He swallowed as Sadler’s hand snaked into the bag. Sadler’s eyes widened as his hand foraged about.
Ernest pressed against the window. His pudgy nose smudged the glass. Sadler grinned and wagged a finger.
‘Patience, dear boy,’ he mouthed.
His hand emerged from the bag, with…..a cheese sandwich. He took a bite of it as Ernest’s jaw dropped.
‘Got you,’ Sadler mouthed, jabbing a finger.
Ernest turned to check Anna wasn’t watching. He stuck two fingers up, but Sadler had turned his back.
Perry Sadler disgusted Ernest. His baggy flannels were creased and filled with pastry crumbs. His house was overrun with cats. He drank so much he was forced to fill his neighbours’ bins with his empties in the small hours. My God, did the man ever stop to look at himself?
Ernest closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. When he was calm he decided to give it one last try. He was not returning empty-handed. Sadler clearly had nothing from British Heart so there was all to play for. Ernest’s knees cracked as he crouched. He wobbled and had to steady himself against a white wire stand of greetings cards. Why someone would want to say Happy Birthday with a photo of a relief camp in Mozambique Ernest had no idea. He blinked and stared at the spines. The books were mainly crime or battered classics with a handful of out-of-date school textbooks. He opened a Reader’s Digest map of the world and was tracing the line of the Danube with a bitten fingernail when his eyes were drawn to a book at his feet.
Ernest’s heart lurched. He steadied himself on the bookcase. It felt as though he was falling in a lift. He blinked and squinted at the book. It was an Alec Watt first edition. Ernest’s heart thudded against his ribcage. The Inspector Souter novels were bestsellers. They’d made Watt a very rich man and had been adapted for television. There were tattered paperbacks everywhere, but a handful of first edition hardbacks had been printed by a small press in Fife. The trick was finding a copy of Clyde Boys – like the one Ernest was staring at.
Ernest licked his lips. His mouth was gummy. He stifled a cough and peered through the card rack. Anna was wrapping a snow globe in newspaper for Martha. Ernest offered up a silent prayer. He got to his feet, shielding the copy of Clyde Boys behind a hanging dinner suit. His heart raced. The greasy fried breakfast he’d scoffed rose in his throat. The fried bread lay at anchor in his guts. He lifted the cover and saw £2- scribbled in pencil. His eyes widened. It had to be worth hundreds, if not more. He lifted the front page and saw the words ‘first edition.’ He pressed the book against his chest and sniffed, drinking in the fusty smell of brittle paper. As Ernest approached the till he fumbled the book and a slip of paper fell out, floating like a feather to the floor. He crouched and picked it up. A message was scrawled in a spidery hand.
Wrong again! You’re losing your touch, Ernest. Clyde Boys is ten-a-penny – thousands of them. You should be looking for Glasgow Kiss. They only printed 200.How touchingly amateur of you.
Love Perry xxx
Ernest gnawed at his cheek. He tossed the book back among the maps and postcards. Perry had put the damn thing there knowing he’d find it. Anna was changing the music. Those men in blankets with nose-pipes came on.
‘And that’s a bloody racket,’ Ernest snapped.
He took deep breaths to calm himself. Getting angry made him light-headed and little sparks flashed at the edge of his vision. Outside, he gripped a bench and steadied himself. Pigeons pecked at a pie crust at his feet. He’d get even with Perry, alright. Perry got his French fags on the cheap, knocked-off. Perhaps he could put in a call. Trouble was, the boys in blue had bigger fish to fry than Perry’s art-house fags. There were other claims that could be made and anonymously too, these days. Yes, he’d see to Perry bloody Sadler for sure. And he’d never quit on his little discoveries, not while there were possibilities. He cracked his knuckles and set off determined not to be beaten. He hadn’t been to Save the Children yet and there was always Scope.
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