Monday, May 15, 2006

Herman's Rare Books

I apologize for leaving you hanging for so long. Faced with final exams and a forced evacuation from my Columbia dorm room, I haven’t had much time to write. Nor have I had the opportunity to do much in the way of detective work. Fortunately, my fellow Irregulars were able to pick up my slack. And now that I’m back downtown, spending summer vacation with my parents, I finally have a chance to update you on their progress.

Once DeeDee and I had identified Dr. Mayhew as the mastermind behind the thefts of books, prints, and maps from Butler Library, Kiki and Betty took over his surveillance. I was hoping they could uncover more information about his relationship with the bearded man who’s living in the library. (Kiki and I suspect that the two might be more than partners in crime.) But the Irregulars’ first—and most important—goal was to recover the stolen copy of Glimpses of Gotham.

On Friday the 12th, Kiki and Betty followed Dr. Mayhew for several hours as he went about his rather boring business. He bought a pastrami sandwich (with extra mustard and a dab of mayo) from a local deli and took a stroll through Riverside Park. Afterwards, he stopped at a newsstand and picked up several rather naughty magazines. Though it’s hard to believe, Betty claims he was in such a good mood that he appeared at times to be skipping. On Saturday morning, they observed Dr. Mayhew leave his apartment, carrying a large tote bag. They trailed him downtown to Herman’s Rare Books—a filthy little shop filled with tall towers of ancient books—and watched from outside as he did business with the man behind the counter.

Fifteen minutes later, Dr. Mayhew emerged, tucking an envelope into his suit jacket. Betty followed him back to his apartment while Kiki took some time off to do a little shopping at the bookstore. The books and maps that Dr. Mayhew had delivered to the shop were still sitting on the counter. With Mr. Herman himself looking over her shoulder, Kiki casually rifled through them. There were at least a dozen items, but Kiki was particularly intrigued by three of them: The journal of a famous explorer who had disappeared in 1826 while searching for the lost cities of the Amazon, a two hundred-year-old biography of Marie Antoinette’s favorite poodle, and a map of the New York Subway system from 1915. All evidence of the items’ origins had been carefully removed. There wasn’t a Dewey Decimal label to be seen.

“How much,” she asked Mr. Herman, holding up the subway map.

“I like your taste,” said Mr. Herman, whom Kiki describes as a pleasant old man with sardine grease on his tie and breath that could peel paint. “But I haven’t put a price on that one yet. I just bought it from a gentleman who’s selling off his collection. I can show you a couple of remarkable things if you’re interested in New York history.”

“Do you have a copy of Glimpses of Gotham?” Kiki asked.

Mr. Herman looked shocked. “As a matter of fact, I do. You know your stuff, young lady. I’d never even heard about Glimpses of Gotham before it came in the other day. I still don’t know whether to label it fiction or non-fiction. But I’m afraid it may be a little out of your price range.”

“Try me,” said Kiki.

“Fifteen hundred dollars,” said Mr. Herman.

“I assume you take Amex,” said Kiki, holding out her credit card.


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