The hectic crowds of the Goblin Market were beginning to trickle away. The atmosphere was still hurried, but not to the point of insanity that it had peaked at over an hour ago. Now, at last, Anny found that she could breathe, and walk through the Market without the fear of being trampled on. Still, she thought it best to stay close to Kit, since she really had no idea where they were going.
“I’m tellin’ ya, you’re a lucky duck. You’ve landed yourself a prime piece of property, no doubt about it.”
Anny wondered, with a bit of angst, what Kit’s place would look like. A thousand different images of dingy, messy apartments came to mind. And she didn’t like any of them.
“It’s not a mud pit,” he said, as if in answer to her thoughts. “It’s quite cozy. Why don’t you give it a chance before judging off the top of your head?”
“I didn’t say anything!”
“Yeah, but you were thinking it!”
“Hmph.” She glowered at him. “My thoughts are my own business.”
“What? What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” he said, looking ahead. “Nothing at all.”
Anny lowered her gaze in thought. She didn’t like his know-it-all attitude. In fact, it was almost suspicious. She looked up from the ground, about to say something more.
But Kit was gone.
Her heart jumped to her throat. She searched for him frantically, scanning the crowd for his familiar face. The confusion soon passed, however, as she spotted him a few seconds later, a short distance from where she was standing. A woman had come out of nowhere and yanked him off the street. Anny jogged over to meet them, eyeing the boisterous-looking woman with curiosity.
There she was in a bright red kimono, her arm wrapped around Kit’s neck while a gentleman stood beside them. He was wearing an electric-blue suit to complement the fedora on his head, and to clash with the vibrant red colour of his companion. His hair was white, tied up at the back, but Anny could tell that the colour of his hair had nothing to do with his age. Judging from the audacious look of the pair, she guessed that they were both goblins too.
“Ah, Jack,” said the woman, directing her attention to Kit. “I was hoping I’d find you here.” She held him uncomfortably close, her massive breasts threatening to suffocate him.
“Hello, Ms. Lavinia,” said Kit, his voice muffled as he tried to escape the woman’s death grip. Anny could tell he was summoning all the politeness he could muster as he asked, “Were you looking for me?”
“As a matter of fact, I was!” she exclaimed, as if their encounter had been a happy coincidence. “The twins couldn’t make it to the show tonight, so I need to call you in.”
He groaned, still unable to shake her off. “It’s supposed to be my night off…”
“Oh, I know that, little Jack,” she said, relinquishing the poor kid and holding him at arm’s length. She ran a thin finger through his hair and cooed. “But the show must go on, as they say. And there’s no one else who can come to the rescue.” She inched closer to him, rubbing his shoulders. “Can’t you help a gal out?”
“Okay, okay!” he said, pushing away her grabby hands. “I’ll take a night off some other time.”
“Marvelous, darling!” She bent over and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m off to din-din, as they say.” She placed a gentle hand on the arm of her companion. “I’ll grab a table for the two of us.” And then, to both Kit and Anny, she blew a kiss. “Ciao!”
As suddenly as she had appeared, the riotous character vanished, heading for a crowded restaurant on the other side of the street.
Anny watched her leave, spellbound by the woman’s presence. Once out of sight, her silent partner stepped forward, ready to do business.
“I want double,” grumbled Kit, still trying to wipe off Lavinia’s lipstick.
“No can do, Jack,” said the man, his silver eyes gleaming in the faint light. “Same old rate as always. But I might throw in a few extras to win you over.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Keep talking.”
The man pulled out two gleaming tickets from his jacket. “You said you needed a pair, right?”
“Yesiree!” he said, grabbing the tickets. “Bellator’s got me in for another favour.”
“Of course he does,” said the man, rolling his eyes. “Can’t keep your hands off the bull’s horns, can you?”
“More like the golf cart,” muttered Anny.
Kit glared at her. The man chuckled and shook his head. “I don’t want to know, do I? But listen, since you’re doing Lavinia a favour, why don’t I throw in a backstage pass for your friend here?”
“Oh, this is Anastasia Greene,” said Kit, hurriedly pushing past the introduction. “She just arrived here, and she’ll be staying with me from now on. So that backstage pass better be good for the next month, at least.”
He sighed, as if he had been expecting it. “Of course. Wouldn’t dream of anything else.” Like magic, he produced another ticket, a thick one, and handed it to Anny. “Looking forward to seeing you at the club, Anastasia.”
“Anny’s fine,” she said, taking the ticket.
“And I’m Davey,” said the man, tipping his hat. “I run the bar at the club. And I look after some of the acts for Ms. Lavinia. Well, the acts that need to be looked after, anyway.” His eyes traveled to Kit’s. “Club opens in one hour. Show starts at two. Don’t be late.” He allowed himself a smile and ruffled the boy’s hair as he passed.
Kit pushed his hand away, grumbling. “Well,” he said, trying to fix his hair, “I guess we better hurry up and get ready for the show.”
“What show?” said Anny, still confused by the exchange.
“Big show at the club tonight,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on going in this time, but…” He sighed. “Duty calls.”
They made their way onto the street and continued their trek back home. “Why did they call you Jack?”
“Oh, that’s my stage name,” he explained. “They call me Jack the Ripper.”
“What the…?” She frowned. “Why?”
He smirked. “It’s ’cause I’m a killer with the ladies.”
This guy was unbelievable. “That’s a terrible joke! You don’t really get away with that, do you?”
He laughed. “It’s the Goblin Market! Anything goes.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “Get used to it, kid.”
She shook off his hand, annoyed. “I told you, I’m not a kid. When are we getting to this great place you’ve been talking about?”
“Ah, have patience, my child. We have but a short ways to go.”
“You’re such a little weirdo.”
He shrugged. “Yeah. Guess I am.”
Neither said much after that until they arrived at their destination. Much like the other residences in the Market, Kit’s apartment rested on top of an existing storefront. Even before she could see the sign, Anny heard the oriental music emanating from the open curiosity shop. But as the sign finally came into view, she was disappointed to find that the writing above the double doors was unreadable, written in a language she didn’t know. Something from overseas, judging by the characters. It made the little store all the more mysterious.
Her eyes watered from the incense as soon as they stepped in. The air was thick with the sweet-smelling fumes. A cloud of smoke hung over the room like a canopy, swirling and twisting as beams of light penetrated the obscurity overhead. A few carefully placed mirrors bounced the light back and forth across the ceiling, making it seem as though there was sunlight streaming through the shop’s small windows.
But the effect was lost on the pair as they entered, buried in the endless clutter. It wasn’t that the place was disorganised, or even untidy. There was just too much stuff. Everywhere they turned there was a shelf or table overflowing with strange goods. Anny was aware of an unpleasant sensation as she took it all in. It was a very dark place. Not from darkness itself; it was something in the atmosphere. Even the shady environment of the tea shop had been comforting compared to this place.
Following her guide, she weaved in and out of shelves until Kit came to a halt. Standing just ahead of him was a massive man, large in breadth but lacking stature, and in the process of selling a small totem to a young couple.
“All the way from Nihonatcha,” continued the fat man. “I assure you, very easy to use. All you have to do is place it on your nightstand, and it will ward off any dark spirits that have entered your home during the day.” He had a strange accent, though Anny couldn’t put her finger on its nationality. “Very simple, and very effective.”
“Hmm, that’s one heckuva totem pole,” remarked Kit, intruding on the conversation. “Wasn’t it the cure for cancer last week?”
The man turned on his heel, releasing a sigh of contempt as he faced Kit. Over his shoulder, he flashed a smile at the confused couple. “Just a moment, if you please.”
In a series of rapid movements that seemed impossible for a man of his build, the merchant seized Kit’s collar and swung him into another aisle, away from the eyes of the curious clients.
Alarmed at the sudden turn of events, Anny rounded the corner to see them face to face.
“If you’re looking for trouble,” said the salesman, teeth clenched, “I can give it to you, boy!”
“Trouble?” scoffed Kit. “Ridiculous! I’m here to stop trouble, y’know? Lying, cheating, scamming innocent customers…”
“Stay out of my business!” he growled. “You and your family are dangerously close to eviction.” He pulled Kit’s collar until their noses were almost touching. “Dangerously close!”
“Right, sure.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a drawstring purse. “And exactly who would you find to replace me, Mr. Mustelini?”
The man grabbed at the leather purse. “That’s none of your business!”
“No, you’re right. It’s not.” He relinquished his hold on the cash. “I’m just curious to know who would be willing to go for your rip-off scheme of an apartment. Must be some pretty crazy goblin. Desperate, too.”
“Hmph!” He emptied the purse, counting the gold coins in his hand. “I suppose this will have to do. Your mother’s pay is due on top of this one, just to be clear.”
“As always,” said Kit, backing away towards Anny. “Just don’t let her know about it, alright?”
“As always,” repeated the merchant. “Now get out, before I raise your rent.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. Without hesitating, he took Anny’s hand and headed to the back of the shop. Passing the couple on the way to the counter, he caught their gaze and whispered, “Scram while you can, he’s a cheat!”
Anny stifled a laugh as she caught their bewildered expressions over her shoulder. It wasn’t until they passed through the curtain behind the counter that she let herself giggle out loud. But the laughter faded as they came to the foot of another staircase.
“What was all that about?” she said, as they made their way to the second floor. “Who was that guy?”
“Ugh, he’s my landlord,” said Kit, his voice laced with disgust. “Grabby son of an elephant, is what he is.”
“But he has the same last name as you do.” She thought back to the interview with Bellator. “Mustelini, right? Is your landlord some kind of evil uncle or something?”
“Uh…” He was reluctant to answer. “He’s also, technically, my father.” He swung around to meet Anny’s wide eyes. “But don’t you ever mention it! As far as I’m concerned, we’re not related!” He turned back and continued up the stairs. “And don’t mention this incident to my mother, either. She doesn’t know I’m paying for some of the rent. She’d explode if she found out.”
“Uh, okay,” she said, confused but indifferent. “Not a word.”
They opened the door at the top and entered Kit’s apartment. Anny held her breath, prepared for the worst.
But it wasn’t what she was expecting at all.