I say hurriedly, and make to close the book. But the man’s finger comes out of nowhere and lands on the page before I can get it shut. Slowly he opens the book out again and we both stare at my blue Biro line.
“Browsing is one thing,” says the man sternly. “Defacing shop stock is another.”
“It was an accident!” I say. “You startled me!”
“Hmm,” says the man, and gives me a hard stare. “Were you actually intending to buy this book? Or any book?”
There’s a pause—then, rather shamefacedly, I say, “No.”
“I see,” says the man, tightening his lips. “Well, I’m afraid this matter will have to go to the manager. Obviously, we can’t sell this book now, so it’s our loss. If you could come with me and explain to her exactly what you were doing when the defacement occurred . . .”
Is he serious? Isn’t he just going to tell me kindly that it doesn’t matter and would I like a loyalty card? My heart starts to thud in panic. What am I going to do? Obviously, I can’t buy the book, under my new frugal regime. But I don’t want to go and see the manager, either.
“Lynn?” the man’s calling to an assistant at the pen counter. “Could you page Glenys for me, please?”
He reallyis serious. He’s looking all pleased with himself, as though he’s caught a shoplifter. Can they prosecute you for making Biro marks in books? Maybe it counts as vandalism. I’ll have a criminal record. I won’t ever be able to go to America.
“Look, I’ll buy it, okay?” I say breathlessly. “I’ll buy the bloody book.” I wrench it from the man’s grasp and hurry off to the checkout before he can say anything else.