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"It's already fixed," Ron said, holding up five fingers. The repair had cost five dollars (a loose brake caliper spring had been rubbing the wheel rim). The books were reasonable too. I happily bought fifteen books there, two of which quickly paid for the whole lot and the car repair. Red Suspenders' wife cashed me out and told us about a barn up the road that was having a sale.

We didn't find much there, but that reminds me of another summer when we stopped at an antique shop about 50 miles from home in the middle of nowhere. Though it was a very small shop, I found two or three nice books that were both collectible and affordable. As I was checking out, I handed the woman my business card. She asked me if I'd be interested in seeing some really nice books. "Okay, I'll bite," I said. She brought out several very nice first edition Oz books by Frank Baum, which she had duly priced at full market value. I cooed over them, but explained that as much as I wanted to buy the books, booksellers can't afford to pay collectors' prices; we have to find books the same way she probably did.

She glanced at her husband, who was hovering nearby. "Should we tell them?" He shrugged, then nodded. She whipped out a map from under the counter. "This guy probably isn't going to be in business much longer," she said in a low voice. "He's got a real mess of books, all in a jumble. It's a kind of crummy warehouse-type affair."

We were all ears. We thanked them for the tip and headed for our new goal some twenty miles away. "Bill," this book fellow, was apparently in some kind of rehabilitation program, and his brother had set him up with a book business in a big empty building out behind the brother's antique shop. We found Bill and his little dog Rags watching a small black-and-white TV in a makeshift room: the walls were stacks of books in the center of the concrete-block warehouse. He wasn't much interested in books, but he was friendly enough, smoking and scratching and chatting, but leaving us pretty much on our own to comb through the crooked shelves and boxes. He told us he had gaylords (huge, six-foot boxes) of books coming in, but we never learned his source. I noticed that no prices were marked. He explained that all the books were either $2 or $1, depending on whether they were thick or thin.

We'd been in there about twenty minutes when Ron popped up from behind some boxes. Sometimes when he tries to get my attention, I'm guilty of waving him off with one hand and mumbling "Yeah, just give me a minute." But when he starts dancing the Macarena backward down the aisle singing "We're Going to the Islands" it tends to draw my attention. Normally he's a bit more subtle. "Hmmm, I wonder if this is a thin one," he said. With a little swoop of his arm he produced a fine, first edition, early printing of The Catcher in the Rye in a near-perfect unclipped dustjacket. He had found the book in a corner you couldn't possibly get to unless you were, well, flexible. We felt we had to check with the guy on this one. "Yup," he said as he turned it from side to side, "I'd say that's a thin one." Well now, it hasn't gotten us to the islands (at least not the ones Ron had in mind), but it was definitely a boost.

We bought several boxes of excellent books that day, both thick and thin, and came back a few weeks later for more. We loved Bill's hours. He was open until 10 p.m., or later if he was suffering from insomnia. (This was our idea of a fun evening out.) Sadly, when we returned the next year, the warehouse was dark and empty. When we checked next door, we were told simply that he "got bored with the book business." Good fishin' holes do come and go.

Wherever you go on your book scouting expeditions, enjoy the trip! Strike up a conversation with the people you meet. They often will lead you to the next remarkable discovery. At the very least, they will certainly make your journey more memorable. Take advantage of serendipitous events. As Craig says, "Books are everywhere" . . . and so must you be! Hope you'll be dancing in the aisles soon.

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Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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