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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Aubrey Determines To Give Service That's Different

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Looking more carefully, he saw that what he had taken for a mirror over the prescription counter was an aperture looking into the shop. Through this he could see Weintraub, behind the cigar case, waiting upon some belated customer with his shop-worn air of affability. The visitor departed, and Weintraub locked the door after him and pulled down the blinds. Then he returned toward the prescription room, and Aubrey ducked out of view.

Presently he risked looking again, and was just in time to see a curious sight. The druggist was bending over the counter, pouring some liquid into a glass vessel. His face was directly under a hanging bulb, and Aubrey was amazed at the transformation. The apparently genial apothecary of cigarstand and soda fountain was gone. He saw instead a heavy, cruel, jowlish face, with eyelids hooded down over the eyes, and a square thrusting chin buttressed on a mass of jaw and suetty cheek that glistened with an oily shimmer. The jaw quivered a little as though with some intense suppressed emotion. The man was completely absorbed in his task. The thick lower lip lapped upward over the mouth. On the cheekbone was a deep red scar. Aubrey felt a pang of fascinated amazement at the gross energy and power of that abominable relentless mask.

"So this is the harmless old thing!" he thought.

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Just then the bamboo curtain parted, and the woman whom he had seen upstairs appeared. Forgetting his own situation, Aubrey still stared. She wore a faded dressing gown and her hair was braided as though for the night. She looked frightened, and must have spoken, for Aubrey saw her lips move. The man remained bent over his counter until the last drops of liquid had run out. His jaw tightened, he straightened suddenly and took one step toward her, with outstretched hand imperiously pointed. Aubrey could see his face plainly: it had a savagery more than bestial. The woman's face, which had borne a timid, pleading expression, appealed in vain against that fierce gesture. She turned and vanished. Aubrey saw the druggist's pointing finger tremble. Again he ducked out of sight. "That man's face would be lonely in a crowd," he said to himself. "And I used to think the movies exaggerated things. Say, he ought to play opposite Theda Bara."

He lay at full length in the paved alley and thought that a little acquaintance with Weintraub would go a long way. Then the light in the window above him went out, and he gathered himself together for quick motion if necessary. Perhaps the man would come out to close the cellar door----

The thought was in his mind when a light flashed on farther down the passage, between him and the kitchen. It came from a small barred window on the ground level. Evidently the druggist had gone down into the cellar. Aubrey crawled silently along toward the yard. Reaching the lit pane he lay against the wall and looked in.

The window was too grimed for him to see clearly, but what he could make out had the appearance of a chemical laboratory and machine shop combined. A long work bench was lit by several electrics. On it he saw glass vials of odd shapes, and a medley of tools. Sheets of tin, lengths of lead pipe, gas burners, a vise, boilers and cylinders, tall jars of coloured fluids. He could hear a dull humming sound, which he surmised came from some sort of revolving tool which he could see was run by a belt from a motor. On trying to spy more clearly he found that what he had taken for dirt was a coat of whitewash which had been applied to the window on the inside, but the coating had worn away in one spot which gave him a loophole. What surprised him most was to spy the covers of a number of books strewn about the work table. One, he was ready to swear, was the Cromwell. He knew that bright blue cloth by this time.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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