BRITAIN'S FIRST TYPOGRAPHER

by R. A. Bolden

 

      Danny rolled his eyes.  "Here we go again."

      "What do you mean by that?" Skin asked.

      "As I've said before, English law isn't like it is in America.  You have a written Constitution and a Bill of Rights.  We've only got precedent."

      "So it's how the Judge wants to see it."

      "That's it," said Danny.  "He can interpret things the way he thinks the Public want to see justice done.  Precedent is sort of a living law."

      "You mean like a floating goal post?"

      "Yeah," said Danny.  "And even if Westminster passes a law like the three strikes and you're out, the Judges don't have to use it because they can interpret things the way they like."

      "In America, they'd be forced to life you off."

      "Well here they're not," explained Danny.  "But with a floating goalpost, it's very hard to defend yourself."

      "In other words, in America you'd have a chance to get off because all the rules are written down, whereas in England, you're definitely going down but you won't necessarily get a life sentence for a third offence."

      "Basically," said Danny.  "That's it."

      "What about the interview?" asked Skin.

      "What you've got to say is:  'I'm suffering from post traumatic stress from the arrest, I'd like to help but really can't think straight right now'."

      "Give us a break will you," said Skin.  "They'll just say failure to co-operate will result in adverse inferences being drawn."

      "That's OK," replied Danny.  "Just keep on repeating what I told you."

      "Why's that?"

      "Because at the end of the day, the Interview will be inadmissible in Court and the Prosecution's case will fall apart."

      "You seem very sure of yourself."

      "Look," said Danny.  "I've known lots of people who have been to trial before and the Crown's technique relies heavily on the Interview.  Without it they're lost.  Trust me."

      Skin held the mug of tea in large tattooed hands.  His pale blue eyes liked what he saw as the train rolled across the lush green countryside that was dotted with hamlets, cows and sheep.

      "OK," said Skin.  "I feel good about this job.  It's just that I've been at the sharp end of the stick for so long, I like to know where I stand with the law."

      Danny sighed.  His curly grey hair hung down to his shoulders.  He smiled an orthodontic smile and his large dark eyes looked pleased at having convinced him.

      "And you're sure she has the item?"  Skin asked.

      "Of course I'm sure.  I don't think she knows what it is.  We'll have to make her an offer and she if we can buy it."

      The rental car was waiting at the station.  Danny drove to a small country town and parked in front of an old brick building.

      "The Humanist Bookstore," Danny read aloud.  "The title fits."

      Skin was a whole head taller than Danny and he was dressed in a blue jean jacket and denim shirt.  Danny looked like the old professor in sport coat and button down shirt.

      "Good afternoon gentlemen," said the lady behind the counter.  "What can I do for you?"

      Danny spoke first.  "My friend is from America.  He's come all the way over here to talk with you about sixteenth-century humanism and books."

      "In that case, I'd better put the kettle on."  Her small figure moved quickly to the back of the shop.  "You see it was really my husband who was the expert on humanism.  He died two years ago and I sell the books he collected.  It keeps me busy."  She looked at each of them with clear green eyes.  Her impeccably manicured hands served the tea with an air of elegance.

      "So you didn't buy your collection in England?" Skin asked.

      "Goodness no," she said, wrapping an autumn coloured shawl around her shoulders and taking her place behind the counter.  "My husband and I used to sail in the Indian Ocean.  He collected these books from old colonial families in Kenya and India.  Then we'd ship them home to England."  She slipped a strand of steel grey hair from in front of her ageing but still pretty face.

      "Were you ever interested in humanism yourself?"  Skin asked.

      "Oh of course, she said.  "When your husband is such a devoted hobbyist, you pick things up.  But you don't look like the scholarly type."  She pointed with her cup towards Skin.

      "The tattoos give me away madam," said Skin politely.  "In another time, I was in prison in America.  I took a course of Open Studies and ended up getting my Masters Degree in Renaissance Culture and Belief.  Danny here was my tutor."

      "Well that's an interesting story," she said.

      "And it's all true," explained Danny, pulling some I.D. from his briefcase as proof.  "He was my most gifted student."

      "Removing her glasses, she said, "You still haven't told me why you've come all this way.  Surely not to pass the time of day with a 78 year old lady."

      "I'd like to look at your collection and possibly purchase some books," Skin said.

      "Please look around," she said.  "I'll just sit here and talk to your friend."

      Returning with two volumes, Skin placed them on the counter and asked, "Do you have anything else?"

      "Only the ones on the top shelf over there.  I'm afraid they're a bit dusty."

      Skin climbed the small ladder and started glancing through the stacks, then he saw a small leather bound book.  He opened the cover.  It was indeed the item they were looking for.  Looking over his shoulder, he contemplated putting it inside his shirt; but thought about his family's agony and the years he'd spent in prison.  He thought about the food, the suicides, the stabbings and the bullies in the canteen; the nights he cried so much for the comfort of his wife; of pumping iron in the gym so he could get a good nights sleep.  He remembered the tears in his daughter's eye when he'd been sent down and thought his days of crime are truly over.  They'd have to try and buy it from her.  Trembling, he slowly climbed down the ladder and placed the book on the counter.

      "Oh that," she said calmly.  "My husband found it in an expatriate's mansion on the sub-continent.  It's very valuable you know.  He told me to hold onto it for my retirement."

      "Do you know what it is?"

      "Oh yes," said the lady.  "It's William Claxtonís first printing or Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales from 1476.  Did you know that William Claxton was Britain's first typographer?"

      Skin and Danny looked at each other.

      "Why haven't you tried to sell it and retire like your husband wanted?" Skin asked.

      "I'm too old to drive and I really don't like those Londoners.  They're so rude to me and I don't have any family left."

      "We'll drive you," said Danny.

      "And protect you, until we can bring you safely back home," added Skin.

      "That would be nice but I want you to know," she said.  "There have been others who have wanted to buy my antique books but they've always tried to steal this one by hiding it under their shirt or something.  They never realised I can see everything from here because there's a mirror and video camera above the door."

      Skin and Danny turned around to look.

      "When they'd put it in their shirt, I'd ring the silent alarm here under the counter and the Constable would come and arrest them.  But you two were honest about it, so you've passed the audition.  I'll ring the Police and tell them I'm going away for a few days."

      She finished her call and Skin asked, "When you went to put the kettle on, you slipped a tape in the video recorder didn't you?"

      "Right," she said.  "An old lady can't be too careful.  I need people I can trust and this is the only way I could think of finding them."  Her mouth was set and her green eyes firm in their resolution.

      "Doesn't a person have to leave the shop for it to be called theft?" Skin asked.

"No matter.  When the jury sees them hide it under their shirt, they're convinced they intended to leave with it."

      "And the Judge allows this?"

      "He usually agrees in his summing up," she said, smiling like a child whose about to share a secret.  "Judges love setting precedent and getting their names in the paper."

      Still shaken by his near mistake Skin asked, "How long have you been interviewing prospective partners?"

      "It's going on three years now."

      Skin shook his head.

      In July 1998 Time magazine reported:  A 522-year-old leather bound edition of The Canterbury Tales was sold for $7.2 million US Dollars.

ENDS.

 

 

RAUF BOLDEN is an American born in Colorado.  He studied languages at University where he became a polyglot speaking German, French and Dutch.  As a yacht master, he spent twenty years sailing more than 100,000 nautical miles while circumnavigating the planet with his wife Jeannette Dean, an internationally known sailor and writer. They plan to sail around the world again being very much in love while continuing to write fiction and feature articles.  Their motto for life is, "Never Ever Give Up.”