Why You Can't Trust Bartimaeus to Behave While You Are Shopping
I got this idea after reading an e-mail that I thought was funny. I did a Google search, and I found it on Snopes in its original form, if you are interested in seeing it. The original concerned an unruly shopper at Wal-Mart. I assure all that I have not just taken the joke and changed the names to make it a Bartimaeus fanfic. The format is completely different and I tried to give it a more Bartimaeus-y feel.
It was late morning, and a certain resplendent djinni was reclining on a sofa contentedly, his eyes closed and his head swimming with peaceful and intelligent thoughts, which were cruelly interrupted by a certain long-haired fifteen-year-old cretin stomping down the stairs imperiously.
I made up my mind to ignore my master, and tried to look as if I were sleeping. (Actually, we djinn don't sleep. Of course, if attacked and injured badly enough, we can be knocked unconscious, but you won't find one of us actually dozing off. Which makes us remarkably more reliable than humans.) In all likelihood, my master was irritably stalking off to work after receiving an urgent phone call which roused him from his slumber.
The footsteps stopped suddenly near the doorway of the room I was in. "Bartimaeus!" a peeved and whiny voice shouted.
So it was me he was looking for. Well, I wasn't about to make it easy for him. My eyes remained closed.
He stamped his foot, loudly. "Bartimaeus! Get off of my couch! Now!"
Ah. Well, I couldn't disobey a direct order. Obediently, I rose to my feet with enormous grace and poise. Ptolemy's face beamed at the boy. "What is it, O my master?" I sang. "Have you a task for me?" (Note, please, that this is false obedience. I was merely playing the part of the happy servant, but behind my polite words was the fervent wish to tear the boy's throat out and leave happily for the Other Place.)
He gritted his teeth. "Think of it more as a chastisement, demon."
Chastisement? Boy, this was looking promising. I crossed Ptolemy's arms over his chest, preparing to be amused. "Fire away."
Nathaniel tossed his hair pretentiously. "Do you happen to know," he began dramatically, "what it is that I hold in my hands?"
I considered for a moment. "A letter. I believe they are written by one human to another as a means of communication, but if you've forgotten the process I can always—"
"Silence!" he snapped, glaring at me. "I know what a letter is."
"Well, naturally, when you asked, I was a bit surprised, and I thought perhaps you had—"
"Bartimaeus," he snarled, "I would dearly like to tell you what this letter contains."
"We-e-ell," I said slowly, cocking my head to the side, "I don't know. I don't usually like to get into my masters' personal business."
"This letter concerns you." He looked at me carefully, as if expecting me to give something away.
I grinned. "I see. I suppose some big, powerful magician has heard that I am serving you and wishes to borrow me for some grand purpose, and you are now—"
"Stop interrupting me, demon!" Nathaniel shouted.
"Well, technically, you're the one interrupting me, since I'm the one left unable to complete my sentences."
He rubbed his temple with the hand that wasn't holding the mysterious letter. "I opened this letter with the others this morning, and was rather surprised to see who sent it."
He paused dramatically, looking at me. Owing to his previous comments, I was initially silent, then realized I was expected to reply. I heaved a deep sigh. "And who was that?"
"The Burlington Arcade," he said grimly. (I recognized the name of this particular establishment. Located near Piccadilly, the Burlington Arcade was a sort of shopping mall for the fortunately wealthy. Naturally, my master frequented this place, browsing over more items than he could possibly hope to buy for hours upon hours, while I sat by and yawned in boredom. When forced to go on one of these excursions, I usually had to find ways to entertain myself.)
"Are they giving you an award for being the person who spent the most time there in all of history?" I asked. "Quite an achievement for one so young—not that I'm surprised."
"Will—you—shut—up!" he roared. "As I've already said, demon, this letter was written concerning you!"
"Well, get on with it and tell me why," I said impatiently.
He opened up the letter, glaring at me, and began to read out loud.
" 'Dear Mr. Mandrake:
" 'Over the past six months, your djinni Bartimaeus has been causing quite a commotion in our arcade. We cannot tolerate this behavior and may ban you from our facility.' "
"And I will die of happiness," I put in.
"Silence!" Scowling, he read on: " 'We have documented all incidents through vigilance spheres set up and random intervals in the store. All complaints against the djinni Bartimaeus are listed below.
" 'June 15: Bartimaeus was seen to take twenty-four boxes of condoms and randomly put them in people's purses and briefcases when they weren't looking.' " Here he paused to look at me.
"What? They could have needed them later." In truth, I was a bit flabbergasted. I hadn't known I was being watched.
" 'July 2: Bartimaeus was seen in David Duggan Watches, where he set all of the watches on display to go off at five-minute intervals. Later seen challenging other customers to a duel with tubes of gift-wrapping paper.
" 'July 7: Bartimaeus made a trail of tomato juice on the floor leading to the ladies' restrooms.' Bartimaeus, I should be shocked at your juvenile behavior."
I slumped, but tried to throw off the insult. "Juvenile? I just wanted to make sure that the lady magicians knew where to go in case they had a leak—"
"A likely story. Later you apparently switched the signs on the men's and women's bathrooms. 'July 19: At Sandra Cronan, he tried on a tiara in the form of a rich blond woman in a fur coat, then ran around the store proclaiming himself to be a princess. Later Bartimaeus walked up to a Beadle and told him in an official tone, "Code three in Circo Pearls," then watched what happened.' He frowned. "What is a code three, anyway?"
I shrugged. "Beats me." (Although, from the reaction of the Beadle Burlington Arcade's private security/police force when I innocently said this in experiment, I would hazard a guess that a 'code three' means a gunman attempting to rob the store. There was only one unfortunate portly magician in said store at the time of my experiment, and he was promptly tackled by the Beadle, who was subsequently swallowed by the man's foliot. Oops.)
" 'August 4: When in Montblanc, he drew a mustache and beard on a female employee. Bartimaeus walked to a customer service desk, placed a bag of M&M's in front of the employee, and asked to put them on layaway.' Bartimaeus, they don't even sell M&M's there."
"You think I didn't know? I had to nick them from a candy store before we got there."
He groaned. "You are so impossible. And just for your information, you wouldn't put something as inexpensive as candy on layaway."
"I just wanted to see what she would do. She looked as if she'd never seen a bag of M&M's in her life."
"Hmph. 'September 14: Bartimaeus set up a moved a "Caution—Wet Floor" sign to a carpeted area.' " I opened my mouth; he waved his hand imperiously. "Stay silent, I don't even want to hear your pathetic explanation.
" 'September 15: Bartimaeus set up a tent in Penhaligon's and told other shoppers that he would invite them in if they would bring him pillows from the Irish Linen Company. This same day, he walked around asking other customers if they had any Grey Poupon.
" 'September 23: Every time a magician with an apprentice walked past him, Bartimaeus threw himself at their feet and yelled, "Mommy, I really want that toy!" Whenever a clerk asked Bartimaeus if they could help him, he began to cry and ask, "Why can't you people just leave me alone?" ' "
I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing. My master looked at me with an expression of distaste. "You should have seen the look on their faces," I informed him between peals of laughter. "They were so confused. One lady even tried to console me, patting me on the shoulder and whatnot."
He sighed. "Remind me why I always summon you."
"Because deep down you enjoy my antics."
"Hardly. 'October 4: Bartimaeus looked right at one of the search spheres, waved, and then used a mirror in Daniel Bexfield Antiques to watch himself pick his nose. Later, a customer complained that an Egyptian boy walked up to him and said, "I finally found you, Mummy," then cried when the man yelled at him.
" 'November 10: Bartimaeus stole a cape from the House of Cashmere, and ran through the hall shouting, "Robin! To the Batcave!" While in Johnson Walker, Bartimaeus picked up a knife, stared at it for several minutes, and when asked by a clerk if he intended to buy the item, proceeded to ask the clerk where he could find the antidepressants.' "
"And it's all your fault, too, for keeping me enslaved on the earth and furthermore for making me sit by, bored out of my wits, while you try to act confident and mysterious while staring at all manner of overpriced items."
He chose to ignore this comment, as he did all other complaints of slavery. " 'December 3: Bartimaeus transformed into a tarantula at Crocket & Jones and hid in a shoe, where he crawled on the hand of the first person to pick it up. Apparently unhappy with the clothing on the mannequins, he redressed them in mismatched clothing. Later he was seen darting around the Arcade, loudly humming the Mission Impossible theme.' When did you ever see Mission Impossible, anyway?"
"About forty years before I served you, I had a master who mostly lazed about in the living room while ordering me to cook him dinner. His favorite show was Mission Impossible, and cursed theme was always stuck in my head." (Though I hated to admit it, I was actually rather fond of the theme. Mostly because Faquarl was also summoned with me at the time, and I amused myself by humming it while he was cutting up meat for the master's dinner. Oh, how he hated it. Once he accidentally chopped his own finger off when he turned around to yell at me.)
"Mission Impossible was a TV show?" he blinked confusedly at me. I put my hands on my hips. "Oh, very well. 'December 18: Bartimaeus carried around a can of gasoline and a matchbook while leering at all the customers. Later he hid in a clothing rack in N. Peal, and when people browsed through, he yelled, "Pick me! Pick me!" until they were frightened away.' Have you no shame, demon?"
"About as much as you," I said flippantly.
Oh, he scowled at that, he did. Gritting his teeth in anger, he continued, " 'December 21: Bartimaeus asked a store clerk at Franchetti Bond where they sold the little babies. Whenever an announcement came over the loud speaker, he assumed the fetal position and screamed, "No! No! It's those voices again!"
"You know, I did suffer from mild schizophrenia once, back in old Zimbabwe, after being injured by an angry marid, so you might show a little sympathy for my recent relapse—"
"And last, but certainly not least," he said authoritatively. " 'December 23: Bartimaeus ran around singing Christmas carols and asking for money. He was later seen in Vilebrequin, where he went into a fitting room and shut the door. A few moments later, he was heard to shout loudly, "Help! There is no toilet paper in here!" ' I mean, really, Bartimaeus! I know you can't eat; how can you possibly—never mind. The possibilities are too horrifying to even imagine."
There followed a long pause, in which Mandrake stared at me, distressed, and I stood with my head cocked in an inquisitive manner. I smiled sweetly. "Are you done?"
"Ye—NO! I'm not done!" He threw the letter at me, where it hit me in the chest. "Bartimaeus, you are a nuisance and a disgrace—"
"Takes one to know one."
"—and I can clearly not shop again at the Burlington Arcade, for my dignity has been ruined…" (He was here interrupted by a squeal of girlish glee from me. And just to clarify, he ruined his own dignity with his big, lacy cuffs and tight suit and garish handkerchiefs and whatnot. Oh, dear, I forgot to mention that he hasn't washed or cut his hair in three years, and that's the important bit.) "…and I will have to take my business elsewhere."
"Certainly, O my master. I should be quite happy to pick out a new shopping place for you." I tried to look helpful.
He smiled thinly. "Actually, demon, I had other plans for you."
My shoulders slumped. "Oh." I wasn't sure I was going to like what was coming next.
That day and the next, I was forced to clean all the public bathrooms in London. I'd like to say I learned my lesson and never acted up shopping again, but that would be a lie. Two months later, my master came to me, livid, with a letter from a similar establishment.
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