30 Stories in 30 Days #2 – “Black Market Books”
Black Market Books
“Problem?” Cindy asked as she walked into the store’s office.
“Hurry,” Dave said, waving her over to the TV that showed the security camera feeds. “I thinks she’s going to do it again.”
Cindy stepped closer. “What?”
“I was eating my lunch,” Dave explained, indicating the half a sub on the desk, “and I saw her out of the corner of my eye.” He pointed to a young woman on one of the screens. “It looked like she put a book in her purse. So I paid attention to her and saw her do it a second time. That’s when I called you.”
Cindy leaned closer to the screen and saw a young woman standing in the Fantasy Section. The woman glanced around, then looked down at something in her hand. She then took a book off the shelf. Glancing around once more she lowered the book, lifted the flap of her purse, and dropped it in.
“Damn it.” Cindy patted Dave’s shoulder and said, “Good work. Stay here and watch where she goes and what she does and I’ll go have a talk with little Miss Five Finger Discount.”
The woman was still in the Fantasy Section when Cindy walked up to her. “Good afternoon,” Cindy said.
The woman flinched, then said, “Um, good afternoon.”
“Finding everything okay?”
After a moment, the woman answered, “Yes.”
Pointing at the ceiling, Cindy asked, “Did you know we have security cameras?”
The woman looked at the ceiling and muttered a surprised, “Oh.”
“I’m going to have to take a look in your purse.”
Still looking at the ceiling, the woman stated, “You won’t find anything.”
“Please, will you open your purse.”
The woman looked back at Cindy and smiled. “Of course.” She held her purse out and opened it.
Cindy stepped closer and looked inside. Not only were there no books inside, there was nothing. No keys, no makeup, no wallet, nothing. Just the fabric walls and a stiff, rectangular bottom piece.
Cindy looked up at the woman who smiled again. “See. There’s nothing in there.”
“Why do you carry an empty purse?”
In reply, the woman just closed her purse and said, “Good afternoon.” She then began walking away.
“Ma’am,” Cindy called after her, “we have video of you slipping books into your purse. I don’t know why it’s now empty, but will you please come to the office so we can sort this all out.”
The woman just stood staring at Cindy.
Putting her hands on her hips, Cindy said, “We can either try to settle this without the cops, or with the cops. What will it be?”
The woman frowned, then nodded. “I will follow you.”
When the two reached the office, Cindy asked Dave, “Did you watch her as I went out there?”
“Did you see her put the book back?”
Cindy glanced to the woman who just smiled. Looking back at Dave she said, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to finish your lunch later. Go back out on the floor and if I need you, I’ll call.”
“Okay.” Dave gathered up the rest of his lunch and hurried from the room.
As she went to close the door, Cindy indicated a chair and told the woman, “Please sit down.”
The woman looked around the office then sat.
Cindy returned to her desk and sat in her chair and asked, “What’s your name?”
The woman looked at her hand for a few seconds, then said, “Ashley O’Connor.”
Cindy frowned. There was something familiar about the name, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She gave her head a shake then asked, “Okay Ashley, may I look at your purse?”
Ashley sat back and tightened her hold on the purse.
Cindy sighed. “Without the police, or with the police,” she said.
Ashley thought for a moment, then handed her purse over.
Cindy took it and was surprised at how light it felt. She opened it and again saw that there was nothing inside. She went to reach into it when Ashley batted her hand out of the way and shouted, “No!”
“Don’t put your hand in it.”
Cindy looked at Ashley for a moment, then set the purse on her desk. “Why?”
“It would be bad.”
When she didn’t further explain that, Cindy again asked, “Why?”
Ashley began to say something, but stopped herself. She began again, and again stopped. She looked at her hand for a few seconds, then sighed. Still looking at her hand she said, “It’s a temporal transporter disguised as a purse.”
Looking up at Cindy she explained, “Whatever goes inside is transported some 3,000 years into the future.”
Sitting back in her chair, Cindy slowly said, “Right.”
Ashley sighed and picked a pen up off Cindy’s desk. “Do you need this?”
Cindy glanced at the pen and said, “No.”
Ashley opened her purse and dropped the pen inside. She then handed the purse to Cindy.
The inside of the purse was still empty. Cindy shook the purse to dislodge the pen from wherever it was hiding, but it did not reappear. “Where did it go?”
“Some 3,000 years into the future. My partner is probably wondering why I sent him a … what was that anyway?”
After one last shake, Cindy set the purse on her desk. “What the hell is going on?”
Ashley pressed several spots on her palm and she changed. The average, nondescript young woman was gone, replaced by a being with an overlarge head and bluish-green skin. The being smiled and with Ashley’s voice explained, “This is my true appearance. My ancestors were Homo sapiens such as yourself, but after centuries of genetic manipulation my skin now contains some photosynthesizing elements so you could consider me part plant now.”
At the change, Cindy had backed her chair right up against the filing cabinet. With mouth open, she just stared at “Ashley.”
Ashley smiled and touched more spots in her palm and she again became the normal looking woman. “I’m sure you have countless questions. Let me try to answer some of them.
“I have little knowledge of your technology of this time period, which is why I did not take precautions not to be seen by your security cameras. My real name would mark me as different, so I borrowed a name. The last two books I took were by Ashley Quinn and Derrick O’Connor.
Cindy had found her voice and – out of hundreds of questions – asked, “Why are you stealing books?”
“War, natural disasters and time have destroyed almost all of the books humanity has ever published. Paper disintegrates after a few centuries and as technology advanced, older electronic versions became unreadable.”
After several silent seconds, Cindy asked, “So, you’re salvaging your past?”
“No. Just as you could not understand the technology of a temporal transporter, the people of my time could not understand the plots of your books. But because books are so rare, they are valued.”
Cindy frowned. “What, so people in the future,” she couldn’t believe she had just said that, “set books on their mantle and say, ‘Isn’t that lovely?’”
Ashley frowned. “I guess you could say that.”
Rubbing her temples, Cindy asked, “If you can travel through time, why don’t you just bring some money to pay for the books?”
“What form of money do you use? Doubloons? Credits? Sharns?”
Ashley nodded. “I guess those are after your time then.”
There were so many mind blowing questions fighting to get out of Cindy’s mind that she was getting a headache, but then the manager in her popped up with an idea. “Does it matter,” she asked, “which books you … send to the future?”
“Not really. The only exception is Shakespeare; everybody has a Shakespeare. Why do you ask?”
Waving at the store, Cindy explained, “Every year we send thousands of books back to their publishers to be pulped. As a book lover it pains me, but as a business woman I understand. Now I was wondering, if you could find some dollars – that’s the currency we use – or some items like jewelry we can turn into dollars, I would gladly sell you our unsold books.”
“I have already told you more than I should have. We are to keep contact to a minimum.”
Cindy shrugged. “Don’t tell anybody.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you can get some dollars or whatever, you can come back and give it to me, I’ll give you the books, and nobody else has to know.”
Ashley thought for a moment, then said, “That may be possible.”
Cindy held her hand out, and Ashley looked at it. “We shake hands to mark a business deal,” Cindy explained.
“Oh.” Ashley held her hand out – about a foot away from Cindy’s – and shook it.
When in Rome, Cindy thought, and shook her hand in mid-air as well.