“Look, I’m trying to find something different.” I waved away the umpteenth street vendor trying to sell me pirated DVDs and shoddy jewellery. I was in an irritable mood; the market was hot and full of sweaty people crammed together in the street, and every stall seemed to sell the same bootleg merchandise off the same unfortunate lorry.
The stall-holder now in front of me was grinning. “Something different, yah?” he said, and tapped the side of his nose. “I know just the man you want.”
He thrust a grubby business card into my hands. ‘Jack Hansard, Purveyor of Black Goods’ was the sole information it displayed. I was dubious, but curiosity compelled me to ask his whereabouts.
I was directed to the opposite end of the street, passed along by vendor to vendor until I was deposited by a beaten-up Ford Escort. It took me a full minute to realise there was a man leaning against the trunk of the car, so casually poised and indiscriminate in features that he melded in with the background. He caught my eye, and with the motion of straightening up he seemed to come into focus, as if suddenly stepping into the foreground.
“Jack Hansard?” I said, raising an eyebrow.
He answered with a sly grin and a mock salute. “The one and only.”
“I was told you could help me. I’m looking for something… unusual? Unique?” I said uncertainly. Had I inadvertently signed myself up for some covert drug deal or transaction of stolen property? ‘Black Goods’ certainly didn’t have a very lawful ring to it.
The man, this Jack Hansard, rapped his knuckles on the trunk of his car (correction: hopefully his car) in a thoughtful manner.
“I have just the thing,” he said. He winked and leaned in conspiratorially. “How would you like to purchase a Deus Ex Machina, young miss?”
“What is that, exactly?”
“Why, it’s the answer to all of your problems!” Mr Hansard swept back his large trench coat and plucked a box from a bulging inside pocket. “Your very own improbable solution. Satisfaction guaranteed. Yours, for twenty pounds! It’s starting to go off, you see.”
As much as I disliked being addressed as ‘young miss’, I was amused by his pitch. “Does it come with a happy ending?” I said wryly.
He considered this, then responded: “I suppose I could throw one in for half price. One moment.” He whipped out a jar from another pocket. He pulled out the cap with his teeth and, lifting the lid of the box ever so slightly, poured the contents inside. He shook the box like a bartender, and then proffered it to me once more.
“Thirty pounds,” he said, winking once more. I think he believed it made him appear more mysterious.
“And who thought money couldn’t buy happiness?” I said, shaking my head in bemusement. At least he was only your standard con-artist, and not something more sinister.
“Twenty-five?” offered Mr Hansard. He held out the little box like a plea. I hesitated. I had wanted something distinctly odd to show for my trip to London. This would certainly give me a story to tell.
“Comes in a pretty box, too, miss,” he added, apparently getting desperate.
“All right,” I decided.
His shoulders sank in relief, but it was momentary. In the next instant he’d pulled himself up again and restored his salesman’s patter: would I like it in a bag? Such a lovely item for such a lovely lady, be sure to use it up within a week or it’ll go rotten, here’s your change, have a good day now.
As I turned away to admire my new trinket box, a fierce yell resounded down the street.
I saw Mr Hansard jump and followed his gaze to the source of the voice. Thundering through the crowd was a huge, burly man, by all accounts of gorilla heritage, snarling as he shoved past peaceful shoppers and knocked over market displays in his way. With horror it dawned on me I was next in line in his rampaging path.
As the gorilla bore down on me I let out a short scream, then turned on my heel and ran. Some instinct compelled me to follow the trench coat that wove in and out of sight ahead. I caught up to it, and realised it was none other than Jack Hansard, also running for his life. I reached out, caught him by the shoulder, and threw us both into the relative camouflage of a clothing stall set back from the pavement.
“Cheers,” he said, not even out of breath, while I stood bent over double frantically trying to pull air back into my lungs. He peered out through the clothing rails, then cursed and flew back into a crouch, pulling me down with him.
“He’s just outside,” he whispered to me. “Stay quiet and we might both make it out of this.”
“This has nothing to do with me!” I hissed at him. “I don’t know why I even followed you!”
Hansard shrugged apologetically. Outside, the gorilla-man was bellowing Hansard’s name.
“What on earth did you do?” I demanded.
“I may have sold him some faulty inspiration,” said Hansard uneasily.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Sounds like it was some stale impressionism,” he continued grimly. “He told me on the phone that all he could paint since he’d bought it was big splotchy pictures of blurred people.”
“Is that what he’s holding in his hand? A painting?” I took a peek, and saw that indeed, gorilla-man had brought a poorly rendered oil-on-canvas to make his point. “I think he wants to show you how to shove it in a particular place where the sun doesn’t shine,” I observed.
“I had guessed that, thank you.”
The stall attendant had noticed us by now, and her gaze was switching quizzically between us and the gorilla-man still bellowing and roaring just outside her pitch and scaring away her customers. I could see her mind ticking over the options that included blowing our cover and allowing her business to resume without interruption. Our time in hiding wasn’t going to last much longer.
“Here,” said Hansard, nudging me. “Maybe… you could use that there item you purchased from me earlier?” He indicated the box clutched in my hands, and turned to me with pleading eyes.
“This will help, will it?” I said, staring him down.
“Satisfaction guaranteed,” he replied meekly.
I looked down at the box in my hands, shrugged, and pulled off the lid.
I regarded the inside critically. It failed to emit a bright light, or mystical aura, or anything even vaguely supernatural. It was, in fact, entirely empty.
“There,” I said. “Now how about considering a practical solution-”
But Jack Hansard wasn’t listening. He was peering avidly through the rails at the street, where a further commotion was evidently brewing.
The gorilla had been accosted by a man in a suit, about whom was an air of stylised primness that clung to him like the hair gel on his head. There was much exclamation and gesturing to the offending canvas gripped in the gorilla’s paw. I caught the words ‘Tate Modern’, ‘own exhibition’, and, most peculiarly, the phrase ‘revolution of post-modern-impressionist-revisionism!’
“Looks like our friend’s had an offer he can’t refuse!” said Hansard gleefully. Mr Gorilla appeared quite dazed, nodding his head at the suited individual in a slow, perplexed manner. He was led away by the suited man, still gushing over what was apparently a major new development in the art world.
It took me a moment to realise my mouth was hanging open.
Jack Hansard bounced to his feet. He exited the clothing stall and stretched in the open air with all the relish of a prisoner set free.
He nodded to me, and offered yet another wink. “Cheers for the favour, miss. Take this for your trouble.”
He tossed me a small bottle, no more than an inch long and filled with a sparkling liquid.
“That,” he said with a flourish, “is the gift of a good story. Delight your friends and family! Never be a bore at parties!”
“Satisfaction guaranteed?” I added.
“Of course.” He chuckled. “It’s nearing its use-by-date though, so use it up soon otherwise it’ll turn into a cliché.”
I laughed, despite myself.
And with that, Jack Hansard disappeared into the crowd, and doubtless into some other kind of trouble.
I still don’t know what to make of my encounter with Jack Hansard. I don’t know if the things he told me were true, or whether the things he was selling were real, or if everything that occurred was just mere coincidence.
But there is one thing I do know: it certainly does make a good story.
Thanks for reading! If you’re new here and you liked this story, you can find the full list of Jack Hansard episodes here.