SRU: Operation Sucker Punch

The top brass at Spellcrafters Inc. have it in for the Spells R Us wizard. They've brought in hired muscle from overseas to do their dirty work- a powerful magical mercenary named Necromancer Sato. Can Wizzie survive their deadly scheme? And will our "somewhat ridiculous heroine" Wendy manage to avoid getting caught in the crossfire? This is a wicked little story about an extremely nasty bunch of people. In the words of William Burroughs, "Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies. We are entering Hell..."
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SRU: OPERATION SUCKER PUNCH
by Laika Pupkino

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1.) THE BLOODSUCKER DOXY

The shades were drawn, blocking off the magnificent view across midtown Manhattan. What light there was in the board room poured up from within the depths of its large conference table, a featureless slab of translucent white resin, which gave the faces of those seated around it a strange and sinister cast.

Hunching forward in his chair at the head of the table, the silver-haired CEO of Spellcrafters glowered at his young assistant. His raspy voice was thick with contempt, "Are you stupid Barnett, or do you just enjoy wasting my time?"

"Um .... I'm just saying, Mr. Mussburger-" the lanky student intern's hands wavered hesitantly about in front of him as he searched for a diplomatic way to phrase this, "Saying that I really don't see how an operation, a small-time operation like his could pose any threat to our profits. I mean Spells R Us is just one guy, with that one little shop, and most of the time he doesn't even ask for money. Or if I he does it's just the couple of dollars they happen to have in their-"

"Moosha time him nyuh-nyuh ash fer munnnnies!" mimicked Gerald Mussburger in an insipid effeminate whine. He shook his head in disgust, "I let you sit in on this top-level meeting and you spout garbage like this? You not only show off your own ignorance, you make me look like a Grade A moron for picking you as my intern. And you're supposed to be the best and the brightest from NYU's school of business? God help us!"

"Stupid," he repeated under his breath. This seemed to be Mussburger's favorite term for describing people other than himself. Wendell Barnett and the four vice presidents of SpellCrafters waited in silence as he defied state law and county ordinance by producing a cigar, clipping the end and turning it slowly in the flame from his lighter, puffing away, his already gaunt cheeks caving inward. (More than one of the assembled was fantasizing about his death from some horrible tobacco related illness. It was just one big happy family here at SpellCrafters Inc....)

"Sure, sure!" grunted Mussburger, "Half the time the maudlin son of a bitch is working for free. And the rest of the time the customer don't even get what they came in for. The mighty Wizard doesn't 'approve' of how they plan to use the magic and is just setting them up for some ironic screw job that's supposed to teach them something. Like that's any of his damn business! So you know they'll never go back to him..."

He got up and began to pace, hands clasped behind his back, the stogie between his teeth jutting toward the ceiling, "And yes, if you're just looking at the figures, the man couldn't possibly be a threat to us. He has that one shop---that he has to drag around with him like a hot dog vendor's cart---to the nearly a hundred we have, in thirty states and two provinces. His sales volume is just laughable. Everything he does seems like a recipe for obscurity. And yet nothing---with the possible exception of the Cognitive Divide---is a bigger hindrance to our company achieving true greatness than this senile old coot in a bathrobe."

He whirled and jabbed his finger toward them, barking, "Quick! What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a spells and magical goods shop?"

His underlings all looked at each other.

"Don't think, just answer!"

"Spells R Us?" they droned, like a classroom full of reluctant children.

"Exactly! And therein, ladies and gentlemen, lies the problem. Why does McDonalds spend two billion dollars a year on advertising? Why do their lawyers lay waste to any business that tries to use the prefix 'Mc' in its name, right down to some fourth-grader's lemonade stand? Do they shrug and say these people are too small to harm them? No! Because they don't just look at the numbers. They understand one important principle. And what do you suppose that is?"

"That it's fun to fuck with people?" offered Vice-President Thomas 'Goober' Gundersen.

"Yes, there's that. But I was thinking of something else," chuckled Mussburger.

He couldn't help but grin. Gundersen was an idiot, but he was fun to have around. It had been priceless to see the looks on the faces of far more dedicated and qualified managers when he was picked for this position. "Qualified" wasn't all that necessary for a vice president of SpellCrafters; Since Mussburger himself made all the real decisions it was a largely titular office. And "dedicated" carried its own set of problems. Gerald's private hero Josef Stalin knew that idealists and those with big ideas had to be watched, kept in line, and if neccessary put somewhere where they couldn't louse things up. Like Siberia.

And as it had turned out, what Goober lacked in intelligence he had made up for in pure avarice. And occasionally his simple un-analytical approach to life paid off spectacularly. Operation Sucker Punch---the reason for this afternoon's meeting---had been his idea. A solution to the "SRU question" that was elegant in its simplicity...

"When one hamburger chain, car manufacturer, laundry soap, pop singer, WHATEVER is so similar to all the others, perception is everything," lectured Mussburger, "McDonalds wants to be the one name that comes to mind when people think 'hamburger', and they're doing a damn fine job of getting there. If you can control someone's vocabulary you can pretty much dictate how he'll think about things, the range of what he can imagine. George Orwell said that, but he made it sound like a bad thing. Some muggle-head researcher at Stanford just proved that your typical three year old is so utterly brainwashed he'd rather eat brocolli that came in a McDonald's wrapper than a burger that just came on a plate. Astounding, isn't it? And that, boys and girls, is where I want SpellCrafters to be five years from now in the magical transformations business.

"As some of you may be aware, the Divide is on the verge of completely collapsing. And when it does the side with all the Magic Bullets is gonna come out on top. Quick and effortless fixes are what everyone wants these days, and when they find out they can have them the opportunities for a business like ours will be ....... enormous. Especially if we expand the scope of our services to appeal not just to those with 'gender issues'---a loyal but let's face it- numerically insignificant customer base---to anybody who has something they wish they could change about themselves. Which is just about everyone. But if we're going to be ready for this deluge of new opportunities we'll need to take care of the competition beforehand."

"You have to admit, that bathrobe is a cute gimmick," noted the buxom blonde woman seated to his left. She was still quite beautiful at forty, but had a hard look about her.

He scrutinized her, "Linsday Smythe, is it?"

"Well of course it is. We ........... You promoted me to VP last month."

"Oh yes, I remember that night. It was special," he said in a flattened tone that let her know it was anything but. He indicated the wall behind him, a rectangular area of it illuminated by a trio of baby spotlights, "And it was you who came with the idea for our new logo here; this uh .......... rather generously endowed witch in the nightie?"

"Yes, I thought we could capitalize on the sleepwear theme. But hot it up, make it more appealling."

"And here we have another genius out of business school," mocked Mussberger. "'Hot it up' .... Lord knows, if there's one thing we all love it's a good buzzword. Sex sells, right?"

"I think that's been proven," said Ms. Smythe defensively.

"Sure sure, sex sells ..... Subtle sex sells! This floozie in a nightgown might appeal to the clientele down at your previous employer Hooters, but you have instantly alienated half of our potential customers. A half---as I'm sure your professors taught you---that controls more than half of the disposeable income in this country."

"But you approved of it!"

"That sketch you showed me was of a cute little Disney witch, not a goddamn Hustler centerfold! As hard as it might be for you to believe, not every woman in America is as ready as you are to identify with a painted chippie like this."

"I don't think there's any need to get-"

"No you don't think, do you? That peroxide you use must be seeping into your brain."

The male vice-presidents all chortled heartily at this, James Benson (a 'yes man' in the classic 1950's Brylcreem-and-gray-flannel-suit vein) roaring, "Har! Good one, G.M.!"

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.2) THE FURY

Linsday Smythe stared into the big table's glowing surface, her face burning with humiliation, unable to even think up an adequate retort. It was so unlike her to become flustered like this. She was forced to admit that although she could eat most male competitors alive, she was no match for her boss in a head-to-head confrontation.

Glancing up, she noticed Wendell Barnett gazing at her with concern. His assumption that there was some natural basis for empathy between them made Lindsay furious. Why you presumptuous little SHIT!

Right from the start she'd had nothing but contempt for the soft-spoken student intern. She hated the apologetic way he carried himself, as if he was trying to make his 6'2" frame smaller. And she was especially irritated by how he kowtowed to Spellcrafter's CEO, like a frightened but worshipful puppy. Yet here she was acting just like this simpering girlie-boy.

She could have forgiven Gerald's rudeness, his aspersions on her intelligence. That was merely the skilled exercise of power, the old lion maintaining his alpha status through intimidation. But his pretending to forget her name just now had been an unneccesary twist of the knife. The bastard was going to pay!

Fortunately she never entered into a relationship of any duration without laying the foundation for eventual revenge. Some might consider this less than romantic, but it was just good planning. After the enfatuation was gone and their guard was up was no time to start plotting payback.

Photographs, transcripts, receipts- she had more than enough to bury the prick. Not just concerning their own brief affair, but also about his frequent transformation-trysts with his young aide de camp; that whole sick relationship. She knew trying to blackmail a man like him could be dangerous, so she'd designed her "deadman" program, stored on mainframes continents apart (some of which even she didn't know the location of, as a defense against truth potions...), which would spread the damning evidence all over the internet if she failed to log in twice a day...

She still couldn't decide which would be more gratifying: Watching him sweat and squirm as she left the threat of disclosure hanging over him and regularly collected a sweet little stack of 100's; or just sending his wife that envelope full of photos and sitting back to enjoy the gory spectacle as the formidable Eva Mussburger and her lawyers stuffed him feet first into the wood chipper.

It had been devastating to Lindsay's ego when she realized that the boss preferred the gangly college junior to herself. Why would he go through all the rigamarole of transforming this kid---all those incantations and smelly potions---when he had the real thing right here?

If Gerald were excited by the idea of transsexuals or transvestites it would have been one thing. The fetishization of doctored flesh, or the blurring of gender evident in "Wendy's" features whenever she transformed herself without the aid of sorcery- that would've been a kink Lindsay could not satisfy. But the SpellCrafter's product line made the transformee entirely female for the duration of the spell. So Lindsay was losing out to this useless worm for all the same tedious, predictable reasons why a woman usually lost out in this game. For the first time in her life the shoe was on the other foot, and it did not fit well.

It was so unfair! A body forged from the ordinary genetic crap shoot, which had spent forty years under the sway of metabolic chemistry and gravity could never compete with a creation of pure fantasy. Mother had been so right, she sighed. She'd warned Lindsay not to get involved with anyone from the magic industry. That as normal as they might seem at first, they would eventually reveal some freakish tendancy...

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3.) COFFEE GIRL

Mussburger rocked on the balls of his feet, "I'll make no bones about it, I don't like this Wizard fellow one bit. I mean here he has a client base so desperate that they would be willing to pay anything for what he has to offer, and yet he runs around playing Santa Claus. You just can't trust a man who has no greed in him. He's ruled by sentiment, and liable to do anything! Like my old pops Sidney J. Mussburger used to say, 'Charity and good will are contagious. And like any dangerous diseases you need to kill them with fire wherever and whenever they break out, or they'll-'"

THUD! BANG!!

There was an arrhythmic volley of bumping and thumping noises as someone struggled to push a steel cart through the heavy walnut doors of the conference room.

"Whoah! Sure is dark in here," came the perky voice of the intruder, a diminutive silhouette standing in the light from the hallway, "What are ya, havin' a seance or somethin'?"

"What the hell are you doing barging in here like this?!" roared Mussburger.

The figure's arm found the wall switch and the overhead florescents blinked to life. The apple-cheeked young brunette indicated the surface of her serving cart, on which stood a coffee urn, cups and saucers, and a platter brimming with donuts, scones, bagels and baklava. She smiled, "Oh, hi! I'm just bringin' you your coffee. The pastries."

New York Jew Broad, thought Mussburger, a montage of Yiddisher stereotypes flitting through his head. Which might seem ironic, given his own mother's heritage; but the way he saw it he had even more of a right than most to hold such opinions. The way these people acted was a personal embarrassment to him.

He snapped, "You were supposed to do this BEFORE the meeting!"

"I'm so sorry! I've been running late all day. I'm usually early, but my rehearsal ran late last night and I ...... I really overslept. We're doing West Side Story."

And a theater type, he added, the bile rising palpably in his throat. She had that fakey Lisa Minelli nervousness about her that was meant to be charming. "We don't need your goddamn life's story. Just leave it and go!"

Even under the full force of the infamous Mussburger Death-Ray Glare this bimbo wasn't getting the hint. "And then I let Allen talk me into going out for coffee later. Which, if you knew him........." she giggled, grinning from ear to ear.

"Fascinating," seethed Mussburger. "There's the door."

"That Allen, he's awful sweet. And such a great director! He never gets mad, he brings our best performance out of us by inspiring us. I know our little building is way, way off Broadway, but I think we're pretty good."

"Do you have any idea how close you are-"

"Really, we are!" She began to sing in an exuberant soprano, "Tonight, tonight, it all began tonight; I saw you and the world went awaaaaaaaay! Tonight, tonight, there's only yooooou tonight-"

This girl could have easily gotten to the finals on American Idolator. She had a clear commanding voice that was perfect for the stage, an incredible presence, and just the cutest set of dimples...

Unfortunately, she also had the pitcher of cream in her hand. She was so wrapped up in her performance that she forgot she still held it, and as she flung her arm out the pitcher's contents flew out in a dense white column- catching the executive square in the face.

"Aaaauughh- you IMBECILE!"

"Oh Mooster Meeseburger! I am sooooo sorry! Oh my! Here, let me-" She scrubbed at his shirtfront and tie with a blue linen napkin.

"Stop that, it's silk! You're making it worse!"

She dabbed solicitously at his face with it, then jammed the corner of it into his ear and twisted it this way and that, "I am so, so sorry! Please don't think less of the arts community because of this! Without the patronage of important people like you, Xanadutopia Repertoiry Company couldn't-"

He roughly knocked her arms aside,"Get away from me you moron! Get out of here! You're fired!"

"Oh but please, this is the worst possible time! I'm almost falling behind on my rent ....... I mean with the vet bills for my cockatoo ...... and Ivan the loanshark wants three hundred this week! It was an accident, I swear!"

"So was the Hindenberg. OUT!"

As the girl trudged dejectedly from the room---Goober Gundersen trumpeting 'Taps' thru his pursed lips---Mussburger called after her, "And I'll make sure that fleabag theater of yours gets some special scrutiny from the fire marshal!"

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.4) OUR SOMEWHAT RIDICULOUS HEROINE

Wendy Barnett watched her lover rip into the young actress and was appalled. Appalled by his unrelenting ridecule, by the sadistic pleasure he took in the girl's descent into hopelessness. And she was even more appalled at herself, for being in love with such a man.

No, she suddenly realized. It wasn't love. It never had been. It was a sickness. Two people not so much connecting as facilitating each other's fetishes and fantasies. Objects to each other. Symbols.

While Gerald would claim that this was all anyone ever had, and that "romance" should be listed as a psychological illness, Wendy could not bear to think that the world was such an empty place. She had to think that love actually existed, and that someone, somewhere was experiencing it. That people could be drawn to each other for healthy reasons, forming bonds that brought out the best in them.

Wendy's parents clearly had this kind of love for each other. And even if they didn't really understand this wanting-to-be-a-girl business; they loved her too. So that was proof right there. She just needed to find someone who would truly value her, who would nurture her spirit. But if she did find someone like that, would she even be attracted to him? What she understood would be good for her and what she lusted after were at such odds. Something inside her went totally gaga at the sight of a sixty-five year old man in an expensive suit who seemed like he could be a real bastard.

Growing up, watching soap operas with his mom (in what they knew but were still both years from acknowledging was a mother/daughter bonding experience...) it had never been the shirtless 20-something longhaired hunk who'd sauntered sexily into young Wendell's daydreams, but the distinguished well-coiffed older doctor, the haughty tycoon. The suave arrogance and sense of entitlement they radiated had made the girl in him swoon, bringing out all his submissive tendancies...

"Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." Henry Kissinger had said in some interview. And Wendy (well, technically Wendell...) had done several college papers on the Nixon administration, a time in American history that she was fascinated with. And although their political beliefs had been so contrary to her own that she felt guilty about it, those Watergate conspirators were exactly the sort of lawless bad boys who appealed to her. So she did know this quote.

And yet when Gerald had cited it she'd pretended that she didn't. It seemed less than feminine somehow to have so many facts on hand; and she enjoyed just lying back and listening to the paternalistic tones of his lecturing, even when his suppositions were clearly debatable.

Or she'd enjoyed it at first...

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
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It had been like a dream on her first day as Gerald's aide, when she saw the hungry, knowing look in his eyes, and knew this captain-of-industry right out of her soaps was going to seduce her. Driving crosstown to some swanky restaurant to go over some last details about her job with him, his hand on her thigh...

The way he had asked, so casually, "So is it Wendy?"

Meaning her girl name. And all she could do was nod, mutely confessing her transgendered soul.

"That's a pretty name," he had smiled, and from then on that night was so gentlemanly and charming, pulling her chair out for her, the offhand dominance of his ordering for her ("And the lady will have...") without the least consultation, which she knew she should resent, but didn't. And he had never once failed to refer to her as female, even though she was physically a boy in a second-rate suit. Not giving a damn what anybody thought. I'm filthy rich and you're some pissant maitre d'. What are you gonna do about it?!

And then to his penthouse aerie---the tall bare walls and soulless modern furniture amid torchieres that stood like sentries---for cocktails, his in a smart martini glass and hers in a fuming chalice entwined by silver dragons with glowing ruby eyes. Her first taste of real magic, even though she'd known about magic for some time...

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
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Wendell had been in eleventh grade back in Levittown PA., having managed to get through the roughest of his school years and to overcome the weight problem that had plagued him all through childhood, when he suddenly went crazy.

All over town, he was seeing things that just could not be. People in bizarre costumes appearing and disappearing. An ancient ship with billowing sails scudding through the sky. And what might have been a dragon studying him with icy malice from the barred slot of a storm drain. Terrified, he had gone to his mother: "Oh Mom! I'm ......... I don't know, it's like I'm hallucinating! And I swear I'm not on drugs or anything, but I keep seeing WEIRD THINGS!"

Only to have the floor drop completely out from beneath his concept of reality when she just laughed, and hugged him, and welcomed him to the enchanted side of the Divide. [The Cognitive Divide is an immense schism in the Universe, whereby the The Realm of Magic lies side by side with Empirical Space. Or more accurately, the two are intertwined with each other---like different color threads in a tapestry---containing almost the exact same sets of people, brand names, geography, etc., and interacting so intimately that at first glance you might take them for a single contiguous reality. But certain things only existed or happened along one thread or the other; and what keeps the inhabitants of the latter space from experiencing the former is largely their conviction that it does not exist...]

And as if this revelation wasn't mind-blowing enough, his mom mentioned that oh by the way, she was a witch. Well, ex-witch. Or as she explained:

"Why did I quit? The faith I was called to, it's pretty strict about the matter, and the reasons for this make sense to me. I wasn't ever all that good at witchcraft anyway, so I wasn't giving up much. Plus your dad, he was never really comfortable with my witching. And really, this family is all the magic I need in my life. You, your father- no spell could give me joy even close to this.

"I still keep in touch with my coven sisters. They weren't mad at all when I left, but were totally supportive of me and my decision. It may seem hard to believe---considering the, uh, history between Christians and witches---but knowing those women I wasn't surprised. Your Aunt Phyllis is one of them ........ Yes really, just ask her.

"I realize that now that you've found out about this you're going to try it. And I can't tell you not to. Your path is your own, not mine. But if you do please keep it small, and ALWAYS look at your motives. Doing magic, you have to keep everything pure. Every thought, every action...

"And one day I hope you'll see that there aren't any Magic Bullets for happiness. Some of the most magical people you'll meet are the unhappiest, and vica versa. Hey, One Life To Live is on. You're not too old to watch soaps with your Ma, are you? Oh goodie! Let's break out the Triscuits and Tab and have a ball!"

But despite the fact that he had a powerful reason to, Wendell never did try his hand at magic, but took a path not unlike his mother's, trying out various muggle religions until finally finding a gay-and-transgender-friendly God in the East Side Metropolitan Community Church...

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
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But then came that night with Gerald, and Wendy's first taste of the SpellCrafter's potion SOME ENCHANTED EVENING...

The bliss of their lovemaking, his possessive and surprisingly strong hands carressing the soft contours of her diminutive body (a respectable 5'3"), the cascading orgasms...

This was it. Everything was finally the way it should have been. She couldn't understand why she had denied herself this for so long!

Gerald was not so handsome as those fantasy lovers of her adolescence. Scrawny, rather shopworn; his throat a topography of wattles, his hollow cheeks rosy with burst capillaries. And these things wouldn't have mattered if there had been real concern behind the imperious façade...

But there wasn't. She saw now that his charm was about a millimeter deep, and he never employed it unless it was absolutely neccesary, to get something that couldn't be gotten through his customary strong-arm techniques. And this basic strategy had extended to her rather quickly. He knew before she did the exact moment when he no longer had to pretend to be nice and caring, or that he had any interest in the inner Wendy. When he had her.

She hated him. She needed him. And oh she hated that she needed him! She prayed for the strength to quit, to tell him exactly what he was, and to go jump in a lake, like she should have the minute she found out he was married; A fact that he never would have revealled (the sleazy rat had actually claimed to be a widower!) if a rather unflattering referrence to "the wife" hadn't slipped out by accident.

But then a stern, lustful look from him and she was once again reduced to a helpless, driven thing that actually wanted to be used and controlled and manipulated by him, reveling in her own powerlessness. She was as hooked on him as she was on the potion that she was spending more and more of her own money on. Money she had meant to put to more practical uses...

Because although Gerald provided the stuff whenever they were together (knowing that such crudeness offended her, he liked to call it Some En-cunted Evening...), she also needed to turn into Wendy at other times. Hitting the thrift and antique shops, the boutiques and vintage clothing stores; or just hanging out with her cats Martha Mitchell and Bebe Rebozo watching Turner Classic movies. Times that were just for her.

While she tried to avoid thinking about her growing dependancy, in the back of her mind she feared that she could end up one of these potion whores (that is, if this tawdry relationship she was in didn't qualify her as one already); these girls who debased themselves, turning tricks to stay female; And who could have had sexual reassignment surgery several times over with all the money they'd spent on their magic bullet...

But magic was just so tempting- womanhood right there for you if you had the $120 (or less, if you were crazy enough to risk the side effects of the street stuff). And the changing was instantaneous, with no need for electrolysis or surgery or those painful months of futzing around poking stints up yourself to make sure your new vagina didn't close back up. And it was so much real-er than the Empirical's cure, which started to seem like a cheap simulation after every cell in your body had been blessed with XX chromosomes...

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5.) MAD BOMBER

Mussburger thought about turning the lights back off, but the spooky conspiratorial mood he had hoped to give this meeting was pretty well ruined now. He slid back the curtains, unveiling a gorgeous twilight cityscape, and huffed, "Now where was I?"

Gundersen read from a wide-ruled tablet in front of him, "Control the vocabulary, control the mind."

"Christ Almighty, Goober! Are you taking notes?! What did I tell you about taking notes?"

"I don't remember. You wouldn't let me write it down."

Shaking his head and muttering about idiots, Mussburger grabbed the tablet and fed it into the paper shredder. He spoke loudly over the machine's whine, "So the threat this man poses does not come from the size of his operation. You can't find his shop in the yellow pages or the search engines. But people hear about him anyway, they talk. And because they're aware that there's alternatives to SpellCrafters, they're looking..."

Jack Hauser spoke up, "It's these 'transgender fiction' sites- that's the problem right there! Every day they've got another story about him. And the magic in these stories is ...... well it's beyond what even magic can do. They've got his shop showing up in ancient Rome, or he's saving the Earth from aliens; it's crazy! Why just this morning on FictionMania-"

"Oh, FictionMania! Don't get me started on those dizzy bitches. Luckily, some friends of mine in the legislature are working on something called the Internet Accountability Act, or "Little Jody's Law". When this bill passes there's going to be so many regulations and fees that all these crummy little yippie-my-dick-fell-off story sites are going to wind up as just so much road kill on the Information Superhighway. The anarchy of the web will be reigned in, put into the hands of legitimate media outlets. So don't worry about the 'legend' of the Spells R Us wizard. That will fade. Especially once we take care of the man himself. Now does anyone have anything intelligent to add to this discussion?" asked Mussburger, grinning smugly as Hauser averted his gaze.

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
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Senior Vice President Jack Hauser fumed silently. He hadn't said a fraction of what he had intended to about the demographics of t.g. fiction readership and the magical transformation business, and how SpellCrafters could put it to good use.

He had stayed up until two the previous night working on a powerpoint presentation about this, after Mussburger had seemingly ("Sure! Sure!") approved of it. But then just an hour ago he claimed he had done no such thing. Hauser had been slapped down just like every other time he'd attempted to voice an opinion around here, had been summarily dismissed, like he was one of these other three nitwits who the chief had appointed just for show.

Well, this would be his final indignity at the hands of Gerald S. Mussburger! He thought of the dynamite wired to the ignition of the old tyrant's Bentley, and smiled. And the fact that the explosives would be traced back to the spurned lover (who in the days following her being dumped had sent the victim dozens of unhinged and ranting e-mails-) was the icing on the cake. It would neatly take care of the only person in this room he feared besides Mussburger.

Gundersen he could handle. And Benson---with his toady's instinct for self preservation---would go whatever way the wind blew. Things were definitely going to be changing around here.

Hauser kind of hoped the Barnett kid wasn't in the car when it went up. The young naif was a civilian in this after all, and way out of his league. He/she should be home knitting, ordering Spellcrafters merchandise online, or whatever it was that these people did...

Then he shrugged. Like the saying went, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. And when you chose your associates so unwisely you sometimes payed the price.

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6. ) NECROMANCER SATO

Mussberger pried his soggy shirt out away from his chest. He would have to wrap this meeting up, change into his racketball clothes before these started to stink. It was time to move this meeting along.

"So anyway, by whatever fluke of celebrity, this senile old pisher is a folk hero to this 'community'. He's stealing our thunder. But the public---bless its pointy little head----has an attention span of sixty seconds. Destroy the man, and the myth will fade..."

"So we put the no-seeum whammy on his business?" asked Benson, "Keep people from being able to think about him?"

"Any spell that can be cast can be uncast, if you're lucky. And I will admit he is one lucky geezer. No, we're playing hardball here .......... And to that end I present to you, the great ronin wizard, Necromancer Sato!"

In a puff of smoke a man materialized beside him. Mussberger made a desperate furtive hand gesture and the executives stood up.

"Bow, you dimwits," he hissed through clenched teeth. "Deeper!"

Sato returned their bow with the barest inclination of his head and they sat back down. The Japanese man was very large, unusually wide, and extremely muscular. The hip little pony tail and earring he wore seemed at odds with his outdated suit and flat brimmed bowler hat. He looked around dispassionately, in his eyes a paradoxical fusion of extreme intelligence and total emptiness.

"Mr. Sato here has mastered over ten thousand spells from dozens of different magical disciplines. Show 'em your stuff, Sato."

Sato touched his left eyebrow.

Mussberger was unaffected, but Barnett and the other three men at the table had become women, and Lindsay Smyth a muscular man with a blonde mullet. All were vibrant young specimens, immaculately attired as if for the opera. They all applauded.

Gundersen stood up and did an improvised belly dance---breasts quaking like gelatin, her clumsiness at odds with the graceful body she now inhabited---while the others whooped. Smythe wrapped a huge arm around her and leaned her way back to lay a big noisy kiss on her. Sato looked on, smiling inscrutibly.

Wendy Barnett felt her pretty face flushing with anger, and for some reason with embarrassment as well. Transforming wasn't a game to her, and their flippant attitude toward it felt like a mockery of her struggles.

Mussberger growled indulgently, "All right, settle down! Take your seats people."

Over the next several seconds the chatter wound down, and they did.

"You may have noticed that he didn't use a wand, or magical potions or incantation of any kind," lectured Mussburger, "And that is what sets Sato-san apart from bunglers like the one you cowards are all so impressed with. Sato doesn't just do magic, he IS magic!"

"But I heard ....... Well the Wizard, he's actually supposed to be pretty good at magic," said Wendy, quite conscious of how the others were scowling. "I mean, I'm just saying I read that."

"And I can guess where," snorted Mussburger. "Who are you going to believe ...... some degenerate old tranny sitting at a computer smoking crack, or the best strategic analysis team in the business? No, I think you'll find that the smart money is on our boy. Sato here has magic coming out of his ass!"

"That's okay, you don't have to show them," he added quickly as the sorceror started to pull down his pants. "Alright, go ahead and change 'em back."

Then he saw the desperate look in his young girlfriend's eyes and added, "Wait! Not her."

As Sato returned the others to their former selves, Mussberger winked at Wendy, "I'll see you after class, Missy. You've been giving me far too much sass lately."

She knew what this meant, and felt her cunny growing wet despite herself.

"Just one more," she murmured faintly.

Just one more night of this transformation magic, with the man who liked to be called Big Daddy Thunder. And then somewhere toward the end she would tell him it was over. Would quit the internship, move back to Pennsylvania, start going to Magic Anonymous- whatever it took! What remained of her self-respect demanded it.

.
7.) THE DUDE

The door swung open and a big man of about forty with a slovenly moustache and long unkempt hair loped into the conference room, his toolbelt jangling. His shirt had THE SICK BUILDING DOCS and a logo embroidered on it; a frowning cartoon building with an ice pack on its roof and a thermometer in its mouth.

He walked right past their table like he didn't even see them. He was singing under his breath, not the fuzztone-heavy old rock song you might expect, but something even older; a peppy uptempo swing tune from the 1930's:

"Now what did Cain do to Abel? Oh yeah? Oh yeah!
Bopped him on th' head with the leg of a table! Oh yeah? Oh yeah!
And that's murder........ Murder in the first degree! Hidey Hidey Ho!
That's murder......... Murderous insanity!"

Mussburger whirled to face him, "Excuse me? And who the hell are you?"

"The boss downstairs told me to recalibrate all the radon detectors on this floor."

"There is no boss downstairs. I'm the boss!"

"Well then you should want things to be working right around here. A little problem today can cost you big money tomorrow. Like that class-action suite against Yoyodyne..."

There was absolutely no deferrence in this joker. Gerald hated that. But he couldn't fault the big lout's logic. "All right, just make it quick. We're in a meeting here. A PRIVATE meeting."

"Hush hush stuff, huh? Big time corporate scheming? Price fixing and leveraged buyouts and all that shit? I LOVE IT!" As he started to remove the plastic box up on the wall he noticed Necromancer Sato.

"Whoah, Ninja Dude! Didn't see you there. That is a bitchin' hat! Does it chop off heads? You know, like that Odd Job guy from Goldfinger? You look like him. Anyone ever tell you that?" he broke into some stiff karate moves, cawing strangely, "Wrrraaaahhhh, waaaaaah- HIYEEEEE!!!"

The whole room tensed, fearing what the powerful magician might do to this idiot, but he just grinned and tittered strangely before reassuming his impassive mien.

"Didja ever see that? Goldfinger? That was AWESOME! 'Show, Goldfingah. D'yoo exshpect me to talk?' ......... 'My good heavens no, Mister Bond! I expect you to die! Mwaaaah, hahahaha!' And what about that Pussy Galoot, huh? Huh?! I guess she was supposed to be a dyke or somethin', but one night with Bond sure fixed that! Now Roger Moore might be fine for doin' Shakespeare and stuff, and this Craig Daniels they got now is pretty good, but there is only one James Bond in my book: Sean Fucking Connery! And what's cool is my name's Sean too. So when I was a kid it was like 'WOW!', ya know?"

Over the next ten minutes 'Sean' issued a nonstop stream of observations, each more inane than the last. By the time he left you could almost see the steam pouring out of Mussburger's ears...

.
8.) UGLY AS SIN

The Chief Executive went to perch a hand on Necromancer Sato's shoulder in a display of what good pals they were, then thought better of it. "So here's the plan, boys and girls. Mr. Sato here will play the part of a childlike and delicate wannabe geisha, trapped inside this all too musclebound and manly body. Our resources tell us the Wizard is a real sucker for sob stories like this. He'll never see it coming!"

Hauser frowned, "But with all the people out there who want the same thing the wizard must be awfully busy! Why would he chose him?"

"Psychic projection is another of Sato-san's many talents. He'll send out a shockwave of transgender angst that will be indistinguishable from the real thing, and so powerful that the wizard won't be able to ignore it! And then? Let's just say your local mall will become a far more predictable place in the near future."

The vice-presidents all smiled.

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
.

Wendy was uneasy. She didn't care for the direction this meeting was going one bit...

SpellCrafters only sold packages like Five Hour Fantasy, Dude for a Day, Womanly Weekend and Honeymoon Swap, that only lasted a certain amount of time. Wendy was well aware of this, from her experiences with Some Enchanted Evening. The comedown was always so hard, leaving her boy self languid and despondent, in a body that felt weird and way oversized.

When she had mentioned this to Gerald, he'd roared, "Of all the idiotic drivel! OF COURSE the spells don't last! How the hell else are we going to get repeat business? What am I, the goddamn Welfare Office?!"

While it was true she had never actually met him, Wendy could never imagine the Spells R Us Wizard saying a thing like this. The man helped people like her. He was like some kind of healer or something.

And she still didn't understand why they wanted to ruin him. Why was he supposed to be such a threat to SpellCrafters? All they really needed to do was convince people that they had a better, cheaper, more reliable product. That's how it was done in business, wasn't it? She felt that the real reason for this "operation" was that on some unconscious level the Wizard shamed them, by just being who he was. That his very existence gave the lie to the claims of men like Gerald that there was no real goodness in the world.

What had brought her lover to such a grim set of beliefs? If anybody had a reason to be pessimistic and resentful it was people with gender dysphoria- who suffered not just from the pervasive sense of wrongness that was their "disorder", but the bigotry of so many of those who had no such conflict. Yet most of the transfolk she knew did not dwell on how awful everything and everybody was (although yes, they were mostly all from her church, where projecting a positive outlook was socially rewarded.) .......... And Gerald didn't seem to have any private conflict like theirs, but gave every sign of feeling pretty damn great about himself and his lot in life. Could it be that he was just plain EVIL?

Wendy wished she was working for Spells R Us instead of interning in this viper's nest. She would often fantasize about this. The low pay wouldn't matter, because the first order of business would be giving her a body much like this one, but which would never shift back. The Wizard would not thrill her like her Thunder Daddy did---and in fact would never touch her in that way---but there would be warmth and respect in his eyes when he spoke to her. He would "have her back" during their more dangerous adventures. And Wendy just knew she would be best girlfriends with his assistant Dannie. The three of them would travel time and space together, like a little family, their lives given exceptional purpose by their magical mission of mercy...

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
.

It was the fantasy in which she was discovered to be the heir to the throne of the Atlantean matriarchy---(with Dannie cracking wise at the helm of the flying sub, even though they were being hunted down by half the world's navies, who thought they were terrorists in possession of an ancient weapon of unimaginable magnitude)---that Wendy was brought out of now, as Mussburger's voice suddenly grew loud:

"-and as soon as Sato gets inside Spells R Us- WHAM!!! There will be nothing left of the old fart except a grease spot on the floor of his dumb little shop! If even that ......... That's the genius of this plan. Any spell can be reversed. But smashing someone like a snail with a boulder? You might scrape together enough for a clone, but the man himself-" he turned his clenched fist upward, opened his fingers, "Bye bye..."

Wendy obviously had missed something important. "What exactly are you saying?!"

"What do you think I'm saying? Just imagine a thermonuclear explosion, confined to twenty cubic feet of space over the course of about ten seconds."

Wendy gasped, "You mean you're going to KILL him?!"

"I'm not going to kill anybody. Sato here is."

This was worse than she had ever imagined. She searched his face for some sign that he was kidding, but he just grinned that self-satisfied grin of his. She cried, "This is your Operation Sucker Punch? A HIT JOB?!!"

"I know they don't teach you that one in business school. Something like this takes that little extra bit of initiative, which you either have it or you don't..."

"That's just-just-just........ That's HORRIBLE!"

"Horrible I didn't think of it sooner," shrugged Mussburger, "'Business is war, kid! When you're dead you stay dead.' That's what my father used to say. Now there was a real balls-to-the-wall Type A bastard of an executive, I'll tell ya!"

"This is insane," the girl stammered. "YOU'RE FUCKING INSANE!"

"Oh don't go all womanly on me, Barnett!" Mussburger groaned, then asided to his confederates, "Christ, give 'em a pair of tits and they fall apart."

Wendy stuck her chin out, "I won't be party to this! I can't!"

"Hell, it's not like there's any way we can get caught!"

"That's the only objection you can think of? You really don't get it, do you?"

"I think you're the one who doesn't get it. You like the good life, you drink my potion and drive the Porsche I bought you and eat my caviar, but you don't want to see how it's attained. You're in this too, you know. So don't go getting all righteous all of a sudden!"

Wendy patted her pockets for her keys, but of course the dress she now wore didn't have pockets, She found them in the Versace handbag she apparently now owned, and threw them at him. "I'm part of it? I'm not part of anything that you're a part of! Take your stinking car, take your potion and your caviar- I QUIT!"

"Fine, you quit," said Mussburger with a show of utter indifference. "Sato, change her back. Better yet- make him fat, real fat. And ugly as sin. But don't change the outfit."

Sato touched his right temple. The snug fitting evening gown was soon in shreds as it is was occupied by a very obese man with over three times the mass of the female Barnett. Beady-eyed, chinless, with a nose like a deformed radish and buck teeth like you'd find in some novelty shop; his hair in a crew cut that looked like it had been styled by drunken monkeys.

Though there was no mirror handy, touching various parts of his corpulent body and his misshapen head gave him a pretty good idea what he looked like. And if that hadn't, the reaction of the others said it all.

Gundersen made a joke about "your mama" and "the Elephant Man" and the "Puke Factory" that didn't make a lot of sense, but which neatly summed up the mood of amused disgust, the utter lack of sympathy that pervaded the boardroom. This was all a great lark to them...

Wendell-Thing's mouth opened, and his bulbous lower lip quaked before a loud, horrible wailing came from him, like a bull elephant seal in mortal agony!

"Oh Brother," complained Lindsay Smythe, "Is there a spell to shut him up?"

Weeping copiously, the misshapen young man tried vainly to cover himself with the hopelessly insufficent tatters of silk. It was the best he could do to hide his breasts, which were no smaller now but were shapeless and hairy, drooping down the great bulge of his stomach.

Mussburger lit a Monte Cristo and watched the show with great enjoyment. He drew on his cigar and winked, "Where's your messiah now?"

(~~~~(~~~(~~o~~)~~~)~~~~)
.

Wendell (for he just could not think of himself as female now, it made this even worse...) had never known such despair. He imagined running---as best he could in this body---and taking a flying leap through the boardroom's window, then plunging forty-four floors to the sidewalk below. To become nothing, just to escape the heartless mockery directed at him, a whole future of stares and whispered comments, of making small children scream in terror.

In an instant, his worst nightmare had come true. The one in which somehow---despite all the exercise and the rigors of self denial he adhered to---he had found himself huge again. He'd had this nightmare a dozen times that he recalled, old engrams from childhood still haunting his dreams...
.

While there are some fat kids who find a satisfactory niche in the social order of the schoolyard, he had been neurotically awkward and shy enough that he became a pariah and a magnet for bullies. Friends trickled into his life one at a time, usually unpopular girls with dirty hair and thick glasses who committed suicide about the time he was going to tell them about Wendy.

All through junior high he had remained short, but grew in circumference. But then over the following summer he grew at an incredible rate. (His mother---seeing how unhappy and unpopular her child was---had broken with her private rule against magic and had paid a little visit to La Botanica Metamorfica). He began tenth grade as an almost unrecognizeable youth of six-one, the perfect height for the weight he had been in June.

And high school really WAS better. Only the braver bullies harrassed him now, and the homely greasy-haired girls he befreinded would only talk about suicide, so that soon he had TWO friends! Gertrude Lipschitz, Wendell/Wendy and the gnarled and wheelchair-bound Pinky Nakamura all got each other through their three year sentance, by way of mutual support and a whole lot of gallows humor...

Well, wait 'til the other two members of the "Butt-Ugly Bitches Club" got a load of him now, thought Wendell, and then he actually laughed. For he realized that he had at least two people who loved him and would treat him the same. The three of them were still all great friends, and chatted via instant-messaging almost every day.

Oh, and Mom and Dad would be unaffected by this, of course. As would his better friends from church. Yes, he reflected, it could be a LOT worse...

Like these people here, who were watching him with such undisguised malice. They actually seemed disappointed that he was no longer wailing in agony. How on Earth could they think and feel that way? He could never in a million years treat someone so cruelly! It was so ..........ugly.

And it was suddenly crystal clear to him where the real ugliness in this room lie. That compared to the festering blackness inside Gunderson, Hauser, Smythe, Benson---and most of all the man that he had been so perversely attracted to---his whole grotesque array of deformities was just a mild case of the zits...

But he was free of them now, of this place. And that felt good. That window and the express route to extinction that lie beyond no longer looked so inviting. Because if this was the worst they were going to do to him, he really didn't have it bad at all. He could have ended up like them.

Yes he had lost his free doses of SOME ENCHANTED EVENING, and his employee's discount for the rest of them, but what would that have cost him in the long run? He remembered the night his mom had called, needing to talk, distraught that her favorite Uncle had died; and all he could think about was getting her off the damn phone so he could transform, become Wendy. And there were other instances. Small unwanted changes in attitude that he had preferred not to examine too closely.

And perhaps the SpellCrafters formula had been giving him something he had never been meant to have. Or at least not by these means. It was like it said in Matthew 16...

(~~~~(~~~(~~o~~)~~~)~~~~)
.

Barnett had stopped blubbering and moaning. He seemed to stare without seeing. Catatonic?

Out of curiosity, Mussburger waved a hand back and forth in front of his face.

The kid noticed it, so he wasn't that far gone. And now he was muttering something under his breath, "What profiteth .......... world ......lose ..... soul..."

Was that a Bible verse? Oh man, this was priceless! But of course this loser would take refuge in his religion, these types could never stand on their own two feet. Well that wasn't any fun! Gerald would have to disabuse him of such nonsense. Like when that Texan who had ridden first class beside had made the mistake of trying to SAVE him. That had been a real hoot. From what he heard the guy was not doing well at all these days...

He placed a chummy hand in the middle of Barnett's hunched back, "Would you care to enlighten us all, Reverend? Give us poor wayward sinners a little something from de Good Book?"

Barnett looked him in the eye in a way that Mussburger found unnerving. Not the least hint of admiration, enfatuation, or need. And not a trace of fear. "Why should I? You'd just make fun of it. You want a bible quote? How about 'Cast ye not your pearls before swine'?"

Mussburger bristled, "Swine? Take a look in the mirror, sow-belly!"

Barnett shook his head wearily, "You know, I was afraid that if I ever got over loving you I would hate you so much it would consume me. But how can I, now that I really see you? You're like a man who's standing in the pit under an outhouse, trying to convince everyone walking by that the world is shit. I don't hate you, I just pity you..."

Mussburger pitched his cigar aside violently and snarled, "Why you sanctimonious freak! How dare you! Fuck you and fuck your pity!!"

The student intern had accomplished something no one here had ever seen before. For a brief instant Gerald S. Mussburger had lost his cool.

But then he recovered, and made a dismissive swiping motion with his hand, "Whatever you say there, Sport ........ So, are there any more 'conscientious objections'?"

"None here," smiled Hauser.

"I'm in," nodded Smyth.

"And how!" echoed Benson.

They all turned toward Gundersen. He assumed a haughty expression and made an imperious "thumbs down" gesture, like in that movie he had seen about gladiators. He thought it was just the coolest thing to do...

.
9.) HOUSE KEEPINGS

Energized by the recent fun and games, Lindsay was nearly back to her old level of confidence. She asked, "So we send Sato here after him. Are you sure he won't suspect it's a trap?"

"I think you're giving Bathrobe Boy way too much credit here. Hell, the old coot can't even dress himself! He's what, a hundred and seventy years old? If anything, we're doing him a favor! Think of it as euthenasia. Like you do with your dog when he gets so old and useless he's just embarrassing anymore."

At this last part Wendell---who loved dogs---groaned.

"Are you still here, Barnett? Get the fuck out of here, you're depressing to look at!"

As Wendell was trying to figure out how to do this without everyone here seeing his immense hairy ass, the door of the boardroom swung open.

"Oh for Pete's sake!" cried Mussberger, "I could've sworn I locked that!"

A chubby middle aged Mexican woman in a jumpsuit backed into the room, pulling a wheeled trash barrel behind her, "Escusa, el Jefe. Is only housekeepings."

"Come back later, damn it!"

"But I am just a minute."

"I said scram!"

Smiling pleasantly, she continued into the room, and dumped the nearest wastebasket into her barrel. "Please. This will no take long. I just need la basura. The trashes."

"Make it quick, Ro-zeeta! Then el scram-o!"

She moved like molasses, "There is a saying in my village. Two goats do not make a sunrise..."

"WHAT?!!" barked Mussburger incredulously, but she didn't seem to hear him. Smirking irritably, he circled his temple with his index finger.

She circumnavigated the room, emptying wastebaskets, humming tunelessly, gingerly picking up the tossed cigar like it was a scorpion. If she thought there was anything odd about a naked ugly fat man fighting back tears amidst these smartly dressed people, she didn't show it.

Mussburger addresses his task force, "So if Operation, uh, you-know-what goes as expected........we will be the absolute force majeure in the spell casting business."

A loud voice made him jump, "You will be absolute what in this business?"

Somehow the woman who he'd thought was somewhere off across the room was leaning over him from behind his chair, about three inches from his ear. He snapped, "Was ANYBODY talking to you?!!"

"I sorry. I just try to improve my speeches for being American. This thing you will be is what again?"

"Force majeure! Force majuere! You can take your expanded vocabulary with you to your next job, you're finished here! Compree-hendy 'fired', Con-suela?"

She hefted the wastebasket from beneath the paper shredder across the lid of her barrel and began pulling the strands of paper out handful by handful, smiling foolishly, like she was playing with it. Was she really that stupid?

"And you would be this things if you could? There is much I no understand..."

"Now there's an understatement," laughed Mussburger in exhasperation, "Of course we would 'weesh to be dis teeengs'! Now beat it!"

She smiled gently, "Then so you shall..."

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
.

In the second it took for the Spells R Us wizard to return to his true form everyone seated at the table had shrunk down past the edge of it, so that to the two wizards the room looked deserted.

Tiny gnatlike cries could be heard: "Help meee! Help meee! Help meee!"

One was managing to leap high enough that his tiny flailing hands could be seen sporadically. They were an awful alfalfa green. And then all was quiet.

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
.

"We meet at last," said Necromancer Sato with a tight grin.

The wizard raised an eyebrow. "Quite."

They started limbering up, doing little practice moves that looked like they were flashing gang signs at each other.

"Are we going to do this?" asked the Wizard.

"Not unless you insist. It would be a violation of the Mercenary's Creed. Making it personal."

At this they both relaxed.

"Those were some pretty slick transformations you laid on them," conceded the Wizard.

"Thank you," grinned Sato, "And speaking of transformations, I loved your little reconaissance routines. I thought old Mussburger was going to bust a gut during that second one! I can't believe you actually asked him, 'Hey, how about them Knicks?'"

"If you knew it was me, why didn't you try to stop me?"

"I'm an assassin. They didn't hire me as magic security expert. They didn't have ANYONE doing that! I can't believe that kind of arrogance. I just had to see what would happen."

"But you lost your commission."

"I got a few good laughs out of it. That counts for a lot with me," grinned Sato. He indicated the transformed executives, "Everyone's been telling me that you've gone soft. Goes to show you should never trust the rumor mill. This was brutal!"

"Oh hell, they'll be able to change them back. At least one of the hundred or so transformation reversal spells will work."

"But will anyone bother? They didn't exactly work at making friends here."

"Well If not out of love, I'm sure the magic tech types will do it just for the challenge. You know how they are. But once word gets out about this Mussburger and company will be a laughing stock in the industry. They'll be lucky to get jobs as test subjects for new products."

"True," chuckled Sato. He glanced at his watch, "Oh crap, my sumo match is on. Be seeing you!"

And POP! he was gone.

.
10.) THE REAL RAMONA...

The wizard leaned in over Mussberger's chair, peering down at the quivering mass in the seat, "Oh, yuck-o!"

Then he spotted a much larger quivering mass under the table. "Come on kid, get up."

"Please don't hurt me!" begged Barnett.

"If I wanted to hurt you that table wouldn't be much help."

Wendell stood up, "I guess not. And they say you're .......... That you're good."

"Some people think so. Some don't." The wizard took what had looked like a mound of cleaning rags draped over the edge of the barrel and held it up, "Here, put this on."

The obese young man looked at the ragged bathrobe in distaste, then decided it was better than what he was wearing, and put it on. "Thank you."

"Looks like your car keys were on your boss when he got transformed. Do you have a way home?"

He held up the purse that had come with the dress."I have cab fare."

Barnett couldn't believe he was actually be in the same room with the famous Wizard. He always imagined that if actually happened he would be trying to get the man to help him, but after the grotesque spectacle he had witnessed he was hesitant. To be honest, he was a little afraid of the guy.

He turned to leave, but then he had an idea, "Um.......How do I get this robe back to you? Could I maybe bring it by your shop? If I knew where it was going to show up next-"

"That's okay. I've got plenty more like it at the store."

Barnett sighed. He guessed he would have to content himself with the fact that his life had been spared. And that he had been delivered from the evil that his life might have become. He shambled toward the door, dejectedly stuffing his hands down into the pockets of the bathrobe.

His right hand found something smooth, made of glass. He fished it out.

A small ornate vial. His heart started beating faster as he inspected it, the stuff inside like living motes of glitter swirling through cough syrup. "Is this what I think it is?"

The Wizard nodded.

Tears slid down Barnett's cheeks. He tried to ask something, but it came out as a series of high-pitched emotional squeaks. Nothing even resembling words, but the Wizard understood every bit of it...

"Yes, it's permanent. It's a lot stronger than that commercial stuff you're used to, and you will sleep. So wait until you're safe at home to drink it. I don't want you waking up in the women's drunk tank. And to answer your next three questions: While your ID and records and such will be corrected retroactively, you and your parents and your good friends Gertrude and Pinky will remember your transformation. And as for 'how you can ever repay me': Be nice, shovel old Mrs. Finlay next door's porch when it snows .......... You know what to do! And try not to fall for the next smooth talking millionaire who comes along! And as to what you're wondering now: Yes you may. Only-"

The old wizard felt his breath being squeezed out of him as the elephantine lad pounced and hugged him, "Only not ........ so ....... hard!"

As he wiped the slobber off his cheek he could hear the former intern on his cell phone, already somewhere down the hall. "Mom? Could I stay there a few days? Something wonderful just happened..."

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
.

The wizard peered down at the lump in the chair at the head of the table "Gee Gerald, you feeling okay? You look like shit!"

With its last remnants of mobility it rocked furiously, buzzing like a pissy kazoo. As if it was still in a position to make demands. Mussburger was making this way too easy.

"I'm sorry, what was that? Sometimes I can't hear so good. I'm just a........ what was that you called me? Oh yeah, a washed up senile old coot. And what was that word you were trying to teach me?"

There was no answer from the transformed CEO.

"Oh, force majeure! I could've sworn you said .......... Oh well."

He turned back into the cleaning woman and resumed pushing the squeaking trash barrel. Whistling Cielito Lindo, she exited.

(~~~~(~~~(~~(o)~~)~~~)~~~~)
.

Later, when the real Ramona Flores showed up she turned right around and left. She'd had enough of these perverted Yanqui brujos! Somebody else could clean up those five piles of horse manure seated around the table in the executive conference room.
.

~~~O~~~
THE END
~~~O~~~

.
.

If the character Gerald S. Mussburger seems familiar, he is the son of Sidney J. Mussburger, the chief executive of Hudsucker Industries played by Paul Newman in the hilarious Coen Brothers comedy THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. (You know, for kids!)

------------------------------

Song lyrics in Chapter 7 are from "Joshua", by Stuff Smith & his Onxy Club Boys, 1937.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldD2lyVq1Dc


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