Ricky sat at the kitchenette table, trying to catch up on his work. Going with the band in their tour bus wasn’t very professional, but it beat trusting them to get to gigs on their own. Luckily everyone was easy to deal with today. Vic and Lazaro were asleep, Kalila was in her custom travel bottle, Nevin was reading a book about endangered water birds, and Bo was in the lounge, watching porn on the plasma TV. As long as Ricky kept his earplugs in, there was nothing to distract him from—
The bus gave a lurch and a shudder.
“Everything all right up there?” Ricky called. When he didn’t get an answer, he went to the front, where he found Calvin cursing as he maneuvered the bus off the highway. “What’s going on?”
The werewolf waved a hand at the dashboard. “Says ‘check engine.’ Could be anything.”
Ricky peered out the windshield, then at the GPS. “Can’t we at least get to someplace with a gas station?”
“You want to push?” Calvin snarled. “Accelerator’s not doing anything.”
“Great.” Ricky went to the back of the bus, where Nevin had set his book aside and Bo was momentarily distracted from the heaving, silver-painted bodies of Space Orgy VII. “Something’s wrong with the bus.” Ricky looked at Nevin. “Go see what you can do to help.”
“I’m sorry, Ricky, but I know nothing about mechanics.”
“I mean, go do some magic or something.”
“It’s against the rules. We can’t use magic to get to or from a venue.”
“But you’d be using magic to fix the bus, not to transport us anywhere.” Seeing that Nevin was unconvinced, Ricky tapped on Kalila’s travel bottle. “Wake up. We’ve got a problem.” When she didn’t come out, he tapped again, harder.
This time, a thin stream of smoke drifted out of the bottle’s mouth. It took several minutes, but finally it coalesced into a shadow, then into Kalila, who stood blinking and scowling sleepily. “What do you want?”
“The bus is stopped,” Ricky said.
By now Calvin had joined them. “It won’t go at all. Engine’s dead.”
“Well, that’s not my problem.” Kalila started to waver as she prepared to go back into her bottle.
“Wait,” Ricky said. “You need to fix the bus. Nevin has some crazy interpretation of the ‘transportation by human means’ rule that says you can’t fix a breakdown with magic.”
“He’s right,” Kalila said, dissolving into a cloud of blue smoke. “Call Triple-A.”
Calvin gave Ricky a pointed look. “You heard the djinn. Get us some human help.”
Ricky called the service number, and was informed it would be at least an hour before someone could come to where they were. In exasperation, he went outside with Calvin, hoping he might see something under the hood that he could fix, but the big diesel engine was beyond his limited understanding. They would have to wait. Ricky walked away from the bus and called the venue manager in the next town to let him know they would be late.
Frustrated, Ricky walked the gravel shoulder of the highway. They were near a scenic overlook with a cleared area for admiring the valley below, so he wandered over, took a few pictures with his Blackberry, then leaned against the railing and gazed out over the lush landscape.
“Poor Ricky,” said a voice at his elbow. “You’re upset.”
Ricky turned to see Nevin eyeing him curiously.
“I’m sorry we can’t fix the bus,” Nevin said, “But you really don’t want us to forfeit the bet with Gotterdammerung, do you?”
“No, of course not.” Ricky leaned back over the railing. “Five hundred years in Hades would suck. But—” he turned to look at Nevin again. “Why the silly rule? ‘Human fame by human means’ is so much harder than just waving your magic wand.”
“That’s the whole point,” Nevin said patiently. “It’s supposed to be a challenge.”
“But why make it hard on yourselves? All of life is a challenge.”
“Not for us. This builds character.”
“Well, I could use a little less of that.”
“Oh, Ricky, you should look at the positives.” Nevin leaned out over the railing and pointed to the river below. “Isn’t it beautiful? It’s a sunny day, the sky is blue, we’re in a lovely part of the country, and just think—we almost missed this view.”
Ricky looked at his watch.
“Stop that. You need to learn to relax, let go, and just accept that some things are going to be how they are. You need to find a way to make the best of it.”
Ricky looked back out over the valley. Yes, it was nice, and if the tour bus hadn’t broken down, he would’ve missed it, but…. “Uh, Nevin? Does the ‘no magic’ rule apply to hurrying up the tow truck?”
Nevin met his eyes for a long moment, then shrugged. “I suppose not. But you know, if we were an ordinary human band, you’d be in this exact same situation. It’s only because we’re different that you expect more.”
Nevin walked away, leaving Ricky alone. What the keyboardist had said was true. He expected murder and mayhem after every show, but assumed that djinn and fairy magic could save the day when he was tired, in trouble, or simply wanted a waffle. His view of how the world worked was becoming so warped it was a wonder he could appreciate anything normal any more.
With that thought in mind, he looked once more over the valley, drew in a deep breath of the golden afternoon, and sighed. It really was a pretty day. It would’ve been a shame to have missed it.