Beginnings: The Price of Seven

August 10, 2009

The jewelled cigarette case made a terrible cracking sound as it hit the floor, and Aleph Harding froze in place. He hadn’t even touched it – he had barely touched it! – he knew he had been careful as he squeezed past the ‘assorted goods’ table as he headed to the back of the store.

But apparently not careful enough… though he took solace in the fact that the aftermath of the fall wasn’t filled with shouting and screams. He slowly turned – making absolutely sure he didn’t knock aside anything else – and peered across to the front of the shop.

Mrs. Crofton (owner of Crofton’s Goods and Gimmicks) was still sound asleep.

If a customer entered, of course, she’d be on her feet in a second. But as long as no one else was in the shop, she left Aleph free to keep the rest of the store in order and chase away the regular falling of dust. He didn’t get paid much, but his mom believed in the value of holding down a job once you hit fourteen, and learning the value of money.

Which meant she’d be mad as hell when he came home to let her know Mrs. Crofton had taken the price of the broken cigarette case out of his paycheck… or next several paychecks, given the overblown value she tended to place on anything remotely ornate.

But to do that, she had to know it had been broken. And if she hadn’t heard it fall…

Her eyesight was bad, and getting worse. That’s why she had even needed someone to help at the store. She never cared for keeping a proper inventory. She relied on Aleph to know what they had and where to find it. And while he never would have considered stealing from the shop – as easy as it would be – it would be a different matter entirely to simply hide the broken case somewhere out of sight, and keep his meager income safe from harm.

Besides, no one would ever have bought the ugly piece of work anyway, so no harm done. Right?

Aleph’s fear warred with his conscience, and the combined dread of both his mother’s anger, and Mrs. Crofton’s, won out. He reached down to grab the shattered halves of the case… and noticed something had fallen out. From underneath – a false bottom, he realized.

One that had been hiding a seven-dollar bill.  

Crisp, green, and remarkably realistic for what he knew had to be a fake – a gag gift, or counterfeit, or something along those lines. And that belief lasted just as long as it took him to reach down and pick up the bill…

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