The tall, gangly customer with graying hair was holding a trade paperback over his head and shaking it like a revival preacher.
“What did you say?” the bookstore clerk asked him.
“I said someone in this store is putting the price labels over the authors’ pictures on these books!” He pushed the book toward the clerk. “On every book!”
“That is one book,” the clerk said.
“But it’s not the only book,” the customer replied. “It’s every book in the store!”
“You’re saying you looked at every book in the store?” the clerk asked.
“I looked at enough,” the customer said, “so I drew some conclusions.”
“I think you jumped to conclusions. You are mistaken,” the clerk said. “That is not our policy.”
“Come to the shelves!” the customer insisted. “I’ll show you!”
“I can’t leave the register,” the clerk said.
“This is important,” the customer said. “It is a matter of credit. A matter of identity.”
The clerk’s eyes narrowed. “It’s a fucking sticker!” he exclaimed. “And you, sir, are an enthusiast.”
“Don’t talk down to me,” the customer replied. “I have credentials!”
“And I have customers,” the clerk said. “Please step aside.”
“This isn’t over! You have a job to do!” the customer shouted as he stepped off line, making a big show of scratching the price tag off the back cover of the book he was holding. The label peeled easily off of the photo of the author which turned out to be the customer himself. He dropped the book on the counter near the register.
“See that, shitass?” the author asked.
The clerk saw that. “You have committed blatant vandalism!” he exclaimed.
“Your grandma undressed for sailors,” the author replied.
By now the customers lining up at the register observed the back-and-forth as though it were a spirited tennis match.
“My grandmother,” the clerk shouted, “was a suffragette!”
“She was a whore,” the author said. “A communist whore.”
“Bastard!” the clerk screamed and leapt from behind the counter. His knee caught on the edge and he fell straight down hitting the floor head first. A security guard ran over to help the clerk up and also restrain him.
“Let’s break this up,” said the security guard. “Manager called the cops.”
“Mind your business, Albert!” the clerk said to him before turning back to the author. “You piece of shit! I’ll have you arrested!”
“Please do. My name is Wells,” the author answered. “And I will come back here every day and remove every goddamned label on every goddamned book that is covering every goddamned author’s picture. You’re not going to get away with this.”
“You’re crazy!” the clerk said, straining against the much larger security guard’s hold on him.
“The authorities will no doubt be interested in the identity theft going on in here,” Wells said loudly.
“I will have you compelled!” the clerk yelled.
“Quit talking like a faggot,” the author said as he turned toward the exit. “This isn’t Europe.”