It’s never a good sign when a client wants to meet you in an alleyway instead of your office. Granted, the average alleyway smells a bit better than my office and lets in less water when it rains. But the clients always want their suspicions to be alley’d, and I oblige; for my part, I think they’ve seen too many detective movies. I know I have; it’s where we both get our expectations for dress and the proper hardboiled tone for narration.

Evryali the Gorgon was waiting for me in the alley next to my office, her back turned, protected from the rain by a cheap paper parasol from Chinatown. “Your message said you had acquired it,” she hissed. “Let me see.”

I pulled out an old wooden crate–it’d held my last factory order of Lil’ Devil brand snack cakes– and dropped the small, wet packet on it, opening it to reveal the small but highly poisonous snake that had sent me to the emergency room three times and the toilet seventeen times since my halfling “brother” Mungle Snuh had surrendered it under duress of having his feast ruined by a torrent of sewage.

“I’m gonna bite you again, you know,” the snake said. “Even if you are bringing me back to my mistress. It’s just what I do.”

“You just do whatever you have to do,” I said. Sure enough, the tiny snake rose up and sank his teeth deeply into the iron knights’ gauntlet I was wearing, a late borrowing from Gilberte the Small, Knight Errant of 57th Street. The snake cried out in pain and recoiled.

“That’s him, all right.” Evryali turned and approached me, an envelope in her hands. “And here is our agreed-upon fee.”

I reached out to take it, but the snake interrupted my train of thought (money money money or something along those lines) with a startled squawk: “That’s not my mistress! What’re you trying to pull?”

I looked up, surprised. I should have known something was up; statistical analysis shows that 2/3 of my clients try to double-cross me (with the remaining third just settling for skipping out on the bill).

“Too bad you had to open your scaly mouth,” Evryali purred. She grasped her shades, ready to pull them down.

For my part, my anti-Gorgon shades were still with Chang’s Dry Cleaning and Pressing, so I pulled out my gun. I tried to, anyhow; it’s hard to handle a gun made for human hands, even human children’s hands, as a halfling. I dropped the gun instead, and it went off with a crack, with the .22 caliber bullet (hey, it’s the biggest round I can manage, recoilwise) ricocheted harmlessly off Evryali’s normal-looking but subtly armored skin. She laughed, and exposed her blood-red eyes.

Luckily for me, petrification isn’t instant death. As long as your ‘statue’ is intact, anyone with a little mandrake juice or harpy tear salve can being you back. In fact there are roving freelance gangs who do just that, picking up statues and holding them for “safekeeping” while relatives scrape together the cash for a de-petrification. That was the next thing I saw: a cigar-chomping satyr in suspenders and wifebeater, de-petrifying my face (and only my face) so I could arrange to buy my way into a full de-petrification.

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