All of your clientele had their own patterns to entering your little shop tucked in the crevice between a butcher’s store and pub. Due to the convenience of buying a pound of beef and then a good swig of something strong before heading home, you attracted business from all walks of life. Admittedly, most of your transactions came in the form of useless trinkets imbued with magic, or valuables picked up from a couple of your grave robbing acquaintances.
After a while, you prided yourself on being able to discern a visitor from a regular. You see, a couple of them floundered around through every entrance you kept available to them; namely from the front, back, and the ceiling. Others were a little harder to trace, particularly because you were convinced they had been serpents in their previous lives.
One of your favorite customers had made it a mission to invite some excitement into your life every now and then. Sometimes he came through the second story window across the shop; other times he would drop straight through the trapdoor on the roof, landing on his feet right before your desk, the only indication given to you was the great flourish of his heavy coat.
“Julian, my good doctor! It’s been a while.” You gave him the standard greeting, arms sprawling wide as your coaxed him closer with your fingers. “I was beginning to think palace guards had finally tracked you down. Maybe decided to skip out on Vesuvia and never return?”
“What? No commentary on my entrance this time? I’m hurt.” His genial reply was supplied with charming smile. “I did something really outrageous this time. You didn’t even notice it was so perfectly executed.”
True to his word, you hadn’t heard him come in. The only giveaway was the harsh rustle of his clothing, and eventually him laying a lithe finger atop of the bell to grab your attention.
You couldn’t say you cared all too much about how he got in as much as you what he intended to request from you this time around. Still, returning the amicable smile, you leaned across the spacious desk on your arms, entwining your fingers loosely. “Care to indulge me then? How’d you get in?”
“It was spectacular, I say!” he bellowed, whirling around on his heel as one of his arms was thrust passionately towards the entrance. You had to yourself from laughing as he peeked across his shoulders, waggling his eyebrows. “I walked through the front door.”
“I am so impressed.” You replied, monotonously. “I think that’s a first for you.”
Despite your nonchalance, he did not deflate in the slightest, rather he swung around front-facing and approached your desk as you straightened your back. “Don’t worry, I’ll make next time even better. I’ve heard through the grapevine that if you’re impressed well enough, you sometimes give disco–”
“What are you looking for, Devorak?” your tone took a sharpness to it, though your expression remained neutral. “Don’t think you can swindle me, now. That would be a mistake you don’t want to make.”
Julian flipped his palms up in submission, the corners of his lips twitching at the slightest. Obviously, he had thought trying to butter up your good mood would get him somewhere.
He remained ever the fool.
“I need to replenish my stock of leeches. I was hoping to take everything you have on hand this time around.” He glanced past your head at the plethora of jars sticking over the edge of the shelving. “Business is going great, I can’t seem to keep them around.”
You threw an arm back towards the old shelves, plucking up a bottle without so much as moving your eyes from him. The jar gave a delicate clatter as you placed it atop of the desk, creatures inside squirming against the walls of the glass. “How about giving these sweet ones a try?”
Julian lunged towards the desk, crouching low enough to get a better look at them. Brilliantly scarlet and no bigger than his thumbnail, they were certainly a bizarre thing to see. “Th-These are leeches? Uh, they’re not what I’m used to seeing.”
“Well, duh, they’re a rare species.” You traced a fingertip around the cork keeping them contained. “They’re babies and they grow to be almost twice the size as a regular leech. Theoretically, they have a crazy long lifespan and their saliva is rumored to have the strongest anesthetic properties of any other species out there.”
The wondrous glimmer in his eye, the delight etched into his face was precisely what you wanted to see from your customers. It warmed your heart and your pockets. You were quick to slide the jar out of his reach as he made a grab for it, however.
“Ah, ah. You know the rules. You can’t mess with the merchandise.” You said, giving a jovial laugh as you returned the ravenous creatures back to your inventory behind you. “I could give you something else to rattle around, but those sweet things will die if you shake ‘em up too much.”
“How much are they?” he pressed, leather gloves squeaking as he gripped the edges of the desk. “Come on, tell me!”
You gave a grin. “Probably too far out of your budget. Nine-hundred and eighty.”
“I am not.”
“Come on, can’t you go any lower?” Julian’s expression twisted into something truly pitiful, his visible eye glistened and pleaded to you. “I have been a faithful customer for years, I’m one of your favorites. Can’t you cut me some slack?”
You rammed the tip of your boot into the desk, rattling it so violently that Julian jolted upright and took a step away. “Don’t test me. If I were to do favors for all of my favorites, I would be out of business. Nine-hundred and eighty, or leave.”
“How about seven-twenty?” he offered, venturously.
“Nine-hundred and eighty.”
The desk groaned against his weight as he leaned forward on it, undaunted by your oblique glare. “Eight-o-five.”
You were beginning to feel your face burn in aggravation. “Julian! Nine-hundred and eighty!”
For a moment, you were concerned that you were losing your touch with discouraging clients from trying to haggle prices. The thought made your blood run cold, Julian’s insistence and feverous stare made it that much worse.
Perhaps he knew that he was gaining an edge over this, as his demeanor changed from a withering sprout to pine with deep, unfaltering roots. It was unusual for him to be so adamant over something like this, much less have the gall to actually challenge you on your premises.
“How about this,” he started, bracing his weight against his palm on the desk and anchored the other on his hip. His lips curled at the corners coquettishly. “How about eight-fifty and a date?”
It was such a simple reply but it wiped your face clean of any expression, your mind filled with the drone of white noise as you attempted to gain some grasp of what he just asked you. Not only was this fool trying to take your money, but he was going as far as to ask for a date?
You could only echo his words, eyebrows high and brow wrinkled in disbelief. “You can’t be serious?”
“Oh! Oh, but I am! I’ll pay you eight-fifty right now, near perfect mint coins. And then the next time I’m in town, I’ll take you out anywhere you want to go. Gondola ride in the moonlight, picnic in the flower fields, community theater shenanigans, getting rowdy at the pub–anywhere.” His smile tamed into something softer, though you couldn’t tell how genuine it was. “How about it? You get a good payday, and I… well, I finally get a chance.”
He observed confidently whereas you eyed him, holding his gaze for a solid thirty seconds before it wavered, your resolve crumbled, and you were flinging the jar of leeches at him. He gave a yelp, fumbling to steady the jar in his grasp for a moment, giving you the time to round the desk and grip him by the front of his coat.
You pulled him closer, summoning your courage to give a peck to his cheek. “Listen here, I want my money now. And if you think about disappointing me on that date, I won’t let you off easy.”
His eyelids fluttered in surprise, face weighed by it as well as he fished the pouch of money from the depths of his coat. You gave a stiff nod, snagging it from his hand and returned to your desk to count.
You heard his voice, low and timid, “L-Looking forward to it.”