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Robert Lynn Asprin

Inevitably, when conversing with my colleagues of the dragon set, and the subject of pets was raised, an argument would ensue as to the relative advantages and disadvantages of humans as pets. Traditionally, I have maintained a respectful silence during such sessions, being the youngest member in attendance and therefore obligated to learn from my elders. This should not, however, be taken as an indication that I lack opinions on the subject. I have numerous well-developed theories, which is the main reason I welcomed the chance to test them by acquiring a subject as young and yet as well-traveled as Skeeve was when I first encountered him. As my oration unfolds, you will note…but I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first is the order of business for organized and well-mannered organisms. I am the entity you have come to know in these volumes as…

“Gleep! C’mere, fella.”

That is Nunzio. He is neither organized nor well-mannered. Consequently, as is so often the case when dealing with Skeeve and his rather dubious collection of associates, I chose to ignore him. Still, an interesting point has been raised, so I had probably best address it now before proceeding.

As was so rudely pointed out, I am known to this particular batch of humans, as well as to the readers of these volumes, simply as Gleep. for the sake of convenience, I will continue to identify myself to you by that name, thereby eliminating the frustrating task of attempting to instruct you in the pronunciation of my real name. Not only am I unsure you are physically able to reproduce the necessary sounds, but there is the fact that I have limited patience when it comes to dealing with humans. Then, too, it is customary for dragons to adopt aliases for these cross-phylum escapades. It saves embarrassment when the human chroniclers distort the facts when recording the incidents…which they invariably do.

If I seem noticeably more coherent than you would expect from my reputed one-word vocabulary, the reason is both simple and logical. First, I am still quite young for a dragon, and the vocal cords are one of the last things to develop in regard to our bodies. While I am quite able to converse and communicate with others of my species, I have another two hundred years before my voice is ready to attempt the particular combination of sounds and pitches necessary to converse extensively with humans in their own tongue.

As to my mental development, one must take into consideration the vast differences in our expected lifespan. A human is considered exceptional to survive for a hundred years, whereas dragons can live for thousands of years without being regarded as old by their friends and relations. The implications of this are too numerous to count, but the one which concerns us here is that, while I am perhaps young for a dragon, I am easily the oldest of those who affiliate themselves with Skeeve. Of course, humans tend to lack the breeding and upbringing of my kind, so they are far less inclined to heed the older and wiser heads in their midst, much less learn from them.

“Hey, Gleep! Can you hear me? Over here, boy.”

I made a big show of nibbling on my foot as if troubled by an itch. Humans as a whole seem unable to grasp the subtleties of communication which would allow them to ascertain when they are being deliberately ignored, much less what it implies. Consequently, I have devised the technique of visibly demonstrating I am preoccupied when confronted with a particularly rude or ignorant statement or request. This not only serves to silence their yammerings, it slows the steady erosion of my nerves. To date, the technique yields about a twenty percent success ratio, which is significantly better than most tactics I have attempted. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be one of those twenty percenters.

“I’m talkin’ ta you, Gleep. Now are ya gonna go where I tell ya or not ?”

While I am waiting for my physical development to enable me to attempt the language of another species, I have serious doubts that Nunzio or Guido will master their native tongue, no matter how much time they are allowed. Somehow it reminds me of a tale one of my aunts used to tell about how she encountered a human in a faraway land and inquired if he were a native. “I ain’t no native!” she was told. “I was born right here!” I quite agree with her that the only proper response when confronted by such logic was to eat him.

Nunzio was still carrying on in that squeaky little-boy voice of his which is so surprising when one first hears it, except now he had circled around behind me and was trying to push me in the direction he had indicated earlier. While he is impressively strong for a human, I outweighed him sufficiently that I was confident that there was no chance he could move me until I decided to cooperate. Still, his antics were annoying, and I briefly debated whether it was worth trying to improve his manners by belting him with my tail. I decided against it, of course. Even the strongest humans are dangerously frail and vulnerable, and I did not wish to distress Skeeve by damaging one of his playmates. A trauma like that could set my pet’s training program back years.

Right about then, I observed that Nunzio’s breathing had become labored. Since he had already demonstrated his mental inflexibility, I grew concerned that he might suffer a heart attack before giving up his impossible task. Having just reminded myself of the undesirability of his untimely demise, I decided I would have to humor him.

Delaying just long enough for a leisurely yawn, I rose and ambled in the indicated direction…first sliding sideways a bit so that he fell on his face the next time he threw his weight against me. I reasoned that if he wasn’t sturdy enough to survive a simple fall, then my pet was better off without his company.

Fortunately or un-, depending on your point of view, he scrambled rapidly to his feet and fell in step beside me as I walked.

“I want youse to familiarize yourself with the shipment which we are to be protectin’,” he said, still breathing hard, “then wander around the place a little so’s yer familiar with the layout.”

This struck me as a particularly silly thing to do. I had sized up the shipment and the layout within moments of our arrival, and I had assumed that Nunzio had done the same. There simply wasn’t all that much to analyze.

The warehouse was nothing more than a large room…four walls and a ceiling with rafters from which a scattered collection of lights poured down sufficiently inadequate light as to leave large pockets of shadows through the place. There was a small doorway in one wall, and a large sliding door in another, presumably leading to a loading dock. Except for the shipment piled in the center of the room, the place was empty.

The shipment itself consisted of a couple dozen boxes stacked on a wooden skid. From what my nose could ascertain, whatever was inside the boxes consisted of paper and ink. Why paper and ink should be valuable enough to warrant a guard I neither knew nor cared. Dragons do not have much use for paper…particularly paper money. Flammable currency is not our idea of a sound investment for a society. Still, someone must have felt the shipment to be of some worth, if not the human who had commissioned our services, then definitely the one dressed head to foot in black who was creeping around in the rafters.

All of this had become apparent to me as soon as we had entered the warehouse, so there was no reason to busy oneself with make-work additional checks. Nunzio, however, seemed bound and determined to prod me into rediscovering what I already knew. Even allowing for the fact that the human senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell are far below those of dragons, I was nonetheless appalled at how little he was able to detect on his own. Perhaps if he focused less of his attention on me and more on what was going on around us, he would have fared better. As it was, he was hopeless. If Skeeve was hoping that Nunzio would learn something from me, which was the only reason I could imagine for including him on the assignment, my pet was going to be sorely disappointed. Other than the fact that he seemed to try harder than most humans to interact positively with dragons, however crude and ignorant his attempts might be, I couldn’t imagine why I was as tolerant of him as I was.

Whoever it was in the rafters was moving closer now. He might have been stealthy for a human, buy my ears tracked him as easily as if he were banging two pots together as he came. While I was aware of his presence two steps through the door, I had been uncertain as to his intentions and therefore had been willing to be patient until sure whether he were simply an innocent bystander, or if he indeed entertained thoughts of larceny. His attempts to sneak up on us confirmed to me he was one of the latter ilk, however incompetent he might be at it.

Trying to let Nunzio benefit from my abilities, I swiveled my head around and pointed at the intruder with my nose.

“Pay attention, Gleep!” my idiot charge said, jerking my muzzle down toward the boxes again. “This is what we’re supposed to be guardin’. Understand?”

I understood that either humans were even slower to learn than the most critical dragons gave them credit for, which I was beginning to believe, or this particular specimen was brain-damaged, which was also a possibility. Rolling my eyes, I check on the intruder again.

He was nearly above us now, his legs spread wide supporting his weight on two of the rafters. With careful deliberation, he removed something from within his sleeve, raised it to his mouth, and pointed it at us.

Part of the early training of any dragon is a series of lessons designed to impart a detailed knowledge of human weapons. This may sound strange for what is basically a peace-loving folk, but we consider it to be simple survival…such as humans instructing their young that bees sting or fire is hot. Regardless of our motivations, let it suffice to say that I was as cognizant of human weapons as any human, and considerably more so than any not in the military or other heroic vocations, and as such had no difficulty at identifying the implement being directed at us as a blowgun.

Now, in addition to having better sense, dragons have armor which provides substantially more protection than humans enjoy from their skin. Consequently, I was relatively certain that whatever was set to emerge from the business end of the blowgun would not pose a threat to my well-being. It occurred to me, however, that the same could not be said for Nunzio and, as I have said before, I have qualms about going to some lengths to ensure my pet’s peace of mind by protecting his associates.

Jerking my head free from Nunzio’s grasp, I took quick aim and loosed a burst of #6 flame. Oh, yes. Dragons have various degrees of flame at their disposal, ranging from “toast a marshmallow” to “make a hole in rock.” You might keep that in mind the next time you consider arguing with a dragon.

Within seconds of my extinguishing the pyrotechnics, a brief shower of black powder drifted down on us.

“Darn it, Gleep!” Nunzio said, brushing the powder from his clothes. “Don’t do that again, hear me? Next time you might do more than knock some dust loose…and look at my clothes! Bad dragon!”

I had been around humans enough not to expect any thanks, but I found it annoying to be scolded for saving his life. With as much dignity as I could muster, which is considerable, I turned and sat with my back to him.


That was more like it. I turned to face him again, only to find him hopping around holding his foot. Not lacking in mental faculties, I was able to deduce that, in making my indignant gesture, I had succeeded in sitting on his lower extremities. It was unintentional, I assure you, as human feet are rather small and my excellent sense of touch does not extend to my posterior, but it did occur to me in hindsight (no pun intended) that it served him right.

“Look, you just sit there and I’ll sit over here and we’ll get along fine. Okay?”

He limped over to one of the cartons and sat down, alternately rubbing his foot and brushing his clothes off.

The powder was, of course, the remains of the late intruder/assassin. #6 flame has a tendency to have that effect on humans, which is why I used it. While human burial rights have always been a source of curiosity and puzzlement to me, I was fairly certain that they did not include having one’s cremated remains brushed onto the floor or removed by a laundry service. Still, considering my difficulty in communicating a simple “look out” to Nunzio, I decided it would be too much effort to convey to him exactly what he was doing.

If my attitude toward killing a human seems a bit shocking in its casualness, remember that to dragons humans are an inferior species. You do not flinch from killing fleas to ensure the comfort of your dog or cat, regardless of what the surviving fleas might think of your callous actions, and I do not hesitate to remove a bothersome human who might cause my pet distress by his actions. At least we dragons generally focus on individuals as opposed to the wholesale slaughter of species humans seem to accept as part of their daily life.

“You know, Gleep,” Nunzio said, regarding me carefully, “after a while in your company, even Guido’s braggin’ sounds good…but don’t tell him I said that.”


That last sort of slipped out. As you may have noticed, I am sufficiently self-conscious about my one-word human vocabulary that I try to rely on it as little as possible. The concept of my telling Guido anything, however, startled me into the utterance.

“Now, don’t take it so hard,” Nunzio scowled, as always interpreting my word wrong. “I didn’t mean it. I’m just a little sore, is all.”

I assumed he was referring to his foot. The human was feeling chatty, however, and I soon learned otherwise.

“I just don’t know what’s goin’ on lately, Gleep. Know what I mean? On the paperwork things couldn’t be goin’ better, except lately everybody’s been actin’ crazy. First the Boss buys a casino we built for somebody else, then overnight he wants to sell it. Bunny and Tananda are goin’ at each other for a while, then all of a sudden Bunny’s actin’ quiet and depressed and Tananda…did you know she wanted to borrow money from me the other day? Right after she gets done with that collection job? I don’t know what she did with her commission or why she doesn’t ask the Boss for an advance or even what she needs the money for. Just ‘Can you spot me some cash, Nunzio? No questions asked?’, and when I try to offer my services as a confidential type, she sez ‘In that case, forget it. I’ll ask someone else!’ and leaves all huffy-like. I’ll tell ya, Gleep, there’s sumpin’ afoot, and I’m not sure I like it.”

He was raising some fascinating points, points which I’ll freely admit had escaped my notice. While I had devoted a certain portion of my intellect to deciphering the intricacies of human conduct, there was much in the subtleties of their intra-species relationships which elude me…particularly when it came to individuals other than Skeeve. Reflecting on Nunzio’s words, I realized that my pet had not been to see me much lately, which was in itself a break in pattern. Usually he would make time to visit, talking to me about the problems he had been facing and the self-doubts he felt. I wondered if his increased absences were an offshoot of the phenomenon Nunzio was describing. It was food for thought, sand something I promised myself I would consider carefully at a later point. Right now, there were more immediate matters demanding my attention…like the people burrowing in under the floor.

It seemed that, in the final analysis, Nunzio was as inept as most humans when it came to guard duty. They make a big show of alertness and caution when they come on duty, but within a matter of hours they are working harder at dealing with their boredom than watching whatever it is they’re supposed to be guarding. To be honest, the fact that dragons have longer lives may explain part of why we are so much better at staving off boredom. After a few hundred years, days, even weeks shrink to where they have no real time value at all. Even our very young have an attention span that lasts for months…sometimes years.

Whatever the reason, Nunzio continued to ramble on about his concerns with the status quo, apparently oblivious to the scratching and digging sounds that were making their way closer to our position. This time it wasn’t simply my better hearing, for the noise was easily within the human range, though admittedly soft. By using my hearing, I could listen in on the conversations of the diggers.

“How much farther?”

“Sshhh! About ten feet more.”

“Don’t ‘sshhh’ me! Nobody can hear us.”

I can hear you! This tunnel isn’t that big, ya know.”

“What are you gong to do with your share of the money after we steal the stuff?”

“First we gotta steal it. Then I’ll worry about what to do with my share.”

That was the part I had been waiting to hear. There had always been the chance they were simply sewer diggers or escaping convicts or something equally non-threatening to our situation. As it was, though, they were fair game.

Rising from where I had been sitting, I moved quietly to where they were digging.

“…unless Don Bruce wants to…Hey! Where are you goin’? Get back here!”

I ignored Nunzio’s shouting and listened again. On target. I estimated about four feet down. With a mental smirk, I began jumping up and down, landing as heavily as I could.

“What are you doin’? Stop that! Hey, Gleep!”

The noise Nunzio was making was trivial compared to what was being said four feet down. When I mentioned earlier that I was too heavy for Nunzio to move unassisted, I was not meaning to imply that he was weak. The simple poundage of a dragon is a factor to be reckoned with even if it’s dead, and if it’s alive and thinking, you have real problems. I felt the floor giving way and hopped clear, relishing the sounds of muffled screams below.

“Jeez. Now look what you’ve done! You broke the floor!”

Again I had expected no thanks and received none. This did not concern me, as at the moment I was more interested in assessing the damage, or lack of damage, I had inflicted on this latest round of potential thieves.

The floor, or a portion of it, now sagged about a foot lower, leading me to conclude that either the tunnel below had not been very high, or that it had only partially collapsed. Either way, there were no more sounds emanating from that direction, which meant the thieves were either dead or had retreated empty-handed. Having accomplished my objective of removing yet another threat to the shipment, I set my mind once again on more important things. Turning a deaf ear to Nunzio’s ravings, I flopped down ad pretended to sleep while I indulged in a bit of leisurely analysis.

Perhaps Nunzio was right. It was possible that my pet was reacting adversely to the change in his status from free-lance operator to the head of a corporation, much the same as tropical fish will suffer if the pH of the water in their aquarium is changed too suddenly. I was very much aware that an organism’s environment consisted of much more than their physical surroundings…social atmosphere, for example, often influenced a human’s well-being. If that were the case, then it behooved me to do something about it.

Exactly how I was to make the necessary adjustments would be a problem. Whenever possible, I tried to allow my pet free will. That is, I liked to give him the illusion of choosing his own course and associates without interference from me. Occasionally I would stray from this stance, such as when they brought that horrible Markie creature into our home, but for the most part it was an unshakeable policy. This meant that if I indeed decided that it was time to winnow out or remove any or all of Skeeve’s current associates for his own good, it would have to be done in a manner which could not be traced to me. This would not only preserve the illusion that I was not interfering in his life, but also save him the angst which would be generated if he realized I was responsible for the elimination of one or more of his friends. Yes, this would require considerable thought and consideration.

“Here, fella. Want a treat?”

This last was uttered by a sleazy-looking Deveel as he held out a hand with a lump of some unidentifiable substance in it.

I realized with a guilty start that I had overindulged, sinking too far into my thoughts to maintain awareness of my surroundings. After the unkind thoughts I had entertained about Nunzio’s attention span, this was an inexcusable lapse on my part. Ignoring the offered gift, I raised my head and cast about desperately to reassess the situation.

There were three of them: the one currently addressing me, and two others who were talking to Nunzio.

“I dunno,” the latter was saying. “I didn’t get any instructions about anyone pickin’ up the shipment early.”

Something was definitely amiss. From his words and manner, even Nunzio was suspicious…which meant the plot had to be pretty transparent.

“C’mon boy. Take the treat.”

The Deveel facing me was starting to sound a little desperate, but I continued ignoring him and his offering. It was drugged, of course. Just because humans can’t smell a wide range of chemicals, they assume that no one else can either. This one was no problem. I was more concerned as to whether or not Nunzio would require assistance.

“I can’t help it if your paperwork is fouled up,” the smaller Deveel with Nunzio snarled, with a good imitation of impatience. “I’ve got a schedule to keep. Look. Here’s a copy of my authorization.”

As Nunzio bent to look at the paper the Deveel was holding, the one standing behind him produced a club and swung it at his head. There was a sharp “CRACK”…but it was from the club breaking, not from Nunzio’s head, that latter being, as I have noted, exceptionally dense.

“I’m sorry, I can’t let you have the shipment,” Nunzio said, handing the paper back to the short Deveel who took it without losing the astounded expression from his face. “This authorization is nothin’ but a blank piece of paper.”

He glanced over his shoulder at the larger Deveel who was standing there staring at his broken club.

“Be with you in a second, fella. Just as soon as we get this authorization thing cleared up.”

I decided that he would be able to handle things in his own peculiar way and turned my attention to the Deveel with the drugged treat.

He was looking at the conversation across the room, his mouth hanging open in amazement. I noticed, however, that he had neglected to withdraw his hand.

There are those who hypothesize that dragons do not have a sense of humor. To prove that that is not the case, I offer this as a counterexample.

Unhinging my jaw slightly, I stretched out my neck and took the treat in my mouth. Actually, I took his hand in my mouth…all the way to the shoulder. This was not as hazardous as it sounds. I simply took care not to swallow and therefore avoided any dangerous effects which might be generated by the drugged treat.

The Deveel glanced back when he heard my jaws crash together, and we looked into each others’ eyes from a considerably closer range than he had anticipated. For effect, I waggled my eyebrows at him. The eyebrows did it, and is eyes rolled up into his head as he slumped to the floor in a dead faint.

Funny, huh? So much for not having a sense of humor.

Relaxing my jaws, I withdrew my head, leaving the treat and his arm intact, and checked Nunzio’s situation again.

The larger Deveel was stretched out on the floor unconscious while Nunzio was holding the other by the lapels with one hand, leisurely slapping him forehand and backhand as he spoke.

“I oughtta turn youse over to da authorities! A clumsy hijack like this could give our profession a bad name. Know what I mean? Are you listenin’ ta me? Now take your buddies and get outta here before I change my mind! And don’t come back until you find some decent help!”

I had to admit that Nunzio had a certain degree of style…for a human. If he had been fortunate enough to be born with a brain, he might have been a dragon.

While he was busy throwing the latest batch of attackers out the door, I decided to do a little investigating. After three attempts to relieve us of our prize, though Nunzio was only aware of one of them, I was beginning to grow a bit suspicious. Even for as crime-prone a lot as humans tend to be, three attempts in that close succession was unusual, and I wanted to know more about what it was we were guarding.

The cases still smelled of paper and ink, but that seemed an inadequate reason for the attention they had been drawing. As casually as I could, I swatted one of the cases with my tail, caving it in. Apparently I had not been casual enough, for the sound brought Nunzio sprinting to my side.

“Now what are you doin’? Look! You ruined…Hey! Wait a minute!”

He stooped and picked up one of the objects that had spilled from the case and examined it closely. I snaked my head around so I could look over his shoulder.

“Do you know what dis is, Gleep?”

As a matter of fact, I didn’t. From what I could see, all it was was some kind of picture book…and a shoddily made one at that. What it didn’t look like was anything valuable. Certainly nothing that would warrant the kind of attention we had been getting.

Nunzio tossed the book back onto the floor and glanced around nervously.

“This is over my head,” he murmured. “I can’t…Gleep, you keep an eye on this stuff. I’ll be right back. I’ve gotta get the Boss…and Guido! Yeah. He knows about this stuff.”

Admittedly perplexed, I watched him go, then studied the book again.

Very strange. There was clearly something in this situation that was escaping my scrutiny.

I rubbed my nose a few times in a vain effort to clear it of the smell of ink, then hunkered down to await my pet’s arrival.

*   *   *

“Comic books?”

Skeeve was clearly as perplexed as I had been.

“The ‘valuable shipment’ we’re guarding is comic books?”

“That’s what I thought, Boss,” Nunzio said. “Screwy, huh? What do you think, Guido?”

Guido was busy prying open another case. He scanned the books on top, then dug a few out from the bottom to confirm they were the same. Studying two of them intently, he gave out with a low whistle.

“You know what these are worth, Boss?”

Skeeve shrugged.

“I don’t know how many of them are here, but I’ve seen them on sale around the Bazaar at three or four for a silver, so they can’t be worth much.”

“Excuse me for interruptin’,” Guido said, “but I am not referrin’ to yer everyday, run-of-the-mill comic. I am lookin’ at these, which are a horse from a different stable.”

“They are?” My pet frowned. “I mean…it is? I mean…these all look the same to me. What makes them special?”

“It’s not easy to explain, but if you will lend me your ears I will attempt to further your education, Boss. You too, Nunzio.”

Guido gathered up a handful of the books and sat on one of the cases.

“If you will examine the evidence before you, you will note that while all these comics are the same, which is to say they are copies of the same issue, they each have the number ‘one’ in a box on their cover. This indicates that it is the firs issue of this particular title.”

I refrained from peering at one of the books. If Guido said the indicator was there, it was probably there, and looking at it wouldn’t change anything.

“Immediately that ‘one’ makes the comic more valuable, both to someone who is tryin’ to obtain a complete set, and especially to a collector. Now, certain titles is more popular than others, which makes them particularly valuable, but more important are titles which have indeed grown in popularity since they made their first debutante. In that situational, there are more readers of the title currently than there were when it began, and the laws of supply and demand drive the price of a first-issue copy through the roof.”

He gestured dramatically with one of the books.

“This particular title premiered several years ago and is currently hotter than the guy what swiped the crown jewels. What is more, the print run on the first issue was very small, makin’ a first-issue copy exceedingly valuable…with the accent on ‘exceedingly.’ I have with my own eyes seen a beat-up copy of the comic you are currently holding on a dealer’s table with an askin’ price of a hundert-fifty gold on it. Mind you, I’m not sayin’ he got it, but that’s what he was askin’.”

Now it was Skeeve’s turn to whistle. I might have been tempted myself, but whistling is difficult with a forked tongue.

“If that’s true, this shipment is worth a fortune. He’s got enough of them here.”

“That is indeed the puzzlement, Boss,” Guido said, looking at the cases. “If my memory is not seriously in error, there were only two thousand copies of this issue printed…yet if all these cases are full of the same merchandise, there are considerably more copies than that in this shipment to which we are referrin’. How this could be I am uncertain, but the explanation which occurs to me is less than favorable to the owner.”

“Forgeries!” Nunzio squeaked. “The guy’s a multi-colored paper hanger!”

“A multi…never mind!” Skeeve waved. “What good would forged comic be?”

“The same as any other forgery,” Guido shrugged. “You pass ’em off as originals and split with the money before anyone’s the wiser. In some wasy it’s better’n phony money, since it isn’t as hard to duplicate comics and, as youse can se, they’re worth more per pound. The paper’s cheaper, too.”

My pet surveyed the shipment.

“So we’ve been mad unwitting accomplices to a comic-forging deal, eh?”

“…And without even getting’ a piece of the action,” Nunzio snarled.

“That wasn’t what I was thinking about,” Skeeve said, shaking his head. “I was thinking of all the collectors who are going to plunk down their money to get a genuine collector’s item, only to have the bottom drop out of the market when it’s discovered that it’s been flooded with forgeries.”

He rubbed his lower lip thoughtfully.

“I wonder how much my lunch buddy has insured this shipment for?”

“Probably not much, if at all,” Guido supplied. “To do so would necessitate the fillin’ out of the documents declarin’ the contents of said shipment, and any insurance type knowledgeable enough to give him full value would also know the discrepancy between the shipment count and what was originally printed. You see, Boss, the trouble with runnin’ a fraud is that it requires runnin’ additional frauds to cover for it, and eventually someone is bound to catch on.”

Skeeve wasn’t even listening by the time Guido finished his oration. He was busy rubbing the spot between my ears, a strange smile on his face.

“Well, I guess nobody wins all the time.”

“What was that, Boss?”

My pet turned to face them.

“I said that M.Y.T.H., Inc. fumbled the ball this time. Sorry, Nunzio, but this one is going into the records as a botched assignment. I can only assure you that it will not be reflected on your next performance review.”

“I don’t get it,” Nunzio frowned. “What went wrong?”

“Why, the fire of course. You know, the fire that destroyed the entire shipment due to our inattentiveness and neglect? Terribly careless of us, wasn’t it?”

“Fire? What fire?”

Skeeve stepped to one side and bowed to me, sweeping one hand toward the cases.

“Gleep? I believe this is your specialty?”

I waffled briefly between using a #4 or a #6, then said “to heck with it” and cut loose with a #9. It was a bit show-offy, I’ll admit, but with Guido and Nunzio watching, not to mention my pet, it was pointless to spare the firepower.

They were impressed, which was not surprising, as #9 is quite impressive. There wasn’t even any afterburn to put out, since by the time I shut down the old flame-thrower, there was nothing left to burn.

For several moments we all stood staring at the charred spot on the warehouse floor.

“Wow!” Guido breathed at last.

“You can say that double for me,” Nunzio nodded, slipping an arm around my neck. “Good dragon, Gleep. Good dragon.”

“Well, gentlemen,” Skeeve said, rubbing his hands together, “now that that’s over I guess we can head…What’s that?”

He pointed to the collapsed portion of the floor, noticing it for the first time.

“That?” Nunzio squeaked innocently. “Beats me, Boss. It was like that when we got here.”

I didn’t bother to return his wink, for I was already starting to retreat into heavily thought. I only hoped that in the final analysis I wouldn’t decide that either Guido or Nunzio was an unsettling influence on my pet. Time would tell.

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