I have, in the past found it useful to employ contract investigators for such matters. You all recall, I suspect, the reversal of the grand staircase. While unable to solve that particular case, the team hired for that bit of snooping will be convinced to wrestle dewinter’s basking troubles. Their man is named…

Ephesus Tanktop.

Upon hearing the man's name, several of the diners threw down their various utensils and stalked out of the dining room.

You know him.

He was part of the Red Feather while I was at the institute.

Magician?

Cabbalist.

Order?

Darkest.

Ilk?

Most Foul. When the Hellfire clubs wanted for a blasphemous toast, they would simply offer his name in dark sacrifice and the servants would pack the larder like termites.

From beneath the table a man emerges. He is wearing a suit of black velvet. The fabric is so dark, in fact, that its edges are indistinct. Light seems to avoid the interface betwee the air surrounding the man and the clothing which covers him. He speaks with great authority. His voice is uncommonly deep and he sounds more like an animal trained to speak than a man who chooses to do so.

Your colonel tells me there is a problem on the roof.

Rooves.

Indeed. (reading from notepad) Basking disturbances compounded by suspicion of reptiles. My team has been on the case for several minutes already. In fact, they began 40 seconds before I entered this room.

What did they find?

Remnants of basking, human and otherwise, so the countess’ claim checks out in that regard. The alligator theories have been greatly strengthened by the discovery of (looks at notes to locate specific data) actual alligators.

So there are alligators on the roof.

Rooves.

Not just alligators, but all manner of gator-like creatures. Alligators, of course, flanked by a series of rather disagreeable crocodiles watched glassily by a small outposting of caiman. There is even a Komodo Dragon up there passing with the aid of expensive cosmetic procedures.

I have read that the monitors are maneaters.

That is true. My men fell nightly to the scaly beasts while we fished the Galapogos. Charter boats and all that. Between the dragons and the boobies (blue footed), I am surprised any of us made it home.

Well, men are not the problem here, or their getting eaten is not.

That sounds like a problem to me, tanktop. A grave one at that.

What I mean, good sirs, is that our data indicates that no one has been eaten. The problem is the basking and its subsequent disturbance.

Are they being chewed at least?

Who?

The men, you said none were eaten.

No, none chewed either. Our present concern is the nature of…

Nibbled? I find it hard to believe that these creatures have yet to even nibble anyone.

None reported. However the…

So no man, or lady, has found any part of his, or her, body in the gaping maw of even one of these prehistoric holdovers.

Not as such, no. In fact there have been no injuries at all. Not one. My team has uncovered, though, the…

Not even a gumming? Preposterous. On the islands, those things eat a man every time the wind changes.

I agree. There must be at least one aging leviathan in that crew with the vinegar to gum someone. I mean, what sort of weaklings have we inherited?

No. Emphatically no. Gentleman, they, the gators, have infested the roof.

Rooves.

Yes, and this may account for the properties reported missing.

What about those parasite eating birds that hang about on crocodiles. They’re fairly violent. They eat mites and things, protecting the larger animal from infestation. It’s really quite fascinating.

Have these birds attacked anyone?

What birds. We have no evidence of birds at all.

No evidence of any birds? Ridiculous. I have seen them myself, since I was a child.

(Ra ther. Not much of a detective, this fellow Tanktop.)

That’s the problem with you cabalists, night after night, poring over your secret teachings and your magical alphabets. Theorists! No birds, indeed.

What I mean is that there have been no bird sightings on the roof…ves. That birds exist is not in dispute.

While we fished, the birds would collect on logs, brushpiles, and other inanimates, to fool us. We were cautious of the wrong things you see.

Tanktop calmed himself. We will attempt, if possible, to look into the issue of birds, but all reports indicate only the disappearance of properties left on the rooves. Conservatory 2 seems especially reptilian.

What sort of properties?

You know…”properties,” the teams were very specific about that. Further questions of diction should be directed at the team, as their reasons are not included in this report, so preliminary is its nature. No reasons. Only conclusions.

And those are?

The alligators are somehow linked to the faint rumblings in the Grotto of St. Sebastian.

So no maulings then?

No.

Minor thrashings?

No.

No injuries from the rolling those scaly buggers do to dismember prey?

Not as such, and by that I mean not at all. The enthusiastic diners were gaining momentum.

Smashings?

No.

Pawings? They have claws you know.

I understand they can pound things with their muscular tails.

(reaches for report) Let me see that.

Bottles is right. With that many maneaters on the rooves it seems unlikely that no one has been mangled, at least a little. In the tender regions.

Maybe someone was scraped.

I hadn’t thought of that. Tanktop?

No.

(Bottles continues leafing through report, opening graphs, perusing indices and offering appropriate noisings.)

Now these, birds…are they noisy?

Birds again?

Yes, the birds you claim don’t exist. The parasite eaters.

Yes, terribly noisy.

There are no birds here. Only alligators.

Not true, tanktop. They are deceitful creatures, as I mentioned.

Again, I mean none in the report.

Perhaps the injuries have been caused by the birds’ racket. Lots of people have sensitive ears.

What about that? That sounds reasonable. Get your team on that.

Of course. (Tanktop sneered, making notes in air with finger while looking directly at bottles) Tell team to be on lookout for dishonest parasite-eating waterfowl. Cover ears as needed.

Very good. On to other business.

DeWinter mentioned earlier that some of her patio things were missing.

Small things, mostly, but definitely missing.

Tanktop?

(The man turned to see Useless in tanktop’s chair. The cabbalist had has left the dining room.)

Dessert sirs?

Absolutely.

They reach, in unison, for the kerosene truffle demimousse. Their hands enclose the chilling tureen like the writhing, purposeful limbs of a hungry octopus.1


1 The operative who recorded this portion of the discussion later described the movement of the diners as "a krakenesque approximation of an octopus. If there were such a thing as octopus pornography, this is what it would look like."