First, a disclaimer for those who are easily convinced that if some co-workers are nuts, that means I’m claiming all co-workers or bosses are nuts. Not so. And sociopaths are more in the line of people with no conscience, they who will do anything to anyone to get what they want. A small but strong minority, I believe.
Ah, back to Lorry’s once more. Where were we when I last reminisced? Doesn’t matter, the wacky world of this particular bookstore has no beginning or end in my memory.
Besides the main bookstore and the Pace University bookstore, when they owned it, there was a little space down the same side of the street as Lorry’s proper, next to a MacDonald’s and very close to J&R Records. It was dubbed, The Annex. Within were tons of paperback remainders, junk, mostly, but still possibly sellable. They hired someone to sit on a stool and occasionally take money from a customer. During lunch I would visit the poor lad, and strike up conversations. As time went along, he and I became close friends therefore I knew the day to day workings of The Annex, such as they were. We all wondered why this place existed. With the cost of rent there was no way a few sales of paperbacks could cover it and an employee. But that’s as far as our curiosity took us. Whatever the reason it existed, it gave some work to my friend who was a college student at the time, and he and I a place to hangout together. We did notice, however, that deliveries kept arriving there, and then taken away by another bunch of recent employees–or not exactly employees, more partners in some other aspect of the book business, that which I don’t think I understood to this day. So, The Annex floated along, no better or worse until one evening when my friend Bob and I were closing up Lorry’s ready to take that long RR ride home, when we heard fire engines chugging along. Nothing special about that sound, it occurred around 50 times a day it seemed. But the horns were closing in on us. Sure enough, they whizzed past and headed down the street, coming to a stop in front of what we assumed was MacDonald’s.
“Oh crap,” I said. “I hope it doesn’t spread to The Annex, with all those paperbacks there could end up being a real blaze–very bad.” Bob and I quickly walked the block to the action and were startled to find that it *was* The Annex that was alight. The firemen had already squashed the fire, and smoke was wafting out of the door. The police were questioning people around the site, and Bob took my arm, whirled me around back to Lorry’s where we re-opened the store and he called our boss. The next thing I knew, the boss’s father was in the doorway with his usual trollish demeanor, demanding to know what the cops and firemen were doing and what started the blaze and where was the guy who closed up The Annex?
Bob had a better relationship with Mr. Troll, so took him aside and laid out all the info he had, which was almost nothing. I called up my boyfriend and told him about the fire in his store, asking if he had seen anything at all that may have started such a thing, and if so, he’d better explain it pretty good to the troll and the boss because they were hopping mad. Not that I thought my boyfriend had anything to do with the fire. I assumed it was an accident, mysterious wires crossed wrong or something. Electricity has always seemed a mystical world to me, therefore I can assign practically any power to it I want, and this time I just wanted the cause to be some kind of generic spontaneous combustion so that the boyfriend wasn’t blamed and lose his job. But I knew realistically, that even if that turned out to be true, he’d still be blamed by these loony tunes, that’s just how they were. Nothing could have an innocent cause when involved with their business interests.
What I wasn’t prepared for was an out and out accusation of leaving a coffee pot plugged in for hours after closing the store, which in turn apparently started the fire. Wait, a what? That’s right, a coffee pot. The father had rushed down to the site and tried to remove said coffee pot without the cops and firemen noticing, which was quite an odd thing to do. When caught grabbing the object he explained that he had wanted to preserve it for evidence in case the insurance company had any questions as to the origins. The coffee pot was kept by the cops and the troll thwarted in his attempt to, hide evidence? Point out the evidence? Blame his employee of negligence via coffee pot? It was baffling to me, however Bob who apparently could see the tick tocking of these guys brains had the answers down pat.
Bob and I knew that my boyfriend didn’t drink coffee. And even if he did, he certainly didn’t bring in some ancient rickety model and keep it plugged in after he locked up and went home to College Point, a billion miles in travel time from downtown Manhattan. Bob also knew that the store made little to no income for Lorry’s and that it was a waste of money to keep up. Bob did the banks for the stores–he closed out the registers, counted the money, checked against the sales, and after making sure all matched, handed it and the paperwork over to the owner who had an office in the building across the narrow street from Lorry’s which was on a corner.
All three locations are within a minute’s walk from each other, easily entered and exited if one had the keys. Lorry’s wouldn’t be such a quick opening, many locks and security measures were part of the closing ritual, but the Annex was a simple–lock the door.
So what did all of this wackiness mean? Remember, we had been held up a gunpoint twice within Lorry’s main store, and the owner had the accountant ring up tons more fictional sales in order to bilk the insurance companies, so it’s not as though the idea of these guys setting fire to their own space was completely outlandish. And no one owned a coffee pot, it was never seen before that night. But, how would a plugged in coffee pot start a fire anyhow? Good question. Was the coffee pot just a red herring, and the actual cause of the fire something completely different but the coffee pot was to take the fall after the place was soot? It certainly did seem odd that the father had rushed down to the Annex and tried to remove a piece he couldn’t have known was there to begin with, unless. . . .
Of course, this was all speculation on our part–nothing could be proved, or not proved. The fire was certainly suspicious, no doubt there–but inconclusive. No way to prove that the darn coffee wasn’t left brewing accidentally by my boyfriend, because, of course he would deny owning a coffee pot if it caused a fire, now wouldn’t he? And according to Bob who always had the owner’s ear due to Bob’s perfectly innocent face and congeniality towards the sociopaths he worked for, the owners were not going to blame the ‘accident’ on my boyfriend personally. Bob probably mentioned a little something in conversation about how he and I had never seen a coffee pot in the store, and that perhaps a part timer had been hanging out in the store after it was closed up, or something else that was code for-‘I know what you did, but we won’t say a word if you don’t try to blame the fire on anyone else specifically, the Annex manager.’
Life at Lorry’s and The Annex went on pretty much the same after this fiasco, but I think that’s when I finally realized just how far certain unscrupulous people would go in so called business. And it could have been any business, this was not indicative of the book world, not at all, it was only a reflection upon those who owned these couple of businesses. I was appalled at the knowledge that MacDonald’s was still open at the time of the fire. What if it had turned into an inferno, would kids have been injured? Workers? Although around 10 at night, the area wasn’t as deserted as the person or persons unknown probably thought it would be at that time. And who called the fire into the 911 operators? This is something we never found out, and leaves another curious feeling behind. Maybe, one or another of the people involved developed a conscience? Or, just got very very nervous? However the fire was ‘discovered’ I am very grateful it was, because I would not have been able to assimilate the knowledge that an employer of mine may have been responsible for serious injury, and even death.
As for collecting insurance–I don’t have any reason to believe they didn’t collect on this damage, but I have no proof one way or the other. And I’d rather never know. It’s hard enough remembering all that occurred without feeling guilty I didn’t do something to stop fraud.
Too bad this all happened before Law And Order–now here’s a nice story that could have been ‘ripped from the headlines.”