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Ewan Lawrie

 My shop is in the narrow, Moorish streets in Seville , just off Tetuan. On Ilusion, between Felicidad and Sueños; number 13a. A modest Lottery win paid for it, a year or so ago. I used to teach Ingles y Literatura in the Colegio San Martin in Fuengiriola - I have never missed the sullen boys and cheeky girls destined for the building sites and bars on the Costa. Rincon Hammett sells books; in English mostly, second hand and first editions - when I can get hold of them. It’s small, the shop: aisles of shelving the colour of oak wine barrels; made for those first editions, paperback thrillers, old dictionaries, out-of-date atlases, magical realist fables, and me.


I made an offer the minute I saw it: There was neither dust nor a smell of polish, just the reek of possibility. The marble floor tiles were secret-dark, with tales in the whorling. But my enthusiasm could not rouse the yawning MariaJose to argue up the price. She relayed my first offer into her mobile and raised her thumb.


‘Meet me at the Notary; I’ll get a taxi back to our office first. It’s definitely a cash buy?’

She frowned at me.

‘Is the Notary expecting us?’ I enquired. ‘He will be!’


I had the keys in less than a week. Filling the shelves was not a problem; before the joking ended, Laura used to say I hoarded voluminously. The removal men had been incredulous when the books went in the van and the furniture in the skip.


Of course, it didn’t make money, not the first month, nor the second. But that wasn’t the point. There was a cot in the stock room. Cataloguing and display take a long time if you do them right. Besides, where else was there to go? She arrived one Wednesday, after dark; the ‘closed’ sign half-turned and my hand on the doorknob. She was not beautiful; but you’d have noticed her in the street - and you’d have followed her, if you dared.

‘I’m too late, no?’ She was slightly out of breath.

‘Not at all, it was just quiet.’

‘Oh, thank goodness, thank you!’ For what? I thought.

‘Were you looking for something..?’ The umber eyes widened; her tongue flickered across her lips.

‘Yes… No! I mean… you won’t laugh?’ I gave her raised eyebrows and a confused look.

‘It’s just…’ she went on. ‘More looking for someone, really.’

This threw me; there weren’t any regulars, or even that many customers.

‘You, actually’. I tried to look as though attractive women said this sort of thing to me. I don’t suppose I managed it.

‘So you know my name, do you have one too?’ Spade couldn’t have done better.

‘Oh, sorry! Lenore Del … no, I’d rather not say, not yet.’


Chandleresque? More a moment from Earl Stanley Gardner or Mickey Spillane. I couldn’t laugh: she was too alluring for ridicule. Heels typing a novella on the marble, she picked at some bobbling on the boxy shoulder of her tailored suit. Her hair was carrion-black in a Gilda-soft permanent. She might have been on her way to a fancy dress party. I learned very little that first night. In a week of after-hours talking, the tale came out, haltingly, as if she knew it would not be believed.


I sat in one of the cracked-leather armchairs. She acted out her drama in front of the gothic horror shelves: her audience; me, Poe and all the rest: the performance punctuated by a moll-red fingernail ringing up ‘no sale’ on the nearby cash register. It was about a book: an old, not particularly good, novel. Not a first edition, not signed by the author. But it had been owned by Spain ’s very own Ozymandias, the Generalissimo, with a dedication from the great fraud himself, Dali. An unlikely story? Yes: but it made the book, if it existed, very valuable indeed.


‘What’s it about?’ I asked.

‘A man looking for a woman.’ ‘How original,’ I blurted.

‘There are only so many stories!’ She hissed. Her eyes were hot, shining.

‘Anyway, the story doesn’t matter,’ she exhaled slowly. ‘It’s about the book.’


Her grandfather had bought the book in the chaotic days after Franco’s death. In a bar, from a former soldier down on his luck. Not in Madrid - in Seville , under the arches opposite San Salvador . Nowadays, the young - and not so young - gather there in the early summer evenings to drink and wait for the crepuscular cool. I cannot imagine such a place existing back then, but maybe it did. - ‘Say you’ll find it! You will look for it, won’t you?’ there was colour in her cheeks and her teeth sank into her lower lip. –‘Please…?’


What would you have done? I followed the script; it seemed worth it.


When I was ten years old, there had been another book. My grandmother was sleeping in the only comfortable chair in the kitchen. The red cloth-covered book was clutched close to her chest, but it slipped a little with every gentle snore. I took it. Its three word title looked like a jumble of letters; the author’s name was Chandler , but I couldn’t have pronounced it then. A yellowed black and white photograph fell out. The print had the scalloped edges you don’t see nowadays. I couple stood in a town square smiling. I recognised the dark-haired woman from other pictures. It was my mother. I turned the picture over: ‘Ray y Yo, Rota , 1961. My grandmother woke up, grabbed for the book. I snatched it away, waved the picture at her.


‘Abuela, who is that man?’ ‘The Yanqui,’ was all she said.

‘And the book?’

‘Yanqui trash too.’ She took the book and the photograph.

I like to think the book was ‘Farewell My Lovely’ - but of course, I don’t know.


My mysterious visitor’s book had been written over fifty years ago, by a Spaniard. Pseudonymously - unless you think Frank O’Daly was a real name. Written in English, it was published in the United States in paperback only. The publishers had rejected Jim Thompson and would have printed anything in the hope of discovering another. A collector of pulp novels since my teens, Thompson, Spillane and early James Hadley Chase had painted garish colours over the grey Republic of my youth, and I’d shadowed their hard-boiled heroes along the mean streets. O’Daly had not crossed my path.


The hunt for any of Frank’s work began locally. And no-one else had even seen a copy of this book. It had never been translated into Spanish. Not much of this sort of thing had, under Franco. You had to collect originals in English. From American students, British backpackers and tourists; anyone for whom one loose-spined paperback is one too many to take back home. My English was good, I’d been told many times: almost - or too - American, depending on who was telling me. And what of it? Marlowe was vastly superior to Bulldog Drummond or the Saint. The British guys always seemed to be slumming with the riff-raff; hell, Creasey even wrote some garbage about someone called ‘The Toff’!


She called in at the shop, after sundown, every few days. For news about the book. Of course, there was little enough to keep her coming.


‘You do have a mobile?’ I asked once.

‘Yes, but …’ She looked over my shoulder, up at the shelf behind me. Quality, leather-bound, second-hand classics: Dumas, Stevenson, Sabatini. Driven-snow heroes in simpler times.

‘But what?’

‘…the coverage isn’t good.’ ‘ I’ll take it anyway… In case.’

She took a Chinese-lacquered fountain pen from her purse and scrawled a number on the reverse of one of my business cards. Then she wrote ‘Lenore’ in the neatest copper-plate.


Trawls of the British second-hand bookshops over on the Costa del Sol produced nothing. Some guy in Torremolinos claimed he was sure he had come across a copy at a farmers’ market inland… just leave a deposit; he would get back to me. I looked at his piles of pastel chick-lit and English footballers’ ‘auto’biographies and said no thanks. E-mails returned from Madrid , London and New York : no dice. A trip to Paris was even planned, to browse the stalls on the banks of the Seine .


‘You’ll keep looking won’t you?’ she said, one night, running those nails along the spines of the Ross McDonalds by the door.

‘Why wouldn’t I?’


It was the last time I saw her; through the window. She click-clacked off under the street lamp’s cone of light and vanished into the black.


After a week or so, when she hadn’t returned, I asked around. I never got through to any possible permutation of the scrawled number. There was no address, nothing; detection without clues. I did have a friend in the Comisaria. Carlos shook his head over an off-duty drink on neutral ground, across the water in Triana. ‘Best I can do is look at the Misper Bulletins… but someone’s got to be missing her to report it… Someone who knows her name, age or something. She’s moved to Las Canarias or Madrid or who cares where. Just leave it, Juan.’ He said it gently: a friend after all. But you can imagine what he would have said to someone who wasn’t.


Six months later I was knocking on a cheap half-glazed door. It was open. The glass wasn’t frosted, but stained with tobacco and a fading name - Reverte. A head bent over the desk, silver roots showing through a bad dye job. She didn’t look up; just kept poring over a tatty Tarot laid in the horseshoe. The office looked smudged, dust blunting the edges; a cactus prickled on a bookcase with no books. A love song played on an ancient wireless; its back unscrewed, slow syncopation lit the valves. She snatched a lethal-looking pencil from a jar and scratched at her scalp. Her eyes slid over me once as she reached into the desk drawer. Out came a bottle of something; not J&B. The label was hidden by her hand, a secret guarded. The liquid looked viscous, medicinal. God, I thought, I’ll be asking a priest next.


‘Call me in a week: I’ll find her.’ She said, handing me a creased and yellowed card. ‘Reverte: Psychic Detective’, it read.


I called, she hadn’t. And that’s when I quit looking for Lenore.


Last week, Curro, a sort of friend, came into the shop. He hadn’t come to buy a book… In the bar next door, he always nods at whatever book I have with me.


‘Good is it?’ he drawled.

‘Good enough,’ I say.

‘Not for me.’ And he shakes his head, and winks at the barman.


Curro doesn’t do much of anything. Occasionally, he helps on a stall at the flea market on the Alameda de Hercules, if he feels like getting up before noon. It sells broken radios, fishing reels and, very occasionally, a book.


‘But Juanito…’ He gabbled. ‘It’s got the scribble-writing in it, like you said!’

‘Curro, you can’t read… it could be anything.’ I was curt.

‘It has the picture of the woman… the black hair, red nails, the gun. You could come and look at it, eh?’ No mention of why he hadn’t brought it with him.

‘Come on, it’s the one! I know it.’ He was angling for me to waste the morning drinking coffee with him; that was all.


I turned over the sign and we left. Curro - who looks pretty much as I imagine the tramp-like soldier in San Salvador did - likes a chrome and marble place on Trajano. The coffee is insipid, although the price isn’t. He just likes the faces of the staff when he sits down, and anyway, I always pay. We walked to the Alameda . It was fifteen minutes away on foot - as everything is, according to the Sevillanos. Curro stopped at a stall with not a book in sight.


‘You have it?’

‘You want it?’ ‘He does… He’ll give you 100 euros.’

At that price the guy was one of Curro’s numerous second cousins, especially as I hadn’t seen the book. There was nothing for it but to hand it over. The stallholder passed me a brown paper bag. Thank God the Policia Local weren’t watching. Then we went to the Café Imperator as Curro had wanted all along. I wondered why he hadn’t just invited me for coffee.


But it was the book: the book: dark-haired woman on the cover; smoking gun dangling from her carmine finger-nailed hand. The title was painted in the same colour on the wall behind her, with the name Frank O’Daly underneath. Its condition reflected its literary value. There was nothing profound in the writing on the flyleaf. Just ‘For the Generalissimo’ and a crude rendition of Dali’s mark from the corner of one of his more slapdash works. Anyone could have done it, even the Catalan charlatan.

‘What’s it called, the book?’ asked Curro, as if he cared. ‘

”Lenore” I said. ‘It’s called “Lenore”.







Ewan Lawrie spent 23 years in the Royal Air Force, including 10 years in Cold War Berlin and 12 years flying over the rather warmer conflicts which followed. He has had poetry and short stories published in anthologies and is hopeful concerning the publishing of his first novel. Nowadays he spends his time in the south of Spain, teaching English to Andalucians and other hispanophones. Lawrie

Anne Lawrence

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