art by Jonathan Westbrook
The Small Print
by Amy McLane
***Editor's Warning: Disturbing, Adult Tale***
Nobody can do what I do. That's why they come to me. And I do what I do because I got to eat like everyone else. But I hate seeing one like her walking in here.
She's cute, with earnest eyes peaking from under a glossy fringe, and I can tell by the healthy flush of her skin that it's her first time. She sits down in the chair opposite my desk and sets her purse in her lap. The strap of the purse is frayed around the edges, and the heels she tucks together neatly look secondhand. Her dress is white, printed with cherries, and is so thin from repeated washings I can see her chemise beneath it.
"Can I help you?" I ask. In my pocket my hand rolls the beads on their string. Say no. Click. Say you need directions to the library. Click. Say you're here for vengeance, pull a gun out of that purse, and shoot me in my lying face.
"I have a summer's day," she says, "that I'm willing to sell."
"Are you sure?" I put my hands down on the desk between us.
She smiles. Dimples. Oh God, I really don't want this one. The buyers are going to love her.
"The Druskies call you Padre Smallprint, because you're always hunting for the catch."
"That's because everyone who walks through my door is an idiot."
She pulls back, surprised at the insult. Her fingers squeeze her battered purse. "I know what I'm doing."
"You do, do you? So what happens next?"
She looks to the side. "All right. Maybe I don't."
"First, I extract the memory. I estimate its market worth, I pay you, you leave."
"And what happens to my memory?"
"I sterilize it, and I resell it."
"Strip you out of it. So it can be used by someone else."
"Really?" She leans forward. "I never heard about that part. Mind if I stay and watch?"
"I take the memory. I pay you. You leave. That's it. You ready now, or do you want to sleep on it, maybe come back tomorrow?"
"I'm sorry, I'm just curevious." She shakes her head. "Blah. Curious. Nervous. See what I mean?"
"Yeah, I do, Honey. That's why I'm telling you to sleep on it."
"No, thank you. It has to be today."
I stand. "Follow me."
I lead her into the back room. She looks around as she enters. Her face is calm, but her eyes are like a wild thing's. There's not much to see. A bookcase cluttered with empty glass bottles and jars, a lidded hamper crouched next to a wardrobe, a side table huddled against an elephantine fainting couch.
"Sit," I say, locking the door behind us.