“I don’t want to talk about it.” –G. Garbo
“You’re pinned to the wall,” Markie taunted Pologne. The Pervect clung to the wall behind her, quailing from the tiny figure at her feet. Markie advanced on her, hands curled into claws. “You have no options left. I’m coming for you, and I’m packing serious magikal heat. What are you going to do?”
“Do I have my purse?” Pologne asked.
Markie dropped out of her threatening pose, which, when a being stands less than three feet tall and has a head full of soft golden curls, was not threatening in any of the traditional senses.
“If you normally carry your purse everywhere, then, yes, you have your purse.”
“Good,” Pologne said. She reached into the capacious handbag, whipped out a shiny, silver, four-foot long gun and leveled it. I pulled Bunny down to the floor. The rest of my students hit the dirt. Markie walked up to the Pervect and knocked the barrel toward the ceiling. She aimed a finger at the Pervect’s nose.
“Never, and I mean never, point that at anyone you don’t plan to shoot. And never whip out a weapon like that unless you are planning to use it.”
“Oh, but I would,” Pologne said. But she sounded doubtful. She caressed the barrel. Studded with blue gemstones, it looked like it was made of solid platinum and. Since I never carry anything larger than a pocket knife I had no idea what the bulges and protrusions meant. I guessed that neither did Pologne.
Markie seemed to have the same impression. She planted her tiny hands on her hips. “Have you ever shot that thing?”
Pologne looked horrified.
“No…it would mess up the finish. Isn’t it pretty? Daddy gave it to me as a graduation present.”
Markie sighed. “Then leave it at home. Hasn’t Skeeve ever told you that hesitation just hands a weapon to your enemy?”
“Well, he has…but we don’t have any enemies!”
Markie raised an eyebrow. “The universe is full of danger, sweet pea. What happens when you move into your first sixth-floor walkup, and a drunken jerk who lives on four staggers over to you in the laundry room?”
“Why, I would never be in any place like that!”
“All right,” Markie said. “That’s good.”
“Yes. You wouldn’t be in a situation like that because you have planned ahead. You would have checked out the entrances and exits, and kept your eye on the door, right?”
“No,” Pologne said. “I mean, I wouldn’t live in a sixth-floor walkup because no elevator means it’s a dump. Right?”
Markie groaned. “Think of it in more general terms. You can apply those rules to any situation. You already know what you think of as an acceptable scenario. Let’s dissect the state of mind which led you not to be in that apartment in the first place. You want a place to live. You assess where you need to be, what geographical points you need to be near. Add in your personal level of risk, balance that against your cash in hand, tolerance of noise and other nuisances, and so on. That will kick out a list of things you can avoid while still leaving the field open for the greatest number of viable choices, including some you might not have considered at the outset. When you leave out the undesirable factors, only your personal prejudices and preconceived notions would prevent you from seeing all the possibilities.”
“Ah,” Jinetta said. “When you break down the analysis in those terms, we understand it.”
Markie whistled. “Finally! Do you see? The idea is not to leave yourself without options in any situation. Choosing an apartment is a scenario you can take at your own pace. Now, let’s move up to one where you don’t have as much time to make a decision. That’s what I was trying to get you to do. Assess the situation with a cool head, and move quickly in response. You know the old saying, “he who hesitates is lost”?” The students nodded. “That statement is true most of the time. It only means life and death once in a while. It can be simpler than that. If there is, say, only one item of value to be had, or one opportunity to be taken, and you have a rival for either, then to let your rival move first is essentially letting him or her choose the battleground. Make the first approach, and you will win, most of the time.”
“Like when there’s only one slice of pizza left,” Melvine said, flippantly.
Markie looked impatient at her nephew’s interruption, but she nodded. “Define a contest on your terms. I assume most of you have some kind of protection, like Pologne, magikal or otherwise?”
“Of course!” Tolk exclaimed.
“Keep it as a last resort. Magik and weapons are limited options. Your brain is your most valuable and reusable commodity. Don’t waste your resources, or your allies. You might need them later.”
“Allies?” Freezia asked. “Skeeve is always hammering away about allies. He doesn’t much say how to do it on your own.”
“That’s because it’s a lot harder to get by on your own,” Markie said. “I work alone. I get paid top dollar for my services because I deal in a difficult field with considerable expertise, entirely as a solo act. It would be a lot easier if I had allies, but in my job they are not only hard to find, but a liability.”
“Just what IS it you do?” Jinetta asked, curiously. “Kill people?”
“Hardly ever. Never mind what I do; I’m telling you how I think. If I’m echoing anything Skeeve says, then maybe you should listen to both of us. Otherwise, what are you wasting my time for?”
“I hope we’re not wasting your time, Miss Markie,” Bee said politely. “I see a thread running through the lessons. But when I go home I’m gonna be working by myself, as a village magician. I’ve got to know the best choices to make, because I’m gonna have to make ’em without help.”
“Take the big picture. “What is going to help me live to a ripe, old, healthy, stinking rich age?” Try not to tell me you’re not thinking in that direction, because everyone except saints do, and saints are a very small proportion of the population, in my experience. You want the best possible outcome for the long run. Then refine it all the way down to the small picture, to that action you need to take at that moment in order to get to the big picture. Sounds hard?”
“It gets easier and faster to make those decisions after a while, once you’ve refined your priorities. And just because you choose those priorities doesn’t mean you can’t change them.” She glanced up at me, almost shyly. “I have.”
“But how do you practice making quick decisions?” Jinetta asked.
Markie grinned. “I thought you would never ask.”