Thursday, January 24, 2008

More Goldfish

Part two of the return to Moistville, "A Troubling of Goldfish." Part one is here.
"A Troubling of Goldfish"
Part 2 of 3

Arthur’s Aquarium was located in the heart of downtown Moistville, on Main Street halfway between Main Avenue and Main Drive. Santos walked in the front door, and was immediately greeted by the smell of the sea. The smell of the sea showed him to the back of the store, where Arthur Mason was sprinkling flakes of TetraMin into a large fishtank stocked with small goldfish. Oddly, it was only one of two aquaria in the store. A large, 100-gallon, pentagonally-shaped tank stood in a dark corner of the store. It was filled with water, yet contained no fish.

“Yes, may I help you? And may I remind you that we are having a sale on clown triggerfish. Only $75 dollars each, two for $125. Even nice at twice the price.”

Santos stared at the goldfish in the tank hypnotically. “I’m Captain Bernard Santos, of the Moistville Police Department. May I have several words with you, Mr. Mason?”

“Certainly.” He closed the top of the fishtank and replaced the tin of fish food on a shelf above it. He turned around to face Santos. Santos immediately noticed that he was wearing elevator shoes and an appallingly bad toupee. The Master, he thought.

“Um, Master—er, Mister—Mason, I’m very curious about those goldfish. How many do you have there?”

“Thirty. A ‘troubling.’”

“I’ll bet they are, yes.”

“No, Captain. A ‘troubling of goldfish.’ A group of goldfish is called a troubling. Much like a ‘gaggle’ of geese, a ‘pod’ of seals, or an ‘arm’ of frogs.”

“Or a ‘murder’ or crows,” contributed Santos.

“Exactly, Captain. I’m unaware of the etymology of the term ‘troubling.’ I wrote to ‘Ask Marilyn’ to find out, but she never responded. Oh, well. One of the many mysteries of life, I’m afraid.”

Santos noticed that Arthur Mason had a trace of a British accent, which made even his tendency to randomly shout profanities sound dignified.

“Speaking of the mysteries of life, Mr. Mason, I seem to be confronted by several of them.”

“That is a shame, Captain,” said Mason. “How can I help you? I am a mere proprietor of fish, not a great detective.”

“Mr. Mason,” said Santos, pointing to the tank, “how large do these fish get?”

Mason shrugged. “Depends on the owner, really. If they overfeed them, they can get quite large indeed. Otherwise, they pretty much stay about the same size. Of course, underfeed them, and they’ll be floating at the top of the bowl. That tends to happen a lot anyway. Is that your great mystery, Captain?”

“No, not really. Tell me, how many other types of fish do you have?”

Mason gestured around the store. “As you can see, Captain, I have a limited variety in stock. But I assure you, I can readily obtain any species you desire. What will it be, Captain? A garibaldi damselfish? A raccoon butterfly fish? A purple dottyback? A Picasso triggerfish? Name your fish, I can procure it for you.”

“No, I’m not really in the market for a fish right now.”

“Then perhaps one as a gift for that special someone? I always encourage my customers to give fish as gifts. In fact, whenever one of my customers makes a purchase, I always provide a free goldfish for just that purpose. I do not recommend using wrapping paper, but a carefully constructed bow attached to a dorsal fin looks quite festive.”

“No, look, Mr. Mas—”

At that point, a jingling bell heralded the arrival of a customer. It was Miss Westerberg, Santos noticed, the proprietor of the world-famous Moistville Emu Farm.

“Yes, may I help you?” asked Mason, walking up to her. “Ah, Miss Westerberg. Lovely to see you this morning.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mason, and the same to you of course. I’d like to add to my aquarium again today.”

“Ah, of course. What’ll it be today?”

“Mm. What do you recommend?”

“I know your taste, Miss Westerberg. May I recommend a sargassum fish, Histrio histrio, native to the tropical Atlantic and western Pacific, tends to hide among sargassum weeds. You’d love it.”

“I trust your judgment. Mr. Mason. Make it so.”

“As you wish . . . .”

He walked over to the empty pentagonal tank. Standing in front of it, with his back to Santos, Santos could not see what was happening in the tank. But he noticed that, as Mason moved his hands over the top of the tank, it began to emanate a bright light, and heard the sound of bubbling water. Several moments later, Mason turned around, holding a transparent glass orb containing a rather odd-looking fish. He walked back to the front of the store, and handed it to Miss Westerberg.

“Ooh, how exotic,” she said, examining the fish.

“Yes, I thought you’d like it.” He walked over to the goldfish tank, grabbed a small net, and scooped one of the goldfish out and placed it in a water-filled plastic bag. He returned once again to the front of the store and handed it to her. “And who is this one for?” he asked.

“For Denver Eggles, the nice man next door. He’s been kind enough to feed my emus when I go to my biker rallies, so I thought I would give him a nice gift.”

“That’s what I always say, ‘give the gift of fish.’”

She paid for the fish, and took her leave of him.

“Oh, and remember, Miss Westerberg, keep the sargassum fish at a temperature of 68–80 degrees Fahrenheit. And make sure you include floating sargassum weed. They like to stay concealed whenever possible.”

“Of course. Thank you.”

With a jingle of the bell, she was gone.

“Another satisfied customer, I see,” said Santos.

“I do my best, Captain,” said Mason.

“That was a neat trick with the tank over there. How’d you do it?”

“Oh, come now, Captain, I can’t give away all my secrets, now can I?”

Santos walked over to the goldfish tank and examined them closely. He noticed something odd about them. “Mr. Mason, these goldfish. They are Carassius auratus, correct?”

“Yes, of course. I wasn’t aware you were versed in ichthyology, Captain.”

“I’m not. I simply pay attention when people talk to me. Sometimes. These fish, Mr. Mason. They look peculiar.”


“Mm. I’m no expert on goldfish, but I have flushed my share of them. These don’t look quite right. Their skin looks, well, baggy, like a deflated puffer fish.”

“There are many varieties of goldfish, Captain. That is the particular trait of this particular one. I assure you that they are quite healthy.”

“I have no doubt about that. My problem is that in the past week I’ve seen two extremely enormous goldfish.”

“And . . .”

“And they were both right next to dead men. Dead men who later got up and walked away from the autopsy room.”

“Perhaps they weren’t quite dead, Captain. That sort of thing happens all the time, much in the same way an automobile will suddenly make no more strange noises when it’s in the repair shop, or an intense pain will vanish the moment you walk into a doctor’s office. And I scarcely see what my fish have to do with anything.”

“I don’t either, at the moment. Mr. Mason, are these goldfish poisonous?”

“No, of course not. I do sell fish that are dangerous or poisonous, but I assure you that goldfish are the most inoffensive of creatures.” He glanced into the tank. “Well, harmless, anyway.”

Santos couldn’t help looking into the tank.

“Look, Captain, I have a lot of work to get done today. My partner is out of town at the moment and I’m afraid he left me to do all the work.”

Santos’s ears pricked up. “Partner?”

“Yes, Mr. Master, my business partner. He is in the Caribbean at the moment on a buying trip.”

“Mr. Master.”

“Yes, that is his name. We have been in business together for well nigh twenty years, or however long a nigh is.”

“But you just opened. That was certainly not twenty years, nigh or no nigh.”

“We were previously located in London, but we decided to relocate.”

“To Moistville?”

“With a name like that, one couldn't ask for a better location for an aquarium store, now could one?”

“No, one supposes not.”

“Now, Captain, I respect the fact that you have a mystery on your hands, but until you have a compelling reason to be here, I suggest you go search for clues someplace else.”

Santos smiled inwardly, whatever that means. “Yes, I think I will.” He turned to leave. “Oh , Mr. Mason, I understand you bought the old Edgard House.”

“Yes, what of it?”

“You do know it’s haunted.”

“No, I did not know that. It was a bit creepy at first, but I got rid of the Donovan poster, and it seems fine now. The toilet doesn’t seem to work very well, if that’s what you mean.”


“At any rate, Captain, auf wiedersehen.”


“‘Auf wiedersehen’. It’s German. It means ‘good—’”

“Yes, I know what it means, I’ve seen The Sound of Music.”


Ah, indeed.

The Sound of Music?” asked Jordan, after Santos related the events that had transpired at Arthur’s Aquarium.

“Yes. Wasn’t ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ a song in it? Or am I thinking of ‘Edelweiss’?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen The Sound of Music. I’ve seen The Andromeda Strain, though.”

The Andromeda Strain? What does that have to do with The Sound of Music?”

“Weren’t they both directed by Robert Wise?”

“Possibly.” That voice inside Santos’s head was once again screaming “Change the subject! Change the subject!”

Fortuitously, Santos’s phone rang at that moment. “Yes, and thank you for calling.”

“Bernard, it’s Adolph. Get down here immediately.”

“Yes, you wanted to see me?” said Santos.

“Damn that was fast,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder, hanging up the phone.

“What’s so important?”

“This.” He pointed to a large pan in front of him, inside which was Snogg’s goldfish, apparently dead, returned to a mere one-inch length. It was surrounded by several quarts of blood. Santos stared at the grisly tableau.

“Don’t tell me it bit you again.”

“No, it didn’t. I had gone home to watch Quincy—I’m addressing the Forensic Pathology Department of Lakeside Elementary School next week and needed a discussion topic—and when I returned, Goldie here was floating upside-down in the bowl. I guess with all the tests I was running I forgot to feed him. Anyway, as I was dissecting him, I made a small incision and all this blood poured out.”

“Wow. I didn’t know fish had this much blood.”

“They don’t. This is human blood.”

Santos wasn’t sure how to respond. “Human blood? How the heck did it get into a goldfish? Don’t tell me the Medical Center is embroiled in another blood transfusion controversy.”

“I suspect, Bernard, that this is Snogg’s blood. Before he up and left, I had time to do a preliminary examination. Like Smeldman, there was no blood left in his body. Also before he up and left, I did manage to make an intriguing observation, which I didn’t at first know what to make of, but now I do. Look at this.” He picked up a photo from the table. “This is a magnified picture of the tip of Snogg’s index finger. See that right there? Two tiny marks in the skin, both about half a millimeter in diameter, and set half a centimeter apart.”

“Hmm. What do you make of that?”

“I didn’t know at first. But this fish has teeth that are unusual for a goldfish. Look.” He pried open the fish’s mouth and handed Santos a magnifying glass. Look at those front two teeth. Goldfish don’t have incisors like that.”

“Adolph, those are fangs.”

“Colloquially put, but essentially accurate, I would say. And those fangs are the same size as the wounds on Snogg’s finger. They are also set apart exactly one-half centimeter. Bernard, it is my somewhat professional opinion that this fish sucked all the blood out of Snogg’s body.”

Santos dropped the magnifying glass, and it shattered on the floor.

“You’re not putting me on, like the ‘crab fingerprint’ episode, are you?”

“Absolutely not. What we have here, is a vampire goldfish. I dare say that Smeldman was killed in the same way.”

“Well, it would explain the walking undead part, too.”

“In this town, Bernard, I wouldn’t make too much of that.”

That, indeed.

Later that evening, Santos was once again in his bathroom staring out at the Edgard House. He supposed he should flash back to That Evening in 1967, but was loath to. Some memories should just remain buried, he supposed. But then, as if being prodded by some uncontrollable force, such as the desire to keep the plot moving, he did. . . .

(dare you dare you dare you dare you dare you dare you dare you dare you)

“All right, now cut that out!”

“You sound like Jack Benny,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” He thought about it, and realized that there are no such things as monsters. This was of course long before he had to deal with a divorce attorney. Anyway, spend an evening in the Edgard House, leave early the next morning. Quite simple, really.

Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder and his cronies watched as he trudged up the front steps early that evening. Santos was upset that he would have to miss Star Trek on TV that evening. It was the last episode of the season, and he didn’t know if the show would ever be rerun.

He opened the door and stepped inside. At the top of the stairs, he averted his gaze to avoid the Donovan poster and walked into the master bedroom. All the furniture was still there; apparently, Edgard himself had picked it out, in one of those mid-1960s futuristic phases. Even a year later, his wife wondered just what he had been thinking, and apparently she moved the family out and decided to take a loss on the furniture.

(And the Donovan poster, Santos thought.)

He put his sleeping bag on the bed and walked around the room. What little he could see was illuminated feebly by the last rays of the setting sun shining through the dusty bedroom window. The half-opened Venetian blinds cast horizontal stripes on the opposite wall. Or so Santos thought; upon closer examination, the pattern turned out to be on the wallpaper.

(bad taste bad taste bad taste)

He walked out to the living room (again averting his gaze from the Donovan poster) and went over to a bookshelf. Since it would be many years before either the Sony Walkman or the Sony Watchman would be invented, he would try to find a book to help him pass the time. He skimmed through the titles: The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, All-Time Great Horror Stories, The Big Book of Crime Scene Photographs, The Year’s Best Ghost Stories, and a novel called You’re Alone in a Spooky House and Things Are Going to Get You. Just the sort of reading material he didn’t need at the moment. He wandered around the house aimlessly; he figured he’d be scared, not bored. In a kitchen drawer he found a pack of playing cards, so he began playing solitaire, until that got tedious, which was after one hand.

It wasn’t long before the sun was gone completely, and the house was completely dark. Unfortunately, he and Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder had knocked out the streetlight the previous evening, so there was no light anywhere. He went back into the bedroom and unpacked his night lights. To his horror, he realized

(Niagara Mohawk Niagara Mohawk Niagara Mohawk)

that the electric company had turned off the power. He went back out to the kitchen; maybe there would be candles.

He was chilled to suddenly feel a cool breeze on his neck. He spun around to make sure no hideous ghoul was about to get him. Thankfully, it was only the flapping of a bat. Fortunately, he knew that bats were quite harmless, and were actually beneficial in that they ate many pounds of mosquitoes in an evening.

(Merlin Tuttle Merlin Tuttle Merlin Tuttle)

He would contribute much money to Bat Conservation International once he reached his adulthood. He resumed his search and found a pack of birthday candles in a cabinet above the refrigerator. He also found a pack of matches, so he lit two candles and saved the rest for later. He walked back to the bedroom. He melted the wax on the bottom of one candle using the other, and stuck it to the top of the bureau. He melted the bottom of the second one and also stuck it to the top of the bureau. With somewhat decent light, he finally noticed how truly repellent the decor was. That was the scariest part, the young Santos believed: staying in a house whose decoration was inspired by 2001.

Growing even more bored, he decided to look through the closet. His parents had warned him not to poke through other people’s closets, only their medicine cabinets, but he figured since no one actually lived here it would be okay. He turned the knob and as he opened the door what looked like a human form fell out on top of him. He crumpled to the floor, the thing on top of him, screaming in terror. He stopped abruptly, noticing that it was too light to be a dead body, or a skeleton, or even Bette Davis. It was made of cardboard. He got up and reached for a candle. Illuminating the odd object, he saw that it was

(dare you dare you dare you)

a life-size cardboard cutout of Ringo Starr.

(we all live in a yellow submarine)

He again screamed in abject terror and ran from the room. He ran down the stairs and, in his confusion, accidentally turned the corner by the front door and ended up going down one more flight into the basement. Slightly disoriented, he was surprised to notice a light emanating from the far corner of the basement. Curious, he wandered over to it. It appeared to be a fishtank, and the fluorescent lamp built into the lid was on—and the filter seemed to be working—despite the fact that there didn’t appear to be any power cord running to the outlet. Batteries, he supposed.

(Knock this battery off my shoulder, I dare you dare you dare you)

He had no idea what that meant; as far as he knew, Robert Conrad wasn’t really a star yet. He looked into the fishtank, and noticed two goldfish, seemingly in perfect health, swimming about, although he couldn’t imagine that anyone had fed them in a while. He looked around, and saw a dusty can of fish food lying on the floor nearby. He opened it, and sprinkled a few flakes into the water. The fish perked up, and immediately began devouring them. Unlike goldfish he had had when he was younger, these seemed to be indulging in a rather violent feeding frenzy, like sharks attacking a chunk of chum, or his Uncle Mort at a buffet table. He knelt down and put his face close to the glass to watch the fish eat like pigs. Suddenly, one of the fish, apparently conscious that Santos was there, swiftly turned toward him and bared a large set of fangs, growling. Santos jumped back and screamed again. Despite his shock, Santos was nothing if not rational, and knew that they must simply be hungry, that there were no such things as killer goldfish. He opened the tin of food again and dumped rest of it in the water, and he watched as a thick cloud of fish flakes enveloped the fish. They seemed quite excited by this, and they began to unleash another feeding frenzy

(Uncle Mort, that’s not real fruit, that’s not real fruit, that’s not real fruit)

writhing about in the water. In minutes, they had eaten all the food in the tank, and then went after whatever had settled to the bottom of the tank. They started to dig into the four-inch layer of gravel and, as they did, an object was uncovered, which begin to float around, buffeted by the currents generated by the feeding fish. Santos saw that it was a human finger, tendrils of veins and arteries dangling from one end. What revulsed Santos more was that there was dirt under the fingernail. Yuck! he thought. The fish then went after the loose flesh attached to the finger, and soon ate it down to the bone. Santos was more than a little freaked out by this and did the only logical thing: he fainted.

When he came to, he wasn’t quite sure where he was. The candle had apparently gone out, and he was conscious of there being complete darkness. As he slowly began to remember what had just transpired, he was surprised to find that the fishtank’s filter was no longer running, and that the light had gone off. He felt around on the top of the tank for the light switch and clicked it a few times. It wouldn’t work. He ran back upstairs to light more candles. When he returned, he noticed that the two fish were floating on their sides on the top of the tank. They had grown stunningly large, apparently from all the food, yet had obviously gorged themselves to death. Santos looked around the basement and found an aquarium net. He scooped the fish from the water and carried them upstairs to the bathroom. Hoping the plumbing still worked, he unceremoniously dumped them into the toilet. As soon as he flushed, he again noticed their size, and thought back to the tragic tennis ball incident in his own house several months earlier. In a replay of that incident—a more gruesome one, admittedly—the two large fish, rather than going down the drain, effectively plugged it up, and Santos noticed the water level in the bowl rising. He searched frantically around the room for a plunger. Damn! You’d think a prominent septic-tank unclogger would have at least one. He ran back to the bowl; the water was two inches below the rim. He ran from one room to the next, ransacking closets, searching through dresser drawers (well, you never know . . ., he thought), checking on shelves, under beds, between sheets. Not one damn plunger in the whole house. He ran back to the bathroom—one inch below the rim!—and tried to think: what would McGyver do?

(Wait a minute, he thought; this is 1967. Who the hell is McGyver?)

Never mind that! Think, think, think! Half an inch to go.

He scanned the bathroom: soap dish? He grabbed it and tried to dislodge the fish with it. Nope, didn’t work. Toothbrush? He tried to pry the fish loose. (Quarter of an inch to go.) Nope, won’t work. Hanging shower caddy? He grabbed it and tried to use the hook to pry the fish loose. Nope. (Eighth of an inch to go.) Safety razor? Nah. (Sixteenth of an inch to go.) Diaphragm? Huh? (Thirty-secondth of an inch to go.) (Santos suddenly understood Zeno’s motion paradoxes.)

Unfortunately, despite what Zeno had to say about the impossibility of ever reaching the end of a motion, the water level did indeed reach the rim of the bowl and began to pour out onto the cheap linoleum flooring. So much for logic. The young Santos, who in about thirty years time would be a police captain, fled the house, screaming.

Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder and his cronies, who had apparently been camped outside awaiting this very moment, laughed uproariously as Santos went running past them.

“Knew you couldn’t do it! Scared? Huh? Are ya? Hah hah hah!” screamed Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

“Chicken!” screamed one of his cronies.

“Yellow coward!” screamed another.

“It was the wallpaper, wasn’t it?” yelled a third.

“Hi, honey.”

A female voice jolted Santos out of his flashback. He spun around. It was her again.

“You again.”

“I’ve brought a little peace offering. I’m sorry about last night. I don’t know what got into me.”

She handed him a fishbowl containing a goldfish.

He jumped back in shock. He spoke in his most authoritative police voice, “Look, put the goldfish down and keep your hands at your side.”

She was apparently undeterred. He supposed he didn’t have a very authoritative voice. She drew closer to him.

“Look, Miss, I don’t know who you are, but I—uh—I’m allergic to goldfish. Any closer, and I’ll be sneezing like crazy.”

She stopped. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. And he’s such a . . . frisky little devil.” She put the bowl on the floor and continued to approach him. “And I’m just as frisky.”

“Did you see that episode of Dr. Who last night? Terrific episode. It was the one with the five Doctors and—”

“Oh, you Belong.” She seemed utterly confused. “That’s okay. I mean, I’m okay with that. Really. Um, you know, I really liked Torch Song Trilogy. I even own a few Patsy Cline records. I’m sorry. I’ll go now.”

She picked up the goldfish bowl and left abruptly.

Santos snapped his fingers. He ran into the living room and called Jordan. “Lieutenant, I think I know what’s going on.”

“Um, look, she was just leaving. Really. She just came over for coffee. We weren’t doing anything. . . .”

“I mean about the goldfish.”

“Captain, do you know what time it is?”

“It’s eight o’clock. Am I interrupting The Munsters or something?”

“No, Captain, it’s midnight and you’re interrupting something that is most definitely not The Munsters.”

Santos blushed, but a lot. “Oh, I apologize, Lieutenant.”

“It’s quite all right. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

In the background, Santos heard a female voice. “Jordy, I forgot to give you this little gifty.”

“Um, Captain, I really have to go now.”

As he was hanging up, he heard his voice say, “A fish . . .”

“Jordan!” Santos shouted into the phone. “Stay away from that—”

At that point, the line went dead.


He quickly dialed headquarters. “Sergeant, this is Santos. I want a squad car to meet me at Lieutenant Jordan’s apartment as soon as possible.”

“Fine, sir. Oh, sir? Where is Lieutenant Jordan’s apartment?”

“1313 8th Street.”

“We’re on our way.”

Way, indeed.

“What’s wrong, Jordy?” cooed a female voice.

“A scene, Jane, all to myself. I’m actually not accompanying Santos, or watching him pace, or muttering obscure cultural references which he never gets anyway. This is an amazing moment for me.”

“Don’t you like your fishy?” she asked in a childlike voice.

“Yes, very much. It’s—um—gold.”

She giggled. “Let’s call him Goldy.”

Jordan turned to face her. “You know, I don’t think you have ever uttered a sentence that didn’t end with the letter ‘y’.”

“I’ve written a letter to Daddy.” She giggled again.

Jordan approached the goldfish. “Well, let’s have a look at him, then.”

Jane reached into her purse and removed a tin of fish flakes. “Why don’t you give him something to eat,” she suggested.

“-y,” finished Jordan, not unsarcastically.

“You know what he likes? Put one of these flakes on the end of your index finger, and let him eat it right out of your hand.”

He hadn’t noticed that her voice had suddenly taken on a much deeper tone.

“Okay,” he said, for no apparent reason.

He dipped his index finger in the tin, a few flakes sticking to the end of it. He then dipped his finger in the bowl. The fish quickly swam over to it and sniffed it. It opened its jaws . . .

Jordan giggled. “That kind of tickl—” He then shrieked in terror as the fish’s fangs dug into his finger. He could feel the fish begin to suck on the end of it. He felt his blood begin to flow out of the wounds into the fish. He tried to pull his arm out of the tank.

“Why can’t I move my arm, Jane? It’s only a two-ounce fish, for God’s sake!”

“It injected a fast-acting neural paralyzer into you. You won’t be able to move your body for several hours. Which disappoints me more than you know.”

“Help me! Jane, stop this crazy thing! I don’t want a scene by myself. I think I like it better when Santos is around!”

“Sorry, Jordy. The Master wouldn’t approve." With that, she grabbed her purse. She withdrew a slip of paper and walked over to his desk, placing the paper among what she believed to be his important papers. She then walked toward the door.
She was prevented from exiting by the fact that the door was kicked in from the outside. It was torn off the hinges and a chunk of the wooden frame was torn loose.

“It was unlocked!” yelled Jordan.


Santos ran into the room, followed by several cops. He pulled Jordan’s arm from the bowl, and struggled to yank the fish from his finger. The fish was beginning to swell.

“Captain, I’m beginning to feel a little faint.”

With a swift yank, the fish came off Jordan’s finger. Santos flung it across the room, where it hit the wall. It flopped around on the carpet for a bit, then was still. Santos helped Jordan to the sofa.

“Captain, Jane here, she deliberately had the fish attack me,” Jordan said.

“It was the Master,” said Jane. “The Master wanted it done. I was just following orders. I was in Austria during the war.”

“Right,” said Santos. “Men! Take her down to headquarters. I’ll be down to question her later. I’ll stay here with Lieutenant Jordan for a while.”

The men handcuffed Jane and led her away. Santos sat down next to Jordan.

“Captain, what the heck was that about?”

“That, Lieutenant, was a vampire goldfish.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“I’m afraid not. Lieutenant, I desperately need a car park right now.”

“You could paint lines on my carpet, if you’d like.”

Santos stood up and paced anyway. “Let me see if I’ve got all of this straight. Arthur Mason is breeding vampire goldfish. Somehow, the Master—his partner, Mr. Master—is hypnotizing all the women in town. They are allowed to buy the exotic fish of their dreams, any fish in the world that they want. In return, they are given one of Mason’s goldfish, which they are coerced into giving to men, which then drains their blood and makes them into walking zombies.”

“The fish injects a neural paralyzer into the body, which is supposed to last for several hours.”

“And that must be why the previous victims didn’t get up and walk away until they were in the morgue. But why the sci-fi plot summaries?”

“Secret code, perhaps? You know, you let them know who Belongs and who doesn’t?”

Santos nodded. “Mm, right, like a secret handshake, perhaps.”

“But why, Captain? Granted, it seems to want to take over the town, but why would one want to do that? What can be gained by taking over Moistville?”

“I have a theory.” He spied a computer across the room. “Lieutenant, you’re kind of ‘hip’ and ‘with it,’ whatever that means. Do you have Internet access from here?”


“Would you mind if I logged on? I need to try to find something.”

“Go ahead. Do you know how?”

“Does a fish swim?” he smiled.

“Captain, please don’t mention fish.”

Santos sat down and booted up the PowerMac 6100. “Impressive machine, Lieutenant. You can afford this on what I pay you? Hmm.” He located Jordan’s ISP program and launched it. He clicked “dial” and soon the modem was making all the appropriate noises. Well, except for the busy signal.

“It’s America Online,” said Jordan. “This may take a while.”

Forty-five minutes later, Santos was able to log on. “I want to find photographs of all the milkmen who worked in Moistville in the late 1960s.”

He located a World Wide Web search engine and in the search field entered “milkmen Moistville”. The search engine returned two items.

“Wow. I must get one of these. This is pretty impressive.”

He clicked on one of the two items, which bore the URL “http://www.moistville.milkmen/” The computer was sent to the Web site, and soon the home page came up.

“Oh, this doesn’t help. This is simply the transcript of that University of Moistville symposium in 1988 on ‘The Post-Modern Milkman and the Semiotics of Bovine-Related Cultural Iconography’.”

“Actually, that was a pretty good symposium. I was on that committee.”

“I didn’t know you went to Unimoist. You learn something new everyday I suppose.”

He went back to the search page and clicked on the second URL: “http://www.dairymoist/”

“Aha! This is exactly what I want. ‘Photo Gallery of Moistville Milkmen: A Historical Retrospective’.” He clicked on the link marked “1950–1990.” Once that page was loaded, he clicked on the link marked “1960–1970,” then on the link marked “1965–1970,” then the one marked “1965–1966,” then finally the one marked “1966.” “Boy, you certainly do need to descend through all these strata, don’t you?” The page and pictures loaded. When they appeared, Santos let out an “aha!”. “Jordan, have a look at this.”

“Um, in case you’ve forgotten, sir, I can’t quite move right now.”

“Oh, right. It says here that a man named Mason Arthur was a milkman for Dairy Moist from 1960 to 1966. For all those years, he worked the route that in 1965 included the newly-built Edgard House.”

“Oh, good, I had been wondering about that. Captain, what does that have to do with the fact that a bloodsucking goldfish nearly killed me?”

“It means that our dear friend Arthur Mason, né Mason Arthur, was the milkman who caused all the trouble for Edgard House, and who is now causing even more trouble for Moistville. You see, Jordan, I had completely blocked out of my memory—in some weird Freudian way—the events of 1967, when I was coerced into spending an night alone in that house. On that evening, I discovered two goldfish alive and well in the basement. They were similar in temperament to the ones that are now making the rounds of Moistville.” Santos related the contents of his most recent flashback to Jordan. When he finished, he awakened Jordan and added, “It is my theory that Mason Arthur deliberately—and through what means I do not know—had House’s neighbor mishear the ‘cheese’ remark as an admission of murder. Arthur wanted House out of the house. I don’t think the rest of the Houses left of their own accord, I think Arthur murdered them. Although I suspect the bodies were disposed of such that they would never be found (in other words, eaten by fish), but just in case, there was already someone in prison for it. Arthur covertly used the house as a place to keep the fish, until such time as he could afford to move into it himself. The Houses had been carrying a pretty steep mortgage, and a milkman’s salary is not exactly a high one. By ensuring that people thought it was haunted would keep people away, with the exception of brave and stupid ten-year-olds.”

“Captain,” said Jordan. “Are you still connected to America Online?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Did you know that they charge by the minute? And did you also know that you’ve talking for a lot of minutes?”

“Oh. I apologize. Jordan, how do I save a copy of this picture of Arthur?”

“Hit ‘shift-command-3’. That’ll generate a screen dump of whatever you’re looking at.”

Santos did a screen capture, logged off, and copied the screen capture onto a floppy disk. “Don’t worry, Lieutenant, the department will reimburse you for the time I was online.”

Jordan growled a little, but was interrupted by finding that he was suddenly able to move his arms. And his legs. He tentatively stood up.

“Captain, I can walk! I can walk!”

They were interrupted by movement on the living room floor.

“Captain, the fish! It’s still alive!”

“No, Jordan, it’s not alive.” He walked over to it, picked it up carefully by the tail, and plopped it back into the bowl. It began to swim with its usual enthusiasm. “It’s undead. Let’s leave it here for the time being. Just don’t go near it. Now let’s get down to headquarters. We’ve got work to do.”
To be continued...

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