How Not to Build a Library

By Yvonne Connell < or>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: August 2003

Summary: A couple of shop assistants have some impish fun with a certain book-buying customer.

Warning: There are mild sexual references in this story.


The city-centre street was jammed nearly solid with cars, taxis and buses, all vying for road space and honking their horns impatiently. At a pedestrian crossing, a young man waited impatiently for the signal to change, jogging from one foot to the other. After a few moments, he muttered a curse and launched himself into the traffic, dodging around the mostly- stationary vehicles and ignoring the angry shouts and blaring horns.

Paul Webster, studying English at the local university and struggling to make ends meet, was late for work again. He was late most Saturdays, but today he was spectacularly late. His co-worker, Dale, was going to kill him!

He made it to the other side and rushed headlong towards the bookshop directly in front of him.

Inside, he hurried past the sales displays and bookshelves, and squeezed around the side of the cash desk. "Sorry I'm late," he said. "The traffic's terrible today."

Dale, who was lounging on the stool behind the cash register, gave a laconic shrug. "Don't worry, you haven't missed anything."

Paul breathed a silent sigh of relief and gazed around the near-empty shop. "Not much action, huh?"

"One geek in a parka reading the dust covers of every single Star Trek book and a woman who looks old enough to be my great grandmother by the erotic fiction. Oh, and I swear that kid at the dictionaries is looking up every rude word he can think of. No kid I know of that age is *that* interested in lexicography." Dale picked up an elastic band and flicked it neatly into the trashcan at the back of the cash desk area.

Paul peered into the trash, where a small heap of elastic bands lay. "Yeah, I can see you're really busy."

"Sex-book guy was here, though," said Dale, the next elastic band poised between finger and thumb, ready to fire.

"Oh, you're kidding!" exclaimed Paul, disappointed to have missed him. Sex- book guy was their latest people-watching project. He came in most Saturdays to browse the bookshelves. Often he bought a book. Two, sometimes. But one thing you could always count on — he always browsed a particular shelf of the 'Mind and Body' section. The sex book shelf.

The first few Saturdays, he'd just browsed. That had been fun to watch — he built the browsing into his overall sweep of the shop, obviously trying to look as normal as possible. As if any normal customer might visit travel, reference, cookery, SEX, philosophy, classic fiction, and sports books every single week, thought Paul with amusement.

Then he'd started buying the books. Not every week, but a darned sight more often than any other customer Paul had ever encountered. He and Dale had developed a kind of amused admiration for the guy. They even made up little stories about him to while away the long hours behind the cash desk.

So it was a pity Paul had missed this week's floor show. "Did he buy anything?" he asked.

"Nope," said Dale, punctuating his reply with his next elastic band salvo. "He's getting pretty smooth, though. A slow browse through the cookery books, which just happen to be next to the mind and body section, then a casual drift across to philosophy, then back to the self-help guides, finishing with an interested though definitely not pervy study of the sex books. I particularly like the way he reads the back covers of the illustrated guides and then replaces them without taking a peek inside."

Paul grinned. "He's got style."

"Man, that guy must have just about every book we've ever sold on the subject," said Dale. "Hasn't he figured it out yet?"

"Maybe he's a slow learner," suggested Paul.

"Or maybe-" The doorbell dinged, and in walked a tall, dark- haired man in grey slacks and a dark maroon blazer. "He's back!"

"Okay, five says he buys a book this time," said Paul, watching their customer wander slowly along the bookshelves.

"No bet," said Dale. "Of course he's going to buy a book — that's why he came back."

"Okay, ten says he buys the big one with the hard cover and full colour pictures," said Paul. This people-watching was no fun unless you added in a little competition.

"Nah, he's strictly a pen-and-ink drawing kind of a guy," said Dale. "He'll take that small paperback on the end."

Paul held out his hand to Dale. "So we have a bet?"

Dale clasped his hand very briefly. "Yeah. But you just be prepared to yield up those bills, my friend. I've been watching people like him for years."

They fell silent for a while, watching the guy make his way slowly around the shop. To the casual observer, it would look as if he was browsing aimlessly, but Paul knew better. He knew the modus operandi of the sex-book buyer.

For a few moments, Paul's attention was distracted by a customer who actually wanted to purchase a book. Paul cursed inwardly, hoping he wouldn't miss anything. He was slipping the customer's book into a bag and handing it over when Dale spoke out of the corner of his mouth. "He's moving in."

Paul quickly finished with the customer and turned his eyes on the guy. Sure enough, he was moving steadily towards the all- important section. "He's already looking at the hard cover book," said Paul.

"Yeah, and in a minute he's going to decide he wants the paperback," retorted Dale. "Look!"

The guy's hand was reaching up to take down a book. They both held their breath as the hand strayed momentarily towards Dale's book. "Yes," muttered Dale. "I win, I win…"

Paul willed the guy to change his mind. "He's taking too long — he hasn't made up his mind," he said. The hand wavered. "Oh, yes, yes, yes!"

"Game's not over yet," said Dale. "He hasn't made that all- important purchasing decision yet."

The guy suddenly made a positive move away from Dale's book and pulled another down. "Yes!" said Paul. Okay, so it wasn't his book either, but at least the game was still alive.

The guy leafed through a few pages, flipped the book over to scan the back cover, then replaced the book on the shelf.

"To the right, to the right," hissed Dale.

"Left," said Paul. "Go left! Go on, you know you want those oh- so-educational pictures."

But just when they thought the guy was going to inspect another book, his hand went up to his glasses and pushed them down his nose a little.

"Why does he do that?" said Paul. "He always does that."

"Maybe he's short-sighted," suggested Dale. "Or maybe those glasses have got little cameras in them, and he's recording all the book titles so he can look them up later in the library."

"Or check with his collection at home to make sure he's got the full set," said Paul.

Dale laughed. "Yeah, that's it. Gee, why doesn't this guy wear an anorak? He sure behaves like he should."

"Or a dirty raincoat."

"Or that." Dale paused. "Okay, glasses are back on. I sense he's closing in for the kill."

"Yeah, and he's going for the pictures…darn!" Paul thumped the counter softly, as the guy pulled out a book, swivelled it quickly around and replaced it — this time with the spine to the front, rather than the edges of its pages. "Does he have to be so darned neat?"

"Maybe he wants a job here," said Dale. "Then he can browse that section all day long."

Paul chortled. "Could be. Okay, here we go…left, left, left!"

But to his dismay, the guy reached up and unhesitatingly drew out Dale's paperback. "Put it back!" Paul hissed.

The guy turned a little and glanced Paul's way.

"Oh, god, you don't think he heard me?" said Paul, lowering his eyes quickly.

"Well, you were getting a little over- excited," drawled Dale. "It's only a book."

"Yeah, but this is probably the most excitement we're going to get all day," pointed out Paul. "May as well get the most out of it. Oh, god, he's coming over."

"Quick," said Dale suddenly. "Get over there, to the children's books, and follow my cue."

Paul gave Dale a curious glance, but did as he was asked. He was a little relieved to be avoiding the guy, anyway, just in case he really had been overheard.

Over at the children's books, he pretended to tidy up the books on the display tables while keeping an eye on the proceedings over at the cash desk. The guy had slid the book, front cover downwards, onto the desk. Dale picked it up and studied the back cover. Then he looked over at Paul.

"Hey, Paul," he called across the bookshop. "Can you see if we've got another copy of The Female Orgasm by Felicity Goodbody? The one this guy's buying is damaged on the back."

Paul had to cover his mouth with his hand to stop himself laughing outright. Several customers' heads, previously buried in books, popped up and looked directly at the cash desk. Paul was convinced he could see the guy's back stiffen with embarrassment. "Sure, Dale," he called back. "I'll just go and check."

Paul ambled across to the sex book section, and duly checked the shelf. Fortunately, there actually was another copy, so he collected it and brought it over to the desk. "There you are, sir," he said. "We like to give our customers the best."

"Th-thanks," replied the guy. Paul thought he detected a definite pink tinge to his face.

"Would you like that gift-wrapped, sir," asked Dale politely. "Or is it for yourself?"

Paul nearly burst a blood vessel trying not to laugh. Oh, boy, this was fun!

The guy, however, glanced sharply at Dale. For a moment, the gauche, embarrassed face was replaced with a much, much sterner one, and Paul winced inwardly. That face was a clear message that they'd overstepped the line.

"Wrap it any way you like," said the guy gruffly.

"Of course, sir," replied Dale. He slid the book into a plain brown bag and took the guy's payment. "There you go, sir," he said, handing the anonymous bag over. "Enjoy."

The guy practically snatched the bag from Dale and walked stiffly out of the store. As soon as the door closed, Paul and Dale dissolved into fits of laughter.

Paul looked at Dale in admiration. "You were outrageous!"

"Not as outrageous as a guy who owns every book ever written on how to do it," replied Dale, thumping the desk loudly. "Man, that was good! Who can we embarrass next?"

Paul scanned the shop. "How about the kid at the dictionaries?"

"Oh, nice one…"


Clark closed the shop door and walked briskly down the street, shoving the paper bag unceremoniously into a pocket. So what if it spoiled the line of the jacket. He preferred having his hands free and there was less chance of dropping the book. And one embarrassing encounter due to that book was quite enough in a day.

He sighed. One thing was for sure — next week, he'd have to find another shop!