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Solvency

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"The book sales are in the small one," he said, flinging something at Manny. It turned out to be a spiral-bound notepad with receipts stuck in, haphazardly, with tape or gum or staples. The rubber band around it split in mid-air. A few slips flew out. Bernard disappeared into the kitchen, banging something metal around.

Some of the receipts had dates, occasionally more detailed than 'Tuesday', or 'Today.'

"Wait, do you mean to tell me you keep two ledgers?"

"Yes, of course. Doesn't everyone?"

He sighed. He'd done this once before, of course; most young accountants did, at least for a while. After a bit of rummaging, he found a mostly-blank notepad and a pencil, and started a few columns.

"Well, what's this large one for, then?"

The noise stopped, then started abruptly again.

"Bernard," he said, "the large one?" He began to flip through.

On closer inspection of the large ledger, Manny found that between the pages of uncomfortably child-like drawings, there were a few entries. They smelled like Bernard, in that they had cigarette ashes liberally crammed in the spine, and the letters were as blotty and unkempt as he.

1 May 1999: 468 (squiggle)

This was followed by several pictures he found he could not look at for longer than a few seconds. He tried to hold the pages together until he found one without many markings on it.

Eventually, a page read:
4 May 1999: Exchange for 10,235

31 Oct 1999: 468 (same squiggle)

More pages, with green and red and black and cigarette all marking up the pages. One or two stuck together and he had no desire to pull them apart. He imagined lavender.

3 Nov 1999: Exchange for 11,410

Imagining a calm ocean did not work. "Do you have any oranges?"

"No."

"Bernard, what's this four hundred sixty-eight somethings about?"

"Other income!" he shouted. The blender whirred.

Manny wedged scraps of paper in on the pages with the numbers, studiously avoiding the crayon drawings.

"What do you mean, income? Is it like, I don't know, an inheritance or something?" He divided the numbers out and moved them around, desperately trying to make them make some kind of sense. "And what is this round...wobbly...thing?" There were more noises; vaugely kitcheny noises, but below that, as if he was trying to cover it, a sort of crackling, plinking sound. He went back to trying to sort book receipts. "If I divide...," he said, "all the Tuesdays and Wednesdays and so on into their own pile, then divide by, say, 50, I can average...and the 'Todays' I'll just toss into September, with students and...that seems reasonable."

The slips of paper fluttered again as his employer emerged with two large, pastel drinks. They were the sort of drinks that would be ordered by tourists on a beach somewhere very hot, in specially shaped glasses, with flowers on them. Bernard had poured them inexpertly into pint glasses. A bit dribbled down the one he placed in front of Manny, and a straw poked out of each one at an odd angle.

"I'm going to tell you something very important," he said. He wavered as he pointed a finger at the book. Manny flipped over his notepad to a blank sheet. "And then I'm going to drink this, which is very strong, and very cold, very fast." He pushed the straw around a bit. "I really do need these accounts done."

"I know." He'd already assumed they'd pay the late fee, but he didn't mention it.

"My accountant is on the lam."

"I know, Bernard, you've told me. Why have you got to drink something so...tropical?"

"Because I need my brain to forget what I tell you as soon as possible." He leaned forward and pushed the notepad out from under Manny's hand. "It's payment for a job."

"Oh."

"It's not drugs. You're thinking it's drugs, aren't you?" He fumbled for his cigarettes. "No, totally legit. I only commit legal vices in this shop." Manny pressed the lever on the spherical lighter for him. "I buy and sell books, Manny, my new accountant, my new, hah," he said, inhaling deeply. "My new accomplice."

"I thought you said le...,"

"Totally legal!" he shouted, banging his fist on the table. A bit of drink sloshed; he wiped it up with his thumb and sucked it off.

"Old books are good books," he continued. "But sometimes they aren't. Doesn't matter to me. What matters is that some old books are very, very, very expensive."

"So you've sold some very, very, very expensive old books. Don't see why that can't be in the main, uh, accounts." Manny shuffled around some of the receipts, moving the 'March' pile away from the puddle of condensation pooling around the glasses.

"No!" He scratched his head, pulling something from his hair. Manny did not want to look at closely. "No, I made sure they don't get sold. If I find them, if I buy them, I keep them safe, Mister Manny Bianco." He picked up his glass. "And twice a year, some men come and borrow them, and pay me with these ridiculous gold coins, and I get very, very, very drunk, and then, when I wake up, I exchange them at a shop where they melt them down."

Bernard slurped nearly a third of the slushy pink liquid down. "I looked at the books once. No, I'm lying," he said, pressing the cold glass against his temple. "Every time. I look every time. And every time I end up..." His eyes swiveled to look at the glass now. "Fran brought me some Life Cry. Does the job. And then she taught me how to make, what did she call it, 'girl drinks.'"

Manny sipped at it. It absolutely did some job. Probably the job of dissolving most solids.

"So you...keep books for some weird folk. I...guess that makes it a service rendered? For accounts?"

"Like I'm some horrible safe."

He considered that the shop was a safe in that finding anything, and getting past Bernard, was security, in its own way.

"And the coins, Manny. I can't bear them. Small and crinkly and, oh, God, they even have this smell." He sucked in some more smoke at the memory, and ashes muddied the water on the table. "The smoking helps with that."

Manny rearranged the piles again. At least the numbers made sense. He'd have to look up the price of gold, of course, and he wondered if he could find out about what size the coin was, how much it weighed, if he got a better price for, hm, over four-hundred..."

"Manny, you're not listening."

"You haven't said anything in a bit, Bernard." He looked around, at the fading sunlight outside, at the filter burning between his employer's fingers. "Or, um, have you."

"Time goes a bit funny here now," he said, and drank half of what was left. "Didn't always."

The accountant leaned forward. His hair trailed in his drink. "Do you mean to tell me this is a haunted bookshop?"

"Ha! I wish!" He stood up, patting his pockets for his packet of cigarettes again and searching for something in the stacks of paperbacks while he did. "No, no, no. It's cursed." He tossed the pack onto the desk and pulled a bottle of wine from behind a set of Dickens. "But, well, profitable."

"So you...go mad, what, twice a year."

"Yeah, well." He rubbed his fingers together in the universal gesture for 'money'.

"Does that explain why the floor is sticky?"

Bernard nodded and lit another cigarette. Manny tried not to watch the smoke curl. It seemed to make shapes.