For a moment—a short eternity—the world seemed to freeze. Shuddering, Seymour wiped his mouth, looked up at Crowlinger, then sat down hard on the floor.
“I…I’m sorry, sir.”
The inspector sighed deeply, bent, and gingerly undid the buckles of his boots before stepping out of them. “Get up.”
Seymour scrambled to his feet. “Can I do anything to—?”
“No,” Crowlinger said firmly. “Go lie down. You’ll clean this up when you feel better. Understood?”
Unsteadily, Seymour made his way over to the sofa and lay down upon it with his head upon the armrest. His face felt icy cold, and his heart was beating painfully fast. Every time he moved his eyes, his vision warped at the edges, so he was forced to content himself with staring at the ceiling and blinking.
“Relax, merman,” said the inspector. Seymour heard him pull out a chair and sit down in the kitchen. “You sound as if you’re on the verge of hyperventilating.”
Was he? He hadn’t noticed before, but now that he thought about it, he did seem to be panting rather shallowly. He closed his eyes and concentrated on evening out his breaths.
“Are you under the influence of any sort of mind-altering substance, de Winter?”
“No. But I can see…where you might have g…gotten that impression.”
“Are you sure?”
“I didn’t even…get drunk last night.”
“Hm,” Crowlinger grunted. “The night on which Seymour de Winter doesn’t drink will be the night pigs sprout wings and fly.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t drink. I said I didn’t get drunk.”
“Then what’s all this about? Is being sick when you wake up part of your morning routine?”
Seymour exhaled loudly. “No,” he said. “I was faking last time. I had to get a girl out of my flat without you seeing her, all right?”
“I’m not asking you about last time, de Winter. I’m asking you about this time. Or did you fake that, too?”
“Of course not.”
“Then what’s the matter, merman?”
Slowly, Seymour opened his eyes, sat up, and twisted around the back of the couch to look Crowlinger dead in the eyes. “I’m pregnant,” he said, deadpan.
“Do you think this is a time for jokes?”
“No. I’m just not quite sure how to answer your question.”
“You don’t know why you were sick?”
“Is that what I said? No, it wasn’t. I merely don’t know how to explain it in a way that doesn’t make me sound like I’m off my rocker.”
Crowlinger rubbed at his temple with the heel of his hand. “Just tell me, de Winter.”
“Fine,” he said. “It was that damn raven.”