Bengal bobbed his head at the pedestrians hurrying along Telegraph while propping himself with one hand on the utility bucket appearing to contain three bouquets of flowers. Behind him, bars kept the vacant lot's dead grass pure. On the edge of the vacant lot, a mix of cerulean and cobalt blues dominated the mural behind him dotted with cream and chocolate milk faces. In the shadows of the vestibule to the Galaxxi's tattoo parlor, stood a leather-vested man wearing a flat gaze. The man weighed at least twice Bengal's weight and the peddler itched the back his neck. Even if he could conjure the goods out of nothing, he needed a sale to fill his belly.
A man in a tweed jacket crossed Haste Street. The polo shirt was on inside out. Bengal shuffled until he stood in the man's path. Professors had more money than students, even if they bickered over the state's lack of funding. "Please, sir. Flowers?"
The man didn't stop until he'd collided with Bengal. "I... I didn't see you." The man bent, his flow of motion broken, to help Bengal to his feet.
Bengal's hands slipped under the coattails of the man's jacket and felt the bulge of the wallet. That was not his game. He felt the heat, but dropped his hands. "My flowers are best quality. Whatever your wife desires can be had."
The man held his hands away from his body, as if they'd been stained. "I'm sorry. I didn't see you." The voice became stronger. The mark was slipping away. "My wife has exotic tastes."
Bengal grabbed the man's forearm. He held it close as if evaluating the palm's lifelines. Without letting go, he pulled backwards until he could reach into the bucket. Bending down to the bottom where the dust gathered. He needed only a small pinch. He murmured a word over the dust and held his hand out to the man, carefully curled.
A flower appeared in the professor's hand. Deep violet petals wrapped the blossom with whiskers tapering away from the center. "Tacca Chantrieri. It can't be. Endangered."
"No. For you and your wife." The flowers, a shared delusion, would last as long as the professor believed.
The man dug into his wallet and pushed some bills into Bengal's hand before disappearing into the crowd of pedestrians. A hand clamped onto Bengal's shoulder as he tucked the bills into his waistline. The man from the tattoo shop held him.
"Whatever you desire." Bengal's voice squeaked.
The man's boot kicked over the bucket to scatter dust across the sidewalk. The waste galled Bengal.
"Illusions are illegal."
Bengal cursed under his breath; the man looked like a bouncer, not an undercover cop. Bengal sneezed with enough force to spray some of the dust into the air. Two soft words turned his hemp shirt into oil-slicked scales and the cop's hand slid along Bengal's back as he rolled to the cement grabbing a fistful of the dust before springing through the bars fencing people out of the vacant lot. The cop lashed out at the bars, but couldn't fit through them.
Bengal sprinted across the tufts of grass and squeezed through the far side and into an alley. The cop's footsteps pounded as he ran around the vacant lot. Bengal turned left, hopped over a trash can, and turned right before leaping to catch the bottom rungs of a fire escape. He breathed over a pinch of dust and faded into the sand-bleached paint. Another pinch and he crafted footprints and the sound of clattering feet turning down the next alley and back towards Telegraph as the cop ran past.
With darkness's caress, he slid from his hiding place and sought a street vendor. Illusions never hurt anyone.