Those of a morbid streak will have to look elsewhere, as there will be no salacious description of the body in these pages. Suffice it to say that the man in question was distinctly dead, and that his posture lacked something, namely any sense of human proportion. It was clear to all present that some very violent force had met with the sadly decedent. “Fell from a height, is my guess,” Muldoon pronounced.
Reggie looked up. The trees around them were tall and possessed of thick branches. It was possible that someone might have climbed up one of them, then fallen out and come to harm. Said harm was likely to be a broken leg, though, or at worst a snapped neck. The body before them showed considerably more distress.
Needless to say there were no tall buildings nearby. Nor any suspicious hot air balloons hovering overhead.
“Real corker, isn’t it?” Muldoon said, as Neville squatted down to get a better look. “Seen some horrors in my time, and it is my professional opinion this is a bad one.”
“Such a tragedy,” Neville assented.
“Got an anonymous call last night telling me where it’d be,” Muldoon informed them. “Figured since the man was already dead there was no rush, so I came down this morning and found him exactly as he is now. I recognized him at once as Old Hoak, a poacher I’ve had to run out of these woods more than once for hunting without a license.”
“Ah, that might explain the rabbits,” Neville said.
It was the right decision the present author made earlier, not to describe the condition of the dead body. It was perhaps erring on the side of caution not to mention the rabbits. Let us amend that mistake now:
The man in question was distinctly dead, and that his posture lacked something, namely any sense of human proportion. What it did possess was a brace of rabbits tied by their feet to his belt.
The rabbits, in the interest of thorough reportage, were also dead.
“I’m telling you all this, of course, because I’m hoping you might aid me in my inquiries,” Muldoon went on. “Either of you hear anything last night? Maybe something like a scream of terror that was cut off quite abruptly?”
Neville glanced at Reggie, who shrugged. “No, nothing like that.”
“No sounds of a struggle, or any sign of cars passing through here at a late hour?” Muldoon went on. “No gunshots fired, or any sound of violence?”
“Quiet night, really. I stayed up a bit reading. Didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary.” Out of the ordinary for a mummy living in a haunted house, anyway.
Muldoon looked positively sheepish as he asked his next question. “No sound of vast wings, like a giant bat passing by overhead?”
“A giant bat?” Neville asked, carefully. He could tell that Muldoon was asking in earnest.
“Flapping, like. You know. Wings,” Muldoon asked. He looked away as he said it. “Vast wings.”
“I don’t… believe so,” Neville said, slowly. He turned to look at Reggie. Reggie who, as a werewolf, had a preternaturally sharp sense of hearing.
“I was asleep all night,” the werewolf insisted. He’d been drinking, you see, and—
“Of course, it would be impossible,” Muldoon said. “No bat could be large enough to pick this fellow up and fly away with him.”
“It does seem unlikely,” Neville agreed.
“No, such a thing couldn’t exist. The laws of biology would prevent it. Inverse square law and… and all that. Had to ask, though.”
“With the stories about the Pinemont Dragon, and all. The myth of the dragon, that is. Because such a beast is purely in the realm of mythology. After all, monsters don’t exist in the real world.”
Neville was still squatting next to the body. He tilted his head back to look up into the policeman’s face. “I wouldn’t go so far as—”
But Reggie had seen something in Muldoon’s countenance. Something that made him step forward and say, very quickly, “‘Course they don’t. What do you take us for, little kids afraid of boogeymen in the closet?”
“Hardly,” Muldoon said. He nodded meaningfully at Reggie. It was a nod that could have written a very long book on the topic of mutual understanding. “You seem like smart folk. The kind of folk who know better than to believe silly stories. Still, had to ask. Well, gentlemen,” he said, putting away his little notebook, “I appreciate your assistance. I need to get back to the stationhouse now and arrange to have this body removed. Can’t just leave things like this lying around.”
Except you did, Reggie thought. You got this anonymous call last night, and you left the body lying here until morning.
He made a point of not saying any of those words out loud.
“Reggie,” Neville said, “go and get the Packard. I imagine we can give this poor soul one last ride. Least we can do, seeing as he died on our land.”
“No need for that,” Muldoon said, shaking his head. “There’s Arthur Foster in town, the coal man. He’s got a panel truck we use as an ambulance. And a hearse. And a fire truck. It also delivers the newspaper.”
“A truck that wears many hats,” Neville said. “As it were.”
Neville rose and put his fists on his hips. “I won’t hear of it. There’s plenty of room in the car, and anyway, what if a fire broke out suddenly? Or a late edition of the paper?”
“If you insist, though I’m afraid this fellow’s going to make a mess on your upholstery.”
“Oh,” Neville said, “we’ve had to clean out worse.”