Silver wings flapped casually on his heels, while another pair on his golden helmet suspended him inches above the asphalt jogging path. He glided a few feet in front of his running partner, who was huffing and puffing as she tried to stay with him.
“If I had your advantage no man would catch me,” she said, between breaths. “I’d stay single until I wanted to change it. Still, I do have one advantage you don’t.”
“What is that?” Hermes said, floating effortlessly backwards.
“I keep my eyes on the road.”
There was a flurry of wings and branches, of arms and legs as Hermes made contact with an apple tree by the side of the path. He fell to the grass, landing on his dignity. His winged helmet continued on without him.
“I no longer like apples,” he said fingering one of the golden fruits on the ground beside him.
“They were never my favorite either,” Atalanta said laughing, and bent to help him up.
Hermes extended his hand but she ignored it and moved past him to a circle of sunflowers just beyond. Something glinted in the sunlight at their center. It looked to be a body, very small. It was missing its right arm and leg.
And it was made entirely of coins.
“Ramses, I think we should try something new. This is the latest style from Alexandria. It will bring out the fire in your eyes,” Herman said, holding out the roll of 2600 thread count Egyptian cotton for my inspection.
“It’s very nice, Herman, but it’s not white. White is what I have worn for 3300 years. White is what I like. It’s who I am,” I said.
“Yes, yes, white is quite classic. But this blue is so light, so translucent, it’s almost not there. It’s white, just updated. You would be the most elegant mummy in town.”
“Herman, I’m an agent for MCSI, not a fashion model. White.”
“White it is then,” the werewolf said, as he sulked back to the storeroom. “By the way, you have a call. They said it was urgent. Line 2.”
I sat up in the upholstered throne and reached for the phone. Briefly, I hoped the caller was still there. Unfortunately, he was.
“Ramses, what took so long? Out for a swim in the Dead Sea?”
It was Chief Inspector Krupke. I assumed the chuckle in the background belonged to his assistant and main audience, Officer Yastrzemski.
“Nice to hear from you, Krupke. What’s up?”
“We may have a murder at Hyde Park. Maybe another mythic. We’re not sure,” he said.
“What do you mean, you aren’t sure?”
“Just get here as fast as you can,” he said and hung up.
On the way I swung by MCSI headquarters to pick up my partner, Bernie Clayberg. After our last case he had been sent there for a few days of R&R—that’s rest and repair. A unicorn horn can kill a human, but not a golem, though it does do a great deal of damage to the midriff. Bernie had caught our killer but had to be patched and remolded with fresh clay.
Golems are a recent addition to Mythical Crime Scene Investigations. They were first created to be the ultimate partner; methodological, determined, and very strong. My last partner had been a golem, and it worked out well, until—well, that’s another story for another day.
Golems are also designed for obedience, being unable to speak or think for themselves. Instructions are given to them by writing it on a parchment scroll and placing it under their tongue. Instantly they become animated with no thought but to do your bidding. To some agents, this is the perfect partner.
But the whole thing is a sham. On our last case, Bernie slipped up, revealing complete powers of speech and independent reasoning. Once he explained his reasons, I agreed to keep his secret.
He was waiting outside when I pulled up. He got in the car and headed toward Hyde Park. He spat a piece of rough paper into his hand.
“By the Gods, I hate the new parchment they are using. Due to budget cuts it’s all artificial. It tastes like paper,” he said.
“That’s because it is paper, Bernie. Relax and open the glove compartment.” He did, revealing a stack of high grade parchment, yellowed with age, cut into small strips. “I’ve been stocking up.”
“Ramses, you’re the best,” he said.
Sometimes I have to agree.
Minutes later we were at the park. Chief Inspector Krupke and Officer Yastrzemski were standing next to an apple tree, talking to a muscular young man who was collecting some of the golden apples from the ground. When his bag was full he departed, thanking the policemen.
Krupke saw us.
“It’s showtime, partner,” I said to Bernie. “Open up.”
Krupke watched as I placed a piece of real parchment in Bernie’s mouth. Instantly he was in character and followed me in silence.
“Hey, Carl, do you know why Egyptian kids are so confused?” Krupke said as we approached.
“I don’t know, Chief. Why?” Officer Yastrzemski said.
“Because their daddies are mummies.”
Carl laughed, a little too loud and a little too long.
Ignoring the insult, I asked, “Who was that?” and pointed to the young man leaving.
“Some kid. I think he said his name was Melanion, or some such nonsense. Said he needed the apples to catch a bride. Something about a race.” Krupke shook his head. “You mythics are a weird bunch.”
“You said there may have been a murder. Aren’t you sure?” I asked.
“You tell me. You’re the expert. It’s over there, in the flowers. It was found by a couple of joggers.”
A portion of sunflowers had been removed to make easier access for the police officers. In the center was what looked to be a body, about the size of a small child. Two things immediately stood out. First, it was missing portions of its right arm and leg. Second, it was made entirely of coins.
I felt a tug on my sleeve. It was Bernie. In his hand was a glob of grass clippings stuck in some putrid green substance. He held it up as if to smell it, useless because he had no sense of smell. He handed it to me.
I recognized the smell before I brought it close to my face.
“Krupke, you’re right. This was murder,” I said.
“So who or what was that?” he asked, nodding toward the body.
“It was a negret. A small sprite with origins in Catalonia, a region in Spain. Bernie found this near the victim,” I said.
“It looks like a clump of grass with wax in it,” Krupke said, reaching for the clue.
“Candle wax actually. The fragrance is Vanilla Zombie Spa. Quite popular, I’m told.”
Krupke quickly withdrew his hand.
I continued. “Negrets are rare and quite harmless, but they do have one unfortunate affliction. Whenever they are approached by a human with a lit candle, they turn into a stack of coins and are unable ever to regain their original shape. In a sense, they’re quite dead.”
“So this was murder and robbery,” Officer Yastrzemski said.
“Maybe something more sinister.” I retrieved one of the coins from the end of the victim’s leg and handed it to Krupke. “Tell me what you see,” I said.
Krupke examined the coin, turning it over in his hands.
“There are teeth marks on it, as if something bit it,” he said.
“Or someone,” I said.
“Mmm, the real stuff is so good. What’s our next step?” he asked.
I handed him the coin with the teeth marks. “Negrets aren’t well-known even in the mythic community, yet our killer not only knew about them, but also about their fatal weakness. Fortunately the killer was startled before he could gather up his victim, otherwise we wouldn’t even have a body. Most likely he got away with only a few handfuls.
“This may not have been the first instance. I want to know if any of these coins have popped up earlier on the black market, so we’re off to see an expert.”
The place was empty except for O’Malley and two people behind the counter. To my left, a young man washed the mud from a golden basket at a sink in the corner, while near the back door an elderly woman sat in a rocking chair, an ice pack taped to one knee.
O’Malley was sitting at his desk. He pushed aside a bowl on his desk, and taking a napkin, wiped what looked to be dirt or mud from his mouth and fingers. He came around the counter to face me. Well, face me may not have been the best description, as the top of his head only came up to my belt, and that was with his hat on.
“Ramses. What brings you here? You’ll have to excuse me. I was just having lunch. Can I offer you something?” he said.
I looked over at his desk. On it sat four bowls. One held a mixture of fine gravel. Another was filled with small colorful plastic buttons. A third contained a few polished silver coins. The fourth bowl sat in the middle of the desk and was larger than the rest. It was filled with dirt.
“No thanks, O’Malley. I’m just here for some information,” I said.
Bernie wandered around, taking in what the place had to offer and looking for clues. He bumped a Mayan sacrificial goblet and it fell over against the glass counter.
When O’Malley saw Bernie, his eyes got very big. He leaned closer to me and whispered up, “Is that a golem?”
Bernie picked up a decanter shaped like an angelic Frank Sinatra and pretended to examine the wings. I saw him tilt his head to hear our conversation better.
“Yes, he’s my partner. Don’t worry. He’ll be very careful,” I said.
“I’ve never seen a real golem before. I’ve heard about them but didn’t know they were still making them,” O’Malley said.
“Do you want to meet him?”
“Oh, yes,” O’Malley said with a strange enthusiasm.
I walked over to Bernie and made a show of tapping his shoulder to get his attention. I motioned him to follow.
“Shamus O’Malley, my partner, Bernie Clayberg,” I said.
Bernie held out his hand and O’Malley took it in both of his, stroking the smooth clay of Bernie’s fingers and making strange little noises in the back of his mouth. It began to creep Bernie out so I pulled his hand away before he overreacted and blew his cover. O’Malley reluctantly gave it back.
Turning to me, O’Malley asked, “So what do you want?”
I handed him the bitten coin. “Has someone recently come into your shop with any of these?”
O’Malley took the coin and examined it. He licked it, bit it, and then popped the whole thing into his mouth. Before I could stop him, he swallowed.
“Oops, how clumsy of me,” he said. “Do you have another? That one was delicious.”
Bernie made a move toward the leprechaun, but I stopped him.
“Come on, Bernie, we won’t be getting anything from him. Let’s go,” I said.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help you, Ramses. Come back again and bring some more tasty treats,” O’Malley said.
Once outside in the parking lot I whispered to Bernie, “Don’t look, but we’re being watched. O’Malley knows something. And I didn’t like the way he was looking at you.”
As Bernie turned to look, my head exploded with more colors than Cleopatra’s ceremonial headdress, and I passed into darkness.
My vision cleared and I found myself in a dingy alley looking into the three faces of a very massive and very ugly dog. Sitting on a crate next to a dumpster was a youth in a winged hat, and he was laughing.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“In an alley behind The House of Ewes,” he said.
I had heard of it. It was a music club catering to shepherds.
“I’m Hermes,” he said.
“Ramses, MCSI.” I groaned and rubbed the bandages at the base of my neck. My head hurt like the day after the Nile flood.
“Lucky thing we came by,” Hermes said. “I returned from an engagement party for a friend of mine and had to walk my dog. We took a turn down this alley and saw a group of wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to get in the back door of the club. One of them saw you laying there, face-down. They would have attacked if it hadn’t been for Cerberus.”
I managed to get to my feet. Cerberus moved closer. His tail wagged fiercely, knocking over boxes and garbage cans with each swing. “I think he likes you.”
I patted each head, carefully.
“Hermes, thank you for rescuing me. Do you have a cell phone I could borrow? It’s agency business.” I patted my pockets. “Mine seems to have disappeared.”
I looked around the alley. Besides myself, Hermes and his dog, it was empty.
“Along with my partner,” I said.
“It’s Bernie. He’s missing,” I said.
“Did our mummy lose his little boy?” he said. I heard Carl laugh in the background.
“Cut the crap, Krupke. This isn’t a social call. I need help. Bernie’s been taken.”
“Yes, and I think I know who did it,” I said. “It was Shamus O’Malley.”
Krupke got serious, real fast.
“That leprechaun’s no good, Ramses. Your partner may be already dead.”
“I don’t think so. But he is in mortal danger. O’Malley has pica.”
“What-a?” he said.
“Pica. It’s a mental disorder that gives a person a compulsion to eat things that have no nutritional value, like matchsticks, buttons…”
“Or coins,” Krupke said.
“Or coins,” I said. “In my previous life I had a high priestess who had a particular fondness for feathers. She ate nearly half of one of my ceremonial robes before choking to death. She couldn’t stop herself and it killed her, before I had a chance to.”
Krupke began to protest.
“Let it go. That was a long time ago. This is now and Bernie is in trouble,” I said. “I think O’Malley has the same compulsion. We went to visit him to see if any of the negret coins had turned up on the black market. He was eating from bowls of various things on his desk, along with one large bowl of dirt. Krupke, Bernie’s a golem. He was molded from clay. He’s made of dirt.”
“What do you need?” Krupke asked.
“O’Malley won’t return to Cash O’Gold. It would be the first place we’d look. So where would he take him?”
“O’Malley’s a bad dude,” Krupke said. “I know he just evicted a group of crazy elves from a hollow tree for missing a few back payments. When they weren’t making cookies those elves were putting rhinestones and studs on every piece of clothing and material they could find. O’Malley locked them out and kept their supplies. Sounds like the perfect place for someone with pica.”
I told Krupke to get his men over there as fast as possible and I’d meet him.
Hermes overheard and offered Cerberus’s help. They could get me to that hollow tree faster than I could on my own, especially since my car was with my missing cell phone. I climbed on the back of Cerberus.
We ran like the wind. Well, that’s a bit dramatic and not exactly true. Hermes didn’t really run, he glided, and Cerberus, though he did run, was more like a trotting school bus and just as comfortable. Still, we made good time, and reached the forest just as Krupke and his men arrived. From there finding the tree in question was easy. It was the only gigantic tree in the forest surround by a ring of green hooded ninja leprechauns. Each held in readiness a shillelagh nun-chuck and had a row of steel throwing shamrocks tucked in his belt.
Krupke came up to me. “We’ll show these little buggers how easy it is to be green,” he said. “You go save your partner.”
With that, Krupke and his officers attacked.
The battle raged for a few minutes before I saw my opening. Being 3300 years old, I can still move pretty fast when I have to. And today I had to. My partner’s life was at stake. I ran for the hollow tree.
Krupke was caught by a group of ninja leprechauns. They had him pinned to the ground and were about to do him damage. I turned to come to his aid when Office Yastrzemski jumped the leprechauns from behind. Krupke kicked them aside and waved me on.
Inside the tree I found myself standing in a large room painted entirely in robin’s-egg blue. I looked for a place to hide but my white bandages stood out like an oasis in the Sahara. Two masked leprechauns jumped me and held me tight.
“Agent Ramses, nice of you to join us,” O’Malley said.
He was seated at the head of a large table that was ornately carved and decorated with large plastic jewels and rhinestones. The clerk and the old woman from Cash O’Gold sat on either side. Tightly bound and strapped to the top of the table was my partner.
“We’re just about to have dinner. I’d offer you some ladies fingers but all we’ve got are golem’s,” O’Malley said with a sick laugh, as he took a bite from a hollow brown
Bernie groaned. It was one of his fingers O’Malley was munching on.
“May all the gods of Hades curse you, O’Malley,” I said, as I struggled to break free from my captors.
“I’m afraid they already have,” O’Malley said. “Do you think I like eating this crap? I hate it, but I have to. Can’t get enough. Finding the negret was almost a blessing, but then those joggers came by. We were almost discovered. I had to leave it. I was drowning my sorrows in a healthy snack when you come along with your bountiful partner.”
The old woman reached up and broke off another of Bernie’s remaining fingers.
“It was such a delicious opportunity. We couldn’t pass it up,” she said, taking a bite.
“Grammy, please. I’ll handle this,” O’Malley said.
“No, Shameless, I’ll handle this.” It was Krupke and a band of his men. He reached out and punched a large red button labeled Stud Setter.
A red light flashed and a panel opened up in the ceiling above us. A mechanical arm reached down and stamped a large metallic stud onto O’Malley’s green hat. Another arm dropped holding a hammer. Instantly O’Malley and the stud became permanently attached. It was a gruesome and unfashionable way to die.
“I told you those elves were crazy,” Krupke said.
Officer Yastrzemski and the rest of Krupke’s men took the clerk and the old lady away.
I started to thank Krupke, but he waved me off. “Don’t mention it. I wouldn’t want to get your Fruit of the Tombs in a bind. Besides, all this excitement has made me hungry. Let’s untie your partner, see about taking care of his hands, and then you can take Carl and me out to eat. Hey, Carl! The golem and his mummy are treating us to Pizza Tut!”
Why not? I thought. Krupke will never change. Besides pizza was a good way to end a day spent on the wrong side of the rainbow.
Bill Bibo lives with his wife in Madison, WI, where he sits up late at night pondering impossible things and trying to remember more facts from his high school mythology class. Ramses and Bernie previously appeared in “The Wrong Side of the Rainbow,” in the October 2012 issue of Stupefying Stories, and Bill is currently working on expanding the further adventures of Ramses and Bernie into a novel. (That mythology class would really come in handy now.) Bill can’t wait to show his grandson how really strange ‘Pa is.