“Very well,” said Crowlinger, standing up. “Shall we?”
“Why the haste, mate? I only just put a kettle on.”
“Right, right.” The human sat down again reluctantly. “How much longer?”
Eyes closed, Seymour leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head. “Until I feel like it, Inspector.”
“Twenty minutes to an hour, nausea dependent.”
The inspector edged away from him in his chair. “You’re sick?”
“I’m fine as long as I’m sitting down.” He smiled crookedly across the table. “Don’t worry, sir. I’m not going to projectile vomit on you. I might faint, though, if you make me stand up too soon.”
“Oh,” said Crowlinger, not entirely reassured.
The smirk grew on Seymour’s face. There were few activities he enjoyed more than making people uncomfortable—in particular, people that he didn’t especially like. “So,” he said, locking the inspector in his cold green gaze. “How’s the wife?”
“The wife is well.” He met Seymour’s eyes belligerently. “Speaking of women…you have one hidden away in your flat somewhere, don’t you, merman?”
“My, my,” the merrish detective mused, his grin widening to bare a menacing row of pointed teeth. “How in the name of Rezyn did you manage to deduce that—aside from the pair of woman’s shoes by the door, and the woman’s hat on the rack, and the woman’s coat hanging to dry beside the fireplace?”
“In all honesty, de Winter, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if those all had belonged to you, what with your penchant for disguises.”
“Fair—but they’re not in my size. Anything else to add?”
“There is a lingering aroma of floral perfume about the air.”
“Lilac,” said Seymour. “What’s to say that couldn’t be mine, too? I rather like the scent of flowers.”
“That’s all well and good, merman, but of the many things you smell of, flowers are not among them.”
Seymour frowned and sniffed his underarms, still without breaking eye contact. “I’m not that bad.”
“Your breath has distinct traces of ‘feral dog bathed in brandy.’”
The corner of Crowlinger’s mouth twitched in celebration of his small victory. “So. This girl is in your bedroom, then?”
“Obviously, seeing as that’s the only part of the flat that isn’t visible from here. Unless she climbed out the window on a rope made from my tied-together linens, that is.”
“What’s she like?”
“That’s none of your business, mate.”
“Is she a human?”
Seymour folded his arms and let his gaze drift up to the kitchen window. The world outside was indistinct beyond the glass, no more than a tessellation of greys, blues and browns formed of the tiny rhomboid panes.
“I suppose that means yes?”
The merrish detective replied only with a noncommittal grunt.
“Rezyn, merman!” Crowlinger exclaimed. “I’m not going to report you for it, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”
“Isn’t it your job to report crimes?”
“I have no intention of forfeiting an asset so valuable as yourself over such a trivial thing as an interspecies relationship.”
“That’s good to hear,” said Seymour.
“But if you could in the future limit your illicit activities to below the level of minor felonies, I would very much appreciate it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” The tea kettle began to hiss, and he stood up gingerly, stabilizing himself with one hand on the table and the other on the countertop. “Oh, gods.”
Seymour sank to his knees on the kitchen floor. “I think I’m gonna puke.”
“Didn’t you just tell me you weren’t going to—?”
“Yeah, I’m reconsidering that now.”
Crowlinger got up from his seat and stepped hurriedly around him. “Why don’t we just meet back up at the station when you’re feeling better, say?”
Grinning behind his hand, Seymour nodded in agreement and watched as the inspector, in a state of panic, attempted to wrestle on his outerwear on his way through the front door. The gullible old fool. Even well after the man had gone, the merrish detective was forced to sit for a while on the floor, overcome with waves of silent laughter, until he managed to regain his composure enough to struggle to his feet and take the kettle—now screaming—off of the stovetop.