“What are all these binders?”
That was the first thing I ever said to him.
“It’s for accounting,” Booker said. He was carrying a stack of them. Some apes carried in a small desk and set it down gently.
“So we’re all good?” One of them asked.
“Yep. We’re fine.”
“All is forgiven?”
“I can’t speak for Big X,” Booker said, “But I’ll tell him you done a nice job.”
I couldn’t believe it. The apes had acted like his personal movers. I knew he worked for Big X, but I never expected guards to kiss his ass.
He kept his back to me and organized his files. Didn’t say a word.
That wasn’t how a life partner was supposed to act, at least according to what I’d learned about normal person behavior. We were supposed to shake hands and say nice to meet you. But he just sat in his little desk and placed his notebooks in neat piles.
“My binders,” he said, his back still to me. “They’re for accounting. You make sure everything is present and in order, no number left unchecked. Since we don’t have banks, the whole economy runs through this. And it can’t be hacked.”
He smoothed his hands over the huge notebook’s pages, like he was petting the damn thing.
“Loans, debts owed, bets made and paid, the currency used. It’s all here. And more.”
“Looks like writing practice from grade school.”
Booker finally turned to face me. He looked at me over the top of his glasses and stared at me. I’d just met him and already he was annoyed. Get used to it, I remember thinking, screwing around is my favorite hobby.
“A lot of people make good money doing this,” he said. “So maybe they know something you don’t.”
“Anyone can count and write numbers.”
“Maybe. But it takes a special talent to be able to turn that skill into cash.”
“Doesn’t seem so special to me.”
He looked me up and down for a while.
“They told me you were quiet and didn’t cause trouble. What’s your name again?”
“Raph. Short for Raphael.”
“Raphael? What the hell kind of name is that? You a saint that went the wrong way or somethin’?”
“They told me your name was LaTroy. That any better?”
“Call me Booker.”
He turned in the desk, his back to me.
I kicked back on the bottom bunk and whistled aimlessly.
“All right, Raph, listen up,” Booker said.
He didn’t turn to face me, but instead just looked up from his work.
“Since we’re going to be life partners, we gotta have some rules. When I’m doing the books, I need quiet. You can think it’s nothing, but this is how Big X keeps his society top dog. There’s a lot of info going through this place, and I need to track it. Understand?”
“Big X, huh? The warden within?”
“That’s right. Stay on my good side,” Booker said. “You might even get some benefits.”
“I ain’t like that.”
“Me neither. I mean something other than fairy shit.”
“I don’t know. You seem in love with that notebook.”
He sighed heavily. “Look. Here’s how it’s gonna be. Rule one. Don’t bother me when I’m working. Stay quiet. Don’t talk to me unless I ask for your help.”
“What’s rule two?”
“Outside in the pigpen, we don’t know each other. I’ll be with Big X. No time to chat. Understand?”
“One of his heavies sees you coming to say hello to me, you’ll end up in the ward. Got it?”
He seemed a little high strung, but we did make good life partners.
He wanted quiet and I had nothing to say.