"Bar? Bar, where are you? Barfrazzleton, get out here this instant, I need you." Hennington Hargrave, sorcerer supreme, narrowed his eyes as he looked around the room.
"It's Buttercup," said a little red devil. "Bar is… Bar's not here, sir."
"Not here? He's my familiar. He can't simply not be here."
"I'm your familiar, sir." The little red face looked up at him with mournful eyes.
"No, you aren't. I want…" Hargrave's brow furrowed. "Where am I? I have to be on stage soon. It's opening night, Bar. I'm sure the stage is around here somewhere, but I seem to have gotten lost. I haven't played this theater before, I don't think. Help me find the stage, will you?"
"Yes sir," the devil said.
"Thank you, Barfrazzleton. I'd be lost without you."
The little red creature guided him down the halls. It was half-familiar, but not quite. There were pictures of an old man everywhere. Hagrave stopped to look at one, and was surprised when it moved. He lifted his hand, and it moved with his. He laughed.
"Bar, look at this clever picture. It moves when I move. Did I make that?"
The familiar winced. Why did he have horns? Monkeys weren't supposed to have horns. Devils had horns. He'd thought about getting a devil familiar once, but he'd gone with a monkey instead. Good old Barfrazzleton. "Yes sir. Very clever. Now come on, it's time for your medicine."
"Medicine? But I have to get to the stage. Come now, the show must go on." Hargrave looked in vain for the gaslights. Or, no, they all used electric now. Safer, but it wasn't quite the same.
"Yes sir, but first, you have to take your medicine." The little devil tugged on his sleeve.
"Oh. Very well. But then to the stage. I mustn't keep the audience waiting. They've paid good money, you know. My shows are not cheap."
"Of course not, sir," the devil said solemnly.
"It's like I always say, Bar, a performer should never charge less than he's worth, and never give less than he charges."
"Very wise. Right here, sir." The little imp led him into a bathroom. It used a stool to clamber up on the sink, and then opened up a medicine cabinet. There were an awful lot of bottles.
It pulled out a little tray with columns of S M T W T F S and rows of Morn Noon Eve Bed on it. It carefully opened W Noon and pulled out a handful of pills. It picked up a glass from beside the sink and filled it with water. "Here, sir. Take your medicine now, then we can go to the stage."
Hargrave picked up the pills, then threw them to the floor. "What are you trying to do, poison me? I'm not a druggie! I'm clean! Where's Bar? I want Bar this instant!"
The little devil shut its eyes for a moment, then composed itself. "Bar will… Bar will be back soon. I need you to take your medicine first, though. Please."
"Medicine! How do I know it's not drugs? Or poison! You're working for Franz, aren't you? Tell that hack I won't play his game! I'm my own man, and I don't do that any more. I never liked it before he started using children, and I damn sure won't do it now."
"I don't work for Franz. This is… It's special pills. To help with anxiety. Before the show."
"Anxiety? I…" Hargrave stopped and paused. "Bar, these are my anxiety pills? Now look what you've done. You dropped them all over the floor, you silly monkey."
"I'm sorry, sir." The poor familiar sounded positively melancholy.
"Oh, it's all right," Hargrave said, feeling bad he'd been so hard on the poor monkey. His familiar always did his best, and never talked in front of the normals. He should be tolerant of a little spill. "I'll help you pick them up, and then we'll take the stage. What do you say?"
"Sounds… Sounds very good, sir."
"Oof. My back's terribly sore. It mast have been one hell of a night. Did you catch her name by any chance?" He gave the familiar a leer. Barfrazzleton was always so innocent. Hargrave couldn't help but poke a little fun.
"I'm afraid not, sir." Bar was obviously trying to play it cool, but he was so red, it was obvious he was embarrassed. Odd Hargrave could see it through his fur, but no matter.
"We'll knock them dead tonight. I've got some new tricks. There's one where I'll put a blanket over you and…"
"Turn me into a giraffe?" the familiar said.
"Oh. Have I told you about it already? I was sure I was going to surprise you. Yes, and they'll wonder about smoke, and mirrors, and never know it for the real thing. Hide in plain sight. That's the key." Hargrave swallowed the pills down and finished them with the water. "Gah. Terrible stuff. But I can't have any nerves tonight. I don't know if I've told you this before, but a performer should never charge less than he's worth, and never give less than he charges."
"Yes sir," Bar said. "This way, sir."
Hargrave smiled as the familiar led him on. He looked over at some of the old posters on the walls. Cairo, that was a good one. Budapest. He couldn't remember the performance in Munich, but he must have done well there. Someone had kissed the corner, leaving lipstick. He could just make out the preservation charm to keep it intact. It must have meant something to him, but he couldn't quite call it to mind at the moment.
As they walked through a room filled with books and comfortable chairs and places where liquor should have been, he stopped.
"Buttercup?" he said.
"Why are we in the study?" he asked.
"Just… just taking a walk, sir."
"Oh. Well, that's good. I can use all the exercise I can stand at my age. I must have drifted there. I was thinking about Bar."
"I miss him, you know. Barfrazzleton McGillicuddy, the monkey marvel. He was a great familiar."
"Yes sir," Buttercup said. She looked down.
"Oh, not that you aren't an excellent familiar too, Buttercup! Why… Honestly, I think I'd be lost without you."