They retired to the library with snifters of brandy. Neville reclined on a divan, his boots up on its arm, swishing his liquor around in his glass and savoring the fumes. Reggie dashed his back in one gulp.
“Night flying,” the werewolf said, “is a whole other ball of wax. A lot more dangerous. You have to promise me not to pull a stunt like that when I can’t even see if we’re about to fly into a mountain or collide with somebody’s sleeping cow.”
“For people who can’t see in the dark as well as we can, perhaps it’s tricky,” Neville replied. “For us it’ll be a doddle. Anyway, what makes you think I want to fly at night? As I said, I just thought it might be fun to learn how to—”
“Can we not be flippant for one flipping moment?” Reggie said. He shivered. He was always shaky after a bad flight. There had been a lot of bad flights back in the war. “We’re going to chase after this dragon, and we both know it. That’s why you bought the Jenny. What I don’t understand is what you hope to accomplish. Are you going to shoot the thing down? You might not have noticed, but after the war they stripped all the machine guns off the surplus ‘planes. I guess they figured the Jenny was dangerous enough to its pilots without bringing innocent civilians into the mix.”
“Shoot it? Of course not!”
“Then maybe you’re gonna try to talk to it. Convince it to come move in with us. Maybe it could sleep in the garage next to the Packard.”
“Ooh,” Neville said. “Do you think it would fit?” And with that a sudden vision came to the mummy, of airborne adventures, Reggie in the Jenny, Neville riding his dragon, admittedly that might take some extensive training and no small amount of personal danger, but—
“No,” Reggie said. And with that a lovely crystalline dream shattered and fell in shards to the floor between them.
Yet Neville would not be deterred. “I want to take pictures of it,” he said.
“For your commonplace book?”
“For Chief Superintendent Detective Sergeant Muldoon, among others.” Neville put one foot down on the floor. Perhaps to show how serious he was. “That officious fellow rather made a fool of me, at our last meeting. If I can prove there’s a dragon, he’ll be laughing out of the other side of his face.” Which was an old expression one heard a lot of without anyone actually being able to say what it literally meant, but which everyone understood the first time they heard it. “Besides,” Neville went on, a little more gently, “it’s a mystery. Can you really see a mystery without immediately wanting to solve it? Are you that incurious, Reggie?”
Reggie had always thought a major part of his job was keeping Neville from suffering the fate of the proverbial dead cat, when it came to curiosity. He could only shake his head.
Knowing perfectly well that he was going to fly after the dragon, as many times as it took for Neville to get his picture. Much has been made of the last words of famous men, but for the more common sort, the workers of the world, by far the most common ultimate utterance must be these two words: “yes, boss.” Throughout history it has been the fate of the common man to put his life on the line because someone with money thought it might be a good idea.
So the two of them started in on a new habit: staying up all night, dressed in their flying clothes, waiting for the sound of wings. They spent the time playing cribbage and trying not to overheat in their fur-lined jackets.
They slept late in the mornings, which for Neville was something that traditionally happened about as rarely as rain falling down instead of up, but which left Reggie groggy despite the gallons of coffee Mrs. P provided. During the day they went up in the Jenny, Reggie filing the rust off his piloting skills, Neville having just a smashing time of it. The fuel bill was prodigious.
It turned out that Reggie was quite good at cribbage, a game which is far more fun to talk about than it is to play. He triple skunked more often than not, knew just when to throw defensively to the crib, and never hesitated to shout Muggins on Neville’s unscored points. Which sounds wonderful until one realizes that all that was involved was laying down cards and moving a peg around a narrow wooden board.
To his credit, Neville was a good sport about losing so often, happily paying up the nickel per skunk Reggie earned. He may have once or twice suggested they switch to senet, the royal game of the pharaohs. A game that involves moving pegs around on a narrow board. A game which was chiefly distinguished therefore from cribbage by the fact that the pharaoh always won. Reggie didn’t have a chance to take him up on it, as it was barely two and a half weeks later, while he was in the middle of moving his spilikin down an out street (cribbage really is a game with a delightful vocabulary) when he stopped and silently put his peg down on the table.
Neville watched his hand, then slowly looked up to his eyes.
Reggie’s ears were twitching. The full moon had come and gone, so at that particular moment they still looked like human ears, which don’t twitch nearly as expressively as a wolf’s. But they were twitching.
“You don’t hear that?” Reggie asked. “The flapping of vast wings?”
“It’s time, then,” Neville said.
It was his turn to tremble, though with anticipation rather than fear. He reached for the handbell that sat on a nearby end table. Paused for a moment, just to make sure. Then rang it for all it was worth.
The ushabtis in the conservatory did not require sleep, being animated statuettes. Mrs. P was a housekeeper and used to being woken in the middle of the night, the time when wealthy employers typically needed the most pressing and discreet assistance. It wasn’t long before the entire household was assembled on the darkened lawn and the Jenny was wheeled out of the garage.
The dragon was not in sight in the cloud-streaked sky, but Reggie was adamant. He’d heard what he’d heard. He clambered up into the front cockpit and checked all the controls, barely visible in the moonlight.
Neville climbed in behind him and slapped the fuselage with one bandaged hand to say he was ready to go. Mrs. P spun the propeller. The Jenny began to rumble across the grass, bouncing on unseen rocks and mole hills.
All told it took them less than five minutes before they were up, up and away into wild black yonder, knights of the air looking to beard the dragon in its… well, actually, the saying is “beard the dragon in its den”, which, since they’d been unable to find any sign of its terrestrial accommodation, isn’t apropos.
Enough—they were airborne.