After weeks of rain, everyone’s grumpy and dull. I’m almost hoping for something to shake my officers up a bit. But it’s never good when someone turns up at the front desk looking seasick. Especially if they’re with Officer Ranil, who can break up a bar-fight just by flexing in a meaningful way, and he’s also looking like his breakfast’s fighting back.
The citizen is a plump furry sort in a slightly bloodstained shirt.
“Are you injured?” I ask.
“What?” he says.
I point to the blood on his shirt. “Oh! That! That’s not mine. Oh, dear…”
“Officer Ranil?” I says.
Ranil says, “Yessir, sorry, Chief. This gentleman’s a butcher, name of Cheesewold-ptaK. Looked out his window and saw a body in his neighbour’s garden. Grabbed me as I was on patrol. We went and looked. It’s bodies all right, sir.”
Ranil swallows. “Yes, Chief. Bits of. A lot.”
“Who’s the owner of the property?”
“Old wizard, name of Thrane. Quiet. Lives alone,” Cheesewold –ptaK says. “I was just looking out to see if the rain had stopped and saw a hand. Well, I wasn’t sure, so I went and peered through the fence, and… there’s more. Sticking out of the mud.”
So off we trot, after picking up a few protective amulets and suchlike.
The butcher’s shop looks clean and pleasant. Cheesewold-ptaK shakes his head. “This will be the finish of me,” he says, “as though business weren’t bad enough, with meat so pricey.” He points at the house on the left. “I don’t have to come in, do I?”
“No, Sir, you just sit tight,” I says.
There’s a small plaque by the door. ‘Erfinal Thrane, Wizard. Specialist in Animations and Devices.’ I loosen my sword and Ranil gives the door a good bashing, yelling, “Militia! Open up!”
But there’s no answer, so Ranil kicks the door in which obviously relieves his feelings somewhat, since it ends up off its hinges and six feet down the hall.
“Calm down,” I says. “We don’t know anything yet.”
“Sir,” he says.
“You stay here, and yell if you see him coming.”
The house has a dry, empty smell, but there’s a pan soaking in the sink and a banked fire in the grate.
The rooms are fussily well-kept and there’s one full of amulets, bottles of liquid and jars of herbs, and a number of dolls lying about in states of dismemberment. Which is disturbing, considering.
Or maybe not. I’m about to go and ask Ranil whether he’s sure what he saw were actually limbs and not bits of doll, when the wind changes and I catch the smell of rotting meat.
Doesn’t have to be a full moon for me to recognise that one.
So out I go to the back garden.
It’s not pretty. Some attempt has been made at burial but mostly someone just dumped the pieces and mounded earth over. All this rain’s uncovered them.
And it’s…odd. There’s no injuries on the limbs I can see. The joint ends are smooth, like they’ve healed over, which even in this city isn’t usual in a severed limb.
Then Ranil calls and I nip out front where an elderly gent with a pair of small round glasses perched on a snub nose, snuff on his weskit and a string bag in either hand is staring at the place where his door used to be.
“I say,” he says. “What’s going on?”
Which is exactly what I want to know. So we bring him in and I ask him about the bodies.
“Oh, those,” Mr Thrane says. “They aren’t bodies. Not in the usual sense.”
“Would you explain to me, Sir, what they are?” I say, half expecting to hear how they’re demons disguised as people which the voices in his head told him to disposed of.
“Failed experiments,” he says. “I’ve been branching out. Animating dolls and so forth, it’s all very well, but people want something new. I’ve been trying to create a sort of living doll, with flesh, and so forth, purely for healthy family entertainment purposes you understand, but I’m having dreadful trouble. I think I shall have to give it up. I can get as far as arms or legs but the torso…and as for the head, that’s probably years away.” He pushes his glasses up on his nose and sighs. “I’m too old, and the price of ingredients! If I just wanted to build cow-legs it would be much cheaper.”
“Cow-legs?” I say.
“Oh, yes, that’s what I started off with. And sheep. They’re the real thing – and at least when things go wrong you can eat them,” he said. “Legs are easy. It’s putting them together with all the other bits that gets complicated.”
Obviously we can’t take his word for it, and get him to show us. Watching a human leg form before your eyes is strangely troubling, but undeniable. Then we have a little chat about which City Ordinances he’s violated, organise a cleanup, and charge him a fine. Which he pays, once Ranil leans over him.
We pop next door and explain to Cheesewold-ptaK the butcher. Who looks relieved, then somewhat thoughtful. “He can make cow’s legs?” he says.
I make a note to keep an eye on what goes on Cheesewold-ptaK’s shelves over the next few weeks. Still, eating the stuff doesn’t seem to have done the wizard any harm.
Not yet, at least.
Somehow I didn’t fancy any lunch.
Hargur Bitternut, Chief