Ricky drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. What was taking so long in there? He frowned at the Guitar Haven sign, gloss and neon against the whitewashed brick. New strings for her Stratocaster. She swore that was all she needed, although why she didn’t just conjure some escaped his understanding.
He glanced at the time on his Blackberry. Twenty minutes. Even if there had been others ahead of her at the counter, this was excessive. Ricky got out of the Lexus and went inside, pausing inside the door to take stock. Guitars of all kinds lined the walls: acoustic six and twelve-strings; electric six and seven-strings with rosewood necks and glossy lacquer finishes. Bass guitars, double-neck guitars, fretless, third bridges, and hybrid electric-acoustic guitars, all for sale.
Ricky sighed with pleasure, wishing he were talented instead of merely competent. It would be heaven to be worthy of these toys. Band management was the next best thing, though, which brought him back to the moment. Where the hell was Kalila?
As if in answer, he heard a familiar riff. He followed the sound and found Kalila in a practice cubby, alternating between playing a bright blue guitar and tinkering with electronic equipment. She smiled brightly, as if she had been expecting him. “Check this out.” She flipped a switch and played the opening bars to one of her new songs. “Sounds like my Stratocaster, doesn’t it?” She flipped the switch again. “Now what do you think?”
“Sounds like a Gibson with a humbucker pickup.”
“Cool, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but I thought you just needed some strings. We have a venue to go look at, remember?”
Kalila stopped fiddling with the control panel. “Oh, Ricky. Where’s your sense of fun?”
“Tied up in a contract. If you want this thing, buy it and let’s go.”
“Maybe I will.” She set the guitar in a stand and with a sniff of annoyance, stalked off in search of the manager.
Ricky stayed behind for a minute, examining the Variax 700 with its odd blank body devoid of pickups. It was connected to a panel with switches and knobs, which was connected to computers and other devices that seemed capable of producing almost any sound a guitar had ever made. He could see why Kalila had been intrigued.
“Come on, you can do better than that.”
Ricky spun around at the sound of Kalila’s voice. She had obviously found the store manager, but—Ricky glanced at the price tag on the Variax—for Christ’s sake, what was she doing haggling? She might look twenty-five but Kalila was a djinn. More than two thousand years old, she had cleaned up in long-term investments and could afford to buy this silly toy and all its accessories without blinking an eye.
Ricky found Kalila leaning on the counter arguing sweetly with the manager while making sure he got a good look down her shirt. “I can order it online for a hundred dollars less.”
“And once you pay for shipping, you’ll be close to what you’ll pay to take it home right now.”
Ricky grabbed Kalila's elbow. “If you want it, just pay for it.”
Kalila frowned and jerked her arm away. She turned back to the manager. “I’ll mention you at my shows, and I’ll have our webmaster put a link to your shop on our site.”
The manager licked his lips. “Well….”
“Throw in one of those computer things for free and I’ll pay full price for the guitar.”
“Are you out of your mind? Some of those ‘computer things’ cost more than the guitars.”
“Oh.” Kalila managed a pretty confusion. “Then I’ll pay for the computer thing and you can give me the guitar for free.”
“Lady, you’re crazy. If you want a freebie, we’ve got plenty of little extras I can show you, but—”
“Would you?” She leaned closer and reached for the manager’s hand. “That would be so wonderful….”
Ricky knew where this was going. Once she touched him, she would use her djinn powers to addle the man’s thinking beyond all reason. To her, it was just a game, but Ricky knew better. Inventory cost money and shops like this didn’t make anyone rich. He pulled Kalila away before she could touch him, then fumbled for his wallet and slapped a credit card on the counter. “Whatever she wants.”
While the manager got Kalila’s gear together, Ricky did a few mental calculations. He could certainly afford all this, but he wasn't happy about it. He watched in dismay as Kalila added a few more pricey accessories, smiling in maddening fashion as if she knew how much she was annoying him.
Once everything was loaded into the back of the Lexus and the shop assistant had gone inside, Ricky looked at her in frustration. “What the hell was that about? You can afford to kit out every garage band in this city with a setup like this.”
Kalila twitched her shoulders and looked away. “So?”
“So why did you try to talk him down like that? These guys have to make a living, you know.”
“I just wanted to have a little fun.”
“Well, you can have fun with all these new toys you now have.”
“I guess.” She opened the door of the Lexus and slipped inside. “I don’t know if I really want the Variax, though. It seems kind of like cheating.”
Ricky stared. “Then why the hell did you let me buy it?”
“It was something to do.” She glanced at an imaginary watch on her wrist. “Are we going to go now? We don’t want to be late.”
Ricky went to the driver’s side and slid into his seat. “We already are.” He cranked the engine and was about to put the car in gear when he had a sudden thought. “Wait a minute. I thought you needed new strings.”
“You’re right. Good memory for a human.” She waved a hand and a packet of steel strings appeared on the dashboard. “These will do.”
Deep breaths. There was no point trying to kill her because she was immortal. No point even getting mad. Djinns did what they did, but sometimes—
Ricky answered through gritted teeth. “What?”
“You’re the nicest human I’ve ever met.” She put a hand on his thigh and suddenly all her quirks and foibles didn’t matter quite so much. “Thanks for the guitar.”