Fury burned in The Dragon Lady’s darting eyes. “You can’t do that. He is mine.”
“Let him go,” said Gary. Hatred flooded The Dragon Lady’s face; her head shook a little; she said nothing and kept her hold on Victor. Gary looked and Victor with a proud smile. “Watch this,” he said. He aimed the water pistol at the tentacle gripping Victor’s left arm and squeezed the trigger; a thin jet of water shot out and sprayed against the tentacle’s black scales. The Dragon Lady threw her head back and gave a hideous, warbling shriek as the water burned through her tentacle. The severed limb flicked loose from Victor’s arm like a vacuum cleaner power cord retracting, and fell to the floor, where it whipped and twisted for a few seconds before solidifying and then crumbling to a long pile of fine golden dust. Gary screwed up his nose and giggled. “Oh yuck,” he said. “It smells like vomit.”
Victor sniffed. “Parmesan cheese.”
The stump of The Dragon Lady’s maimed tentacle hung at her side; she unwrapped the other tentacle from around Victor. “Very well,” she snarled. “Let’s see what he has in his pocket.”
The tentacled, reptilian piano teacher and the water pistol-wielding ghost of an eleven-year-old in a sixty-year-old’s body stared at Victor. He stared back. He swallowed and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Okay,” he said. He reached into the inner pocket in the left breast of his jacket and retrieved something about the size and shape of a saltshaker. The Dragon Lady and Gary leaned forward, peering the item as Victor set it on top of the piano.
“It’s a clock,” said Gary.
“No, damn it! How many times—” Victor took a deep breath and lowered his voice. “It’s not a clock, it’s a metronome.”
“Oh,” said Gary, nodding.
“It can’t be,” whispered The Dragon Lady. “It’s too small.”
Victor sat up straight; he fixed up his jacket and straightened his tie. He gave The Dragon Lady a warm, confident smile. “Mrs O’Donnell, allow me to introduce to you the latest addition to the already stellar range of Furbank’s Fine Metronomes. A woman such as yourself, with years of music experience and keen attention to detail, is no doubt familiar with the benefits of a quality metronome. But, for all the advantages a traditional metronome offers, it has always lacked one thing—convenience. Transporting a bulky musical instrument is difficult enough—who needs the pressure of trying to lug around a metronome as well? Well, worry no more. This little beauty” —he tapped the miniature metronome— “is the answer to every musician’s prayer. Convenience? Here it is—the pocket metronome. Compact enough to fit jacket pockets, trouser pockets, shirt pockets, or even a slim purse. And what about quality? At Furbank’s Fine Metronomes we refuse to compromise. It may be small, but this, my good woman, is the finest tempo-keeping device known to man. It has a more precise tick than a Swiss watch, a steadier pulse than an Olympic athlete, and a better beat than Ringo Starr. From forty to two hundred and eight beats per minute, this little baby is as reliable as the sunrise.”
Gary scratched his head. The Dragon Lady stared, dumbfounded. “Who on earth would want a pocket size metronome?” she said.
Victor sighed and dropped his shoulders. “No one, evidently. I haven’t sold one.” He took the metronome from the piano and looked down at it in his hand. He laughed and shook his head. “Can you believe I ordered two hundred of these? That’s on top of the six thousand standard size metronomes I already had. I thought it would help me sell them—you know, a bit of novelty, maybe a two-for-the-price-of-one deal. Huh. Potential customers seemed to take me less seriously once I started with these. They’re all in a box at home now, gathering dust. I kept this one on me just in case. I like them, I suppose. They’re cute.” He sighed. “Anyway…” He looked at the Dragon Lady. “How about a demonstration?” He sat upright again, shoulders back, and set the metronome back on top of the piano. “Watch how user-friendly the pocket metronome is. Just slide the weight—stainless steel—up or down the pendulum to your desired tempo and give it a nudge.” He adjusted the tiny weight on the pendulum and set the unsellable contraption tick-tick-ticking. He raised a finger in a request for silence, closed his eyes and swayed his head in time with the beat. “Listen to that,” he said. “Smooth, flawless, serene… and more importantly, that, Mrs O’Donnell, is the sound of ninety-six beats per minute.”
Gary gasped and turned to The Dragon Lady. “He’s right. You counted too slow.”
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