Clive Masters waited for the wizard at the Fysler automobile assembly plant with enthusiasm and fear. Enthusiasm because he would fix their rampant gremlin problem, and fear because he was a wizard. He waited in the far lot of the factory out of sight of the reception building.
A beat-up, faded maroon 1971 Ford Pinto drove onto the lot leaving a trail of black smoke that hung in the air like paint on canvas. It sounded like a clothes dryer filled with nails as it came to a stop and fired a bang from its exhaust.
The driver-side door popped open and a six-foot-plus, gaunt man with a pool stick climbed out, a roll of black garbage bags held by the stick. He had a Donnie and Marie T-shirt, blue jeans, and white sneakers. He swept the brown hair out of his eyes, strode up to Clive, and held out his hand.
“Garbol,” he said.
“Pleased to meet you, sir,” said Clive. “I’m Clive Masters, the shift manager. I’m sorry Mr. Rhodes couldn’t be hear to meet you.”
“I don’t give a damn,” said Garbol. “Take me in.”
“Sure. If I may ask, sir—what do you need the cue stick for?”
He looked at Clive in a way that made his tailbone freeze. “Every wizard has a staff.”
They walked onto the factory floor, and Garbol’s eyes darted all over the place.
“You know my fee?” asked Garbol.
“This could take all day,” said the wizard.
Clive gasped. “I’ve been cleared for funds according to your contract.”
Garbol pulled a trashbag off the roll and pulled it open, shaking it a few times to fill it with air. He shoved it in Clive’s hands. “Hold this.”
He started at the end of the line where the cars were almost complete and waved his hands over the first one, muttering something about the power of Gertz and Phoebe Cates. The car lurched and trembled, then something with scales and fur pushed out of the tailpipe. Garbol thrust his staff at it, and a foot-high, trollish creature with scales on its front and fur on its back fell out on its reptilian head and scrabbled to its feet, big pointy ears curling and uncurling, raspy growl like a cornered cat.
Garbol grabbed it by the throat and threw it in the bag. “Hold it shut until I get the next one.” The creature thrashed around, but the bag held. Garbol popped the hood and pulled gremlins out of the oil cap and the washer fluid.
He went down the line extracting the little monsters from under seats, inside dashboards, out of gas caps, the wheel wells, and several parts of the engines—once he even ordered the manifold removed to pry out a few stubborn ones. When they finished the partially built cars, they went outside to the fleet of finished vehicles, and he extracted even more. From there he went through all other parts and assembly buildings.
Clive guestimated they’d collected about three thousand of them. Each bag held about two hundred of the devils, and Garbol cast a spell over each twist-tie used to close them. They worked through lunch and finally at mid afternoon he’d covered the entire plant.
“Phew,” said Clive. “Are we finished?”
“That was just the first pass,” said Garbol. “You still have a lot of them hiding and moving around while we search. It’s going to take a while, yet.”
Mr Rhodes came in while Clive shared half an egg salad sandwich with the wizard during a very short break.
“How are we doing?” Mr. Rhodes asked.
“Fantastic,” said Clive. “We’ve bagged thousands of them.”
“I would hope so.” Mr. Rhodes sniffed. “How long have you been at it?”
“Six or so hours,” said Clive.
“I expected it to only take a few,” said Mr. Rhodes. “I can’t be expected to pay indefinitely. Get the job done soon or I’ll call it a breach of contract and pay you nothing.”
“That would be a big mistake,” said Garbol.
“Well.” Mr. Rhodes looked at the floor. “Hurry it along.”
“Mr. Rhodes, when did the gremlins start?” asked Garbol.
“When we started the Orca line,” said Rhodes. “About seven months ago.”
“What did you do differently in parts procurement?” asked Garbol.
“Nothing,” said Rhodes. “All parts came through normal channels.”
“You’re full of it,” said Garbol.
“It’s true,” said Rhodes.
Garbol jabbed his cue stick toward a robotic arm. A gremlin quacked and popped up on top of it, suspended in the wizard’s power.
“You,” the wizard said. “Name.”
“Boz,” it squawked.
“Where did you come from, Boz?”
Garbol pulled his cue back and the gremlin dropped, sprang away and vanished behind the equipment.
“Mr. Rhodes,” said Garbol. “You will find a clause in my contract that if you lie to me at any time, I may cease the cleanup and be paid in full. You can cut me a check now.”
“Not if you don’t finish the job,” said Rhodes.
“Mr Rhodes, do you see all those garbage bags on the floor?” He swept his hand along the line. “Those belong to me. If I leave here without a check, I will take them all—but I’ll leave the contents.”
Rhodes wrote Garbol a check, and Clive helped the wizard pack all the bags in the hatchback of his Pinto.
“Garbol, sir, would you please reconsider?”
“Rhodes lied. I can’t abide.”
“But, sir. If this factory fails, the entire community fails. A lot of families count on this work.”
Garbol climbed in the driver’s seat and rolled down the window. “If you can get him to write up an apology and kick it up ten percent, I’ll think about it. But right now I have to help a computer warehouse with a bug problem.”
The Pinto started with a sputter, the engine jangling, and he drove away.
Movement near Clive’s feet caught his eye. A gremlin stood next to him, watching Garbol drive off. Clive pointed a finger at it, and, as if by reflex, it jumped and rasped, “Boz!” It shuddered and giggled, then ran back into the factory.