Friday, January 25, 2008

The End of Goldfish

Here is the heart-pounding, stomach-churning, algae-eating conclusion to "A Troubling of Goldfish." Remember that Adobe Photoshop was still fairly new when this was written....
Back at headquarters, they were met by Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder, who was still in the lab.

“Adolph, I need a sketch artist.”

“Look no further.”

“You? What happened to Jenkins?” Santos asked.

“He was sent back to do courtroom renderings. Remember? The cubism?”

“Oh, right. Okay, Adolph. Get your sketch pad. I’ve got a picture I need you to alter.”

“What sketch pad?” asked Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. “I’ve got a Mac and image-processing software. Screw the sketch pad.”

“Okay. Let’s try it.”

Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder led them into his office where had a Macintosh computer secreted. He booted it up, and opened the proper program. Santos handed him the diskette. Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder inserted it, and accessed the file.

As Santos watched, he said, “We’ve got one of these?”

“Yes. It’s quite a remarkable program, Bernard. I can take any photograph that has been digitized, bring it into this program, and make a variety of changes to it.”

“When did I approve this system?”

“When you got back together with Miriam last year. You were quite agreeable. We took you for a lot of stuff.”

Jordan added, “And when you broke up with Miriam again, you made us get rid of the Belgian waffle maker.”

“Oh, now I remember. Okay, see that photo there, Mason Arthur? We need to age him a bit. Put some lines around the eyes and mouth. . . . Good. Now, thin the hair at the temples and gray it a bit. . . . Perfect. Now, add a jet black toupee on top. . . . Excellent.” He stared at the manipulated image. “Yes, I’m positive that that is now Arthur Mason. That’s a pretty useful program, by the way.”

“Mm. I can do anything to him you want. Like this, for example . . . .”

Santos watched. “No, he doesn’t have a moustache.”

“Okay, scratch that. How about this . . . .”

“No, he doesn’t have Isaac Asimov sideburns either.”

“How about this . . . .”

“No, I’ve never seen him wear a bunny suit.”

“This . . .?”

“No, I’m positive that he doesn’t have a third eye.”

“Okay, how about—”

“Would you stop!”

“What do we do next, Captain?” asked Jordan.

“What time is it?”

“4:05 am.”

“Okay. Since we already have one goldfish specimen, we should destroy all the others. Jordan, we’re going down to Arthur’s Aquarium.”

“Captain, if they’re the undead, how do we kill them?”

“Remember your horror movies, Lieutenant. A wooden stake through the heart.”

“Right, of course.”

“Since fish are small, we don’t need a big stake. We can pick up a box of toothpicks on the way there. That should do it. Let’s go.” He moved toward the door.

“Captain, where exactly is a fish’s heart anyway?”

Santos stopped. “Good question. Adolph?”

“Behind the mouth, just below the gills.”


Heart, indeed.

They pulled into the parking lot of Arthur’s Aquarium. As they expected, it was completely dark, except for a kind of ethereal glow emanating from one of the side windows.

“Probably a night light,” said Jordan.

“Lieutenant, I scarcely think that the Prince of Evil needs a Donald Duck night light.”

“You never know.”


They got out of the car and walked up to the door. Santos expertly picked the lock and they went inside.

“Captain, pardon my asking, but how Constitutional is this?”

“Lieutenant, we’re dealing with Satan’s Spawn here. I think we need to go through other channels than those explicitly provided for in the Constitution. And I for one would not really want to be in a room with twelve of his peers.”

“Well, you know the ACLU, Captain,” said Jordan. “Captain, if Arthur flees, would we be able to extradite him from Hell?”


They walked across the store until they came to the goldfish tank. The fish were swimming about unconcerned. Of the thirty that were in the tank earlier in the day, twenty-five seemed to be left.

“Well, he certainly is taking his time, isn’t he?” said Santos.

“How are we going to do this?” asked Jordan.

Santos stood back and considered. “Let’s flip the tank over. We’ll be better able to drive in the toothpicks if they’re on the floor rather than in the tank.” He walked over to one side of the tank. “Grab that other side. On ‘three,’ heave it over.” Jordan got into position. “Okay . . . three!”

They pushed, and the tank went over on its side with a loud crash, as the glass shattered and the water, gravel, and fish splashed across the room. Santos had not anticipated that the water would carry the fish to inaccessible parts of the store. The fish began flopping about wetly on the tile floor.

“Damn. Okay,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a box of toothpicks. He gave a handful to Jordan. “Start sticking them. Remember, behind the mouth, just beneath the gills.”

He and Jordan began driving the toothpicks into the hearts of the goldfish. There was an audible sound whenever the pick was driven home properly, like steam escaping, or like Santos’s Uncle Mort after having been to the buffet table. After about two minutes, they stood up. Santos did a quick body count.

“We got twenty-one out of twenty-five. Let’s find the other four.”

Jordan found one wedged under the front desk, and promptly skewered it. Santos found one buried under a pile of gravel, and he promptly skewered it. One had actually slid under the front door. Jordan opened it, saw the fish on the welcome mat, and, again, promptly skewered it. He looked around for more. Santos was also searching for the last one.

“We got three, Lieutenant. Where did the last one go?”

He spied it, working its way in a thick puddle that flowed toward the pentagonal tank. As it turned out, the pentagonal tank was also the source of the ethereal emanation of light. As Santos charged after the fleeing fish, the light became more intense. The water inside the tank began bubbling and becoming cloudy. Santos watched. Inside the murk, he could barely make out some kind of form, which looked like an octopus.

“Captain, is that an octopus?” Jordan asked, also spellbound by the mysteriously churning water in the tank.

“It appears to be, yes.” He looked down and once again noticed the last surviving fish making for the tank. He ran over to it, toothpick in hand.

A tentacle shot out of the tank and grabbed Santos by the throat. “Lfgfgieufgfftengfgant . . .”

“Um, sir? About that ‘no gun’ policy. . . .“ He ran over and tried to pull the tentacle from around Santos’s throat. Instead, another tentacle shot out and grabbed Jordan by the throat. Once secured firmly around their respective throats, the tentacles did not tighten; the cephalopod in the tank seemed content to just hold them still for a while.

“Lieutenant, what do you make of his?”

“Well, octopi are supposed to be remarkably intelligent creatures, sir. They’re also not supposed to be particularly lethal.”

A deep, guttural chuckling sound bubbled up from the depths of the tank.

“Lieutenant, did you have cabbage for dinner or was that the octopus? Mind you, I’m not quite which I would find more disturbing. . . .”

The chuckling again.

“No, captain, I’m afraid that was the octopus.”

A third tentacle reached out of the tank and arced down toward the goldfish. It settled next to it, and the fish hopped up onto it. The tentacle lifted gently back into the tank, taking the goldfish with it. The bubbling in the tank settled down a bit. The chuckling, however, did not.

“I think we just witnessed a rescue,” said Santos.

“Do not screw with the Master,” said a deep, resonant voice from within the tank.

Santos and Jordan looked at each other. “Lieutenant, was that James Earl Jones or the octopus? Again, I’m not sure which I would find more disturbing.”

“Oh, I am.”

The tentacles then tossed Santos and Jordan across the room, where they crashed to the floor.

“Ah!” screamed Jordan. “I landed on a toothpick.”

The bubbling in the tank tapered off, the murk cleared, and the light dimmed and faded out. There was now nothing but water in the tank.

Santos slowly climbed to his feet. He helped Jordan up, and they both stared at the tank.

“So that was the Master,” said Santos. “Or Mr. Master, as Mason put it. I wonder what kind of buying trip he was supposed to be on, anyway.”

“Interesting business partner. What do we do now?”

“I’m not quite sure.”

“Well, I am.” Jordan walked over to the desk, picked up the cash register, and hurled it at the tank.

“Lieutenant! What are you doing?”

The register effectively shattered the glass of the tank, and water and shards of glass fell to the floor. There was a noise, like a loud explosion, which shook the walls and ceiling. A bright light pulsed in mid-air, in what had been the center of the tank. A strong wind blew out from the source of the light, blowing papers off the desk, objects off shelves, tiles from the ceiling. Santos and Jordan were blown back toward the desk, and the remains of the tank—glass and water—began swirling in the air. The tornado made its way toward Santos and Jordan.

“Jordan, behind the desk!” They jumped to comparative safety, and heard the splashing of the water and the tinkling of the shards of glass on the front of the desk. As quickly as the monsoon had begun, it ended, and all was quiet in the store. Santos peeked out from behind the desk, and saw nothing but water and broken glass, plus gravel from the goldfish tank. However, the bodies of the dead fish were gone.

“Captain, what do you suppose that was about?”

“I don’t quite know. It’s possible that the door to whatever netherworld the Master dwells in is located over there and the fishtank was simply created around it. The door may still be there, but perhaps a water-dwelling creature is incapable of using it now.”

“That’s only comforting until you realize how many dangerous creatures don’t live in water. How do we close and lock this door?”

“I don’t know. But I think I know who does.”


“Right. Let’s head over to the Edgard House.”

This is the infamous Edgard House?” said Jordan, incredulously, as they walked from where they had parked on NW 15th Street and climbed up Edgard Hill.

Santos looked over at him. “Not what you expected, Lieutenant?”

“I was expecting a big, creepy house, like in Psycho or something. This is a white, split-level tract home, practically identical to most of the other houses built in Moistville in the 1960s. Levitt houses are more distinctive than this is.”

“Terror comes in all shapes, sizes, and architectural designs, Lieutenant.”

They continued the somewhat arduous climb up the Hill toward the house. They crouched behind a shrubbery along the side of the driveway and stared at the front door.

“I’m surprised you’ve never seen the house before, Lieutenant. It’s visible from every bathroom window in town.”

“None of the apartments in my building have bathroom windows. We have a very paranoid coop board. They had them all removed.”

“It’s just as I remember it, Jordan,” said Santos, nearly breathless. The climb had been a tough one, and he was not as young as he used to be. “Although, it’s not as big as I remember.”

“One gets used to that,” said Jordan. “Anyway, what do we do now?”

“We need to get into the house. Lieutenant, remember that act you performed at last summer’s Emu Day Festival, where you were able to emulate the frequency of the signal emitted by a garage-door opener’s remote control?”

“Yes. It was a little trick I learned during my days as a valet parking attendant.”

“Do you think you might be able to open that garage door?”

“I’ll run through a range of frequencies and see what I can do.”

He opened his mouth and held it open. Santos could see the veins in his neck tightening, even though no sound—at least to Santos’s ears—was coming out. The garage door didn’t move, but Santos looked up and saw that the sky was suddenly thick with circling aircraft.

“Uh, Lieutenant . . .”

Suddenly, there was a clicking sound from within the garage, followed by a humming noise. The door started to rise.

Jordan closed his mouth and relaxed. He grimaced.

“What’s wrong, Lieutenant? You did it.”

“A moth flew into my mouth.” He spat it out.

“Come on, let’s hurry.”

They darted from the shrubbery into the open garage. As soon as they were in, the door closed behind them.

“Well, someone knows we’re here,” said Santos.

“Sorry, sir, that was me again. I was just singing a Mariah Carey song.”

“Well, stop.”

They looked around the garage. Nothing out of the ordinary; a workbench covered with screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, saws, and other tools.

“Hmm. He seems to be quite the handyman. Didn’t Satan have a home renovation show on The Learning Channel?”

“No, Lieutenant, that was Bob Vila.” Santos looked down at the floor. “There’s been a car here recently. I didn’t see one in the driveway. Mason must be out for the evening.”

Jordan bent down and examined a still-wet puddle. “Satan’s car is dripping transmission fluid.” He stood up. “Sir, do you think he’s gone down to the Aquarium?”

“We didn’t pass him on the road, and we took the most direct route here.” Santos said ominously, “It’s possible he’s gone out for the evening to feed.”

“Or he has a date.”

Santos motioned for Jordan to follow him through a door into the rest of the house. They walked down a short hallway until they were in the basement, a basement that Santos remembered from long ago.

“Captain, if Mason is a vampire of some kind, why was he out during the day? Don’t vampires stay indoors until dark? Dracula did.”

“Well, you must remember, Lieutenant, that they didn’t have sun block in Victorian England.”

As Santos looked around the basement, he noticed that the fishtank from all those years ago was still there. The light was on, the filter was working, but it contained only water.

“This tank, Lieutenant. This is the tank that had the early versions of Mason’s evil goldfish, back in 1967.” He and Jordan walked over to it, peering through the glass.

“Version 1.0, you’d say nowadays, Captain,” said a faintly-accented voice behind them.

Santos and Jordan spun around.

“Mason,” said Santos.

“Arthur,” said Jordan.

“You’re both right,” said Mason. “I was Mason Arthur. Now I’m Arthur Mason.”

“Your only mistake—well, one of your mistakes—was to pick such an obvious alias, Mr. Mason,” said Santos.

“I didn’t pick it, Captain. The DMV made a mistake when I renewed my driver’s license. I found that it was simpler to just change my name than have it corrected.”

“Mr. Mason, forgive my bluntness, but it’s late. What’s the deal with the vampire goldfish?”

“Do you like them, Captain? I spent decades perfecting those creatures.”

Santos looked at him. “Well, go on.”

Mason smiled. “That’s right. You’re both going to die, so why not tell you all my secrets? You won’t live to do anything about it. You see, Captain, I saw the future long before anyone else did. In the 1960s I knew the dairy industry would phase out home milk delivery some day. The changing times, I suppose. The innocence of the 1950s, when milkmen could be trusted to deliver milk promptly in the morning, was being replaced by the tumult and turmoil of the 1960s. Milk was out, Captain.”
He looked down at the floor, almost sadly. His head jerked up, and his voice slowly began to increase in pitch. “All I knew was milk. I grew up at Dairy Moist. As a lad from London, I was impressed by the American dairy industry. And I’d seen the reports, I knew what milk could do, how one could grow in twelve ways. But, this power I was born with, this gift . . . enabled me to see the future. No more milk. The industry would be forced to resort to ghastly ads of celebrities with milk mustaches. It was too much for flesh to bear, Captain. I was a milkman, if the industry fell . . . I would fall with it.”

“Jeez, Captain,” said Jordan, “Shatner can’t ham it up like this guy.”

“Shush, Lieutenant.”

Mason continued. “This house has evil in it, I knew that then. This fishtank surrounds the portal to Hell, just like the tank at the Aquarium had. I knew I could use the evil of this house to take revenge on a world that allowed the milkman to fade into extinction.”

“The Master helped you?” Santos asked.

“The Master helped me. I was on vacation in the Caribbean. I met the Master in a bar on Jamaica. I saw this octopus sitting alone at a table sipping a piña colada, and I thought to myself, ‘There was someone special.’ We struck up a conversation, hit it off pretty well. Lacking any type of skeletal structure, he could limbo far better than I could. And yes, Captain, I did accept his invitation to spent the night at his place.”

“What is the source of the Master’s evil power?” asked Santos.

“The Master has no evil power. He’s simply an anthropomorphic octopus. No special power. Well, nothing Satanic at any rate. I, however, do possess evil powers. I was born with them. My mother smoked heavily while she was pregnant with me. Do you think the tobacco companies tell you everything that’s in cigarettes?”

“So why is he called ‘the Master’?”

Mason shrugged. “Simply a pet name, like ‘Pookey,’ ‘Snookums’ or ‘Evil Mound of Filth.’ At any rate, we came back to Moistville, at which point I had had my ‘declining milkman’ vision. I told my analyst about it, and he suggested that I should act on my feelings, so I decided to launch an all out war against humanity. I doubt that that’s what he had in mind, but I interpreted it as such. But first, I needed this house. The portal to Hell was so convenient, it essentially cut my commute in half. I couldn’t afford to buy the house, so I covertly snuck in here at night to begin my goldfish-breeding experiments. Then Edgard House and his miserable pack of children moved in. And you know kids: if there’s a portal to Hell in house, they’ll find it. I knew I had to get rid of them. So, I deliberately used my psychic powers of suggestion to have the old biddy next door mishear House’s request that I not deliver any more cheese. According to plan, House was arrested.”

“And you killed his family,” said Santos.

“I did not, Captain. They are still alive. They went through the portal and are now living in a Cape Cod-style house on the outskirts of Hell. Say what you want about it, Hell has really affordable real estate.”

“That’s true, Captain,” said Jordan. “Probably because it’s so far from the Interstate.”

Mason continued, “And since the house was reputed to be haunted, I was allowed to continue with my goldfish experiments unimpeded. Until . . .”

“Until I thwarted you,” said Santos.

“Yes, that’s right, Captain. Do you know what your esteemed Captain did, Lieutenant? On a ridiculous adolescent dare, he not only spent the night here, he found two of my goldfish and overfed them. You killed my fish, Captain. And to make matters worse, you tried to flush them and ended up flooding the upstairs bathroom. That set me back months. Finally, several months ago, I perfected the very first vampire goldfish. But then the question became, how to get them in the hands of the population of Moistville. I thought, and remembered that this town loves exotic fish. The whole town is fish crazy. I set up the Aquarium—”

“Where did you get the money for that?” asked Santos.

“Contacts, Captain. Did you know that Satan himself is an avid venture capitalist?”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

“With the link to Hell I had installed at the store I could provide any fish the customer asked for. By imbuing all the exotic fish with psychic powers, I could then control the minds of any person who bought one.”

“Buy why only women?”

“They’re far more organized than men, Captain, and I dare say more reliable. If I’m going to create an army of obedient slaves, I want them to at least be conscientious about it. And with the free vampire goldfish, I could then have all the men turned into mindless, willing zombies.”

“You know, Mason, a swimsuit calendar would have pretty much accomplished the same thing.”

“True, but the evil goldfish seemed more fun.”

“And the point of all this?” asked Santos.

“With a legion of followers, I could take over the world and control all dairy production. The milkman would no longer be doomed to extinction or to a figure of fun, but would be the rulers of the world!”

“And the science fiction plot summaries?”

“To keep track of who had been recruited and who hadn’t, of course. And I’ve always liked science fiction television anyway.”

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” said Jordan. “If the goldfish were gifts from female acquaintances, why were purchase receipts found in the homes of the victims?”

“Tax reasons.”

“Ah, of course.”

“And the Master’s role in all this?” asked Santos.

“Nothing major. Answering phones, licking envelopes, that sort of thing.” Mason sighed deeply. “There. Now that all that is off my chest, it’s time for you to die.”
He walked over to the fish tank and waved his hands over it. There was a bubbling and churning, and the emanation of a bright light. In the tank appeared two goldfish. Mason reached in with both hands and plucked them out by the tails.

“Now, Captain Santos, Lieutenant Jordan, prepare to join me.”

Santos and Jordan, realizing for perhaps the first time, that they were not tied up, quickly pivoted and attempted to make a break for it. They got about two inches, and were stopped dead in their tracks.

“Oh, poopie,” said Jordan.

Blocking the only exit was a mob of what looked to Santos like nearly every man in town—zombified and holding a large trout.

Santos subtly gestured to a gap in the ranks of Mason’s army. He and Jordan quickly attempted to make a break for it. As they reached the front line, Herb Smeldman swung his large trout by tail at Santos, who caught it on the chin and went flying backwards across the basement. Denver Eggles thwacked Jordan back across the room.

“They appear to have a great deal of strength,” said Santos.

“Well, I’m told that the zombie lifestyle is very invigorating,” said Jordan.

They looked back at the line of the advancing undead. One member of the throng in particular again made them shriek with terror.

“Oh, no!” yelled Jordan.

Pushing his way to the front of the mob was none other than Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder—apparently also the victim of Mason’s goldfish.

Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder led the mob toward Santos and Jordan, who quickly retreated, until they were flat against the wall. Mason, still carrying the two fish, walked over to them.

“Extend your index fingers,” he said, “this won’t hurt a bit.”

“Trust me, Captain,” said Jordan, “it hurts.”

Seeing no possible escape, Santos and Jordan both let out sighs of resignation and extended their fingers. The goldfish opened their mouths as they were brought closer to the waiting fingers—

Suddenly, Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder broke rank and clubbed Mason with his trout, Mason collapsed to the floor, and the two fish plopped on the floor next to him and began to wriggle toward the tank. There was a general confusion and hubbub among the throng, who took a few moments before unanimously deciding to go after Santos and Jordan. Santos saw his chance: he reached in his pocket and withdrew two toothpicks. He lunged in pursuit of the two fleeing fish. The army, apparently much brighter than he had thought, knew what he was about to do, and moved to intercept him. Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder, however, began swinging his trout wildly, knocking Mason’s soldiers to the floor.

“Go, Captain!” yelled Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

Santos ran over and quickly drove the toothpicks into the fish. The reassuring popping noises led Santos to believe that they were safe . . . for the moment. Mason regained his feet, and summoning as much psychic energy as he could, reinvigorated his troops, who had no trouble in disarming Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. One well-placed bonk on the head, and Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder was out cold.

“Nice try, Captain,” said Mason. “Let’s have another go at this then. Grab him!”

Denver Eggles and Melvin Snogg came forward and grabbed each of Santos’s arms. They led him over to the fishtank, where Mason was once again conjuring up more fish from the portal.

With all the attention that was being paid to Santos, no one noticed as Jordan snuck to the rear of the crowd where Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder was lying unconscious. He grabbed Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder’s trout, looked for an opening in the crowd, and found one. He raised the trout above his head, and charged toward Mason.

“This is for Jacques Cousteau!” he yelled, as he brought the trout down across Mason’s back. Mason fell forward into the fish tank just as two goldfish were appearing. Suddenly, more goldfish began appearing, surrounding Mason, and beginning to nibble at his flesh. Swarms and swarms—er, troublings and troublings—of goldfish began appearing, all of them feasting on Mason, who was thrashing around in the water.

“No! What are you doing? I created you! You ungrateful louts!”

In moments, he was reduced to a heap of bones. There was more bubbling, churning, and emanation of light, and the fish and the Mason’s remains were gone, replaced by an octopus—the Master.

“Oh, damn. We’re in for it now,” said Jordan.

“No, my friends, I will not harm you,” said the deep, guttural voice of the Master. “I was opposed to this idea from the beginning, and though I loved Mason dearly, I could not allow him to succeed in his plan. You see, I’m lactose intolerant. Your town has been freed from his icy grip.”

“What about the portals? Can they be closed?” asked Santos.

“Perhaps, but it will take a great deal of time to get the proper work permits. The worst thing about Hell is that the bureaucracy is a nightmare. I’m going back to the Caribbean to mope now. Oh, well. At least I can consume eight drinks at once. I urge you to do the same. Good-bye, Captain Santos, and I apologize for all the trouble this has caused you.”

More bubbling, churning, emanating, and the Master was gone. The fishtank itself disappeared into the portal. One last flash of light, and it was gone. Or at least invisible.

“Well, it’s been a weird day,” said Jordan.

“Mm. This is true.”

“Captain, what time is it?”

“I don’t know. 5:30 maybe?”

“You still don’t know what time it is?”

“No, Jordan, I don’t. Perhaps it wasn’t a force of evil. Maybe I’m just getting forgetful in my old age.” It was at that point at which he turned and noticed the newly-released crowd. “All of you can go home now. Please.”

They confusedly began to file out of the house. After they had gone, one unconscious crowd member stirred.

“Oh, my head,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

Santos looked down at him, albeit briefly. “Good work, Adolph. Infiltrating their ranks and posing as the undead was a stroke of genius.”

“What infiltrating? I was out for a walk, saw this parade go by , and thought I’d follow them. It was only when I got here that I knew what the hell was going on.”

“Adolph, I don’t think I want any more peeks into your private life. Please go home. I’ll see you back at the office tomorrow.”

Tomorrow indeed.

“Oh, no, no more dénouements here! Out out out!” yelled Osgood Smelt, as Santos, Jordan, and Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder stood in the lobby of the House of Smelt and waited to be seated.

“No, Mr. Smelt, we’ve had our dénouement already. This is the epilogue, now. We’ve decided to make this place our new hangout.”

“Oh, joy,” said Smelt. “All right. Go sit over there by the fern. I’ll be with you shortly.”

The trio walked over to their table and sat down.

“Well, Captain, the last of the goldfish have been destroyed, and this afternoon I supervised the cordoning off of the two portals to Hell.”

“Excellent, Lieutenant. What did you use?”

“Those velvet ropes they have in banks and movie theaters. No one crosses those.”

“Ah good.” Santos looked at Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. “You know, Jordan, I don’t believe I ever told you how I got Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder back after the Edgard House incident all those years ago.”

“I don’t think the Lieutenant cares to hear about that,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

“Oh, I’m sure he does.”

“What did you do, Captain?”

“Well, three weeks later, the whole Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder family took their yearly vacation in Nuremberg. While they were away, I snuck into the house and redecorated it exactly like the Edgard House. Horizontal striped wallpaper, the potato chip-shaped chairs, the Laugh-In-like shower curtains.”

“And don’t forget the best,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

“Right. And directly above Adolph’s bed, a big Donovan poster. It scared the hell out him, let me tell you.”

Santos laughed uproariously. Jordan looked at him expressionlessly.

“Kind of lame, Captain.”

Smelt wandered over and unsmilingly handed each of them a menu.

“You know, Mr. Smelt, I don’t believe I saw you among Arthur Mason’s army of undead followers last night.”

“Should I have been?”

“I don’t know. Didn’t anyone give you a goldfish as a gift recently?”

“Yes, actually someone did.”

“Really? And it didn’t attack you?” asked Jordan.

“Attack me? Why the hell should it attack me?” said Smelt.

“What happened to it?” asked Santos.

“Check today’s Chef’s Specials,” said Smelt.

Meanwhile, in the Basement of the Edgard House, something stirred . . . .

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