Seymour de Winter awoke with a start.
At first, he wasn’t sure what had dragged him so abruptly from his slumber. He had a vague sense that it had been a loud clamor of some sort. Had the upstairs neighbors dropped something heavy? Had someone broken in? Heart beating painfully fast, the young merrish detective sat up, shook his head to clear the sleep from it, and looked around the room.
It was morning already. Filtered sunlight streamed in through the eastern-facing window, casting a golden white projection on the wall beside his bedroom door. He could hear the voices of passersby, along with other common city noises, echoing up from the street below. His skull ached with the fading memory of drunkenness, and his tongue was dry as paper in his mouth and tasted foul.
A second set of knocks sounded upon the door to his flat, and he recalled, with a mixture of relief and disappointment, what had jarred him into consciousness.
“One moment!” he called out, rubbing his throbbing eyes with the heels of his greenish, webbed hands.
Beside him in bed, Rosalind grumbled incoherently and covered her head with her pillow.
He looked up at the ceiling for a moment, sighed, then swung his legs over the side of the mattress and stood up. After dressing hastily, he exited the room—closing the door carefully behind him—and crossed the kitchen to unbolt the front door. On the other side stood a stout, balding man with a moustache and beady black eyes. A badge glinted on his chest.
“Good morning, Mr. de Winter,” said Inspector Alfred Crowlinger of the Brysail Police.
“You woke me up.”
“It is nearly half past nine.”
Seymour snorted, stepping aside to let the inspector into his flat. “An ungodly hour.”
“When you’re twenty years old, it is,” Crowlinger said as he removed his cloak and hat to hang them on the hooks beside the door.
“I’m twenty-two,” Seymour corrected him.
The inspector didn’t seem to hear him. “Once you reach a certain age, though, you’ll find that you can’t sleep past dawn anymore.”
Seymour tried to imagine a younger version of Inspector Crowlinger. It was a difficult task. “So why’re you here?”
“Development in the Royal Gardens case, merman.” Crowlinger stumped into the kitchen and sat down in a wooden chair by the table. “Since we already have you on that one, I thought I’d stop by to let you know.”
“Oh, really?” Seymour muttered, reaching up to pull a heavy tea kettle off of a shelf near the ceiling. “More mysterious invisible thieves making off with bushels of herbs again?”
“No, actually. Murder.”
That got Seymour’s attention. He paused, clutching the tea kettle to his chest, and turned to look at Crowlinger. “Wonderful. What happened?”