Clementine Fraile’s old boss needs her help in this ninth adventure at The Happy Store.
Once upon a Clementine, she was a highly paid art director with a boss named Hyman Pease.
Hyman left the advertising agency where they had worked because – being irrepressibly affectionate and assigning everyone from the pizza delivery guy (Dough Darling) to the Chief Financial Officer (Money Muffin) an affectionate appellation — he thought it wise to make a hasty departure before he was tarred and feathered with a sexual harassment suit.
Particularly since he had no desire to change.
Hyman used the proceeds from his severance package to buy a bookstore in Wrye, a suburb 20 miles north of the city (the owner was retiring to Florida). He decided to specialize in mysteries, crime novels, true crime, suspense, and Gothic horror. This included a wonderful collection of first editions such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, which he overpriced in the hopes that no one would buy them.
He named his bookstore Murder my Sweetheart, combining the title of Raymond Chandler’s noir novel with his personal favorite endearment.
Other than having a brick and mortar location, Hyman also wanted to sell books on the Internet, and to that end he hired Timothy Thomas (Hyman called him Tim Tom). Tim Tom was a sweet – that word again! – completely bald thirty-eight year old computer geek who, when not updating the website, filling orders, and helping around the store, wrote limericks that made Hyman laugh.
Now you’re wondering what any of this has to do with The Happy Store, aren’t you?
Well, Clementine was a favorite of both Hyman Pease and his wife Judith, a great cook but a terrible decorator. During the years that they worked together, Clementine was often a guest in their warmly welcoming house, which looked like the inside of a piñata after an earthquake.
Judith, a plump and cheerful woman, was a full-time caterer, and she kept the bookstore and Hyman well-stocked with homemade chocolate chip cookies (after it opened, many a customer who had come in to nibble on a cookie left with an armful of books).
Having absolutely no sense of style, Judith did not contribute to the bookstore’s décor. And Hyman, whose focus was entirely on books, had merely nailed a hangman’s noose above the fire extinguisher on the north wall, and a framed FBI MOST WANTED poster for John Dillinger in the bathroom.
Enter Clementine Fraile.
“Hyman,” she said after complimenting him on the structural improvements he had made. “It’s a great start, but you still have a lot to do before you can open to the public.”
Hyman’s eyes darted to his left; then to his right.
“But…But…Heart of my hearts,” He stuttered, mystified by her response. “I have already done everything!”
He led Clementine across newly refinished floors; he showed her books on perfectly organized shelves; he indicated the check-out counter made from a French Provincial desk; and ended with a flourish at an ancient brass cash register which Tim Tom had converted into a fully functioning computer similar to (although less complicated than) the one in The Happy Store. But Hyman’s was much more fun, since it went ka-ching whenever he rang up a sale.
Everything in the store was spic and span, smelled like lemon polish, and shone. “But…” Clementine bit her lip, reluctant to say what came next, “it has all of the charm of a well-constructed meat locker.”
Hyman was crestfallen.
“An insult and a blow,” he murmured miserably. “And from she who holds my heart in the palm of her hand.”
Clementine shook her head, her reproval as gentle as a snowflake alighting on an eyelash. “You’ve done a great job, Boss. And the store is gorgeous. I love the window display. I love the brass labels on the book shelves. And I love you. But…”
She waved a hand around the interior. “There is nowhere to sit.” Then, as if she had not been explicit enough. She repeated, “Sit. As in sit down. As in nowhere to prop Double Indemnity on my lap, read the dust jacket, flip through the pages, and decide if I do or do not want to buy the book.”
Hyman’s eyes followed her waving hand. He squinted. He frowned. And he realized that she was right. His beautiful bookstore was a tray of hors d’ oeuvres without garnish…a cottage without roses…a birthday cake without frosting.
“You also need an end table where your customers can stack books, a small lamp to create intimacy, and an area rug beneath the chair to suggest a cozy nook.”
Hyman nodded his head. Just as quickly, he pursed his lips and demanded, “Exactly where, Your Royal Pushiness, am I supposed to put this ephemeral chair?”
“Not ‘chair’ singular. Chairs. Plural. They should be armchairs. Very comfortable with tufted backs and roll arms. And two of everything. Chairs. Rugs. Lamps. End tables. One set for that empty space under the alley window. The other for opposite the cash register.”
Hyman nodded again. But only briefly. As quickly, he shook his head and grumbled, “Too expensive.”
“Wong!” Clementine exclaimed. She walked behind the counter, clicked into the antique cash register slash computer, and typed “thehappystore.com.” When the website popped up, she typed “Armchairs” into the search box.
She showed Hyman the results.
She did the same for end tables, lamps, and area rugs. Then she said, “Tomorrow, all of our furniture and rugs, excluding dining room sets, go on sale for 25% off. And if you open a Happy Store credit card, you get an additional 25 % off. I’m working from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. When can you come in?”
“Noon. Should I bring Judith?”
“God no. She’d try to pair an orange rug with a pink lamp. But bring Tim Tom and your pickup truck.”
“Because, my darling ex-boss, when you leave The Happy Store tomorrow, you are going to have everything you need to lure customers into Murder My Sweetheart, enchant them with your charm, and guarantee that they will want to come back!”
Limerick by Tim Tom:
There once was a bookstore in Wrye
That was owned by a loveable guy.
He called everyone “Sweetie,”
Despite our entreaty
To bid all the killjoys goodbye!
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2019. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com