With one guest currently ensouling an oak tree, the second engaged in devouring the contents of the library like a pelican devours fishes, and the third—shall we say—indisposed and sleeping it off in an upstairs bedroom, not much more happened that night. Neville retired early with a book, though he was too excited to read much. He would get a sentence or two pinned down and then he would remember that in the morning he had mysteries to solve and a young lady to entertain, and he would quite forget what he’d been reading.
In the morning he came down for breakfast and found the rain had kept steady through the night, and showed no sign of stopping. It was not yet coming down in buckets, but the wind kept throwing spatters of it at the Hall’s many windows and obscuring any view of the outside world with a thick cottony fog.
He helped himself to coffee and a piece of steak and was hunting for the newspaper, which was sure to be a thick wedge of sodden pulp, when he saw Jones sitting in a corner of the breakfast room. Neville nearly dropped his plate.
The mannequin had its hands folded neatly in its lap, still as a statue. The thing that rode the mannequin, that bundle of green tentacles with disarming blue eyes, hadn’t moved, as if it feared being noticed. Had Qornok Jones been an assassin come to take Neville’s life (let’s break the suspense: he was not), Neville would have provided no challenge whatsoever.
“Good morning,” he said.
“What ho, old top,” Jones replied, in that same uninflected, flat voice he’d used the day before while attempting to sell encyclopedias. “Bit of a wet one, hey what?”
Neville glanced at the windows. “I… suppose so,” he replied. “I see you’ve, ah, expanded your vocabulary.”
“Been reading your books all night, whole yards of them. Got my finger squarely on the old pulse now. It’s a real topping show, speaking the language of Chaucer with what you call fluency. I’m properly bucked.”
Neville remembered that he had given Jones a volume of Wodehouse’s stories to read. He was very glad at that moment that he had taken his contraband edition of Joyce’s Ulyssses to bed with him and had not left it where Jones might have stumbled upon it.
“Perhaps we can have a more meaningful conversation, then,” Neville told him. “After—”
“That’s a pippin of an idea. I’m with you in this thing to the limit, I’ve a rummy old nuisance to discuss. Too beastly for words but I’ll give it a go. You see—”
“After,” Neville went on, “I’ve had a bite to eat. Perhaps if you’ll go wait in the library.” Because while Neville was no believer in any variety of Christian faith (nor any great booster of the animal-headed gods of his ancestors), he did hold one received tradition to be sacred and beyond reproach. Which was his morning coffee.
When he’d had time to properly observe the rites and Mrs. Patavatsky had removed his empty cup, he walked through to the library, taking his time. Especially when he heard music coming from the long study at the back of the house. He made a point, in fact, of taking the longest possible route. One which let him pass by the door of said study, through which he could observe Babs swaying in front of the gramophone.
A night’s rest seemed to have improved her health enormously. She had changed into a new dress, a beaded rayon number that came down to mid-thigh. She wore black stockings and a headband with an ostrich plume. On her slender arm he saw a whole rank of bakelite bracelets, which clattered together when she moved, adding a whole new layer of percussion to the music. He did not announce himself, nor did she look up.
Reggie found him like that. “I heard her come in last night,” he told his employer. “A friend of yours from the New York days?”
“No,” he whispered back. Not taking his eyes off of her. “She just showed up. I presume she’s one of ours, but I suppose it’s possible she was just drunk and needed a place to sleep it off.”
Reggie shook his head. “It’s old home week,” he said, which is a reference very few readers will understand. So if you do: well done.
The werewolf’s presence was enough to break the spell Babs had placed over Neville. He asked his chauffeur to join him in the library, where the ever loquacious and now slightly more comprehensible Jones was waiting for them.
The salesman jumped up when they came in. It should be impossible for a department store mannequin to look agitated, yet this one did its best, mostly through hand gestures and the way its hat kept threatening to jump off its head.
“By George, seeing you two like this is the soundest thing I’ve struck in years,” Jones told them. By which they assumed he was glad to see them.
“You said you had something you needed to discuss,” Neville said.
“I’ve been on the floor a while. This is a bit thick,” Jones said. Meaning yes. Apparently. His mannequin hands waved wildly in the air. “Had a try at boiling to down, but it’s just the dickens of a thing. I’ll take a whirl at it, if you like.”
Neville sat back in a green leather armchair and steepled his hands. Reggie came to stand next to him, pent with anticipation, but whether he anticipated some devastating news or just a colossal waste of his time was unclear.
“Please,” Neville said.
“Well, it’s like this, if you’ll give it an ear. There’s a certain bit of business, rummy business, but a couple of right coves like yourself—”
Reggie growled. Audibly and at some length.
A mannequin can’t blanch. It can grip the arms of its chair, though, and its eyes can pop out of its face. Well, this one could do those things, anyway.
“I rather think,” Jones said, “you two ought to kill me. In a flash, if that timetable suits you.”