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«M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link», Robert Asprin

Chapter One:

"Petty crime is the scourge of business today."

-D. LOREAN

 

I ACTUALLY LIKED our new office facilities better than the old. Even though Aahz had argued hard to keep the Even Odds as a bar (read "money-making venture"), the rest of us ganged up on him and insisted that since we had an extra building it would make more sense to remodel it into offices than to keep trying to do business out of our home. I mean, who really needs a lot of strangers traipsing in and out of your private life all the time? That practice had already landed us in trouble once, and the memory of that escapade was what finally convinced my old mentor to go along with the plan.

Of course, remodeling was more of a hassle than I had expected, even after getting one of the local religious temples to do the carpentry. Even working cheap they were more expensive than I had imagined, and the hours they kept... but I digress.

I had a large office now, with a desk, "in" basket, Day-Timers Scheduler, visitor chairs, the whole nine yards. As I said, I liked it a lot. What I didn't like was the title that went with it ... to wit, President.

That's right. Everybody insisted that since incorporating our merry band of misfits was my idea, I was the logical choice for titular head of the organization. Even Aahz betrayed me, proclaiming it was a great idea, though to my eye he was hiding a snicker when he said it. If I had known my suggestion would lead to this, believe me I would have kept my mouth shut.

Don't get me wrong, the crew is great! If I were going to lead a group, I couldn't ask for a nicer, more loyal bunch than the one currently at my disposal. Of course, there might be those who would argue the point with me. A trollop, a troll, two gangsters, a moll, and a Pervert... excuse me, Pervect ... an overweight vamp, and a baby dragon might not seem like the ideal team to the average person. They didn't to me when I first met them. Still, they've been unswerving in their support of me over the years, and together we've piled up an impressive track record. No, I'd rather stick with the rat-pack I know, however strange, than trust my fate to anyone else, no matter how qualified they might seem. If anything, from time to time I wonder what they think of me and wish I could peek inside their heads to learn their opinions. Whatever they think, they stick around... and that's what counts.

It isn't the crew that makes me edgy ... it's the title. You see, as long as I can remember, I've always thought that being a leader was the equivalent of walking around with a large bulls-eye painted on your back. Basically the job involves holding the bag for a lot of people instead of just for yourself. If anything goes wrong, you end up being to blame. Even if someone else perpetrated the foul-up, as the leader you're responsible. On the off chance things go right, all you really feel is guilty for taking the credit for someone else's work. All in all, it seems to me to be a no-win, thankless position, one that I would much rather delegate to someone else while I had fun in the field. Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to have the same basic opinion, and as the least experienced member of the crew I was less adept at coming up with reasons to dodge the slot than the others. Consequently, I became the President of M.Y.T.H. Inc. (That's Magical Young Trouble-shooting Heroes. Don't blame me. I didn't come up with the name), an association of magicians and trouble-shooters dedicated to simultaneously helping others and making money.

Our base of operations was the Bazaar at Deva, a well-known rendezvous for magic dealing that was the crossroads of the dimensions. As might be imagined, in an environment like that, there was never a shortage of work.

I had barely gotten settled for the morning when there was a light rap on the door of my office and Bunny stuck her head in.

"Busy, Boss?"

"Well..."

She was gone before I could finish formulating a vague answer. This wasn't unusual. Bunny acted as my secretary and always knew more about what I had on the docket than I did. Her inquiries as to my schedule were usually made out of politeness or to check to be sure I wasn't doing something undignified before ushering a client into the office.

"The Great Skeeve will see you now," she said, gesturing grandly to her charge. "In the future, I'd suggest you make an appointment so you won't be kept waiting."

The Deveel Bunny was introducing seemed a bit slimy, even for a Deveel. His bright red complexion was covered with unhealthy-looking pink blotches, and his face was contorted into a permanent leer, which he directed at Bunny's back as she left the room.

Now, there's no denying that Bunny's one of the more attractive females I've ever met, but there was something unwholesome about the attention this dude was giving her. With an effort, I tried to quell the growing dislike I was feeling toward the Deveel. A client was a client, and we were in business to help people in trouble, not make moral judgments on them.

"Can I help you?" I said, keeping my voice polite.

That brought the Deveel's attention back to me, and he extended a hand across the desk.

"So you're the Great Skeeve, eh? Pleased to meet you. Been hearing some good things about your work. Say, you really got a great setup. I especially like that little number you got working as a receptionist. Might even try to hire her away from you. The girl's obviously loaded with talent."

Looking at his leer and wink, I somehow couldn't bring myself to shake his hand.

"Bunny is my administrative assistant," I said carefully. "She is also a stockholder in the company. She earns her position with her skills, not with her looks."

"I bet she does," the Deveel winked again. "I'd love to get a sample of those skills someday."

That did it. "How about right now?" I smiled, then raised my voice slightly. "Bunny? Could you come in here for a moment?"


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