Jangling bells and the unmistakable dank odour common to most Asian-owned corner stores met Richter’s entry. “All wet!” came the shopkeeper’s sharp greeting. Richter dropped his hood, shot him a half-sneer, and then grabbed a plastic grocery basket that appeared two decades old. “Big lotto today. You buy!” He did his best to ignore the hard sell as he snaked through the narrow aisles to collect a few days’ viands, a pack of disposable razors, soap, toothpaste, and a box of heavy-duty garbage bags. “You buy lotto?” asked the shopkeeper as Richter approached the counter.

He glared at the man behind it as he set down the basket. “Let me ask you something,” he said as he pulled a copy of the Vancouver Sun from a counter rack. The shopkeeper shifted his attention from the cash register to look him in the eye. “How long have I shopped here?” The shopkeeper wore a quizzical expression and used a long, file-sharpened fingernail to scrape his waxy ear. “Having trouble hearing me?“ Richter jibed. The shopkeeper drew his finger out and held it between them at eye-level. Disgusted, Richter averted his gaze. “How long have I shopped here?” he repeated.

“Uh, you shop here, uh, I don’t know.” The shopkeeper reached into the basket for a grapefruit with the same age-spotted hand he’d used to clean his ear. Richter dropped the newspaper onto the counter and grabbed the grocer by the wrist before his hand made contact with the fruit. Surprised but not fazed, the shopkeeper used his free hand to try to pry Richter’s grip from his wrist, only to have his hand slammed down on the counter.

“Don’t touch my food with your grimy fucking hands. Give me the damned bag. I’ll do it myself.”

The shopkeeper ripped a plastic bag off a spool behind the counter, handed it to him, and then yanked his arm back as soon as Richter released it. “My hands clean!” he shouted.

“Yeah? I’d hate to see them when they’re dirty.” Richter raised his own hand to mimic the shopkeeper’s ear cleaning and, though he had not gone so far as to touch his own ear, caused the shopkeeper to lurch backward as he reached toward him with it. “You still haven’t answered my question.” The shopkeeper wore a confused expression. “You remember it, don’t you? How—long—have—I—shopped—here?“

The shopkeeper squinted. “Maybe, you shop, uh, one year here.”

“Correct, almost one year. And, in that time, have I ever bought a lottery ticket?“

“I don’t know, uh.”

“Yeah, right. You know damned well I haven’t. What makes you think I’ll buy one today?“

“You buy! Today lucky for you!“ The shopkeeper bared his dingy, green tea-specked teeth in a hideous false smile.

Richter averted his eyes once more. “Just tell me the damage,” he said as he packed the last of his groceries.


“Christ almighty.” The shopkeeper held out his hand to receive the cash. Richter reached into his wallet and dropped three $20 bills onto the counter.

“Quick-Pick, two dollar. Lucky!”

“Yeah,” he muttered while waited for his change, “it’s my lucky day.” His attention turned to a large colour photograph on the newspaper’s front page. “Whoa!” He held the paper up for the shopkeeper to view. “See that?” He pointed at the shot of an enormous brown rat—or one made to look so by the photographer’s angle—skulking ominously toward an unsuspecting preschool girl at play in a park sandbox.

The shopkeeper smiled as he handed Richter his change. “Ah, Year of the Rat!”

“Summer, at least.”

“You see!” The shopkeeper pointed at a long scroll calendar hung on the wall behind the counter. A stylized rendering of a rat surrounded by flames appeared under the only characters he recognized: 1996.

“Is that for real?” he asked as he pocketed his change. “I can see celebrating a Year of the Horse, or Tiger, or some other noble creature, but a Year of the Rat? I don’t get it.”

“Rat lucky! Rat bring money!”

“Rats bring disease. They’re nasty critters that serve no useful purpose.”

“Rat take away garbage.”

“Maybe where you’re from, but here, sanitation trucks are supposed to take away garbage.”

“Not today,” the shopkeeper quipped. “You see!” he shouted as he pointed at the shop’s dirty front window, through which minimal sunlight filtered. “Sunny day!”

“Oh, I get it now,” Richter retorted. “Rats bring money and sunshine.” He grimaced at the grocer, lifted his purchase from the counter, and walked to the door.

“Next time, you buy lotto!”

“Fuck off.”


This is an excerpt from Jay Black’s new novella, Guttersnipe. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.