“You lost, then?” asked the tall man with the unusual, conical hat.

Mercer turned with a start, and withdrew his hand from a pouch — he knew well enough the place he was in was likely a haven for thieves, and he had no desire to have his purse pinched.

“Ah, it’s all over your face, don’t mind me,” the man nodded his head, and Mercer watched the strange hat bob up and down.

“What do you want?” asked Mercer.

“Well, a friend walks around like that, and you know it matters to him where he puts his money.” He winked at Mercer. “I thought to offer my services, as it were, with an arrangement for an exchange worked out in advance. Payment, if you will.” He bowed his head low. “In short, I show you around and provide you with a basic knowledge of town and you show your appreciation with something shiny.”

The man gestured to the pouch on Mercer’s belt, and Mercer looked down, and back up at the man again. “How much are you asking for this service?” said Mercer.

The man gestured emphatically, with his fingers close together. “A trifle. A pinch. My trade is to make my service so affordable that you’re satisfied in full and thus inclined to make a request of them again!” He smiled and his eyes twinkled. “Or that you direct others my way, who are looking for a guide, and willing to pay!”

Mercer scratched his beard thoughtfully.

“I won’t even trouble you with my name unless you so wish,” said the man, and he smiled again, a big, toothy smile. There was something about the way he moved around that drew the eye to the hat on his head.

“What, with your pronounced interest in payment, prevents you from leading me into an ambush? If you know this place as well as you say, you could prey on newcomers quite easily.”

The man with the strange hat let out a low whistle, and clapped his hands enthusiastically. “Well done, you! Well done, indeed!” He leaned toward Mercer and raised an eyebrow. “Now, explain to me how such deceptions encourage repeat customers.”