At the public library, at a table that has been pushed into a corner:
"A point system, eh? What, you do something for me, and you rate it, and then I owe you for it?"
"Yeah, something like that. If the points you owe me get high enough to afford it, I can tell you what to do. Demands cost more than requests."
"That makes sense. So, how much will this tutoring cost me?"
"Three points per fifteen minutes, and if it doesn't come out even, minutes are a point each."
"That seems rather high, even though I don't know how much a point buys."
"One point doesn't buy much, but they add up quick."
"I'm sure they do. Well then, let's get started."
Two hours and fourteen minutes later:
"Oh, come on! One more minute, please?"
"Sorry, but no. Rules are rules; I may make them, but I won't break them. You don't need anymore help, so the timer stops. Your total is twenty-two points."
"How much does that buy?"
"What do you want? My prices fluctuate based on personal judgement."
"That's not fair."
"That's how I do business. It's a profit; be happy I don't charge interest. What is it that you want?"
"Something that costs twenty-two points."
"I'll have to add a surcharge for making me come up with something."
"Ten percent is the going rate. But I don't round."
"Aim for 24.2 then."
"Sure." Chris sits and thinks for a moment. "I'm not coming up with anything." He pulls out a pocket-sized notebook and turn to a fresh page, writing her name on top. "No charge because I didn't get anything. Twenty-two is your total for today unless there's something else you want or need?..."
"A question, before you go."
"One point to just ask, two more for me to decide whether to answer, but the answer itself may be rather expensive depending on the question."
"What if I demand for you to answer?"
"Three, plus the demand at fifty percent is... 4.5. Shot."
"Are you making this up, or are you really serious about this? And I'll accept any cost for the answer."
"You shouldn't say that: I could milk you for a million points. To teach you a lesson, I'll double today's final total. To answer your question: I'm totally serious. You might be surprised at who owes me points. Your total now rests at 57.4. Is there anything else?"
"Goodbye then, Becky."
Later that day:
"Tom, could I talk to you far a moment?"
"Sure, Bec. What's up?"
"Well, I just came from a tutoring session with Chris and he--"
"Charged you in points? I'm not surprised. If I were you, keep track of them yourself."
"Why? Would he cheat me?"
He laughs. "No, that kid is honest, but when he says the points add up quick, he's not kidding."
"Why? What happened?"
"I'm frightened. I'm actually frightened of him." Becky shudders. "I owe him a lot, and he won't drop any. I'm afraid of what he might ask me to do. Or what he might demand."
"What about that Demand surcharge?"
Tom laughs again, then frowns. "It doesn't matter. I owe him too much. There are rumors around, about this system of his; warnings about kids who owed too much, and he made do terrible things."
"Can't you just so no?"
"Say no? Listen to me: he doesn't let just anybody into this system, only those who have a conscience. Only those who can't bear to let favors go unpaid. You know it yourself: could you do that?"
Quietly: "No, I couldn't." She shudders again, and Tom puts his arm around her shoulders.
"Precisely. Where are you at?"
"Somewhere in the fifties."
"Well, find out exactly, and keep track. A word of warning: there's a charge to find out, a percentage charge. That's why I can't ask. Remember: Chris won't cheat you, but he won't tell you everything either. He has something in mind, introducing you to the system, but I don't know what; be wary."
"Where is your value?"
"Above ten thousand. And he can vouch for every last one."
She shivers. "Thanks for the warning."
"Certainly. If there's anything..."
"I'll let you know."
"Free of charge." They smile at a hidden joke.
"The same to you. Bye."
Later that evening:
The phone rings. "Hello?"
"I just want to warn you: stay away from Rebecca. I--"
"Oh, it's you." Bored, "what do you want?"
"Leave her alone. I told her about the bind you put me in, and she's agreed to watch herself. Don't plan on taking advantage of her."
"Stay out of my business. If she wants to share, good for her, but I won't let you destroy what I've worked so hard for. Don't call again, Tom, unless it's to pay back your debt." Chris hangs up before another word is said, then sighs as he releases the phone. To himself: "He's too much work, but he owes me so much. If I let one go, then I'll lose them all."
The phone rings again: "Hello? Oh sure, one moment." Chris pulls out his notebook and turns to Becky's page. "The fee is fifty percent. You will? Good. Your new total is... 86.1 Is that all I can do for you?"
"I want you to tell me: is this scheme of yours corrupt? And I'll accept the 4.5 question and demand fee."
"I will make the answer a mere 4.4 points to get it back on even footing--easier to keep track of that way. No, I'm just doing business as I always do. This is merely my way of making a profit and you're no exception."
"No problem. If that's all..."
"It is. Goodbye, Chris."
"Until next time, whenever that may be."
The following morning, at the same table:
"Chris, I don't think I need this extra tutoring session. I hope you don't mind."
"Is this about my fee?"
"No, I just think that I'm ready for the test tomorrow."
"No problem. Is there anything else I can do for you while we're here?"
"What's Tom's balance?"
"Sorry, no-can-do. I can't answer questions about somebody else's account. Security reasons. I hope you understand."
"Is there no way I could find out?"
"No. Now if there isn't anything more, I'd like to thank you and go: there are other things I need to do for lunch."
"Thank me for what?"
"For reminding me to calculate Tom's interest and his current balance."
"I thought you didn't charge interest?"
"His is a special case. I'm doing an unusual favor for him, and that calls for unusual circumstances. If you wish to know more, you must ask him yourself. Until then..."