There isn’t much to see from the outside. A quiet street, several shops standing shoulder to shoulder for much of the block. There’s a small alley in which the prominent feature seems to be a dented dumpster, and then right next to it, a stone facade with a somewhat weathered red-and-gold sign for Wordhaven Books. There’s a sturdy glass and wrought iron door and a small display window with several artfully arranged volumes, and that’s really about it. You hope the insides are more interesting, or this might be another snorefest of a case. You don’t think you could stand another escapade like the Case of the Overstuffed Laundry Chute, and the inevitable teasing of the rest of the agency, especially that unbearable Detective Harper.
You step into the bookshop, glancing around the tiny space. Bookcases line the three walls, with a coffee table and a pair of low worn chairs between them. You turn right, where there is a L-shaped counter, its surface crowded with a register, a price gun, a stack of second hand books, and a teenager chewing gum as she stares, entranced, at one of the last few pages of a thick space opera. She hardly glances up from the book as you turn toward her, pops a pink bubble loudly as she turns her page, and says all in one chipper breath, “Hi, welcome to Wordhaven Books, your friendly neighborhood bookshop, thanks for buying local, can I help you find anything?”
“I’m looking for Mr. Haven,” you tell her, not sure if you should tell her why, or if she’s part of the reason you’re here.
The girl glances up at you again, but you still aren’t interesting enough to hold her attention for long. Her gaze drops back to the open page. Without another word to you, or another glance up from her book, she reaches blindly behind herself to the phone jacked to the wall. She grabs the handset, presses two, and says into the mouthpiece, “Hey, it’s Miranda. Someone’s down here to see you. Mm-hm.” She rolls her eyes to heaven in utter exasperation, but says in that same bright voice, “Sure thing, Mr. P. Thanks.” She hangs up the phone, slips a torn receipt between the pages of her book, and presses the cover to her forehead with a pained groan.
“Good book?” you ask.
“The best,” she whispers reverently, and then sets it down beneath the counter. She comes around the far side of the counter, leading you toward the chairs in the middle of the room. “Mr. Haven will be right down. Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee, water, Izze? We’ve got grapefruit, blackberry-”
“I’m alright, thanks.”
“Let me know if you need anything.” She goes back to the register and starts straightening the books, returning lost volumes to empty places on the shelves, stuffing a crumbled handbill into her pocket. She hums an off key tune as she works, and you look around the room in more detail as you wait for Mr. Haven.
It’s a tidy little shop, with hardly any pockets of disorder outside of the crowded surface of the register desk. But as you watch, the teenager tidies that up too until nearly everything is spotless.
But that just makes it a harder not to notice the small bits left behind. A trio of sticky notes like constellations around the phone on the wall. A single stack of books set on the edge of a shelf instead of up in the rows with the others. You squint at the decorative type-form from an old printing press on the coffee table- a few of the letters seem to be missing- when you hear a click behind you and turn.
A very old gentleman in a tweed suit is standing at the corner of two shelves, and you have no idea how he got there. You don’t see any other doors in or out of the shop besides the one you came in at the opposite end of the room. The man comes with careful steps toward you and you rise to take his extended hand.
“Good evening,” he says in a soft, raspy voice. “I am Prospero James Haven. I understand you wanted to speak with me?”
You hand him your card. “I’m Detective Reed,” you tell him. You lower your voice and lean a little closer. “You contacted my agency earlier this week about a problem with one of your employees.”
His eyes light with understanding. “Ah, yes, now I remember. You’ll have to forgive me a small lapse now and again. My memory isn’t what it used to be.” He steps past you, shuffling toward the front desk. “My employee Cal has shown some worrying tendencies of late. I don’t want to think ill of the boy, but well- I worked in espionage and cryptography during the War and I’m afraid I’ve grown rather inclined to spotting rats, even when there aren’t any to be seen.”
You pause, surprised. If he’s a veteran of the War you think he is, that puts him well into his nineties. “What tendencies do you mean?”
“I have my own suspicions, but I’d like you to see what you can figure out on your own. I’m afraid my history has made me a little paranoid and I don’t want to accuse the boy without proof.” He pauses to smile back at you and then continues toward the register. “Old minds play tricks, you see? I’d appreciate a perspective with younger eyes.”
The teenager at the front smiles at the old man and steps out of his way. “Almost done with the new stock.”
“Thank you, Miranda. And thank you as well for being willing to trade shifts with Cal today. He was terribly insistent he take the afternoon off.”
“No problem, Mr. P. I like sleeping in.” She steps past you with a smile.
You rest an elbow on the counter as the old man leans stiffly down to grab a notebook. He thumbs through its pages and then stops to read. He nods. “Ah, that’s right.” He looks up at you again. “As I proposed over the phone, I would like to have you spend a little time here tonight, just poking around for any hints. You are welcome to search anywhere in the shop. Stay as long as you need to and leave when you want, but see what you can find. If you discover anything worrying, I would very much like to know. If nothing is found, all the better.”
Miranda starts a vacuum cleaner behind you and you nod, pulling out a small notebook and a stubby pencil. You shout over the vacuum, “When did you first-”
The phone rings suddenly. The man holds up a finger and turns, answering the call. You listen for a moment as he talks with someone about a book order, a hand cupped over his ear, and Miranda finishes her cleaning. The old man hangs up and smiles. “I have to go collect a shipment across town, but I’ll close up early so you can work in peace. I shall expect your call in the morning.”
You frown, pencil poised over your notebook. “Uh… isn’t there anything else I should know?”
“Nothing you can’t find out from the clues. At least, if your intellect is worth your pay.” He turns, calling to his employee, “Miranda, dear, don’t you have a book to finish? I’ll still pay you for the day, but-”
She squeals in elation and bounds forward, gently pressing her hands across his narrow back in a careful embrace. “Mr. P, you’re the best!” She grabs her book out from under the counter with a whoop and dances around the front desk, disappearing out the door without another glance back at them.
Mr. Haven watches her fondly and then turns back to you. “Good evening, detective. And good luck.”
You watch as he follows his employee around the counter, flips the placard in the door to CLOSED, and steps out.
So that’s it. Figure out what the other employee is up to, if anything. Doesn’t sound so hard. You turn back to the shop, trying to decide where to start.
Check out the type-form on the table.
Inspect the book cases more closely.
Look at the sticky notes by the phone.
You know he wants you to form your own opinion, but time is money. Read through Mr. Haven’s notebook.