Down These Mean Aisles

Everyone makes mistakes.

I take my job pretty seriously, but even so, I’ll get distracted sometimes.  This time, we lucked out; the kid must have slipped, and I heard the distinctive sound of coins on metal.  The cash box!  Time to go earn my pay.

I’d been over in Mystery, just kinda staring off into space and contemplating.  It had been a long day, grey and drizzly, not much traffic going by and none coming into the shop.

Which was probably just as well; Pat, the proprietor and (nominal) owner had been out running a booth at a convention all weekend, maybe six total hours sleep in three days, and the poor guy was exhausted.  He’d spent the morning hard at work, reshelving what might sell and boxing the rest for returns; judging from the faint snore from behind the counter he must have dozed off the moment he sat down.  That would explain why he hadn’t noticed the kid come in, and why he hadn’t heard that telltale clink of coins.

Even as kids go, this was a scrawny one.  Looked hungry and scared too, and I allowed myself a brief moment of pity before I went to work on him.  I mean, even a thief needs to eat; heck, I’d done the odd smash-and-grab myself when times were lean.

But this one was stealing the cash box from the convention, and it still held the weekend’s take.  The rent was due and I couldn’t afford mercy.  Besides, this was my beat.

He looked around nervously, but he hadn’t noticed me.  I’d been quiet and still, and my black hair and coat had let me blend perfectly into the shadows.  I had the advantage of surprise; it wouldn’t last, but then again it didn’t have to.

Now, this is where experience matters:  Someone new to the job might have hollered, or leapt out straight at the thief, and either choice would have been a mistake.  Oh, it might have worked, but given a choice between maybe and a sure thing, the smart money’s on the sure thing.  I waited for the perfect moment.

And right on schedule, my moment came.  Pat snored gently, but to the kid it must have been thunderous.  His head whipped around and his eyes went wide; he stopped, tensed up, staring.  I slipped behind the front table and crouched just out of sight, all set to spring my trap.

Pat snored again, and this time our would-be thief recognized the sound for what it was.  He started moving again, aiming for the front door and freedom — and that’s what I’d been waiting for.  I flew out from cover and cannoned into his legs, hollering for all I was worth, and got kicked in the face for my trouble.  So much for my perfect plan.

But the kid went down too, and the cashbox flew out of his hands.  It bounced off a support pillar and high into the air, just tapping the ceiling before it popped open.  Change flew everywhere; it was really quite lovely, the way the light scattered off the bright coins, and for a moment I just lay there watching them spin and tumble.

“What the— ?!”

Pat had finally woken up, but not in time to stop the thwarted thief from dashing out the front door.  He stood up and looked around at all the spilled coins.  A few last bills floated to the floor and pennies rolled into every corner.  Then he spotted me lying there on the floor.  His eyes narrowed and his face went red, and I realized he had no idea what had happened, not the slightest clue about the thief.  I’d just have to explain.

Mrowwwl!

Pat just stared, not understanding.  But what can you expect from the guy?  He’s only human.  After a moment he grinned, laughed, and shook his head ruefully.  He came over and started picking up coins; like any good bookstore cat, I supervised.

My cheekbone ached from the kid’s shoe, but I was content.  I’d done my job, saved the store from ruin.  So what if my plan hadn’t turned out to be perfect; as Ike put it, “In battle, all plans are useless — but planning is indispensable.”


We present this in fond memory of Fup, store cat at Powell’s, who we lost eleven years ago this month.  Fare thee well, Adventurer!

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