The Abbey and Arch

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Five p.m. and Oswald locked up early. The bookshop hadn't been too busy, but what did you expect in December in Whitby with the icy wind cutting in from the cold North Sea? Still, Oswald had hoped that Belgian bloke would come in about the occult tome he'd been emailing about, but then hadn't showed. Never mind, plenty fish in the sea.

A dodgy geezer called Tizer had come into the bookshop one day with a package under his arm wrapped up in brown paper. Tizer was not the sort of man you'd invite as a houseguest, not unless you wanted your house to be somewhat emptier of your possessions.

He someimes came up with gems, though mostly he brought round trash. Anyway, once unwrapped it seemed that Tizer had managed to get hold of a Renaissance magical grimoire.

Heaven alone knew where Tizer had got it from. Best not ask. But Oswald had sent out feelers on the internet then this man Van Der Veld, though you pronounced it more like Fanderfield popped up out of nowhere and Oswald was gratified to see Fanderfield bloke-o was very interested. Very intersted indeed and prepared to pay top dollar, or top Euro—him being Belgium.

Fanderfield said he was planning to come to Whitby by some massive coincidence. People said a lot of things that turned out to be lies. Being charitable, perhaps not lies but intentions ill-formed and unlikely to come true.

But anyway, Oswald had hoped the guy would turn up today. But he didn't, so he locked the shop.

Gazing at the large front window with its displays of grinning, gleaming books: Harry Potter and Yorkshire Life; murders, spies, horrors and works of avant-garde literature that Oswald hoped would sell but didn't.

Oswald was disappointed by his fellow countrymen and women. He sighed as he turned away from Dempsey's Books. Books were going out of fashion. It was all e-readers and kindles and nooks and all that tosh.

A pint of Riggwelter at the Arch and Abbey would deliver him from ennui. Oswald strolled up a cold and windy Skinner street. The Christmas lights in the shops were lovely. Strings of coloured bulbs criss-crossed the street high above his head.

Oswald was no scrooge. He liked Christmas. He'd even twined a string of cherry bulbs amongst the tomes in his front window, those and a glitter encrusted stag and a little model robin with snow-dust on its back. He'd loved Christmas as a kid, but magic had drained from it somehow with age. Now it seemed to him that Christmas was home to all sorts of self-deceptions, con tricks, family breakdowns and suicides. And with that cheery thought, he pushed open the door to the Arch and Abbey.

The glass panel was misted up, but he heard the hubbub and the moist heat hit him as he dragged open the door against the North Sea wind.The smell of beer and gin with botanicals and perfume cheap or otherwise was strangely welcoming. Apart from Dempsey's Books, the Arch and Abbey was the place he most felt at home. The fact that his little terraced house came third in that list, was rather sad.

He scanned the bar-room. John Hanks was in with Debbie. Oswalded nodded. And Tie-Dye Tim. Oswald nodded again. Tizer wasn't there. This was too high class a haunt for the likes of him, though he did come in sometimes and Oswald guessed that was to surreptitiously sell drugs. Alone on a table, sat Raymond Smith, otherwise Sebastian de la Fontaine as he styled himself, an ageing Goth whose black velvet waistcoat maybe once liked stylish but not looked to be straining, its two buttons fighting and so far winning in the war with his swollen belly.

They were sort of friends.

Sebastian and raised his glass - some cocktail, certainly not a man's drink. Oswald nodded in response but didn't go over. Their relationship ambivalent. They were sort-of rivals. Sebastian ran an odds-and-sods Goth junk shop called The Box of Delights, and occasionally traded in books. Sebastian knew little about books. Oswald snorted. One did not simply become a bookseller on a whim—it was in the blood, in the soul even. Oswald was a proper book-seller. His apprenticeship had been long. For years he was the UK rep for City Lights Books, a San Francisco based publisher specialising in psychology books—particularly Jung.

Oswald's father had been a telecoms engineer before he retired in Edinburgh. Oswald was rootless, having moved around the UK with his family, finished his schooling in Edinburgh, went to University in London, travelled endlessly as a book rep, then he'd bought the shop in Whitby and settled down. He'd liked Whitby, the other choice had been Whitehaven on the opposite coast, but Whitby was better connected to the world.

Still, back to the Arch and Abbey. Oswald jostled to the bar. Waiting by his elbow Blue. Oswald knew of her, had even spoken to her, had even sold her books— Angela Carter's Nights At The Circus if he recalls. Midnight Blue was her full name, a name of art no doubt. And she was artsy, maybe even artful. Blue was a tatooist, working in a parlour (that's what tattoists call their studios) down by the harbour — good too. Oswald didn't have any tattoos and had not really considered getting one until he saw Blue. If only he could think of what he would have tattoed. Perhaps Blue would have an idea. He grinned. She smiled. She was elfin, small, dark-haired, like a young Kate Bush. Blue's eyes were heavily made up in black. Her fingernails long and painted in gel—some sapphire, some emerald and some ruby red.

"Okay?" Oswald said.

Her reply was interrupted by the barman asking Oswald what he wanted and him ordering a pint of Rigwelter. That done, pint in hand, he stopped to listen to her reply. He was interested in her reply, no matter what it was.

"Sure. You?" She said.

He shrugged, nodded, sipped. "Good. Yes, aye. Busy?"

She shrugged. "Slow-ish."

"Me too."

'You'd have thought Christmas would be busy.'

She smiled. 'You mean like with people getting tattoos of Santa and Rudolph?'

He blushed. He didn't know what to say.

He stood around. Blue got her drink— half-sphere glass of gin and tonic with sprigs of herbs and ice and a slice of lemon. Okay for a woman to drink that of course. He considered his pint. She smiled and waved and backed off.

Oswald went and sat next to John and Debbie. They seemed pleased to see him. He had another pint, talked about the NHS and Middlesborough F.C., then he thought he'd better head home. The cat needed fed and if he drank another Rigwelter, he'd want another after that and he had to sell books the next day — or at least try to.

So pints drank down to bubbles around the rim and damp in the bottom, Oswald left the warmth and conviviality of the Arch and Abbey, opened the door, and stepped into the slicing wind. There was an edge on that wind that could cut lead and it came all the way from Germany, and maybe Siberia before that.

Oswald made his lonely way home. At one point there was a gap between the roofs and through it he saw the ruins of the Abbey on the cliff top over the river, and behind the ruins hung a blood-red moon. He thought of all that the abbey had seen: Celtic tribes, Saxon saints and Viking raiders. Not to mention Dracula. He laughed.

Living in Whitby, you can even believe the mythology: the place where Dracula landed. Oswald knew that some people thought he really did. They thought that Dracula was actual fact history rather than an overlong story written by an Irish theatre manager—the best thing Stoker ever wrote by far, in fact.

At the top of Khyber Pass where it joins East Terrace his mobile phone rang. Oswald reached into his pocket, pulled out the phone and the name shining bright was Aoife. He even had her picture.

"Eefie!" he said, made more jocular by the pints of Riggwelter. "How ya doin', sis?"

There was no voice. And then a storm of electronics and then she spoke, but her voice came from miles away.

He frowned. "Where are you, Aoife? Sounds like you're calling from the other side of the world."

She said, "Oswald, Oswald, Oswald..."

The skirling and screeching made it heard to hear her but the quality of her voice gripped him. He had a cold lump in his stomach. "Are you okay, Aoife? You sound weird."

Finally he made out her words. She said, "Get safe, Oswald. They're coming for you."

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