He had not intended, when he had come here seeking shelter from the rain the previous night, to be drawn into another investigation. He had been on his way home after completing an exhaustingly uninteresting fraud case involving the mayor of Boardbarrough, and had been hoping to reach a town to spend the night, but he had been caught in the storm and had been forced to find cover. He had been asleep in the hayloft of MacAskell’s barn (with the farmer’s permission, of course), when he had been awakened by a noise outside. That was when he had witnessed the peculiar burial in the barnyard.
He had seriously considered pretending he had seen nothing. He had no legal obligation to report it and he owed it to nobody to involve himself. But he had known that he would never be able to forgive himself if he had ignored it—plus, it was intriguing. His curiosity had always won over his laziness, and this was no exception. In this case, as he dragged a rotting corpse through a yard full of ankle-deep, stinking mud, he was beginning to think that his curiosity had also gotten the better of his sanity.
It had been raining all night, so the footprints of the woman were quite obliterated. Seymour had seen, however, the general direction in which she had gone, so after securing the body, he followed in her approximated path. This led him to the fence that marked the border between MacAskell’s farm and his neighbor’s. He did not climb over the fence on account of the several snarling guard dogs pacing upon the other side, but he looked into the pasture beyond and down the gentle hill, where sat a small, thatch-roofed dwelling. Smoke curled lazily from the mud-brick chimney. A dairy cow grazed contentedly near the front door, and a small crowd of chickens pecked for insects in the dirt pathway.
The detective turned his attention to a large pen behind the house. Within it there were several animals: an enormous pig and three large white ducks, which hobbled across the enclosure and slipped under the fence as he watched. Outside of the pen, a flock of newly shorn sheep speckled the land.
A girl of perhaps twelve years of age, alerted by the baying of the dogs at the fence, left off tending to the sheep and climbed the hill. She stopped about twenty feet away from Seymour and called out to him. “What do you want, merboy?”
“Just admiring the view. Is there any harm in that?”
She scowled at him suspiciously. “Does Mr. MacAskell know you’re on his property?”
“But my mammy always said he was a respectable sort, not the sort what’d be takin’ in no mermen as visitors.”
“So I don’t think it very likely he knows you’re there. I think you’re a trespasser.”
Seymour shrugged. “As you will.”
“If you don’t go away, I’m gonna tell my mammy that there’s a nasty, green-skin merman skulkin’ about the fence.”
Seymour leaned with his elbows on the fencepost. “You do that. And tell her that the nasty, green-skin merman would like to know how she came into possession of such a remarkable pig.” With a gesture his webbed hand, he indicated the horse-sized swine in the pen below.
She brightened up immediately. “Oh, that’s Apples. He’s the biggest hog in fifty miles, you know. He’ll be defendin’ his title on the morrow, an’ he’s sure to win. He does every year.”
“That must bring your mother much pride.”
“Aye…” She hesitated, the look of suspicion returning to her freckled face. “What does it matter to you?” And she trotted away without waiting for a response.
He watched until she had vanished into the house, and then he turned back the way he had come. He would speak with her mother later, but at the moment he had more pressing concerns. There was a limit to the length of time that he could go about with his boots full of mud, and he had reached it.