The first time I tasted desire, I was standing in the back corner of the used bookstores on Chartres in New Orleans. That desire was more than I could imagine, it was as though I were in a dream. I saw my hand reach for the bumpy leather binding of the book I had stumbled upon. I felt the soft cordovan binding with the tip of my index finger, sliding along the spine like I would a lover.
I pulled back as though I were burned, but I wanted more. My hand clenched and I licked my dry lips, before biting my bottom lip. The spine was flush with the other books, there wasn’t an edge to grab. If the book wouldn’t come to me, I’d have to go after it. On the left side, I pulled a useless too thick medieval history book, a book on exercise and a hardback copy of Gone with the Wind. The exercise book, I slid on the shelf beneath.
The four fingers of my right hand explored the front cover, bumps, a face, and a… “Ow.” I yanked my hand back to see the blood bubbling out of my middle finger. One step to the right and I glanced the oxblood cover; the shadowy face had two metal teeth in the mouth.
My need was growing and I wanted the book, I pulled three more from the other side of the tome. A biography of a singer that didn’t belong in this section and a civil war book. A voice in my head told me to be calm, not to ask for help or to yell that there is a thing called organization, but even I knew used book stores never excelled at anything close to a system, for all I knew this was the shelf of red books.
The tome remained fixed in its spot, the removal of four or five books on each side would have made even a thick paperback slide over on its pages. This book stood tall and proud. I licked my lips again and leaned in to snap a picture of the cover and then leaned the other way to snap a picture of the back.
I felt hot breath on my neck just as I slid the phone back in my pocket. “Jamie Jones, you are the slowest hunter ever.” His lips were pressed against my left ear, his breath wafted over and smelled of chicory coffee and powdered sugar.
“Ray, no. I… stop, the blood.” Thus, began our adventure together. He always grabbing and me investigating.
I watched as he brought the book close to his face, as his eyes glanced over the book, and he shook his head. “Is this your blood Jamie Jones?” He turned to look at me with disappointment on his face. Or was that fear.
“How was I to know it would have teeth on it?”
“What kind of investigator are you?” He held the spine out to my face. “What does that say?”
“My Latin is rusty, but I think it says Pro studiis hominum, Ray.”
“Right and what I remember from class… its Human tastes?”
“The Tastes of Men.” I said biting my bottom lip.
“Well, it got a taste of you my friend. Maybe it won’t be anything serious.”
“I’m keeping a tally and that’s the tenth lie you’ve told me, Ray.”
His laughter echoed around the bookstore. “Theodore said the book was from the 1800’s, I can’t imagine it being too dangerous.”
“Eleventh.” I pulled out the notebook where I listed what Theodore Wattingham told us about the books he had been seeking. This had the same binding that he’d requested, but the name isn’t one of the eight he listed. “This isn’t on the list, maybe it’s just a journal.”
His heavy hand dropped on my shoulder and that laughter echoed around me once more. “My dear Jamie Jones, you are an optimist. This could just as well be a chef’s grimoire or a witches Book of Shadows.”
“Are you going to open it or just make me beg?” I looked up into his eyes, a look I soon regretted.
This time there was no laughter, but his lips turned up into a grin, his head tilted and he winked. Then he reached across the cover to pull open the front board. The creak reminded me of a long-closed door, or floor board on a much-used stairwell. My eyes copied his as we squinted at the sound.
I glimpsed the cover page, it was hand written in a dark brown ink. “At least it’s not written in blood, it’s brown.” I pointed.
His sigh was one of the things I hated most about him, it contained a sense of superiority. “Did you not learn anything at school?”
“What do you mean, I graduated with honors.”
“But, did you just memorize things or did you study them and ingest them?” He looked down on the page and he nodded a quick jump of his head. “This is dried blood, it dries into a deep dark brown, sometimes if it’s very old it turns black.”
“Ray, I want to say twelfth, that can’t be blood. Maybe it’s chocolate.” I laughed a laugh that even I didn’t believe. That’s the twelfth lie you’ve told yourself Jamie Jones.
“It is blood and below the title page, it’s written in English, poorly spelled English. That what meester Tayler eatz.”
“Still doesn’t mean anything, the teeth on the book could just be an embellishment.”
“Now, Jamie Jones you are lying to yourself.”
“There aren’t vampires, any more than there are ghosts.” I laughed and nudged his finger with my own. “Ow. A Paper cut?”
“This book wants you. That’s two tastes, maybe it’s thirst is slaked?” He smirked.
“No such thing. Twelfth.”
The book didn’t contain recipes, it contained names, dates, times and locations. The pages were decorated like a well-traveled journal, with drawings of things perhaps seen, or places found. Page one had a couple French names. With gold leafed roses and leaves. I was lying to myself when I said the dates had to be faked.
Martinus fili Rheci 1239 Siting near the fountain
Theobald de Brecons 1244 Repairing the wall
Page three had German names with drawings of a castle
Ulrich Bader 1497 Butchering the animals
Wolfgang Fogler 1497 Stoking the fires
Gabriell Pess 1497 Farmer
I turned away.
“Don’t you want to see more Jamie Jones?”
“No… yes, how many pages are there in the book?”
“It looks to be only about twenty pages of writing; all the other pages just have pictures or other artwork. In the middle there are words cut out of books, pasted with definitions written below.”
Before Jamie could close his eyes, Ray stood before him, look the author learned how to write. Mr. Taylor’s delectables, or what he enjoys late at night.
“Delectables isn’t a word, he didn’t learn.”
“No, you are right, the next page he changed it to the men that Mr. Taylor bites before bed.”
“It doesn’t say that.” I looked into those dark cerulean eyes, pleading.
He nodded his head and turned the pages for me to see.
I grabbed it and the pages turned, I screamed and dropped the book.
“What, what is it Jamie Jones.”
“I saw my name.” I backed up against the books. No one came after my scream, maybe we were too far back in the corner, maybe Mr. Taylor was already here or the unnamed calligrapher of the book.
“You didn’t, this is your thirteenth lie. I’ve been keeping track too, you know.” Ray knelt in front of the book and went through the pages. He gulped and shook his head, feigning a laugh. “It’s not your name it was from the 1950’s and it said James Edward.”
I knelt in front of Ray Drown, placed my quivering hand on his shoulder. “That is my name and that’s your thirteenth lie. Open the book.”
It was there in the same script.
James Edward Jones 2018 Looking at books in New Orleans