Garbol’s grip around his cue stick tightened and his jaw clenched. He barely contained the urge to teach a surly flowerpot in the hotel lobby a lesson by smashing it with his staff. He’d put out a general request for help from the gaggle of wizards at the conference, and three answered the call.
Three out of some four hundred wizards. A good majority of them had to go to Ames Iowa to contend with the swarm of mayharms that overran the Renaissance Fair, but Garbol found it hard to believe that all but three had business more pressing than ghouls.
Jetz, Murphy, and Poof stood before him, ready to face the battle, as it were. Journalists coming for the conference filled the lobby. Rene, the snaggle-toothed reservationist, waved and gave Garbol the googly eyes. Cute, but way too forward.
Garbol swished his fingers for them to follow. “Thanks for coming,” he said, trying to convey genuine appreciation. He took them to a banquet room, a small bucket and three Rubbermaid bowls on a table.
“You bet,” said Murphy, a stout fellow with a yellow, blue, and green lumberjack shirt, and an axe handle for a staff.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” said Poof. Poof was thin as a stickman, dressed in a suit, but Garbol knew by reputation he could hold his own in a scrap.
Jetz wore his usual civvies, a button-down shirt and khakis, and he hooked his tree-branch staff in his elbo. “What’s the plan?”
“Any of you ever catch a ghoul before?” Garbol asked.
The wizards shook their heads and mumbled ‘no.’
“Me neither. There’s three of them,” said Garbol. “A short one, a tall one, and the dominant one in between. I just reinforced the seventh-floor wards and found that the dominant broke the spell that confined them to their rooms.” He wrinkled his nose. “Not surprising, I guess. That part of the spell was a bit tentative, and a simple invitation might have worked.”
“The ward’s holding,” said Jetz. “Don’t beat yourself up.”
Garbol snorted. “We’re going to use bait, but first we need to separate them. The faux human flesh I have should entice one at a time because more than one would fight over it, and once the loser sees what it does, he won’t fall for it. There are three stairways going up, so we’ll draw each ghoul into a different one, each set with a succulent bowl of meat charged with whatever immobilizing spells we decide upon—the strongest possible for whoever is assigned to each spot.”
“I’ve got some ideas,” said Murphy.
“Good,” said Garbol. “Once we immobilize them, we’ll shove them back into the cemetery grotto they came from and blast them back to the abyss.”
Garbol opened the bucket, and with a big spoon inside, he divided the human-scented hamburger into the three bowls and placed lids on them, then handed one to each of the other wizards. “Jetz take the front stairs, Murphy the back, and Poof the east wing.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Jetz.
Garbol blew through his lips. “I’m going to improvise ways to distract them and lead them separately toward the bait.”
“Hey, guys!” Rene pushed between Garbol and Poof, hands around their wastes. “Whattaya got planned tonight?”
Garbol smiled and took her hand off his back, turning her around and escorting her out of the room. “We have work to do,” he said.
“When you get done, stop by the lounge tonight. I’ll have my best girls with me.”
“Thanks, Rene. But we’re most likely leaving tonight.”
Rene’s face fell. “Dammit. If you hung around, we could make fun of all the journalists, crash the private party on the seventh floor, or drop rice pudding from the roof.”
“Tonight’s a good night to just stay in the lounge or go home,” said Garbol. “If you’re still there, I’ll stop in when I settle my bill.”
“You’re an animal,” she said.
“Yeah,” Garbol said.
When she’d gone, Poof said, “Wow. Making time in the middle of planning a ghoul hunt.”
“Nothing like that,” said Garbol. “You heard her. I wanted to give her reason not to go to the seventh floor. Even though she wouldn’t be able to get in, her proximity could be a great complication.”
“Huh,” said Jetz. “If there’s one thing wizards are great at, it’s rationalization.”
“I’m just watching out for her safety,” said Garbol.
“Okay,” said Murphy. “In that case, I’ll meet her in the lounge later.”
Garbol punched him in the arm. “Only if you want to spend the rest of your life as a monkfish.”
“Right. Let’s get moving,” said Murphy.