Authors: Brock Booher
THE CHARITY CHIP
“Booher’s second novel is just as gripping and moving as his first. After finishing
The Charity Chip
, I immediately wanted to hug my kids, donate to children in South America, and start paying cash for everything.”
— R. C. HANCOCK, author of
An Uncommon Blue
“Booher’s strong narrative style allows the reader to glide through
The Charity Chip
at an easy, enjoyable pace. He throws the reader into the gritty slums of Peru and asks, how much of our inherent rights and freedoms are we willing to give up in exchange for assurances of comfort and security?”
— RANDY LINDSAY, author of
The Gathering: End’s Beginning
“I read it every free chance I had and didn’t want to put it down until the very end.
The Charity Chip
ends leaving you satisfied but wanting more.”
— CHRISSY WOLFE, editor at EFC Services LLC and blogger at
Every Free Chance Books
Return and Continue with Honor
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For every child who suffers the pain of hunger.
(The Little Thief)
ulio was hungry, but it wasn’t the first time. The bustling traffic on Avenida Iquitos ignored him and his empty stomach. He stuffed his charred juggling batons and the plastic bottle of diesel fuel into his tattered backpack and pulled the coins from his pocket—seven soles, not even enough for a piece of bread at one of the few stores that still accepted hard currency. He slipped on his backpack and pulled the hood of his jacket over his head to protect against the layer of sea fog settling over Lima. Mamá had died four years ago today.
He hopped on his skateboard and kicked his way toward Plaza Manco Cápac determined to find something to eat. He considered the Chinese restaurant, but remembered how the owner had chased him out with a meat cleaver the last time he snuck in, and skated on. When he passed Roky’s, the smell of fat chickens sizzling over an open flame made his stomach growl, but the security guard at the door waved him on with a nightstick. It was Saturday night, and he knew their dumpster would have decent scraps, but he was craving fresh food. He kicked his skateboard across the plaza and stopped in front of the supermarket.
Mamá taught him not to steal. At least a thousand times she said, “It is better to suffer hunger than the shame of dishonesty.” But she hadn’t lived to see the advent of digital money.
How can I survive as a street performer if no one carries cash anymore? Seven soles won’t even buy enough bread for me, let alone my difficult twin brother. Tonight, I would rather suffer the shame of dishonesty than hunger. Dishonesty won’t kill me.
He used his hood to shield his face from the various security cameras in the plaza and skated across the uneven sidewalk, trying to look inconspicuous among the steady stream of shoppers rushing home to their families with bags full of fresh food. He scanned the crowd and picked his mark—an older lady with hunched shoulders clutching a small bag of groceries in her left hand.
A knot formed in his stomach, and he pulled the pendant of Saint Michael from under his shirt. “Saint Michael,” he whispered, “guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits, pray for us.” He kissed the medallion and slipped it beneath his shirt. He fixed his eyes on the bag of food and picked up speed for the snatch. Crouching low on the board, he grabbed the bag from her unsuspecting hands as he zoomed past.
The old woman cried out, “
Julio kicked again and accelerated away. He cut hard to the right and dodged a woman with a stroller. A girl with headphones over her ears walked right in front of him, and he had to push off of her to keep from running her over. A gray-haired security guard in a dirty brown uniform appeared out of nowhere and grabbed at him, but Julio ducked and then jumped the curb into the street to get away. He darted into oncoming traffic and came so close to a mototaxi that he brushed the arm of the driver. He spun to the left, found space in between the lines of rushing traffic, and skated away with his bounty.
The security guard still hurried along the sidewalk trying to follow him. Julio skidded the tail of his board and reversed directions. He used the cover of a passing bus plastered with a larger-than-life picture of the popular newswoman, Sofía Encuentro, on the side and hitched a ride from the tailgate of a passing delivery truck. He used the momentum from the truck as it took a left turn at the intersection and propelled himself down the street toward an alleyway. He looked over his shoulder. The security guard was talking on his radio, but he was falling behind.
If I can make it to the alley, I’ll be clear.
He swerved in front of a careening bus to make the alley. The driver blared his horn, but Julio ignored him and coasted down the alley into the dark.
The sounds of the busy street began to fade behind him and the few pedestrians and drunks in the alley ignored him. He looked back one more time, but the security guard had given up. He grinned, pulled out the pendant, and kissed it. He stopped to catch his breath and peeked into the bag. The snatch had garnered him an uncooked half chicken, a bag of rice, some tomatoes, and a fresh loaf of bread. He held open the bag and took in the smell of fresh bread.
If Doctor Barilla isn’t passed out drunk in the kitchen, I can make a good dinner for me and Raúl.
He thought of Mamá, and guilt gnawed at his hungry stomach. He tucked the bag under his arm and skated toward the other end of the alley.
He never saw the wire stretched across the end of the alley, but he felt it. It hit him just below the knees and sent him flying off his board headfirst. He tried to break the fall with his free hand, but it was useless. His head bounced off the sidewalk, and he rolled over onto his back as the streetlights did circles above his head and his skateboard rolled into the street. He was still seeing double when a
straddled him and bound his hands in plastic restraints.
Once he restrained Julio, the policeman stood and straightened his shirt. “What have we here?
? A little thief?”
Julio shook his head and tried to make the world stop spinning. “Why did you stop me? I was going home to cook dinner for my brother.”
The policeman picked up the bag and opened it. “Mmm . . . nothing like the smell of fresh bread.” He broke off a piece of bread, shoved it into his mouth, and chewed with his mouth open. “Still warm too. How did you pay for your groceries?”
Julio sat up and shook his head to clear it. “I had money.”
The policeman shoved the loaf back into the bag and pulled a small scanner from his belt. “Let’s see.” He waved the scanner over Julio. “No implanted chip, and the last registered transaction on your free chip was over three months ago. Are you sure you paid for the food?”
“I paid cash.”
The policeman held up the bag and looked at the logo. He shook his head. “This market does not accept cash. I’ll bet you took this food from some little old lady near the plaza. Maybe we should find . . .” He pulled the receipt from the bag and held it up to the light. “. . . Señora Flores and she could tell us all about it. Of course we could just watch the security video from the plaza.” He held up his phone for Julio to see. There on the screen was the video of Julio grabbing the bag from the woman and darting into traffic to avoid the security guard. His face wasn’t visible, but the clothes matched.
“Is it a crime to be hungry?”
“Ah, you are hungry?” The officer removed the wire from the mouth of the alley. “I know a place where they will feed you every day.” He grabbed Julio and pulled him to his feet. “Come on,
. Let’s go solve your hunger problem.”
Julio searched for any signs of compassion in the officer’s face, but his face was angular and gaunt with a thick black mustache and a large scar that started near his left eyebrow and disappeared into course black hair. It was not a face that offered hope, but he attempted at begging anyway. “Please,
, I promise not to steal again. Please let me go!”
“You should not make promises that you cannot keep. You have no chip. You have no money. You will steal again.” The officer grabbed Julio’s bound hands and dragged him over to the waiting black squad car parked halfway on the sidewalk. He shoved Julio facedown into the backseat. “Don’t get my seat dirty.” He slammed the door shut.
Julio struggled into a sitting position and began to look around for something to cut the plastic restraints. The only thing sharp in the backseat of the squad car was the smell of stale puke and alcohol. He tried to slip off his backpack, but his hands were bound so tight that it was impossible. He looked along the wire mesh that separated and protected the front seat, but it offered nothing. At last he gave up, and he sat there feeling the blood pulse against the restraints on his wrists.