Abingdon & Son is a split-level book shop in Covent Garden. It’s address is 23 St. Martin’s Court. It’s not in Cecil Court or Bookseller’s Row. No tranquil pedestrian streets with charming Victorian frontages. It’s not even on St. Martin’s Lane. No, it’s on a tight narrow street, almost an afterthought. It’s not a bad area. It’s certainly not Seven Dials. It’s just not a prime location…without even another bookseller on the block.
It looks old and tired. The paint is green and peeling. The walls are scratched and scuffed. The last “S” in Abingdon & Sons has been pried off, leaving a bare spot on the wall. The basement has a funny odor. Abingdon & Son smells of old books, old people, chemicals, heroic amounts of tobacco, and too strong tea. On the main level is a desk with a wooden gate around it. On the desk is a telephone and piles of books to be processed. A stolen library chair rests behind the desk. In the back corner is a work area piled high with books in various states of disrepair. Patients waiting to be mended. Maps and pictures waiting to be cut out. Copies waiting to be made. In the back are stairs going down into the basement and up to the apartments. The basement is used for storage. It’s where the rubbish goes. And the cat pisses. And the safe rests. It’s a sturdy safe. Beyond this, there are books…everywhere. Books of magic and of the occult. Legends and stories and Truths. Books on shelves. Books in piles. Books on chairs and tables and the floor. One might wonder if there is a desk and a tables and a safe still there because the books haven’t claimed them yet. They’re certainly beginning their consumption.
It’s said that Abingdon & Son (with bare patch) was once Abingdon and Sons. They say that the Old Man opened the place with his 2 young sons. Someday it would be their place..for their children. But then The American came and stole the oldest boy’s heart. He left for California or some such place. That’s when the “s” came off. When the War took the youngest Son, he didn’t have the heart to touch the sign again. He barely had the energy to run the business. Some days he didn’t open. When he did, he insulted the clientele. Soon, the place had fallen into it’s current state. A sign in the corner of a window proclaimed it “The Only Dead Elephant in the Fair”. It had become a bookseller that wouldn’t buy or sell books. When he died, it was left in the hands of the boy that fixed the books, a Hungarian hanger-on, and the Old Man’s American granddaughter.