Inspector Crowlinger was seated at his desk, thumbing through papers in his office at BPF headquarters on River Street in North Brysail. He looked up when Seymour knocked on the empty doorframe.
“Ah. De Winter. Took you long enough.”
“My apologies for the delay.”
“Eh.” Seymour wasn’t quite ready to remove that excuse from his arsenal. “Not much.”
The inspector stood up with effort and left the office, giving Seymour a wide berth as he passed him in the hallway. “Right this way.”
Hands tucked in his pockets, he followed Crowlinger along the corridor and down a flight of stairs into the basement, where the holding cells were located. They stopped at the third one back. Inside, in the back left corner, a middle-aged man sat hugging his knees to his chest and muttering to himself. He wore the uniform of a royal guard, minus the armor and plus a substantial quantity of mud.
The man lurched around in surprise. His pupils had melded together with their respective irises to form terrified black holes in the centers of his startled eyes. Seymour knelt down on the ground so as to render his six-foot-four frame less intimidating.
“Hello, there,” the detective said gently. “Would you prefer ‘Boris’ or ‘Mr. Cawker?’”
Mr. Cawker did not reply, but just continued to stare at Seymour as if he had sprouted an extra head.
“My name is Seymour de Winter. I am a private detective, but the police occasionally contract with me because they are too cheap to hire a full investigative unit.” He felt Crowlinger’s glare burning a hole in the back of his head. “May I talk with you about the events that transpired early this morning?”
“I thought you might be her at first,” the man said, his voice almost inaudibly low. “You aren’t her, are you? No, you aren’t. You’re just a merman. Just a grunie.”
Seymour smiled bitterly. “Please spare me the epithets and the pronoun tennis. Who did you think I was?”
“The woman. The woman that killed him.”
“‘Him’ being Mr. Wilsby?”
“I didn’t know his name.”
“The guard that was sharing your station last night, whom you have been accused of murdering.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Cawker. “Him.”
The detective took out a pad of paper and a pen and began to scribble on it. “Can I get a description of this woman?”
“Well, maybe she wasn’t a woman. Not a human one, at least. Not one of your kind, either. An elf, I think.”
“Mr. Cawker, I am an elf. That is my kind.”
“No, you’re a merman.”
“Yes, I am a Cobaltic Merrish sea elf, Mr. Cawker. That’s what mermen are, unless you’re referencing the mythical sort—the shrieking, man-eating, half-fish atrocities that don’t exist and which I clearly am not because I have legs and not a scaly fucking tail.”
Mr. Cawker was unimpressed. “You’re too ugly to be an elf.”
“Listen, buddy boy,” said Seymour. “The more you insult me, the harder you’ll find it to convince me of your innocence, so it’s likely in your best interest to leave off the personal attacks and describe to me this alleged elf woman, in detail, please and thank you.”