma waved back, then walked over to General Fiction and picked up a Wodehouse she hadn’t read, Pigs Have Wings, to keep her company in the queue. Not that I’m trying to avoid thinking about the other shop, she told herself. I’m being productive and making the best use of my lunch hour.

When she reached the front of the queue, Carl grinned at her. ‘Cappuccino, I presume?’

‘Yes please, and a tomato and mozzarella panini.’

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