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Chapter 4: Timber Timbre - Black Water
Chapter 5: Man Man - Spooky Jookie
Warcoitalia was a small store in a strip mall, right between a Chick-fil-A and a liquor store. It made, like most stores specializing in fantasy novels and Warhammer kits, barely enough money to stay open. The store itself was almost always empty save for the few times that a major new novel with a good amount of PR behind it was released. Such was the case recently when ‘Lil Sids, an avid fantasy reader and successful rapper who grew up in the rough part of town, released his debut-novel Thorjeezee and the Bitches of Helsinki. The book was revolutionary not only for the genre but also for the ambitious reader base it hoped to court as it attempted to bridge aspects of the gangsta rap lifestyle with fantasy themes. It received mixed reviews from the fantasy side of the target audience but the other half, the gangsta rap enthusiasts, absolutely loved it. Stories about a massive and powerful hero like Thorjeezee making the bitches pay up in Helsinki for his protecting them from dragons and invading Viking packs found a home in the rap culture, exposing many young kids to the genre of fantasy as a whole.
As a result of this new clientele and the wildly popular book, Warcoitalia was also experiencing a higher rate of shoplifting than ever before. Therefore it became absolutely crucial that inventory be checked more regularly by manual counting and also through a computer database. Joseph, who despite having grown up around computers, was rather poor at adapting to new technology and therefore had to be trained by a newer employee who had already picked up the ins and outs of the system.
“Okay so Thorjeezee, for instance, let’s say we want to see how many copies we had last week and how many are left today, right? So you gotta do a manual count, which you did, and how many did you come up with last week?”
“Last week we had 86,” responded Joseph.
“Alright, and how many do we have today?”
“Today it’s 75.”
“Okay and it’s only 11:30, so that means we’re not even at the end of the day. You paying attention? I’m not going to go over this again, three times is where I draw the limit.”
“Yeah I’m paying attention.”
“Okay so 86 last week, 75 today. That means we sold 11 in that time period, right?”
“Okay now log into the computer, you see when I look up the title?”
“Wait how do you look up the title?”
“Jesus Joseph, do you never learn!? I showed you this already, you go to the first page we were at and put in the entire name of the book, so in this case Thorjeezee and the Bitches of Helsinki, find it in the registry— you see the computer filed it under “Jeezee_bitches”— and then select it and look under the ‘Inventory’ tab. You see that?”
“Okay, it says 79. You see the 79 there? That means that our system thinks we have 79, even though we actually have 75. That means that four are missing. That means, to make it perfectly clear, that between the end of last week when you counted 86 and today, right now, we’ve lost four copies of Thorjeezee and the Bitches of Helsinki. So what you have to do is document this for all major titles every week. Alright?”
“Okay, I got it this time.”
“Alright, then try a trial run with Legends Galatian Brethren. We have the chart here with the numbers from last week, so do a manual count now and then check it against the system and let Rip know if any turn out missing—and preferably at the end of the shift because you know how he gets. We’re doing this all for him, not for each other. I don’t care if you find some missing, don’t tell me about it, if you have questions that’s fine but anything else go to Rip. Alright?”
“Okay I got it, thanks.”
Joseph, already embarrassed at having been lectured and scolded by a young kid with a nose ring (which for Joseph was tantamount to being a felon), now made his way through Warcoitalia with his paper and pen counting up each copy of Legends Galatian Brethren he could find. Most of them were, fortunately, in their proper place but he had to make sure to get them all (and customers often just shove them into random places) which meant, unfortunately, having to go through pretty much the entire section of the store that had books in it which was, in the case of Warcoitia, a huge amount of books. He began to count up the section where he knew the most copies to be and decided to work his way through the store from beginning to end after that.
It was a bit after 12:00 when he heard the familiar ring that accompanied the Warcoitalia door opening. As he looked over his shoulder and saw Bananalisa standing, the door shutting automatically behind her; he instantly lost count of his books and rushed toward her.
“Hey Bananalisa! It’s cool that you came here, I haven’t seen you around at all online, what brings you here?”
“Hi Joseph, I’ve come to say hello. I was in the neighborhood and I thought maybe you could help me get some cigarettes, I’m fresh out and you’re the only person I know in this area.”
“Cigarettes? There’s a liquor store just next to us, I’m sure you must have seen it, they have—“
“No, they don’t have my brand, I checked that one already.”
“Oh, well I’m working now, but I do have a 15 minute break I can take. I just don’t know if I’d get back in time and you know my boss is pretty picky, but later I have a lunch break where I get 45 minutes—“
“Please don’t worry, you know the store where we were the other day, it’s just around the corner, we’d be back in no time.” Her voice was gentle and soothing.
“That store? But that was weeks ago and I remember that was all the way near your house, that would take too long…”
“Oh don’t be silly, Joseph, you were just,” she began as she leaned in close to his ear, “a little drunk that night. It’s actually right around the corner from here.”
As she leaned in close to him her voice, now almost a whisper, became louder than he’d ever heard creating a peculiar effect on Joseph. She was so close to his ear that he felt like her voice was his own. He blushed as he felt the breath of each word she uttered brush up against the base of his neck and cheeks and linger there in small warm pockets, a feeling he enjoyed so much in the moment that he didn’t move an inch for fear of losing it. For the first time he felt in the presence of her body in a way he’d never felt before of any woman.
“If it’s not too far,” he began in a stupefied tone, “Then I guess it’s no problem.”
Bananalisa gently moved back and started walking out while Joseph, who now seemed to snap back into full consciousness, went over to the register where his coworker was.
“I’m taking my 15, I’ll count the stuff later don’t worry.”
As they walked to the car he noticed that she was sporting an unusually sparkly purse that day. He told her that it looked nice and she said it wasn’t new but that she only took it out on special occasion as it was considerably valuable. It was a red sequin purse that she claimed she had as long as she could remember; the only thing she seemed to know about it is that it was very rare and came from the prized Jocasta line that had existed in Greece for a very long time. Joseph found her knowledge of purses impressive and enjoyed the conversation very much. Once they’d gotten into the car Joseph, now with a renewed sense of confidence, began to speak.
“You know Bananalisa—“
“Please, call me Analia. That’s what my friends usually call me.”
“Oh okay, sorry, I mean Analia, so I’m glad to see you, you know it’s been a few weeks so I can’t really remember where the store was, you said it was close by—“
“Yes, I’ll guide you.”
“Okay thanks. So how’d you get down to this end of the neighborhood today? It’s kind of far from your house and there aren’t really bus routes…”
“Travel usually isn’t a problem, it seems that when I need to I can get to most places without a problem,” she said with a smile.
“Haha, yeah I guess so. Left here? Really? That’s much closer than I remember… What street is this?”
“I don’t know, I always just find my way here from memory.”
“I can’t believe I was so close to my work that day, I felt like the drive home was much longer,” he said as he checked the clock, “It hasn’t even been five minutes. I’ll have to remember this place.”
As they got out she asked him if he could get her a pack of her cigarettes. She told him she felt bad for the alcohol and still wanted to pay him back but, at the time, had no money with her to buy the cigarettes herself. Joseph obliged without hesitation, asking her for the brand and telling her not to worry about the alcohol. He opened the door for her to enter the store and was pleased when she walked through it with a smile that acknowledged the courtesy.
Joseph bought two packs, one for himself to try (since he’d never heard of that brand before) and one for Analia. He felt a strange vibe coming off the clerk, a rather old gentleman, who had already started reaching for the cigarettes before Joseph was even finished asking for them. When Joseph specified that he needed two packs the clerk merely held up his hand revealing the two packs already in it and set them down on the counter. Joseph, taken aback and short on time, promptly paid the clerk for the packs with the intention of leaving as soon as possible.
As he took his change and the two packs of cigarettes, however, he heard Analia boisterously call out “Hey you!” and, turning around, saw her run across the store toward the back to a man standing there. Joseph remembered the man from the first day he saw Analia: it was the same man who had brought her to the store and then left to go buy cigarettes and who he thought was Analia’s brother. Not wanting to interrupt, he waited for a couple minutes by the counter with the clerk who, for his part, seemed completely disinterested in anything going on in the store. As Joseph observed them he could make out every few words, but not well enough to understand what they were speaking about.
The man was wiry and dressed in dark clothing, much like the men that one night when he took Analia to the house (he may have even been one of them, he thought). The only difference is that this man was rather tall and broad shouldered, almost like a character from one of Joseph’s fantasy novels.
Joseph walked over to Analia and the man, both of whom seemed to completely ignore him for a few moments.
“Hey Analia, I’ve got your cigarettes—“
“Thanks Joseph! I know you’re short on time, it will only be a couple minutes, this is an old friend of mine and we’re just catching up,” she said, not losing eye contact with the man all the while.
Joseph watched on as Analia and the man giggled and smiled and how she, leaning in very close to him and on her tiptoes, gently rested her hand on his chest and whispered into his ear. He could see a rather large and mischievous grin form on the man’s face as he reached around her waist and gently held the small of her back.
Joseph froze and whatever life existed behind his eyes that helped him process the real world simply went out, like a bird whose cage you drape a heavy blanket over. He dropped his head somewhat down and looked toward the Jocasta purse which, glittering in all directions, had caught his attention and served as a suitable distraction. His eyes glossed over and his mouth slightly open, the only signs of movement on him were the glittering white dots coming off the intense red sequins as they gently swayed on Analia’s arm.
What seemed like a moment or two later he heard the voices of Analia and the man and saw only the general outline of the two in front of him; his vision was distorted as he was bombarded several times each second with the blinding light reflecting off the sequins, making him feel as if he were standing in front of a strobe light that had lost its timing.
“I’m glad you’re holding up okay,” Analia said to the man as she let her hand slide down the side of his neck and chest. He pulled her closer, pressing her waist against his.
“You know everyone is at the house today, they’ve been waiting for you since last time.”
“Oh really?” she began, feigning a sweet kind of innocence and she teased out the words, “And what do you think we should do about it?”
“I think you should come with me.”
Joseph snapped back with a stumble, having become disoriented to a point of dizziness. He didn’t realize momentarily what was going on and, turning to Analia, realized that in fact that man actually was still standing there except that they weren’t locked in the embrace he’d previously thought he’d seen. He looked down on his watch and saw that 20 minutes had passed.
“Analia I really have to get to work, I just realized I’m super late already.”
Analia, without turning toward Joseph, put her hand out toward him and he, without thinking much, instinctively reached out and clasped it with his.
“Thanks so much for bringing me here, Joseph. I’m going to stay with my friend, he’s going to give me a ride. Please go.”
She released his hand while continuing to look into the eyes of the other man. Joseph, now fully conscious, half-stormed out of the place and got to his car as soon as possible. He rushed back to work but got lost along the way, having to resort to asking for directions from strangers. By the time he made it back to Warcoitalia another 30 minutes had passed.
“Jesus Christ, Holzer, what’s the matter with you!?” a furious Rip bellowed out as Joseph came through the door. He was the new store manager and a real hard ass, one of those guys that would get into screaming matches over what cape a hero in a certain fantasy work should have worn and why the author was a “bozo” for not having caught that mistake because “Good fantasy needs to have its shit together, the details, what do they think we are? A bunch of losers or something?” It was a line he said often in one iteration or another, the obvious irony completely lost on him. Rip was a very appropriate name.
“Oh you should be, you should be very, very sorry! I’m trying to run an establishment here and it’s our job to keep up a level of professionalism. Fantasy readers are among the most discerning readers out there, every bozo knows that. We can’t be short-staffed or we’ll get mobbed, damnit!” The words almost echoed through the empty store.
That he had been screaming all this wasn’t particularly surprising, but that last bit, the “… mobbed, damnit!” he had screamed at such a high pitch (almost as if his voice cracked) that both Joseph and the other worker (Tom, the felon with the nose ring) had brought their hands up over their ears momentarily.
“I know Rip—”
“You don’t tell me you know anything, Holzer! If you don’t get it together you’re gonna be old news soon, you lousy good-for-nothing. You may have been cozy with the old manager, but let me just tell you: there’s a reason I’m here now and he’s not!”
Tom left the room at this point not because the situation was awkward but because he knew he couldn’t keep from laughing. He felt empathetic to Joseph’s situation, sure, but seeing a 40+ year old Warhammer and fantasy fanatic talk about himself as a working professional because he manages a kid and basically an overgrown infant like Joseph was too much for him.
“Rip I’m sorry, I had a friend that had an emergency and I really had to stay out,” Joseph blurted out in a vain attempt to curtail the onslaught.
He saw Rip standing across from him toward the back of the store where the display kits for all the Warhammer set-figures were neatly laid out. It gave one the impression that either Rip was some kind of omnipotent giant or that he was a regular sized man with an army of little killing-machines at his disposal. Regardless of how he tried to think of it both images scared the Christ out of Joseph enough to say anything to duck the situation.
“Emergency!?” Rip sneered while still in his screaming voice, “Running around town with little tramps is hardly an emergency, I’d say!”
Joseph became upset, if only because he felt that labeling Analia anything even close to a tramp was a grave insult that not only was directed at her but also at what he considered his friendship with her.
“Hey leave me alone you old fart! I know I came late and I’m sorry and you can write me up if you want, but I’ve never been written up before so no matter what I don’t think you can just fire me. So just leave me alone and let me finish my shift and don’t say mean things about my friends!” he yelled, lightly stomping his feet and jerking his arms up and down repeatedly like a fledgling failing miserably in its attempts at flight.
“Oh yes you will get written up, you can count on that. I don’t want to see this kind of behavior again, whoever you choose to go out with. Every minute we have less people on the floor I’m losing copies of Thorjeezee to these little punks that don’t know a damn thing about fantasy to begin with! Do you know how much that hurts? The only reason I put up with this crap is because the book sells so damn well but guess what!?—if they’re stealing our copies because my goon-squad isn’t doing their job then who’s making money? Nobody. I’m not shelling out bucks for my Thorjeezee to just get stolen, you know!”
Joseph just ignored him and started doing the inventory for Legends Galatian Brethren again from the beginning. Once Rip had calmed down he came and apologized for being so hard on Joseph, explaining that just moments prior he had heard the news from Tom about the four missing Thorjeezee and hadn’t recovered from the anger by the time Joseph arrived. Joseph, for his part, offered to skip his lunch break to make up for the lost time and Rip, finding the offer admirable, told him he wouldn’t write him up after all and to just try not to be late in the future.