I love book stores. I have found that some have more than just books. What does your local bookstore have that you find unique? I visited this charming bookstore in a quaint little town in North Texas and after getting the grand tour and little history on the building, I was haunted with the possible things that may have occurred there during the wild, wild west days. That night when I went home I dreamed about the store and simply had to write a story to honor the new owners of the The Published Page Bookshop, who provided the tour and the background on the building. Enjoy the story.
Jim and Connye, life partners in every sense of the term, had wanted to reinvent themselves now that their kids were grown and gone. They had their health and greying hair but no intentions of slowing down. Jim was a seasoned book dealer who not only loved books but their history. It was his gift to find valuable books that others didn’t see. Jim knew all aspects of the book business, and Connye loved the people. After an extensive search, they discovered an abandoned building on the square in Cleburne, Texas.
Cleburne was founded as a transportation center located near the Chisholm Trail and a bivouac site for Johnson County troops during the Civil War. With the first year as a permanent settlement, Cleburne boasted a post office and newspaper. The Johnson County Courthouse clocktower, centered on the square, was constructed in the early 1900s.
This was the approximate dating of the 10,000 square foot building that caught the eye of Jim and Connye. Styled in modern day revival, the building had a solid foundation but couldn’t hide its age of cracking plaster, rotting stairs, and creaking upper floor.
People went into town to access lawyers, mercantile, or other services. Their building had housed several businesses over the years including a lawyer, dentist, and photographer. The second-floor windows delivered perfect light for aspiring artists and had rented out at times. It held so much promise they bought it and named it The Published Page.
Digging right in, they stacked their boxes of books on the cavernous first floor. Connye identified the book areas and did the inventory. Jim organized and shelved their books. They opened the doors to visitors after the children’s area was established, and visitors trickled in.
Shortly after opening, Connye was called out of town. Jim launched into setting up the store and living in the backroom. He established a routine of adding them to the inventory and then setting the books out when there weren’t any customers. Jim was working day and night, only catching snatches of rest and food at the local diner. The owner of the diner, Tom, and Jim became fast friends.
After settling into the routine, Jim went to lock up one evening and found a man at the door. The man looked scruffy with white hair, lines of time across his weathered face, baggy trousers and matching jacket, but a quick smile under a bushy mustache.
Jim offered, “Closing up for the evening. Open at 10 a.m.”
The gentleman grinned and replied, “Name is Sam. Heard Tom mention you were working by yourself in the evenings. I thought I’d offer a bit of help. I know some about books and I thought you might enjoy the company.”
Jim cocked his head before he responded. While wary of the stranger, Tom had mentioned that the town had some odd folks. “I can’t afford any help right now.”
Sam grinned and said, “I wasn’t looking for payment, just conversation and maybe a cup of coffee or two. I’ve always said tasks go faster with help. I think my Aunt Polly also said that or maybe another character. I’m not sure anymore.”
Sam walked past Jim and looked around at what had been done.
“Son, storytelling is a real artform that not everyone appreciates. You have the history tellers who often take their own spin, or those who can take any subject and make up a tale. Books provide a wealth of information, don’t they?”
They chatted amicably and swapped stories as they worked on the books. Jim heard the clock tower strike 4.
“Sam, I need to get a bit of rest before I open up.”
Sam chuckled and said, “You go rest some. I’ll just finish up this box and let myself out the back door. Thanks for the conversation. I bet I can reuse some of your stories.”
Nine a.m. arrived too soon. Jim stretched and walked around. He couldn’t believe how much had been accomplished. He found a stack of books set aside with a note scrawled on top.
| These looked like first editions so I stacked ‘em here. Fun evening.
Jim had a few customers during the day. He thanked Tom at lunch for sending help. Tom was busy and made no comment. Jim sold some books during the day and was asked to find a few rare items, which he promised to research. Jim kept up the pace until evening.
When he went to lock up, Sam was at the door. As Jim greeted him, two other fellows materialized behind him, reminding Jim he needed to fix the outdoor lights.
Sam said, “My friends here, Oli and Lou, asked if they could help. Oli here is fond of the classics, while Lou has a passion for westerns. Same deal, conversation and a bit of coffee, if you want the help.”
Jim was puzzled but grateful as he locked the door after letting them in. They fell into amicable conversation with laughter. Sam and Lou were spinning tales as if trying to outdo one another. The scenarios seemed somehow familiar. Jim recounted his vision of the store. The others thought it sounded grand and offered a few suggestions. Jim chuckled.
“All it takes is money and time.”
During a break, the helpers asked if they could look upstairs. Jim agreed as long as they were careful. Jim worked on until they all returned. They seemed impressed with the potential history of the prior tenants. Oli asked some odd questions which Sam helped with.
Then Lou commented, “The name on the door of the dentist reminds me of a story I heard back in the 1970’s of this guy who exchanged some of the first editions of his books for some extensive dental work. I don’t recall if this is the right area or not, so much has changed in 40 years. What a coincidence.”
The clock struck 4 and Jim lamented, “Gents, I need to get some rest to open again in the morning. Thanks for all your help. I can spare a few dollars in thanks.”
They declined with smiles.
Oli asked, “Jim, can I borrow a copy of “Great Expectations”? I think Dickens portrayed the Artful Dodger as a realistic rogue character.”
Jim was only too happy to oblige for all the work. He asked Lou and Sam if they wanted any books. Both men declined.
As they walked out, Lou turned and looked Jim square in the eyes. “Ya know, I bet this is the same place that fellow left books with the dentist.”
Jim replied, “Not likely, but if I find any I’ll let you know.”
The three disappeared around the corner. Jim locked the door and went to rest.
His restless sleep was filled with dreams of snatches from various stories they’d discussed. His new helpers seemed to blend with several story lines. He was startled awake when the Sam character proclaimed, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
While trying to fully wake up, Jim started a new pot of coffee. While it brewed, he was amazed at how much work had been done on displaying the books. The empty boxes were tied in bundles ready for disposal. The place had been swept. He then ventured upstairs as he might have time to work on that area that night. Surprisingly, it too had been cleaned up though much repair was still needed.
The door to the dentist office, which previously couldn’t be opened, was ajar. There was a faint note on the old glass.
| Check behind falling wainscot.
Thank ya for the coffee and conversation LL
Jim decided that with the door open, he could take off the falling parts and try to match the style for repair. Once the wainscot was removed, he was surprised to find a parchment covered bundle tied with string. He picked it up, blew off the dust and read the scrawled note.
| Received from L’Amour in exchange for $100 dental work.
Doc Streetman, May 1948
Jim was excited and yet confused. He placed the package on the table and cut off the string. Lifting back the parchment, he was stunned with what he found. With eagerness he continued through the stack. He found 10 first editions of Louis Dearborn L’Amour, including his 14 short story collections and his first 10 novels. Jim’s astonishment only grew as he also handled a first editions of both “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, and one of Charles Dickens’ entitled “Oliver Twist.”
Racing back upstairs to take a photo of the evidence, the note on the glass on the Dentist Office was gone. Only the wainscot was moved. He raced back downstairs and the note from Sam and the note attached to the bundle were also missing. The books from the parchment covered bundle had been shelved, and the area cleaned. He had no idea how or why, but he knew no one would ever believe that two ghost authors and a character from a classic novel had helped him rework the book store.
He added a bit of brandy to his coffee and toasted his luck.
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