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Nine (part 4)

 
Joe Spivey's picture
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Freed from another hot afternoon in the factory, Casper Onetooth and Worms lost no time in putting distance between them and any chance of being called back.

The first and most obvious destination where they could spend Joe’s money was the square and that’s where the three boys headed. However, before even reaching the busy market area Casper slowed to a halt and let the other two gain a few metres on him. He had had an idea.

“Hey, you guys go on. I’ll catch up okay?”

Onetooth and Worms were already in discussion about what to buy and only just acknowledge Casper before continuing on their way.

Casper watched them disappear around a corner before heading down Milton and turned right onto Santa Fe. Crossing to the shady side of the street, but keeping safely to the kerb, Casper made his way towards Finny’s new favourite hangout.

In the bookshop, Mr Trent avoided looking up from the counter for as long as he could and hoped the boy would go away. It was the squeak of skin against glass that eventually dragged him away from repairing the cover of one of his latest acquisitions. Only then did he recognise the boy to be one of Finny’s companions and it was only this fact that stopped him from chasing the urchin off before his window became opaque with greasy finger marks.

Realising he was being watched, Casper bit the proverbial bullet and entered the bookshop. Nervous habit making note of several possible escape routes should the man cut him off from the door, Casper approached the counter.

Mr. Trent stood up straight and waited.

Casper sniffed, scratched under an arm… And also waited.

It was the shopkeeper who gave in first.

“Can I help you?”

Even before the question mark appeared Casper replied.

“I wanna buy a book.”

Forestalling the creeping déjà vu, Mr. Trent put both hands, palms down, on top of the counter and took a breath.

“Do you know the title of the book? Do you know who wrote it? Is it for you or a gift…”

“A gift!”

The deepening colour of the little boy’s cheeks told the shopkeeper the story as well as any descriptive paragraph in a book. His expression softened.

“For Finny?”

Casper stared at him.

“Um… Yes.” He swallowed. “But I dunno what one to get and I’ve only got five blue, see.” Casper held out his hand to reveal the five cracked and faded chips.”

The uncharitable side of Mr. Trent briefly wondered where the boy had thieved so much cash from. But buying books wasn’t high on most people’s survival agendas so Mr. Trent wasn’t going to turn five blue away even if they were dripping blood and the body was laying in the street outside. Consequently, the smile remained fixed on his face.

“Well, let’s see.” Putting aside the book he was working on, Mr. Trent leaned down and retrieved another from under the counter. “This is what Finny is reading at the moment.” He placed the book face down on the counter and turned it for Casper to see.

Though sun bleached and stained and its spine taped over with that same sticky cloth stuff that Nurse Maisie used on bandages, the title was still readable. Thee cover showed a picture of a teenage girl who, for some reason, was kneeling in a field at night and holding a big old clock. Casper’s lips moved silently as he read the title. ‘The Secret of the Old Clock: A Nancy Drew Mystery.’

Above him, the shopkeeper was talking.

“Finny was reading books about the ‘Famous Five’. Stories about four children and their dog who went on adventures together.” He smiled wryly. “But she seems to have lost interest in those after your recent escapades.”

Casper held up the book with the girl on the cover.

“Can I buy this?”

“Well you can,” the shopkeeper scratched his ear. “But I think Finny has nearly finished reading it.”

Casper’s face fell.

“Oh.” He thought for a moment. “Well, what about one like it that she hasn’t read yet?”

Mr. Trent looked down at the boy’s new eagerness.

“Ahhhh. Again, there is a problem there. I’m not sure which of the series she has read, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to disappoint your young lady by buying her a book she has recently completed.”

Once more Casper’s face fell, this time into a frustrated frown.

“Mmmm.”

The two of them contemplated in silence for a moment until the shopkeeper had an idea.

“Follow me please.”

Casper followed Mr. Trent to a corner where a small section of shelves held paper and writing supplies. He bent down and lifted what looked like a thick leather-bound book.

“What about this?” He handed it to the boy.

Casper untied the leather thong that held the book closed and flipped through the pages.

“Huh? They’re all empty. Where’s the story?”

Mr. Trent grinned.

“Ahhh, that’s the beauty of this book. This is called a journal, and the story has yet to be written.” The man watched Casper stroking the soft velum pages. “Perhaps the next time you and your friends go off adventuring Miss Finny could write it down so that the story is remembered.”

Casper looked up, intrigued at the idea of being in a book.

“What do you mean.”

The shopkeeper, warming to his idea, picked up a similar book from the stack on the shelf.

“As you have noticed, the pages are not paper. They are made from a thing called velum, and velum will keep its words long after paper pages have turned to dust. There are documents written on velum over a thousand years old and still very readable.” His smile broadened and Mr. Trent raised an hand as if to frame some imagined scene. “Long after you and Finny are dead, your story will live on.”

Casper’s imagination was captured.

“How much?” He breathed.

“For you, how about your five blue chips… And I’ll throw in a sheet of wrapping left over from Valentine’s Day.” He reached behind him and produced a sheet of pink paper decorated with red hearts.

Casper made a small sound in the back of his throat then eagerly handed over his chips.

Meanwhile, in the square…



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