Note: This is a sequel to The Hummingbird Pin, but it does not really matter in which order they are read.
Seymour de Winter was a city person, really. Slogging through muddy barnyards did not suit him. His boots were ruined and he suspected that there were earwigs in his hair. He grimaced to himself—anything for an interesting case, right?
Somewhere in this horrid mess, a corpse was hidden. He knew this because he had watched its burial from the safety of the hayloft. That had been nearly six hours ago, in the wee hours of the morning, and even with his heightened Aechyed eyesight he had not been able to make out the features of the solitary gravedigger, only that she was a woman. Nor had he been able to find any identifying marks upon the dead man; the occurrence had taken place too far away and the night had been too dark. Thus, he had waited in the shelter of the barn until dawn, at which point he had alerted the owner of the property before borrowing a shovel and proceeding back down to the barnyard.
The barn’s owner, a stout farmer by the name of MacAskell, ambled along beside him, guffawing at his discomfort and generally being a nuisance. “Ain’t nothin’ like some good ol’ country muck ta grow some hair on yer chest, is there now, merman?”
“Hm,” replied Seymour, biting back the snide remark that had nearly slipped out of his mouth. “I suppose not.”
MacAskell scooped a handful of the stuff from the ground and squeezed it between his fingers. “Now, ain’t that a lovely aroma.”
Seymour suppressed his gag reflex and turned away to continue shoveling. “It must be an acquired taste,” he muttered, the comment nearly inaudible.
“What was that?”
“I said, ‘Yes, but this task requires haste,’” he lied smoothly. “I must retrieve the body before it is too thoroughly decomposed, or else it will provide very little evidence, you see. He may have been dead for some time already, and under such moist, manure-rich conditions, well…let us say he is unlikely to mummify, exactly. Do you follow?”
“Not really,” admitted the farmer.
“Let me rephrase: you can either help me dig or go find something else to occupy your time.”
MacAskell left and returned with a shovel. “Should I try here?”
“Might as well. It should be somewhere in the vicinity.”
“Right, merboy. Let me learn you how to dig proper.” And he began shoveling with gusto, sending mud flying every which way and stabbing violently into the ground with each stroke.
Seymour cursed at him with everything he had and swung his spade menacingly. “Carefully! I want the corpse in one piece; do you understand, you imbecilic buffoon?”
The farmer pouted, flinching back from Seymour’s shovel. “It’ll take forever if you carry on diggin’ all dainty an’ ladylike. I thought you wanted haste.”
“Not that much haste, thank you!” He delicately turned over another shovelful of mud. “Investigative haste is different than industrial haste. It’s much more…judicious…deliberate…planned… AHA! We have a garment!”
Forgetting the putrid mud, Seymour dropped to his knees and began to uncover the corpse with his bare hands. First a sleeve emerged, then an arm, and finally the body of a middle-aged man. Seymour wiped the mud from the corpse’s face.
“Do you recognize him?”
MacAskell squinted at the countenance, and then recognition dawned upon him. “Why, that’s Roberts from across the creek!”
“Aye, he raises hogs.”
Seymour studied the body more closely. “Hogs, you say? Well, it looks as if one of his animals had a bit of a snack on him. Indeed, he seems to have been trampled upon a fair bit.”
“But what’s he doing in my barnyard?”
“That’s the mystery, my friend,” Seymour said with a smile. “That’s the mystery.”