The Bookseller's Grandson

Here's another Chuck Wendig flash fiction special: Pick A Character And Go, Go, Go. The idea was to take a character from another writer's response to the previous week's challenge (Time To Create A Character). I went with Christine Chrisman's unnamed character. He seemed like an interesting fellow to take out for a ride. 


“You sure this is the right place? Looks kinda, you know, shitty, for a guy who has the kinda goods this guy has,” said the man in the black suit, fuchsia shirt open at the neck, and designer aviators.

“Shove it Carl. This place fits the description she gave us. This is it,” the older, shorter, and heavier man responded. Mr. Jenkins was wearing what he always wore to work: A baby blue guayabera, Dockers old enough that they may have once had pleats but you'd never be sure now, and a white straw hat. Mr. Jenkins knew that Carl disapproved of his look, but Carl was an idiot and could go fuck himself for all Mr. Jenkins cared. He respected Carl's work so much that, even though the younger man was the “muscle” on this gig, Mr. Jenkins had a Beretta tucked into his waistband.

The sign over the shop read “books,” or might have, if you gave the faded “k” and “s” the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Jenkins gave the outside of the store a quick look before pulling the door open. The windows dingy, which was unusual for a book store, but also free of the tell-tale yellow patina of nicotine, which fit. The display consisted of a dozen or so paperback by authors he'd never heard of (but his familiarity with books was limited to what one would see in airport convenience store, which is to say, Tom Clancy and not much else.) They were displayed on cheap wire stands on top of stacks of other books instead as opposed to, say, shelves. Based on what he'd heard, Mr. Jenkins wasn't surprised.

Mr. Jenkins nodded quickly to his partner and pulled the door open. His serious expression disappear instantly as he greeted the lone clerk behind the counter.

“Hiya! Can tell me where your Tom Clancy books are?”

The man behind the counter didn't make eye contact. His head stayed turned to his left, which Mr. Jenkins took to mean the books were in that direction.

“Thank you!”

Mr. Jenkins ambled to his right, slowly, and not quite directly, keeping his body slightly turned towards the counter. Carl's sunglasses hid a truly epic roll of the eyes. He hated this role-playing shit and just wanted to get on with it. He stood awkwardly just inside the doorway and checked his watch.

Mr. Jenkins got a better look at the shopkeeper. He fit the bill: Forty something, maybe fifty, glasses that would have been ironic on someone cooler, hair a mess, awkward slouch, and suspenders that even Mr. Jenkins recognized as a fashion faux pas. This was him. Mr. Jenkins didn't pay quite enough attention to where he was going and bumped into a stack of books topped with an impressive stack of unopened mail. He turned to apologize to the shopkeeper.

The shopkeeper reached down under the counter.

Carl reacted first and pulled his MAC-10 in a way that indicated he'd probably practiced drawing it more than he had firing it. He trained it directly on the shopkeeper. Mr. Jenkins pulled his piece as well, since, well, fuck it, if a gun's been pulled, might as well put all your cards on the table.

“Alright, whatever you're reaching for, bring it up, nice and slow,” Mr. Jenkins said in a voice that suggested he was comfortable speaking in an environment where guns were in play. The shopkeeper continued his motion as though he wasn't even aware of intended menace, made eye contact with Carl, and displayed a thin, white plastic bag from a c-store, stuffed full of books, wadded up clothes, and maybe some tupperware, but importantly, nothing remotely threatening. He walked out from behind the counter. Carl looked around and, to his disappointment, noticed there wasn't a cash register. It hadn't clicked with Carl that a cash register in this particular shop wouldn't have much in the way of cash.

“Alright pal, you're coming with us,” Mr. Jenkins ordered the man who appeared to already be coming with them. “And Carl? Put the fucking toy away.”

Mr. Jenkins put his gun back in his waistband and followed the shopkeeper out the front door. The man with the stupid suspenders just kept walking, maybe following Carl, but almost like he knew where he was going.

“Buddy, you wanna lock up?”

The shopkeeper  turned around, almost facing Mr. Jenkins,  and maybe mumbled something to himself or maybe to Mr. Jenkins, turned back around and continued towards Carl's Lexus (which Carl most definitely could not afford.) He did not look very much like a man who was being kidnapped. He did not look frighted at all. Much later, Mr. Jenkins would ask himself why this didn't concern him more.


The shopkeeper was thinking about King Arthur and about how putting a sword in stones and in lakes was a strange thing to do and then about how the water would taste with a a sword and a magical woman, or at least her arm in it and if you drank from it, would any of the magic be in the water and how you would bottle that water and how long the magic would stay active if you were to try to transport it and...

...and then two men walked in the door to the shop. Without staring, he nonetheless saw enough to understand that they weren't customers.

One man dressed in a cheap suit with a big gun poorly concealed under the jacked. The other made an exaggerated attempt to appear friendly, but he had a smaller gun. Neither appeared interested in books. Both appeared interested in me for no obvious reason.

The older man continued to feign joviality as he split from the younger, taller man who wore sunglasses indoors, apparently because he liked the look because sunglasses do not work like regular glasses. In most books, people who do this care a lot about appearance.

The shopkeeper reached for the bag of stuff he brought with him to and from work each day. Right as he did this, the older man tripped on some clutter in the shop. This distracted both men briefly, and when they noticed the book clerk reaching form something, they assumed the worst and drew their guns.

It is time to leave with them.One of them has a Dodge car key on the ring clipped to his belt loop. We will be leaving in the nearest Dodge vehicle.

As they left, the older man asked the shopkeeper if he'd like to lock the doors. He'd never locked the door since his grandfather, the shops original owner, passed away. He loved to come to the store when it was his grandfather's. He'd sit in the corner and read and ask questions and read some more and no one ever tried to talk to him.

He kept coming after his grandfather died. It seemed like the only thing to do. The store wasn't exactly his, but it wasn't anyone else's either. His grandfather seemed to have anticipated this and made arrangements. The fact that the utilities were never disconnected was due to his foresight in setting up an account to pay for these things so his grandson wouldn't have to. Grandfather took a great many precautions to protect his grandson, usually in the form of unusual gifts.

Since his grandfather's passing, he'd continued coming to the shop every day because what else was he going to do? So he read. He'd read every book in the shop exactly once. He'd heard of people re-reading books, but why? Did they forget them? 

Countless observations went through his head as he worked out what the next twenty-four hours would likely hold, but all that came out in a mumbled, staccato burst, were :

"Three. Distracted. One."

He watched the route carefully so he'd know how to get home when this was over tonight. He'd never seen most of the streets, even though they were near his store. He knew the maps of the city by heart, though, so he wasn't lost. He had stacks of maps in one corner of his shop. He'd looked at them all long enough to learn them. He hadn't forgotten, so there was no need to look at them again.

There is a Master Lock key on the key chain. We are going to a self-storage park. Based on the route, we are going to the one on Pecan Street, six blocks from here. These men are professional criminals, part of an organization, but not very high up. They do not like each other very much. They are not very smart.

The Dodge pulled in to the self-store place, a locally owned operation. The criminals led the shopkeeper into small, locked room, 12'x12' according to the sticker on the door but, as the shopkeeper immediately noticed, somewhat less. 

Cuts corners. Cheats his customers. No security guard. Good place for bad men.

The unit was appointed like a move interrogation room by way of a teenager's garage. There was a single, unshaded bulb hanging from the ceiling, but also one of those awful 90's torchiere things, an old but expansive sofa, a mini fridge, and, of course, the single wooden chair directly under the light bulb in the center of the room.

The shopkeeper, still clutching his plastic bag and largely avoiding eye-contact, sat down on the chair in the center of the room without being directed to do so.  The older man sat on the sofa, dead center, facing the shopkeeper and leaning forward. The younger one stood by the door, still wearing his shades, trying to look menacing and cool and not really sticking the landing on either of them.

"Pal, we've heard some interesting things about you," said Mr. Jenkins, his elbows resting on his knees, his hands clasped. "We know you don't talk much, so let me tell you a story. One of the guys in our organization did a little snatch job, a lady's luggage on a flight to Cali."

The shopkeeper looked over at the man in the cheap suit, scowled, and turned his head.

"Yeah, ok, it was him. Not surprised you knew. Anyway, he grabbed her carry-on when she got up to take a leak, stuffed it inside his empty bag, easy-peasy. She had some stuff our boss wanted, we got it, no problem."

Customer. Yesterday. She was a nice lady. Seemed uncomfortable.

The older man in the unfashionable shirt was trying to read the expression on the shopkeeper's face, but it was like most of the reading he'd done: He knew there was something there to be learned, but damned if he knew what it was. 

"What's interesting, though, is what she told the cops when she landed at LAX. She said a guy in a bookstore, the clerk, had said three words to her: 'Baggage, flight, night.' Coulda been just random chance, of course, but she sure as shit didn't think so."

Tickets in her purse, saw them when she paid. Anyone paying attention would have seen she had a night flight and she'd paid for a carry on. 

"So, anyway, me and Carl here, we hear about this and think it might mean something. Long shot, of course. Hell of a long shot. But, you know what? I start asking around and I start hearing stories. I hear stories about people who go to buy books, or comics, or whatever, and a guy who doesn't normally says shit says a few words to them, and those words wind up meaning something. Like a horoscope, only real specific. Sound familiar?"

Paying attention is easy. Anyone can do it. Why don't they? Sometimes words come out. Wish they wouldn't.

"Yeah, didn't think you'd say anything. So here's the deal: We kidnapped you already, so we're already talking felonies here. All things considered, killing you is probably less risky for us than just letting you go. Sorry about that, it's not personal, it just works that way. So now's the part where you got to convince us."

The shopkeeper did not give any indication of understanding, let alone trying to convince the man of of anything.

"If you got a gift, and I'm betting you do, show us. We play our cards right, we figure out a way to use it. So, say something, do something, that makes us think it worth the risk to keep you alive. Sure, you'll be working for us, but that's a lot better than the alternative, you know?"

I know. But I know they're bored, they're comfortable.

The older man stared for as long as he could, waiting. He said "I can wait here all night," but he didn't look like he was eager to do it. After a long minute, he got up, turned around and opened the mini fridge. He reached in and looked over at the taller man, and asked "You want one?"

The man in the suit and the sunglasses looked over, said "Yeah, sure, why not?" The older man tossed him a can, which he caught with one hand before he turned back to the shopkeeper.

"Oh fuck me," were the last words he said.

The shopkeeper's gun, his grandfather's WW2 era Colt,  was no longer in the plastic sack; it was in his hand and it was pointing directly at the older man.

He's the threat. The young man has an automatic, but he's clumsy and has never been tested. This one has.

The gun went off. The man, who was starting to turn around from the mini fridge, fell immediately. The shopkeeper turned moved the gun slightly to the right, aimed at the man in the suit who was most definitely not going to get his baby machine gun out in time, and fired again.

Should have frisked me. Lazy. Dumb. 

The shopkeeper put wrapped the pistol in a t-shirt that was also in the sack and picked it up.  He stepped over the body of the man in the suit, opened the door, and exited the car park. 

Three point two miles to get home from home. Two point five feet per step.Two thousand, one hundred twelve steps per mile. Six thousand, seven hundred fifty eight steps to get home. Six thousand, seven hundred fifty seven steps. Six thousand, seven hundred fifty six steps...