Lest They Trample Them Under Their Feet ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
His name was Ernest Pesto. He didn’t look the type to deal in books. He was tall, fat, stoop-shouldered, dressed in work clothes. He looked more like a plumber or an auto mechanic.
He knocked on the door and Edith Biggerstaff let him in. She was a small woman with fluttery hands, soft-spoken and unassertive.
“You got books to sell?” Ernest Pesto said.
“They were my husband’s,” Mrs. Biggerstaff said. “He always wanted lots of books. I’m moving to a smaller place, so I thought…”
“I ain’t got all day, you know.”
She led him to the back of the house, to the “den,” where the books were. She opened the door, turned on the light, and gestured. Voila!
From floor to ceiling were shelves of books, all neatly arranged according to author and type of book. In one section were all the classic fiction books, then a section for contemporary fiction, one for poetry, one for biography, history, nonfiction, and so on.
Ernest Pesto gave a noncommittal grunt.
“I never knew much about books,” Mr. Biggerstaff said. “I think some of them are valuable. Some have been signed.”
“Signed?” Ernest Pesto asked.
“By the person who wrote them. For years and years my husband went to book signings and bought a lot of the latest books.”
“I don’t care about no signed books,” Ernest Pesto said. “They’re not worth no money.”
“Oh, I thought…”
“I pay two hundred for the lot.”
“I say I pay two hundred dollars for all these here books in this room. Are the bookcases for sale, too?”
“Wait a minute,” Mrs. Biggerstaff said. “I thought you were an expert on books.”
“Yeah, that’s me,” he said.
“How can you look at all these books and, without even taking one off the shelf and opening it, say that all together they’re worth only two hundred dollars?”
“They always have time to quibble about price,” Ernest Pesto said into the air above his head. “I give you two-fifty and that’s as high as I go.”
Mrs. Biggerstaff twisted her hands together. “Well, I’m afraid they’re not for sale at that price. I think they’re worth a lot more than that. There are hundreds of books here. Are you saying you’ll only pay pennies for each book?”
“That’s the price. That’s the best I can do. I’ll tell you, though. You won’t get a better price no place else.”
“I thought you’d look at each book separately and assess its value. I thought it would take time and careful consideration for you to arrive at a price.”
“I haven’t got time for that!”
“I think you’re just a junk dealer and you don’t know anything about books. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for misleading people.”
He sighed and pulled a book off its shelf and opened it. “This is just an old book,” he said. “People don’t pay big prices for crap like this. I’m a businessman. I can’t pay you money for stuff that nobody will ever buy.”
“Forget it then. If that’s all they’re worth, I’d rather donate them to the library.”
“Two hundred and fifty dollars,” he said. “Who do you want me to make check payable to?”
“I’m not selling them for that. I’m sure they’re worth a lot more than that.”
“You said you don’t know nothing about books.”
“I said I don’t know much about books. I know that a roomful of books is worth more than two hundred and fifty dollars.”
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, miss. You don’t get me all the way out here for nothing. We made a deal and you can’t back out of it now.”
“I didn’t make any such deal!”
He scribbled out a check and tried to hand it to her. When she refused to take it, he slapped it down on the desk.
“I get these books loaded up and be out of your way in no time,” Ernest Pesto said.
He grabbed an armload of books. “I have crates in my truck,” he said. “I’ll load books in crates and then use my dolly to take them out. Won’t be a jiffy.”
“If you take one book out of his house, I’m calling the police,” Mrs. Biggerstaff said.
He stopped with the books in his arms and faced her. “What’s the matter with you?” he said. “You made a deal and I’m not going to let you go back on it!”
“I made no such deal! You’re just trying to take advantage of me. You know as well as I do that all of these books all together are worth a lot more than two hundred and fifty dollars.”
“How you stop me from taking books?” he said. “You have books to sell. I buy books. You made a deal. You call the police, they laugh at you.”
He went out of the house carrying as many books as he could and threw them into the back of his truck. In a minute he was back in the house with two large wooden crates. He took the crates into the den and began loading them.
“I want you to take your check back,” she said, standing behind him. “And I want you to leave my house.”
“You talk crazy,” he said, smiling up at her. “I have all these books out of your way and loaded into my truck before you know it.”
“You don’t seem to understand simple English,” she said.
She tore the check up and threw the pieces at the back of his head.
“Is that any way to behave?” he asked.
“There’s no deal here. I’m not letting you take my husband’s book collection for two hundred and fifty dollars.”
He stood up, towering over her. “You going to stop me?” he said. “You little tiny woman. I’m big strong man. Now, how about if you stand aside and let me get these books loaded up and be on my way?”
“If my son was here, he’d stop you!” she said.
Eugene Pesto looked around the room and laughed. “I don’t see no son,” he said. “But I bet if he was here he’d say you made a deal fair and square and you can’t back out on it now.”
“You’re not taking the books!” she said.
“Looks like I already am.”
She went to the phone to call the police and when a voice answered, she blurted incoherently that a man was in her house, robbing her of her husband’s valuable book collection. When the person on the phone asked for her address, she wasn’t able to give it; she was too rattled. When she realized that Eugene Pesto was in the house again with his dolly, she dropped the phone and ran upstairs to her bedroom.
Books weren’t the only things her husband had left her. He was also the proud owner of several handguns. She kept one of them in the drawer of the nightstand, loaded, ever since she heard about a prowler in the neighborhood.
Holding the loaded gun steadily in her right hand, she went back down the stairs. Eugene Pesto had just taken a load out to his trick and was coming back into the house. When he saw the gun leveled at him, he laughed.
“Oh, come on, now!” he said. “There’s no need for that! I’m a reasonable man. I pay you three hundred dollars for books! Will that make you happy? Isn’t that fair price?”
“I want you to bring in the books that you’ve already stolen and put them back where you found them and get out of my house,” she said, holding the gun in both hands. “I’ve already called the police and they’re on their way.”
“I don’t believe you, lady, and I don’t believe you’d shoot me in a million years!”
On his next load out to his truck, she shot him in the back. He sprawled on the edge of the lawn near the sidewalk. When he tried to get up, she shot him in the head.
“Swine!” she said. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
A neighbor across the street came running when she heard the gunshots. “What was that?” she said. When she saw Eugene Pesto lying on the edge of the lawn covered in blood, all she could do was stand and look at him.
“He was stealing from me,” Mrs. Biggerstaff said to the neighbor. “I warned him but he wouldn’t stop.”
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp