I texted Ruiz: How about visiting the Antiquarian bookstore on Madison Ave. with me this morning?
Within seconds, my phone rang. “Well, well, my grandmother’s paella did the trick. I never expected Zoe Donovan to call and ask me out.”
I knew he could feel me blush over the phone. I took a deep breath in pretending not to be bothered by his comment. I replied “Gathering information that may help in my grandmother’s murder is hardly asking you out, Detective.”
“Ah sure it is and you know it.” He burst out laughing saying, “Pick you up in a half hour.”
While I waited for him I thought about the fact that Ruiz has seen all my grandmother’s appointments to this shop, but he never told me. Why?
The rare book store on Madison turned out to be a bibliophile’s heaven with a majestic showroom with high ceilings. The back wall alone contained rich dark mahogany bookcases that reached two stories high. Inside the cases, the rarest books stood like ancient works of art. Immediately a slim, impeccably dressed man in his late forties came over to greet us.
“Ah, Detective Ruiz, “What can I do for you today.” Just as I suspected Ruiz had been here already here. Maybe he deserved more credit that I was giving him. Ruiz introduced me to the man, Marc Richardson, who turned out to be one of the owners. Ruiz explained that he and I had some basic questions about the rare book business. I expected Richardson to say how well he knew my grandmother, but he never mentioned her. Why?
As I stood inside the store, it was love at first sight. “What a beautiful place,” I said. Ruiz fidgeted in a way that showed he was annoyed by my outward enthusiasm. Richardson smiled. “I am so pleased that you share our love of this space. It is as beautiful as the books themselves. We do have some remarkable rare books and documents here for sale.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“For example, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a poem in ten volumes.”
“What would be the price tag on that?” Ruiz immediately honed in on the money.
“$35,000,” Richardson replied.
“A little steep for a college student, don’t you agree, Zoe?” Ruiz turned toward me with that annoying grin of his. Now Ruiz had the spotlight and he enjoyed it so. “I do like Shakespeare. Do you have any thing by him?”
“We are displaying the 1674 Quarto of Macbeth, period-style full Moroccan gilt for $65,000. It is extraordinarily rare and extremely desirable.”
“A little steep for a New York City detective, don’t you agree?” I retaliated.
Clearly frustrated by the books and their hefty price tags, Ruiz asked, “What’s so special about rare books that makes people pay these prices?”
“They offer a live, exciting connection to history and the authors.”
“What determines the price?” Ruiz inquired.
Richardson explained, “The condition of the book- the better the condition, the greater the value. First editions are most valuable. The number of books printed in that first edition is significant. Just a minute. Let me show you.” Within seconds Richardson returned holding a green cloth book in hand which he gently put down on the desk in front of him. My eyes grew wide with delight when I looked down at the cover.
Even Ruiz’s voice indicated a familiarity as he read aloud, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Then he added, “I somehow remember my English teacher in high school calling Huck Finn, the greatest American novel. I thought a boy running away from home on a home on a raft just sounds like a kid’s book to me. So, what makes this particular edition so rare?”
“A first edition,” said Richardson.
“Prove it,” Ruiz demanded.
Richardson opened the book to page 57 and then explained, “Experts in our business check indexes that give you the necessary information about the books. First editions often contain errors that are corrected in subsequent editions. The errors become markers for the book dealers to verify the book as a first printing. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’s first printing there are three errors. For example, here on p.57 ‘with the’ was later corrected to ‘with the saw.’ If all three errors don’t appear, you know it is not a first edition.”
“Okay, I got it,” Ruiz declared. I had hoped to see the other two mistakes, but Ruiz pushed on. “How much does Huck Finn here go for?”
Richardson reply was, “Twenty two thousand. Of course if Mark Twain’s signature appeared, that would raise the price significantly.
Ruiz let out a whistle. “What about fraud in signatures? I understand a lot of them now are fake. They can be easily encrypted.”
“That’s right, Detective.” Ruiz then leaned in toward Richardson and asked, “What do you know about the auction of that rare prayer book, The Bay Psalm Book at Sotheby’s this Sunday?”
“Certainly my whole industry is buzzing about it. The Bay Psalm Book is quite a trophy for any serious collector. One determined bibliophile can raise the roof on the price of a book like that.”
“What do you think it will sell for?”
“In the millions.”
“What about the worth of the Gutenberg? I haven’t heard of God signing any bibles lately. Have you? No signature to push up the price.”
Richardson ignored Ruiz’s comment and simply replied, “Priceless-but too hot to sell. No dealer would touch it. Nowhere to sell it.”
I then shouted, “Why then would someone steal it and even murder for it?” I finally was able to ask a question.
Richardson paused and said, “Rare religious books are often priceless for those who believe. Recently there was a rumor that religious fanatics were on a mission to save the religious books of the world. Would they have the audacity to try and take The Gutenberg and actually be successful? We’re counting on the police, Detective Ruiz, to catch them.”
Ruiz beamed as we shook hands and thanked Richardson. When I turned to leave, I was shocked to see Edwin Spencer get out of a taxi and walk toward the store. Ruiz was talking to me about how forgers use dental floss to remove individual pages from books to supplement incomplete copies of rare books. All I kept thinking was. I can’t miss my chance to talk with Edwin Spencer. Right then and there, I cut Ruiz off.
“Listen, I have to split and do some shopping here.”
Surprised, he looked at me like I had completely lost my mind. “You know this is Madison Avenue. The clothes are also originals with prices similar to the first editions. I told your father I’d look out for you.”
“Not to worry about my dad’s money. Anyway, I just want to window shop. Walking clears my mind.”
“Forget about shopping for clothes. Keep in mind the prices of these books. We’re on to something here.”
Finally Ruiz shared something worthwhile about the case but I was distracted. I was watching Spencer just about to come through the door. Ruiz walked right past him.