Some time in the year 1959, Ryan A. Louis discovered what would come to be his most treasured companion, stalwart ally, and favourite word in the English language: free market. He had a wholesome and natural love of anything free, though fooling around with the market he sometimes found deals that felt even better than free. To him, the idea of merging these two concepts into an amalgam of his most beloved words was more beautiful than anything the world had yet offered. It was upon this wondrous foundation that he pioneered the Trade Store, later The Pawn Shop, later the Trade’n’Sell, and eventually the Swap Meet. While the store’s name and inventory changed much over the course of history, the store itself did not. It would take just about anything from just about anyone, and never did the proprietor raise an eyebrow or question the source of his income. This proprietor was always called Lou, regardless of their actual name or even gender. Today, the Swap Meet is run by Sherry McCallighan, an eternally bitter bear of a woman whose mood was rarely helped by the unwanted nickname that had come with the job.
“Look, Lou,” Sean rubbed his left eye in a vain attempt to stop the twitching. It was the twitching, he thought, that was making this day go even less smooth. If he could tame that rogue eye, maybe he could finally make some progress. “I’m having a fucking awful day. Can’t you cut me a break? I’m swear on my life it works fine.”
Lou’s own eye twitched just once when Sean said her nickname. She pushed the dusty old game machine back towards him, scraping audibly on the counter. The store was otherwise silent, empty on a sleepy weekday afternoon. “I’m sure it does. But that’s gonna be a cold comfort to the poor, dear customer of mine that wants to use it with none of the damn cords. You aren’t getting a penny more than five bucks for this heap of scrap.”
“Cords? Who gives a fuck about cords? You’ve got a million cords right under the counter!” Sean’s voice was certain, but his heart slammed thunderously inside his chest like it was beating him for being such an idiot. Fucking cords! How was he supposed to know they were so important? He’d be done by now, he’d have enough for the night if he’d only grabbed the god damn cords!
“They’re not the right cords, Sean. Without the right cords, selling this piece of shit is gonna be a pain in my ass. Total profit after ass-pain tax is five dollars. Take or leave.”
“Look, Lou…” Sean rubbed his eye again. Damn twitching, losing this argument for him. “Just, just look, Lou. I really need you to cut me some slack, here. It’s Jamie, you know. She saw… she’s gonna leave, Lou. I think she’s actually gonna do it this time, right? So I gotta get something more than this. Lou, just look, Lou, I need more than this.”
Loud ground her teeth and put both hands on the counter. “Sean, I don’t know who the hell Jamie is and if I did do you really think I give a fuck? Five bucks for the game, seventy bucks for the computer. Take it or fuck off.”
Sean wiped off the sweat that was beading his brow. Lou just stood there, sneering at him. Looking down on him. Sean never said where he got the goods he pawned, but even he wasn’t stupid enough to assume she didn’t know. His twitching, his sweating, everything was laid out plain as day. She probably knew everything about him, about what he had to do just to make ends meet.
Then why wasn’t she fucking helping?
Sean’s right hand twitched, but this time it wasn’t from craving. ‘What would the harm be?’ asked a patient little voice in the back of Sean’s head. ‘Thanks to Jamie, they’re already gonna know you broke probation. Couldn’t get much worse, right? And nothing’s gonna happen. We’re just gonna scare her a little. It’s her own fault for not helping you when you clearly needed it.’
Sean’s hand twitched again, but this time Lou noticed. She leaned back from the counter and shifted to the side. Sean hesitated. He didn’t know what Lou kept back there, just that it was where she always stood when Sean raised his voice. She was there last week when Sean was in a really bad way, her hand twitching just like it was now. Sean found himself thinking of all the things you could hide behind a counter. A baseball bat. A pistol. A fucking shotgun.
“75 bucks,” rasped Sean, Furiously ignoring his twitching eye. “Sounds fair.”