Friday, August 3rd , 2012
Gordon said, “When you total it all up, a trip to Athens and the cruise package they offer from there will cost you two thousand bloody quid. They must be off their heads!”
Jack leaned forward. “Now, if you want to get your money’s worth, it’s Majorca. The bargains are spectacular in this economy.”
The bell rang, and Jack muttered a welcome the customer. He was about to return to the matter of holiday savings when a customer surprised him with a question about any “really old books.” The accent was American. Sour-faced, Jack made an effort to appear helpful, directed the man vaguely about the shelves and hurried back to Gordon.
“Now,” he began, “as I was saying, Majorca…”
Mrs. Campbell came in at that moment with a can of condensed milk, exclaiming the Tesco was offering half price again. Jack forgot Majorca.
“Surely they’re sold out by now?” he asked.
Mrs. Campbell said, “Oh! Hello there, Gordon. Are you coming or going?”
“Going,” he said. “Back from the Isles, and headed for Glasgow, then the South.”
Jack, annoyed, repeated the question about the condensed milk. Mrs. Campbell assured him she had picked him up plenty, too, and told him the bill. Jack fished around in his pocket, and then in the cash box. He had a number of large bills, so he, Gordon and Mrs. Campbell sat about making change until they’d managed to trade the balance.
Young Tom Ross and his oldest boy hurried into the store asking after a copy of a Lindsey Davis mystery they’d ordered. Sadly, Jack said it hadn’t come in yet. Jack suffered some small talk, while the boy fidgeted. Shortly, they scampered off, which was fine with Jack as he still had something on his mind for Gordon.
The American rummaged around in the back, making quite a bit of noise.
Mrs. Campbell settled herself into a free chair next to Jack, when she said to Gordon, “I hear you’re off to Greece!”
Gordon said, “I was planning to until I saw the bill.” He recounted the expenses while Mrs. Campbell dutifully frowned. Jack saw his opportunity to bring the conversation around to Majorca, when the customer interrupted.
“I’m looking for some old Burns. Collections. I’ve been told you have a lot of it here.” He punctuated the remark with, “I don’t see any,” as if Jack himself had misled the man.
Jack turned his attention to the man for the first time, pushing his glasses to the bridge of his nose. The American was a young man, with a fuzzy beard and round, wire-rimmed glasses. He smelled of urgency and glowed with importance. And, he needed a damned haircut, in Jack’s opinion.
“Which Burns are you thinking about?” Jack asked.
The young American stepped back as if slapped. “You’ve got to be joking.”
“No,” he said, “Surely you can be more specific. I can think of several Burnses. There’s your Major Burns from M*A*S*H* and your ancient Mr. Burns from your Simpsons.” He said aside to Gordon, “Now, I like that Mr. Burns.”
The American scowled. “I was thinking of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet.”
Gordon, getting into the act, said, “I thought Hugh MacDiarmid was Scotland’s greatest poet.”
“That he was,” Jack said, putting his hand over his heart. “A Founder of the National Party of Scotland.”
Gordon frowned, “I suppose we have to forgive him all that rubbish with the Communists.”
“A boyhood dalliance!” Jack shouted, “Nothing more!”
The American said, “You’re fucking kidding me. You guys are practically a Scottish stereotype! All you’ve talked about since I’ve been in here is money.” He leaned over the counter, “You expect me to believe you don’t know who Robert Burns is?”
Jack pulled a hurt face. “Sure, I’ve heard something of the man, but you’ll have to go to one of the big cities if you hope to find any of his works. Too rare a find here in the Highlands!”
The American looked for moment like he had something to say, but instead he just stormed out the shop leaving the door ajar.
Mrs. Campbell said, “Both of you! Now I happen to know for certain that you have several rare copies of Burns in that glass case you’re sitting next to.”
“It’s true. From the old estate when the library went up for sale,” Jack admitted.
“Aye, that was a sad day,” Gordon said. Then he regained himself, “Still, I don’t see why you didn’t just double the cost and close early, Jackie.”
Jack sat back in his chair, closed the moneybox, and spoke like he’d just finished a fine meal, “Worth more than a trip to Majorca to take the piss out of an arrogant Yank.”