“Please,” she said. “Just give me a chance.”

Goris sighed and pushed aside papers to clear a spot on his desk. “Okay, listen,” he said, lighting a fresh cigarette with the stump of the old. “I’m going to give you some advice. Some straight talk, okay?”

Eris didn’t like the weary look on his sallow features, but she nodded.

“Compassion? It’s a finite resource,” Goris said. “Some people have more than others, yeah, but at the end of the day you’ve only got so much to give. You live in Podunk, Iowa, and come here to the big city? See a homeless person? You’d give them a good handout. But if you see a hundred bums on the street every day, there’s not much left for any one of them.”

“But you could give them all something, right?” said Eris. “Especially if you got to know them?”

Goris shook his head. “Listen, kid. When I was in ‘Nam–yeah, I’m that old, say what you want–I had some liberty in Saigon. Went out with a friend of mine to one of the big open-air markets they used to have for dumb GI kids to blow their pay and pay for their blow. Saw a bunch of beggars there, and my friend started giving them all money. They just kept coming and coming and he just kept giving and giving until he’d given out every cent he had, even his lucky buffalo nickel.”

“You’re saying that if you give me a chance I’ll just keep taking?” Eris said.

“I’ve gotta assume that,” Goris said. “I’ve gotta assume that you’ll take my pennies and disappear, taking with you what little compassion hasn’t been fracked out of the bedrock of my heart.”

“But…!”

“No buts,” said Goris, raising a hairy, liver-spotted hand. “Listen, kid. I like you. That’s why I’m talking straight with you instead of threatening to bust kneecaps or bust caps period. But that’s just about as much compassion as the well has. You have trouble paying? Let’s figure something out. You can’t pay me back if you’re dead. But don’t think for a moment that I won’t do it if I think it’ll scare away somebody else who might try to rip me off.”

Eris shuddered at the thought of what “figure something out” could mean. “I guess we could…talk…about what I can do,” she said cautiously.

“Yeah. Tell me what you can do. But don’t think that those big doe eyes are going to dredge up any more compassion. Like I said, I like you. But this kind of straight talk is about all that’ll get you.”

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