A Novel Way to Die - By Ali Brandon



Darla Pettistone tossed her single auburn braid over her shoulder and scanned the page again. “Not only do you have a brand-new degree in English literature, but you spent all your holidays and summers working at one of the major book chains. You’ve got retail, and you know the classics. But you do realize that this is a part-time position that you’re interviewing for, right?”

“Part-time would be awesome,” the plump blonde declared and gave an eager smile. “I live with my parents, so there’s no rent to worry about. And in addition to working at the local women’s shelter, I do spend a lot of time involved in community organizing. If there’s a protest in town, I’m there! So I really can’t fit a full-time job into my schedule.”

“Well, I can certainly understand that,” Darla replied, managing not to roll her eyes.

When Darla was Madison’s age—a dozen years ago—she’d locked down a full-time job with a major corporation a good six months before graduating with a business degree. She had paid her own rent on a furnished duplex during most of her college time, managing to also pay off a little compact car a year earlier than her loan schedule. The full scholarship had helped her make ends meet.

And, like Madison, she had worked part-time at a bookstore . . . though Darla’s hours had been after classes and weekends, leaving her scant time to save the red-tailed chipmunks or protest for the universal right to tip jars. Later, she’d kept busy enough at the marketing firm where she worked that her charity efforts had been limited to the annual walks sponsored by her company.

Of course, that had been back home in Dallas. Maybe it was a generational quirk, or maybe things in Brooklyn simply were different. She’d found many such disparities in the eight months since she had inherited the restored brownstone, which housed two apartments as well as her bookstore, Pettistone’s Fine Books.

“All right,” Darla went on, determined not to hold the girl’s off-hours activities against her, “let’s see about your stock knowledge. Suppose I’m a customer looking for that famous book about the girl in overalls, but I can’t remember the author or title. What do you give me?”

“To Kill a Mockingbird?”

“Bingo! What if I want the controversial new novel that my book club is reading?”

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” she replied, her faintly disapproving tone indicating she did not consider it book club material.

Darla nodded. “Very good. Now, the one with a tiger on the cover?”

“The Jungle Book. Oh, wait, no . . . Life of Pi.”

“Last one. How about the book about the guy who fights all the time?”

“The Art of War, by Sun Tzu,” Madison answered with a triumphant smile.

Darla smiled back. “I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. You seem to be just what we’re looking for.”

Then she sobered and added, “There’s just one thing more. We have a shop cat, and he’d have to approve you first before I could consider hiring you. His name is Hamlet.”


Darla shook her head. If someone composed a soundtrack to her life at the shop, then every mention of Hamlet would be accompanied by shrieking violins and an ominous dum-dum-DUM stinger. A stereotypical bookstore feline would curl picturesquely in a wicker basket near the front door and greet customers with a purr. But Hamlet stalked the shelves like a miniature Genghis Cat, black fur gleaming and green eyes as cold and sparkling as emeralds. The store’s regulars all knew the drill—knew, as well, where they stood in his feline rankings—while first-time shoppers quickly learned their places in the hierarchy.

Big spenders, once-a-week customers, and those who read classic literature got the paw print of approval, meaning they were allowed to fawn over him and occasionally scratch his chin. Genre fiction readers (unless they fell into the big-spend, once-weekly category) were not allowed to touch him, though he would condescend to send a small meowrmph their way in appreciation for their business. Customers who shopped once a month made up the next lower tier, meaning they were tolerated, and nothing more (though, on days when he was in a particularly good feline mood, he might deign to give them a whisker flick). Those who attempted to return their purchases got his patented Cat Stare of Death and moved down a notch from whatever rank they’d previously held.

Unabashed browsers and magazine-only customers were treated to his kiss-off treatment: a flop on the floor followed by one