There Is No Sinner Like a Young Saint
10:00 P.M., Tuesday
Eli had never been certain of much. His most defining belief so far was that he could get through life with a wink on hand, a smile at the ready, and a lighter in his pocket. But here was one thing—a suddenly new thing—he believed without question: Wild Nights Bookstore and Emporium was going under.
Eli had seen the signs. The dwindling customer base. The fewer and fewer repeat booklovers coming to the sell counter. The way their online reviews had stagnated. The fact that the number of authors who came to do signings anymore was next to none.
What Eli didn’t understand was why.
Bookstores were supposed to be making a comeback. Actual paper books were, according to all those experts on the internet, crushing digital sales.
But for some reason none of those trends had touched Wild Nights. It was as though the store had been left behind to rot among the ashes of the book resurgence. It didn’t make sense. The store had the right vibe and the right location and somehow it was still floundering. Still sinking under the weight of its inventory.
There were really only three things left for Eli to do.
Root through the store’s records to find the proof of their imminent demise.
See if there was a way to save Wild Nights Bookstore and Emporium.
Kick back and smoke a disposable pen from Jo’s bag of vapes, because there probably wasn’t a way to save the store and doom was almost always inevitable, as far as Eli was concerned.
Eli should have done the first thing first and saved the smoking for last, but Eli had never been much for rules, even if they were of his own invention. He embraced his doom as he sat at the desk in the back office of the bookstore, typing the store’s daily totals with his left hand, because his right was occupied with one of the disposable vapes Jo had stashed away in her bottom desk drawer. Jo was the manager at Wild Nights, and she bought the variety packs of vapes from the local corner store because they were cheaper and she suspected her employees dug into her stash while she wasn’t looking.
She was correct.
Besides, Eli would have to be a saint to keep his hands off them as he closed the store alone and did math.
Eli was not a saint.
He was just a sucker for that heady buzz that came from smoking one of these. It was bad for him. But Eli was, in general, into things that were bad for him. He’d figured this out years ago, and, contrary to what all the adults around him said, he hadn’t grown out of it. Everything Eli touched turned to shit no matter what he did. He might as well go for the kind of stuff that would destroy him, rather than the other way around.
Eli took another puff. He didn’t like counting inventory on the old tape calculator. He had tried to do it the way Danny had shown him, but he was no natural at math, the way she was. It was slow going and would have been so much faster if he could have tallied the daily totals on the laptop, with a proper keyboard. And a spreadsheet.
Instead, he was using a calculator the size of a book. Not only was it enormous, the ancient machine actually printed out the numbers onto a roll of paper like the old-school register they kept up front. Every time Eli typed, the calculator made a scratching chut chut against the paper and spat out even more numbers. And then he was supposed to tally these numbers in a black, leather-bound notebook that held all the records of Wild Nights since the beginning of time. Danny usually closed and was the one typically entrusted with this job. But she’d been given the night off, and, despite his reputation, Eli didn’t want to mess up this job if he didn’t have to. He was going to tally the day’s totals and then get to the bottom of Wild Nights’ financial records.
But the more Eli totaled numbers, the more he thought about the process—it was super strange that the store’s owner, Archer Hunt Junior, hadn’t switched to any kind of digital records. Eli didn’t typically care about answers to impossible questions. But he couldn’t stop asking himself what was going on here. His mind couldn’t stop whirling with possibilities.
Where were the records, anyway? Why hadn’t Hunt Junior invested any energy into bringing new customers into the store? Why didn’t Hunt Junior even come down to the store anymore at all?
A pulsing blue glow caught the corner of Eli’s eye.
Jo had left her laptop in the office.
Eli hesitated for a fraction of a second. He really shouldn’t go rooting through other people’s laptops. Especially not people he respected. It was just, laptops could double-check Eli’s math. Laptops could be used to make a digital archive of what was currently only ink and paper. Without anyone else on-site, all of Eli’s suspicions were really only guesses. A feeling that had grown unavoidable to Eli. A truth he knew but couldn’t quite prove.
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