Flash Fiction: Standards (670 words)

He might as well have been twirling his heavy purse on a finger, the way he strode down the back alley with it bouncing on his hip. Jennika could almost count the coins inside, listening to the clack and ring of each one sliding inside. It was half-past midnight, and colder than the hot afternoon had announced. Jennika stood on the corner, waiting for him to pass before she ducked into her hole for the night. Her fingers were numb, and she could see her breath, but he strolled past, like it was mid-morning on a balmy beach.

Impatient, Jennika shifted against the wall, just enough to catch his attention. Late at night, movement in the dark made men hunch up their shoulders and quicken their step. He saw her and didn’t care. She tried not to glare at him.

Finally, he came to the corner. A little past arm’s reach, he turned in front of her to head north on the street. His purse clinked one more time, invitingly. It would have been the easiest thing she’d done all day to cut the string and take the weight of it, but it was late, and she didn’t feel like another run in the dark tonight. Dropping her gaze to her boots, she let him go. One step, two steps, three steps, four… finally out of her range.

“You’re just going to let me go?” he asked.

Jennika looked up, quick. He’d twisted around to look at her, mid-step, not quite stopped and not quite facing her. The moon painted a shining line down his profile, and the shadow of it hid his eyes. She kept her eyes wide, and let him see her shiver.

“Sorry?” she asked.

“I heard you were good,” he said, a low taunt under his words. “But you’re just going to let a fat coin walk away from you?”

She took one step away from him, and away from the wall, gathering open space around her. She straightened up at the same time and sharpened her expression. He knew what she was and it looked like she had more interesting games to play.

“I’ve got a little too much fat already,” Jennika told him, slow. “I’ve had a very good day.”

Looking her up and down, he half-smiled and shook his head. She was dirty, smears of mud and grime from her least favorite parts of the city, and there was a rip at her knee. “You’ve had a very bad day.”

She shrugged. “Then I don’t nick off idiots. They always react badly. Do stupid things over small things. Pull the sky right down on your head, for a few coins lost.”

He laughed, a little. “I just wanted to see your work.”

“Then you should have actually given me work,” Jennika told him. “I know a few fluffy rabbits that could have snatched that off you. I can name ten right now, if you’d like to look them up.”

“I bet you can,” he said. He tilted his head back. For a second, she caught his smile, slick, calculated and arrogant as a cat sharpening its claws on something valuable. Jennika rolled back on her heels.

“And if you’re just looking to lose your money, I know a few good wishing wells, too,” she said.

“I was looking an audition,” he returned.

“There’s a theater across town,” she told him. She looked him up and down, and made a face. “But you don’t look like much of a dancer.”

“From you,” he said, flat.

“Ah!” Jennika grinned. “You have a job for me?”

“I have a job I want your help with.”

Jennika turned immediately and walked away.

“Where are you going?” he demanded.

“I don’t work with idiots,” she called over her shoulder, without stopping. She had to shout to make sure that he heard her. She rather liked the sound of idiot echoing along the street. “They do stupid things. Like this.”

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