"Of course your vote means something, but you just don't up and move a bookstore. First you've got to have a precise location in mind. Not just Cherry Creek in general or some empty hole in West Denver, but an actual place with traffic and pizzazz. A block or two in any direction can make all the difference."
She looked around. "So this has pizzazz? This has traffic?"
"No, but I've got tenure. I've been here long enough, people two thousand miles away know where I am. And not to gloat, but I did take in three thousand bucks today."
"Yes, you did. I stand completely defeated in the face of such an argument."
I went on, unfazed by her defeat. "There's also the matter of help. If I moved to Cherry Creek, I'd need staff. My overhead would quadruple before I ever got my shingle out, so I'd better not guess wrong. Here I can run it with one employee, who makes herself available around the clock if I need her. What more could a bookseller want? But you know all this, we've had this discussion how many times before?"
"Admit it, you'll never move." Erin sat on the stool and looked at me across the counter. "Would it bother you if we didn't do The Broker tonight? I don't feel like dressing up."
"Say no more."
I called and canceled.
"So where do you want to eat?"
"Oh, next door's fine."
I shivered. Next door was a Mexican restaurant, the third eatery to occupy that spot since I had turned the space on the corner into my version of an East Denver fine books emporium. In fact, half a dozen restaurants had opened and closed there in the past ten years, and I knew that because I had been a young cop when this block had been known as hooker heaven. Gradually the vice squad had turned up the heat, the topless places and the hustlers had kept moving east, and a series of restaurants had come and gone next door. Various chefs had tried Moroccan, Indian, Chinese, and American cuisine, but none had been able to overcome the street's reputation for harlots and occasional violence. Some people with money just didn't want to come out here, no matter how good the books were.
We settled into a table in the little side room and I ordered from a speckled menu: two Roadrunner burritos, which seemed like pleasant alternatives to the infamous East Colfax dogburger. "What's in this thing we're about to eat?" Erin asked.
"You'll like it better if you don't know."
The waitress brought our Mexican beers and drifted away. Erin reached across the table and squeezed my hand. "Hi," she said.
"Hey. Was that an endearment?"
"Yeah, it was."
I still didn't ask about her trouble. I gave her a friendly squeeze in return and she said, "How're you doing, old man? You still like the book life?"
It was a question she asked periodically. "Some days are better than others," I said. "Today was a really good one on both ends of it. Sold two, bought one -- a nice ratio."
"What did you buy?" she said, putting things in their proper importance.
"The nicest copy you'll ever see of Phantom Lady -- Cornell Woolrich in his William Irish motif. Very pricey, very scarce in this condition. I may put two grand on it. That wartime paper just didn't hold up for the long haul, so you never see it this nice."
"You're getting pretty good at this, aren't you?"
"It doesn't take much skill to recognize that baby as a good one."
"But even after all this time you still miss police work."
"Oh, sure. Everything has its high spots. When I was a cop, I loved those high spots like crazy, I guess because I was good at it. You get a certain rush when suddenly you know exactly what happened. Then you go out and prove it. I can point out half a dozen cases that never would've been solved except for me and my squirrelly logic. There may be dozens of others."
Copyright © 2005 by John Dunning
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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