Wednesday, February 3, 2016

If I Were You - Part 5 - The Gathering of the Conned

So Tom is getting the hang of being Hermann now.  But what has the former Hermann been doing since he "soul-shattering experience" of having his body stolen from him?

Not a whole lot, actually.  The narration explains that he had just about taken off after Tom-in-Hermann while screaming for help, until Schmidt's "coldly logical brain" told him that probably wouldn't be a good idea.  I mean, just think how ridiculous that would look, a midget stumbling after someone ranting about body theft?  No, in this sort of situation, the thing to do is to step back, stay calm, and puzzle out the solution.

In the dusty emptiness of the sideshow tent, he had brought himself into a full realization of his strange and very disturbing predicament.  In the Black Forest of his native land, he had heard such things had happened

Really.  This sort of thing is common in Germany.

and, so far as he could tell, no kind fate had come along immediately to undo them.  And the longer he measured his slightness up against his surroundings, the more he became convinced of the awfulness of his situation and the need to do something about it.

No scheisse, Schmidt.

Now, Schmidt's towering Prussian intellect can't figure out a way to reverse the soul transfer, but he has an almost-as-good solution - accelerate his existing plans.  Grab the stolen cash from his safe, destroy the evidence and incriminating documents, and get out of town.  It's not quite Just As Planned, since he'll be enjoying his ill-gotten gains from three feet off the ground, but it's better than nothing.  Problem is, Tom-in-Schmidt still has the safe's keys.  So Schmidt-in-Tom waits patiently until Tom-in-Schmidt goes to the ringmaster's wagon, then follows him inside.

Schmidt-in-Tom slams the door shut, and a confrontation ensues.

"You," said Schmidt, in his now piping midget voice, "are going to do something about this!"

Tommy momentarily forgot his stature.  Not unlike a midget, he had never been very long on courage when it came to physical conflict, but so engrossed was he with his determination to direct the show, if only once, that he made a stern show of it.

"Why should I?" he said, flicking his great black boots with his riding crop and staring down at the midget Schmidt.

Good question.  Schmidt grabs a gun out of a drawer and points it as Tom-in-Schmidt, but when he's reminded that "This is your body - if you want to mess it up that's okay with me," Schmidt slowly lowers the weapon.  And then we get that awkward moment where you threaten to kill someone, but you've swapped bodies with them so if you killed them they'd be really killing yourself, and then there's that long uncomfortable silence.  I hate it when that happens.

Thus defeated, all Schmidt-in-Tom can think to do is - well, first there's a sudden knock on the door.  Then while Tom-in-Schmidt gets up to deal with it, Schmidt-in-Tom raids the safe and flees to the wagon's bathroom.  And presumably he gets all this done quickly, because he's hidden himself by the time Tom-in-Schmidt opens the door.  The body thief certainly doesn't ignore the knocking to deal with his victim/enemy, or demand to know what he's doing, he just watches him scurry about and then does as politeness dictates and admits his visitor.

In comes Betty, so agitated that her features "alternatively burned and went cold with the intensity of her emotion."  She wails that her husband Gordon saw her leave Schmidt's room this morning, and now he's on his way, so "Schmidt" better return all those letters of hers or else "He'll find them!"  Tom-in-Schmidt has no idea what's going on.  Then Mrs. Johnson bursts in "Like a thundercloud which blankets the land in darkness," snidely apologizing for interrupting Schmidt and Betty's "tryst."  She promptly fires "Schmidt" and vows he'll never work in a circus again, and when Betty wails that her husband is going to kill her, Mrs. Johnson says she definitely wants to see that.  Tom-in-Schmidt can only stammer and ask "What's happened?  What have I done?"  And then Gordon bursts in, booting aside Betty when she flings herself towards him, and glares hatefully at "Schmidt."

So hey, you know how the Professor - who may as well not have been in the story, given how much these other characters are talking about him - was dying and all?  And he knew the dark art of body-swapping?  And he didn't use it to get out of a failing meatbag?  Maybe this is why.  You never know what kind of baggage someone's carrying, and then when you swap bodies with them, bam!  You're up to your neck in a mess like this.  So that's the real lesson of this story: always investigate your victims thoroughly, make sure they aren't involved in any love triangles or embezzlement schemes, before you steal their bodies.

While Tom-in-Schmidt boggles at these bewildering confrontations, people outside the wagon start yelling for Mrs. Johnson, and walk up escorting a little prisoner - it's Schmidt-in-Tom, with his pockets full of money and documents from the ringmaster's safe.  See, Mrs. Johnson was smart enough to have some loyal circus henchmen surround Schmidt's wagon before confronting him, and in a way, they've caught him.

Before Tom-in-Schmidt can properly react to any of this, Gordon takes another vengeful step forward, and even though he's wrapped in Teutonic muscle, Tom reflexively flees to a more familiar body that's not about to get punched by a lion tamer.  And oddly enough he's relieved when he's back in his old self, mentally crowing "Let Schmidt get out of his own messes as best he could!" and not sparing a thought for how Tom is now in similar trouble for theft.

But there's a problem with Tom's "watch Schmidt get punished" plan - Schmidt is no Soltan Gris, he's an effective bad guy.  When Gordon swings his whip as if "it would take the ringmaster's head from his shoulders" ...Hubbard, I don't think whips can do that.  Maybe leave a nasty cut, but not decapitate.

Anyway, Schmidt avoids the attack and sends Gordon reeling with one punch, and when the lion-tamer accuses Schmidt of stealing his wife, the Prussian counters that she's merely in his office to conduct business, and claims that Betty knows Gordon's failing and was begging Schmidt not to fire him.  Then he graciously and preemptively accepts Mrs. Johnson's apologies for her wild accusations and "condescends to" stay with her circus until she finds a replacement ringmaster, if she still feels a need to seek one.

Or in other words, Schmidt has nearly everyone he's scamming come after him at once, on top of having his body temporarily stolen by a magical midget, and then manages to talk his way out of it.  They apologize to him for making such outrageous accusations.  Schmidt even has a scapegoat to blame for why they've been losing money - after all, he always kept his wagon's window open at night, open just wide enough that a little fellow could just about crawl through it.  As his eyes flash in dark amusement, Schmidt tells the other circus folk to take Tom to a holding area until "John Law" can come pick him up. 

So props, ladies and gentleman, for Herr Hermann Schmidt, a Hubbard villain with the qualities to actually succeed in his schemes.  But... well, he has made a fatal mistake.  See if you can spot it.

Tom can only tear up in impotent rage as he's about to be escorted out of the wagon and into a cell, but he knows that one quick body swap will reverse his fortunes.  He concentrates, waits for Schmidt to focus on him, and...

So hey, remember the first time he swapped bodies with Schmidt, and he had to get the other man's attention, and then stare at him while muttering to himself until the magic happened?  Well, the rules seem to have changed.  Now you don't have to murmur the magic words to make the spell work, or hold eye contact.  Because now Tom's waiting for Schmidt to speak to him.  Except instead of Schmidt it's Gordon who voices his surprise that Tom could be a thief, and then

It happened so fast that Tommy could not prevent it.  There was a swish and a shudder, and then Tommy was standing, whip in hand, looking at a helpless midget held fast between two brawny stakers!

So not only has the body swap spell changed from one with a prolonged casting time and vocal component based upon eye contract to an instantaneous effect involving voices, now it's developed side effects, and Gordon-in-Tommy is so dazed that he can't even focus his eyes, much less cry out that he's not supposed to be this short.  And whoopsie-daisy, Tom just stole the wrong body.

And though Tommy did wait for that protest to be made so as to take full advantage of it and swap back, it struck him suddenly that he was far better off as Jerry Gordon than as either Schmidt or Little Tom Little.

So let it be.

Yeah.  Our "hero" has gone from preying upon a villain completely by accident in his attempts to live his lifelong fantasy of directing the circus, to condemning a man to prison for a crime he didn't commit in a body he wasn't born in.  Good to see that Hubbard's in fine form when it comes to writing his heroes, even if this story's villain is a bit of an outlier due to being competent at his job.

Back to Part 4

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