His smile was like a diseased caesarian section, a dark slit in pale flesh that stunk of rotting fetuses. His eyes looked like swollen pits, stained black, as if they’d been gouged out with tar-covered thumbs. Everything about him was abhorrent, from his face to his slick, thinning hair and his long, reaching fingers that seemed to be permanently practicing strangulation.
He was perfect.
The woman in black nodded as the auctioneer called out for last bids. Jealous stares darted towards her, visions of shock danced through the other patrons of the market but no-one out bid her. He was hers.
Andrew was sat on the park bench he always sat on, eating his usual lunch. A ham sandwich, a shiny green apple and a bottle of mineral water. The same items he had brought with him every time for the last seventeen years. Routine was Andrew’s anchor, it kept him safe, at kept things _reliable, _which at the end of the day, Andrew supposed, was all you could really ask for in life.
He watched the children playing while he munched on his sandwiches in the usual fashion, starting at the corners and slowly eating the crusts first. The left one was eaten, then the right one, until all he had left was a little square of bread and ham with bite marks all along three edges. This promptly disappeared into Andrew’s mouth and he swallowed with the satisfaction one can only get from completing a routine with perfect precision.
He glanced at his watch, it was 1:47, as always, and now was time to walk around the park for five minutes and then head back to the office with exactly one minute to spare. He placed his now empty lunch box into his bag and began walking. One minute into his walk he nodded to the right where the mother of two always sat with her kids, and he received a wave back as always, three minutes in he got a smile from the old lady walking her dog as she always did at this time. Four minutes in and he was thrown to the floor as a small boy burst out from the bushes alongside the path and ran past him. Time seemed to slow down as he fell and as he saw the look of what was it? Fear? In the boy’s eyes, he could only think about how his routine had been ruined.
It just wouldn’t do. It wouldn’t do at all.
The boy dashed down into the safety of a gloomy alleyway and examined his prize. He’d been afraid he’d get caught, and he’d be stuck up here in some gloomy cell, rather than… well actually, getting caught didn’t sound so bad in retrospect.
The wallet was black leather with a silver clasp, inside were some useless notes, pristinely folded, a number of plastic cards that the Marks liked to carry about with them. One of them seemed different, it had a picture on it of the man he’d stolen it from. Useful that, there was a power to returning things ‘lost’ and this made finding him again all the easier. It wasn’t often an urchin like him got the opportunity to strike a Bargain.
However, the prize was only a consolation. He’d escaped Gnasher easily enough but not before it had taken a bite out of him. His tail was gone, not even a bloody stump left, only a bloody red smear on his bottom where it had once been. It was still bleeding and he was shocked, realising that the Gnasher could follow his trail unless he sorted it out. Sinking back further into the backstreet, he tried to wake up the leather.
“Psst! Hey you, wake up.” He whispered harshly at it.
The wallet just sat silently in his hand.
“Oi! If you don’t stop mucking about I’ll fill you full of bird seed and leave you for the pigeons. You’ll get covered in bird poop. Don’t think I won’t.”
The wallet opened a single lazy eye and stared pointedly at the boy.
“What do you want? Why did you wake me?”
“I need some new skin. I’m bleedin’ here!”
“What’s in it for me?”
The boy bit his lower lip. He hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Umm, I’ll take you with me, it’ll be an adventure like.”
“Who is this skin for?” The wallet said, suspicion in it’s voice.
“You cheeky little… well, I am bored, so very bored. You wouldn’t believe how _boring_ my owner could be. Hitching a ride could be fun. For now.”
The boy grinned.
“But, you can do something for me. You can give my owner his stuff back. For free, no Bargains.”
“What? Aww, come on.”
“No buts. I store things for people, it’s my job and I take it very seriously.” The wallet said, puffing itself up with pride. The boy rolled his eyes, it was one of _those_ wallets.
“You want to make a Bargain?” the wallet continued, “There it is, take it or leave it.”
The boy mumbled something under his breath and the wallet pretended not to hear. Then the boy spat into his palm and shook the wallet in his hand. The area became eerily silent for a moment as the deal came into being and then the wallet was no more, instead the boy’s missing tail was now a smooth patch of dark black leather, a clasp of silver poked out from beneath the skin like a surgical accident.
The boy patted himself down and shoved the loose wad of notes and plastic cards into a filthy pocket and then took off. He wanted to find the man from the card before the wallet became impatient. There were words on it, probably the man’s name and address, he hoped. It was a pity he couldn’t read.
“Gnashers and Bargains. I didn’t run away from the Marketplace for this. Ugh.” The boy moaned as he slid back out onto the street and back towards the park, making sure to stay away from the shadows. The Gnasher was still out there somewhere.
Fifteen minutes late. Fifteen minutes behind schedule. Andrew was flustered, he felt like his breath was trying to push it’s way out of his lungs but his shirt was just too tight to let it out. He pulled nervously at his collar, trying to give him more room to breathe but it didn’t help.
As he hurried back into the office the receptionist smiled at him. “Extended lunch Mr. Blane?”
Andrew visibly twitched and hurried into his office. He poured himself a glass of water from the water cooler and drank it in a single gulp. Gasping for air, he undid his shirt collar and breathed in and out, in and out. Eventually, his breaths got deeper and slower and he began to calm down. His hands were still shaking but he was feeling better, he could think clearly again. Pulling open a drawer in his desk, he took out a small medicine bottle and popped out two pale white pills and swallowed them with another glass of water from the water cooler. His intercom buzzed and he fumbled the bottle back into the drawer and answered it.
“I have Mister Craig on the line.” His receptionist said.
“Put him through Margery.”
There was another buzz and he answered the phone. “Mister Craig, hello, I hope you are well.”
“Blane, what the hell happened?! You were meant to call me twenty minutes ago!”
Andrew tried not to hyperventilate.
“I-I was delayed getting back to the office.”
“Well your bloody delay cost me the Wilson account! I needed your confirmations of the taxes, damn it! Where the hell were you!?”
“A boy… he ran into me… he…”
“Look. I don’t care about your excuses. You have one chance. Call up Wilson and let him know the details, you have his card. Maybe if you catch him in time you can sort out this mess, if not, we wont be talking again, I need an accountant thats reliable!”
The phone slammed down on the other end and Andrew shakily put his handset back on the receiver. He felt sick, dizzy. He reached for his wallet to find the Wilson’s card but when his hand reached into his coat he found nothing. His wallet was gone.
He threw up into his waste paper basket.