Next morning, at two minutes to nine, Gribble strode into his office to find the geek chair. Empty. He peered out of the door carefully looking both ways along the corridor. There was nobody in sight and he permitted himself a thin smile. His new geek was going to be late. How perfectly splendid. He was sure there was a clause in the contract that covered lateness; he even rather wished he had read it. Positioning himself in the doorway, he pulled his dwarf-made timepiece from his pocket and stood ostentatiously studying its ornate face. The University bell bonged nine times and a bored imp poked its head out of the casing of the timepiece in his hand.
“Nine of the clock. Midweek day. Climate a little uncertain. Some chance of precipitation.”
The head disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Behind Gribble somebody coughed politely. He spun around as if he had been shot. The geek desk was now occupied.
“What? How? Who?”
His new geek smiled, showing far too many teeth.
“Good morning, Professor Gribble. Belladonna Handyman at your service.”
As she spoke the pieces began to fall into place in Gribble’s distraught brain. The bastards had given him a non-human. He pulled himself together and considered the evidence. Belladonna bespoke vampire or shifter heritage, whilst Handyman was a dwarf name. It just wouldn’t do, so he strode towards her sneering, only to be halted in his tracks by a small gout of flame from somewhere beneath the desk at which she sat.
He squeaked in a most unmanly manner, and stared at the desk.
Belladonna smiled. “Oh. That’s just my brother, Eric.”
“Same father. Different mothers. Only difference is while my mother was hunting the shape-shifting bastard to cut off his balls, Eric’s mother ate him. Oy, Eric stick your head out and say hi to our new employer.”
A square reptilian head poked around the corner of the desk. “Hi.” Then the creature belched another small flame.
“Isn’t he a bit? Petite? For a dragon?”
“Oh. Not really. He’s in his condensed form right now. If he wasn’t he’d not fit in this room.”
Gribble tried to summon a threatening frown. “I wouldn’t entirely mind if he wasn’t in this room.”
Belladonna smiled, it was a vaguely patronising expression. “Oh he’s in the contract too. Where I go, he goes.”
Even an egocentric, unimaginative academic knows when he has been outmanoeuvred and Gribble shook his leonine head in recognition of defeat. “Very well. To work then.”
By the end of the morning, he was forced to admit, if only in the quiet vaults of his own mind, that this was the fastest and least emotional geek that he had ever encountered. She was also the most irritating, as she looked at him with the kind of amused tolerance that scraped on his nerves like fingernails against a chalkboard.
He was dictating a list of questions about the content of an obscure Assyrian incunabulum when the clock struck noon. As the last tocsin sounded the geek disappeared. For a second or so Gribble’s mouth carried on speaking, unwilling to believe the evidence of his eyes. He swore sulphurously, and Belladonna’s face appeared in the air in front of him.
“Lunchtime,” she said brightly.
Gribble showed her his teeth, but she just smiled and disappeared. At one-thirty on the dot Launcelot Gribble’s geek reappeared. She wiped her mouth on a red napkin and belched delicately. Under the desk her saurian sibling also belched and a tongue of flame licked the leg of the desk which sparked briefly.
Gribble leapt into the air and squeaked before collecting himself and dragging up a sneer. “Now the bloody dragon is only setting fire to the sodding furniture.”
“Language,” Belladonna murmured, before settling back into work as if she had never been away.
They worked all afternoon, but at the stroke of five the desk became empty and an infuriated Gribble found himself talking to thin air.
He went home a confused and bothered man and snarled his way through the evening before spending a disturbed night throughout which he dreamed of flames and toothily grinning females.
From Gribble’s Geek by Jane Jago which is only 0.99 to buy throughout November.
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