Jasper pushed open the unlocked shop door, letting the tiny bronze bell jingle, and was only half surprised to find the revealed room utterly deserted. There were never any customers, there certainly hadn't been in the fifteen years he had been alive, and nobody would ever bother to rob the place either. They would have to notice it first and that had never happened yet.
It was an antique shop, probably a very good one. Most of the stock was several hundred years old, dating back to before the founding of the shop itself, but the dust on the stacks of ancient furniture was inches thick and only the row of grandfather and cuckoo clocks on the far wall, kept meticulously wound up by the owner, showed any sign of usage.
"That you, boy?" came the voice of his guardian from the small kitchen just behind the shop.
"Who else would it be?" the boy grunted in response and trudged across the worn carpet towards the small door that led into the back of the house. He kicked it open and flung his rucksack, tie and blazer into the corner under the coat rack. Shrugging off his shoes, he sent them flying on top of the pile, before traipsing into the kitchen.
The hamster took one look at him as he drew level with the breakfast bar and went scurrying back into his cage so fast that he sent up a small cloud of woodpulp bedding as he disappeared under the plastic shelf. The boy's guardian gave his a small nod as he sipped his tea.
"How was school?" he inquired pleasantly, gently swirling the tea as he moved the cup in small circles within his hands. Jasper's guardian, Osborne Smith, was a small spry man of Japanese origin, with curly greying hair framing an oversized forehead and hands. Wrinkles marked every point of his small eyes and shallow cheeks, but his thin lips usually carried slight traces of a smirk. He was also apparently surgically attached to his green flannel dressing-gown and carpet slippers or, at least, it was safe to say that Jasper could count the amount of times he had seen him out of them without running out of fingers. There was about as much of an obvious genetic relation between the two of them as between Jasper and the hamster, and yet this old man was the only parent the boy had ever known.
"How d'you think?" Jasper grunted again, surveying the room. He gave what might be considered a small groan and bent to gather up the fallen rubbish on the floor. "If it was fun, it wouldn't be school, would it?"
"Well, one feels obliged to ask, you know?" Osborne replied coolly, and took a long sip out of his cup. "Would you like some tea? It's just been brewed."
"What kind of tea?" Jasper inquired wearily, eyeing the milkpan on the hob, as he opened the cupboard under the sink, ready to toss those of the collection of junk mail, magazines and old newspapers he deemed unnecessary into the recycling.
"Chai," his guardian replied, taking another long sip.
The boy shook his head, setting the small remaining pile of bills and yesterday's paper in front of the old man. "Not today, thanks. Not really in the mood for it," he sighed, tossing the jacket and the cardigan out into the hall.
His guardian shrugged. "As you wish," Osborne took another sip of tea, "Would you pass me the biscuit tin though, please?"
The boy wordlessly pulled a small battered tin from the top of the fridge and lobbed it towards his guardian, before taking the dustpan and brush out from under the sink and proceeding to collect up the pieces of broken crockery on the floor.
"We are also out of cat milk," the old man added, selecting a small arrowroot biscuit from a selection of custard creams, bourbons and shortbread.
The boy paused, his face contorting in a frown. "Already?" he moaned, turning to gesture at his guardian with the brush, "I swear we had four packets this morning."
"And she drank all four," his guardian replied coolly, breaking the biscuit over his tea.
The boy swore, making his guardian throw half a biscuit at him. Jasper caught it and chucked it into the bin as he emptied the dustpan and closed the cupboard under the sink. Osborne just sighed and ate the remaining half wordlessly. He paused, contemplating, and his face became a little more serious as he spoke again. "How was patrol this afternoon?"
Jasper shrugged in the middle of wiping down the worktops with a wet sponge. "Nothin' much," he shrugged, "A couple of spooks in Ackles Lane. That's about it."
Osborne looked up, fixing his ward with a firm gaze. "Ackles Lane? That's hardly on your way home from school." Jasper gritted his teeth slightly, but said nothing as he picked up a teatowel and wiped up the milk and tea spills on the floor and cupboards. His eyes were utterly unreadable. Osborne nodded slowly. "I see," he finally conceded, returning to face the wall and the hamster cage as he took another sip of tea. "Well, I'm glad you do your job so diligently. Please continue to do so and remember to do some revision before you go out tonight."
Jasper stood up, throwing both the teatowel he had been using and its milk-sodden counterpart into the barrel of the washing machine. "Whatever," he grunted, and marched out of the room, slamming the door in his wake.