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Learning From the Master

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"Certainly, that'll be… no."


"No. I can’t sell this to you."

"Why not?"

"It's a Thursday. It's against my religion to sell books on Thursdays." The customer gaped at him for a moment.

"But you sold me a book last Thursday…"

"Did I? Damn. Now I have to beat myself in the back room with a copy of War and Peace."

"Look, just sell me the bloody book, would you?"

"No. I don't like your shirt. It offends me."

"For fuck's sake." The man gave him a filthy look, and Bernard waved cheerfully at his back.

"Come again!"

Manny shook his head slowly.

"What? It's not my fault this bloody city has something against the Irish."

"No Bernard. This city has nothing against the Irish. They don't like you."

"Now why would you say something like that?" Bernard glared at Manny, fumbling with his left hand to unscrew the whiskey and pour another shot in his mug. "You've upset my delicate sensibilities. There but for the grace of god go I, a gentle flower tossed by the wind of your vile-" he turned his head and glared at the customer clutching a book in front of him. "Fuck off, I'm having a discussion." He pulled the book out of the woman's hands, escorting her to the door, then turned back to Manny. "See? You see? Irish wanker, she called me. Not, not tall wanker, or brunette wanker, or, or-"

"Scruffy wanker?"

Bernard pointed. "Yes, exactly!"

"Smelly wanker? Rude wanker?"

"Yes, thankyou-"

"Cheap wanker? Weird-looking wanker?"

"Thankyou, Manny. What wait what are you doing?" He got up and tugged his coat from Manny's hands, putting it on to defend it against the smaller man's advances. Manny started towing him towards the door. "You never touch the coat, Manny. Also the alcohol, you never touch that. No coat, no alcohol, and leave the books alone, I don't want your grubby little fingers- where are we going?"

"I need to show you something."

"But Manny, I don't like it out here! I'm allergic to fresh air!"

Manny gazed incredulously at the bus directly in front of them, belching black smoke, and turned back again just in time to catch Bernard by the collar as he tried to run back into the shop.


"A book shop."

"That's right."

"A book shop. Manny, I don't know if it's escaped your notice, but you work in a book shop. I own a bookshop. Your beard confuses me. Why are we here?"

Manny held up a finger, and ushered Bernard inside.

There was a man behind the counter; friendly, smiling and comfortably rumpled, he looked exactly like you'd expect the proprietor of a book shop to look. Down to the tartan slippers. Currently he was engaged in discussion with a young woman.

"Oh dear me, no. I'm afraid I can't sell you that."

"Why not?"

He smiled, a touch of sadness to it. "Well you see, there's a whole wealth of information you'd need to understand it fully. It's rather involved."

His customer looked at the book sceptically. "Mills and Boon? Involved?"

"It's the principle of the thing, my dear. The themes behind young-" he flipped the book over, scanning the blurb. "Young Raquelle and Sable's doomed love. I mean, have you read Romeo and Juliet? Tristan and Iseult?"

She looked abashed. "No. No, I haven't."

He smiled understandingly, and ushered her towards the door. "I'd offer, but I'm afraid we're sold out for the moment."


He patted her arm. "It's quite alright, my dear. Perhaps next time."

"Thank you, Mr Fell."

In the shadows of the bookshelves, Bernard gaped.

"She apologised! Manny, did you see, she apologised!"

Manny nodded. "Years I've been coming here. And I don't think I've ever seen him sell a book."

"And, and, and she said thank you!"

They both turned, and stared reverently.