One may wonder why Reggie was so resistant to joining Neville in his new enthusiasm. After all, a little dragon hunting should be harmless fun for all, yes? Well, Reggie had his reasons.
Mostly they had to do with the fact that the two of them had not left New York just because Neville wanted larger lodgings, or even to create his safe haven for whatever monsters happened to wander by. They had actually left because of a certain woman who had vowed to kill both of them. A woman who could probably have done it. They had left the city in a hurry and it looked like they were never going back.
Reggie had been a soldier once. He’d briefly been in the trenches during the Great War, during which time he’d learned to keep his head down. Then he’d been a pilot flying patrols over the German lines, which was rather the opposite of keeping one’s head down, but at least there’d been less mud and fewer rats. It had, however, taught him a great deal about being hunted, and the very first lesson had been that he didn’t like it.
Moving to Pinemont had given them a certain anonymity. So far the woman hadn’t chased them upstate. If Neville started making waves, though, with his snipe hunt or—far worse—actually found something, it would probably get their names in the papers. The kind of papers people in the city read.
Reggie believed that chasing this dragon was a very bad idea.
Still. He had a job, and he did what he was told.
He drove Neville up and down the county, setting out each morning according to marks made on a gas station map. Neville always wanted to get up high, onto ridges and drumlins and the tallest hills available. They drove up Turkey Mountain, over Canada Hill, up Dunderberg Mountain and to the top of Anthony’s Nose. In fact, they returned to Anthony’s Nose two more times because Neville seemed to find the name amusing, despite the fact that it was simply a conical hill on the edge of the Hudson River. When they reached their destination, Reggie would park the Packard on the shoulder of the road. Together they would hike up to the top, where Neville would set up his cameras and his binoculars—the right way round—and spend hours peering through them, studying the landscape.
At night they staked the kid goat out on the lawn of the Hall, in case the dragon wanted to pop by for a midnight snack. Anti-vivisectionists and lovers of animals in general will be happy to know that this plan did not bear fruit, and that the goat in question lived a long and happy life eating tin cans in the Hall’s gardens before expiring of old age.
Every morning, Neville and Reggie went back to the hills.
“It has to live somewhere,” he told Reggie. “Caves are traditional, though of course all we have to go on are old legends and myths.”
“Myths,” Reggie repeated.
Neville found nothing looking from the hilltops. Day after day he would return to the house discouraged and subdued. Which for Neville meant that he didn’t start talking about the dragon again until after supper, when he would announce he had a new plan for the next day, and that they needed to get up bright and early.
“Caves,” he said, one night. “We’ll need lanterns and climbing gear. You aren’t afraid of bats, are you, Reggie?”
“Bats,” Reggie said.
Which struck a chord. Kind of. Vampire bats. The dead poacher had been missing a lot of blood. Could the dragon be some kind of blood-drinker?
Somehow he failed to mention this thought to Neville. Instead he took it to Mrs. Patavatsky.
“Dragon is myth,” she pointed out. She was cooking at the time and she gestured at him with an enormous butcher knife. “Dragon that eats blood, this is double myth.”
“Fair enough,” he said. She had prepared some raw steaks for him—prepared in the sense that she’d put them on a plate. Raw meat helped him not think about running after animals in the woods, sometimes. When the moon wasn’t too full. “He’s going to get us both in a lot of trouble,” he said, because he needed to talk to somebody. “He might get us killed. Even if there is no dragon, the papers will run a story about the mad obsession of the master of Grimbly Hall. They love writing about crazy millionaires and their hobbies. Then… then maybe she’ll come for us. Again.”
Mrs. P shrugged mightily. She’d heard tales of the dreaded monster hunter of New York City. “Is no thing to me. You two die, they sell house to somebody else. Maybe somebody less weird. I cook for them.”
Reggie smiled. He put down his knife and fork and picked up a bloody steak in both hands. Tore into it with his teeth. “You like taking care of this house?” he asked her.
“Is job. Is okay, for now,” she said.
“Oh? You have plans for the future?”
“I cook until revolution comes. Then I shoot capitalists, yes? Is better job. So no plans, no. Just hopes. Wait for end of history. For worker’s paradise. Then everybody happy. Except capitalist.” She mimed drawing the knife across her own throat.
“And in the meantime you wait hand and foot on a rich mummy.”
She turned and gave him a shrewd look. Then she tapped the side of her nose. “Is for just us workers, yes? Is secret? Sometimes put poison in his soup. Strychnine. Arsenic. Aconite, if can get it.”
“What?” Reggie asked.
“Cannot hurt him, him already dead. But makes me feel better.”
Before he went to bed that night Reggie found a bundle of equipment in his room. A hard hat with a lantern mounted on its brim. Climbing ropes, pitons and carabiners. It looked like they were going caving in the morning.
He had a job. He would do as he was told. He fell into bed, stuffed from his supper and roiling inside with the feelings the moonlight brought on. He fell asleep in seconds.
Woke up with a start.
His ears were very sensitive. He could hear the flapping perfectly. Like vast wings, huge, leathery wings beating against the wind.
Without bothering to dress—he was covered in fur at the time, more wolf than man—he rushed out onto the lawn. The moon turned all the trees to silver, made the glass walls of the conservatory glow.
Then all that light vanished, with a terrible suddenness, as something moved across the face of the moon, something enormous with wings and legs and a dangling, spiky tail.
“Oh, damn it,” Reggie said.