The Dragon Done Itedited by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick

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The Dragon Done Itedited by Eric Flint

and Mike Resnick

 
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.


 
Introduction copyright © 2008 by Eric Flint & Mike Resnick. "The Long and Short of It" copyright © 2008 by Mike Resnick. "The Witch's Murder" copyright © 2008 by Dave Freer and Eric Flint. See also acknowledgements page for further copyright information.
 
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
 
A Baen Books Original
 
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
www.baen.com
 
ISBN 10: 1-4165-5528-5
ISBN 13: 978-1-4165-5528-5
 
Cover art by Bob Eggleton
 
First printing, March 2008
 
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
 
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The dragon done it / edited by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick.


       p. cm.
  A cross-genre collection of stories by popular writers.
  ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-5528-5 (hc)
  ISBN-10: 1-4165-5528-5 (hc)
1. Detective and mystery stories, American. 2. Fantasy fiction, American. I. Flint, Eric. II. Resnick, Michael D.

PS648.D4D73 2008


813'.087208--dc22

                                                            2007051120 

Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com)
Printed in the United States of America

Baen Books by Eric FlintRing of Fire series:1632 by Eric Flint
1633 by Eric Flint & David Weber
1634: The Baltic War by Eric Flint & David Weber
Ring of Fire ed. by Eric Flint
1634: The Galileo Affair by Eric Flint & Andrew Dennis
1635: The Ram Rebellion by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce et al.
1635: The Cannon Law by Eric Flint & Andrew Dennis
1634: The Bavarian Crisis by Eric Flint & Virginia DeMarce
Grantville Gazette ed. by Eric Flint
Grantville Gazette II ed. by Eric Flint
Grantville Gazette III ed. by Eric Flint
Grantville Gazette IV ed. by Eric Flint
Ring of Fire II ed. by Eric Flint
 
Joe's World series:The Philosophical Strangler
Forward the Mage (with Richard Roach)
 
Standalone titles:Mother of Demons

Crown of Slaves (with David Weber)

The Course of Empire (with K.D. Wentworth)
Mountain Magic (with Ryk E. Spoor, David Drake & Henry Kuttner)
 
With Mercedes Lackey & Dave Freer:The Shadow of the Lion This Rough Magic
With Dave Freer:Rats, Bats & Vats The Rats, The Bats & The Ugly
 
Pyramid Scheme Pyramid Power
 With David Drake:The Tyrant
 The Belisarius Series with David Drake:An Oblique Approach In the Heart of Darkness
Destiny's Shield Fortune's Stroke
The Tide of Victory The Dance of Time
 Edited by Eric Flint The World Turned Upside Down (with David Drake & Jim Baen)
The Best of Jim Baen's Universe
The Best of Jim Baen's Universe II
 
 

Copyright information for The Dragon Done ItThis is the first publication of "The Long and the Short of It.""Dead Wolf in a Hat" was first published in Realms of Fantasy
, October 2005'"This Town Ain't Big Enough" was first published in Vampire Slayers
, ed. By M. Greenberg and E. A. Scarborough, Cumberland House 1995."The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds" was first published in Knave, 1984."The Whistling Room" was first published in The Idler, March 1910. "Doppelgangster" was first published in Murder by Magic, ed. Rosemary Edghill, Warner Aspect 2004."Claus of Death" was first published in Slipstreams, ed. John Helfers and Martin Greenberg, DAW 2006."McNamara's Fish" was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1963."Gunsel and Gretel" was first published in The Mammoth Book of Awesome Comic Fantasy, ed. Mike Ashley, Robinson 2001."Alimentary, My Dear Watson" was first published in Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, ed. Mike Resnick and Martin Greenberg, DAW 1995."Fox Tails" was first published in Realms of Fantasy, June 2005."A Case of Identity" was first published in Analog, September 1964."The Case of the Skinflint's Specters" was first published in ChristmasGhosts, ed. Mike Resnick and Martin Greenberg, DAW 1993."The Black Bird" was first published in New Voices in Science Fiction, ed. Mike Resnick, DAW 2003."The Enchanted Bunny" was first published in The Undesired Princess and the Enchanted Bunny, Baen Books 1990."The Adventure of the Pearly Gates" was first published in Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, ed. Mike Resnick and Martin Greenberg, DAW 1995."The Seventh Chapter" was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1997."The Detective of Dreams" was first published in Dark Forces, ed. Kirby McCauley, Viking Press 1980.This is the first publication of "The Witch's Murder."  Editors' IntroductionIt was simply a fortunate confluence of events. Mike had just edited a pair of science fiction mystery anthologies—Down These Dark Spaceways and Alien Crimes—for the Science Fiction Book Club. Not too long ago Eric had edited a massive collection of Randall Garrett's beloved Lord Darcy stories, the first edition in history that puts all the stories together. In short, both of us were thinking along the same lines: science fiction, fantasy, mystery. And it occurred to us that, to the best of our knowledge, no one has yet put together an anthology of fantasy detective stories, as opposed to science fiction mysteries. It seemed hard to believe, since there are certainly enough examples out there, going back at least to the works of Poe and to the hinted-at but never-written Sherlock Holmes tale of "The Giant Rat of Sumatra." So we got together, approached Jim Baen with the idea, and got a contract—one of the very last he issued before his untimely death.Probably the two most famous fantasy sleuths are Lord Darcy, and Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin, who appeared in 121 stories in the old Weird Tales magazine. We were very familiar with the Darcy stories, but hadn't read the Quinn stories in decades. So Eric read half of them and Mike read the other half, and we came to the unhappy conclusion that they're a little too dated and a little too clumsily written.Having anchored the volume with one of the best Lord Darcy stories, we went a-hunting—and came up with stories by such superstars as Neil Gaiman, Harry Turtledove, Gene Wolfe, and David Drake. We resurrected a story by William Hope Hodgson, recent winner of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, which was as old as the Jules de Grandin stories but read a lot better. Agatha Christie proved long ago that the detective story is not the private property of male writers, and we picked up fine stories from Esther Friesner, Tanya Huff, and Laura Resnick, then rounded out the book with another seven stories.We then looked at what we had. We felt they were a fine batch of stories but that perhaps something was missing. Since we each had written our own series of fantasy detective tales over the years, we decided to make this an even more unique collection by writing brand-new novelettes featuring our detectives, and start and finish the book with those two brand-new stories. So Mike wrote a new John Justin Mallory story, which is now the sixth novelette to go along with the original Mallory novel, Stalking the Unicorn. Those have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Black Gate Magazine, and the anthologies Newer York, A Christmas Bestiary, and Masters of Fantasy. He's still negotiating the contract as we write these words, but he will be writing at least two more Mallory novels in the very near future. Eric and Dave Freer wrote a new novelette in the Heirs of Alexandria fantasy series they're doing with Mercedes Lackey (Shadow of the Lion, A Mankind Witch, This Rough Magic, Much Fall of Blood—with at least three more novels coming). We hope you enjoy the anthology. We think the most interesting thing about it is that, given the rules of each magical venue, the authors play as fair with the reader as Dashiell Hammett or Rex Stout ever did. Which is harder than you think in a universe filled with witches, goblins, and dragons.Eric & Mike
December, 2006 
The Long and Short of ItA John Justin Mallory Story
Mike Resnick
John Justin Mallory was having a bad day. He'd gone out to Jamaica and picked the wrong horse six races in a row, a feat made even more remarkable by the fact that his favorite, Flyaway, who had lost fifty-four consecutive races, wasn't even entered. When he'd stopped by Joey Chicago's for a drink on the way home, he found out they were all out of Old Peculiar and that some irate mage had hexed the tap on the Old Washensox. He decided to eat at Morgan the Gorgon's 2-Star Diner and Hardware Store, made what he thought was a funny crack about wanting to eat Can't Miss, who had just missed by sixty-three lengths with Mallory's twenty dollars riding on him, and got a steak so rare that he could still see the jockey's whip marks. Finally he went back to the office, where with his partner Winnifred Carruthers he plied his trade as a private detective. Winnifred had gone home for the night, and he plopped down wearily in his chair, briefly looked at the Playmate he'd pinned up on the wall (and on which Winnifred had meticulously drawn undergarments), and considered taking a hit from the office bottle, which shared a drawer with his collection of old Racing Forms and garish pulp magazines. "Welcome back," said Perriwinkle, his magic mirror. "How much did you lose today? You did lose, didn't you? I mean, I haven't noticed the stars stopping in their courses or anything like that." "If there's one thing I hate, it's a lippy mirror.""I have no lips.""Details, details," muttered Mallory. "Let me show you something to relax you," suggested the mirror. "An old Bettie Page striptease might be nice," said Mallory. "Mundane," said Perriwinkle contemptuously. "But if you must see a stripper, how about Tassle-Twirling Tessie Twinkle, the Lizard Girl? She removes her skin four times a night, and five on Saturdays." "Please," said Mallory. "I almost just ate.""Okay, hurt my feelings, spit on my offerings," said the mirror. "See if I care." It fell silent, and began displaying a 1934 Southwest Association game between the Phoenix Pompadours and the Great Falls Geldings."Wonderful," said Mallory. He spent the next half hour opening his mail, which consisted entirely of unpaid bills, except for an ad to eat at Cannibal Joe's new all-night diner, which moved to a new location each day (or oftener if necessary). He finally finished, made a paper plane out of the heating bill, and gently tossed it toward the fireplace on the far wall. It got halfway there when a graceful figure that at first seemed human but was definitely feline launched itself from its perch atop the refrigerator in the next room and snared the bill in her mouth. "If you like it, I have a dozen more," said Mallory dryly. "I'll even pour a little mustard on them for you." "I thought it was a little white bird," said the cat person, spitting the bill onto the floor. "A fat little white bird. A fat helpless little white bird. A delicious fat helpless . . .""Spare me the catalog of its virtues.""All right," she said, hopping lightly onto his desk and lying on her stomach. "Skritch between my shoulder blades.""I've been meaning to ask you for some time now, Felina," said Mallory. "What exactly is the difference between scratching and skritching?"Felina reached out a hand, extended her fingers, and suddenly a two-inch claw shot out of each. "I scratch," she said. "You skritch." He reached out and skritched her back. Then suddenly she sat up. "Let me guess," he said. "I did it wrong.""Shhh!" she hissed. "They're arguing."Mallory looked around the empty office. "Who's arguing?""Them.""I don't see anyone.""Me neither," said Perriwinkle, the game vanishing long enough for it to look around the room."They're outside the door," said Felina."What are they arguing about?" asked Mallory. "You."Mallory slid open his desk drawer and made sure his pistol was in it."They're arguing about how much they're willing to pay you," continued Felina."Are they now?" said Mallory, closing the drawer.Felina nodded. "One of them is saying that if you cost too much they should just forget about it, and the other says it doesn't matter what you charge because you almost certainly won't survive to collect it." "So there are two of them," said Perriwinkle."You must have been the brightest one in your class," said Mallory sardonically."That's it!" snapped Perriwinkle. "No more Rita Hayworth movies for you!""Is that a promise?" said Mallory. "Bah!" said the mirror, reverting to the second inning of the baseball game in a grainy black and white."Are they still arguing?" asked Mallory.Felina shook her head. "No, now they both agree that you'll die a horrible death before they have to pay you." She shot him an innocent, ingratiating smile. "Can I watch?"Mallory didn't know whether to ignore her or throw something at her. While he was making up his mind, the door opened and a pair of men walked in. Each wore a dark, ill-fitting suit; one was too tight and the sleeves and cuffs were too short, while the other was too loose, with sleeves and cuffs held back by thick rubber bands. The men were each about six feet tall, with wild black hair, clear blue eyes, and shaggy mustaches. Mallory's first thought was that they were twins, or at least brothers. His second was that they needed a good barber and a better haberdasher. "Mr. Mallory?" said the one on the left."That's right.""We are in desperate need of your services," said the one on the right. "Mallory and Carruthers is said to be the best detective agency in all New York." Mallory decided not to mention that it was the only one in New York, gestured for them to sit down, and simply waited for them to explain the nature of their problem. "Have you ever gone to the circus, Mr. Mallory?" asked the one on the left."Not since I was a kid.""Then you probably don't remember us," said the one on the right. "Probably not," agreed Mallory. "Are you jugglers?" "Certainly not!" they said in unison."Trapeze artists?""No!""I could sit here guessing all night, or you could tell me and we could get on with the case," suggested Mallory."Have you ever heard of Macro, the ten-foot-tall giant?" asked the one on the left."You?" asked Mallory.The man shook his head. "No," he said, gesturing toward his companion. "He is.""And have you ever read about Micro, the smallest human in the world, the Nineteen-Inch Dynamo?" Macro jerked a thumb toward the one on the left. "Him." "This is a joke and you guys are here for the heating bill, right?" asked Mallory. "I assure you this is no joke, Mr. Mallory," said Micro."We are in desperate need of your help," added Macro."I don't think I provide the kind of help you need," said Mallory. "Only you can provide it!" said Micro desperately. "We have lost what makes us unique!" "You've lost your grip on reality," observed Mallory. "That makes you pretty unique." "We didn't come here to be insulted!" snapped Macro."Fine," said Mallory. "You pick up the tab, and I'll be happy to insult you down the street at the Emerald Isle Pub.""Why won't you listen to us?" "Because you're the same size as me, give or take an inch here and a pound there, and even when I've had a snootful I've never thought I was a ten-foot giant or a nineteen-inch midget." "But that is precisely why we have sought you out!" insisted Macro. "Will you at least hear us out?""It's been a long, hard day," said Mallory."Would two thousand dollars suffice as a retainer?" asked Micro, pulling out the money and laying it on the detective's desk. "On the other hand, the night's a pup," said Mallory. Suddenly Felina hissed. "Or a kitten, anyway.""It began about two weeks ago," said Macro. "At first I thought I was losing a little weight, because my clothes were just a bit loose. I didn't mention it to anyone, because, to be honest, I could do with a little less weight." "And at the same time," chimed in Micro, "I noticed that my shoes were getting tight, and that my pants seemed a little shorter." "It took us almost a week to understand the full magnitude of what was happening," said Macro. "Some fiend has been making me shrink down to normal size . . ." ". . . and me grow up to it," said Micro."You have to help us, Mallory!" Macro implored the detective. "All we've ever been is a giant and a midget. We have no other skills. What do I know about tightrope walking or lion taming?""There are other occupations," noted Mallory."We don't want any other occupations!" shouted Micro. "We want you to find the bastard who did this to us and make him restore us to our former glory.""We'll pay you a thousand dollars a day and a bonus if you succeed," said Macro."Of course," added Micro, "you'll have to succeed in four days or less. We're just about tapped out, what with buying new clothes every day.""I'll do what I can," said Mallory. "Now, who do you think might have a grudge against you?" "We're the salt of the earth," replied Macro. "You could look far and wide and not find two more lovable souls. Everybody knows that." "So no one you know has any reason to do this to the pair of you?" "Well, there's Atlas, the Strong Man," said Micro. "He found out that we were having a little fun with his wife.""Both of you?" asked Mallory."We're a team.""So I should start by questioning the strong man?""And the lion tamer," added Macro. "And the tightrope walker. Oh, and two of the bareback riders.""Don't forget the clowns," said Micro."How could they know?" asked Macro. "After all, we were wearing clown make-up the whole time.""There aren't a lot of ten-foot clowns in the circus," said Micro. He turned back to Mallory. "And probably you should ask two of the jugglers. Don't bother with the one in the middle; he's a bachelor.""I think what you're telling me is that if it works for the circus and has a wife or a girlfriend, it has a grudge against you," said Mallory."In essence," admitted Macro."What about the sideshow acts?""Well," said Micro, "there's the sword swallower. And of course the fire eater. And the contortionist's husband.""Oh my goodness yes!" said Macro, a blissful smile. "The contortionist!" "I'm surprised you guys had time to go on display," said Mallory dryly."We never missed a show," said Macro."Or a woman," added Micro."Anyone not connected with the circus got a grudge against you?" asked Mallory. "After all, there are probably three or four million husbands wandering around Manhattan.""No, we always keep it in the family." "I can't tell you how many filthy puns spring to mind," replied Mallory."If you'll tell them to me as soon as these two leave, I'll tell you the one about the explorer and the three belly dancers," said Perriwinkle. "What was that?" ask Macro."My magic mirror," said Mallory. "Say hello to the gentlemen, Perriwinkle." "Hi, guys," said Perriwinkle."It talks!" exclaimed Micro."Of course I talk." "I don't think I ever saw a talking mirror before," said Micro. "That's your loss," said Perriwinkle. "I come from a long line of magic mirrors, so don't you go acting as if I'm a mere object. I have hopes and fears and sexual needs, just like anyone else.""Not like these two, I hope," interjected Mallory."How did you get such a wondrous thing?" asked Macro."I kind of inherited it," said Mallory."He gave me to the army, but I was bored there," added Perriwinkle. "All they wanted were battle scenes, so I came back here. At least John Justin enjoys black-and-white movies and baseball games." "Isn't that amazing!" said Micro, still staring at the mirror. "A talking mirror! Why, the next thing you know, that catlike statue will speak." "Skritch my back," said the catlike statue."Not now, Felina," said Mallory. "This place is getting a little weird for us," said Macro. "Maybe we should think about going and letting Mr. Mallory get to work." "It's weirder for me," said Mallory. "At least you two were born here.""Weren't you?" asked Macro.Mallory shook his head. "No, I've only been here a couple of years." "Where are you from?""Manhattan.""But this is Manhattan.""This is the Manhattan that people in my Manhattan can sometimes see out of the corner of their eye, but when they turn to face it it's not there.""So how did you get here?""It's a long story.* I assume I can contact you at the circus?" Macro shook his head unhappily. "We've been fired. You can find us at Joyful Jessie's Bulgarian Pizzaria and Flophouse.""Third room on the right," added Micro. "Knock first.""Why bother?" said Macro unhappily. "There's no door.""It kind of makes up for all the boards over the window," said Micro."It's on the corner of Sloth and Despair," said Macro."I'm sure I can find it," said Mallory. "I'll be in touch as soon as I learn anything.""Almost anything," said Perriwinkle. Mallory turned to the mirror. "After all," it continued, "you're going to learn the story of the explorer and the three belly dancers. I'm sure that these gentlemen couldn't care less about it.""I don't know about that," said Macro, stopping at the door. "Is it dirty?""Filthy."Macro slipped another five dollars to Mallory. "Remember to tell it to me next time we meet," he said, and then he and Micro walked out into the night. "So what do you think?" said Mallory as he finished explaining the case to his partner.Winnifred Carruthers brushed a wisp of gray hair back from her pudgy face. "The circus is clearly the place to start," she replied. "Our clients seem to have been so busy making enemies there I wouldn't think they've had time to make them anywhere else." She looked at him suspiciously. "Why do you have that strange expression on your face, John Justin?" "There's a circus filled to overflowing with suspects, and we've only got four days," he replied. "I was thinking that we might enlist a little outside help." "Who did you—?" Suddenly Winnifred frowned. "Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "Not the Grundy!" "He'd be able to tell us who knows enough magic to pull this off," said Mallory."He's the most powerful demon on the East Coast—and in case it's slipped your mind, he's your mortal enemy!" "Maybe he doesn't like someone else practicing magic," suggested Mallory. "Maybe we can make a deal. He may be Evil Incarnate, but he's got his own sense of honor. He's never broken his word to me.""His last word was that he was going to disembowel you slowly and painfully," she reminded him.Mallory shrugged. "A poetic metaphor.""From a demon who never breaks his word?""All right," he said with a sigh. "I won't talk to the Grundy. What do you suggest?" "Our obvious first step is to go to the circus and look around," said Winnifred. "I'm not without my contacts there." "You have contacts at the circus?" said Mallory, surprised."I was a white hunter for forty years before I retired and you saved me from a life of boredom," she reminded him. "I'm the one who captured half the beasts in the circus." "I don't suppose any of them practice magic?""Don't be silly, John Justin," she said. "They're just dumb brutes." "Lions and tigers and the like?" asked Mallory."Nothing so mundane," she said. "I brought back every gorgon, gryphon, dragon and harpy you'll see there, as well as some of the more exotic creatures."Mallory stared at her with open admiration. "I'm suddenly remembering why I wouldn't let you say No when I offered to make you my partner." He got to his feet. "We might as well get started."Ninety pounds of feminine muscle and fur launched itself through the air and landed on his back."I'm going too!" said Felina."I don't think so," said Mallory. "We'll probably be there more than five minutes, and I've never seen you behave yourself for five minutes at a time.""But I'm your friend, John Justin." "Only when you're hungry," said Mallory. "You'll just be a nuisance." "No, I won't," Felina assured him. "Oh, I'll desert you when the going gets rough—but in the meantime I'm your devoted friend." "I don't suppose you could devote yourself to getting off my back," said Mallory."Yes, John Justin," she purred, leaping lightly to the floor. "You're going to listen to orders and do exactly as I say, right?" "Yes, John Justin," she purred."And you'll behave yourself?""Yes, John Justin," she purred."Why don't I believe you?" he said. "Yes, John Justin," she purred.Mallory and Winnifred exchanged looks. "Okay," he said, "let's get this show on the road."Winnifred walked through the doorway. Mallory was about to follow her when Felina leaped onto his back again. "Prove your love," she purred. "Carry me." The Ringling & Bailey Barnum Brothers Circus was ensconced in an abandoned hockey stadium. Here and there were small crosses commemorating where various hockey players had died in fights, or from minor infractions like high-sticking, knifing, mugging, or shooting with an unregistered handgun. The main arena now housed three rings, plus rigging for all the high-wire and trapeze acts. It was midmorning, and some of the performers were running through their routines. Winnifred seemed to know her way around, so Mallory fell into step behind her. Finally, after greeting a number of old friends, she stopped and turned to him. "I think we can cover a lot more ground if we split up, John Justin," she said. "I'll start interviewing the performers, and you can concentrate on the sideshow.""Sounds good to me," said Mallory. "Come along, Felina.""Look at those juicy birds!" whispered Felina, pointing above the center ring. "Those are trapeze artists," said Mallory. "Come on now."He reached out, grabbed her hand, and began walking off toward the sideshow."I wonder how much white meat they have?" mused Felina."I never knew you to be that fussy about what you ate before," noted Mallory. She pointed to the three flyers and the catcher. "I never had that many to choose from before."They walked out of the main area and into the broad corridor, some sixty feet wide, that circled it. The corridor was lined with sideshow attractions and kiosks offering everything from beer to protection against deadly spells. One man was selling nothing except umbrellas guaranteed to protect the buyer from rains of toads. "The all-seeing all-knowing Madame Nadine will guess your time of death for a dollar," offered a woman in glowing robes as Mallory and Felina passed by. "I'm still alive," said Mallory."I meant your first death," explained Madame Nadine, as if speaking to a child. "For another dollar, I'll guess your height, weight, and political affiliation." "What if you're wrong?""Then you'll feel smug and superior all day long.""But I'll also feel two dollars poorer," said Mallory."What do you want for two dollars, Mac?" she said irritably. "For twenty bucks I'll do an Irish jig and sing 'The Ring Dang Doo,' if that's more to your taste."Mallory pulled a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet and held it up."For that," said Madame Nadine, "you get three sexual perversions and a player to be named later." "Not interested," said Mallory."That's odd," she said. "You don't look like some kind of sicko." "This is my cat," said Mallory, indicating Felina."You want a threesome, it'll be a hundred and fifty.""Why don't you just listen to me?" said Mallory in annoyed tones. "It's two hundred for listening to you talk dirty," she said."Do you want to earn this money, or do you want to tell me all the things you won't do for it?" "You talk, I'll listen," said Madame Nadine."Like I said, this is my cat," said Mallory. "I'm moving to a smaller place. I want to find someone who can shrink her down to two or three feet in height. Let me know who can do it and the hundred is yours." "Just for that?" she asked suspiciously. "Just for that.""No sexual perversions, no threesomes with animals, no wild orgies with totally disgusting sex toys?" "Nope.""Damn!" said Madame Nadine unhappily. Then: "Okay, the man you want to see is Marvin the Mystic." "Where do I find him?""I seem to remember that the deal was a hundred bucks for his name," she said. "Nobody said anything about telling you where you could find him."Mallory reached into his pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill. Madame Nadine frowned. "Five hundred.""I already know his name," said Mallory. "I'll just ask one of the others where to find him. Come on, Felina." "Wait!" said Madame Nadine.Mallory stopped and turned to her."You say ten, I say five hundred," she said. "Let's split the difference. Four hundred seventy-five and I'll tell you.""Let's split the difference," replied Mallory. "Eleven dollars and I won't ask someone else.""All right," she said, holding out her hand. Mallory gave her a ten and a one. "If you'll go around the corner you'll come to the Visitors' Locker Room. Marvin has appropriated the coach's office, which is just off to the right.""Thanks," said Mallory. He studied her face. "You only got eleven dollars. Why do you look so happy?""You'll find out," promised Madame Nadine. A maintenance man walked by, carrying a shovel and a pail. "Hey, Mac," she said, all interest in Mallory gone now that the deal was completed, "guess your fourteen favorite Andrews Sisters for a dollar?" "There were only three," said Mallory."Depends which Andrews family you're talking about, doesn't it?" Madame Nadine shot back, never taking her eyes off her new mark. "Let's go," said Mallory to Felina, heading off toward the locker room and hoping he wouldn't pass anyone rehearsing a trained bird act along the way. They reached their destination, and Mallory looked around for the coach's office. It took only a moment to locate the door, but a goblin, an elf, a troll and a leprechaun were lounging in front of it. Mallory took a step toward the door, and suddenly all four of them turned to face him, shoulder to shoulder. "Take a hike, buddy," said the goblin."I want to see your boss," said Mallory."Our boss left orders," said the troll. "Nobody disturbs him." "Right," chimed in the leprechaun. "So just take off before we lose our tempers. I haven't killed anyone since breakfast, and I'm getting restless.""Right," said the goblin. "You take one more step in this direction and we'll dispatch you with such skill and dexterity that they'll award us both ears and the tail.""Right," added the elf. "There won't be enough of you left to bury!""Uh . . ." said the troll nervously. "I don't want to be presumptuous or anything, but what's the hideous creature behind you?" "That's Felina," said Mallory. "Say hello to the boys, Felina."Felina offered them a toothy grin and extended a hand. An instant later shining two-inch claws jutted forth from each finger. "Now," said Mallory, "you were saying something about not disturbing Marvin the Mystic?" "Well," said the troll, backing up a step, "when you get right down to it, I don't see how a friendly little visit could actually disturb him.""What's the matter with you?" demanded the elf. "Trolls are afraid of cat people," said the troll. "Everyone knows that.""Well, elves aren't afraid of cat people," said the elf, making no attempt to hide his contempt for his companion.Felina took a step toward the elf."Now let's not have any misunderstandings here!" said the elf. "Call her off!""I thought elves weren't afraid of cat people," said Mallory. "We aren't!" said the elf nervously. "But we're desperately afraid of dying!""Wimps!" snarled the leprechaun. "It's just a cat person!""Then you plan to stand your ground?" asked Mallory."Let's set the rules of engagement first," said the leprechaun. "Best two out of three falls. No biting. No scratching. No rolling pins. No weapons larger than .45 caliber. No kidney punches." He paused. "I'm sure I'm forgetting something." He turned to the goblin. "What town are we in, Harry?" "New York," said the goblin."Right," said the leprechaun. "No kissing in the clinches, and no reading New York Times editorials over a fallen foe for more than an hour." He looked Felina in the eye. "Is that acceptable to you?" She grinned and nodded."It is?" said the leprechaun. "I mean, once you've been humiliated and battered into senselessness, I don't want it said that the fight wasn't according to Hoyle."Felina replied with an eager purr.The leprechaun turned to Mallory. "Just to make it official: we have an agreement, right?""Right," said Mallory."You're sure, now? No backing down.""I'm sure.""Okay," said the leprechaun, stepping back a few feet. "Take her, Harry." "Me?" said the goblin, surprised."Well, I negotiated the rules," said the leprechaun. "I knew you'd want to do something." "I kind of thought I'd pull out a bible and read over the corpse," said Harry. "What makes you think she's religious?" asked the leprechaun."What makes you think I'd be reading over her?" Harry shot back."This is ridiculous!" said the leprechaun. "I function best in an advisory capacity. Now stop arguing and go tear her limb from limb.""Yeah, go get her, Harry," said the troll. "We'll cheer you on to victory!""And if you lose we'll always honor your memory," added the elf. "Gee, guys," said Harry, staring almost hypnotically at Felina's claws, "I'd love to, really I would, but my lumbago's been acting up lately.""You don't have lumbago," said the leprechaun."It's adult onset," said Harry defensively. "It began about twenty seconds ago. One of you will have to step in and take my place." "Can't be me," said the elf. "My rheumatiz just flared up not half a minute ago.""My arthritis is bothering me," said the troll. "You wouldn't want to fight me if I wasn't at my best." "I guess it's you, then," said Mallory to the leprechaun."What the hell," said the leprechaun. "If no one else will kill her, I'll do it myself." Suddenly he began looking around in panic. "Omygod!" he cried. "I forgot about my prostate problem! Where's the john?"He raced out into the hall."The poor guy's going to have an accident," said Harry, running toward the exit. "I'd better go after him and help clean up." "He might have two accidents!" shouted the elf, joining Harry. "Or three!" cried the troll, racing off after them."I never get to have any fun!" complained Felina, her claws vanishing back into her fingers. "Come on," said Mallory, walking toward the office door. "When we're done here I'll buy you a hot dog.""They're no fun to play with after they're dead," said Felina unhappily.Mallory reached out for the doorknob, but the door opened before he could touch it, and he stepped into an office that was decorated with football trophies, crystal balls, a blackboard filled with X's and O's and another filled with magic spells scribbled in a foreign tongue and strange symbols. Sitting at a desk was a small, wiry man with a very sparse white beard and shaggy white eyebrows. He wore a robe of spun gold and a triangular hat with signs of the zodiac on it. "Marvin the Mystic?" said Mallory."Of course.""My name is—""John Justin Mallory, I know," said Marvin. "The great Marvin sees all and knows all.""Not bad," admitted Mallory."Besides, Nadine called me on her cell phone and told me you were coming over, so I prepared a little greeting for you.""I've seen better security forces," said Mallory."Good help is hard to find these days," complained Marvin. "Still, all they were required to do was delay you for a minute so I could prepare my defenses." "And are they all prepared now?" asked Mallory."Absolutely," said Marvin. "You could pull a gun out and shoot me at point-blank range and the bullet would never reach me.""Really?" asked Mallory. "Uh . . . just a minute," said Marvin nervously. "Don't pull a gun and test it out. The spell works in theory, but I've never actually put it into practice. I mean, it should work. But I also created a spell for blackjack. I play with my computer, and I win every single hand . . . but for some reason the spell doesn't work in Vegas or Jersey, or even at Creepy Conrad's over on 34th Street." He frowned as he considered the problem, then shrugged. "All right, Mallory. What can I do for you?" "You know Micro and Macro, right?" "The giant and the midget, right.""The former giant and the former midget," said Mallory. "These days they look just like you and me.""Even including the beard?" said Marvin. "Remarkable.""No, not the beard—the height. I'm told that you have the skills to have done that to them.""I certainly do," said Marvin. "My magic can stop the world from spinning, can halt the stars in their courses, can make Time run backwards. Of course, it can't get Thelma the kootch dancer into the sack, but I'm working on it.""What do you have against Micro and Macro?" asked Mallory."Nothing," said Marvin. "Why?""So you're not carrying a grudge?""Certainly not. They were two of my best friends." "Just for the record: did you put a spell on them?""I did not.""Who else has the skill to make Macro smaller and Micro bigger?" "Well, there's always the Grundy." "The Grundy probably doesn't even know they're alive.""Yeah, I suppose when you're Evil Incarnate you take more of an interest in them after they're dead." Suddenly he looked very nervous. He turned his face to the ceiling and said in a loud clear voice: "That was just a figure of speech. Actually, the Grundy is the salt of the earth, the most noble of demons, and he would never listen in on a private conversation or misinterpret an expression of enormous respect.""I'm starting to understand why he and I have a mutual respect for each other," said Mallory with a grimace. "Neither of us has much tolerance for bullshit." He paused. "Who else could do it?" "Shrink and grow them?" said Marvin. "Well, there's Morris the Mage, and Big-Hearted Milton, and they say Dead End Dugan is pretty good at hexing ever since he came back.""Came back from where?" asked Mallory, curious in spite of himself. "The cemetery over in Queens," answered Marvin. "He's a zombie now. And then there's—" "Just a minute," said Mallory. "I don't really need a list of every magician in the city. Do any of them work for the circus?""No, not since Spellsinger Slim accidentally left his wand in Backbreaker Bennie's bed." "Backbreaker Bennie. Isn't he the wrestler?""He used to be. Now he's our strong man.""Why would he care if Spellsinger Slim left a wand in his bed?" "Because Slim left Mrs. Backbreaker there too." Marvin shook his head. "Poor Slim. I still miss him.""Does anyone around here ever think of anything besides sex?" asked Mallory."At least twice a day I think of eating."Mallory walked to the door. "I've heard enough for one morning," he said. "I may want to speak to you again. Tell the troops to let me pass next time." "They let you pass this time," noted Marvin. "Your cat did terrible things to their self-confidence.""Just tell them," repeated Mallory. "Next time she may do terrible things to their bodies." "Where are we going now?" asked Felina as they left the locker room. "To find Winnifred and see if she had any better luck than we did." They began walking toward the arena. Along the way they passed Madame Nadine again."Hey, Buddy," she said, not looking up at him, "for a dollar the all-seeing all-knowing Madame Nadine will name three rock stars who haven't been busted on drug charges in the past year. Well, two anyway." Mallory just walked past her without a word, and a moment later entered the arena. He had to step aside while a pair of eight-ton dragons pulled a chariot filled with scantily-clad warrior women back to the dressing area, then spotted Winnifred speaking with a man who stood inside a large cage containing half a dozen gorgons. He held a whip in one hand and a chair in the other, but the gorgons, gathered on the far side of the cage, looked half-asleep. "Yes," he was saying, "they had a restless night, what with all that crying and carrying on.""The poor dears," said Winnifred. "By the way, I'd feed the one on the left a little extra meat each morning. I think he's showing the early stages of pellagra." "Do gorgons get pellagra?""Oh, yes," she assured him. "Gorgons can get pellagra, mumps, measles, any number of diseases. Although," she added thoughtfully, "I've never known one to come down with chracksmir." "Chracksmir?" repeated the man nervously. "What is that?" "It's a relatively rare disease that causes serious softening of the bill in the Three-Toed Blue-Eyed Central African Woodpecker." Winnifred paused thoughtfully. "No, I've never known a gorgon to come down with it." She stared at the gorgon in question. "I still remember his mother," she continued. "She was a handful. There were times I thought I'd never get her back to the States in one piece." "How did you manage?" "I set up a turntable just outside her cage on the boat and played a Rolling Stones record.""And that soothed the savage breast?""No," said Winnifred. "It practically drove her berserk. I told her if she misbehaved again I'd play it for a whole day." She smiled. "You couldn't have asked for a better-mannered gorgon from that moment forward." The man laughed. "I'll keep that in mind the next time one of the krakens starts getting delusions of grandeur." He turned to Mallory. "Are you waiting to see me?"Mallory shook his head. "Her," he said, nodding toward Winnifred. "John Justin," said Winnifred, "I'd like to you to meet an old friend—Sam Ramar.""Of the jungle?" asked Mallory."How did you know?" replied Ramar."A shot in the dark."One of the gorgons suddenly began roaring."Watch your tongue, Mr. Mallory!" said Ramar sternly."What did I say?""One of his brothers was killed by"—Ramar lowered his voice to a whisper—"a shot in the dark.""I apologize.""Not to me," said Ramar. "To him.""You're kidding, right?" said Mallory."Am I smiling?"Mallory shrugged and turned to the gorgon. "I'm sorry.""Now walk over and let him smell the back of your hand," said Ramar. "Some other time.""You'll never be an animal trainer at this rate," said Ramar. "I suppose I can learn to live with that," replied Mallory. He turned to Winnifred. "Learn anything?" "Yes, John Justin," she said. "Thank you for your help, Ramar." She began walking toward the box seats, where they couldn't be overheard."Well?""All the animals in the circus are on edge," she said."Why?" asked Mallory. "Are the crowds making them nervous?" "That's the interesting part," said Winnifred. "It's not the crowds, it's not the venue, it's not even the food." She paused. "They're not getting any sleep at night." "I heard Ramar mention something about crying?""That's right. Evidently almost every woman in the circus is crying her heart out every night and keeping the animals awake.""Let me guess," said Mallory dryly. "They miss our clients." "Yes," said Winnifred. "But here's the interesting part, John Justin: the animals haven't had a good night's sleep for the past month." Mallory frowned. "That doesn't add up," he said. "Micro and Macro only started shrinking and growing two weeks ago, so why should all the women be crying for a month?" "I don't know," answered Winnifred. "But once we find out, I think we'll be well on the road to cracking the case.""Hey, fella!" said a loud voice. "Either put your damned cat on a leash or get her out of here!"Mallory turned and found himself confronting a bald, red-faced man. "What's the problem?" he asked. "I've got a seal and walrus act," said the man angrily. "And every time I toss one of them a fish as a reward, your cat catches it and eats it. Now they've gone on strike—no fish, no performance." "All right, keep your shirt on," said Mallory, walking over to where Felina was crouching, waiting to spring through the air when the next fish was thrown to a seal. He grabbed her by the arm and started pulling her away, while she hissed at him and displayed her claws. "You touch me with those and I'll pull 'em out one by one!" he snapped. "Without anesthetic?" said Felina. "What kind of fiend are you?" "An angry one," said Mallory. "Now come with me before I really lose my temper."He began leading her back to Winnifred when he suddenly realized that a hush had fallen across the entire area. The hustle and bustle had stopped, and he could have heard a pin drop at twenty paces. Gradually he became aware that all heads had turned to the north end of the arena, where the most beautiful woman he had ever seen was preparing to practice her bareback routine atop a chestnut centaur. "Close your mouth, John Justin," said Winnifred. "You never know what might fly into it at a circus.""Do you see her?" whispered an awestruck Mallory. "She makes Sophia Loren look like a boy! She's like . . . like jelly on springs!" "Don't be vulgar," said Winnifred."I'm not being vulgar, I'm being honest," said Mallory. "I've never seen anything like her. She's enough to make an atheist believe in God." "I don't think I want to hear any more of this, John Justin. I'd like to continue respecting my partner."Mallory suddenly shook his head vigorously, as if to clear it. "Don't go disrespecting your partner too soon," he said. "I think he just solved the case." Winnifred looked confused. "What are you talking about?""Look around you," he said. "Every man in the arena is looking at her the same way I was. Hell, if you're a man and alive you can't help but look at her that way.""I assume you are making your way laboriously to the point?" "Micro and Macro went to bed with anything that twitched, right?" "Poor choice of words, but yes," said Winnifred."They spread themselves around, so everyone seemed content," continued Mallory. "Or at least, none of their ladyfriends made any waves." He smiled. "But I'll bet you four thousand dollars that she started working here a month ago, and once our boys saw her, there were suddenly a lot of lonely ladies in the circus. Lonely, unhappy—and maybe vengeful." "That presupposes that they actually were able to . . . to . . ." Winnifred searched for an inoffensive word."To score with her?" suggested Mallory. "There's an easy way to find out.""I agree," said Winnifred. "Let's go ask her.""I'll ask her," said Mallory. "You watch the cat.""But—""It'll be good for me to practice some self-restraint.""You're not getting off to a very good start," noted Winnifred. Mallory never took his eyes off the girl. "Just look at her bouncing up and down on that centaur!" "If you make a comment about how she could bounce up and down like that on you, I'm dissolving our partnership," said Winnifred distastefully. "I'd never say something like that to you," said Mallory. Then: "But I can think it, can't I?""Just go and ask her what you have to ask." "Right," said Mallory, starting to walk across the arena. When he came to the ring where the centaur was cantering in a circle, he stopped and stood there, admiring the sight.After a few moments he became aware of a sudden sharp pain in his shin and realized that Felina had just kicked him."Goddammit!" he bellowed. "What the hell are you doing?""Winnifred sent me over to make sure you were still alive," answered the cat-girl pleasantly. "I'll go tell her you are." Felina returned to Winnifred as the centaur, startled by Mallory's yell, came to a stop. The girl jumped lightly to the ground before fifty sets of appreciative male eyes, and Mallory walked up to her."Excuse me," he said. "I wonder if I might have a word with you.""All right," she said in the most melodic voice he'd ever heard. "But I should tell you up front that I'm not a doctor.""I never thought you were," said Mallory, surprised."Oh," she said. "I thought you wanted to consult with me about your palsy.""I don't have any palsy.""I wouldn't bet on that," she said dubiously. "You're shaking like a leaf." "I'm just chilly," he lied. She flashed him a smile. "I've very glad to hear it." "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is John Justin Mallory." "What a strong, masculine name," she said. Mallory resisted the urge to bay at the moon, which he was sure wasn't out at eleven in the morning. "And I am Circe." She extended her hand. "I'm very pleased to meet you." He took her hand and had to remind himself that it was attached to the rest of her and that sooner or later he'd have to let go of it, much as he hated the thought. "How long have you been with Ringling and Bailey circus?" he asked. "Five weeks next Wednesday," she said. "Why?" "Just a routine question," he said, wondering how his throat could become so dry in such a short time. "I'm a detective.""Like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe?" "More like John Justin Mallory," he answered. "My clients are Micro and Macro. I believe you know them?" "Yes, I do," replied Circe. "Such sweet boys. I was wondering what had happened to them. Have they left the show?" "Temporarily," said Mallory. "I'm afraid I have to ask you a rather delicate question, ma'am," he continued uneasily. "Circe." "Circe," he repeated. "This is a little awkward. Did you ever . . . I mean, did they . . . that is . . . ?" "You want to know if I ever slept with them?" she asked pleasantly. "Yes.""They were very unique, you know," she said. "The world's tallest giant and the world's smallest midget. And they had a wonderful sense of humor. Also, no one could mix a drink like Macro. And you should have heard Micro play the nose-flute!" "I'm sure that's all true," said Mallory. "But I need to know if you—""They were very attractive," said Circe. "So you did sleep with them?""I went to bed with them," she said. "I don't think sleeping was ever on the agenda," she added with a giggle."Was this a one-night stand, or did you—""Oh, eight or ten times a day once we got to know one another." "Eight or ten times a day?" he repeated, trying not to look shocked. "They had a lot of spare time," she explained with a smile. "They didn't have to rehearse being tall or being short." She paused. "Do you have any other questions?""No," said Mallory. "Thank you, Circe. You've been a great help." "I really miss them. Do you think they'll be coming back soon?" "It's a possibility," he replied. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you. You can go back to rehearsing.""Mr. Mallory?""Yes?""May I have my hand back now?" "Eight or ten times a day?" said Winnifred. "The mind boggles!" Her eyes narrowed. "I wonder if she's lying. I hope she is. I hate to think of anyone having so much fun while we're out risking life and limb.""Somebody's been lying, all right," said Mallory with conviction, "but it isn't her." "What now?" asked Winnifred."Now we confront the real culprit, and then we figure out what to do about it."He headed off toward the locker room, followed by Winnifred and Felina."Guess your social security number, blood pressure, and outstanding back taxes for a dollar?" offered Madame Nadine as he passed her. He ignored her and continued walking. When he arrived the four guards were there waiting for him."Go right in," said Harry the goblin with an evil grin."He's waiting for you," said the elf nastily."I hope you have a nice cemetery plot picked out," added the troll. "He didn't say anything about the fat broad, though," said the leprechaun. "Maybe we'll just have a little fun with her."Suddenly he was looking down the barrel of a .45 Magnum."You're a cute little fellow," said Winnifred, her finger on the trigger. "I wonder how you'd look stuffed and mounted in my den?" "You don't want me!" said the leprechaun. "You want my brother! He's much better-looking! You could stand him on his head and grow flowers out of his nostrils.""Oh, don't be such a sissy!" said Harry. "She's just a fat wrinkled old broad. Go up and take the gun away from her."Suddenly the Magnum was aimed right between Harry's eyes."What did you call me?" asked Winnifred."It was a term of endearment!" cried Harry. "My wife's a fat wrinkled old broad, and I love her with a passion that knows no bounds." "Or loyalty," put in the leprechaun."You shut up!" snapped Harry. "You're her target! I'm just a distraction." The elf looked at his bare wrist. "My, my," he said. "Eleven twenty-six and forty seconds already. Time for me to clock out.""What are you talking about?" demanded the leprechaun. "We don't punch a clock!""I have three personal days and two weeks of vacation coming to me," said the elf stubbornly. "I'm taking them right now." The troll sidled over to Mallory. "Pathetic, aren't they?" he said. "They just don't know how to deal with new situations.""How would you deal with it?" asked Mallory. "Easy," said the troll. He pulled out a five-dollar bill and slipped it to Mallory. "When you go in to see the boss, tell him we scared the shit out of you."Mallory returned the bill. "I don't think so.""What kind of demented fiend won't accept an honestly-offered bribe?" demanded the troll."A fiend who's getting tired of trolls, elves, goblins and leprechauns," said Mallory. "Did you hear that?" shrieked the troll. "Tired of us? You're sick, Mallory! Sick! I'll see you later!" He started walking away."Where do you think you're going?" asked Winnifred."To file a complaint with the union," said the troll."I'd better go with you," said the leprechaun, quickly joining him. "They may want corroborative testimony.""Good point!" chimed in the elf, falling into step. "I'll support both of your stories.""What about you?" Mallory asked Harry the goblin. "I'm just a spear carrier in the vast tapestry of the fat old broad's life," replied the goblin with a sudden show of confidence. "She doesn't care about me." "What makes you think so?" asked Winnifred, lining him up in her sights."Mallory, tell her it's not sporting to shoot someone with glasses!" "You're not wearing any glasses," said Winnifred."I left them at home," said Harry. "But if I'd known what kind of tempers you fat old broads had, I'd have worn them to work." "Get out of here," said Winnifred."No offense intended," said Harry quickly. "Now!" said Winnifred, firing a shot into the concrete just in front of his feet.Harry proceeded to run the fastest fifty yards on record, and was threatening Secretariat's time for the mile and a half when he raced out of sight. Mallory turned to Felina. "Thanks for your help," he said sardonically. "I'm sulking," said the cat-girl. "You wouldn't let me kill any of them, but you let the fat old broad shoot at them." "Watch it, cat," said Winnifred ominously."Shall we get to work?" said Mallory. Winnifred nodded, and Mallory turned to Felina. "You stay out here until you learn how to behave." She turned her back on him and concentrated on licking her forearm. Then, as he opened the door, he felt ninety pounds leap onto his back."I forgive you, John Justin," purred Felina."Welcome back," said Marvin the Mystic, standing up to greet them. "I had a feeling you'd be returning.""Well, you did lie to me before," said Mallory."It was privileged information," said Marvin. "A matter of mage/client confidentiality." "Call it what you will," said Mallory. "You lied.""I prefer to think that I refused to betray a sacred trust." "Do you know how many years in the slammer you could get for not betraying that particular sacred trust?""I was mostly truthful," replied Marvin. "You asked me if I had any grudge against Micro and Macro, and I told you truthfully that I didn't, that they were my good friends." "Then why did you put a spell on them?" asked Mallory."They're my friends, and the salt of the earth and all," answered Marvin, "but friends come and go. Money stays." "Not when John Justin goes to the track, it doesn't," said Felina helpfully. "Who paid you to do it?" asked Mallory."You're the detective," said Marvin. "Can't you guess?""How many women in the show?""Seventy-three.""That narrows it down to seventy-two suspects," said Mallory. "It doesn't really matter. We're not cops, and we're not here to arrest anyone, but my money's on Madame Nadine." "Why her?" asked Marvin. "She's the one who warned you I was coming.""Well, you're partly right," said Marvin. "That's not bad for one morning's work. If I ever need a detective, you're the man I'll come to." "Reverse the spell or you're going to need an intensive care unit long before you need a detective," said Winnifred, who hadn't put her Magnum away."You don't have to return the money," said Mallory. "Like I said, we're not cops. All our clients want is for you to reverse the spell.""That's all my clients want too," said Marvin with a sigh. "Explain," said Winnifred. "It wasn't just Madame Nadine," said the magician. "She delivered the money, but all the women were jealous of Circe. They offered to pay me to turn her into a sea slug, or a fat old wrinkled broad"—he missed Winnifred's outraged glare—"or something like that. But no red-blooded man would ever do that to anything as perfect as—" a deep sigh "—Circe, so I told them no. Then the women decided that if they couldn't have Micro and Macro, they'd take up a collection—Madame Nadine paid me, but they all chipped in—and fix it so they would have to leave the show and Circe couldn't have them either." "Okay, that's about what I figured once I saw Circe," said Mallory. "Isn't she something?" said Marvin enthusiastically. "You get the feeling that if you live an absolutely perfect life, she'll be waiting for you at the end of it." "I don't think I want to hear any more of this," said Winnifred irritably."Let's have the rest of it, Marvin," said Mallory. "It turned out that the women missed Micro and Macro so much they decided half a loaf—well, actually, about an eighth of a loaf once Circe arrived—was better than none. So they offered me double what they'd paid me to reverse the spell." "Then why didn't you?" "I can't!" Marvin said miserably. "This spell can only be stopped. It can't be reversed.""You're sure?""They're my friends. Why would I do this to them? And more to the point, the money was twice as good." "So if you stop it today, they'll each be six-footers for the rest of their lives?" said Mallory."That's right.""Could you make me big enough to kill and eat a gorgon?" asked Felina hopefully."Certainly," said Marvin. "After all, I am Marvin the Mystic." He frowned. "But I couldn't make you small again.""I'd be too big to sleep on top of the refrigerator," said Felina. "Maybe you could shrink one of the gorgons instead. They look so tasty!""John Justin," said Winnifred, "you suddenly have the strangest expression on your face." "Felina just gave me an idea," said Mallory. "Marvin, can I borrow your cell phone for a minute?"The magician muttered a chant and snapped his fingers, and suddenly Mallory found a Louisville Slugger in his hand. "Oops, wrong spell," said Marvin apologetically. He tried again, and this time Mallory wound up with a phone."I'm just going to step out into the locker room for a couple of minutes to make a private call," he said. "I'll be right back." He left the office, and Felina spent the next few minutes naming every monster in the circus and asking Marvin if he could shrink it to the point where she could play with it a bit before killing and eating it. "Okay," said Mallory, reentering the office. "I've spoken to our clients, and I've come up with a solution that's acceptable to them—and, I think, to all parties involved." "What is it?" asked Marvin and Winnifred in unison. Felina, who wanted to ask about still more animals, turned her back and stared intently at a wall. "They both agree that they're a little long in the tooth to retrain. They like doing nothing but being short and tall—and being irresistable to women, of course." "But I can't put them back the way they were," said Marvin. "I've already explained that.""You can do the next best thing," said Mallory."I don't follow you.""You said you can stop the spell, you just can't reverse it, right?" "That's right.""Then let Macro keep shrinking until he's nineteen inches tall, and stop him there. And let Micro keep growing until he's ten feet.""They don't mind?" asked Marvin, surprised."They'll still be the world's tallest giant and smallest midget, and they'll still have more girlfriends than they know what to do with.""Oh, they knew what to do with them," said Marvin. "That's why the women tried to pay me to reverse the spells." Suddenly his eyes widened. "I could accept their fee now, couldn't I? I mean, they wanted a big one and a little one, and that's what they're going to get." He turned to Mallory. "Of course, I'd slip you ten percent for keeping your mouth shut. And ten percent for the fa—for the lovely lady with the gun. Maybe I'll even shrink a three-headed dragon down for your cat." "It's not necessary," said Mallory. "We're getting paid enough by our clients." "And we don't think much of your business practices," added Winnifred harshly."I thought fat people were supposed to be jolly," said Marvin. He hit the floor a fraction of a second before the bullet passed through the spot where he'd been and tore into the wall behind him.  Felina refused to speak to Mallory all the way home, and announced her intention of never saying another word to him until he went back and let Marvin shrink a dragon for her. Her resolve lasted almost half an hour, when she decided to forgive him and let him skritch between her shoulder blades. Micro and Macro returned to the circus the next morning. Just before dinnertime a week later there was a knock at the office door. Mallory opened it and stepped aside as a uniformed delivery man brought in seventy-three long-stemmed roses, each with a scented thank-you note. Winnifred decided to burn the notes before Mallory could answer them. Especially the one with the faint odor of a centaur still on it.  


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