"That's… quite a lot of books," the salesman explained, holding his palms up in supplication. "I'm not sure if –"
"I have enough money to buy every goddamn book in this store," Teresa said, turning that joyless smile on the salesman, "and I have nothing but time. Now get to it." She dismissed the boy with a wave of her bandaged hand, and he promptly scurried off.
A few minutes later, Teresa was slowly following the harried clerk as he made his way through the stacks, pulling books from shelves and tossing them into a pushcart which Teresa had commandeered from a nearby big-box store. She seemed disinterested in the growing collection, which was already a foot high and rising, paying more attention to the paperback currently in her hand than what the clerk put in the cart.
"I don't understand this dead-tree fetish you have," Yarrow groused as he followed along behind her. "My phone can display any book ever written, at a fraction of the volume displaced here. This is inefficient on a scale beyond comprehension."
Teresa turned and glared at Yarrow over the top of her book. "Three reasons," she said coldly. "One, that phone of yours is practically surgically attached to you, and I don't want to keep wrestling you for it every time I want to read something. Two, the screen is too goddamn small. Three," and with a vicious grin she folded the already-read pages of the paperback book backwards, its spine crackling like boiling fat until the covers were flush and its back broken, "I can mangle 'dead trees' to suit me."
Yarrow shuddered at the casual desecration of information. "Vandal," he accused.
"Damn right," she agreed, "and we sacked Rome itself."
*** *** ***
She left Yarrow in the checkout line to pay for her purchases, claiming she had some "lady business" that needed attending. His naiveté regarding women made him easy to manipulate, and he had taken her nonspecific claim at face value. "Jeez," she thought as she left the air-conditioned relief of the bookstore for the hot Nevada afternoon outside. "I bet if I told him I crapped cigarettes, he'd believe me. Speaking of…"
It had been several hours since the incident at the Denny's, and while she was still riding a nicotine high she could feel it beginning to fade and knew with a junkie's clarity that she would need to score more tobacco soon.
She looked around the parking lot and considered her options. Ahead of her was the gas station where Esther was filling up her station wagon. They sold cigarettes there, but she had no money; the old woman had taken her last pack after their fight in the car and was about as likely to buy her a new pack as she was to return the old one. Yarrow could buy them for her, and she could probably manipulate him into doing so, but Netty would know the instant the transaction went through and one way or another, Esther would find out.
"I'm their bitch," she muttered to herself, a bad habit she'd picked up from her years in jail. "I'm bitch to an old woman and the goddamn Internet. It's time that changed."
She began to pace, the conversation with herself picking up speed. "Crafty," she mused, flexing her fingers, the muscle memory which associated smoking with thinking unconsciously steering her body. "Gotta think crafty. The cigs are out there, after all. They wanna be smoked. Like calls to like…"
She walked towards the newspaper vending machine she'd spotted on her way into the bookstore. Digging in her pockets for loose change, she found none. A burst of anger flared within her stomach, a rising urge to kick at the machine's door until it gave way with a satisfying crunch, but a glimpse of what might have been a police car in the parking lot forced a reconsideration.
She poked around the machine until she found an old, discarded sheet of yesterday's newsprint wedged underneath its stubby legs. "Gotcha, fucker," she grinned, seizing the paper with her nicotine-stained fingers, quickly tearing a page out of the Classified section before rolling it into a long, thin tube.
Her hands seemed to know what to do even before her brain did. An illicit thrill coursed through her body and she felt like a teenager again, sneaking a smoke behind the school gym at lunchtime. If Yarrow or Esther caught her, she would catch such hell. But if this worked…
Just as she had done in front of the church earlier that morning, she concentrated on the end of her improvised cigarette and watched it smoke, then smolder, then burn. She put it to her lips and gave a single, strong pull.
The smoke clawed its way down her throat, sharp and stinging, the burning of rough paper nothing like the smoke of prepared, filtered tobacco. She coughed, the gag reflex making her nearly vomit, but she held the makeshift smoke between clenched teeth. A thick haze formed around her as she deliberately hyperventilated, trying to smoke as much of the burning newspaper as possible.
And then she was doubled over, her hands against the brick bookstore façade to steady herself, as a spasm of violent coughing ripped through her. Bloody phlegm splattered wetly against the wall, each convulsion as agonizing as giving birth to a child made of sandpaper and barbed wire.
She felt Yarrow's hand on her shoulder, and she couldn't hear what he was saying to her over the noise of her tubercular retching. But as the spasms subsided, even through a haze of pain and dizziness, she was able find the answer she had sought.
Running down the wall, painted in her own blood and mucous, was the name and address of a local Indian Casino. She could get money there, and buy cigarettes. It was where the cancer wanted her to go, where it wanted to spread, and it would reward her.
Tobacco from Indians. Her cancer, her Tommy, obviously had a firm sense of irony. She coughed one final time, smiling as the scattershot gobbets of phlegm obliterated her oracle.
*** *** ***
Esther gave a long, low whistle when Teresa's book-laden cart rattled up to the park bench where she was sitting. "Now that is a passel of books," she declared, putting a cross-stitch of an elephant in a green suit into her knitting bag. "How'd you pay for all that, Reecy?"
"Did you know that credit cards these days are verified over the Internet?" Teresa answered with feral glee. "I only found that out myself just a little bit ago." Behind her, Yarrow struggled with maneuvering the cart towards the station wagon's trunk.
Esther sighed exasperatedly "You stole them, then." The lines around her mouth and eyes were quite pronounced as she fixed Teresa with a look of severe disapproval.
"Noooo," protested Teresa, drawing out the word as if she were a small child who had been caught in the act of being naughty. "Yarrow just used the credit card Netty gave him and this ridiculously expensive shopping spree was magically approved. It's a miracle, I tell you, like manna from Internet heaven."
Esther simply crossed her arms and glared.
"Oh goddammit," Teresa swore, "I did not steal these. Our employer paid for them, just like she's paid for our meals and our gas and probably even the doctor you're gonna take me to after this. I don't know if Netty has bank funds stashed somewhere or if she pulls money out of thin air like the Fed, and frankly I don't give a shit because it's not my problem and it's not yours either. So now that you've got gas and I've got something to read in the emergency room, can we please get a move on before my fucking hand falls off?" She climbed into the car, slamming the passenger door behind her for emphasis.
Esther looked at Yarrow, who only shrugged helplessly before closing the trunk of the station wagon. "All right," she said, getting into the car. "But let's get two things straight, Reecy. One, I don't want to hear you taking the Lord's name in vain again. And two, MISTER Netty is a MAN."
*** *** ***