There's a little place, in the back alleys of the bad streets, where one of the ex-tooth fairies runs a counter. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find it. If you don’t know what you’re looking for it might find you, but that’s a less welcome proposition. It’s still better than all the other things that might find you in you’re in those alleys though, so perhaps that one’s a moot point. This evening I was looking for it, and I was looking out for the other things that… hmm, live might be too strong a word. All those other denizens on these alleys, whatever their true nature. Just because I didn’t want to meet them.
The counter is one of those stable-door type affairs where the top swings inwards while the bottom stays put, and there’s a counter, sometimes little more than a wooden shelf, stained and stinking, on the inside where the girl (and they’re almost always girls) leans. She’ll lean forward a little more than she needs to, and her top will be cut a little lower than is respectable, even here, showing off flesh that, from a distance, looks healthy enough. There might be something on the shelf if she’s pretending to sell something else, and sometimes there’s things under the shelf for the… ahem, discerning… customer. There’ll be something hanging over the door to tell passers-by what’s on really on offer, whether it’s a Barbie doll (upright or inverted, sometimes with Ken, sometimes with another Barbie), a playing card, a spray of flowers (or a single one if it’s a poppy or a snapdragon), or an ear of wheat. Over the door of Lisa’s counter is a horseshoe with the curve at the top, hanging like a lower-case ’n’.
She was stood just outside her counter, leaning against the door-post when I approached. She watched me stagger over with a hint of amusement on her clown-red bee-stung lips. She was short, but that was one of the hiring-conditions for her previous job, being a tooth-fairy. She was wearing a short skirt showing off hairy, thick legs, one knee bent to rest her foot on the door-post behind her. It was like seeing a Monroe-pin-up for the werewolf generation. Her blouse was the same red as her lips, but buttoned shut to the collar, and her hair was a mass of chestnut curls that fell off the top of her head, down past her shoulders and ended near the top of her ribs where they bounced slightly with every breath she took. When she was a tooth-fairy the regulation was a buzz-cut, and she claims that in the end that was why she left.
“Hey Mac,” she said easily. She opened the lower-half of her door and stepped back inside, closing it behind her and then leaning on the counter. Unlike many of the girls she didn’t lean forward, but she was short enough that she could have rested her chin on the counter without much discomfort. She stood up again, kicked something by her feet, and then clambered up on something to make her taller. I grinned.
“What have you got for me this evening then?” she asked. She always sounded bright and perky, like she was permanently on uppers.
“Just the usual,” I said. “Cashing in my luck.”
“I don’t know where I’d be without you, Mac,” she said, pulling a small digital scale from underneath her counter, the kind a dealer weighs his drugs out on. She keyed it on. “You must have more bad luck than anyone else in this town.”
I looked around me: at the towering tenements in whose bases the counters set up, at the rubbish-strewn alleys, at the shadows where danger and death lurked, french-kissing to while away the minutes until their next victim, at the dark skies filled with invisible hate, and the blood-red moon.
“This isn’t bad luck,” she said, and I might have been wrong but her voice seemed slightly softer. “This is just the human condition. Any one of these guys could come up here and offer to sell, but I can’t get more than the odd drip from them. And even when I do, they don’t go home and win the lottery and move on up and out, they go home and get drunk, beat someone up if their insomnia’s playing up, watch some reality show on the television that makes them feel like they’re not the bottom of the heap. There’s no bad luck round here Mac, just bad people, bad lives, and nothing that couldn’t be cured by a flamethrower.”
“Sounds like home all right,” I said. “So how come I don’t go home and win the lottery then?” She pulled her little siphon out from under the counter next, setting it down. There was a little glass receiving bottle, a metal cannister and a little silvery funnel, all connected by delicate tubes of fibreglass and copper. She placed the receiving bottle on the scale and tared it, then she handed me the little funnel. I placed it on the back of my hand, wide end down touching flesh. It was freezing cold where it touched and reminded me of the time I was leeched.
“I don’t know that we could ever siphon off enough of your bad luck to get that to happen, Mac,” she said. Something nebulous and slightly gassy-looking, a pale green colour, started to flow through the pipes. “I can hardly get a drop of bad luck from most folks, but with you, I turn the tap on and it never stops flowing. It’s like you’re a focus for all the bad luck in the world. You’re not related to Old Man Trouble are you?”
I shook my head. Sure enough, there was a steady trickle of greenish liquid into the glass receiving bottle now, and Lisa gestured at me to take the funnel off my hand. I did, and we watched as the bad luck trickled its way through the pipes and nearly filled the glass bottle. She slipped a tiny wax-paper disc into the top of the bottle, floating it on the essence in there, and then squeezed a rubber bung in to seal it.
“Fifty quid, Mac. I don’t know why I bother with the scale for you, it’s not like you’re ever going to give less than a full bottle.”
I held my hand out to give her the funnel back and get my money, and then asked the question I’d wanted to ask her since I started coming here. “So what would happen if we just left the funnel on? Got a bigger jar, say?”
“No-one has a use for that much bad luck, Mac,” she said, with a half-smile. “That’s the bigger issue.”
“Say, what do you do with this stuff anyway?” I said. “I’ve never asked you before!”
“Sell it on,” she said. “Look, hits are tricky things, get it wrong and you’ve got collateral damage, you’ve got witnesses, bystanders, all those things that are bad for a cover-up. And you’ve got a hitman, a guy who knows what you paid him to do. Assassins are similar but more expensive, more reliable, and less likely to grass you up. But this is a third option: buy a little bad luck in a bottle and slip it into your victim’s food, spike their drink with it. Then let the bad luck take it’s course. It might not be death, but it’s usually effective, and it’s cheaper and safer than a hit.”
I looked at her with admiration in my eyes.