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by Jas Faulkner

plain brown cover“How are things?” I asked Sam as I flipped through pictures of Dore engravings.

“Things are great,” said Sam, “Could not be better.  Have I told you my wife is a marketing genius?”

“Do tell.  I take it there’s a good story about to happen.”

Of course there was. And as many of them begin, this one starts with a visit from Taylor Slow.  For whatever reason, she wandered from her usual shelves of choice to the “literature” section, where she found copies of Lolita, The Canterbury Tales, and For Colored Girls… “right out there in the open where any impressionable young person could get hold of ‘em!”

“I’m expressing my concern to you directly because I want to give you the chance to address this yourselves.”

“Really?”  Sam, who is one half of the ownership group of the tiny independent book store that not only could but did defy the odds and stay open in their small Mississippi home town glanced up.  She nodded sympathetically and then got back to work because that was what one does when Miss Taylor Slow gets a bee in her bonnet about something.

“Not that I’m trying to tell you how to run your store or anything.”

Sam didn’t answer.

Taylor Slow cleared her throat.

“Oh, of course not!” Sam hurried to answer her.  “Did you find what you were looking for today, Taylor?”

“Not really,” Taylor Slow sighed.  “I am getting two more copies of The Purpose Driven Life.  Got a family reunion coming up and they do come in handy and emergency last minute gifts.”

Tabitha, Sam’s partner, entered the store just as Taylor Slow was leaving, bag full of Rick Warren-y goodness in hand.  Tab watched her go and as the door fell shut, she hopped up on the wooden counter and started flipping through a catalog.

“So what words of wisdom did God purpose TayTay to gift you with today?”

“She wandered back to the literature shelves.”

“Uh oh.”  Tab put down the catalog. “Did you explain to her that no one hardly goes back there except Ole Miss students and the odd honor student looking for cheap reading list copies?”

Sam shook her head, “Would it have mattered?”

“Good point.”

Samantha dug back into the box of new arrivals, entering the UPC codes into their inventory.  Tabatha wandered in the adjoining room where the literature shelves were kept.

“You know,”  she said, “It is getting a bit crowded and stale-looking back there.  Maybe we should try to get some of that stuff to turn over.”

“I don’t know, Tab,” she turned over an Anita Shreve paperback and looked keyed in the numbers over the bar code, “Most people think of anything from that section as a school book and then head back over  to the genres they like, and-”

“Wait!” Tab interrupted her.  “I have an idea.”

She picked up the phone and cradled the receiver between her ear and shoulder and punched in a number.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked.

“This is perfect!” Tab grinned.  “Naughty books and caffeine.”

She tuned her attention to the phone.  “Hey George?  How’s business?  Yeah.  Us, too.    I’ve got what might be a good idea.  We’re trying to sell off some of our slow movers.   Well, it’s the literature section.  Most if not all of them are banned books somewhere I’m sure.  What would you think about a naughty books night?    Yeah!  Me, too!  Here’s how it would work.  Someone buys a book from us  with a special plain brown cover,  then they go to your coffee shop, you stamp the cover and give them a special deal.  Sound cool? ”

Tab put her palm over the mouthpiece and turned to Samantha, “He loves it!” she whispered.

The next week was a marked by everyone being -as Sam noted- “crazy busy.”  Tab made a sign announcing “An Evening of Fig Leaves and Cappuccino.”  Rolls of brown kraft paper that had languished unused in the storage closet were cut to make sleeves for every book.  The titles and authors were written in gel pen on the spines and fronts of the covers and an old fashioned self-inking price stamp was used on the back.  Most of the books were priced to move at two to three dollars per title.

It turned out that George was an avid collector of rubber stamps. He provided the girls with a stamp of a nineteenth century milagro design of a woman’s hand holding a rose to validate the cover before it left the book store.  When the customers arrived at TikTok KitKat (his coffee shop) the book was imprinted with his “Varney the Vampyre ex libris stamp and they were given the choice of a half-price cappuccino or free mini-scone.

“So how did you do?”  I asked.

“Oh my gosh.  George?  He wants to do this at least once a month.  And we’re going to have to find enough inventory or pick another kind of book or something.  Our lit/reading list shelves look like post apocalyptic -and quite literate- hordes have raided us.  It was great!  We had a blast and made a nice bit of change.  So did George. ..”

There was a pause and then Sam lowered her voice.

“I don’t want to say this too loud because we have customers in here.  Taylor Slow bought Delta of Venus and Little Birds.”

“Shut up!”

“I know!  I know!” Samantha laughed, “We are so doing this again next month.”

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