The cowbell that hung inside the door of my struggling bookstore rang and I looked up out of habit—Pavlov’s dog—and I saw him standing there, backlit by the sun glaring in at that time of day. It made him appear angelic, especially since he held the pose for a moment as if announcing his arrival: hands on hips, squinting, letting his eyes adjust before he stepped inside. The long moment snapped and he strode to the fiction rack with a purposeful gait. Paul McCartney was in my store.
A tall, young, beautiful blonde entered behind him and stood at his side. There were no other customers in my store—Ryan's Paperback Reader—and I was glad to have him to myself. Though nervous, I felt that I, as the shop owner, had the right—no, the duty—to strike up a conversation with him. Maybe he needed help finding a book.
I was in the rear of the store rearranging the current releases to match the order of the New York Times bestseller list. I studied Paul for a moment before making my move. He wore a black vest over a white t-shirt. His jeans were also black, and when I looked down, I half-expected to see Beatle boots adorning his feet. But no, he had casual black shoes on. I realized I was shaking, sweating suddenly, my mouth dry as asbestos insulation.
Paul apparently said something cheeky, and the blonde—his wife Heather—laughed and placed a hand on his arm. Light laughter. Their casualness mocked my state of near-panic attack. A bead of sweat trickled from my armpit and ran down my side under my loose shirt.
This was the first time someone famous had ever set foot in my store. Hell, not many ordinary people came in. I had had grand plans when I plunged headlong into the world of small-business ownership in suburban New York. New books, old books, first editions, book signings, coffee bar, book clubs. Three and a half years later and I was treading water, if that. I had no money to sink into improvements, the chains got all the in-store appearances, and my coffee bar wound up being a pot of java evaporating on the burner, hoping someone would take a cup and leave a quarter. The big chains were killing me. I had reached a point were I had to decide between paying my store rent or my apartment rent. Maybe I’d just live in the back room of the store and eliminate one rent altogether. I couldn’t afford to hire help, and I couldn’t afford to take a day off. But maybe it was all worth it.
Paul McCartney was in my store.
I resisted the urge to run out to the street and hawk my wares. Come to the store where Paul McCartney shops! In fact, he’s here now! Take a gander! I decided instead to move behind the cash register to establish my position of authority, and to be at the ready in case Paul had a literary question. Anyway, I was still too nervous to approach him.
There is a universal debate as to “Who is your favorite Beatle?” Well, right then and there, Paul was my favorite, by far. He had lots of money and I needed some.
What was he going to buy? I was ready to sell him a book, two books, a set of encyclopedias, my entire stock. Clean out the back storeroom, haul out all the dusty volumes of prose and verse no one wanted. I think I even had some light fixtures and shelves lying around that I could have let go cheap.
Paul and Heather moved on to the reference section. He went down on one knee, presumably to check out the bottom shelf, and disappeared from my view. It calmed me, not being able to see him. It gave me false confidence. Go up to him and say something. Make a sale! Heather left him and moved toward the back of the store, perusing the non-fiction. Do it do it do it!
I tried to steel my resolve. I took a deep breath and decided to go right on over and say...say...what would I say? Should it stay professional? “May I help you?” Or should I acknowledge the obvious fact of his celebrity? “Big fan of yours, Sir Paul.”
He popped back up and I got a good look at his face. This wasn’t the mop top McCartney; he was older, though he still had that boyish gleam in his eye and a quick smile. Crow’s feet marked the years on his face like rings inside a tree’s trunk. He still had a full head of hair, though it must have recently seen a generous application of Grecian Formula.
Paul held a book in his hand—I couldn’t see the title or cover—and he joined Heather in the back of the store. She pointed to a couple of books, he nodded, then they continued on and paused in front of the coffee maker. He reached a hand out, hesitated, and bent down to get a better look at the sludge. He picked up the pot, swirled the muck around, sniffed it, then placed it back. He saw the sign that said 25˘ and the empty coffee can underneath it. He fished around in his pocket and dropped a sympathy coin in the can.
I was still getting my emotions under control. I mean being in the presence of a Beatle was different than, say, a Stone or a Kink or a Smith. Not that I had any point of comparison really, having never seen a Stone or a Kink or a Smith. The closest I had ever come to fame was when a local television weather reporter stole my parking spot at the mall.
Patience was the way to go. I decided to wait until he paid for his purchase. Let him come to me. During this little intermission, I tried to formulate a plan on how to get his money out of his wallet and into my hands. I knew he was big on charities. Breast cancer, land mine victims, 9/11 families. What about the death of the small businessman? Or is that too abstract? Did I need a physical ailment, something life-threatening?
Heather was looking at the gardening books, Paul apparently making wisecracks in her ear. She laughed. He was always on, always the jokester. She held a big book open in her hands, flipping through the color pages. I couldn’t really envision her working in the garden. On her hands and knees digging around. She might get those little fingers dirty, soil and manure pushed up under her manicured fingernails. She was no Linda.
They were standing not too far from the music section, and the thought came to me that I should ask Paul to sign any Beatles related books I had in stock. At least I could make a few extra bucks that way. I’d barter with him—he can have the one he held for free if he’d just sign a stack of books.
Heather re-shelved the gardening book and they headed my way. My nerves started up again, the asbestos insulation returned to my mouth, sweat fled from my armpits. They passed the music section, the film and tv books, the art books. Right about at the mystery section the bell above the front door jingled. Paul, Heather, and I looked to see who had entered the store.
Two young boys carrying skateboards stood in the doorway. I quickly looked back at Paul, who had a wary look on his face, probably left over from the Beatlemania days. I felt annoyed that I now had to share the McCartneys. The boys didn’t care about him though; they probably didn’t even know who he was. I felt a brief pang of pity for Paul. Then I remembered he was filthy rich and I didn’t feel so bad.
One of the kids came up to me at the register and said, “When’s the new Harry Potter coming out?” I gave him the date and he said, “Cool.” The boys left, skateboards clacking onto the sidewalk the moment they left the store.
I turned back to the McCartneys who resumed their trek to the register.
“Hello,” Paul chirped. He placed the book down on the counter.
My tongue was tied; I didn’t respond. I lifted the book and scanned the bar code. “Classical Music For Dummies.” I managed to say, “That’ll be sixteen dollars please.”
Paul removed a slim leather wallet from the inside pocket of his coat and flipped it open. He dug around, then turned to Heather. “Any cash, luv?” She shook her head no. He turned back to me and said, “Sorry, I’ve only a tenner. Do you think you can put the rest on my tab, then?”
I was an unresponsive statue—motionless, shocked, not comprehending, aghast, disappointed. My mouth hung open, but I didn’t say anything.
Paul said, “Don’t worry, I’m good for it.” He slid his last ten over to me and I accepted it, sealing the deal. “In fact,” he said, “I’ll send you another ten, instead of the six I owe you, for your trouble.”
I nodded my head in a quasi affirmative motion.
“Good day then.” Paul took his book, which I had slipped into a paper bag, and he headed for the door. Heather followed. She nodded a goodbye to me. And just like that they were gone.
I was alone again. I went and poured myself a cup of well-done coffee to calm my nerves.
I’m on my way to a job interview at Borders. They need a night manager, and I need an income. My store went bust, but I still have my apartment—I’m not homeless yet.
I stop to check my mailbox and find that Sir Paul was true to his word. It took three months, but there’s a card with a ten dollar bill stuffed inside. The card was addressed to the store, and forwarded to my home address. Inside the card he scrawled a simple message: “Thanks, Paul.” I tuck the card into my back pocket. I’ll save it, maybe even stick it in a cheap frame with a picture of him, hang it on my living room wall.
I look at the ten bucks, turn it over, fold it into quarters and slip it inside my pocket with my keys. I can’t afford to be sentimental. I’d rather eat.
About the author:
Donald Capone lives in Westchester County, New York. He is a designer of children's novelty books. His stories have appeared in print magazines and online journals (including Edgar Literary Magazine, FlaskFiction, Thieves Jargon, and FlashFiction.net), and in the forthcoming anthology "See You Next Tuesday" to be published by Better Non Sequitur.
© 2011 Word Riot