On Monday morning, Louis rose early and dressed for his interview. After a few minutes’ deliberation, he decided to wear a tie; always better to look professional, he reasoned. When he came downstairs and went to the kitchen, he found Mr. Cross washing what appeared to be his breakfast dishes.
“Mr. Louis, good morning. Can I fix you something?”
“No, Mr. Cross, I can get it. Are you always up this early?”
“Oh, no, Mr. Louis. Usually earlier. Late morning for me.”
Louis looked up at the clock on the wall. “It’s a few minutes after seven.”
“Aye, so ‘tis. That means I’m already behind. Are you sure I can’t whip you up something?”
“No, that’s okay, Mr. Cross. Thanks. I’m eating light this morning. I have an interview.”
“Well, good luck, sir.” Cross gave a quick knock to the butcher-block countertop, and exited through the back door. Louis made himself a small breakfast, which he ate quickly. Then, resume in hand, he left for his interview.
He parked in the same lot he had the week before, and walked down to the coffee shop. There were a few patrons seated around tables, the attire ranging from Hawaiian shirts and sandals to navy powersuits. Louis stepped up to the counter. It was the cute girl from the other day. The one who ignored him before. Her dark hair was pulled back in simple pigtails, that drifted over her shoulders as she read an issue of Rolling Stone.
Louis cleared his throat. “Double mocha, please.”
The barista looked up at him from her magazine. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
She rung up his order. “Three seventy-three.”
“Really? Wow. Kinda steep, don’t you think?” Louis tried his “charming” smile as he handed her a five.
The barista rolled her eyes and handed back his change. “Something tells me you don’t visit many coffee shops.” She turned her back to him and prepared his drink.
Louis looked down. “Not often.”
“Heh. No kidding. Hey, look, if you want, there’s a chain shop two blocks over who’ll charge you a buck more. But if you go there, you’ll miss out on our biggest selling point.”
“What’s that?” Louis asked.
She turned back toward him, mocha in hand, and deadpanned, “A winning personality.”
Louis smiled. “I see the difference already. I’d be crazy to go elsewhere.”
She nodded and handed him the coffee. “Right. Have a good one.” She walked back toward the door behind the counter.
Louis figured today was a good day for taking risks. “Hey, wait! What’s your name?”
The barista stopped and turned back to him, puzzled. “Why?”
She tapped the nametag on her shirt. “Maria.”
“Maria, I’m Louis.”
“Right. Bye now.” She turned back and disappeared behind the swinging door.
Wow, Louis thought. Not quite service with a smile, was it? He shrugged and walked outside and sat on a bench, enjoying the cool of the early morning and drinking his coffee. He did his best to drink the steaming beverage carefully, but somehow still managed to spill a few drops on his tie. He dabbed at them with a napkin, but to no avail. Hopefully, the bookstore owner wouldn’t notice.
A few minutes after eight, Louis saw an old man in a brown suit walk out of the bookstore, leaning on a cane. He had a pale, gaunt face with a neatly trimmed white beard. His hair, what was left of it, was short-cropped around his temples like an Olympian’s wreath. He may have been tall in his youth, but he was stooped a bit at the shoulders now in his latter years, giving him the look of a vulture. He glared up and down the street, then went back inside, flipping the sign hung in the window from “Closed” to “Open.” Louis finished his coffee, and crossed the street to the shop.
Louis came through the doorway just as the man was making his way behind the counter. The man turned to him, gave him a quick surmising glance, and then turned to move a stack of books on the countertop. “Can I help you?” the man muttered. His Russian accent was so thick that Louis almost didn’t understand him at first.
“Are you the owner, sir?”
“Mr. Borkov, I’m Louis Fielder. I was told you have a position open during the week. I was wondering if I could talk to you about that.”
The old man continued to move stacks around on the countertop, sorting books into various piles. “First, my name is Bor-o-kov, young man. Second, I do have a position open, but I am not taking applications at this time. Thank you for stopping by.”
Louis remembered his embarrassment from a few days before, and remained where he was. Borokov looked up. “Did you hear me, young man? I will not hire you. Now, if you are not buying or selling, please leave. I’m very busy.”
“Mr. Borokov, I would like to talk to you about a position in your store…sir. I could be of great help.”
Borokov sighed loudly, and slammed down the Clive Cussler hardback he was holding. Louis tried not to look startled, and failed. Borokov folded his arms and faced Louis. “Very well. You won’t leave. What do you have to say?”
Louis wasn’t having much luck with interviews lately, it seemed. He took a breath and sputtered, “Well, I graduated from Northwestern with an English degree, so I have a good working knowledge of literature. I love reading, and would be able to recommend any number of books to customers. I’m looking for a good job, and I’m not afraid of hard work. I already met your staff a few days ago, and I think I would be a great part of your team…sir.”
Borokov chewed on his lower lip for a moment, then cocked his head to the side. “Northwestern? What brings you to our little island?”
“My grandfather just passed away recently. He left me his house, so I moved down here.”
“And your name is, again?”
Borokov shrugged, disinterested. “Of course.”
“But my grandfather’s name was Linus Taylor.”
Louis saw a spark of recognition in the old man’s eye, and for a moment, took some hope in that. But as the old man grew redder in the face with each moment, Louis’ hope was smothered by a vague sense of impending danger. The veins in Borokov’s neck began to bulge.
The old man grabbed the handle of his cane in his left hand. Louis noticed his knuckles going white. Borokov took a deep breath and growled, “Linus…Taylor. You are the one who claimed the house. You claimed his book collection. That…that would have been the greatest acquisition of my career. I could have retired after moving that lot. And now—and now!--you walk into my store, asking me for a job stocking shelves!” With every statement, Borokov’s voice grew louder, until he was yelling.
Louis did his best not to panic. As it had happened many times before, his quick-thinking and smooth-talking side came to the rescue. “I understand your frustration, Mr. Borokov, I do. Let me make it up to you. If you give me a job, I will be the best employee you’ve ever had, and I promise you, you won’t regret it.”
Louis ducked a thrown paperback, and turned to make a quick escape. After a few steps, he reached the door. As he turned the handle, he heard Borokov say, “Fielder, wait!”
Louis stopped and looked back at the Russian. His hands were on the counter, and his eyes were closed. He breathed in and out a few times and said, “Please, Fielder, come back. I apologize for my outburst.” The Russian seemed to shake off his tension, from his shoulders out to his fingers. He looked up at Louis, and his glacier-blue eyes seemed to smile a bit, even as his mouth continued to scowl. “Please.” He gestured toward the counter.
Louis slowly returned to the counter. Borokov bowed his head a bit. “Thank you. I do apologize. That was entirely out of character.”
Still tempted to bolt for the door, Louis nodded. “I can appreciate your frustration, Mr. Borokov.”
Borokov met Louis’ eye and held it for an interminable second. “Thank you. If you are willing to overlook my…outburst, I do have a position available. Since all of my clerks are students or have other jobs, I need someone to work weekdays. Eight to five. One hour lunch. Minimum wage.”
“That sounds fine, Mr. Borokov.”
“You must understand, Fielder, that this job is not simply sorting and selling. This shop thrives on acquisition. Estates--such as your grandfather’s—are our life’s blood here. But these things must be pursued, and we are not alone in this pursuit, so we must be skilled. I have also built a reputation in the region for being able to find anything. Any printing, any version. If it was printed on this continent, I can find it. So, if you are to work for me, you must be willing to pursue and procure such items. You will be busy every hour of every day you work here. You said you weren’t afraid of hard work; this is a good thing. A rare thing, for one so young. I trust you weren’t embellishing.”
Louis shook his head. “No, sir.”
Borokov nodded. “Good. If these terms are acceptable, you may begin next week.”
Louis took a step forward. “I was hoping to start sooner, if that’s possible, sir.”
Borokov nodded. “Very well. It will take me a few days to pull paperwork together. Come back Thursday. You can take care of paperwork and then begin training.”
Louis smiled, “Thank you, Mr. Borokov.” He held out his hand, and the old man shook it, still without smiling.
“Thank you for coming in, Mr. Fielder.”
“Call me Louis, sir.”
Borokov turned away and began sorting the books again. “Perhaps.”