“Get your shit together if you want a sale, kid.”
Tuesday morning, 25 August 2015
GM: “…huh. This is serious, Alice. Really serious.”
Trevor shifts his gaze from Alice’s laptop to its owner. He’s an Asian-American boy who just turned 21 and an inch shorter than Alice at 5’4", with short black hair and a wide nose made more prominent by his thick glasses. He’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt for a popular sci-fri franchise blocked over with Japanese lettering. Though as Alice knows, he’s actually Vietnamese. He’s told her about how lots of Vietnamese settled in the Big Easy after the war. According to his grandmother, Louisiana’s hot swampy climate felt like home.
The eating and chattering of students forms a low but omnipresent din around them over the warm smells of assorted breakfasts. Trevor’s gone with a plate of roasted red pepper hummus and a breakfast burrito.
“I mean, you nailed the virus,” Trevor continues, “but it’s a good thing you came to me. ‘Cuz you’re still in deep shit. Really, really deep shit.”
Alice: Alice sips a coke, having eaten breakfast at home, as she sits watches Trevor check out her laptop. She is dressed in her usual manner, t-shirt and Capri jeans, with her lucky cap. Earlier that morning, she had sent Penny a text, warning her of the virus, and advising her to get Trevor to help remove it, and not to get dressed or stand where her machine’s webcam could see until she was sure it wasn’t going to snap photos of her.
She grimaces at Trevor’s statement, replying with a worried “Y-yeah? Talk to me, Trev.” She sets aside her drink, to listen attentively to her friend.
GM: “If you keep masturbating to those girl-on-girl porn vids,” he pronounces, “you will go blind.”
Alice: Alice grins, playfully punching Trevor’s shoulder. “You ass! I’m serious, dude, my comp is clean? You’re sure?”
GM: Trevor snickers, a s-s-s-like sound. “No, I’m pretty sure it’s anything but clean, and I only looked at your last week of browsing history.”
Alice: “Only because you wanted to know where to find the good shit! Anyway, thanks Trev.” Alice laughs, and moves to retrieve her laptop. “I’d fucking lose it, if something happened to it.” She indicates the laptop. “Plus, my mom would probably go totally apeshit.”
GM: “Um, wait. There actually was one kinda weird thing.”
Alice: Alice waits, half-expecting another joke.
GM: “I couldn’t find signs of a RAT anywhere. I’m not… sure how that pic actually got taken.”
Alice: “Uh, a rat? Sorry, Trev I mean, I’m no grandma or whatever, but I’m not exactly a computer security expert either.”
Alice frowns at the unfamiliar tech-speak. She understood one thing plainly enough though, something weird had happened with the webcam. Something that even her up-to-his-eyeballs in technology friend couldn’t figure out.
GM: “Remote Administration Tool,” explains Trevor. “Tldr, it’s how you hack into someone’s computer, turn on their webcam, do all sorts of shit. Go through IM conversations, grab passwords, give them pop-ups, blah blah. Most RAT users aren’t even real hackers. It’s really easy to do. I mean, there are how-to guides and forums where you can buy and rent slaves. That’s what they call people whose systems they’ve infected.”
Alice: “Oh, got it. Cool, good to know. RAT, huh? Could it have, like, deleted itself after the photo was taken, or something?” Alice looks contemplatively at her laptop, as it powers down, and she gets ready to stow it back in its cover, and put it into her bag. “I uh, don’t suppose you can tell which site it came from?”
With a small expression of sudden remembrance, “Oh! Yeah, Penny might have gotten this thing too. You might be able to learn more from looking at her machine.”
GM: Trevor shakes his head. “No, that’s the thing. There is no RAT on your computer. I mean, sure, you can delete that stuff. But it’s a lot easier to…” he pauses, perhaps attempting to parse down tech jargon, “dig things up than it is to permanently get rid of them. And if some run-of-the-mill antivirus coulda nailed whatever you caught, I probably coulda found it. I mean, I haven’t looked around that long, so maybe I’m missing something. But if I haven’t, whatever happened to your computer… isn’t technically possible.”
Alice: “Freaky. Listen, the semester just started, so I understand you are busy and shit. But, if you are curious, I’d be happy to try to figure out what the fuck this was with you. When you have time.” Alice nods, then gives her friend a smile. “Anyway, thanks dude for helping out. I owe ya one.”
GM: Trevor nods at the praise between a bite breakfast. “Welcome. Like I said, weird stuff. Wouldn’t mind finding out who’s behind it.”
Alice: Alice pulls out her phone, and navigates to the calendar. “What’s you class schedule look like? Maybe we have some classes together.” She shows the screen to Trevor for him to compare with his own.
GM: Trevor confirms that he’s sharing Symbolic Logic with Alice. That’s a math-based (or at least, quantitative reasoning) course she’s put off for a while. Trevor declares he can do it in his sleep/.
Alice: “Guess I know who to bug for help with homework,” Alice jokes, nodding. “You’re in some engineering classes too, right? Are you planning on making anything cool?”
GM: Trevor nods back. “Yeah. There are these GPS handcuffs I’ve been hearing about. They track the position of the person wearing them, and even give an electric shock if they wander out of the allowed area. Kinda like that Companion app, but for criminals instead.”
Alice: “Sounds pretty fancy, Mr. Secret Agent!” Alice proceeds to spend the rest of their break chatting with Trevor and going with the flow of conversation.
It’s good to have friends.
Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015
Alice: In between class, Alice visits with her acquaintances and classmates. The conversations are casual on the surface, but in truth she is carefully combing the academic grapevine, hoping to pluck the answers to two questions. First, she needs more information to continue her investigation into the haunting of the Josephine Louise House on campus. Her second question is more personal, but of a similarly serious nature. Is there anything date-worthy going on in the city in the next week or two?
In love, as in war… better to have a fucking battle plan! Alice muses, as she daydreams of her and her crush Penelope “Penny” Freeman going out on the town. A few passing students break into quiet laughter at Alice, as she stands in the middle of the hall with a goofy, daydreaming grin. Her cheeks go red as she realizes what she was doing, and resumes walking.
Shit, totally got lost for a moment there. C’mon Alice… focus! Ghost busting first, girl chasing second!
Nodding to herself, Alice adjusts the brim of her cap, and resumes her investigation.
GM: Beyond snickers over her obvious crush, there are two words foremost on the lips of Alice’s acquaintances: Southern Decadence. It’s annual six-day festival on the Sunday before Labor Day, and marked by parades, bead tossing, street parties and dance parties. In these ways it resembles Mardi Gras, but tends to be more sexual in tone and is generally geared towards more upscale and mature revelers. Most events take place in or around the French Quarter neighborhood, centered at the intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann streets. Decadence is also a pride parade and geared toward the LGBT crowd. There have been a number of sexual assaults, and public sex acts that have sparked opposition from the Catholic Church and other religious groups.
Alice: Oh shit, yeah there is that. Mom was always pretty against me getting involved in Decadence. ‘Course, I’m out on my own now… she can’t exactly stop me from doing whatever the fuck I want to.
Alice recalls the stories about the rapes and assaults associated with the festival. She also considers the very sexual tone.
It would make for a pretty racy first date, depending on what party we went too. But it is an LGBT pride thing, so… hmm. I’ll try bringing it up, and seeing how she reacts.
Alice nods, making a decision. Take a casual approach, broaching the topic and see what Penny has to say about it. If she seems positive… ask her out!
It isn’t like it has to be considered a date… it could just be a pride thing. Yeah.
Having found an answer to one question, she proceeds to work towards answering the other.
GM: Further asking-around on Alice’s part reveals that the girls of Josephine Louise House are hosting a dorm party a night or two from now, which means the house will be open for non-residents to explore. It sounds like it’ll be a pretty informal, red cup thing: just a bunch of students looking to cut loose and forget about exams and schoolwork.
Alice: With a bright smile, Alice thanks them for the information!
Sweet! Sounds like a perfect chance to scope the place out. I wonder if anyone I know will be there.
Seeing that her classes are done for the day, she sighs and gets ready to head to the family bookshop. It is just after 3:00 PM, and her shift will keep her there until evening.
Time to see what weirdos wander into the shop today. If I’m lucky, it’ll be slow and I’ll be able to knock out some of this homework.
Before getting on her bike and riding for the French Quarter, she shoots Penny a text to see if she wants to hang out tomorrow, or sometime over the weekend. She adds a follow-up text, mentioning the open-house party in a few nights, citing it as a potential excuse to hang out.
GM: Alice’s phone buzzes back just as she’s unlocking her bicycle from the curved metal rack.
Sure A! U hear what the themes gonna b?
Alice: Themes? Shit, is that a thing that parties have? Alice panics a bit, as she realizes she is out of her depth of expertise. Fuck, how should I know? I don’t drink, so I don’t usually have much reason to go to parties unless a friend invites me. She texts her reply:
Uh, shit, sorry P! I totally forgot to find out! I can ask around online if you like? The people who invited me said it was just a casual thing. Red cups and stuff.
Alice is beginning to wonder if asking her classy friend to a trashy dorm party was such a good idea.
GM: Alice’s phone buzzes back again, comfortingly oblivious to its owner’s worrying.
Oh it is lol. But with 80s theme. Bust out the leg warmers!
Alice: Alice does a quick mental inventory of her wardrobe. I guess I could just go in active wear? Workout clothes were a style in the 80’s right? Maybe I could make something in time… I know I still have some leftover bolts of cloth from last semester’s quilt project.
With relief at the seeming unconcern of her friend about her party-theme ignorance, Alice replies, Active wear. Got it! I can make us some leopard or zebra print stuff too. You remember, the zoo-themed quilt I made for class last semester? I still have a plenty of leftover cloth.
GM: Another buzz. Aww, cute! I do have a costume already… maybe u could make me some leopard/zebra print accessories? Can’t ever have enough headbands/armwarmers/legwarmers lol!
Alice: LoL, Sure thing, P. Anything for you ! ;) Anyway, I’m off to work. TTYL :)
With that business taken care of, Alice peddles off to work in a radiant mood. Fuck yes! This is going to be awesome! Who says you can’t mix work and pleasure? After that, nothing is going to get me down today!
Unconcerned about Murphy, or his universal law, she rides on.
GM: As if the fates themselves were eavesdropping, Alice’s phone vibrates again. The sender reads “Mom”.
Alice: Alice skids to a stop and checks her phone. The small alarm-buzz sound of a Mom-text raising her hackles.
Shit, I’m not late am I?
GM: The text reads:
Won’t be around this afternoon. Please mind store. Dinner at 7 tomorrow, my house?
Alice: Alice quickly types a reply. Got it, Mom, I’m on my way as we type. If you have anything specific that needs doing, let me know. Um, dinner sounds fine. I get out of class right at 8 pm though. Maybe you could pick me up? It might take me a bit to bike over to your place if that isn’t an option.
She sends off the text, and waits a moment for the reply.
GM: Won’t have time to pick you up. Routed your account $20 for taxi fare. See you then.
Alice: Alice smiles and replies, Cool, will do. I’ll let you know how things went in the shop after I close up tonight. Then after pausing a moment, she adds, Love you. See you tomorrow. Her text sent, Alice resumes her ride.
GM: Another buzz after a moment.
Love you too, Alice.
Alice: With a small sad smile, Alice rides.
I’m trying, Mom. I hope you are too.
Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015
GM: The French Quarter isn’t so busy on weekday afternoons as weekend nights, but it still has its characters. A mime with spraypaint silver skin dressed in spraypaint silver clothes draws looks and photos from tourists. Two buskers, a messy-haired trombonist and pretty blonde guitarist, play classic blues to the light clapping of onlookers. Changes hits their open instrument cases with a light thump-clink. Clop-clop-clops sound from the odd horse-driven carriage that has never gone out of style in the Quarter. Tourists stroll the old streets, taking the chance to snap pictures of the old Creole townhouses when the streets aren’t packed full of drunk partygoers.
As Alice cycles past, a man appears in her path as she rounds a corner. He’s a short, weasely-looking fellow with dark skin and watery gray eyes. “Hey, girl. Betcha twenty dollars I know where you got your shoes!”
Alice: What a weird catcall, Alice thinks as she maneuvers her bike without slowing around the man. She calls out, “Sorry, dude, I’m in a hurry! Good luck hustling tourists, or whatever the fuck you’re up too.”
Her shirt ruffles against her petite frame, as the wind whips past her speeding bicycle. She doesn’t think the man is dumb enough to try to stand in front of her as she tries to ride past, but she readies herself to leap clear of the crash just in case.
GM: The man indeed seems to have enough common sense not to stand in the direct path of a moving bicycle, but that doesn’t stop him from quickly stepping up to the sidewalk’s curb and grabbing Alice’s bike by the handles. His arms don’t look much thicker than hers, but they’re certainly quick.
“Girl, come on!” he exclaims with an odd half-whine, half-grin. “$20! Couldn’t you use an extra $20?”
Alice: “If you don’t fucking let go of my bike, I am gonna scream my head off and attract attention. It might not be the weekend, but there are plenty of folks around. Now, say what you want, dude, or fuck off. I don’t need money,” Alice warns the stranger. She tenses, ready to fight, flee, or scream.
GM: In a gesture of seeming compromise, the man releases one of his hands, though as he hasn’t let go of the bike it isn’t much of a compromise. He offers her a smile with all the sincerity of melted butter while making a ‘calm down’ motion with his other hand. “C’mon, c’mon, girl. Easy, easy. Just a little bet.”
Alice: He keeps saying $20. Is that supposed to mean something to me? Alice wracks her brain.
GM: So far as Alice can recollect, there is no particular significance attached to $20—but her gut tells her the man is confident that the odds of this bet are in his favor. The Quarter is full of hustlers looking to fleece tourists (or unfortunate locals) for all they are worth.
Alice: Alice’s face goes red, anger flashing dangerously in her eyes. No, this guy is just another predator, out to fuck over anyone who gets in his way. Shit, that isn’t it. This guy is another symptom of the fucked up environment we live in. Her frustration at the prevalence of such men is unmistakable, as she appeals to the man’s better nature.
“Listen, man. It’s fucking hard out there. I get it. But is this what you saw yourself doing, when you were growing up? Grabbing girls in the street, and shaking them down for petty cash? I want to think you are better than that. Let me go. Find a way of making cash that doesn’t leave you feeling so shitty afterwards.”
GM: The man makes a few whiny entreaties for Alice to “take me up, girl, c’mon, take me up,” his voice growing increasingly nasal and pleading after each one. When he sees that she is not interested in his wager, and evidently unwilling to start a public scene over $20, sloth wins out over greed as he releases her bike. Alice can hear a mumbled, “Fuck you, cunt…” as he shuffles off.
Alice: “I knew you had some good in you, dude. Don’t let the city kill whatever spark of it is left. Take up busking or street performances, or something!” she calls, verbally reinforcing to the retreating figure that he made the right choice. Then she rides on.
Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015
GM: Guillot Books is tucked away in an unassuming corner of the French Quarter, just a few blocks from Royal Street. The old building has a subdued, red-bricked exterior, with a green wooden sign labeled “Guillot Books” hanging just over the door. While one can’t judge a book by its cover, or a bookstore by its entrance, the small shop projects an image of neatness and cleanliness that still retains the ‘non-chain hole in the wall French Quarter bookstore’ vibe that draws the Satanists, neopagans, and alternative weirdos.
Alice: Alice stops in front of the shop, and walks her bike to the rack beside the entrance. With the ease of familiarity, she padlocks and chains it to the rack, and moves to unlock and enter the shop.
GM: All looks to be in order among the rows of stacked, shelved, indexed books. Alice’s mother tolerates little dissent within her kingdom. Its borders may be small, but within them, she is queen.
Jake, predictably, is late to work. His text arrives after a moment, stating that he will “be a couple late”.
Alice: Once inside, Alice relocks the door, and heads to the break room to change into her work clothes. It wouldn’t be the first time she was glad her friend and co-worker was late, as it gave her time to change with absolute privacy. Her mother had wanted them to dress professionally, in a blouse and skirt, or dress shirt and suit pants, but after a long and arduous debate, Alice succeeded in working the uniform down to a polo shirt and slacks. A neat, green apron proudly emblazoned with the Guillot Books logo had also been included, as a compromise when Alice refused to relinquish her hat. After ensuring she is properly attired, Alice returns to the storefront, unlocks the door, and flips the business sign to “Open”.
GM: Business is slow at first, as it usually is on weekday afternoons. However much the Guillots and other New Orleans natives may make fun of tourists, out of towners generate a significant amount of revenue, especially on weekends.
Jake’s “couple minutes” soon look to be stretching into “ten or more.”
Alice: Better get here before it gets too late, J. Mom finally put in that electronic punch card machine. I can’t cover for you being late like I used to. Plus, I am supposed to be adding that fancy paintjob on the panneling today, Alice texts.
Today is important, as she plans on painting some magical wards around the store, but to do that she can’t afford to be interrupted. Whenever she uses her home-brewed style of magical painting, she goes into a deep trance, and if that trance is broken, she knows the magic will fail.
GM: Her friend’s returning text communicates his opinion quite succinctly:
your moms a hardass
Alice: Pretty much. It’s real fuckin chill today, though. I just need you to sit at the front and make sure nobody fucks with me while I am painting. And that nobody tries to steal shit. We’ll both see what a hardass she is if that happens! Alice replies.
GM: Alice waits another nine minutes before Jake finally shows. The shop’s bell heralds his entrance with a light ding. Maria’s boyfriend is a tall, long-limbed 20-year-old sophomore with a shaggy mop of dirty blond hair that seems to resist all efforts to comb it. He wears a hoodie sweatshirt over blue jeans that smells of grass—whether smoked recently, or enough prior times it’s seeped into the garment, Alice honestly can’t say.
“Alice, ’sup?” he asks as he unshoulders his backpack.
Alice: “Not a lot. Got shaken down for cash by some fucking street dude on the way here. Talked him out of it, before I lost my temper though.”
She moves to her own bag, unzips it, and starts taking out brushes, paints, pallets, and the other tools of her trade. She blushes a bit, and adds as a final bit of news, “Um, I invited Penny to a party this weekend. In the JLH. You know, the haunted girls’ dorms?”
GM: Jake grins as he drops his backpack behind the counter. “You’re turning red.”
Alice: “Fuck off. Just taking your advice, and trying to be fucking proactive, and shit,” Alice defensively replies. She had asked Jake for advice not too long ago, when she learned that he had successfully wooed Maria, who was by no means an easy girl to impress.
“A-anyway dude. I’m gonna get started. Anything you wanna talk about before I do? You know how I totally zone out once I start painting.”
GM: Jake bends down to unzip his backpack, removing two finger-sized white papery articles.
“Yeah. Just take it easy. Girls know when you’re nervous.” He lights one, closes his eyes as he takes a drag from it, and extends the other towards Alice. “Joint?”
Alice: “Nah, I’m good. And I’m gonna call bullshit on the nervousness detector. I can’t just, like, tell when people are nervous and shit.” Alice protests… but then she thinks about it.
Well, I am pretty good at reading people. But, that isn’t some female superpower or any bullshit like that. I mean, everyone is good telling what other people are feeling, right?
She looks doubtful. To take her mind off that troubling line of thought, she offhandedly says, “Try not to get weed stink all over the store. Mom’s gonna pop an artery if she smells it tomorrow. Our customers might complain to her too, which ends with us being equally fucked.”
GM: Jake laughs between a smoky exhalation. “Half your customers are stoners. This is the Quarter. But sure, I won’t stink it up.”
Alice: Alice nods, acknowledging the truth of Jakes words, and gets ready to perform the warding ritual. She gathers her tools, and heads to the front of the shop.
First, she focuses on her breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Slowly, she allows her conscious mind to drift, her thoughts flowing along, like a lazy creek. Images and words from her recent experiences bubble into her mind, joint, a man’s hand on her bike, haunted dorm.
The thoughts speed up, as her awareness of her surroundings fade. Older experiences mingle with the new, adding to the growing stream of ideas, Penny excitedly asking her about 80’s fashion, Spanish Inflluenza, the flash of her webcam, None of you will make a difference in the world.
As more and more images, sounds, smells, and feelings merge into the vast river in her mind, an image forms. New shoots of life spring forth from the pale wood of the shops panneling. Twisting, they grow, forming a long intricate vine of gold, the leaves and curls of the vine twisting to form various shapes. Animals, men, women, carriages, and books.
Fixing the image of the vine in her mind, Alice feels her body pulled into the work. She lifts her brush, mixes the paints she will need, and begins.
GM: By the time Alice finishes, she’s made progress towards the end of her beginning. Gold vines have begun to take shape, twisting and threading their way through the store like the rows of a metallic vineyard. Leaves are the next thing to appear, peaking out from the stems like blossoming flowers. Jake nods between inhalations of his joint. “Hey, that’s lookin’ nice. Simple but flowery.”
Alice paints thin outlines and proto-renderings for some of the later figures she plans to paint: ‘80s pop stars, blinking cameras, rabbits running down holes, hands snatching after bicycles, and more. For now, the outlines look fairly in keeping with Jake’s aforementioned “simple but flowery” motif. It actually reminds Alice a bit of Penny’s chosen style.
Alice: Alice blinks, feeling slightly light-headed from the intense focus required to maintain the trance. The base coat, and underlying wards, are finished. The painting itself still needs a few more days of work, but the warding is done. She only hopes it proves to be a strong one.
“When it’s done, the vines and leaves will make images of people, and animals and stuff. I’m done for today though. Gotta let this coat dry, and come back to add details to it later.”
Alice considers, and works in one final outline, in a corner. Later, it will form a small, barely noticeable image of a lit candle.
GM: Jake nods in vague understanding as he leans back, feet over the counter. It’s a slow day. He doesn’t budge them when the bell chimes, heralding a customer’s arrival.
Alice: Alice turns, and rises to greet the customer. The small smear of golden paint on her face only adding to her cherubic charm. Wearing her best ‘I love talking to tourists!’ smile, she cheerily calls, “Welcome to Guillot Books! Feel free to look around, or if there is something specific you are looking for, let us know!”
In the back of her mind, she can clearly see the shit-eating grin Jake is no doubt wearing at her song and dance routine.
GM: The woman is of average height, pale complexion, and has slightly frazzled, neck-length black hair. A little greasy, but healthy looking. She wears a low-cut, knee-length black dress and matching fedora hat. Sunglasses obscure her eyes.
She blows smoke from her cigarette in seeming response to Alice’s cheerful greeting, heedless of the “no smoking” sign.
Alice: Seeing it isn’t a tourist, a lot of the faux cheer drops from Alice’s demeanor.
Goosebumps go up along her skin when she recognizes the woman.
What’s one of them doing here?
“Here about a commission? Let’s step out front and talk about it.” Alice subtly moves her eyes to indicate Jake, behind her. “You’re a busy woman, and I am at work, so we’ll do each other a favor and keep things quick. Cool?”
GM: The woman takes another drag from her cigarette, wordlessly motioning for Alice to lead the way.
Alice: Alice removes her apron, tossing it back to Jake, calling, “I’m going on break for bit. You can take yours after I come back. Gonna talk art with my friend.”
Shorn of at least one of the symbols of corporate subservience, Alice strolls out the front door, and waits to see what exactly her ‘friend’ wants.
GM: Jake hasn’t even donned his own apron. Corporate attire is optional whenever Alice’s mom isn’t around. He makes an amused declaration about “fighting the power!” as Alice heads off.
The dark-haired woman joins Alice outside and takes another drag from her cigarette.
“I’m not here for books,” she says without preamble.
Alice: “Right. Who is going to be reading, and for how long? We don’t sell them, just rent out time in a private reading room for people to use them.”
GM: The woman stares at Alice for a moment.
“A bookstore. And you don’t sell books.”
Alice: “I was assuming you meant the rare ones. If you want some of the stuff on the bottom floor, buy away. Well, I could probably take some photos, and put ’em on a flash drive.”
GM: The woman breathes out another plume of smoke.
“A bookstore,” she repeats. “And you don’t sell books.”
Alice: Alice shrugs at the woman’s confusion and says, “We live in crazy times. I can’t sell you the originals, but I could make digital copies.”
GM: “Who the fuck are you people,” the woman says in a flat voice. “I heard you were the real deal.”
“People who are the real deal don’t want to share their fucking books.”
Alice: “The place is being modernized. All the mass produced books are on the shop floor. They are for sale. The special collection is locked up, because it isn’t for sale. They’re family heirlooms. Old families are weird about holding onto stuff. Like you said, the people who have original volumes of valuable books don’t like to part with them. If all you need is the info in the book, I am happy to get you a full cover to cover copy. But if you want the actual bound book, there isn’t much I can do. People pay money to go visit old houses and stuff right? Same deal, but in our case, people pay to come visit our old books.”
GM: The woman boredly answers, “Kid, the people who visit old houses are tourists. The people who buy them? Not.”
“The people who ‘visit’ your old books? Tourists.”
“The people who buy them? Not.”
Alice: “A digital copy is actually a lot better. It is easier to carry, store, and hide. You can make backups of it.”
GM: Another plume of smoke wafts into the air. “Wycked Wishes sells books. Esoterica sells books. Starling Magickal sells books. Earth Odyssey sells books.”
Alice: That’s a no then, Alice nods at each name.
GM: The plume of nicotine slowly dissipates.
“See where I’m going?”
Alice: “I do. I don’t really agree that blindly conforming is the best choice, but I do get where you are coming from.”
GM: The sunglasses-wearing woman gives her a long stare.
“You are fucking new to this.”
“Okay. Here’s how this works. People like me, who want the real shit, don’t want to share our shit.”
“We don’t want other people, like us, knowing what the fuck we’re reading.”
“We don’t want other people, like us, getting to read our shit.”
“We don’t want to beg you to let us read our shit, when we want to read our shit.”
“We just want to buy the fucking books and have fucking done.”
“If your books are so fucking precious you won’t sell, that tells me you’re a bunch of fucking amateurs. Because you can’t get ahold of new inventory. That’s how Myst and her pals get people like me coming back regular.”
The woman takes a long drag and blows a thick plume of smoke in Alice’s face.
Alice: Alice coughs and waves the air in front of her face. Clearly, negotiations have broken down.
“I can’t sell you the originals. I’m not haggling, or playing hard to get, or any of that bullshit. I save that for the tourists, and the idiots. You know what you want, and know what it is worth. But the tomes aren’t mine to sell, and the person who DOES own them, only rents them. I can tell her you stopped by, and what books you are interested in. If you give me an estimate offer, I’ll give her that too. Or I can get you a digital copy, if you, or your… boss decide that digital will do. Sound fair?”
GM: The woman flicks away the spent cigarette and snubs out the glowing embers.
“I don’t want the fucking digital copy.”
“Tell your boss I’ll pay five grand for a book. If it’s what I want.”
“I’m going to Wycked Wishes and other places not run by fucking amateurs.”
“So get your shit together if you want a sale, kid.”
Alice: Five grand is… more than they’ve ever sold a book for.
Alice doesn’t raise her eyebrows at the figure. She just takes out her phone, queues up a note-taking app, and turns to the woman.
“List off what you want, and I’ll see she knows. I’ll text my boss when we are done, but whether she’ll have an answer by closing time I dunno. You might wanna come back tomorrow. Since you are busy, I don’t want to keep you here any longer. I should probably get your name, too, so I can say who asked.”
GM: “Sandra,” says the woman. “And it’s none of your fucking business what I want. Get your boss’ permission. Show me the books. If you have what I want, you’ll have a sale.”
Alice: Alice writes down a note to make digital copies of all the books for herself, in case they are sold.
Before the woman leaves, Alice offers, “Wycked Wishes might not be a great use of your time. The owner got robbed, and came back… well, actually no. I don’t think all of her did come back. Anyway, the shop’s business has been hurting since. None of us know all the nitty-gritty’s, but word is out that stores are being robbed. Expect people to be a bit twitchier than usual. Uh, you can consider that tip pro bono, or whatever.”
Alice regards the woman a moment, adding. “Watch your back too. Never know if someone else is after the same stuff, and is going to send their goons to grab you off the streets.”
Her warning is genuine, coming from her desire to protect others, even rude snobs who blow smoke in her face and make her job a headache. ‘Sandra’ or whatever the fuck her name really is, is just another pawn in the big chess game the… she still isn’t sure what to call them, play with each other.
And pawns are made to be sacrificed.
GM: Sandra stares at Alice behind her sunglasses.
A warning to stay away from the competition. A warning to watch her back.
“From anyone else,” she says, “that’d seem like a threat.”
Her stare lingers on Alice for a few moments more.
Her next words lack the sarcastic bite of her earlier ones.
“Sorry about the smoke.”
Her business done, Alice sends her mom a text, explaining all the business related stuff that occurred. A woman calling herself ‘Sandra’ came to store wanting to buy one of their books, for up to $5,000.
Alice notes that she is pretty sure the name was fake.
She notes that Sandra refused to say what books she wanted, but wanted to look at what they had.
Alice also mentions that the buyer likely wants some sort of reply ASAP, and that from the way she talked, she was acting as an intermediary for someone with a very large amount of money.
She also mentions that the woman brought up several other occult bookshops, including Wycked Wishes, which had a break-in recently. Her mom knows as well as she does what kind of skulduggery goes on in the rare book scene.
Hoping that she has given enough information, Alice goes back in the shop.
GM: Alice’s phone buzzes back after several moments:
We’ll talk about this over dinner tomorrow. ‘Sandra’ can wait.
Alice: Alice sends a quick reply, Gotcha, Mom. Looking forward to it.
As she sends the message, she can’t help but imagine her mom getting scooped up by some vampire’s goons and being dumped off at the doorstep, broken.
If they so much as try, I swear I’ll burn those fuckers until even the ashes are gone.
Trying to suppress her sudden fury, Alice returns to work.
GM: The rest of the day proves uneventful. A few tourists come in. They snap a few pictures, only half of them bothering to buy anything. A few pimply teenagers, skipping school if the hours they’ve shown up are any indication, shell out a hodgepodge assortment of change and crumpled dollar bills to buy a book on tantric sex. Jake laughs after they leave that he’d have recommended something better, but let it not be said he’ll prevent the store from making money.
Alice: “Better to let them live and learn. Who knows, they might come back for more.”
GM: A stringy-haired, middle-aged man with cloyingly strong cologne (Alice can smell it off him from five feet away) stumbles in several hours later. He does not even look at Alice or Jake as he briskly strides through the shop. Loud farts and squelches emanate from the restroom. When he leaves the store, he is sweating and panting, and has not made a single purchase.
“Flip you for who has to clean that,” Jake languidly opines, producing a quarter.
Alice: Alice gives the man a parting middle finger before turning to Jake. “You read my mind. Also, in the future, we should keep that door locked.”
GM: Alice calls heads, Jake tails. She flips the coin.
Alice: Alice fumes. “Fuuuuuuuck!”
GM: Jake wordlessly extends a joint.
Alice: The coin has spoken. Shit duty is hers.
“Fuck my life. Seriously dude.”
She continues their habitual ritual, of Jake offering a joint, and her turning it down, as she always does, before taking a painting mask out of her pack, and heading to the storage closet to put on some gloves and prepare herself for the showdown with whatever unspeakable horrors their visitor left for them.