Phil caught up to them on Simon's doorstep, where they had agreed to meet after the first day of classes. He squinted at them. Sam was lounging on one side of the door, horribly amused. Simon had his shoulders up. He looked like a turtle. A sulky teenage mutant one. "What are you doing out here?"
Sam gestured. "Ask Simon," he said. "He's the one who refused to let me go in."
"Believe me, if I'd let you go in, five steps into the house and you'd be screaming to know why I hadn't stopped you in the name of our friendship," Simon said grimly. "My mother's still on that vegetarian kick, remember?"
"No," Phil said honestly.
"Yeah, well, she's recently realised that there's unhappiness in her target demographic. Her solution to this is to make things that look and taste like meat. You end up knowing more about tofu than you ever wanted to in your entire life!"
"Listen to you," said Phil, disgusted. "Target demographic!"
Simon shuddered. "I know," he said. "It's that business course Dad got me to take over the summer in exchange for unlimited painting supplies."
"Every time I think that I've gotten rid of it, I say something like 'in the black within three years'. I think that with ten years of therapy it may eventually go away."
"You'll get over it," Sam said wisely. "You suffered for your art. It's something all good artists do."
"Yeah," Phil chimed in. "Like when Sam was trapped in an office with a pyromaniac and he had to promise to do certain camel-related deeds in order to get out."
"You make that sound much dirtier than it was."
Abruptly, Simon sniffed the air. "Can you smell that?"
Both Sam and Phil inhaled deeply. "Doom?" Phil ventured.
Simon nodded grimly. "In the shape of tofu duck this evening, is my guess. Or tofu-tofu." He paused. "Phil?" Phil was rapidly turning the color of the aforementioned tofu. "Phil, what's up?"
"I just remembered," Phil said. He swallowed and looked directly at Simon. "You know how Sam and I supported you in your bid to control the student population and make a strike against Interflux last year?"
"That was not my--" Simon started, indignant. Sam stopped him by shaking his head.
"Don't try," he said, looking resigned as he folded his arms and leaned back against the wall. "It's Phil-logic. He wants a favor. Just go with it."
"Well, you guys are going to have to come with me to my brand new high school at midnight tonight for similar reasons. Oh," he added, "bring cloaks, wooden sticks if you can find any, and sushi."
Sam shook his head again. "And it's only the first day. What'd you do, tick off the local locker baron?"
"Something like that."
Phil winced. "Something like telling them that I have friends at Nassau County High School for Visual, Literary and Performing Arts. After asking them for something."
"I don't get it," Simon said. "What's wrong with talking about Nassau County?"
"Phil's new high school is not all that keen on the arts," Sam said. "It does, however, like its football. Which means in the off-season they have a lot of interest in picking on the art kids. Why'd you say anything?"
"I had to tell them something!" Phil said defensively. "If you think that the Dungeon runs the school with an iron fist, you should see these guys! It's like the English monarchy. The only thing missing is the Crown Jewels. Look, it's no big deal. If you guys win, the big guy will talk to the counselors for me and they'll have a Psychology course set up before the end of the week."
"And if we lose?"
"That's what the sushi's for."
"You're kind of missing the big point here," Simon said. "Phil, what exactly are we going to be doing?"
Phil told them.
Simon looked repulsed. "But that can't be legal!"
"Tell that to those jerks," Phil said. "You might want to do it from a helicopter. Or while you're fleeing the country."
Sam sighed. "We'd have an easier time transferring Phil back to Nassau County."
"Nassau doesn't have Psychology courses either," Phil pointed out.
"Yeah, but it does have art students. You could do an independent study of all the insanity that happens around the place. You could probably do twenty on Simon's girlfriend alone."
Phil thought about this while Simon tried to murder Sam. Then he shook his head. "Unlike you," he said, "I take pride in my new high school. I wouldn't leave it for all the world."
Sam finally succeeded in prising Simon's fingers off his throat. "They tagged on a clause for something embarrassing they'd get to do to you if you forfeited, didn't they."
Phil coughed. "Yeah." He waved his arms about. "But you're missing the point. I'm not so heartless as to just ask you for a favor and send you in there without some idea of what we'll be doing. I have a plan."
Retreating to the other side of the door, Simon grimaced. "Does it involve making art out of my mother's tofu?"
"Better than the original hare-brained plan from last year?"
"Both of you, shut up." Phil said grandly. "Anyway, if I did, I could sell it to Mr. Montrose and get another five hundred dollars, so don't sneer. You in?"
Sam shrugged. "It'll give you something to tell people so that you can make new patients for yourself when business is slow," he said. "Sure, why not?"
"As long as there's no business school involved, I'm up for anything." Simon suddenly winced. "That was the equivalent of giving him a free-for-all pass to the rest of my life, wasn't it," he said to Sam.
"It's all a learning experience," Phil said generously. "Your fluid intelligence is still dominant at this stage, but that's crystallized intelligence, so... Something psychological here. I don't know. See, I have no potential for the psychology thing, but I'm learning anyway! This is doing good!"
Sam looked dubious. "I suppose it could be that much worse."
"Phil," Simon said. "Enough stalling. You're making me nervous that I may have signed the rest of my life away to do a stint in prison with a gigantic bald man named Tiny. What's the plan?"
Phil told them.
"Well," Simon said, much later. "It could have been that much worse."
"For a plan from the mind of Phillip Baldwin, it actually wasn't half-bad," Sam agreed. "We got the psychology course and everything. Incidentally, I hope you know that as a future starving artist, I will expect my share of your salary as a psychologist to come in large, unmarked bills."
Leaning over the sink, Phil spat into it, and again. "I don't know," he said, clearing his throat. "I could have done without the whipped cream."