AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Three Word Wednesday and is cross-posted at Alice Audrey's Serialists. Although it is set in the same world as Steal Tomorrow it is part of a new series of stories centered around new characters. The "Extras" section of the sidebar has been updated to reflect this. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday and The Serialists for more fun.
Mario played a few scales, stopping from time to time to adjust his reed or flex his fingers. A chilly day like today made his tuning off, but that would change as the saxophone warmed from his breath. A few feet away, the mute girl blew a tentative note on her flute while Tim set up their sign on the curb: New Dawn Jazz Trio: Donations Gladly Accepted
Dirty children began wandering over but for now they waited in silent curiosity. The young survivors were willing to share their food for a taste of such pre-pandemic luxuries as music, but they were a tough audience.
Tim went and stood behind his drum, sticks and brushes at the ready. Mario met the eyes of his band mates, mouthed the words "Autumn Leaves," and they launched into the old jazz standard. They continued the set with "Georgia on My Mind" and "Mack the Knife." By the time they reached the end of an energetic version of "I Got Rhythm," a crowd had gathered and a few gifts had been put into their tip basket in vindication of their efforts: a bottle of water, a small bag of dry beans, a tin of mushrooms and a watch battery.
Mario called a break and the crowd thinned out. The kids had their own daily hustle to be concerned with, after all. One teenage boy remained.
"We'll start again in about fifteen minutes," Mario said.
"Actually, I came to make you an offer."
Was this a chance to play a gig? Mario could hardly suppress his excitement. Things were getting more civilized every day! The boy's next words brought him back to reality, though.
"Me and a couple girls have a food stand over on Eleventh." He looked from Mario to Tim and the mute flutist, then back to Mario again. "You seem to draw a good crowd. Kids are talking about you guys as far away as Columbus Street."
"Okay," Mario said cautiously, still not sure where this line of conversation was leading.
"I was thinking maybe we could make a deal." When he saw that Mario didn't understand, the boy explained. "If you guys set up by my food stand, I'll draw more customers."
"And how would that benefit us?" Tim asked. He twirled a snare stick in an idle fashion, but the glint in his eyes was all business.
"I'll give you one meal apiece each day. And you keep all your donations, of course."
Mario frowned. He was familiar with these sidewalk vendors. They worked outside because there hadn't been gas or electricity in months and it was too dangerous to light a cooking fire indoors. Guys like this one sold anything they could get their hands on, which usually meant meat from questionable sources such as rats and stray dogs. "What do you think?" Mario asked his friends.
The girl gave a noncommittal shrug but Tim wanted to know what kind of meal they would be given. "Are you talking about whatever you can't sell at the end of the day, or what?"
"You'll get the same as me and my girls. Want to try it out for a week and see how it goes?"
Mario considered. The boy seemed reasonably healthy, so whatever he was eating must not be too bad, and it wasn't like food was getting easier to find. Hunger gave impetus to his decision. "We'll give it a try." He glanced at Tim for confirmation. "One meal per day, same as whatever you're eating. After a week if we're not happy, we go our separate ways."
The boy grinned and stuck out a hand. "It's a deal."
After he left, Mario and his band members looked at each other.
"Can't be much worse than how we're doing now," Tim said.
The girl nodded and blew a long F-sharp on her flute.
Mario picked up his sax. A food cart arrangement wasn't as good as a real gig, but he solaced himself that it would be a form of dinner theater. "Days of Wine and Roses," he called to Tim.
"You referring to the song or our new business arrangement?"
With any luck, it would be both.
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