Marketeers 1067 1600 Marisa L. Manuel

Lawrence can’t afford a dentist. His back molars are more nerve endings than enamel, and his canines are black, flattened, and thin. At thirty-eight, he’s reached a second childhood in which every tooth is on the verge of falling out, only now there’s no fairy to give him money, no new teeth to grow in place. Fortunately, he’s not without options. The Black Market is here to help.

The Black Market is settled in a tiny alleyway off of Fifth and Forester. Fittingly, every booth is donned in black sheets, creating tents in which the marketeers conceal their services. Only, they’re not really hiding them—each marketeer stands proudly before their booth, screaming like an auctioneer.

“Right this way, two girls for $950.”

“Step up, step up, used guns! Inquire inside.”

And right beside him: “We buy kidneys. Payment up front. Special pricing on doubles.”

It’s this booth that catches Lawrence’s eye. His aching teeth ache slightly less as he pulls the tent flap and walks inside. The tent is warm and there’s a cooler and medical exam table on one side, a man dressed in green smocks on the other. He’s holding a saw and wearing a surgical mask.

“You have both kidneys?” the man asks. Lawrence nods. “You know, you only need one to live.”

Lawrence nods again, and the surgeon smiles beneath his mask. He motions to the table.

This is not a horror story in which the surgeon steals Lawrence’s kidney. The man pays as promised, right after the operation. It’s Lawrence’s own fault for not asking his kidney’s worth.

“Twenty dollars?” Lawrence is livid. He throws the single bill at the man, then clambers to his knees and picks it back up.

“I’ll give you another fifty dollars for the second.” The surgeon shrugs. “Only, you won’t live that way.”

Scowling, Lawrence leaves the tent. His left side is aching, and he can tell the stitches are uneven. It’s the sort of hackneyed job that leads to infection. Great, another medical bill to worry about, on top of paying for his teeth. He sighs, and his breath smells harsh and metallic. His incisors are razor blades in his gums.

“Right this way, become a surrogate, one hundred twenty dollars.”

“Need a new identity? Selling real IDs. Come get yours today.”

“Buying livers. Just the tip!”

Lawrence walks inside.

Like in the last tent, there’s a man dressed in a doctor’s scrubs. He’s holding a cooler, and he gestures for Lawrence to take a seat.

“How much of my liver are you taking?”” Lawrence asks.

“Not a sizable amount. You’ll barely miss it.”

“Ok, and how much are you offering?”

“Fifteen per segment.”

“Fifteen! The kidney guy’s offering twenty!”

The surgeon shrugs and motions to the table. Lawrence licks at the holes in his gums. He figures, fuck it, he needs the dental work. And fifteen dollars will cover his co-pay.

Several hours later, Lawrence wakes up woozy and sans half his liver. The doctor hands him a ten, mentions something about the liver being fatty, not as advertised. Lawrence nods and leaves the tent. When he’s almost at the end of the alleyway, the information hits, and Lawrence doubles back. But by now, the liver surgeon’s tent has disassembled; he’s closed for the day, hit the road, headed for Malibu to sell Lawrence’s liver.

The new stitches are bleeding. Lawrence’s shirt is red. His armpits are soggy and hot. He stumbles through the black market, passes tent after tent, and as vendors scream about speed and foreign animals, he falls to the ground. His heartbeat stops.

At first, no one notices the dead man’s body. But once the flies arrive, the marketeers swarm. The kidney doctor takes a second kidney, and a different purveyor of livers reaches inside of Lawrence, then yanks the small piece remaining. Next go his eyelids and lungs and pancreas. Like carrion, the marketeers peck away until nothing is left of Lawrence’s body. Nothing, except Lawrence’s teeth. The marketeers leave those, having no use. Until the black market dentist arrives.

This dentist is much like the other marketeers. He wears a green smock and a surgical mask. Instead of a saw, he holds a drill. And instead of a cooler, he carries a case of painting tools.

He sets to work picking through Lawrence’s jaw, cutting past the nerves and sensitive gums, which no longer ache. He yanks out each blackened, broken piece of him, and in all, he collects seventeen passable teeth—none mint condition. But in his line of work, they’re still salvageable.

One by one, the dentist paints the rotten teeth white, fills the holes with plaster, then covers them all with a glossy shine. The next day, he sets up his booth and stands alongside his fellow salesmen.

“Dog fighting, this way, this way!”

“Abortions, all yours for the price of a coat hanger!”

“Dentures. Lightly used. Price negotiable.”

Header photograph © Karyna Aslanova.

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