“The palpitating cherry-red organ was returned to its rightful place and began to beat faster as it led our hero, counting out time, through his first romantic encounter.”
Bookstores, it turned out, were good for more than just hiding oneself. Rael would have never noticed if he hadn’t been in trouble that day. He’d been caught stealing a hot dog from a street vendor, which didn’t seem like that much of a crime to him- if you lose a hot dog, just go and cook another. No big deal. But for whatever reason, the salesman was very annoyed by this. He’d yelled at Rael and chased him down the sidewalk, oblivious to the fact that leaving his vendor was tempt other thieves to it. “Hey, you! You come back right now!”
Rael didn’t obey. He supposed that this was what he got for not being careful- for not waiting until the salesman’s back was turned completely before trying to nick his wares. The salesman kept pace with him, catching up inch by inch. There was no subway to hide in. Rael sped up, turned a corner, and darted into the nearest building. And that was how he came to arrive at a bookstore, out of breath and only slightly annoyed that he had dropped his hot dog in the chase.
Rael traveled to the back of the shop and tried not to look suspicious. His charm worked, as it always did; the man keeping watch behind the front desk seemed to stare straight through him. Rael tucked himself away in one of the dark recesses of the store, right between two bookshelves. He slid to the floor and concentrated on getting his heart rate back to normal, tilting his head to read the titles on the books’ spines in front of him.
A sign above the bookshelf that Rael examined read “Enduring Classics”. Rael blinked at the titles beneath it- Gone With The Wind, War And Peace, Les Miserables. All were thick volumes, looking more like paperweights than stories. Rael wasn’t keen on opening any of them. He stood up, brushed his jeans off, and weaved his way down to another shelf, upon which sat a wobbling stack of unshelved, uncategorized books.
“Nonfiction” read the sign above this new shelf. Rael ran his finger along the stack, thinking that these books looked much more inviting. He picked the first one off the shelf, wiping the dust that had settled off of it. It was a thin, well-bound book, bearing the title of Erogenous Zones and Difficulties in Overcoming Finding Them. Rael’s curiosity was piqued.
He opened the book up, enjoying the way its spine cracked beneath his fingers, and gave the table of contents a cautious glance. There were several interesting headings- A Brief History of Sex, Zone Locations, How To Find The Right Partner. Rael closed the volume and fumbled around in his pocket. This book looked useful, and he was going to take it home with him.
Despite Rael’s hot dog thievery, he actually had a small sum of money in his back pocket. He approached the book seller with Erogenous Zones... under his arm, clearing his throat. The man looked up.
“Hello, sonny. What can I do for you?”
“I’d like to buy this book,” Rael said, producing the volume and handing it over to the man. He didn’t think he’d ever said those words before. The salesman took it and thumbed through the pages, emitting a soft chuckle. “You got a girl you want to use this on, sonny?”
“No...” Rael wasn’t aware he needed one. “How much is it?”
But the man wasn’t done soliloquizing. “I remember my first girlfriend,” he told Rael. “This book could have come in handy for me then! In fact, I think it was published during my time...” He flipped over to the copyright page and checked the date. “Yes, just as I thought... I don’t remember ever seeing it in stores...”
“How much is it?” Rael asked again.
“Oh... how much?” The man finally came back to himself and closed the book, pushing it across the counter to Rael. “Er, what’ll you take for it?”
“I have a five,” Rael said, showing it to the man, “and some coins.” He presented three grimy pennies.
The man clucked his tongue. “Hm, five dollars and three cents... Tell ya what. If you come back to this store tomorrow with five more bucks, I’ll let you have it today. As long as you pay!” he added as Rael grabbed the book back.
“Sure, sure,” Rael mumbled, tossing the bill onto the counter. “See you later, mister.” He departed from the bookstore, holding Erogenous Zones... under his leather jacket, while the salesman called behind him, “Have a nice day!”
And so, Rael had come to conclude, bookstores must be good for something other than hiding. As soon as he was far enough away from the bookstore- and any potential hot dog vendors- he took the book out from under his coat and stared greedily at its cover. Yes, this book was going to be useful, all right. As long as Rael found a girl to try its tricks on.
It didn’t take long for Rael to return to the warehouse that was his home for the week, in search of someplace to hide his book. He was glad that John wasn’t home, or else he would steal the book away from Rael. John was a voracious reader, always in search of new stories, and if he found Rael’s new purchase he would never give it back. Rael had to hide it and then assert his dominance over John to prove that the book was his.
By the time Rael had gotten to his floor, he was exhausted from climbing the stairs. Rael scoped out the room, wondering where he could hide his book. There weren’t many options. A few crates were spread out in various corners, providing storage for food that Rael and John wished to conserve. A couch with ripped up cushions sat pushed against the wall, and beside it lay John’s books and newspapers. Rael was always careful not to mistake John’s reading material for their bed, which was made of newspaper as well. There was no electric light in the warehouse- the building was abandoned, and to turn it on would raise suspicion anyway- but a there was a battery-powered lantern in the middle of the floor, which kept the night bright when Rael wasn’t away on a raid.
He hurried forward, dropping to his knees in front of the couch. Neither Rael nor John had yet to move the couch, and so it sat in the same place it had when they arrived at the warehouse, collecting dust. Rael cleared out a space beneath it with his hands and pushed Erogenous Zones...in carefully, moving the book far back so that John would never notice it. He patted the dust back down, making sure nothing looked disturbed. Then he straightened up, convinced that John wouldn’t be able to find the book.
Rael couldn’t stay for long. The sunlight streamed through the broken window, asking him to come out and play. It was a brighter day than usual on the streets of New York, and the city music was far too tempting. Rael hurried back down the stairs, out of breath, but excited for exploration. Not that he needed to explore- New York City was his home, and he knew every street, every alleyway, every crevice by heart. But each day in the chameleon city was a new adventure, with all kinds of things lying in wait. And of course, Rael still needed his lunch.