By Alan L. Chrisman
It was when SHE walked into my shop that it all first began. You see, I’m THE BOOK DETECTIVE. You could say, I’m a bit of an archaeologist; my business is finding old artifacts called-books. For those out there who were born after the 20th century and the internet, I guess I should maybe explain what books were. In our present time, the late 21st century, of course, books have long been replaced by other technologies and everyone when born is implanted with a special computer chip which contains all the information for a lifetime or, if needed, they can be uploaded with new information annually. But in the old days, people actually used a physical copy on which they wrote their stories and facts which was printed on paper and bound together and they were called books. And that’s where my business comes in, there are still fortunately a few collectors left, a minority admittedly, still willing to pay for these artifacts.
I myself have always been especially partial to and collected a special genre of writing from the last century, in the 1940’s and 19 50’s called hard-boiled detective novels and in some movies based on those writings, named film noir. There is one particular woman which is considered the classic icon of those times, named Veronica Lake. She often played the sexy, enigmatic role which came to be known as the Femme Fatale. And one of my fantasies has been to one day actually meet a real Femme Fatale.
One cold, windy October day, SHE came into my little antiquarian bookstore. SHE looked plain on the outside, with big thick glasses. SHE told me she was a librarian and SHE looked the stereotype, quiet and shy. I seemed to also have a fantasy about librarians too (for they also liked books and kept them on file for posterity as well as some of the museums). SHE said her name was Veronica, just like my long-time fantasy from the noir films. But despite her looking like a librarian, I couldn’t help but notice her small breasts peeking through her pink blouse, with the beginnings of an intriguing tattoo visible (I had a thing for them too- tattoos I mean, my dad had run a tattoo parlour, so I had grown up with them all around me). So underneath that prim exterior, there was also a sensual side to this intriguing woman, maybe hidden- but there. And looking back now, I think it was that combination of innocence on the outside and sexiness below that first captivated me from the very first time I met her.
Still it surprised me when the book she was looking for was by an infamous 19th Century writer, Marquis de Sade, known for his erotic S & M writings. I happened to have a regular customer who collected his books. I told her he might be willing to sell the title she wanted, but that he was away in Europe and wouldn’t be back for several weeks. But she started to come in often to my shop and we’d talk about books, etc. SHE always seemed to wear at least something pink, and I thought it made her look more feminine and pretty. In that time, Veronica and I got to know each other better and better. We had good times and laughed a lot. It was great to watch her come out of herself. There was a certain naivete about her, almost like a child, that was unusual and refreshing, in these cynical days, we seem to live in today. Before long, I was falling in love with her. And she knew it and would let me be affectionate with her. It was clear she liked me too.
Each visit, she would reveal more and more to me. And on one visit, she admitted she was married. I’d always thought she was single, as she hadn’t mentioned anything before. Then she broke down and cried and said she was also in trouble and needed help. This is the way SHE told it: It seemed that when her marriage had been having some problems, she had gotten involved with another man and had had an affair. This man had claimed to Veronica that he was a painter, he had even taken the name of the famous 18th Century Impressionist , calling himself, Monet. She later found out that this guy, Jack Monet, was a painter alright, but the only thing he had been trained to paint was houses. But not before he had somehow convinced Veronica in her emotional state and naivete to pose for him, wearing nothing but her tattoos. And that was the trouble she was in. For now he was now threatening to expose the affair and her painting to her still husband and children, unless she paid him $10,000.
There had been a craze in the beginnings of the 21st Century called nude selfies-where people would send nude photos of themselves to each other. It had started out with teenagers, but soon everyone was doing it-parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, employees, bosses, etc. But a reaction had occurred with all the blatant nudity, and as has often occurred throughout history, the exposing of and which parts of the human body, had gone through many pendulum swings, and it was no longer cool to publically expose oneself (which is why the painting was so threatening to Veronica). We had studied, in school, the brief craze of nude selfies back then, as an example of a silly fad and mass hysteria, and as with all fads, it had soon exhausted itself, and had disappeared by 2016. Besides, in those old days, people had believed diet, exercise, and stress affected aging, but we now know that, actually, aging is mainly caused by cosmic rays from space and as long as we wear our cosmic suits we could, most of us, live to be 200.
But Veronica didn’t have the money to pay the blackmailer and she didn’t know what she was going to do. I could see the jam she was in and I loved her. I didn’t have the money either. But I wanted to help this poor, innocent woman. The world had treated her badly, and it wasn’t her fault. So here was my chance to rescue her and show her how much I loved her, at the same time.
So then I came up with a plan. While the collector of the Marquis book was still in Europe, I could break into his place and steal it and we could sell it on the black market for at least that much. The next week, on a moonless night, I did break into the collector’s house and I managed to steal it. We soon found a willing collector out of town, willing to pay what we asked, and with no questions asked. I then met with the sleazy pretend-Monet painter and we paid him off and got her nude painting back and told him if he ever bothered her again, he’d regret it.
To celebrate after all this, Veronica and I made love, and as I suspected, she was no librarian in bed. She showed me sides of myself I didn’t know I even had. She also admitted to me later that night, that SHE, this shy little librarian, also worked part-time as a dominatrix. Now her wanting that Marquis de Sade book made sense.
Veronica and I were finally free, we thought. But a couple months later, the police came to visit my bookstore. I didn’t think much about it; I figured they were just checking to see if anyone had tried to sell the stolen Marquis. But it was worse than I thought. That fake Monet guy, had tipped off the police on us, anonymously, and had skipped the country to Europe (where he would no doubt try to take Picasso’s name).
I went to court and I had to admit that it had been my plan. SHE turned prosecution evidence against me, when they threatened to charge her too, in exchange for testifying against me. SHE got off scot-free and is back working at the library (and on weekends as a dominatrix, evidently still).
Me, I’m here in prison, serving my time, and writing this story. Let this be a warning, be careful what you fantasize about; it might just come true. I met my Femme Fatale. And there was an expression back when there were books, which I guess, still applies- YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!
P.S. The picture of my Femme Fatale, Veronica, above, is actually of Elaine May, a comedienne of the 20th Century, who was in the famous comedy duo, Mike Nicholas and Elaine May in the 1950’s and 60’s. The photo is of her nerdy character from the 1971 film, A New Leaf, with Walter Matthau who plans to murder her for her money, but falls in love with her instead. It’s a comedy classic, which partly inspired my above story.
See video excerpts below from "A New Leaf " Film:
(1950's & 60's) Elaine May/Walter Matthau