The creature that sat before me was one I had vowed never to deal with again.
"Let me make one thing perfectly clear," I said, sitting tall on my hay bale and looking down upon the rodent before me, "I will ask the services of your people this one time, and then I will have no more dealings with you. Understand?"
Oh, I very much doubt that, Rat Lady. The rat's whiskers twitched and I could swear it was grinning.
"Do not question my word, Rat. I ask you this: please spread the word among your people that there is a human, a man, named Pantagruel, who may be in the custody of the Wizard Police. Find him. Sniff out any protective spells around his location or upon his person. Then report back to me. You got all that?"
Find Pantagruel, check for traps, get back to you. Got it. See you soon.
The rat scurried through a hole in the wall of the hayloft and was gone.
"Well, well, well," said Jim-jimmy-jim-jim-jim, laying back upon his hay bale, "I thought you said you were done with rats."
"I am, as of the time when they report back to me."
"Right. You can quit any time."
"You brought me out here to speak, didn't you? Via this goofball." Jim-jimmy-jim-jim-jim jerked his thumb at Jo, who was hanging upside down from a beam with her cloak folded about her like the wings of a bat. "You want to hear what's been going on with the Oddballs lately? They're a bit confused and worried that the person whose presence of mind saved them from a raid has up and vanished. You're the one who's supposed to go between Oddball City and the Wizard community and try to work something out, and I find you stuck on a goddamn sheep farm thirty miles outside Cook County. What am I supposed to tell everyone?"
"Tell them the person who placed me out here is also someone who can relay messages to the academy, if I ask her. And that I still have my friends among the students who are here each day."
Jim-jimmy-jim-jim-jim grunted. "Is there a time when you're going to actually communicate with someone in a position of authority?"
"To make direct demands involving the desires of Oddball City....I might risk revealing that I've been breaking my strict curfew. On the other hand, I can say that you, a lifelong resident of the city, just happened to wander by a sheep farm thirty miles outside Cook County, and we discussed local politics while leaning over the split-rail fence. They'll buy that, and also this wonderful bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn. No, alas, I will have to make my suggestions to my Wizard teacher. She's probably better at subtly suggesting things than me."
"Let me be more clear. Is there a time when YOU," he pointed a finger in my face, "are going to communicate with someone in a position of genuine authority at the school, in a manner that will prevent them from ignoring you?"
"Because my patience is growing thin. You haven't even told me if you're interested in hunting for the Colors of Chicago yet. Do you want to help me wake up the city or not?"
"I request that we change the subject," said Jo in an upside-down voice. "Mr. Jim-jimmy-jim-jim-jim, you promised me that if I brought you here, you would tell me what you knew about one of the more perfunctory stories in this Guido's Guide to Chicago. Who is the man who stands atop the tallest tower? Why does he always look up at the sky?"
"Well," said Jim-jimmy-jim-jim-jim, "I can hardly resist telling a good story. Let me tell you what Mr. Budny told me. "
Go out onto the observation deck of the Sears Tower some time and take a gander at the edge of the city. Stare at it real hard. if you look closely you'll notice: the edge of the city seems to be just slightly higher in elevation than the Loop. Impossible to notice at ground level. The slope is too shallow for the groundlings to notice. There's one who should be able to notice better than anyone else...but his eyes, however many he has, are set upon loftier things.
No one can say how many eyes he has. His face is concealed by a shiny black visor. No one can say if he's even human. It looks like he has only four fingers on each hand. And he's real skinny, and you can tell because that white-and-black bodysuit really hugs his figure.
And everyone who knows about him knows when and where he first appeared: the day the Home Insurance Building was completed, in 1884. The first skyscraper in this city. There he was, staring up at the sky. People didn't know what to make of him then -- the newspapers called him everything from an Anarchist to a Chinaman. Ah, but there was hardly context for his appearance in 1884. People didn't start talking about Space Aliens until later. In any case, he stood atop the Home Insurance Building, still as a stone, utterly unmoved by insults or things thrown at him.
Then along came a taller building in 1889. The janitors who had grown so used to his presence at the Home Insurance Building came to the roof one morning to find him gone. He was on top of the tower of the Auditorium Building. And then when that place was surpassed, well, there was at the top of the tallest tower..and the tallest one after that...and so on. He became something of a seal of approval for the folks building skyscrapers. If Visor Man was on top of your tower, it meant the thing was solid, the work was done, and your tower was the tallest.
He hasn't moved since the Sears Tower was built.
The question is, what is he looking at?
Well, Let me ask you this. What if the skyscrapers really do scrape the sky? What would come in through the gashes? Do we want to know? It could be that --
"That some extradimensional beings are going to come pouring in from the sky," I said. "I've handled that situation in Manhattan. Not too much of a sweat."
"It was very much a sweat," said Jo, in an offended tone. "It involved things that we are still feeling the effects from. it turned my beautiful green cloak red and turned the New York Public Library into an immigration control office. Among other things."
"But we handled it," I said, "and we'll handle it here too, if it comes to that. I'll try to talk to this Visor Man if I can reach him. And it may very well be, Jim-jimmy-jim-jim-jim, that we must wake the city up after all, in order to deal with an imminent...immigration. I was going to search for the colors of Chicago in any case. See, the whole reason I'm delaying, the whole reaosn I'm out here, is that I've got to train in a safe place if I want to do Wizardry and keep up with my friends. I want to be able to help them when we go on expeditions, instead of being kind of a load."
"You're jealous of your Wizard friends."
"But you were the one to tell me, and everyone you met at Meyer's, that we'd be able to do great things if we stuck together and used our strengths."
"You have the Oddballs on your side if it's clear you're on our side, Pat. If you want to Journey through Color Chicago, we're eager to be by your side. Possibly a ittle offended if you don't invite us."
"Oh jeez. How many people am I bringing on this expedition?"
"You're not bringing them, kid. They're coming along whether you like it or not."
I heard a squeak at my feet. There was the rat again.
Found him. He's in a cell in the bottom-most level of the basements of the Wizard Academy. No protective spells detected but he's in a place that moves down and away from us with each passing minute.
"Well," I said, "Looks like it's time to take you up on your offer, Jim-jimmy-jim-jim-jim. Gather the Oddballs. Jo, get Aurore and the others. It's time for a jailbreak."