THE CASE OF THE HOLE IN THE WALL Part 7
Updated: Mar 24
This job was not paying enough to get him killed, Heath decided, twisting in the creature’s grip. He’d dropped the rifle in surprise before becoming airborne– not that it or his Colt would work under water. There were Ridley’s knives up his sleeves though.
Heath squirmed, managing to reach the blade sheathed on his left arm, yet he’d barely touched it when the thing tossed him like a trout flicked to shore by a fisherman knee deep in a brook. The landing was hard, knocking his breath out and filling his mouth with sand as he skidded across a patch of beach. By the time he managed to cough it out, an angel touched foot to soil a few feet from where he lay.
With the sun glaring down it was only when the celestial being moved, shading his face, that he realized it was Mena.
“Heath! Are you alright?” she demanded.
“God’s teeth!” he snarled and spat out more grit.
She turned her head. “He’s fine,” she called over her shoulder. “I think that was Shakespeare.”
Another face appeared above him. A man’s face. “That proves he’s fine? No one says God’s teeth these days.”
“I do,” piped a voice from behind them, an older woman Heath thought. “I really think it’s more effective ta be more specific though. Fer instance, God’s lower bicuspid sets one apart from the crowd. Don’t ya agree, Archie?”
Which was when another man ambled up to peer down at him. He was foreshortened compared to Mena and the bloke who now had an arm around her shoulders as well as a bandage around his brow. The missing Ridley, he supposed. Both Mother Nature and the shorter man’s tailor had consigned him to various shades of brown. “There be no rompin’ with Esme,” he declared, though it sounded like a growl. “Sign says so.”
He had obviously struck his head against the rock when yanked from the crevasse and was hallucinating, Heath decided. Particularly when behind all the human faces staring down at him, a large creature with a small head, long neck, and long tail, but lacking flesh of any sort took an interest in the proceedings. But it was when a large feathered beast swooped low over the audience then landed nearby to turn a bright eye his way that Heath decided he’d had enough and passed out.
“You were right about the firebird,” Mena said when Heath opened his eyes. “But it didn’t carry Ridley off to its nest. It brought him here after he fell while scaling the cliff.”
“And here is exactly where?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “Archie says it takes imagination to find it and they don’t let many outsiders in. It’s a refuge, in a way. Things that don’t wish to be part of the world seek it out. Esme is some sort of obsolete squid and has adapted to spring water. The thunderbird made his way through some sort of ether generated during a storm though he winks back home when he pleases.”
“Winks?” Heath echoed weakly.
She turned to the man next to her. Definitely Ridley. “That is how you described it, isn’t it?”
“So Archie says,” he agreed.
“The dinosaur bones?” Heath prompted.
“Well, that was Archie’s doing but Lipscomb was correct about the bones bursting from the packing crates, though Archie gave them the necessary boost,” she declared, giving him a bright smile before turning serious again. “However, the reason he did so is that you were quite right to suspect Dr. Macus.”
“Fellow is havey-cavey,” the supposed Ridley added. “He’d arranged to sell some Eastern collector the whole lot for a hundred dollars. Daisy didn’t want to be shipped away from her home.”
A measly hundred bucks sounded downright insulting considering the geologic age it had taken to preserve the fossils and the manpower it had taken to chip the pieces free, Heath thought, then realized the man had given the reanimated collection of bones a name. He was quite obviously still unconscious or perhaps had fallen victim to sunstroke. Yes, that’s what he had, Heath decided. A major case of sunstroke with a side order of opium style dreams.
Yet he heard his own voice croak, “Daisy?”
“It’s what Archie calls the Apatosaurus,” Ridley said.
“The dinosaur that was found,” Mena translated then pointed to the collection of bones boasting no visible means of attachment. The thing stared down at him over Mena’s shoulder. “She’s right there.”
No doubt about it. He was unconscious and dreaming. Mena von Katchemstross was not the type of woman to believe a batch of bone pieces could reconstruct themselves and then move about like a gentle giant. Which is how this Mena was treating the thing. It didn’t look like a Daisy to him in the least.
“’Course she ain’t a Daisy,” the little brown man snorted as if he’d read Heath’s mind. “’Tis jest a name that suits her.”
Mena gestured to the fellow. He was less than five-foot-tall, looked to have been toasted by the sun for a century or more, yet was spry and boxy of build. Energy seemed to vibrate around him. “This is Archie,” she said.
The man held out a hand. Whether to make his acquaintance or help him to his feet, Heath was unsure, though the last seemed unlikely considering he’d tower over the git. “Archedelphos Fizwick, Esquire,” the little man corrected.
Yes, no doubt about it. He definitely had a head wound, Heath decided. There was no other explanation for any of this. He hadn’t just been swept into a body of water by a squid and then spit back out. They were in desert territory, for great Opheus’s sake!
“Und ya ain’t havin’ one o’ them halliogrampics, neither,” Fizwick said. “Esme jest took ya by surprise und waterlogged is all ya got, lad.”
“Waterlogged!” Heath snarled and pushed to his feet without aid.
Daisy flinched back, as did everyone but Mena, who stepped forward away from Ridley’s embrace. “Oh, don’t go on about it,” she advised. “You weren’t hurt –”
“—much,” she continued. “And the explanations are quite simple.”
“He jest needs vitals in him und some ale,” the woman who fancied more specified oaths said. She was quite like the unlikely named Archedelphos Fizwick, though she’d draped dozens of gold chains around her neck and wore enough bracelets to serve as body armor. “Come along with me, dearie,” she instructed, jingling as she moved. “’Nuffin’ I likes more’n takin’ care of a ‘andsome lad like yerself.”
“Hyckate’s a wonderful cook,” Ridley assured him.
“Hyckate,” Heath repeated.
The so named troglodyte, or whatever she was, patted him familiarly on the thigh. “Somethin’ wrong with ma name?”
“Not in the least, darling,” Heath assured her. “It’s quite…entrancing. If Shakespeare had chanced to hear it, I’m sure he would have gifted it to one of Lear’s lady friends.”
She made a face. “That twat? ‘E wanted ta but without payin’ me so much as a h’penny for the use o’ it.”
Perhaps it wasn’t a head wound. Perhaps he’d drowned and gone to some unfathomable layer of Hell.
Hyckate swatted his leg this time. “Don’t be ridiculous, actor,” she spat, his profession resonating with the vitriol of a curse. “Now, stop yer ruminating. It gives me noggin’ a right pain listenin’ ta yer thinkin’.”
As Esme, the squid, gave him a shove with a tentacle that nearly sent him face first onto the sand again, Heath complied.
Whether or not the bipedal residents of whatever place this was lived in caves or not, Mena hadn’t yet discovered. As the sun disappeared from the sky above, a campfire was lit, and the company settled around it. Including the disconcerting collection of bones now answering to Daisy and at the shoreline, the multi-tentacled Esme. Even the firebird had folded its wings and found a spot not far distant.
“I’m not sure how large this place is,” Ridley told her, “but it has to be enormous. Archie told me only those in need and with the imagination to conceive of such a place can find it. From what I gather, the natives are collectors of oddities. The animals – including long dead ones like Daisy – have no trouble contacting them. There are many ways in, but some are narrow, like the chasm through which you entered.”
“You didn’t enter that way?”
Ridley shook his head. A lock of light brown hair fell forward over his eyes. In the city, it would have been so well groomed with pomade that even engaging in a fist fight with a miscreant rarely disturbed it. In the past he’d been clean shaven but for a thin moustache but appeared not to have shaved in the nearly two weeks since she’d last seen him. While not as dashing as Edmund Heath, or rather Heath Haymes, whose beard enhanced his role as a theatrical villain – and which he had studiously groomed first thing each morning on the trail – Ridley looked more manly and less like a product of the city now. She was rather surprised to find she liked him thus.
“I attempted to shelter in it briefly after Quetz dropped me on the edge.” Ridley glanced toward the complacent firebird. “But I can hardly blame him. I was rather frantic to get out of his clutches when he swept me up after the fall. As it then dawned on me that he was attempting to offer aid, I left the aperture and allowed him to wrap talons about me. Then we simply lifted into the air and into a wisp of cloud and we were here.”
“But why ever were you scaling the cliff in the first place?” Mena demanded.
“Because it was there,” Heath contributed. He’d gone from a firm belief that he was hallucinating to complacent acceptance once Hyckate supplied a tall flagon of something that smelled quite toxically high in alcoholic content. Now he reclined much as she’d first seen him, slightly on his side, one leg drawn up and a languid hand resting on his knee. His head lie in the acerbic little woman’s lap as she dabbed at an abrasion high on his cheek, the only outward sign of his grapple with Esme, and no doubt acquired as he slid across the sand upon landing.
Ridley threw the actor a glare of disapproval then turned back to her. “Because it supplied the height necessary to watch the various suspects,” he explained.
“Oh,” she said. “I suppose that does make sense, though I’m not sure whether I would have gone through with it even if the idea entered my mind.”
“I’m sure you would,” Ridley purred, obviously patronizing her.
“No, you wouldn’t,” Heath contributed. “Not to spy on others. It was only your determination to find this bloody berk that sent you scrambling up that bleedin’ cliff.”
Mena sighed. “It’s true, I was worried about you,” she said, gently touching her partner’s face. “Besides, I’m not the only She Cog who would balk at taking such a perch for the sake of observation.”
“That is probably right, other than for Zephyr McCabe,” Ridley noted.
While it was true, there had been admiration in his voice when he mentioned her sister Cog. It set her teeth on edge. “Yes, I suppose,” she snapped. “But tell us what you saw.”
Ridley glanced to where Heath lay, his eyes closed, an amused smirk twisting his lips. “Perhaps not before…”
“The hired help,” Heath said. “You’re a right git, Broxton-Alverdeen, if that is your name. God love you, the names you people give yourselves are worse than those in a bloody melodrama or yellow novel.”
“He is right,” Mena said then hastily backpedaled when Ridley scowled at her. “Not about our names –”
A sound from Heath had her revising the statement. “Alright, yes, about our names, but considering I would not have found you without Heath’s help –”
“Because, frankly, dearie, ya lack the imagination ta think yerself past our gates,” Hyckate contributed. “Ma laddie here had more’n ‘nuff fer two, bless ya.”
“Firebird,” Heath said. “Told you one had fancied your boy Ridley, didn’t I? Plus, I’m the one who—”
“Oh, do shut up,” Mena recommended sharply.
The actor laughed, and without moving from his reclining stance, managed to make it appear that he had bowed graciously to her request.
“Where did you find this fellow?” Ridley murmured in her ear.
“In a cell. He’s actually a wonderful marksman. Shot an apple off a drunken fool’s head when he was equally as drunk. Plus, he’s the best I could find. It is a small town, you know.”
“He didn’t…” Ridley left the details of the query unsaid.
“He did not!” she defended aghast that he would even think such a thing. “Despite his reputation, he has always been the perfect gentleman.”
At her glare, Ridley pressed his lips together tightly.
“Now, what did you see before falling from your perch?”
“I did not fall, but merely slipped,” he insisted.
Mena let her eyes rest on the bandage wrapped around his head.
“Alright, yes, I fell. Leaned out a bit too far. Lost my Allegory modified Galileans. You didn’t happen to find them?” Ridley inquired.
“Not them nor any broken optics,” she said. “I would guess that means someone else did. Where exactly were you? Heath discovered the marks where we thought you might have been. I followed traces of blood, Ridley.”
“Those traces, by the way, were nowhere near where you could observe the scientists,” Heath contributed. “In fact, the camp itself is sheltered by a stand of trees on the flood plain and a rather large pinnacle of rock blocked the view of the dig site itself. You see, I took a moment to mark our eagle perch’s landmarks before entering that damn hole in the rock wall.”
“It was neither of those sites that I was observing,” Ridley blustered. “It was a meeting of men between the two.”
“Which men?” Mena asked.
“George Macus and a man who was not part of the expedition.”
“Describe him,” Heath requested though Mena felt his tone echoed with arrogance she’d expect to hear in a Shakespearian royal’s command.
Next to her, Ridley’s body stiffened at the demand. “As this doesn’t concern you, Haymes, I see no reason to—”
“Describe him,” Mena echoed. “This is my assignment as much as it is yours, Ridley, and Heath is involved in bringing this to a successful conclusion because it is what I hired him to do.”
“But now that I’m –”
“You’re a terrible actor, old man,” Heath drawled. “Wouldn’t make it past the first sixty seconds of an audition. He saw nothing, Mena, and now is just covering his arse.”
When Ridley exploded into a detailed description, Mena sucked in a startled breath of admiration for Heath Haymes’ manipulative abilities.
“The fellow was shorter than Macus and slight of build, though was broader of chest than that of an average man so I surmise his past employment to have been as a blacksmith. His hair was short and plastered back, though as he wore a broadbrimmed slouch hat it was difficult to tell the color. Otherwise he was outfitted in dark trousers shoved into riding boots, a white shirt and a floral-patterned weskit. A gun belt with twin holsters was cinched at his waist and he carried a long rifle.”
Cheroot clenched between bared teeth, Heath applauded in slow measured claps, further ridiculing Ridley. “Such powers of observation,” the actor declared, the sneer in his voice the one that no doubt titillated the audience of featherheaded women known to mob his performances. “But apparently you need whatever those Galileans are because you’re as blind as a bleedin’ bat, mate. I saw a person so garbed in town the day Mena and I toddled off. You didn’t see a damn former blacksmith, ya git, you saw a woman with her hair bundled up under a hat, wearing men’s clothing. Those impressive chest muscles were one fine bounty for a man to fondle. Unless you’d prefer the blacksmith, that is.”
Mena ignored her partner’s blusterous defense and pinned Heath with what she hoped was a penetrating look. “A woman? Where did you see her?”
“At the train station supervising the loading of a shipment of boxes very like the ones neatly gathered for shipment back in the camp, sweet. Not sufficient to house the complete skeleton of a beast like our lovely Daisy here, but definitely a cache of those precious old bones,” Heath said. “If it’s any help, the lady was quite the specimen herself, hence my disparaging remarks, Broxton-Alverdeen.”
“Then Dr. Macus is behind the theft,” Mena mused.
“Considering Daisy resided in those original boxes and she’s right here, there is no theft to solve, darling,” Heath reminded. “Macus is indeed havey-cavey, but his transaction, if such it was, to the magenta haired minx is an entirely different kettle of mackerel.”
“She had what color hair?” Mena gasped.
“You’re unfamiliar with the shade, dearest? It’s an offshoot of maroon but brighter. A favorite with doxies, or so I’m given to understand.”
“I know what magenta looks like,” she snapped but didn’t add that she doubted he’d only heard prostitutes favored it. “Why didn’t you draw my attention to her at the time?”
He gave her a look of mock surprise. “Pumpkin,” he murmured, one hand dramatically resting fingertips to his chest. “My assignment was to act as guide, pistol toting guardian, and Ridley bloodhound, not to introduce you to ladies quite likely of the evening.”
Mena huffed. “Then we shall simply have to demand answers from Macus when we return to camp tomorrow.”
“We meaning Miss Von Katchemstross and myself,” Ridley emphasized.
“You’re welcome to him, old man,” Heath granted with another dramatic wave of his hand. “He’s a right pompous arse.” Then as though he’d dismissed them both as unworthy of further attention, he sighed. “Hyckate, my love, have you another flagon of that delightfully wicked brew available?”
“For ye, dearie, anything,” the little woman soothed and reached for the wineskin at her side.
TO BE CONTINUED
A man found, missing bones located, but…
This game is still afoot…or perhaps
becoming an even stickier wicket!
Episode #8 arrives March 8st!
How appropriate, right?
And if this is your first introduction to
The Covert Cogs tales
you might enjoy the first two:
THE CASE OF THE SHOOTIST FINGER
THE CASE OF THE REPURPOSED MAN