The boy hadn’t ever stolen from this bookstore, yet.
That he could remember.
Most days if he found himself wanting a book he wander down to the market to grab some without anyone raising a fuss. He could even snatch some free fruit and maybe pastry along the way. As it happened, on this afternoon the boy had been expanding his daily meandering into a new part of the city, looping through blocks with little attention paid to the people filling the sidewalk around him, neck craned up at the rooftops around downtown.
Bookstores, of course, were a different thing, so when the boy had walked past this store he had stolen a quick glance through the glass to see a large display table in the center of the store’s entranceway which caught his roving eye in a way so few buildings had. It was such an unusual feeling that it took the boy a moment to recognize the sensation of familiarity.
The display appeared devoted to myths and fairy tales. In his quick, snatched glance the boy’s attention had caught on the cover of one of the books near the bottom of the display and not in the center, bearing a diminutive character with a fierce grin standing alone in a huge cave. This person drove back the darkness around him not by having a light but by being alight, holding up a hand sheathed in flame.
The title of the book was, “Tales of the Trickster” and beneath the lone figure on the cover read a single word: Loki.
Now, it should be said that if one happened to be a child who loved books living in one of the sprawling cities of the last century before the Ascension, there were very few cities better suited to supply your needs than Seattle.
The Emerald City, glistening on the western edge of the western world, was in many ways the standard to which those great megapolae of the last groundbound century aspired. Vibrant and alive, the cultured urban density was strewn with bookstores, coffee shops, bars, and every conceivable juxtaposition of the three.
Book depositories sat squat next to the mailboxes on corners downtown. The pockets of suburbanity tucked among the nooks of the Five Lakes and crannies of the Seven Hills were dotted with little free libraries inviting any passersby to take or leave a tome as they felt inclined. Carts with books for the taking lined the famous market, across from the fabled flying fish. Rare in the long history of humanity had a city been more committed to making books available to any and everyone.
It was in one of those many bookstores in the deep heart of the urban mass, a two-story monstrosity bearing a caffeine port but no alcohol, that the young boy sat. The boy was mourning this particular establishment’s departure from the city’s generosity. This bookstore seemed rather committed to not letting little boys make off with their precious books, he had discovered, even employing men whose entire job seemed to be preventing books from leaving the store without a stop by the currency collection station.
With his attention fixed on the book which had lured him from the sidewalk, the boy seemed unaware that he himself was also the object of scrutiny, and from more directions than one. One of those observers was the very guard the boy had been considering earlier, who looked like he might be evaluating just how much force was considered ‘excessive’ in the apprehension of a minor.
Another of the boy’s observers was the coffee technician, whose mouth was writhing in contortions between her Serious Professional Face and Unprofessional Giggling, the latter of which her manager had made very clear was not something one did while distributing scalding liquid. She was struggling at the moment because in addition to being unaware of her notice, the boy sitting next to the stand with three types of organic sugar also appeared to have no idea what was happening on his face, where he seemed to be trying to argue every side of a round table debate. With enthusiasm.
Which, in fact, is not far from what was happening.
So, are we gonna try anything like planning?
Don’t really seem our style, does it?
Is a style better than a plan?
Bet we can make it if we bolt.
Bolt, where? The guardy dude is standing right between the doors.
Rooftops that he had spent the morning eyeing were forgotten for the moment, as the boy sat in silent debate, staring at the book as he had been for most of the last hour, after a brief tour of the store including a stop at the personal waste facilities, because even exciting new crime had to bow to the demands of the bladder in a life still constrained to a biological carrier.
Remember our strategies. Isn’t like this is our first time.
First strategy: wait until no one is watching.
Backup strategy: run to the market if anyone chases.
Right. So we wait.
Um, what’s the difference between a strategy and a plan?
A strategy is like a plan without specifics. Right now we’re waiting to see which strategy will work here.
Awesome. I love waiting. Can we maybe snatch someone’s cinnamon roll while we’re waiting?
The point of waiting is WATCHING. To be ready in case they stop watching?
This is starting to feel like a plan.
Waiting gave birth to fidgeting, fingers tapping away at every surface at hand, restless leg bouncing beneath the table. The display sat almost in the middle of the triangle formed by coffee shop in which the boy lurked, the automated stairs to the second level, and the guard by the lower exit. The crowd drifting through the store flowed like a near constant river breaking as upon a sandbar around the display.
Have you guys noticed that guardy kinda seems to be looking…
Everywhere but at us? Yeah, noticed.
Kinda seems like he’s smiling.
The boy’s internal dialogue was interrupted by a sharp screech as the other minimalist metal chair at the small round table scraped back and filled with another youth, maybe twice the boy’s height and a little less skinny.
“Sheeit, you aien real guh a’this, izu?”
Head cocked to the side, one of the taller boy’s eyes wandered away for a moment before snapping back to focus. His other stayed locked on the boy.
Um. That, ah.
Which part? The someone talking to us part, or the not using real words?
I was kinda talking about the drifty eye.
Ah, yeah. Definitely the eye.
“Fidin’a stiltha book o’erther’, hmpn.” He snorted, and slung his arm over the back of the chair, “Li’e e’er’one ina sto’e ain’ wait’n’a see if y’go ferrit.”
The hand the new boy left dangling behind the chair twitched, fingers tightening in different directions.
Ah, I think he’s finished.
So, when people talk I think they’re supposed to take turns.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that too. And we totally would.
If we had any idea at all what he just said.
Well, I think he’s waiting.
“Um, ah… that … ah: what.”
The first sentence offered to a fellow human.
Really? We couldn’t do better than that?
He tried again.
“I mean, um… huh?”
Brilliant. Try drooling.
“Were those words?”
At last, a verb! I may faint.
The lanky kid facing the boy across the table laughed, and repeated himself.
“Shit. You ain’t real good at this, is you. Fixing to steal that book over there,” the stranger said, biting each word off without inflection, “Like e-ver-y-one in the store ain’t waiting to see if you go for it. Don’t. Do it.”
He stared right at the smaller boy, stray eye not wandering anywhere, then the narrow face relaxed into an easy smile, and he laughed again, melting back into his chair.
“Or’ye me’n, fuget.”
I think that was ‘fuck it.’
Got that part.
“I’m good at stealing,” the boy said, shifting to face the taller youth now sharing his table, turning away from the book display, “I steal all the time.”
The little boy’s brow scrunched, his chin lifted a bit.
“Betcha git cau’all’a time, too, huh?”
Another laugh. A pen appeared in the hand not draped behind the chair and was flipping around fingers in quick smooth circles.
“Yup. Y’fugen suck. Lemme showya. Com’o’.”
The pen disappeared as quick as it had appeared and the older boy spasmed out of the chair.
The little boy reached forward on instinct, leaning down to catch or cushion the fall that didn’t happen. He looked up at the face grinning down at him, his own face twisting, and scrunching in the middle a bit.
“‘R’ye me’n, y’coul’ buy’a shi’ fer’ike, eigh’ bux. J’go’tha?”
I did not get any of that.
Reaching under the table, the boy dragged out a small, battered duffle bag, resting weathered waxed canvas on his lap and gripping the leather handles like a shield. The tall boy waved his hands in the air between the two boys, as if swatting at invisible bugs.
“N’matta, n’matta. ‘Swhy twitches here.”
The little boy first stared, and then looked at the other boy in earnest. Large, hightop sneakers, all black with red soles and a matching swoosh, disappeared into the folds of cavernous black jeans, a silvered chain hanging against one leg, bright red handkerchief hanging out of his front pocket. His black short sleeve shirt was buttoned all the way to the top, with black embroidered stitches in a swirl across the front.
Dark hair was pulled into a frizzled collection of braids each about an inch thick, the ends knotted together behind his neck. The taller youth didn’t stop moving, whether flickering fingers, or a leg that was not tapping so much as jerking, or that eye just… drifting. The older boy laughed, bright and easy, and the smaller boy’s face scrunched a bit more.
“Hey’ey, relax bi’daw’. Loo’, j’wanna gra’tha’ book?”
He jerked his head and shoulder back toward display table now behind him. After a single, slow nod from the smaller boy, the older boy continued.
“J’ga’ eigh’ bux?”
When the smaller boy made no response, the older boy shrugged, shoulders not quite moving up and down at the same time, ending in a grin with his hands spread in front of him.
The smaller boy shuffled to his feet, keeping his duffle clutched tight in front of his chest, not looking away from the older boy who laughed again.
“Yeah, Twitch. Me! Twitchy, Twitch, Twitcher, Twitchtastic… The Twitch. Me!”
With each name the older boy flicked a hand, as if tossing the words into the air between the two boys.
Um, are we sure HE isn’t crazy?
Twitch isn’t a name, is it? It’s a verb, pretty sure. O
Dude. Have you seen this guy?
Yeah, it does seem like it works as a description, too.
“You gotta name, or I jus’ gonna make one up?”
The smile never left the Twitch’s face. The smaller boy shuffled his feet, not looking away, not speaking a word.
“Look, kid, gotta call y’sum’thin’. No?” When no words were forthcoming, Twitch continued, “Fine. Kid works fa’ me. Ain’ tha’ big’a thin’. Thin’ mah ma call me Twitch? Sheeit. Ain’ nobody use they real name on’a stree’. Com’o’.”
Twitch dropped a hand onto Kid’s shoulder and before the arm attached to that hand could settle, Kid had spun out from under the hand and was looking back at it from another arm’s length away. The fingers on the reaching hand gave a small twitch. Shoulders jerked up and down, and Twitch cocked his head again. He turned to walk and looked back, dragging his back leg in a kind of invitation.
It’s better than nothing, which is what we used to have.
Not, you know, a lot. But sure. Better.
I like it. Makes me feel wild and reckless.
You are wild and reckless. We should get moving, though, if we don’t want to lose the weirdo.
Kid scurried out of the little coffee shop he had been occupying. Slipping his arms through the smooth leather handles of his bag to wear it across his back he turned to walk, if spaced, next to the older boy, whose hand did not stop twitching for very long, and who walked with a jerky uneven gait.
Twitch looked down at the little boy who was looking from jerking legs to twitching hand, and up to the wandering eye, and he flicked another grin.
“Y’anna kna’tha trick?”
His eyebrows wiggled, and his grin deepened.
We can DO that?
“Um. What trick?”
Seemed like a safe bet.
I’m pretty sure I heard the word ‘trick’.
“T’na’ getten caugh’. Why’a talk li’e’tha’, anyway?”
Kid started in the direction of the central display, to almost collide with Twitch as the older boy cut across toward the back of the bookstore, winding past the puzzles and toys into the taller shelving units that formed labyrinthine aisles beneath the upper floor.
“WhaT. TricK,” Twitch enunciated each letter and the pause between words. “A’yway, th’trick iz,”
The two boys emerged from the literary depths near the auto-stairs, the display shielding them from the security officer’s line of sight. Twitch’s wandering eye looked square at the little boy without even a break his broken stride, but freezing the younger in his tracks as the taller boy spoke in perfect diction.
Twitch’s foot spasmed as he was taking a step forward, carrying his awkward stride into the leg of the table bearing the display. The resulting collision sent Twitch, the entire display, and all of the books spilling into a pile that splayed across the floor, scattering to every corner of the entranceway, even out the door.
A piercing alarm sounded, and clerks and the guard rushed to help the prone boy to his feet, made more difficult by his twitching limbs. One of the clerks ran out to grab the books strewn across walk in front of the store, another tried to straighten the leg of the collapsed table.
Kid stood and stared, mouth hanging open. Other customers crowded to a halt around him, watching the spectacle in the middle of the store. As Twitch clambered to his feet, apologizing the entire time, his random eye caught Kid again, winked and flicked toward the door.
Kid stood for another moment, gave a quick shiver and started weaving through the crowd toward the exit. When he got outside, standing in the middle of the sidewalk with people swerving to avoid running into or stepping on him, he stood staring at the street, not even seeing the cars passing. Without conscious direction his head fell into a tilt to avoid the spray of glaring light reflecting from the sharp lines of the modern architecture for which the downtown was known.