Caruth cries and the tears soften and cut tracks through the crust around his eyes. He’s forced flat by the weight of them, three of them, pinning his legs and his trifurcated trunk to the cold, rough cobbles of the alley. He can’t move, can’t do anything but protest as the straddle him and pin him with their weight and even his cries are stifled, a boot pressing down and crushing his trunk, barely a squeak making it out of the nostrils.
The ruffian tears back his robe, revealing his face, his back. A glittering trail of golden gems studding his thick, oily skin. It hurts as the brute grasps and squeezes at the flesh and there is a ‘pop’ that is felt, rather than heard.
The amber lozenge pops from the thick skin, dripping sebum and leaving a raw, pinkish hole in his flesh. The footpad shakes the oil from his prize and holds it up to the lamplight. An oval comedone of hard amber and – deep in the centre of it – the preserved and perfect body of a flea.
Caruth tries to shift, his skin raw now, desperate to be free of them. They’re stealing his only legacy. It’s hopeless, years on the street have left him week and feeble. He freezes, feeling the point of a knife against his brow.
“Cut the skin free. We can pick ’em out later.”
This is it.