Salvadore Ross is as our narrator described. He has a huge chip on his shoulder and an even bigger sense of entitlement. This young man favors a woman named Leah Maitland, who breaks it off with Ross because of his personality. He breaks his hand in the ensuing tantrum, and goes to a hospital.
As the bedridden Ross fumes, he overhears the elderly patient next to him coughing loudly. Ross sarcastically asks if he could trade his broken hand for the old man's illness. The old man jokingly accepts, and they both sleep.
The next morning, Ross has a cold, while the senior has a broken hand. The old man begs Ross to reverse this (at his age, the hand wouldn't heal properly), but Ross dismisses him.
Leaving the hospital behind, Ross quickly figures out that he has the supernatural power to trade anything as long as the other trader agrees to it. Deciding to use this to impress Leah, he trades other guys for things like money, youth and even intellect.
Leah rejects him again, explaining that for all of his self-improvement, he's still the same heartless old bastard he's always been. She negatively compares him to her father, which inspires him to visit the old man.
Ross confronts Mr. Maitland, who also disapproves of his pursuit of Leah. After the two express their mutual hatred, Ross tells the old man that he has a business proposition for him.
The next day, Salvadore Ross is a changed man; he's become thoughtful, warm and gentle. Now in a happy relationship with Leah, Ross goes to Maitland to ask his permission to marry her. Maitland tells him no. When Ross asks him to show compassion, Maitland retorts that he sold that to him yesterday. He then blows Ross away with a gun.
The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Tropes:
- Adaptational Job Change: In the short story by Henry Slesar, Ross initially works at a bottling plant while Leah is doing a teacher training course. In the television adaptation, Ross initially does odd jobs for the multi-millionaire Mr. Halpert while Leah is a social worker.
- Adapted Out: The television adaptation does not include the bald bartender Phil who trades $112 for Ross' full head of hair, the homeless man who trades his hair to Ross for a place to sleep and Mr. Halpert's chauffeur Jan who trades access to Halpert for Ross' skills at pool.
- Chekhov's Gun: Ross mocks Mr. Maitland for displaying his collection of guns on the wall of his apartment as he was injured in World War II. After trading his compassion to Ross for $100,000, Mr. Maitland shoots him with one of those guns.
- Did Not Think This Through: Salvadore Ross buys the compassion of Leah's father, and fails to realize that he thereby made the father as compassionless as he used to be.
- HeelFace Turn: Subverted, it seems Salvadore Ross went through one, turns out he just bought Leah's father's compassion.
- I Was Just Joking: Salvadore Ross' roommate when he realizes that the swap actually went through leaving him with a broken hand. And, since he spent the whole night sleeping on it without a cast, the roommate's hand will probably remain deformed.
- Jerkass: Salvadore Ross all the way through. He's rude, condescending and uncaring. While he seeks self-improvement, it's only to feed his ego and get what he wants.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Salvadore Ross' own deal goes bad when he buys the compassion of Leah's father and is killed by him.
- Loving a Shadow: Ross admits that he pursued Leah for selfish reasons. He does eventually realize he loves Leah but by then it's too late for him.
- Named by the Adaptation: In the short story, Albert does not have a surname. In the television adaptation, it is given as Rowe.
- Physical Attribute Swap: Ross can trade ages with people. One of his trades is exchanging his youth with a wealthy man's old age in return for one million dollars. He makes a series of trades with other men, paying them $1,000 for trading him a year of their youth in exchange for a year of his old age, and is soon young again.
- Semantic Superpower: Ross can buy and trade anything, as long as the other trader agrees. He can even trade abstract concepts like social status and education level.
- Spared by the Adaptation: In the short story, Mr. Maitland recently had a severe stroke and is expected to only live another few months, possibly weeks. In the television adaptation, he is wheelchair bound but is otherwise in good health.
- Villain Protagonist: Ross is a self-serving, hostile lout with a bit of a sadistic streak, and here we are watching his story unfold.