Craven’s Antique and Book Emporium had been, before it was a repository for the old and eclectic, a hotel. Not an entire hotel, a restaurant and lobby and several smallish rooms along a balcony overlooking the main lobby that were really only fit for single travelers who didn’t mind the smallish beds, the lack of windows and the constant noise coming from the bar downstairs. It had been, carefully not the right word, converted into a thrift shop after being sold to the owner before Richard Craven had bought it, and the beds had been dislodged, the cooking equipment sold and several walls demolished and doors boarded over leaving only the front and back exits. Unless you wanted to count the side door that led into the walled in courtyard, which was really only used by employees over the years as a place to eat, read or do other activities too illicit for the main office from which it was accessed.
The large front lobby housed most of the books and antiquey things that the general public was most interested in. Used, dusty, leather bound items mixed in with stacks and stacks of trade paperbacks, sometimes two deep on the shelves. Trinkets and baubles and interesting art and statues and dollhouses and furniture and old, dusty smelling fabrics all tucked into bins and shelves and hanging from hook lined walls. The original bar delineated the customer area from Craven’s workshop area and served as a place for cash exchanges on an old register that still made satisfying “ding” noises and reciepts were hand written on carbon paper instead of being printed by a computerized system. They didn’t take credit cards, but Craven was notorious for taking trades and no one reallyh knew how he could afford to pay his employees over the years since on paper it seemed that the shop wasn’t really producing large amounts of income. That wasn’t a problem since most knew that Craven was wealthy enough after a “windfall” of some sort in his early 20s and since he had no children of his own, he tended to lavish ridiculously good pay on his employees. That wasn’t enought to keep some of them around. The store was odd, quiet at best, the customers sometimes more strange than the wares and Craven himself was such a bizarre old man that keeping anyone around had proved a problem from about 1979 on. No one stayed more than a few months. Not until Kitty. She hated the name Kitty and really only let old man Craven get away with it. It felt like a little girl’s name, not the name of a nearly 26 year old, college educated woman. But he found it adorable, despite her repeated insistence that he call her Kathy or even Kat. In return for this slight, however, he was a kind employer, let her take long vacations twice a year without docking her pay and she was content in the old, strange store with it’s funny customers and odd employer.
Now standing with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar, she regretted not waiting until the little man in the canvas coat and ridiculous hat had left the store before going about her curiosity fulfilling, slightly off limits, mission. If he did indeed know Mr. Craven, he would report it back. She wasn’t sure that even her 6 years of continuing devotion to the old man and the store would be enough to save her from the repressions of opening the cases and getting into the books that he was insistent were off limits. The little man was looking at her with a funny gleam in his eye. Like he was sizing her up, trying to decide whether or not she was really all that bright. She’d seen that look before. She was fully aware that she looked more like a child or a doll to most other adults. She was petite and her cheeks were always a bit to rosy and her eyes a bit too bright. She was dressed in a simple gray wool skirt and white button down shirt, and her hair was tied with a red ribbon, which she was regretting since it added to the overall impression that she was, perhaps, not as old or bright as she knew deep down she was.
A sudden movement caught both their attentions; Mr. Boppyface, the store cat, had jumped down from a shelf and landed smack into the open case. This just kept getting worse. Kitty heaved a large sigh and began to reach for the crabby, squash faced, orange ball of mean, but the little man scrambled forward at the same time and as she scooped the cat into her arms, he was startled, scratched her forearm drawing beads of blood and bolted away into the stacks. Everything happened very, very quickly after that and when she would look back, Kitty would wish very much that she had never gone upstairs that day. She would, in fact, wish she had never gone into the store at all that morning. Actually, when she would think of it later, she would often wish she had never, ever ripped out the ad asking for a steady employee with no dust allergies and a reliable form of transportation from the local newspaper that six years earlier, and that she had, instead, gone to work with her friend in the local diner. Certainly the hazards there would not include books that opened and hissed when a spattering of blood hit their cover. As it were, at this moment, she did indeed work at Craven’s. And the book was indeed hissing in her general direction. Yes, hissing.