“Don’t spare the horses,” Neville said, leaning forward over the partition that separated the driver’s section from the passenger compartment. “We can catch him if we’re quick.”
“Do you actually know where he’s headed?” Reggie asked. The morning light was just touching the tops of the hills.
“We’ll stop and ask for directions if we must,” Neville said. “But we’ve got to hurry!”
The Packard took a corner at speed, two of its wheels coming up off the road surface. Reggie swung the wheel around, stamped on the accelerator. He adjusted the ride control gauge that tightened the suspension so they didn’t bottom out as he lurched off the paved road and onto a dirt track that wound around the base of a meandering ridge, then dipped down into an overgrown salt marsh near Long Island Sound.
Up ahead their quarry finally came into view.
A policeman on a bicycle, wavering back and forth on the rough track.
Dear reader, your forgiveness please, if perhaps you thought our heroes were in hot pursuit of the dragon. Instead they were attempting to catch up with Chief Superintendent Detective Sergeant Muldoon. Neville had rightly supposed that the flight of the dragon in the night heralded the discovery of another dead body, and that if the policeman were willing to leave one body uncovered overnight he would do it again. Reggie had driven past the town’s small stationhouse until he got wind of the policeman (literally, of course, given his werewolf’s nose). Once they had him they didn’t have to follow him for long.
The body lay half-submerged in the marsh, surrounded by tall grass. A group of men wearing flat caps stood to one side, waving down the policeman. Neville and Reggie rushed up even as Muldoon arrived on the scene.
“Gentlemen,” Muldoon, who was currently active in his role as detective, said, “this is official business, and I must ask you to be careful around the scene of the crime. It is vital we maintain proper police protocol. So I’m afraid I can’t let you touch or move the body before I have a chance to. And if you’re going to take pictures, please be careful not to step on anything that might be evidence.”
“You have my solemn promise,” Neville said. Then he rushed ahead to squat down next to the body. Muldoon swore an oath under his breath then unwrapped the scarf from around his neck. It was a chilly morning and he popped his lapels up to keep his neck warm as he laid the scarf over the decedent’s face.
Reggie approached more cautiously. The moon was still above the horizon and though it was no longer full, he still felt it in his bones. He didn’t want to start salivating when he got close to all that fresh meat. Someone might notice and take it the wrong way. Well, technically the right way.
“Was it the dragon?” Neville asked.
“No such thing,” one of the men in the flat caps said. Judging by the height of their boots and the scars on their hands, they must have been clam diggers. Perhaps they had discovered the body.
“Makes no sense, a dragon,” said a second. “Contrary to the laws of airy-whatsis.”
“Aerodynamics,” a third said. “Bernoullli’s principle. Angles of attack and lift to weight ratios.”
It had not occurred to him before that the people of this town seemed surprisingly conversant with the terminology and physics of aeronautics. Admittedly, they lived in a place haunted by a giant flying creature. Yet he couldn’t quite figure it. Had the town hosted a lecture series or something? He’d been a pilot himself and it sounded like they knew more about flight than he did.
“Obviously fell from a height,” Muldoon announced, from where he squatted next to Neville. He made a mark in his little notebook, then put it away.
Reggie looked up. They were indeed in the shadow of higher ground. Two things did occur to him. For one, the slope of the ridge in question was quite gentle. If one were to try to jump off its top, one would most likely roll down the side rather than fall. Secondly, said ridge was nearly a quarter mile away. Someone jumping from the ridge would have to get a considerable head start to make that kind of a leap.
There were no trees whatsoever near the scene of the death. The ground was too soft to hold their roots. A few bushes, certainly, but someone attempting to commit suicide by leaping from the top of a bush should really be hospitalized for more than one reason.
“I think,” Neville said, “we can contribute to your investigation, Chief Superintendent Detective Sergeant.”
“Is that a fact, now?” Muldoon asked. He tipped his hat back and Reggie saw the golf ball-shaped bruise on his temple was healing nicely.
“Yes.” The mummy stood up to his full height. Put his thumbs in his suspenders and stuck his chin out.
This was it. The moment he’d been building toward all morning. Dawn light painted his bandaged face a dramatic red as he laid out his trump card. “You see—last night my chauffeur saw… the dragon.”
Muldoon stood up slowly. Said nothing whatsoever.
Reggie held his breath.
Eventually, one of the clam diggers spat into the marsh. “Ain’t no such thing as dragons.”
“I’m afraid he has you there,” Muldoon said.
“I assure you, Reggie saw the beast,” Neville went on. Perhaps just a little deflated. Like a party balloon at the end of a dance. “Do you wish to take down the details?”
“Might as been a cloud, kinda looked like a dragon,” one of the clam diggers helpfully pointed out.
“Or a hawk. We can get some pretty big hawks round here,” another joined in, which was greeted with much enthusiastic nodding. “Now a hawk, science can explain to a nicety how a hawk can fly.”
“I really think,” Neville said, “you might put this in your report.”
Muldoon made a show of taking out his notebook. Licking the point of his tiny pencil. “Chauffeur of Grimbly Hall,” he said, while writing down one or two characters at most, “reports seeing a cloud or large hawk.” The marks he put down were not visible to either of our heroes, but barring some revolutionary method of shorthand the policeman had personally developed and which he then failed to pass down to posterity, were insufficient to spell the word “chauffeur.”
“That’s it, then,” Neville said, with a little hauteur. “You don’t have any more questions for us.”
“What’s wrong with your face?” a clam digger who had not previously spoken now asked. The others nodded and grabbed his arm, as if he’d just asked the question that had been on the tip of their collective tongue.
“Nothing,” Neville said, “whatsoever.” He turned on his heel and strode away from the body, back toward where the Packard waited.
Reggie turned to follow. The he turned back.
There was something about the dead body. Nobody had paid it much attention since they arrived. It was the one person there who hadn’t been busy talking. Yet Reggie had a certain appreciation for dead things (after all he worked for one), and he squinted hard at the corpse now and eventually he saw it. The detail that bothered him.
Muldoon had covered the dead man’s face with his scarf, just as he had done for the poacher in the woods. He’d done a haphazard job of it this time, though, perhaps thrown off his game by unwanted scrutiny. While the face was covered, the deceased’s neck was still visible.
Two tiny red marks could clearly be seen, just above the collarbone. Like insect bites, perhaps. Maybe the dead man had simply cut himself shaving. Twice.
Something about those marks gave Reggie an immediate and staggering sense of déjà vu. He had seen something very much like them, very, very recently.
Yes. Only a few minutes earlier. Muldoon’s uniform included a high collar that obscured much of his own neck. When he removed his scarf, that collar had been turned down for just a moment. Yet Reggie was certain he had seen two marks on Muldoon’s neck as well. Two marks an identical distance apart, though much less prominent, as if they’d healed over until they resembled nothing more than blemishes.
There was no time for a close inspection of the body, and Muldoon would certainly have objected to any request for a close look at his neck. Anyway, Reggie had to run back to the car, since it wasn’t as if Neville could drive himself home.
Before he climbed in the driver’s seat, Reggie peered in through the back window to see if his employer was okay. If Neville had seemed like a sad party balloon before, now he seemed like a cocktail glass with just a drop of alcohol left coating its bottom. That is to say, a very, very sad thing. “Listen, boss,” Reggie said. Neville looked up and Reggie decided not to say anything about strange neck wounds. It wasn’t likely to help. “Let’s, uh, go home. Have some breakfast.”
“Very well,” Neville said. And because you can’t keep a good mummy down, he added, “I need to make some telephone calls.”