The Book Buyer
Hot Six, by Janet Evanovich is my favorite book.
It’s not my favorite story, or even my favorite “novel,” but it is my favorite book. You’d never believe how many copies I have. Just guess. Guess! Seriously. I want you to. Hold that number in your head and I’ll try to pluck it out. I’m good at that. I can take things if I want to, even thoughts.
I’m right, aren’t I?
Well, you’re not. Not even close. If you counted all your fingers and toes and then all your family’s fingers and toes you wouldn’t even be close to the right number. You should try that sometime, by the way. It’s always fun to find out whether people are keeping track of their digits.
I started buying Hot Six two years ago at the Barnes and Noble in Minot, North Dakota, roughly sixteen hours away from where I live. I left on a lark. Well, I drove there in my truck. I have a large truck. You’ll learn that about me, I have large things. Big house. Big hands.
I’d never been to Minot and I loved the way it sounded in my head. French, like Minnow. But, nope. Those North Dakotans can’t do anything right, and they pronounce the town Mine-Ought. What a bunch of chuckle ups. Real goofs, the whole place.
So, I stepped into the Barnes and Noble and there I saw it in the bargain bin. Hot Six. Doesn’t that just fire you up when you hear it? It makes me feel … hot just saying it. Hot Six. Hot. Six. Mmmm. You’ll like the way I say that eventually.
The first time I saw it the cover had big yellow type on a cerulean blue cover. That’s the kind of blue that looks hot itself, like the base of an acetylene flame. My mouth broke out in a hot sweat and I had to swallow a lot. Haha. Don’t get that look on your face. I’m not the one who swallows.
So, I pick this book up and it feels like sex in my hand. Cool blue cover, nearly seamless but for the gentle embossing and the subtle creasing where the covers meet the spine. I ran my thumb over the pages and let them snap against each other with all the crisp snap of a fresh deck of cards. I’m ashamed to say this. Don’t tell anybody. I got a… a boner. Right there in the bargain section.
I know, right?
The checkout girl gave me the sweetest look when I went up to the counter. She wore a simple pink top with flashy faux-gold jewelry that didn’t do much for her complexion, but God. GOD. You should have seen her eyes. Sky blue, cerulean, just like my new book. Hot Six. I stared into her eyes and she gave me the second feminine stare. You know the one.
I brought Hot Six home and just stared at it a long time before, you know, cracking open the cover. Feeling the delicate edges of the paper against my fingertips, hearing the whispered rasp of my skin against the fiber of the page. Jesus. Erotic doesn’t even cut it.
I kept that copy of Hot Six for months, just playing with it. God, the memory alone is more than enough to get me … well, you know. But, all good things come to an end, and soon the cerulean had run to a dull brown and the pages got all dog-eared. I just needed another copy of course.
I found the next at a swap meet of sorts in a Mississippi Podunk just hours from my house. My big rig takes me all over, you see. I’m here, then I’m there. Boom. You’d never see me coming if I didn’t make so much noise. But then again, when you see something like me bearing down on you like an avalanche of steel, you might just sit there and take it.
But like I was saying.
The swap meet spread out over a hillside by a dying farm town in the middle of nowhere. Silos gone to rust, fields gone to weed, you know the place even if you don’t know it. I found my second copy of Hot Six sitting on the edge of a table there, sunlight glowing dully off the dog-eared cover. This copy had one of the variant covers, with a patterned purple background and the title in sunburst orange.
I picked it up and fluttered the pages beneath my nose, drinking in that yellow-brown smell of a well-aged book. I relished, relished, the feel of the creases in the spine, including the particularly deep one toward the back third of the book, where it had clearly been left out on a table or maybe even packed still-open into a purse to preserve the reader’s page. That book had character.
The woman running the table came around and smiled at me. That kind of smile, you know the one. The kind women give you when they’re playing at being salesmen. But I admit, she took me in. Her feathered grey-brown hair fell over tan shoulders dappled with black freckles. A few of those same freckles splashed across her chest over the top of the embroidered lavender sundress she wore.
She told me the price and I paid it. I brought Hot Six home with me and read it hard for two weeks straight, over and over again until the pages came loose from the glue in the binding. It was a shame, watching that fine old book fall to pieces in my hands, grey pages slipping to the floor and sliding away between the floorboards. Beneath all the locked doors of the second story, where I only go when I need to do my reading.
But that second copy breathed a new and ferocious life into my little hobby. To my shame, and I’m always the first to admit to one of my faults, it’s one of my better qualities, I became something of a hoarder. My whore mother left me a large and sprawling estate of sorts, really nothing more than a large house on a hill in the country. She’d slept with the former owner, who’d raised me as his own until his death of a heart attack in my late teens.
Ugh. Sad and boring.
The big house and the surrounding tobacco fields, now defunct, I wouldn’t carry on anybody’s legacy of growing that … poison, gave me ample space in which to pursue my collectorship. I acquired stacks of Hot Six. I piled Hot Six in the living room. I left Hot Six laying open beneath the sun in the north field. I once lost track of an authentic, signed copy of Hot Six I bought from a pretty blonde literary agent in Chicago. It’d slipped off its bookshelf on the second floor and somehow made its way all the way down to the basement.
I found that Hot Six in a dank, dark corner of the old concrete cellar beside the remnants of one of my late mother’s old rotary telephones. One of the many in her collection I had to clear out when I finally found the key to the basement’s sturdy padlock all those years ago. If it isn’t all too obvious, I get my proclivities from her. I wonder if my biological father was a lepidopterist.
Either way, that copy of Hot Six hadn’t faired well in the basement and had to go in the furnace. A shame, obviously. A collector is always loath to part with any piece of his collection, especially rare pieces. But you know all about that, don’t you?
You collect things, too, don’t you? Of course you do. I know that because you know that. I can slip your thoughts out of your head just the same way you slip a tissue of its box. Box. What a dirty word. Haha. Haha. Haha.
But I know what you collect. You don’t seem typical to me, you wouldn’t confine your tastes to something so blasé as shoes or clothes or jewelry. No. You collect people, don’t you? I mean, you tried to collect me, right? Haha. Haha. Haha.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame you. In fact, I’ve let my own obsessions carry me away from time to time. You know it got so bad, my little Hot Six collection, that I started picking up Hot Six wherever I found it?
One time, and I swear this is true, I found a copy just laying on a wet stretch of pavement inside an alley. Moisture had swelled the pages, warping the book until it grew fat and out of shape like a bloated corpse. The cover, my least favorite variant, the yellow one with picture of the woman dressed like a whore. There are two versions of that one, one where she’s in silhouette and one where she’s not and, of all fucking things, has a dog, a fucking dog, handcuffed to her wrist.
It’s my least favorite by far, but there it was, just sitting there for the taking. The sheen had gone almost entirely out of the cover and something slimy and black had formed a hair-encrusted carbuncle on it, but I knelt and picked it up anyway. A homeless woman sat beside the book, peering at me — with that hungry look poor women get — over the dingy yellow scarf wrapped around her face. Without standing, I’d turned to her and asked if the book belonged to her.
She let me have it for free.
That old, wet book lasted for three months. I wonder if the time in the alley had strengthened it somehow, you know? Maybe all that exposure had some positive effects, but it certainly had some ill effects for me. I got this … I dunno … skin condition from that book that still hasn’t cleared up one hundred percent. But that’s neither here nor there, and it’s long since found its way to the furnace, so the contagion stops, I suppose, with me.
But that’s all beside the point. What you should really take away from that last story is that my collecting had hit rock bottom. Rock fucking bottom. But of all my personality traits, I’m most proud of my sense of introspection. I told myself that this was a learning experience and that maybe, just maybe, it was time to slow down the collecting, if not stop altogether.
And that’s what I did! Honest! You know, it’s been almost half a year since I indulged in my habit. I took a trip up through Illinois to clear my head and saw this beautiful old copy in a library near Parkersburg that I just had to have. Usually driving helps. I bought the truck for just that, to cruise the highways with that unassailable power only the big trucks have. I don’t even haul freight, but you know that, don’t you?
You don’t have to shake your head. I know because you know. That’s all there is to it. But you know, I was really thinking about calling it a quits on this whole thing, the collecting. I really do love Hot Six, but a man can only take so much of the same old before it gets boring. And when you called me up to your office? Boy howdy, there’s your sign, huh?
But when I got up there, into the hustle and bustle of your office, all those lawmen pushing and pulling on criminals. Yeah. I felt something powerful stirring, almost like a voice on the wind. I sat down in that uncomfortable metal chair opposite your desk and watched you pore over my file. You knew I was there, but you didn’t know I was watching.
You didn’t notice yourself biting, no, sucking on your lower lip while you studied my file. That way you have of licking your teeth when you’re thinking, like you don’t know every man in the office is looking. Like you don’t know what they’re thinking when they see you.
But what really got me was what was sitting on your desk, just … resting there in its own little beam of light, glowing as blue as the ID card lanyard wrapped around your neck.