The Vault

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Authors: Peter Lovesey
Mr Heath, he retired a long time ago. It must be ten years, at least. The business closed down altogether, which was a pity, because it was a smashing little shop, an absolute treasure house for book-lovers."
    "Do you know what happened to him?"
    "Mr Heath? He's still about. I see him in the library sometimes, elderly now, but very upright still. I can't tell you where he lives."
    "Maybe the library can. Where is it?" Persistence was one of Joe's virtues, though some would argue that it was the other thing. He looked at his watch. Donna would still be testing the endurance of the shoeshop staff.
    The library assistant he spoke with said they weren't allowed to pass on addresses, but it was quite possible that the information he wanted was on the shelves. Her eyes slid sideways, towards the section where the phone directories were. Why the British never said what they meant in simple words, Joe had never fathomed. But the information was helpful. The only O. Heath listed in Bath lived in Queen Square. He didn't need to ask for directions. He had his pictorial map. It would just be a short walk.
    * * *
    THE VOICE came loud and clear over the answerphone: "Do I know you, Professor?"
    "I'm afraid you don't, sir. I'm from Columbus, Ohio, and I recently bought a book that—"
    "A book? Come up straight away. First floor, first left," the voice cut in.
    A tall, silver-haired gentleman in brown corduroys and a black polo-neck was standing at his open door. He extended a hand. "Oliver Heath. I'd better say at once that I've given up dealing, but I do enjoy meeting another book man."
    Joe was shown into an apartment that might easily have passed for a bookshop. A couple of the floor-to-ceiling shelves had ornaments and family photographs, but otherwise only the spines of books were showing. Good books, too, many in fine bindings.
    "Do you specialise?" Oliver Heath asked. "As you see, I go in for criminology and the theatre. You'd be surprised how much overlap there is."
    Joe had the precious copy of Milton's poems under his arm. He took it from its paper bag. "Then I begin to understand how you were able to part with this one, sir. It falls outside your main interests."
    "May I see?" The old man took a pair of half-glasses from his pocket. Handling the book with the care of a specialist, he glanced at the cover, opened it, found his sticker inside, examined the title page and leafed through the rest. "The one-volume Dr Johnson edition. I do remember this one. I suppose I remember most of the books I acquired over the years. I can't tell you what I paid for it, but it was on my shelf for a good long time. Not in the best of condition. I expect I disposed of it when I gave up the business in Union Passage. Where did you find it?"
    "At Hay-on-Wye."
    This was cause for a smile. "Sooner or later everything of no special distinction seems to end up there." He handed back the book.
    Joe felt insulted. He had not intended to point out to Oliver Heath that the find of all finds had slipped through his hands. He had no wish to inflict unnecessary pain. But that condescending phrase "of no special distinction" caught him off guard. He reacted instinctively. "Sir, I wouldn't have thought Mary Shelley's personal copy of Milton was without distinction."
    The smile faded. Oliver Heath gave a prim tug at his spectacles. "May I see it again?"
    "Certainly."
    A longer inspection. He took the book closer to a desk-lamp. "I take it that the hand-writing on the cover leads you to assume it belonged to Mary Shelley?"
    Joe nodded. "Those were her initials before she married and that was her address."
    "She lived in Bath?"
    "She wrote Frankenstein in Bath, or most of it."
    Oliver Heath became conciliatory. "Strange. I didn't know that. Here I am purporting to be a bookseller and I didn't know that."
    "You're in good company," said Joe. "It's a piece of information you have to go looking for. People with a special interest in the Shelleys know about it, but for

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