|Fiction's Egyptologist does a book signing in just such a London bookshop - a scene from my novel "The Ibis Apocalypse"|
ANSON looked at his watch, again. He was waiting in the lamplit interior of an occult bookshop in London and longed to be somewhere else.
A sign in the window said:
MEET ANSON HUNTER
Alternative Egyptologist and author of ‘The Secret Stela of Destiny’ (11 – 12 noon)
“You can sign a few more copies, if you like.”
It was the bookseller speaking, a saturnine lady who presided from a table near the back. She had the air of a spirit guide channeling the mystical wisdom of the books in her shop. Did she conduct Tarot card readings back there?
“We don’t charge our customers extra for signed copies of our books, not like the Americans,” she said.
But her sales strategy wasn’t working, he thought. The place was packed, but only with books.
Any general bookstore would be better than this, even The British Museum’s Bookshop, situated just a stone’s throw from this occult-New Age establishment. Or should that be a crystal’s throw? The scent of incense laced the atmosphere of the bookshop like a mystical cobweb. Depressing. A bookshop should have a whiff of imagination, mental rigour and print, he thought, not of dreamy nirvana.
So close, and yet so far from mainstream acceptance, in fact he was a long way from any acceptance right now. Few took him seriously. Here he was, still alive, after his last obsessive quest in Egypt and the world went on. Had he been mistaken in his fears about the reactivation of an ancient curse of destruction in the Hathor Holocaust affair? Maybe not, if global scorching and the increase in the frequency and severity of global disasters and chaos were any guide. But who believed him? Then there was a resealed tomb that he must one day decide whether to reveal to the world or at least revisit.
But right now he was chasing a new and even more sinister obsession about danger from the ancient past - the Destiny Stela, subject of his latest book.
A pile of his new books sat ignored among others on a book table beside him, the cover showing a stone relief of the ibis-headed Thoth, ancient Egypt’s god of writing and magic, or heka. Narrow paper tags ran across the covers and carried the bookstore’s New Age logo and the words ‘signed copy’. Anson had signed a batch lingeringly to pass the time.
He glanced around the shelves with eyes that normally held an obsessive light, but now appeared morose. Which books would The Secret Stela of Destiny end up rubbing covers with? That one over there about the eternally lost continent of Atlantis and the ten plagues of Egypt, or that one about the pyramids going unrecognised as ancient power plants? Dispiriting.
The bookseller revealed the skills of a clairvoyant.
“I’ll be putting you in the ‘mystery history’ section, following the launch period,” she said, “in case you’re wondering.”
The information did little to cheer him.
The shop door opened and a man swept in. Was he a prospect for a signed copy of his book?
The new arrival brought a swirl of cold air and turbulence into the shop with him, like a man in a hurry. Perhaps the blue Lufthansa travel bag slung over his shoulder gave a clue. On the other hand, he could just be anxious to get his hands on a signed copy of Anson’s new book.
Anson reminded himself that the Germans were pillars of Egyptology and he tried to engage the newcomer. But the man barely paused to meet Anson’s stare, before checking out the bookseller at the back of the shop. Then he ran a hand over sparse blond hair before directing his attention to the shelves where he began to browse among the books.
Anson felt his shoulders sink. Right at that moment, he could almost have exchanged his life as a renegade Egyptologist, theorist and phenomenologist working in the shadows of the sacred and mysterious, for the ivory tower of respectability.
He thought about signing another copy of his book and wondered how long he could stretch out the scrawling of another signature. Perhaps he could include a written message inside:
Dear New Age/occult reader, Here’s hoping my book puts the fear of God into you.
But wait, all was not lost. The browser was working his way around the book table. He was approaching and making eye contact.
“Mr Anson Hunter, the Egyptologist? I am hearing that you are signing books today,” the man said in a low voice, speaking in accented, present continuous English.
“I am. In fact I have been.” He picked up a book to hand it over. “Here’s one I prepared earlier.”
The man made no attempt to take the book. “I do not want it,” he said, shaking his head.
“You don’t want it signed?”
German. Maybe he’d prefer a pure copy without Anson’s seismographic graffiti inside.
“No, I do not want your book for me. I do not like it.”
“Maybe try a few pages before you decide.”
“I do not study Egyptology.”
So a little author adulation was out of the question, Anson thought.
“It is about my grandfather that I come here.”
Anson did some arithmetic. The answer was not encouraging. Judging by the gift-shopper’s age, the grandfather would have to be pretty decrepit by now.
“Your grandfather likes Egyptology?”
The man shook his head again.
“He is dead.”
Past tense. No grandfather. He failed to see where this was going.
“Then a suggestion. My book could make a doorstop. You could cover it in a funky fabric and sit it at the front door.”
The man took a notepad and a pen out of a coat pocket and began to scribble.
“I write my name here - it is German and maybe uneasy to spell.”
An autograph from a reader? No, make that a nonreader. This was certainly unexpected. The man wrote and wrote. A long name evidently. Finally he tore the message off the pad and slipped it to him, throwing a guarded glance at the bookseller.
Anson read it.
I am Reiner Faltinger. In Berlin I have clues for your search. We talk more on the Internet.
Anson shrugged. “You’re going to have to give me a clue...”