( Preface can be found: Here )
Two stories above a bakery and the busy city streets Saltlick peered through a telescope,
"HMS Pinafore? Biggins?"
"Give me a second here. The books a bit big for my hands."
Biggins was an odd looking creature even by mystical creature standards, like a bipedal fox except with lizard skin, standing just over three feet high wearing a rather nice, clearly tailored suit and spectacles.
"Regularly scheduled, sir. been in port this time of year, four... no five years running"
"Moving on" Saltlicks horse body did a delicate side shuffle, small movements were not really a normal horses forte.
The detectives observations were interrupted by a bell ringing.
"Friendly human visitor" Biggins said glancing at the boards by the door "best get some clothes on sir"
The bells in the apartment were actually rung by the staff in the bakery below, one for friendly human, another for friendly mystical creatures, a third for trouble and a fourth to evacuate altogether.
Thankfully the fourth had never been rung since Saltlick took up residence.
Saltlick peered out the window to the street below.
"Ah the police commissioners carriage! This should be good!"
"Mundango if you wouldn't mind reverting to spirit form till I find out who is here?" said Saltlick, apparently to his rear end,
His hind legs trotted on the spot a sign the horse spirit was not pleased.
"I know, we'll go for a run in a little while but this might be paying work, we could be able to afford to enter a race again!"
The horse spirit that Saltlick had merged with obviously acceded as suddenly there was a complete, naked, human in front Biggins.
"Pants man! Fetch some pants in the name of all that's holy!" cried Biggins in mock alarm.
Outside the apartment the sound of the cargo elevator activating heralded their visitors imminent arrival.
Saltlick ran for his room
"Stall them with hospitality till I get something decent on" he yelled.
Biggins had already begun boiling the kettle on a small pot bellied stove in the corner of their apartment.
He moved a painting to reveal a dumb waiter, took out a tray with fine china teacups, placing it on a small table then pulled some arm chairs in around it with a strength that was amazing considering his small frame.
"I wish you'd consider my wheels idea for the furniture" he called to Saltlick as someone knocked on the door
"It'll never catch on" came the reply from the bedroom
Biggins pulled open the door
"Commissioner! Good to see you again! Watch Commander Eliis do come in!" he said loudly
"Hello Biggins, tell your master we're here" said the commissioner pushing past the small creature and heading for an armchair.
"He knows sir, he's just getting changed and will join us momentarily. Please do come in Commander"
The watch commander, who had slightly better manners the commissioner walked in
"Thank you Biggins"
" Not at all, may I serve you tea while we wait?"
Biggins busied himself making tea while the commissioner tapped his feet and made impatient noises.
"I assume Ceylon blend is alright with you commissioner"
"Yes it is as you well know Mr Biggins"
"Just checking, tastes can change over time after all sir"
"Not when it comes to tea Mr Biggins, never when it comes to tea" said the commissioner, his tone slightly more relaxed.
Saltlick emerged from his room wearing a formal evening suit and slippers though the first thing about it that caught the eye was the fact he had the waistcoat on inside out.
The three other occupants of the room snorted at the same time.
"Uh Sir.." Biggins began to speak.
"Hush now, we must speak with your master" the police commissioner interrupted him with an ill concealed grin.
Oblivious, Saltlick walked over, clearly focusing on walking like a human as he did. He took a seat at the coffee table, across from the police commissioner and poured himself a cup of tea.
"So commissioner what brings you to our humble abode on a damp and dreary Tuesday"
"I'll get straight to it Saltlick, a client of yours was found dead last night"
"Yes, how did you know? We haven't made that public?" Commander Ellis demanded.
"I resolved his case a few days ago and he'd seemed quite despondent about it, I did send his family a note that I had concerns for his well being after some upsetting news"
"Yes but you didn't say what those concerns were did you?"
"Well I thought they would have been apparent if they'd spoken to the man,"
"So you thought he might be suicidal?"
"It may have gotten to that, his case was particularly awful, though without his families permission I don't feel comfortable revealing the details"
The commissioner looked to the commander and nodded.
"We're not certain it was, he was the fourth suicide this month, which is actually below average compared to other cities but these four all had something else wrong with them, a large hole at the base of the skull"
"So they didn't commit suicide then?" inquired Biggins producing a notepad with "Sorry Noes" emblazoned on the cover and a stubby pencil.
"Oh no, that's the problem, they did drown themselves, the coroner is firm about that so these holes were made post mortem"
Biggins hurriedly scribbled in the pad for a moment,
"Huh" Saltlick raised a hand to pause Biggins questioning
“How did you find out the Marquis was a client of mine?”
“We found your card and an invoice for your services on the body” said the commander.
“On a drowned man’s body?” Saltlick asked struggling to keep his voice level.
The commissioner and commander looked at each other for a moment
The commissioner shrugged, a tacit signal for the commander to continue.
“They were inside the man’s wallet, they were damp but recognisable”
“Damp? What about the other contents of the wallet?”
“Soaked through apparently”
“And that doesn’t seem odd to you? Who found the body?”
“A goblin, one of the goblin academy lads in fact”
“Shame that wasn’t allowed to work out.
I would have been intrigued to see what they could have brought to the force”
“That was down to the pixies threatening to strike, my masters took it out of my hands”
the commissioner interjected defensively.
“I’m not casting aspersions commissioner, merely making an observation, one that is likely of little relevance. So did goblins find all the bodies commander?”
“No” the commander, produced a little notebook and flipped through it until he found a page
“The first was found by a fisherman, the second a mud picker the other was a pixie on water duty, all except the last were found in places that match known drift patterns for jumpers, the last was on course for a usual spot when the goblin recovered it”
The commander handed Biggins a sheet of paper before Saltlick could finish asking.
“All the relevant details are there, bridges, witnesses etc. Not my first go round Saltlick”
he said with a tone of admonishment “And before you ask there are no immediate connections between the victims, different social standings, financial circumstances and addresses”
“So you are engaging our services then?” inquired Biggins
“Maybe, if you can be discreet about it”
“Hmm” Saltlick looked at his telescope thoughtful for a moment
"The obvious question gentlemen is why hire me at all? The cause of death is clear, the post mortem wounds are troubling but as they aren't the cause of death, its desecration, a crime to be sure but a much lesser than those perpetrated daily on the still living"
"If I may commissioner?" the commander asked
"Oh by all means, explain the bleeding obvious to the ace detective here, Mr. Biggins, any chance of a top up?"
"Certainly sir, just one moment" Biggins waddled over to refill the tea pot.
"First off I had some desk bound lads do some analysis on suicides and deaths reported as accidents and I've concluded the sucidal impulse has no respect for rank, therefore we're likely to have more titled victims in the near future"
"Is there anything that can be done to combat that?" asked Saltlick in consternation "It's not unknown among the magical races though it is much rarer than it appears to be among humans"
"That may simply be because there are a lot more humans than any other race, The commissioner asked council of healers to come up with something but they don't think there's a single solution. They're preparing academic papers and such on the subject but I doubt we'll see a definitive answer anytime soon"
"Well if there's anything I can do to help that effort let me know"
"Actually I understand Mr Biggins has been writing up stories based on your cases for the City Crier, maybe you could influence him to put something about it in them? Public awareness leads to public pressure after all"
"I'm sure we can work something in. So given that victims with noble ties will continue to pop up, the desecration is going to cause headaches in important circles"
Mr Biggins quietly placed some biscuits in front of the commissioner and poured everyone more tea.
"Like the ones that fund the watch, yes. As you said it's not technically a high crime, employing you lets us drop a name they will have heard of as an investigator and you're significantly cheaper than the amount of men I'd have to deploy to do a proper job on a crime that seems to be moving around the city"
"Fair enough. So besides spotting a pattern in the deceased, any insights on the case commander?"
"Not going to do the job for you, Saltlick! It's a puzzle I can't afford to spend my mental resources on just now, the Darwinists have apparently chose to do their annual celebration here so there's going to be an upsurge in accidental deaths."
"Can you spare a uniform or two in case we need some uniformed help" asked Biggins
"I'll put Benny and his new apprentice watchman at your disposal if you need official back up just send a runner along his route"
"Thank you, commander" said Biggins
"Needless to say we don't expect to be bothered with this until you have a conclusion" added the Commissioner taking another biscuit.
"Naturally" said Saltlick agreeably "What kind of time limit are we under here?"
"Say two weeks, or as long as Ten gold bobs buys us"
Biggins and Saltlick exchanged a look, Saltlick shook his head almost imperceptibly.
"The Darwinists?" asked Biggins "I've heard of Darwin, and his theories seem, broadly speaking, correct but how is that a police matter?"
"There's a group who revere him as death god, they view every death through stupidity as a sacrifice to him, improving the survival odds of humanity as a whole by removing a weak link" the commissioner answered in a cheerful tone "Which in itself isn't criminal and speaking in a strictly personal capacity, they may be on to something there"
"The problem for us" said the commander "is this group like to set up situations that will get people killed if they don't have their wits about them"
"Isn't that manslaughter though?" said Saltlick, more intrigued than shocked.
"You'd think but the judges to date have ruled it out, coroners usually call it death by misadventure and the harshest sentence to date has been for public endangerment, that was only a gold bob fine"
"Take the guillotine incident as an example. They set up a guillotine in a public square, surrounded it with signs in all common languages that said if you put your head in this device and pull the rope, you'd be beheaded.
They even hired some locals to make sure everyone who approached it were warned about it" said the commissioner in a professorial tone
"Now when someone, having being thus informed of the consequences, twice warned in fact, chooses of their own volition to put their head in and pull the cord, is it the guillotines owners fault?
Remember suicide is a civic misdemeanour so there's no conspiracy to commit or accessory before or after the act statutes that cover it"
He waited for someone to offer an answer.
"Obviously not" replied Biggins "Is there a change to the law that can be pursued?"
"It's been attempted but as their cause is human advancement and their membership is drawn from people who have the time and means for scientific pursuit they have quite a lot of influence" said the commissioner with a mournful tone.
"just human advancement?"
"I'm afraid so Mr. Biggins, everything else is a competing species that poses a threat to our survival"
"Even the Dragons?"
"Especially the Dragons!"
"I think we've veered off topic a bit here" interrupted Saltlick in a friendly but firm tone, "We have the details, you have assigned liaisons and explained why you require our help, there's just the matter of my fee?"
"Sorry Salty old boy, have we offended you somehow?" asked the commander his tone was not apologetic in fact it was close to the reverse "Did our bringing you paying work offend your highness?"
"I dislike small talk Commander as well you know, the Darwinists, while a problem, are not our current problem" Saltlick replied in a professorial tone "Honestly I don't know how you people get anything done!"
"You people?" the other three people said at once, leaping at a golden opportunity to flummox the centaur.
"Are you a speciest now Saltlick?" asked the commander*
*Like a racist except for other species rather than other people of the same biological class, seen as terrible character flaw and indicator of stupidity by most people in the city.**
**Except, of course, the Darwinists
"I'll have to reconsider my position here if that's the case?" chimed in Biggins "Any openings Commissioner?"
"I'm sure we could find something Mr. Biggins, couldn't leave a literate person like you working for a speciest!"
"Oh you know what I meant" said Saltlick with a rueful smile,
He'd allowed exasperation to get the better of him, there was bigger game afoot that someone mutilating the recently, albeit tragically departed and this was keeping him from chasing it.
The others grinned at him, Biggins ears waggled slightly as he smiled at Saltlick, he understood what was going on with him at least.
"Our speciest friend here is right though, we should be about your business gentlemen"
"Ah, looks like it's back to the grind for us poor working coppers commissioner, barely got a biscuit in" said the Commander as they got up to leave
"You'll find plenty in the bakery below commander" replied Biggins "In fact you can have a ti."
Saltlick coughed abruptly,
"A small tin on our account if you'd like, to bring back to the lads in the station of course"
"For the lads in the station?"
"Yes commander, your wife promised dreadful things if we didn't stop filling you up with treats every time you visit" said Saltlick apologetically
"But if I'm merely delivering them to the lads..."
"Then none of us ever have to lie to your wife"
"Good work, knew there was a reason we kept you about!"
"Am I right in assuming your men will be spending a bit more time around common jumping spots?" Biggins asked the Commissioner
"Might I suggest you contact some of the religious groups, they might have some volunteers that will like to save souls in distress and such."
"Good thinking Mr Biggins"
"We aim to please, commissioner, commander if you could send your men around this evening at start of watch, we may want to visit the sites where the bodies were found.
Best to have someone official on hand to correctly document the evidence"
"Will do Mr Biggins. Goodbye Salty"
Saltlick had already gone back at his telescope waved dismissively
"Talk soon gentlemen"
"Goodbye Mr Biggins, thank you for hospitality as always" said the commissioner "We really must take tea and set the world to rights some day"
"One day we will both have the time sir, unfortunately that day isn't likely to be soon"
"Sadly true, look after yourself in the meantime Mr Biggins"
"You too sir"
And with that they left.
"Start of watch eh?"
"It's at low tide, won't be any ships to coming or going then"
"I know, smart work. Doesn't look like I missed any new ships coming in at least"
"Good, good, will I read out the case reports to you or mark the jump spots and body discoveries on the map?"
"Layout the map and keep the shipping logs to hand while you do it"
Biggins dutifully began laying out a map as Saltlick peered through his telescope.
There was a bigger game afoot and he was damned if he was going to miss it!