“May I help you, gentlemen?” That was a rotund fellow of about 60. He was bald and had a pair of glasses perched on his head and another pair dangling over his chest on a silver chain. We were in a store by the name of The Old Book Shop. I held the lease on the place as I owned the apartment building above it. It was on the north side of Sutter, just a few feet west of Larkin.
Carter asked, “Do you have a copy of The Strength of the Strong by Jack London?”
“Of course.” He sized both of us up for a moment and then looked at me and asked, “Mr. Williams?”
I smiled. “Yes.”
He held out his pudgy hand. It was dry and soft as I shook it. “My name is Irwin Smith and I’m the proprietor. May I say how happy I am to finally meet my landlord?” He sounded sincere but I wasn’t sure.
I nodded. “Nice to meet you.” I gestured towards Carter. “This is—”
“Oh, Mr. Jones needs no introduction.” He offered his hand and reddened slightly when Carter shook with his right and then clasped the man’s hand with his left.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Smith.”
Taking a deep breath as if to steady his nerves, the older man said, “The pleasure is all mine.” He looked from Carter to me and then back to Carter. “You both look much more handsome than the newspapers could ever show.” Putting his left hand over his chest, just above the glasses dangling on the silver chain, he said, “I hope you don’t think I’m trying to take advantage of your presence, but I have something you might very well be interested in seeing.” He turned without waiting for either of us to reply and made his way into the back, motioning over his shoulder for us to follow him.
Behind a dark green curtain, we found a young man sitting on a stool, eating an egg salad sandwich while reading a thick book with yellowed pages and bound in dark-brown leather. The sandwich was wrapped in wax paper and he was carefully taking small bites from it. The book was laid out flat on the counter in front of him.
“Arthur!” said Mr. Smith, sounding a little irritated.
“Sorry, Mr. Smith,” said the kid as he quickly wrapped up his sandwich and stuffed it into a knapsack that was resting on the wood floor at the bottom of his stool. Having done that, he stood and realized we were standing there. His mouth suddenly dropped open as he appeared to recognize us.
“Arthur! Please attend to the front.”
The kid closed his mouth, nodded, and then slipped around Carter and was gone.
“I apologize,” said Mr. Smith as he removed the lid from one of a series of wood crates stacked one on another. “Arthur is very good with the books but rather lacks the kind of social skills one would desire in an antique book store. Now, here it is.” He stepped back so we could see what was in the top crate. “Have a look.”
Carter walked over and gasped. “Nick! Look!”
Scooting around him, I peered in. Several volumes of Jack London’s novels were lined up perfectly, held in place by tightly-packed straw and newspapers. The blue leather binding looked brand new. The book titles were printed on the spines in bright gold. I looked over at Mr. Smith. “Are these new?”
He beamed. “Quite to the contrary. When Mr. London was building his magnificent house up in Glen Ellen, a publisher in London approached him and requested permission to print all of his novels and short stories in a calf-leather binding. There were to be one hundred sets. However, the house burned to the ground, Mr. London died not long after, and only one set was ever produced. This is that set.”
Carter gently ran his finger over the spines and asked, “Where did you get them?”
“It’s quite unusual that they even exist. They sat in the publisher’s storage, in these very crates, for the longest time. The publisher went into receivership in 1935 and this was one of their assets, although no one in England thought much of an American author like Jack London.” He sniffed. “They didn’t sell at auction and the firm who was handling the disposition of assets just held onto them. Strangely, during the Blitz, one half of their building was destroyed, but since these were in the half that wasn’t touched, they were perfectly fine.” He smiled. “About six months ago, I received a letter from a gentleman at that firm, asking if I would be willing to take them on consignment, being an antique bookseller in Jack London’s hometown. I agreed, thinking of several good customers who might be interested. The set arrived on Monday. I haven’t made any calls so far. Something told me to wait. So, then, you both walk in, asking for one of the very books that the set contains. And, here we are…” He sighed and rested both of his hands on his belly, under the dangling glasses.
“How much?” I asked.
He leaned in towards the stack of crates and put on the pair of glasses that had been on his head. “Well, that is rather a difficult question to answer. You see—”
“Ten grand,” said Carter.
The man gasped. “Well… I don’t…” He took out his handkerchief and began to wipe his face.
Carter pulled out his wallet, asking, “Will you take a check?”
“Oh, my…” The man’s eyes rolled into the back of his head as he slid down to the floor faster than Carter could catch him.
Thursday, October 18, 1962
Nick is in trouble. He’s obstructing justice and might possibly be an accessory to murder, after the fact. The cops are on to him and his lawyer is very concerned.
How did this happen?
It’s all because Sam Halverson, a close friend and an operative for WilliamsJones Security, has murdered a man and is on his way to Mexico to hide out from the law.
At Nick’s instruction… Oh, boy!
Meanwhile, Nick’s latest attempt at matchmaking appears to be falling apart. It seemed like such a perfect pairing but, apparently, the prospective couple won’t be living happily ever after.
Will justice (and love) prevail?
Find out in this, the second book in a three-part story arc (beginning with The Derelict Dad), that’s all about what happens when a father, who has abandoned his family to find his fortune, finally has to come to terms with his past.
More about author Frank W. Butterfield:
Frank W. Butterfield is the Amazon best-selling author of over 20 books and counting in the Nick Williams Mystery series, stories about Nick & Carter, a private dick and a fireman who live and love in San Francisco.
To learn more about Frank W. Butterfield’s novels, Nick & Carter and their ongoing adventures, click on the link for his website. https://www.frankwbutterfield.com/