“I don’t want to start like that. And again…two, three, four….”
“Hold it, HOLD IT!” The Bandit held up a hand and waved frantically,
making disgusted faces. Zero raised an eyebrow at the spastic diplay, but
willingly shut off the tape recorder.
“Something the matter?”
“YES, God damn your oversized beak!” The Bandit glared furiously at
Zero, fists on hips.
Zero selfconsciously rubbed the bridge of his nose, which was quite
frankly a tremendously outsized appendage for the face upon which it rested, a
bit of Cherokee ancestry that wouldn’t have been out of place on a nickel.
“What is it? And calm down, you look like you’re about to explode.”
“You promised me NO cliches and NO stuff stolen from other people!”
“Well, of course not,” Zero replied, looking hurt. “But we haven’t
even started playing yet….”
“You know damn well what I mean!” The Bandit rewound the tape, still
glaring at Zero. “That ‘I don’t wanna start like that’ line is straight off of
a Robert Fripp song! Now, NO FRIPP!”
“It is? Oh, so it is.” Zero scratched his head and smiled sheepishly.
“It’s from the prologue of his first album, isn’t it? The one that leads
“No, don’t start! DON’T START! Or you’ll set me off and we won’t get
ANYTHING recorded!” The Bandit waved him to silence. Zero grinned at him, and
began to play a lightning series of guitar chords, his hands moving in an
inhuman blur. The Bandit was reaching to turn off the amp, when the door
opened and Diva stuck her head in.
“What on Earth are you two DOING?”
The Bandit stopped dead in his tracks, his scowl deepening. One thing
I don’t need right now, he thought grimly, is the Diva on my case. As Zero
came to the turnaround, the Bandit kicked in the drumbox at an earshattering
volume, and spun around to face her with a wide grin as he joined Zero in the
song. To hell with composing, he thought gleefully. I’d rather torture Diva
“You burn me up, I’m a Cigarette,
Take hold of my hand and I begin to sweat
You make me nervous, oo woo, I’m nervous
This must be real bad karma for this to be my dharma
Diva looked irritable, as she always did when the Bandit ever said
anything to her, and began to back out of the room. Suddenly another face
appeared behind hers, blocking the way as she tried to look into the room.
Twink, trying to be heard over the din, cried, “What’s the name of–”
The Bandit’s gorge catapulted into his throat at the sight of her, and
his grin turned demonic as he aimed the next verse down her throat like a
“You burn me up I’m a cigarette,
Life with you is a losing bet
You drive me crazy, eeyow, I’m going CRAZY!
Musical elation is my only consolation
Twink bit her lip and backed off, reddening, and Diva hustled out of
the room behind her, the slamming door unnoticed in the chorus.
“Strategic interaction irreducible fraction
Terminal inaction from a bitter hostile faction
I’m getting anxious
Transactional diseases are the only thing that pleases We….”
It took another verse or two for the song to wind down, by which time
the pounding on the door was enough to wake the dead. The Bandit was laughing
like a lunatic, and Zero’s normally placid smile was a good deal wider than it
should have been, as they set down their instruments and opened the door.
“Eeee, yessssss?” The Bandit asked, opening the door and batting his
eyelashes like Bugs Bunny in drag.
Conan gave the Bandit a big grin, and said, “Quiet or I’ll kill you.”
He flexed every muscle in his magnificent torso for emphasis. The Bandit,
who’d seen it all before, just yawned.
“Oh, hello, Conan,” Zero volunteered. “Come to sit in?”
“I’ve come to squash you both like rotten grapes beneath my feet,”
Conan replied goodnaturedly. “Either you turn it down to a civilized level or
you get forcefed your guitars.”
“Some people are so touchy,” The Bandit lamented.
“It’s our punishment for rooming with heathen,” Zero agreed. “What do
they know about art, anyway?” He turned off the beatbox and the amp, sighing.
v Mollified, Conan turned on his heel and stalked back across the living
room to the other double bedroom in the quad. He gingerly stepped over Starch,
Lanky, Plaids, and Mimosa, who were sitting and listening raptly to the
Rainbow Wizard, who was holding forth from his beanbag chair with one arm
gently caressing the smooth curve of Mary Magdalene’s hip. As he shut the
door, the Rainbow Wizard called after him, “Thanks for quieting them down,
Conan. We couldn’t hear ourselves think.”
“I didn’t shut them up for your sake,” Conan replied easily. “I need
to get some sleep before the graveyard shift.” His door slammed.
“Most people CAN’T hear themselves think, Wiz,” the Bandit said, his
appetite for music suddenly gone. “Just because *you* can, don’t assume that
it’s vital to everyone else. Besides, who wants to listen to grinding gears
“That’s unnecessary!” Lanky said indignantly, sweeping a long trail of
black hair out of his eyes, his neckbell jingling as he moved.
“I just got finished *saying* that,” the Bandit retorted. “Especially
when he can *smell* himself think at the same time! Peeyew! I nearly called
the Fire Department; it smelled like a short in the stereo!”
Zero made it a point never to get involved in the wrangling between
the Bandit and the Wiz, but he knew when points were scored. He let his smile
widen a bit, which was a real outpouring of emotion for him. Mary Magdalene
actually smiled, though, and *that* was a major tactical victory for the
The Bandit saw the smile, and nodded, hastily reaching for his coat.
“Let’s call it quits for a bit, Zero; it’s getting way too stupid for me in
“Right behind you, kemosabe,” Zero replied, fetching his coat and
scarf from the closet.
The Rainbow Wizard sighed loudly, half in anger at the Bandit’s
attitude, half in relief in getting him out of his hair for a while, but Lanky
wasn’t letting the Bandit get off that easily. “You ought to try listening
rather than poking fun once in a while, Bandit. You might learn something.
Wouldn’t that be a shame?”
“Every Messiah needs his Antichrist, Lanky m’boy,” the Bandit said
gaily, zipping up his jacket. “Otherwise, who’d the Faithful have to blame
for their troubles?” He turned and headed out the door, Zero behind him.
The low, throbbing voice grabbed him by the crotch and did its best to
spin him around and pull him back, penis first. The Bandit’s back was turned
to the others, so nobody saw the flash of emotion in his face. Was it anger,
fear, or just lust?
He turned around casually, his face a neutral mask. “Yo?”
Mary Magdalene gave him her best smile, asking, “Don’t you wear the
neckbell I gave you? Even Zero and Diva wear theirs….”
The Bandit looked sidelong at Zero, and gave him a poke in the chest.
No jingle, however muffled, answered the poke. “They do?”
Zero smiled at Mary Magdalene and said softly, “We keep ours at Diva’s
place. No real use in wearing them around here.”
“But a neckbell is meant to be worn, and to be used, when you feel
lonely or left out!” Mary Magdalene jingled hers lightly, and was instantly
rewarded with a kiss from the Rainbow Wizard.
“Not a problem,” Zero said mildly.
“Don’t feel badly, Mary-Mag,” the Bandit said with a raffish grin. “I
wear mine all the time. See?” He reached under his coat and hauled out the
tiny brass neckbell on its braided chain. He shook it gently.
It didn’t make a sound.
The Bandit grinned at her look of confusion, and said, “I pulled out
the clapper. ‘Bye, now!” The door slammed on five shocked looks.
“Ain’t I a stinker?” The Bandit grinned.
“The absolute pits, kemosabe,” Zero agreed. “That was *really* low.”
The pair bundled up as they walked down the hall to the stairwell, and
down the few steps to the side door. “It was worth it,” the Bandit said,
straightening his beret. “The look on that pompous shit’s face….”
“You really hurt Mary Magdalene’s feelings, though,” Zero reminded
him. “The Wiz wasn’t the one who gave you that bell; *she* was.”
“For her cold borscht my heart bleeds,” the Bandit growled. “If the
world depended on my concern for her feelings, Ronnie would’ve dropped the
bomb on Andropov already.”
“Oh, really,” Zero said mildly. “And what happened to all that stuff
about ‘God, she’s beautiful’ and ‘I wish she’d at least pay attention to me’
and so on and so forth?”
“Past history,” the Bandit replied with ice in his voice. “I met her
two years ago, before either you or the Wiz started here, and I will freely
admit that she knocked me flat on my ass. But she ended up getting into this
soulmate stuff with the Wiz before I had a chance with her, and for that I owe
him a big debt of gratitude.”
“You? Owe the Wizard *anything*? Why, for Set’s sake?”
“Because in rooming with the Wiz, which seemed like a damned good idea
at the time, please forgive me–”
“Long since forgiven. Say on.”
“–I had a chance to see what’s going on inside her head. Man, it is
*scary* in there!”
“There are crazier people in Arcadia, Bandit.”
“I’m not so sure. That woman’s in her own little fairy kingdom!”
The hard-packed snow crunched under their boots as they made their way
across the gleaming white expanses of the Eastern Quadrangle, past the Virgin
Vault, the Roach Motel, and the Lovepile. Up ahead, Scum Central was already
surrounded by a growing crowd of students, filing in for dinner.
“Don’t worry your pointed little skull about it, Zero,” the Bandit
said mildly, kicking the snow from his boots and shivering as he stepped
across the threshold. “I’m leaving well enough alo–HEY! TEENIE!”
The skinny young girl by the coat rack looked up like a frightened
deer, terror in her eyes. She took a half step back as the Bandit came over to
“H–hi, Bandit.” Her voice was a dry whisper.
“Hello, sweetheart. Just going in to dinner?”
“Just coming out.” She grabbed her coat from the rack, and shouldered
into it hastily. “I have to get over to the rehearsal hall….”
“Hey, hold on a second!” The Bandit’s forearm came up, barring her
escape. “You’ve been avoiding me every chance you’ve had for nearly a month
now. When you said you didn’t want to see me any more, I let you go with no
questions asked, and frankly I have been *miserable* since then. I love you
and I miss you! Couldn’t you at least give me an explanation?”
“Just leave me alone.” Teenie pushed past him, not meeting his eyes.
He watched her hurry into the snow, his eyes tortured.
Zero, who’d been standing nearby, shook his head. “Bad karma, bro’.”
“No shit,” the Bandit muttered, his eyes still on the doorway. “What
the hell’s got her so spooked?”
“No clue,” Zero said mildly, doffing his coat.
“Multitudinous thanks for essentially nada,” the Bandit snapped.
“Mellow out. You’ll be so wound up we won’t be able to play after
dinner. Just calm down and relax, okay?”
The Bandit glared at Zero for a moment, then sighed, his expression
softening. “Yeah, okay. You’re right.” He walked over to the entryway and ran
his data card through the debit machine, then took a place in the food line.
“It could be worse,” he said philosophically. “I could have to eat with–”
“HEEYOW! ZERO THE GUITAR HERO AND THE DREADED BANDIT!”
The yell split the calm murmur in the cafeteria like a knife. Zero
winced, and the Bandit rolled his eyes, finishing his sentence.
A curly-headed spring of raw energy uncoiled itself in a long leap
over the decorative planters dividing the line from the eating area. One
trailing foot caught the edge of a planter, toppling it and scattering dirt
across a wide swath of carpet. Livewire didn’t even look behind him as the
plant hit the floor with a rustling crash, his grin from ear to ear as he gave
first Zero, then the Bandit, a food-spilling whack on the back.
“Heyyy, how you guys doin, nice to see ya, listen, I got us a big
table over in the corner with lotsa seats, look for us over there it’ll be a
kick, see you soon gotta get back my burger’s getting cold, hurry it up!”
Another leap and he was gone. Zero shook his head in awe. “What a
marvelous human being,” he said with a smile. “Utterly untroubled by anything
resembling common sense. It’s a miracle he’s survived to adolescence!”
“Be still my heart,” the Bandit sighed. “More indigestion tonight.”
The Bandit winced at the familiar voice, then plastered on a smile as
Twink came over, a glass of something in her hand. The Bandit glanced at it.
Milk. Just plain old white milk. Typical.
“Need a place to sit? I’d just love your company,” Twink cooed, her
voice a poor imitation of Mary Magdalene’s. “It’ll give you a chance to make
up for how rude you were over at the dorm.” She tossed her blonde hair out of
her eyes and gave him what she must have thought was a demure look, but came
off more like a cartoon caricature of a whore’s leer.
The Bandit’s speech centers suffered a severe lockup as eighteen
suitable rejoinders arrived at his larynx simultaneously and shorted each
other out, and he glared at her.
Then, suddenly, he smiled.
“You wouldn’t happen to be sitting with Livewire, would you?”
She smiled brightly at his softened tone. “No! I’m all alone by
myself. But if you want, we could move over there! Livewire’s there, with Diva
and Bone and Thunder and–”
“No, that’s all right,” the Bandit said hastily. “I’d *love* a nice,
quiet meal with you. You go on ahead, Zero; I’ll see you after dinner.”
Zero looked at him, then at Twink, then over at the waiting delights
of the corner table, where Bone and Thunder were joking with Livewire, and
Diva was casting him pleading looks. He shrugged. “Okay.”
“Great! This way,” Twink said, leading the Bandit to a small table for
two in the Annex, her hips weaving from side to side in a carefully practiced
imitation of Diva’s sexy wiggle.
He found himself eyeing the shift and ripple of her buttocks as she
walked, and shook his head violently. If the Ultimate Ditz is giving you a
hard-on, kid, he told himself grimly, then you are in BAD shape.