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## January 2005 ##
Incidents in the life of Inspector Franklin Stagg
as reported by Detective Sergeant Orrin Brush
by EO Costello
"Smoke and Mirrors"
20 January 1935 1435
Say this for th'off season in th' Spontoons, makes Sundays real nice. Not a whole lot happenin', leastways stuff that involves me, Detective Sergeant Orrin Brush. Let th' wife take th' cubs offen t'onea th' native religous festivals, an' I goes t'early Mass, which gave me a chunka time t'read th' Saturday funnies in th' Mirror an' do not much of a much.
'round early afternoon, I went t'get some fresh air, so I headed on over t'Meetin' Island, an' t'Luchow's, a lil' joint that serves coffee t'cops fer unofficial discounts. Sure enough, my boss, Inspector Franklin Stagg, was there in a back booth, readin' a slim leather-bound book, an' dawdlin' over some bamboo shoots he had fer lunch. He put both of 'em aside, an' we jawed a bit, nothin' much, minor shop talk. Stagg looks at his watch, an' invites me to his place, over on Printer's Lane, fer some pastry. See, he rents a room in back of a bookshop, an' the lady of the place, this old German minkess, Frau Nerzmann, well, she makes real tasty stuff. I ain't gonna pass up a chance for this, lemme tellya.
So we're headin' up the far end of Printer's Lane, when Stagg stops an' looks up. I looks up, too, an' I sees a few houses away a real spiffy skunk, walkin' real fast toward us, an' lookin' real mad. Didn't hardly have t'guess, with his striped trousers an' frock coat an' pince-nez, that it was Doc Meffit, the M.E. an' all-round high-society sawbones 'round these parts. At th' rate he wuz goin', though, looked like he wasn't gonna take no notice of us.
Stagg quiet-like puts out his walkin' stick, 'bout chest-high, an' stops Meffit as he's walkin' by. Meffit glares at us real quick, but then sees it's only us, an' softens a bit, just sorta angry-sulkin'.
"What th--oh, it's you. Hullo, Stagg. Hullo, Brush."
"If you will allow a layman's diagnosis, Doctor, I would state that you are suffering from an acute case of fury. The proper treatment for which is a cup of tea and some pastry."
Meffit looks at Stagg real hard for a few seconds, but when he sees Stagg givin' one of his wintry smiles, an' my expression, he gives out wit' a snorty laff.
"Hah! All right, damn you. 'Physician, heal thyself' indeed. I suppose it's that obvious, isn't it? Well, lead on, lead on. Let's get this therapy started, hmm?"
20 January 1935 1530
So we wuz all in Stagg's room. Meffit, bein' th' patient an' all, got th' comfy leather chair by th' fireplace. Stagg sat at his desk, an' I sat on th' edge of his cot. Frau Nerzmann came in wit' a tray of tea things, an' some slices of warm linzer torte. It was after th' second slice, an' the third cuppa tea, that Meffit got his temper back, an' puts up his feet.
"I must apologize, gentlemen, for my manners a while ago. Certainly after such an effective treatment as you prescribed, Inspector."
"I'm sure Frau Nerzmann would be pleased at your opinion of her linzer torte. It took two slices, though. What made you so angry? It's rather unlike you."
"Ah, well. I was just coming back from one of my patients. Or, rather, an ex-patient. You know old Mrs. van Otter, Sergeant?"
"Yeah, Duke van Otter's widow. Don't get around much, no more. Bad back. Nice place she has, old Colonial job."
"Exactly. Well, I made my regular call on her, to discover that I had a competitor on the premises. Thomas Key, if you please."
"Oh-oh." Stagg looks at me when I says this, so I fills him in. "If ya like this guy, he's onea them 'unconventional' guys wit' 'unconventional' cures. If ya don't like him, he's a con peddlin' quack medicine. He's a deer, too. Lil' guy, from Florida. Came here 'bout five years, back. Had some dough. Some folks say he made it sellin' swamp land near Miami."
Meffit snorts. "Wouldn't surprise me any. Anyway, Mrs. van Otter is having tea with him, and turns to me and starts giving me this glowing testimonial about Key's Elixir, which is helping her back so much, and she doesn't need my services any more, thank you very much. Key, damn his insolence, offers me a pamphlet. Usual rubbish. Here, have a look."
Stagg an' I looks. Usual multi-typeface stuff, all sortsa claims about all sortsa things it can do. You ask me, I'd rather ask Father Merino for some divine intervention. Work 'bout as well in this world, an' it'd be cheaper.
"Third patient I've lost in four months to him. I don't have that large a practice, so it is going to start to get in on me, soon. He's got money, though, even if he has to cheat his employees and his tradesmen to keep it."
"Cheat, Dr. Meffit?"
"Sergeant Brush can fill you in on some details, I'm sure."
An' how. I oncet had to pull off this mad as hell plumber, twice Key's size, after Key wouldn't pay up. "See, his gag is to order somethin', an' then dispute payment. You know, lousy work, breach o' contract, that sorta thing. Ain't an easy guy t'get along wit'. Gone through I dunno how many secretaries. The joint he's got, 'nother old Colonial job, on Casino Island, on th' ocean, took three years t'renovate, an' he musta gone t'ru ev'ry builder in th' Spontoons. He even had t'bring in a few from up north t'finish th' job. Place is 'sposed t'have a design that would give an architect th' whimwhams. I dunno how th' boys at th' Finance Ministry ever figgered out his property taxes."
Stagg reaches down, an' rubs his busted hoof, thoughtful-like. "Well, I have a convenient excuse to visit Mr. Key. I wonder if he takes walk-in patients?"
21 January 1935 1000
So, ten on th' button, me 'n Stagg go up Key's driveway. Place sure looks odd from th' outside. Chimneys ain't the same size, an' a few are right up 'gainst one 'nother. Some windows small, others big 'n barred. Front door been made smaller. One, two wings of th' house off at angles. If th' architect weren't drunk when he whacked this up, one sighta this would make 'im hit th' sauce.
Stagg knocks on th' front door, an' it gets answered by this quiet lil' skunk type. Prolly the new blood in sec'taries. Stagg lifts his hat, an' asks if Mr. Key does consultations. Skunkie's 'bout to say somethin' when there's a fast lil' clip-clop behind her.
"What's all this? What's all this? Come, come, don't dawdle, Miriam...oh..."
Thomas Key hisself shows up. Dressed a lot better than I remember last time, though granted one don't look right when ya got 250 pounds of mad as hell beaver on your chest. Key's got on a real sharp suit, pin-striped, French cuffs on his shirt, cufflinks, striped tie, an' now he's sportin' a monocle, if ya please. Bet it's glass. Anyhow, he sees me, an' figgers th' worst.
"Now see here, unless you have a warrant, I..."
Stagg just lifts up his right hoof. Now, see, the boys back in New Haven, where Stagg's from, busted it up real good, after they jails him, an' finishes it up by gougin' a hunk outta it, clear to th' bone. Ain't real nice t'look at, an' it gives him hell some days. Stagg's got circles unner his eyes for sure, this mornin', though I can't tells if that's deliberate.
"Oh, I see, quite, quite. You want, I suppose, for me to mix something for you?"
"That's the general idea, Mr. Key. If we can come in?"
"Well, yes. *You* can step right in to my consultation room. As for *him*," (meanin' me) "he will have to wait in the hall. Unfortunately, it would seem he's in good health."
"Yeah. Strong enough to wrestle a beaver, Key. You oughta try it some time. I know one who'd like a rematch."
Stagg puts a paw on my shoulder. "Now, now Sergeant, that's enough. Here. Take my copy of the Mirror. You can do the word-grid while you're waiting, in the hall."
I nods, an' take the paper. Now, see, I been around Stagg long enough t'know that you don't take what he says, sometimes, at face value. He slips a lil' somethin' in it, that most folks won't catch, see? But I gets th' hint, an' I wait until Stagg clumps off with Key toward 'nother room. (Looked like a vaudeville act, one tiny deer an' one huge one.)
I takes th' paper, an' turns t'one of t'puzzle pages. Y'know, th' one that sez make a buncha words outta a big word. Nice thing is, they gives ya a little grid t'put in what ya think. So while the skunkie eyes me over, I fills in a few words. She gives me th' eye for a few, then goes t'another room, an' keeps th' door open, watchin' me. I takes a seat in onea th' chairs in th' big hall. I makes a show of thinkin' about big words. 'course, what I'm really doin' is scopin' th' joint, lookin' for odd stuff. Grid makes a nice map, which I fills in. Funniest thing is this huge paintin' of Key, over this big mirror mounted on th' wall, in th' hall. What is it wit' these lil' guys, that they gotta get painted heroic-like? Anyhow, this is Key to the life, lookin' like the man of business. Wunner if th' guy who painted it got paid. Mirror must get used, sorta, as th' rug in front of it is th' only one that ain't expensive, an' its got some worn patches, matchin' lil' hooves. Lotta little doors goin' off whichways from th' hall. One staircase sorta goes down, then over, then down again, right at th' mirror. Light fixtures in weird spots. Some places ain't lit all that well. Like the spot in front of the mirror. Guess Key ain't that interested in th' truth. Dark wood, makes things gloomy. Anyhow, all this goes down on th' grid, wit' no one th' wiser.
I hears th' familiar clump-clump, an' out comes Stagg an' Key. Stagg's gotta bottle, an' passes over a bank note to Key, an' shakes his paw, promisin' to let him know how things went. I hands Stagg back his paper, an' we skedaddle outta there. Which I'm all for, 'cause that place was startin' t'give me th' creeps.
21 January 1935 1755
Th' Althing, when they sets up th' Detective Bureau, has been figgerin' out a few things, like how t'do lab work. They got some junior-league mad scientist, a lab rat (I ain't kiddin') tucked away in a side buildin' at HQ. He just started, 'bout a month ago, an' he's been just settin' up his stuff. All used, of course. Some stuff from th' evidence locker, after th' previous owners got busted fer tryin' to obtain knowledge Folks Weren't S'posed T'Know. You know th' deal. Oncet he gets th' smell outta some of th' stuff, it oughta work right.
Anyhow, when we gets back t'HQ, Stagg drops off th' bottle with Musine (he's th' rat), an' asks him to give it th' once over. So we pokes our heads 'round late in th' afternoon, to see what was up.
"Well, gents, the bottom line is that this would be terrific served chilled, over ice. I should get a bottle for my next date."
"I take it, Dr. Musine, that the medicinal content is minimal?"
"Well, there's no painkiller quite like 110 proof alcohol. Drink enough of this, you will have a feeling of well-being, at least until the hangover kicks in. There's also some traces of flavouring, a heavy vanilla note, probably from fresh vanilla beans."
"You found that by chemical analysis?"
Th' Doc pushes up his glasses, an' cackles. "I found it by having a shot-glass full with my lunch. God, I love practical science."
21 January 1935 1815
Stagg was thinkin' back at his desk, rubbin' his busted hoof. "All the better I didn't sample that elixir, then. Of course, Meffit is probably out of luck. The laws around here are pretty loose when it comes to food and drink. I suppose that's how they can sell that...what do you call it...?"
"Ah, yes, that's it. This elixir would seem to be a close competitor, in some respects. Except that Key can charge 5 pounds for a bottle, instead of ninepence. Such are the advantages of showmanship."
"Yeah, well I oughta get th' Fire Marshal t'come look at that joint. I swears, that place oughta violate half th' zoning rules, an' we ain't got all that many of 'em."
"I saw your grid, thank you. Yes, it does seem deliberately fanciful. Key may well be an eccentric. Heaven only knows we have enough, here. Still, I can't lay a paw on it, but there's something that bothers me. And, it would appear, you."
"Just thinkin' 'bout that skunkie he had, the latest in th' line. I oughta chat up th' dolls that went 'fore her, just for th' helluvit. I mean, a worda warnin' in time, y'know? Like watch out fer wanderin' paws."
Stagg winces at this. "That conjures up a singularly unpleasant vision, Sergeant. I actually had more in mind something about why no one, it might appear, would be given a complete plan of the building. But your point is well taken. Listen, why don't you follow your idea, and I'll follow mine. Discreetly, of course. I'd just like to lay this nagging doubt of mine to rest. It seems a whole lot of bother for just a booze operation..."
22 January 1935 1005
I thinks first that th' dolls might be local, even though I ain't heard 'bout any of th' local talent gettin' hired. So I chats up th' folks at th' Mirror an' th' Elele, th' ones that run th' want ads. No dice, there. Th' Mirror ain't happy, too, 'cause that ain't some business. Bad luck on 'em.
A smoke later, an' I tries to dope out how t'figger out th' who's who. If it ain't local talent, then it's gotta be outlander talent. Which means these folks gotta have a passport, an' a work visa t'work in th' Spontoons. That means paperwork. An' it means th' Foreign Ministry, an' back t'Meetin' Island.
22 January 1935 1725
What I sees at th' Foreign Ministry is enough t'make me skip my lunch. Clerk there, she's an Uplander like me, so she goes outta her way t'find me the visa records. I don't like what I sees. This Miriam, th' skunkie I seen, she's number 31 since mid-'32. Key's been goin' thru them atta one a month clip, give or take. I mean, I figger, law of averages sez ya got 31 dolls, leastways one ain't gonna mind a pair of wanderin' paws up her skirt. No visa renewals, neither. So where'd they go? Dolls come from all sortsa different places, USA, Tillamooks, Rain Island, an' such. I takes down th' list, an' make a few more rounds.
No joy at th' hotels. None of th' dolls stayed there. Musta stayed at Key's joint, mebbe. An' these guys keep records of passports, too. They don't allow no outlanders, even ones wit' visas, on th' native islands, so that sorta rules out them. 'fore I goes checkin' out th' folks rentin' rooms, I swings over to th' seaplane terminal.
Manifests don't go back real far, but enough t'tells me that numbers 29 an' 30 both got one-ways to t'Orpingtons. Which is sorta odd, 'cause ya'd figger they'd go back t'wherever they comes from. Nobody remembers 29 an' 30, 'course. I ain't surprised, given th' traffic an' all, an' I ain't got no photos, but still.
A few cigs, an' a bit more thinkin'. I knows a buddy up in th' Orpingtons, back when I wuz on smugglin' duty. Figger I'd call in a favour, so I wires him at th' terminal's telegraph office, reply collect, askin' 'bout Misses 29 an' 30, an' what they wuz up to in his parts.
Now, see, I ain't got no proof, leastways nothin' I can bother a judge about, but this don't smell right.
22 January 1935 2110
Stagg ain't in when I get back t'HQ, so I does th' mail an' th' paperwork. Ciss, th' Chief's secretary, she knows what's what, natch, an' she clues me in that Stagg's been at th' land records office down th' street all day. She delivers him lunch an' dinner there, too. Paper everywhere. Big ledgers everywhere. An' about half-dozen bureaucrats tearin' their fur out at th' mess. Oh, my bleedin' heart.
23 January 1935 0200
(Mate-precious, query reason restless thou. Myself negative sleep. Thou myself poke thou feet with.)
(Myself emphasis thou apologies, mate-precious. Myself thinking myself worry. Query recall thou myself thou discussion striped outlander employee creature with horns outlander small.)
(Myself recalls, mate-precious. Query striped outlander emphasis troubled emphasis danger.)
(Myself negative knowledge. Myself negative watching striped outlander. Creature with horns outlander small vindictive is query armed.)
(Query mate-precious afraid.)
(Emphasis negative myself afraid. Ah! Hmmm!)
(Query thou thinks.)
(Myself future tell employee winged machines tell myself striped outlander purchase place winged machines. Myself future striped outlander question striped outlander future leaving.)
(Mate-precious, thou future tell self-same employee dawn. Is being mid-moon. Emphasis sleep thou. Emphasis respectful negative myself poke thou feet with.)
23 January 1935 1010
So that's what I done, first thing I gets up. Th' terminal gets a good description of th' skunkie, th' whole particulars. Kinda a good thing, too.
My buddy in the Orpingtons sends me back a wire. Miss 29 and Miss 30 got visas, OK. But they ain't work visas, just visitin'. Luggage shows up there. It's checked in t'one of th' hotels, rooms paid up. But ain't no one seen th' hides of Misses 29 an' 30, when th' visas run out. An' th' rooms ain't been used, just th' luggage dropped off.
I wires again, askin' who paid up th' hotels, an' how, an' when.
I writes this stuff up on lil' cards, an' I'm stickin' them on th' wall of our room (which covers up th' cracks, too), when Stagg clumps in. He's got two things. A whole lotta paper, an' a worried look. It don't get any brighter when he looks over what I wrote up.
"Nothing conclusive, Sergeant, but a lot that's odd. I've got much of the same, I'm afraid." He spreads out a buncha papers on his desk. Looks like one of them family trees, but it's in Stagg's teeny lil' printin', with a whole lotta funny abbrevations. "I'll translate from the legalese. What this is, is a record of title for Key's property. Now, see here at the top, in early 1930, he purchased the rights to it, by long-term lease. So far, so good. A mortgage gets placed on the property. A little odd, since banks don't normally lend on even long-term leases, and, moreover, this is a foreign bank. Strange that they would lend money out here, but perhaps Key had some prior connections, which would explain it away. You can see the blizzard of mechanics' liens, here, from the unpaid workers. Also some notices of lawsuits. Now, what causes the tangle is a whole series of transactions. Some of these are by quitclaim deeds. That's a type of property deed where the seller, in essence, tells the buyer he is buying only whatever rights the seller had in the property. Which can be everything, or nothing at all. Some call this a 'wild title' when you can't figure out where the first seller by quitclaim got his title. And, as you can see, there are no less than five separate chains of 'wild titles' here. It took me the better part of all day, through about midnight, to separate out these chains. The interesting thing is, none of these entities in these chains of 'wild title' seems to have a license to own property on Casino Island. Someone has set up an elaborate charade, a parade of smoke and mirrors. Perhaps to cover up *this*."
Stagg points t' th' last few transactions on th' chart. "In early April of last year, Key causes a few sub-leases to be filed. Essentially, the subleases on the property are passed from one entity to another, a few days apart. The first few entities are, allegedly, registered in the Spontoons. The last one, though, has no address listed in the sublease. The recorder of deeds overlooked this when he filed the document, because whoever prepared the document typed it in such a fashion as to obscure that fact."
"This morning, I went over to the office that keeps corporate records. This entity does not exist in the Spontoons. No record of registration, nor any record of paying taxes. So, in essence, you have one trail that runs cold off the Islands, and I have another."
"Ya wanna call Key in?"
Stagg scratches an antler. "I don't want to do that, yet. We don't have any proof that he might have any connection with the secretaries going missing, yet. And as for the documents, well, we know he's a tricky customer, being a swampland salesdeer and all, but aside from this last sublease, there's no crime here, and it certainly isn't enough to convince a judge to get a warrant. I don't like waiting, either, but..."
23 January 1935 1550
Second wire from th' Orpingtons. Hotels paid in cash by messenger, before Misses 29 an' 30 each arrive. Visitin' visas granted in Spontoons, no records who asked.
Stagg looks at th' wire, tryin' t'think 'bout what it means, when he gets a notion.
"Sergeant, are there any aerial photos of Casino Island, I mean, ones taken at low-level?"
"Sure. Finance Ministry has 'em. See, that's how they catch out folks who make fixups on th' sly. Lotta folks add extra space when they ain't allowed to, so they sends up th' flyboys to take happy snaps. It's MEeting-666, th' Inland Rev'nue Department. Phone comp'ny's got some laffs, ain't they?"
Stagg's shakin' his head, as he picks up th' phone, an' rings thru t' th' IRD. They promise t' get on it, an' get somethin' t'us soon.
23 January 1935 1815
On my way home, I stops near Key's place. Well, okeh, it ain't on my way home, but I wanted to have another look-see at the joint. Crew from the Min'stry of Public Works was diggin' at th' road a few dozen yards up th' street, so I sorta hang out there. Only costs me a few smokes. Wit' th' dark comin' on an' all, Key's place looks even weirder than ever. Fact that th' grounds are kinda obscured in spots by bushes don't help matters none. Only work done on th' outside is when they fixed up th' dock in back. Ain't seen no one use it, though.
Good thing I wuz downwind, 'cause I managed t'get a whiff of skunk scent an' deer scent. Slipped behind th' MPW truck, an' sorta peeked out. Key's walkin' back t'th' house, struttin' along quick-like. Muske is right behind, but she's sorta dawdlin'. She stops, 'n looks at the MPW crew, who raise their hats an' wave. All they sees is a nice-lookin' skunkie. I can sees th' expression, though. I'm thinkin' she's got somethin' on her mind. Key, though, snaps somethin' at her I don't hear, an' she pads off after him. She looks back, though. An' I'm pretty sure she sees me, too.
24 January 1935 1105
I figgered it would be th' tax boys that would be off th' spot, but it ain't th' IRD that gets t'us first. It's th' seaplane terminal. One ticket, one-way, t' th' Orpingtons, in namea Miriam Muske. Flight out, the 0900. Cash purchase, done by messenger. I tells th' boys at Pan-Nimitz t' keep an eye out for th' luggage comin', an' who brings it.
Call t' th' Orpington consulate. Seems a few hours ago, Muske herself comes in, an' gets a stamp to visit th' Opringtons. OK, maybe this whole thing, then, ain't an issue.
"Business trip, ya figger?"
"I'm sure that is what Miss Muske believes, Sergeant. I'm sure that's what she's been told. But I'm not ready to concede anything, yet."
Stagg has me type up an affidavit, goin' thru th' whole history, right up t'Muske gettin' her visa and buyin' the ticket. "Just an insurance policy, Sergeant, in case things move quickly."
24 January 1935 1400
Th' IRD delivers th' photos, an' throws in a bonus, bein' what Key's supposed t'be payin his taxes on. Whole lotta little rooms. Looks like the IRD had a hell of a time tryin' t'asses th' place.
Stagg squints at th' photo. He calls up the Min'stry of Public Works, an' asks how wide th' street is in front of Key's place. They tells him, an' he starts in wit' a whole lotta paper an' a ruler.
"I'm treating this, Sergeant, like the recon photos I used to examine, years ago. If I take a known distance, like width of the street, and compare it to the width of the street as shown in the photo, here, I can get a rough idea of the scale of the photograph. This is where that grid you made up a few days ago comes into play. If I trace the house, and then transfer your information to the tracing, I can tell if something is out of place."
24 January 1935 2130
Seven hours an' change later, an' a whole lotta tracin's later, Stagg throws down his pencil, wit' a snorta disgust. "This Key has the whole thing so confused, it's hard to make heads or tails of it. For all I know, those could be dummy chimneys up there. Are you sure there was no fireplace in the great hall?"
"Damn sure, unless he had it behind a panel or somethin'"
"Well, one can't eliminate that kind of lunacy off-paw. Nothing here makes sense. I know what you were doing was based on a rough guess, but even still, things should match up. That skylight, for example, shouldn't be in the great hall, but it is. And heaven knows about the guts of the building, which this photo won't show. It doesn't look like the IRD has a clear picture of what's going on, either. All sorts of similar permits granted, but three different room-counts. How many contractors did you ever talk with, Sergeant?"
"Just th' one guy, th' beaver, remember?"
"Oh, yes. What was that plumber doing, anyway, the one that tried to get his money the hard way from Key?"
"Didn't tell me much, only a whole lotta pipin' all over th' place, connectin' up all th' rooms. S'posed t'be some new-fangled air-conditionin', like they gots in th' cinemas in th' States."
Stagg looks over th' IRD's assessment. "No mention of air conditioning here, and this was updated a few months ago. And I'm sure that would catch their attention, air conditioning being as rare as it is. And you would also see outlets, or hear machinery, perhaps."
"I ain't seen nonea that."
Stagg rubs his antlers, an' yawns. "Look, add a few more pages to that affidavit, and then get some sleep. Let's see what happens at the terminal, tomorrow morning."
25 January 1935 0910
Muske's luggage arrives, OK. It's checked on th' plane. But she ain't there. No cancel, neither. Pan-Nimitz folk busy as one-pawed paperhangers, they don't notice nothin'. A long-distance call t' th' Opringtons, t' th' hotel th' dolls seem t'use. Sure enough, Muske has a paid-up room. It ain't been cancelled. I tells this t'Stagg as th' 0900 revs up, an' takes off on its run. Nice day for flyin'. Ain't a cloud in th' sky, light breeze, an' th' board sez it's 61 degrees. Good day for Muske t'play hooky.
"What now, sir?"
"You, Sergeant, are going to add a few more pages to that affidavit, and sign it. I'm going to call the magistrate on Casino Island to get a search warrant."
"What're we lookin' for?"
"Not a what, Sergeant. A who."
25 January 1935 1240
Th' affidavit wuz about 17 pages, single-spaced. And I ain't th' world's best typist, neither, 'specially on th' antique I gots in th' office. Magistrate needed th' story twice from Stagg 'fore he sorta grasped what wuz goin' on.
"So let me get this straight, Inspector. You suspect some sort of foul play?"
"I think there's enough of a reasonable possibility, Your Honour, to certainly ask Mr. Key some questions. Miss Muske's non-appearance today, after all that preparation, seems to be very odd. And her predecessors seem unavailable for questioning."
"I wonder how he could manage it."
"That's something I hope to develop by asking Mr. Key some questions and investigating the premises, Your Honour. You'll note, for example, the dock is one of the areas of interest."
"I've had Mr. Key before me, you know. Combative, yes. Eccentric, yes. But hardly someone with the, how shall I say it, stature to overcome even a young lady. Be that as it may. I didn't like his attitude toward me the last time he was here. Bloody outlanders will be the ruin of these Islands. Present company excepted, of course."
"Of course, Your Honour."
"Speaking of which, make sure no one from the Mirror follows you. Last thing I want to have before me is Thomas Key suring Charles Foster Crane over what his rag publishes. It'd be no end of trouble presiding over that mess."
25 January 1935 1410
Me 'n Stagg are goin' up th' street towards Key's place. We're still a piece away when he stops, an' looks at th' joint. I turns t' see. All I sees that's mebbe outta place is onea th' chimneys is smokin'. Kinda funny for a day like today, bein' so nice. Stagg's starin' at it, though.
Stagg licks his lips, an' sorta shifts aroun' from hoof t' hoof fer a minnit. Then he gets this real horrified look on his face, an' he grabs my arm.
"Oh, my God. That plumber! He *was* building a ventilation system. But not for chilled air, it was for..."
"...aw, jeez. Smoke. An' that chimney..."
"...is up in front near the...Good God! You! You there with the picks!"
Th' Public Works guys are still workin' on th' road, 'bout mebbe a few hunnert feet from th' place. They looks up, an' sees me runnin' like hell toward 'em, an' Stagg movin' as fast as he can hobble.
"Follow him, and grab those tools!"
I grabs a pick on th' fly, an' then I gots about t'ree MPW guys a few feet behind me. I gets up t'th' front door, an' hammer on it.
"Constabulary! We gotta warrant! Open up! NOW!"
I don't hear nothin', so after 'bout five seconds, I swings at th' door with the pick, an' a MPW guy does the same. We manages to bust t'ru th' door in about, mebbe, twenny seconds, by which time Stagg's near caught up wit' us. The MPW guy an' I clears th' door, an' Stagg leads th' way in.
There's a whole lotta clatter in th' hall, which almost drowns out 'nother clatter, thata lil' hooves on th' floor. Key comes bustin' out inta th' hall, an' starts yellin', near shriekin'.
"What's the meaning of this? You've got no right! I demand that you leave this instant!"
Stagg flashes his paper. "This is a search warrant. I'm authorized to search the entire premises for Miss Miriam Muske. Are you going to tell me where she is?"
Key sneers at Stagg, an' glares up at him, t'ru his monocle. "She's off on a business trip, Inspector. I'm sure you can call her hotel in the Orpingtons and confirm her reservation. Unless you're pimping for that old fool Meffit..."
"Miss Muske was not on that flight this morning, Mr. Key. I saw the passengers board the plane. I don't think, in fact, she left this house."
Stagg moves back t'th' front door (or what's left of it), an' then takes 'bout mebbe fifteen quick, hobbly strides, an' stops. He's right near th' mirror, an' in front of th' staircase. Stagg points at th' mirror.
"Open that door, Mr. Key."
"You're mad. There's no door there. Look! All you can see is your foolish, gawping face."
Stagg grits his teeth, grabs his walkin' stick, an' swings hard at th' mirror. There's a big smashin' sound, then 'nother, then 'nother. What it shows is that th' wood 'neath the mirror ain't the same as the wall. It's solid, not paneled, an' lighter-coloured. An' what's more, there's a set a'hinges that th' mirror hid. Stagg points at the MPW guys, but he don't have t'say nothin'. They gots th' message. They're already makin' for the area, picks ready.
Key sees this, an' decides t'make a break for it, out th' door. He's gotta get t'ru me, though, an' I does a rollin' shoulder block that knocks him off-stride. But he's a fast lil' bastard, an' swings a hoof hard, catchin' me in th' shin. I goes down, but I manages t'grab th' hoof, so he ain't goin' nowheres.
He knows this, so he pulls outta his jacket this wicked-lookin' dagger, an' makes a lunge at me. Like I says, he's a fast lil' bastard, an' it's all I can do t'grab his knife-arm an' keep th' dagger aways from me. Just. He's got it 'bout a foot from my face, an' his other paw on my t'roat, an' he's givin' me a few knees t'th' stomach. It's right then that I sees this sorta blur outta th' corner of my eye, an' then a loud fwack!, an' th' fight goes outta Key. Stagg's kayoed him with th' walkin' stick's knob.
"Bless Col. Cougar for his foresight in loading the head of this stick with lead."
I manages t' get t'my feet, an' takes th' dagger. First things first, y'know? Second thing was t'slip a paira pawcuffs on that lil' bastard, an' tell a MPW guy t'watch him. Third thing was tryin' t'catch my breath. I can sees there's a real nasty gash on my shin, seepin' blood. I'll feel that t'morra, I thinks.
The other MPW guys are bangin' t'ru th' door. It's a thick one, but already there's bitsa smoke comin' out, an' finally one burly guy uses his pick like a lever, and rips open a chunk big enough t'let a buncha smoke out, an' a lil' guy in, bandana over his muzzle.
"Crap, can't hardly...Hey! Phil! Gimme a paw, here. There's someone here, all right!"
The burly guy rips open another chunka door, and the lil' guy starts t'pass t'ru a skunkie. Sure enough, it's our doll. Miss Miriam Muske is all dressed like she's goin' somewheres important. Like a business trip, mebbe. Or a trip goin' a lot further. Anyhow, the MPW guys get her outta there, an' lays her out in th' hall.
Stagg clears her mouth, an' starts givin' art'ficial respiration, wit' one MPW guy. One guy, the lil' one, is runnin' like hell fer th' truck, prolly t'call this in on th'radio, since Stagg yells at him t'get a meat wagon from th' hospital. Lucky thing Casino Island ain't that big. It ain't long 'fore a meat wagon comes up, siren wailin', an' two medics come an' take over from Stagg, eventually loadin' her up an' wailin' offen t'the Island Hospital.
While all of that is happenin', I goes over t'Key, an' gives him th' once over, t'see if he's got more presents for me, like a gat. Th'other in a paira daggers, t'be sure. Few other things, too. Receipts for th' seaplane tix an' wire confirmations from th' hotel. But what gets me is a lil' memo book he's got tucked deep in his suit.
I flips t'ru it. Right at th' end, there's a lil' chart. Charta 31 names. I knows all of them. Then there's some dates. Two column headin's. "Neutralized," then "Disposition." 30 names got both dates. Muske's got today's date fer "Neutralized." She ain't got one fer "Disposition," yet, but lookin' at t'others, that's a matter of a few days. Last column, that's got some money numbers in it.
Stagg sees me make some sorta noise, an' takes th' book from me. He looks th' chart over, an' he turns th' worst colour I ever seen. He's gotta sit down in a chair, an' hold his head fer a minnit.
"We've got to tell the Chief Constable, Sergeant, now. Is there a telephone near here?"
I points t'where Muske was sittin', a few days ago, an' Stagg clumps over, an' picks up th' phone, an' jiggles th' hook.
"MEeting 1212, please, and this is a police priority...yes, good afternoon, this is...ah, yes, right, well put me through to the Chief Constable's secretary...yes, this is Inspector Stagg, over on Casino Island...yes, we have a situation here that needs the Chief Constable's...yes, that's as may be, but...I realize he gave orders to you not to be disturbed, but...to be honest, I don't care who he is with, though I've got an idea...yes...yes, I do indeed have a message for him. Tell him that I'm about to arrest Thomas Key for one count of attempted murder, one count for assault with intent to kill a police officer, and I'm detaining him on suspicion of 30 other counts of murder. Tell him that if this is of any interest to him, to call me back at, let's see, CAsino 935. Sergeant Brush and I will be waiting."
Th' phone rang back, 'bout 45 seconds later.
26 January 1935 0735
Had a helluva time after that. We had t'figger out how t'secure th' joint wit'out gettin' th' wind up all over th' Island, 'specially after the busting down of th' door and th' meat wagon. Key got hauled offen t'HQ, t'put him on ice. Which he prolly needed f'r that lump on his noggin.
Me, I used some Key's Elixir both external-like, on my shin, an' internal-like, wit' a few slugs. Musine was right. Vanilla taste wuz strong.
Patrol inspector took over a few hours later, an' gave us a break, directin' th' constables in searchin' th' joint. Not much there, though he had a bunch papers, seems like they wuz from Krupmark, in one desk. Whole lotta cash, too. Lot more than I would think he'd get from sellin' boozy medicine. The closet where we pulled Muske from had a pipe, all right. Prolly linked up at one end t' a fire, an' th' other end, goin' up a flue. That musta been th' smoke we seen. Walls of th' closet all scratched up, 'specially th' walls near th' door. Deep scratches, too. Made me get th' hell outta there.
Anyhow, we spent a good chunk of th' night organizin' what th' constables found, an' startin' in on writin' up the script fer a lil' chat we wuz gonna have wit' Key. We gets in bright 'n early, t'start in on it, when th' phone rings. Th' Chief, hisself. Calls us upstairs.
He gets right on it. "There will be a man from the Ministry by later. Gather up all the materials you have on the Key matter and give them to him. He'll take it from there."
Me 'n Stagg can't believe it.
"What th' hell! We're gettin' pulled...!"
"Shut up, Sergeant. One more word out of you, and it's back in uniform for you..."
"May I ask, sir, why we are being taken off the case?"
"I'm not authorized to tell you."
"What's being done with this case?"
"I'm not authorized to tell you that, either."
"Who has ordered this?"
"You don't need to know that."
"I don't need to know this?!? Sir, we're dealing with a monster, someone who may be responsible for a string of gruesome murders..."
"Yes, I did get your telephone message, thank you. Damnit, why are you asking so many questions?! Are you..."
"There's an implication about my professionalism in this, sir, that I don't like..."
"GOD-DAMNIT, STAGG! It may shock you, but the Constabulary doesn't revolve around your antlers. We survived quite well without you before, and we will survive after you've gone. Which will be sooner, rather than later, if you don't do what I tell you. Now, god-damnit, for once in your existence, follow an order. Is that clear? Well?!?"
Stagg was grippin' his walkin' stick so tight, his paws turned white, an' I could see him glarin' at th' Chief. Y'know th' sayin' about deer in bright lights? This was one look that could put out a searchlight. Stagg swallas hard, though, an' turns to me.
"Come along, Sergeant. Let's follow orders." An' wit' that, he clumps outta the room. Funny. Neither one of us remembers t'salute th' Chief.
26 January 1935 1600
So, we wuz good lil' cops, an' we does what th' big Chief asts us t'do. Takes us a few hours t'label, file, an' box up th' stuff, an' writes up a few explanatory t'ings. Guy from th' Min'stry, this greyhound I ain't seen before, pads on by 'round lunchtime. Shows us th' paperwork. Stagg makes a pointa callin' up th' Ministry an' vettin' him. Only when they okehs him, does he get th' boxes. Real polite guy, th' greyhound, but he don't say nothin'.
Rest of th' day wuz shot. I ends up wit' Stagg back at his place, in th' room at Nerzmann's bookshop. Frau Nerzmann had made up some lil' apricot tarts, but we didn't touch none. Stagg sorta lies on his cot, starin' at the ceilin'. I can sees his paws clenchin' an' unclenchin', an' his jaw is workin' hard 'nuff so I hears his teeth grindin'. Me, I works on killin' a bottle of scotch.
A few hours, an' a few doubles fer me, later, Cicely quietly pads in. 'course, she knows if we ain't on th' job, we're here or at Luchow's, an' she guesses right we ain't in th' mood for dinin'. Frau Nerzmann comes in after her, an' sees th' tea an' pastries ain't been touched, an' looks sorta worried at Stagg.
Cicely looks at me. "I'm so sorry, Sergeant. How are you doing?"
"I got nine fingers of scotch in me, now, Ciss. Ask me when I gots twelve fingers, mebbe I'll feel better."
Cicely looks at Stagg. "Inspector...?"
Stagg just sorta clenches his paws real hard, closes his eyes, and sighs. "It's very thoughtful of you to see how I'm doing, but I'm afraid your concern is most likely wasted on me, right now."
Stagg gives 'nother long sigh. "The Chief probably thinks I'm indulging in some sort of ego-driven bout of self-pity. I suppose there is an element of that. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. Still, there's something else..."
Stagg turns his head. "I can live without praise from the Chief. God knows, I haven't had any up to now. I can live without the headlines in the Mirror. God knows, I've had enough headlines to last me a lifetime. And to be frank, I don't give a damn about what happens to Key. I've seen his like before, and his fate doesn't concern me. He's just another twisted monster."
"I'm more concerned about his victims. You know, yesterday was only the third time in the 25 years I've been doing this that I've pulled someone back from the brink of Death, like that. Poor Miss Muske. Crammed into that closet, with smoke pouring in. What was she thinking when she smelled the smoke coming in? She must have been thousands of miles away from her family, dying what she knew would have been a lonely, horrible death. And those scratches on the walls. I saw the splinters under her claws, when I was reviving her. And those other 30? What happened? Where did they go? What do "Neutralized" and "Disposition" mean? And what did they do to deserve that?"
"And it's one other thing that bothers me. These ladies, they must have had brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers. Are they wondering, somewhere, when their daughters will come home? You can take it from me: the loss of a child is a horrible thing for a parent, a part of your gut that gets ripped out and never heals. What if some of these parents come to the Islands? What if they come to see me, and plead for a crumb of information about their children? What am I supposed to tell them? That I don't have the authority to give them an answer, to give them some peace? That the fate of their children is something they don't need to know?"
Stagg turns back an' looks at th' ceilin', blinkin' away tears, an' clenchin' his paws. Ciss, she sorta looks down at her feet. She leans in, an' gives Stagg a soft pat on his shoulder, an' pads out, lookin' sad. Frau Nerzmann, who's heard all this, too, looks poker-faced at Stagg for some time, her tail swishin'. Eventually, she collects the tray of tea things an' pads out, leavin' me t'my Scotch, Stagg t'his heartsickness, an' both of us t'our misery.