I swept out my arms, just in time to grab
a cutpurse by the collar, a skinny, pink-skinned Imp. I held him up over my head until I could
determine that he hadn't gotten a hold of my wallet. A dozen billfolds and pokes rained down from
his pockets onto my head.
"Sorry, sir. Sorry,"
the Imp protested, crushing his hands together in supplication. "It was just a mistake. A mistake,
"Apology accepted," I
replied, heaving him overhand into the nearby fountain, which stood about thirty feet away.
The authorities were on the guy almost before
he landed. A couple of the blue-skinned Flibberites in comic-opera uniforms, complete with white
marching-band style hats, Florentine quilted-front tunics and puffy trousers, looked my way. I
glared back, daring them to call me out over the incident, but they gave me point-nailed thumbs-up.
I even got a few grins from my fellow shoppers. Brushing money bags off my shoulders, I turned back
to my companions.
"The moral of that story is
that people-watching always pays off."
"That just leaves us with
one problem," I said, downing my fourth, or maybe fifth, beer. "How are we going to find the person
who's masquerading as Skeeve?"
him," Chumley exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "There he goes now!"
I turned in the direction he was pointing. I
saw a yellow-haired Klahd in a dark purple tunic come out of a jewelry store with a parcel in his
hands and head up the corridor away from us.
"You! Klahd! C'mere!" Chumley shouted, in his
Big Crunch voice, trying to sound friendly.
person turned toward us, then away without a flicker of recognition. I felt my jaw hit the ground.
The blue eyes, the narrow nose, the strong jaw, the mobile mouth with the ready grin and puny
rectangular teeth - it was Skeeve to the life - but it wasn't. This Klahd looked astonishingly like
my ex-partner, but I knew deep down inside it wasn't the real thing. An impostor!
I felt my ire rising like lava in a volcano.
Someone, some magician, some shapeshifter was running around this dimension pretending to be
Skeeve, and ripping him and a whole lot of merchants, off. I sprang
"Get him!" I roared.
Massha floated away from the table and arrowed
away after the Klahd. Chumley and I bounded out of the café, dodging past the bards and the
security guards hauling the wet Imp out of the fountain.
The impostor's eyes widened, then he took off
running. He might not be Skeeve, but he had the same kind of long legs and slim build. In the thick
crowd, those were an advantage, unlike my more muscular frame and shorter limbs. I plowed ahead,
tossing shoppers out of my way right and
"Allow me, Aahz!" Chumley called, and
thrust in ahead of me. "Aaaarrrr-aaaggghhh!" he yelled, waving his mighty arms. "Get out of way!"
No being who heard a full-throated growl would
obstruct our forward passage for long.
for a subtle approach. With a full-sized Troll trained in crowd management, we soon cut the
distance to about ten yards.
It was a weird
feeling, pursuing my ex-partner. You'd think that with all the experience I had exposing magikal
fraud I could put the dystopia to one side, but I couldn't. I kept getting the feeling that if we
jumped this guy, it might really turn out to be
We entered a crossroads. Our quarry
faked left, then right, then right again, loping into another avenue filled with stores, tents and
stalls. Massha, sailing along overhead thanks to her gadgets, stayed right with him. She fumbled
with her jewelery, clearly trying to find one gadget in
"Can you grab him?" I called to
"My tractor-pendant's on the fritz!" she
shouted back, holding up a smoking topaz.
she gamely dipped down, stretching out a ring-filled hand toward the running Klahd's shoulder. She
made contact. With a snarl, he spun around, and raised three fingertips in her
"Whoa!" Massha levitated
A lightning bolt crackled just
underneath her belly, and impacted upon the center pole of a white pavilion tent in the middle of
the corridor. The carved golden griffin at the apex fell like a downed pheasant.
"I'm okay!" she called back, and rose
into view once more
The creep really was a
magician! With a grim set to her shoulders, Massha continued the aerial chase. I made a promise
that if this jerk wasn't Skeeve, I was going to give him the walloping of his life, just before I
tore his arms and legs off. If he was
well, I would think about it if that unlikely situation
Arms forward, our suspect dove into a
pale blue tent with iridescent circles embroidered on each flap. I took a deep breath as I plunged
in after him.
No air filled this one; the
interior was awash in eight feet of water, in which mermaids sold jeweled brassieres to the general
public. My prey kicked off in a dog paddle. My physique was much more suited to dry land than sea,
so it helped when Massha grabbed me by the collar and dragged me along over the surface. I spared a
quick glance back for Chumley.
The Troll was
doing a creditable crawl stroke and gaining rapidly on the two of us. I seemed to recall one night
around the table in our tent in the Bazaar when Tananda had revealed her big brother had been a
champion swimmer at school on Trollia. The big lug was too modest about his accomplishments. Such
reticence never paid off, in my philosophy.
the far end of the tent, our prey hit the ground running. I sloshed out after him, into a tiny
boutique that sold ladies' unmentionables (even more unmentionable than the mermaids' wares). Now I
The shimmering white tent was hardly
bigger than a boudoir. Reaching the back wall he turned at bay, his long arms and legs poised for
some kind of single combat which I was confident he'd lose. I slowed up, gathered the muscles in my
legs, and sprang! He dodged to one side.
landed on my face, my arms empty. The back of the pavilion was illusionary, not an uncommon
practice when persons of modest virtue (or less than modest) wanted to disappear discreetly. The
shrieks of females surprised in various states of dishabille pierced the sound-deadening spell
protecting my ears.
"Sorry, ladies! Just a routine
inspection," I said hastily over the screaming.
Maybe that hadn't been the best choice of
words. As I scrambled to my feet, I was pelted with shoes, purses and shopping bags by half-naked
women from fifty different dimensions. Making a hasty retreat, I fled back into the small pavilion.
The sturdily-built gray-furred felinoid female, one of her own red satin foundation garments
supporting four rows of two bosoms each, pointed sternly to the wall at the left. Sheepishly, I
followed her direction, and picked up the wet footprints left by my quarry and Chumley, whose head
I spotted above those of the surrounding crowd as soon as I got
The blond head swiveled back at us.
Those familiar features were twisted into an expression of alarm I never thought would be directed
at me. It gave me the creeps, but I didn't let it slow me down. I bounded past another set of
bards, then another, passing through modern jazz, back into plainsong and forward into punk rock.
He made another break, this time into a wide tent full of
The first thing I saw was my own
handsome countenance. The proprietors, a couple of Deveels who probably broke a few pieces of
merchandise behind unwary shoppers when business was slow, gawked at me when I dodged the framed
mirror at the door and started running toward the image of Skeeve I could see close to the back.
When I got there I realized that it was another image. I spun around, just in time to see a flap of
the tent waving. I shot out into the corridor again.
"Chumley!" I shouted, holding my hand high and
pointing toward the fleeing impostor.
him!" Chumley called, then changed his voice. "Er, get
In a scramble of long legs, our prey
dashed out and headed up a side passage that led us through tent flaps and hanging banners, with
Massha flying point above. We weren't going to lose sight of him
"There he goes!" Massha shouted from
I glanced up. She pointed. Still
running, I pulled out the map. The little blue dot looked pale from having to follow us all over
the map, but it gamely pointed to the location we currently occupied. I smiled grimly. This time
the fake Skeeve had boxed himself up. There was no way out of the dead end ahead. I put on a burst
of speed that propelled me past Chumley.
shoved through a metal door left flapping by the passage of the man we were pursuing. The little
dot on the map in my hand kind of hung back, as if ashamed to go into the leg of The Mall in which
we now found ourselves.
A wave of stench that
reminded me fondly of Pervish cooking wafted past my nostrils. Unlike the absolute pristine
cleanliness of the building everywhere else, this area was furnished with heaps of garbage, dumped
in between huge stacks of crates, piles of cages and skids full of bags. This must be where
shipments came in and trash went out.
beeping noise cut through the air, and a heap of carved wooden boxes higher than my head appeared
into being underneath an ornate letter 'W' etched on the wall. Obviously, someone's expected
delivery had just arrived.
Ahead of me the kid
was flagging. He must have been aware that the stone wall ahead meant the end of the chase.
"He could try and pop out, Massha," I called,
though I doubted it.
If he'd wanted to
dimension-hop he could have done that any time while we were running after him. Before I'd lost my
powers, I had bamfed out on the fly I couldn't tell you how many times. An experienced
traveler would have done it without all the running around. I was beginning to draw a mental
picture of what kind of being we were dealing
"I'm ready," she shouted back, holding up
a chain with a green eye pendant hanging from it. "This'll tell me where he's gone. It's a new
gizmo from Kobol."
Movement caught my eye in the
dwindling light toward the end of the corridor. I spared one erg of attention for the clutch of
huge brown rats that were crawling around in the rotting heaps of food that had come from one of
the restaurants and hadn't yet been cleared away by magikal means.
Twenty steps now. Ten. Five. The three of us
converged on the 'Skeeve' as he neared the shadowy wall.
"Now!" I bellowed.
All three of us dove for him - and cracked our
heads together before bashing into the stone barrier. He was gone. Chumley clutched his head with
one mighty hand as he felt around in the garbage for our quarry. I sprang up.
"Where'd he go, Massha?" I
The Court Wizard of Possiltum wrenched
her hefty self out of the trash and applied her skill to interpreting the beeps and twitterings
coming from the green glass eye. She shook her
"It says he's still here," she informed us
with a puzzled
possible," Chumley shook his head. "I had my hands firmly around his neck for one moment, then he
was out of my grasp."
"At least we know he
was substantial," I said, kicking aside heaps of paper.
A large brown rat, unearthed from its burrow,
glared at me with little beady eyes. I glared back, and the vermin retreated with a scared squeak.
"It's not some kind of illusion. He's a
magician or shape-shifter of some kind. Keep looking. There must be some clue as to where he went."
I pushed over a stack of worn wooden skids, and
started to dig through a pile of burlap
"Smile, boys," Massha said, from behind
us. "The locals are here."
"Hands-a up!" a gruff
voice barked. "Turn around, very slowly."
when I'm outnumbered. Very slowly, I turned around, with my hands up, as instructed. Chumley did
the same. Hovering in mid-air Massha had already raised her arms over everyone's heads.
Facing us up the soiled corridor was either the
chorus from "Rose Marie," or a large portion of the security force of The Mall. I stopped counting
at a hundred, as more and more of big, strong, blue-skinned beings in Renaissance costume pointed a
nasty array of weapons in our direction.