"There's a time to fight, and a time to hide out!"
I'VE heard that when some people get depressed, they retire to their neighborhood bar and tell their troubles to a sympathetic bartender. The problem with the Bazaar at Deva (a problem I had never noticed before) is that there are no sympathetic bartenders!
Consequently, I had to settle for the next best thing and holed up in the Yellow Crescent Inn.
Now, a fast-food joint may seem to you to be a poor substitute for a bar. It is. This particular fast-food joint, however, is owned and managed by my only friend at the Bazaar who isn't living with me. This last part was especially important at the moment, since I didn't think I was apt to get much sympathy in my own home.
Gus is a gargoyle, but despite his fierce appearance he's one of the friendliest beings I've ever met. He's helped Aahz and me out on some of our more dubious assignments, so he's less inclined to ask "How did you get yourself into this?" than most. Usually, he's more interested in "How did you get out of it?"
"How did you get yourself into this one?" he said, shaking his head.
Well, nobody's perfect... especially friends.
"I told you, Gus. One lousy card game where I expected to lose. If I had known it was going to backfire like this, so help me I would have folded every hand!"
"You see, there's your problem," the gargoyle said, flashing a grin toothier than normal. "Instead of sitting in and losing, you'd be better off not sitting in at all!"
I rewarded his sound advice by rolling my eyes.
"It's all hypothetical anyway. What's done is done. The question is, ‘What do I do now'?"
"Not so fast. Let's stick with the card game for a minute. Why did you sit in if you were expecting to lose?"
"Look. Can we drop the card game? I was wrong. Okay? Is that what you want to hear?"
"No-o-o," Gus said slowly. "I still want to hear why you went in the first place. Humor me."
I stared at him for a moment, but he seemed perfectly serious.
I shrugged. "The Geek sent me an invitation. Frankly, it was quite flattering to get one. I just thought it would be sociable to ..."
"Stop!" the gargoyle interrupted, raising his hand. "There's your problem."
"Trying to be sociable. What's the matter? Aren't your current round of friends good enough for you?"
That made me a little bit nervous. I was having enough problems without having Gus get his nose out of joint.
"It isn't that, Gus. Really. The whole crew-yourself included-is closer to me than my family ever was. It's just... I don't know ..."
"... you want to be liked. Right?"
"Yeah. I guess that's it."
"And that's your problem!"
That one threw me. "I don't get it," I admitted.
The gargoyle sighed, then ducked behind the counter. "Have another milkshake," he said, shoving one toward me. "This might take a while, but I'll try to explain."
I like to think it's a sign of my growing savoir-faire that I now enjoy strawberry milkshakes. When I first visited the Bazaar, I rejected them out of hand because they looked like pink swamp muck. I was now moderately addicted to them, though I still wouldn't eat the food here. Then again, maybe it was a sign of something else completely if I thought a taste for strawberry milkshakes was a sign of savoir-faire!
"Look, Skeeve," Gus began, sipping at a milkshake of his own, "you're a nice guy ....ne of the nicest I've ever known. You go out of your way to ‘do the right thing'... to be nice to people. The key phrase there is ‘go out of your way.' You're in a ‘trouble-heavy' profession anyway. Nobody hires a magician because things are going well. Then you add to that your chosen lifestyle. Because you want to be liked, you place yourself in situations you wouldn't go near if it was for your own personal satisfaction. Case in point: the card game. If you had been out for personal gain, i.e., wealth, you wouldn't have gone near it, since you don't know the game. But you wanted to be friendly, so you went expecting to lose. That's not normal, and it resulted in a not-normal outcome, to wit, Markie. That's why you get into trouble."
I chewed my lip slightly as I thought over what he was saying.
"So if I want to stay out of trouble, I've got to stop being a nice guy? I'm not sure I can do that, Gus."
"Neither am I," the gargoyle agreed cheerfully.
"What's more, if you could, I don't think I or any of your other friends would like you any more. I don't even think you'd like yourself."
"Then why are you recommending that I change?"
"I'm not! I'm just pointing out that it's the way you are, not any outside circumstances, that keeps getting you into trouble. In short, since you aren't going to change, get used to being in trouble. It's going to be your constant state for a long while."
I found myself massaging my forehead again.
"Thanks, Gus," I said. "I knew I could count on you to cheer me up."
"Don't knock it. Now you can focus on solving your current problem instead of wasting time wondering why it exists."
"Funny. I thought I was doing just that. Someone else wanted to talk about what was causing my problems."
My sarcasm didn't faze the gargoyle in the least.
"Right," he nodded. "That brings us to your current problem."
"Now you're talking. What do you think I should do, Gus?"
"Beats me. I'd say you've got a real dilemma on your hands."
I closed my eyes as my headache hammered anew. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Gus."
"Hey. Don't mention it. What are friends for? Whoops! Here comes Tananda!"
The other disadvantage to holing up at the Yellow Crescent Inn, besides the fact that it isn't a bar, is that it's located right across the street from my home. This is not good for someone who's trying to avoid his housemates.
Fortunately, this was one situation I could handle with relative ease.
"Don't tell her I'm here, Gus," I instructed.
Not waiting to hear the rest of his protest, I grabbed my milkshake, slipped into a chair at a nearby table, and set to work with a fast disguise spell. By the time Tananda, hit the door, the only one she could see in the place besides Gus was a potbellied Deveel sipping on a strawberry milkshake.
"Hi, Gus!" she sang. "Have you seen Skeeve around?"
"He... aahh... was in earlier." The gargoyle carefully avoided the lie.
"Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to leave without saying goodbye to him. then. Too bad. We weren't on particularly good terms the last time I saw him."
Gus said it before the words burst out of my own mouth, saving me from blowing my disguise.
"Yea. I figure it's about time I moved on."
"I ... umm... have been hearing some strange things about my neighbors, but I've never been sure how much to believe," the gargoyle said thoughtfully. "This sudden departure wouldn't have anything to do with the new moll that's been foisted off on Skeeve, would it?"
"Bunny? Naw. I'll admit I was a bit out of sorts when I first heard about it, but Chumley explained the whole thing to me."
"Then what's the problem?"
Gus was doing a terrific job of beating me to my lines. As long as he kept it up, I'd be able to get all my questions answered without revealing myself. It had occurred to me to confront Tananda directly as soon as I heard what she was up to, but then I realized that this was a rare chance to hear her thoughts when she didn't think I was around.
"Well, it's something Markie said..."
Markie again. I definitely owed Aahz an apology.
"... She made some crack about her daddy, that's Skeeve, letting me live there, and it got me to thinking. Things have been nice these last couple years ... almost too nice. Since we haven't had to worry about overhead, Chumley and I haven't been working much. More important, we haven't been working at working. It's too easy to hang around the place and wait for something to come to us."
"Getting fat and lazy, huh?" Gus grinned.
"Something like that. Now, you know me, Gus. I've always been footloose and fancy free. Ready to follow a job or a whim at the drop of a hat. If anyone had suggested to me that I should settle down, I would have punched their lights out. Now all of a sudden, I've got a permanent address and family... family beyond Chumley, I mean. I hadn't realized how domestic I was getting until Skeeve showed up with Markie. A kid, even. When I first saw her, my first thought was that it would be nice to have a kid around the place! Now I ask you, Gus, does that sound like me?"
"No, it doesn't."
The gargoyle's voice was so quiet I scarcely recognized it as his.
"Right then I saw the handwriting on the wall. If I don't start moving again, I'm going to take root... permanently. You know, the worst thing is that I don't really want to go. That's the scariest part of all."
"I don't think Aahz or Skeeve want you to go either."
"Now don't you start on me, Gus. This is hard enough for me as it is. Like I said, they're family, but they're stifling me. I've got to get away, even if it's only for a little while, or I'm going to lose a part of me ... forever."
"Well, if you've made up your mind ... good luck."
"Thanks, Gus. I'll be in touch from time to time. Keep an eye on the boys in case they buy more trouble than they can sell."
"I don't think you have to worry about Chumley. He's pretty levelheaded."
"Chumley's not the one I'm worried about."
I thought that was going to be her parting shot, but she paused with one hand on the door.
"You know, it's probably just as well that I couldn't find Skeeve. I'm not sure I could have stuck to my guns in a face-to-face ... but then again, maybe that's why I was looking for him."
I could feel Gus's eyes on me as she slipped out. "I suppose it's pointless to ask why you didn't say something. Mister Skeeve."
Even though I had worried earlier about getting Gus angry with me, somehow it didn't matter anymore.
"At first it was curiosity," I said, letting my disguise slip away. "Then, I didn't want to embarrass her."
"And at the end there? When she flat-out said that you could talk her out of going? Why didn't you speak up then? Do you want her to disappear?"
I couldn't even manage a spark of anger. "You know better than that, Gus," I said quietly. "You're hurting and lashing out at whoever's handy, which happens to be me. I didn't try to get her to stay for the same reason you didn't try harder. She feels we're stifling her, and if she wants out, it'd be pretty small of us to try to keep her for our own sakes, wouldn't it?"
There was prolonged silence, which was fine by me. I didn't feel much like talking anymore. Rising, I started for the door.
"You were looking the other way when she left," the gargoyle said. "You might like to know there were tears in her eyes."
"Mine too," I replied without turning. "That's why I was looking the other way."