Tanner Ellis stood stunned, staring at the device.
When the old man's hand swept gracefully over the glass front, the picture beneath resolved into Mount Baker on a sunny day.
Tanner drew closer. "Gaffer, what's that white stuff on top of the mountain?"
Gaffer chuckled. "You've heard of it, I'm sure. It's snow. This picture was taken before the weather changed."
Tanner opened his mouth to inquire further, then he heard something. There was a muffled sound, as though someone had shouted.
He couldn't hear the words, but that didn't matter. Tanner thought his pursuers had given up when he outdistanced them.
"Douse that!" Tanner whispered, but Gaffer was ahead of him. The device went dark.
"You need to run, boy," Gaffer said. "Better I get caught with this than you."
"The work camps will kill you," Tanner argued, trying to get a view of the street.
The old man shrugged. "Everyone dies, boy. My turn's just gonna come first."
Tanner started to protest, when Gaffer raised his finger to his lips. They heard voices outside.
"If this is over nothing, Jackson, you'll be working the farms for a month."
"I know what I saw, sir."
Tanner stifled a groan. The first voice belonged to Councilman Jessup, the man who sent Tanner's father to the work camps. The second voice belonged to Jackson, an older boy who made a career out of tormenting Tanner.
Tanner looked at the old man, then at the case. "I wasn't expecting this much trouble for some books."
The old man cradled the light device protectively in his hands. "My pictures ..."
Tanner held out his hand. He did his best impression of his father's "don't-cross-me" tone: "Give me that thing."
"Respect your elders, son," Gaffer frowned.
"I'll keep them safe. I have a better chance of getting away than you do. If you don't have it, you haven't done anything wrong."
Tanner reached out and plucked the device away from the old man. Gaffer didn't protest.
The device weighed almost nothing. Tanner slipped it into the oversized pocket of his overalls and paused, straining to hear the two men hunting him.
Tanner turned and headed toward the back. He imagined the sixty-five ways his mother would kill him if he wound up like his father. Jackson and Jessup were frightening enough; he didn't want to think about his mother.
The back door wouldn't open. Tanner pulled, but it wouldn't budge. He felt around in the dark to see where the problem was, but nothing seemed obvious.
He needed some light to help, but didn't have any candles handy. Then he remembered how brightly the device had shone when Gaffer turned it on.
He slipped his hand into his pocket and fished out the device. There wasn't much to it, just a round button on one end. He pressed the button; the light flared, swallowing his night vision.
Shining it on the obstinate door, he saw the problem. The deadbolt was half-engaged.
The device went dark; he hoped he hadn't broken it. Tanner put it back in his pocket before finding the lock and twisting as hard as he could. It groaned, then slid free.
He opened the door just enough to look out, but his bedazzled eyes refused to see far into the black. He listened, trying to hear where the councilman and his young crony were.
Only frog song broke the downtown silence.
Tanner stepped out into the quiet, and found himself face to face with Jackson Rasmussen.
Tanner recognized his predatory smile. Jackson reached out to grab him, but Tanner was twisting away. He ran, his heart in his throat. No amount of books was worth this.
"Come back here!" Jackson's fingers brushed his back. Tanner lengthened his stride.
It started to rain. The first drop splashed the back of Tanner's hand and he cursed. As if in answer, the sky opened up, the rain falling thick and unrelenting, soaking Tanner in a matter of moments.
Jackson put on a burst of speed and seized Tanner's overalls, jerking him to a halt.
"Hi, Tanner," Jackson said. "Imagine seeing you here."
"Jackson?" Jessup sounded annoyed. "I'm done with this foolishness. I'm leaving."
Jackson turned toward the direction of Jessup's words. "I have something to show you, sir. A new development."
"Well, come here and show me," Jessup snapped. "I'm not going out in this."
Tanner couldn't see where Jessup was. Jackson kept a grip on Tanner's overalls and marched him across the broken pavement to a bank of decrepit buildings.
When they were close enough to see Jessup, Jackson presented Tanner as a retriever might present a duck to his master.
"I told you he was up to no good!"