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The Oblong Box
Albert J. Manachino
Copyright ©2002 by Albert J. Manachino

Mr. Stuart Falcon James had experienced the most nerve shattering of days so it scarcely could have been said he was joyously overwhelmed when Ralph, his genie major domo, approached him with an extended salver bearing an elegantly embossed calling card.

"Office hours are over," he said pointedly. Stuart was seeking a plausible excuse to break an appointment with his colleague, Charles Austin Hyer III.

"Ms. Thistle is a very close friend of your fiancé, Sir." Ralph made the disclosure casually.

Stuart's hand trembled as he forced himself to pick the card up. He read the silver script, "Morganna Thistle. I don't know a Morganna Thistle."

"Sounds classy," Slimerod remarked.

Slimerod nestled comfortably in a bed of glowing coals. His voice came out of a radio in Stuart's pocket. Occasionally he reached from the fireplace and took a few kernels of dried corn from a can on the tiled apron.

Stuart asked, "Did she say why she wishes to see me?" If, for instance, Ms. Thistle desired a charm relative to an affaire d'amour, he would have reminded Ralph that, "I don't deal in love philtres," and sent her on her way.

Ralph was properly apologetic. "Ms. Thistle said her business was with you personally and that it was most urgent."

Slimerod thrust his hand among the glowing coals and held it there until the kernels popped. He flung them into his mouth with an overhand pass.

"Go to her," Stuart addressed the imp. "Express my regrets." He handed the card to Slimerod. "Inform her that I am ill and incapable of undertaking a commission. Besides, I have a dinner engagement with Mr. Hyer."

The card burst into flames. Slimerod refused. "It ain't my job. I'm your familiar, not your flunky. Besides, I'd scare the crap out of her."

"That is the idea."

"Shall I usher her in, Sir?" Ralph wanted to return to his interrupted dinner. (Which consisted of a demijohn of white wine.)

"Yes. No! I don't know. I don't want to see anyone!" Stuart trembled as he sought to control his rebellious nerves.

"She is a remarkably good looking young lady," Ralph persisted, "and very tastefully attired. Perhaps if you listened to her problem over a good dinner, it might assuage your own situation."

"Do you really think so?" Stuart asked hopefully.

"Sir, I can't think of anything more soothing than a beautiful woman, restful music, and delicious food."

Stuart regained a measure of composure. His hands stopped twitching. "Ralph! I think you've got it. I'll see her!"

"Very good, Sir." He glided out of the room as if on oiled bearings.

Slimerod sneered. "I think she bribed him."

The major domo returned accompanied by a truly beautiful, elegantly dressed woman. He had not been exaggerating in that respect. Ralph bowed low and presented the visitor.

"Ms. Morganna Thistle."

Then he evaporated into a grey mist that streaked across the floor to an open champagne demijohn. A small funnel that was the apex of the mist aimed itself at the neck of' the bottle and in seconds, Ralph disappeared inside. Ms. Thistle did not appear to notice.

Stuart thought, "Either she is as blind as a bat or she has the nerves of a frog man." Aloud, he said, "What can I do for you, Ms. Thistle?" The very sight of her made him feel better. His nerves decelerated to a slow jangle.

Apparently she sought reassurance. "You are an exorcist, aren't you?" He nodded. Her voice was a delightful sensuous contralto.

"That's it!" Stuart thought. "Her voice is sensual."

"I want you to lift a curse." Morganna appraised him critically through a pair of lovely, cool grey eyes. "If you will pardon me, you aren't my idea of an exorcist at all."

He smiled. "You were expecting...”

"I was expecting an old, scholarly, absent-minded professorial type."

"Exorcists come in all sizes and shapes, including the one you anticipated. Perhaps we can discuss your problem over dinner?" His scheduled appointment with Mr. Hyer was forgotten.

She ignored the obvious hint. "No! It's rather personal. I prefer to discuss it in an atmosphere of privacy."

Stuart hid his disappointment. "I take it, the curse causes you great embarrassment rather than threatens you with bodily harm?"

"It certainly does cause embarrassment, and inconvenience too. My boy friends won't come near me anymore." She removed an ermine wrap and draped it casually over an end table.

Stuart examined his so attractive visitor. "That's almost impossible to believe. Who placed the curse on you?" He guided her to a comfortable chair by his desk and seated himself behind it. Unobtrusively, he activated the recorder.

"A witch named Francine Bible."

"Bible? That's an odd name for a witch. They usually select names from classical mythology... Ceres, Medea, Circe... I take it, it is a personal matter between you?"

"Definitely!" She looked around hopefully for evidence of a bar.

Stuart interpreted the perusal correctly. "A pre-dinner Martini?" he suggested. "That invitation is still good." Mr. Hyer was completely forgotten. Stuart now felt refreshed, mentally and physically, as if he'd enjoyed a good night's sleep.

"A frozen daiquiri, if you don't mind."

He called over his shoulder. "Did you hear that, Ralph?"

"Certainly, Sir," the genie responded. The almost empty bottle imparted an eerie echo to his voice.

An impossibly long arm reached out of the bottle and set a frosted glass in front of Ms. Thistle. Then it withdrew. Her attention was on Stuart and apparently, she did not see the unusual service. Stuart decided it would take more than an imp to "Scare the crap out of her." Unless Slimerod manifested himself as a mouse, of course.

"A bit of the background," he suggested, as she sipped appreciatively.

"Your man packs a wicked aperitif. Background? That Bible bitch hates competition. All this is very straight forward, nothing complicated... the most widespread of motives... ambition and jealousy."

"Ambition? Jealousy? Jealousy of what?"

“We're both porn stars," she explained patiently. “She ruined my career."

"Career?"

"Now I can't find a leading man willing to star opposite me."

"Star opposite you?"

She nodded. "They run like hell when they see me coming. How would you liked to be faced with the mathematical impossibility of' putting a round peg into a square hole?"

"Round peg? Square hole? You aren't making sense."

"Can't you do anything but echo? Inasmuch as you don’t seem able to understand, I'll have to show you."

"Show me the curse?"

"A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say." Ms. Thistle remarked sagely. She raised her dress.

It took a moment for the visual image to register on Stuart's befogged brain. "Oh, my God!" he screamed, "it's square!" He leapt onto the coffee table and pointed hysterically at his visitor. Or, more precisely, to a certain area on his visitor. His eyes protruded and he continued yelling, "It's square... it's...”

Abruptly, his nerves reverted to the hideous churning bundle of uncontrolled fibres they had been prior to Ms. Thistle's arrival. His head felt like a volcano in the process of erupting. Morganna was irritated.

She scolded him. "Not so loud! Do you want everyone to know?"

He continued to point and shout, "It's square...”

"I'll bet you failed high school geometry. This is a rectangular shape, you idiot. An oblong."

"I must get hold of myself," he muttered under his breath. Stuart climbed down from the coffee table and collapsed into a chair. He laid his head down on the desk and wrapped his arms around it for the purpose of saving as many of the pieces as possible in case it exploded. "Calm yourself... calm... calm...” He babbled and laughed hysterically. "Slimerod!" he shouted at the fireplace.

"Yeah, boss?" The response came out of his pocket. Ms. Thistle raised a well-bred eyebrow.

"I'm a very sick man, Slimerod. Cure me."

"You know I ain't got a license to practice medicine," the familiar responded.

An upheaval occurred in the fireplace. A very strange object crawled out of the embers and crossed the room. It radiated a heat so intense that it hurt the eyes. Miraculously, nothing ignited nor were there burn marks left on the carpet. Slimerod climbed up Stuart's trouser leg and perched on his shoulder. The imp passed a long amorphous tendril into Stuart's ear.

Ms. Thistle was unable to restrain her curiosity. "Why do you live in a fireplace?"

"I'm afraid of germs."

Slimerod drew the tendril in and out of Stuart's ear in a sawing motion. Ms. Thistle lowered her skirt. Stuart relaxed. The agonised expression left his face.

"Ah!" he sighed, "that's better." He told his visitor, "I'll be with you in a few minutes. Dreadful shock this morning... had to exorcise the ghost of Jacques the Zipper. Wasn't expecting this on top. Too, it isn't every day that I gaze upon an oblong... well, you know." To Slimerod, he said, "I think that's enough."

The imp protested. "I was beginning to enjoy it."

"Enough!"

"Oh, all right, if you're going to be a spoil sport." He terminated his ministrations and started down.

"I want you in on this," Stuart told him.

Slimerod climbed back.

"Now that I have an understanding of what is involved," he told Morganna, "we shall endeavour to rectify the problem." Stuart pressed his fingertips together pontifically. "Is Ms. Bible amenable to reason?"

"It depends on what you consider reason."

"If I was to point out to her that what she is doing is morally reprehensible...?”

"Faeces, no! She ain't amenable to that kind of reasoning," Morganna replied in a low cultured voice.

"Can she be bribed?"

"Depends on the bait."

"What is her weakness? What does she like most of all?"

"Money and men. What does this have to do with lifting the curse?"

"It is best to first exhaust natural resources before resorting to magic. Do you think that if you approached Ms. Bible directly and appealed to her better nature, she might relent and lift the spell?"

"Why can't you do it?"

"It is always best if the originator of the curse were the one to lift it. A third party cannot match the emotional intensity of the curser at the time he or she imposes the malediction."

"Understand this," Morganna responded, "Francine ain't got a better nature. Besides," she let her eyes rove appreciatively over Stuart, "once she got you in her bedroom, you might never get out. You gotta understand, we're rivals in the same business and pleasures... artists, if you will. You might say that both of us are highly temperamental. Only one of us is going to survive. If she wins, all that will be left for me are kinky roles... making love to dildos or to mummies... stuff like that."

Stuart shuddered. "All right, then. I'll admit myself baffled. This is a job for a specialist. I will have to call on Marchosias."

Slimerod stirred uneasily.

Ms. Thistle asked, "Who in hell is Marchosias?"

"A renegade demon who helps exorcists."

They followed Stuart to the room he termed his "workshop". He was absent-mindedly stroking Slimerod, who still was sitting on his shoulder, as if the imp was a wayward parrot.

From the doorway, he glimpsed a barren room. Not a stick of furniture graced the floor, not a picture adorned the walls. The emptiness was relieved only by a large yellow pentagram and a small yellow triangle artistically mosaiced into the floor tiles.

Stuart halted in the doorway. "I stand in the pentagram while summoning the demon," he explained.

"Why?" Morganna wanted to know.

"For protection. Sometimes he is recalcitrant, sometimes outright belligerent."

"Like when you wake him up out of a sound sleep," Slimerod explained.

"How about us? Do we stand in the pentagram with you?"

Stuart blushed. "Oh, no, Ms. Morganna. It would be better if you remained outside. I have to evoke Marchosias in the altogether."

Morganna was properly horrified. "Thanks for warning me."

The door closed. Stuart left his familiar with Ms. Thistle to keep her company. The imp turned the stereo on and adjusted the volume control to zero.

"Testing!" he spoke into a microphone. His voice came out of the speakers.

"Tell me," she was justifiably curious, "is your boss always so whacko?"

"Whacko? About what?"

"About sex, for instance. He does a lot of blushing."

"Oh, he don't know anything about sex except what I taught him."

"What did you teach him?"

"Well, you got to rub two different kinds of sticks together to make fire. And that other stuff about the old lady and the fish cake."

"That explains a lot of things. What are we going to do while he's playing in that pentagram?"

"He might be in there for hours. I don't see any sense in twiddling our thumbs. What do you say we try to raise Marchosias or anyone, to kill time?"

"I'm all for it as long as time is all that gets killed."

"Trust me! Ralph!" Slimerod shouted in the direction of the demijohn.

"Yes, what is it?" The genie appeared as an alcoholic cloud hovering over the neck of the bottle. Even when he was inside the bottle, he could overhear everything that was spoken in the room.

"We need your help. Get us a ball of yellow twine."

"Yellow twine?" Ralph materialised in his gorgeous livery. "What on earth do you want twine for?"

"We're going to use it in making a pentagram and a triangle with on this carpet."

They worked diligently and a creditable pentagram and triangle soon took form.

"What's the triangle for?" Morganna asked.

"That's what the demons appear in when you summon them," Slimerod explained.

The genie brought several books of magic from Stuart's library.

Slimerod selected one. Carefully he perused the archaic script. He read from a well-thumbed page.

"The evoker has to be nekkid."

Ralph declined the honour. "I wouldn't be at all convincing. My understanding is, the summoner must be of commanding mien and exhibit unbounded confidence. I could never pull it off... servant mentality and all that."

"I guess that leaves it up to me." Morganna's dress fell to the floor.

Ralph looked at her with admiration. "But for that peculiarity I can't imagine Ms. Bible would be anything but second billing if you shared a marquee."

"I have nicer tits than she has," Morganna responded smugly. She stepped into the pentagram. "What do I do now?"

Slimerod turned the page. "Marchosias... OK, here's the recipe. I'm kind of leery because he ain't got any use for imps but in this case, we, including me, are assuming the role of exorcist. This," he said, tapping a page, "says that he's got to help whether he likes it or not. Of course, to be on the safe side, me and Ralph are gonna be in the pentagram with you."

"Indeed!" Ralph concurred fervently.

Morganna agreed somewhat reluctantly. "All right, but no free feels." She skipped to another subject. "You heard Mr. James say the best way is to use natural procedures before resorting to magic."

"I'll buy that," Slimerod said, "what's the most natural way of summoning a demon?"

"If I desired to communicate with someone far away, I would use the mails," Ralph suggested.

"It sounds kind of awkward but what can we lose? Anyone know Marchosias' address?"

"How about 'general delivery, Purgatory'?” Morganna proposed, nakedly.

Slimerod scribbled on a post card and handed it to her. "Just hold it in the palms of your hands and wish it was collected."

She did so. The card vanished. A few minutes later, it was returned stamped, "Insufficient postage". No one, it developed, had additional stamps.

Ralph sighed. "Let's try the telephone."

Slimerod made a gesture and a public telephone booth and a directory appeared in the pentagram. Morganna leafed through the pages till she found a number. She held her hand out.

"What do you want?" Slimerod asked.

"Some change, stupid. You don't think I have any on me, do you?"

Ralph fished in his livery and produced a single worn quarter. "This is all I have."

Morganna dropped it into the pay slot and dialled. "Please deposit an additional fifty cents," the receiver requested.

There was no more change. Slimerod gestured and the booth vanished. "Let's do it the easy way," he proposed, "magic."

She reminded them, "I don't know what to do."

The imp picked up another book of magic and opened it. "I'll read. You follow my instructions."

Ralph swung a censer emitting odours supposedly pleasing to Marchosias. It was a full hour before the first demon appeared.

Slimerod flung the hook to the floor in exasperation. "Damn it! You ain't Marchosias!"

"I never said I was, you cretin," the newcomer snarled in an ill humour. "He's attending a seminar. What do you want?"

Slimerod pointed to the area of contention on Morganna. "We want you to get rid of that."

"Wait a raumschiff minute," she objected, "I don't want you to get rid of it; I just want you to lift the curse. Remember, among other things, I got a living to make."

The demon went to the pentagram. His eyes popped. "Oh, wow! I never seen anything like this before. Hey, Jim!" he yelled at the triangle.

The head of a troll came up from the floor. "What ya want, Chris?" The rest of him appeared as he climbed out of a hole in the triangle.

"Come over here, you got to see this."

The two monsters inspected Morganna with awe bordering on the thunder stricken. "Lady, are you sure you want to get rid of it?" the demon asked.

"Yeah," the troll agreed. "You could work up some kind of gimmick and make lots of money... like having people drop silver dollars in it."

"I can see it now," she quipped. "Morganna, the slot machine girl. What happens when they hit a jackpot?"

"You stand on your head and vomit quarters."

More and more of the hellish creatures trooped out of the triangle. They jostled one another for space in front of the pentagram. Morganna struck a professional pose.

"Never mind the show biz," Slimerod shouted above the hubbub, Someone here must know how to get rid of it."

It developed that no one did.

Ralph abandoned the censer on the floor. He elbowed his way through the densely packed throng and returned with a bucket of holy water which he sprinkled right and left. Panic stricken, they stampeded back to the triangle and vanished.

Slimerod mopped his face with a page torn from a book of magic. "As an exorcist, I ain't any better than the boss."

Morganna dressed. Ralph retrieved the yellow twine and tidied up the room. The door to Stuart's workshop opened and he appeared fully dressed.

"I was unsuccessful in contacting Marchosias," he said. "He is at a seminar."

"Gee!" Morganna asked, "how long do these seminars last?"

"About a thousand years."

They went to dinner.

"Inasmuch as the assistance of a specialist is out of the question for the time being," Stuart remarked later, while waiting for coffee, it seems that we shall have to invest the problem directly."

"You don't mean surgery?" Morganna queried in alarm.

"I've heard of a face lift," Slimerod said, "but a...”

Ralph, resplendent in his evening livery and white gloves waited on the table with an air of imperturbable dignity.

"No," Stuart assured her. "Scarcely. We will have to beset Ms. Bible personally."

"How do you propose to do that?"

"What has to be done," Stuart explained, "is to create an exigency where she will be willing to bargain... to lift the curse in exchange for amelioration of hypothetical circumstances unfavourable to her."

"What did he say?" Slimerod wanted to know.

"For instance," Stuart paused in the act of popping a grape into his mouth, "what if Ms. Bible were to develop some very conspicuous and unsightly warts on her nose? That would not only jeopardise her film career but would also repel masculine admirers... I think you implied she was fond of the stronger sex."

"Did I imply that?" Morganna asked. "I thought I said she was horny."

"An excellent idea, Sir," Ralph complimented him. "The fair exchange principle."

"We would need something uniquely personal to Ms. Bible, like a . . ." Stuart hesitated and blushed.

"Like a sanitary napkin," Slimerod volunteered with malicious glee.

"Impregnated with Ms. Bible's menstrual discharges," Stuart forced himself to finish.

"As an experienced witch, she's pretty cagey about letting things like fingernail parings, pubic hairs and the like fall into the wrong hands," Morganna told him.

"That does make it difficult. We must think."

"Her leading man," Slimerod suggested.

Morganna grasped his meaning immediately. "The fluff girls."

"Fluff girls?" Stuart echoed uncomprehendingly.

"The girls who keep the male stars in the proper professional state of arousal and who do all the off-camera chores," she explained. "They wash the stars off between takes. I could slip one of them twenty bucks for a small bottle of the water used in washing her off after their scene."

Stuart hesitated. "Wouldn't the girl think the purchase somewhat peculiar?"

Morganna disagreed enthusiastically. "Of course not! Fans collect anything."

Stuart yielded doubtfully. "I guess it's feasible. Who is her leading man?"

"Mark Cable. I wouldn't mind starring opposite him myself if he didn't have the reputation of being such a pain in the...”

"I've heard that artists are very temperamental," Stuart interrupted hastily.

Morganna contradicted him. "On the contrary, Cable and Bible are exceptions. Most of the actors and actresses I'm used to working with are regular people. But with those two, it's nothing but hammer and thongs from the start of' each picture to the finish."

"Someone should warn Mr. Cable that he is tempting fate."

"He's been warned but his ego gets in his way."

Stuart looked at her hopefully. "Inasmuch as you are far better acquainted with the milieu than I am, could I prevail upon you to undertake this mission?"

"Operation douche water." Morganna turned the words over as if sampling them for cholesterol content. "I like that. I know some of the fluff girls. There won't be any hitches."

"When do you think you'll have it?"

"Give me a couple of hours at least. They're shooting at The Pearl Studios right now. I'll call on one of the girls."

Ralph was at her elbow with the telephone extension almost as soon as she finished speaking. Morganna dialled and asked for "Jane". She made her wants known quickly and secured a promise of co-operation." She hung up. "The direct way is the easiest way," she said. "We'll have the water in an hour."

"Just enough time for dessert." Ralph beamed as he placed a dish in front of them. "This is a house speciality... sugar squabs."

They were back in Stuart's workshop. This time he raised no objection to their presence. Ralph placed a small table and a chair in the pentagram in response to an order from Stuart. Then he brought a basin of amber coloured liquid which was set in the middle of the table. Morganna handed him a bottle of water.

"This better work," she said grimly. "The little bitch held me up for fifty bucks."

"A bagatelle," Stuart told her, "for salvaging your career."

He opened the bottle and added its contents into the basin. Then he lit two red candles on the far corners of the table. A black cloak elaborately embroidered with occult symbols hung from his shoulders and contrasted oddly with a feathered head-dress.

"Mr. Hyer forgot it on his last visit," Stuart told her.

"He won't mind if I borrow it. Atmosphere is everything." He stirred the liquid with a long graven bone and added what Morganna thought were exotic spices but were actually oven scrapings from a failed culinary experiment. Morganna looked at the bone in askance.

"That isn't human, is it?"

"It's from a turkey drumstick," he assured her. Stuart gazed into the water as he stirred and intoned:

"Lord of Twilight, come to me, from the land of sorrow. Bane of angels, answer me. At once and not tomorrow!"

A sulphurous cloud filled the room and a resounding voice thundered from the ceiling. Stuart and Morganna coughed, their eyes watered.

"James!" the voice bellowed, "you're a pain in my armpit. What the hell do you want?"

"Hearken, Lord of...”

"Never mind the lousy poetry, just tell me what you want."

Stuart explained.

"What I like about working for you," the voice complained, "is that you never ask for anything simple and straightforward like gold or power or revenge. You always screw me up by going way out."

Stuart was ruffled. "You know," he reminded the demon, in a high dudgeon, "you can refuse the assignment."

The demon laughed bitterly. "Not very likely. We drew straws and I lost. Let me get this straight. You want a couple of hefty warts to develop on the nose of the broad whose washings this is?" A scaly finger pointed at the basin.

"Yes, I...”

"That's all I want to know. You don't have to go into a song and dance. That'll be seventy-five bucks... in advance. And, you're lucky to find a demon that makes house calls."

A very small cloud developed over the basin. Evidently, the cloud was in the throes of a storm. They watched as a miniature lightning flashed and heard peals of miniature thunder that would have done credit to a major atmospheric disturbance. A putrid odour filled the pentagram but went no farther than its boundaries.

"I don't see why you don't use a photograph, like everyone else instead of this mess," the demon complained. "I worked for your uncle and he was every bit as big a nut as you are."

The supernaturally generated storm dissipated itself and they were alone in the pentagram.

"When do we find out if it worked?"

"Shortly, Ms. Thistle."

Ralph removed the basin. Slimerod had fallen asleep on Stuart's shoulder and missed the seance. The genie returned with a large crystal ball he placed in the centre of the table. Stuart moved the candles so that now one was on each side of the ball.

"We are going to visit The Pearl Studios," Stuart told her. "I want you to come into the pentagram and sit beside me. You know what Ms. Bible looks like. You're familiar with the studio and the personalities involved."

Ralph brought another chair. Ms. Thistle sat beside Stuart.

"Now look into the ball and concentrate deeply. Think only of Ms. Bible and she will appear."

"How long will it take the warts to develop?"

"She should have been afflicted almost immediately. Look! A picture is forming."

At first, like a television set warming up, the scene in the crystal ball was ill defined. Then it cleared and the tableau was as clear as if they were standing within a few feet of it. They could not hear what was being said but it was evident that the naked man and the naked woman were engaged in a heated argument. A crowd of naked onlookers, presumably the supporting cast and extras, watched in the background.

"That's Francine. The man is Mark Cable."

To Stuart, the male star seemed as well endowed as the Washington Monument. Morganna bent closer to the crystal ball as if to get a better look.

"I don't see any warts on her nose."

Stuart was studying the background. "That woman, the third from the end... look at her nose."

Morganna gasped. "That's Jane. I bought the water from her."

A pair of unsightly warts had popped out on the end of Jane's nose. As yet, she was unaware of them.

"She must have sold a bottle of her own douche water instead of that used to clean Mr. Cable with," Stuart voiced his very dark suspicion.

"Serves her right," Morganna announced between clenched teeth. "I hope they grow a foot long." About the time Ms. Bible and her leading man appeared to be coming to blows, Stuart covered the crystal ball and motioned Ralph to take it away.

"Because of the laws of aberration, we will not be able to attempt that stratagem again. At least, not for a very long time. We'll have to come up with something else. Ms. Bible is apparently not only a very powerful sorceress but also very lucky."

Morganna placed a hand. on his shoulder. "I hope you can think of something real soon. Not that I'm broke and in need of work... far from it. But, I'm getting as horny as hell." She was thinking of Mr. Cable.

* * * * *

Stuart spent a restless night examining Ms. Thistle's problem. That is, he examined her in a figurative, not a literal sense. He discarded bribery and cajolery immediately. In the morning, Slimerod was teleported into Ms. Bible's boudoir.

"Make yourself as ugly as possible." Stuart instructed him. "You have a natural aptitude for it. We'll scare the stuffing out of her."

"Thanks, boss, you raise a lump in my throat."

The imp was returned to him in the afternoon mail imprisoned in a rubber sheath of the kind indecorously referred to as a 'meat locker'. Slimerod fell out when Stuart opened the envelope. He snipped one end off the condom and released his familiar. Slimerod drank in great lungfuls of air.

"Thanks, boss, I didn't think I could hold my breath much longer."

Stuart discarded intimidation as a strategy. He examined several incredibly candid photographs of Ms. Bible and eliminated blackmail as a potential weapon.

"The woman is invincible," he thought aloud.

His client dropped in around ten o'clock. Stuart was forced to admit he had made no progress.

"She called me up," Morganna revealed. "The old broad was in a high good humour which means she played a dirty trick on someone."

He thought of Slimerod and agreed.

Morganna went on. "She said she'd lift the curse in a month. A month!" his client exclaimed in dismay. She touched herself where no lady ever touches herself. "I'll never last that long."

"Ms. Bible has a wide streak of sadism," he remarked sympathetically.

The front doorbell chimed hysterically. Stuart raised an eyebrow. "That's Mr. Hyer's ring. I'd recognise it anywhere. Something out of the ordinary has occurred to distress him."

Stuart left the room. Ralph reached the door scant seconds before him. The genie undid the catch and the door flew open slamming him flat against the wall. It would be a few minutes before the genie's contours resumed their formal shape. A huge black man burst into the room. "Excuse me, Ralph," he apologised.

Mr. Hyer towed a well tailored white man in his wake like a captive newspaper page in the tail of a cyclone.

"Stu!” he burst out excitedly, "you've never seen anything like this before. This is Mr...”

"I recognise Mr. Cable," Stuart broke in.

The porn star smiled agreeably. "Ah! You've seen some of my pictures."

"In a manner of speaking."

"Stu!" Mr. Hyer spoke breathlessly, "Mr. Cable is my client. You have to see what happened to him to believe it. Show him, Mark."

"You're sure there aren't any newspaper photographers around?" Mr. Cable looked around cautiously. "This could ruin my career if it ever got out."

"There aren't," Stuart assured him.

The "motion picture star" removed his trousers. In spite of a premonition, the sheer bizarreness of the revelation unsettled Stuart. Mr. Cable resembled the Washington Monument in more aspects than that of mere size.

Stuart heard himself speaking as from a distance and for a moment did not recognise his own voice. "A square penis!"

Stuart came to with a start. "Please wait here," he said and bolted out of the room.

In a moment he returned with Morganna. Mr. Cable had just finished dressing himself.

"I would like to have the pleasure of introducing you two formally," Stuart announced. "Mr. Cable, this is Ms. Morganna Thistle, who has a reputation in your field. Ms. Thistle, this is Mr. Mark Cable, who you once expressed a desire to star opposite." He placed an arm about each and urged them together. "I feel you were made for each other."

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