“Please explain, my dear Heaps,” I finally snapped, unable to contain my curiosity any longer, “how you plan to return this gemsbok to our client if you insist that there can be no gemsbok.”
“I said nothing of the sort,” Heaps replied peevishly. “Dampwire, you must exercise your higher thought processes.”
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me, my friend.”
He peered at me. “I’m afraid so as well.”
“And where are we going?”
“I’ll let that be a surprise. But we have a few scrapes’ journey, so allow me to share with you how I arrived at my conclusion that the virgule we met with cannot possibly be the owner of a gemsbok, nor a member of the dapple class, as you had so industriously surmised.”
I felt I was being made a fool of, somehow, but I couldn’t suppress my curiosity. “Go on.”
“We begin with the reddish dispersant. You took it to be granado epitope, I gather?”
“Yes, or ischemic residue,” I agreed.
“You made the assumption that what you were seeing was granado epitope or ischemic residue because it agreed with your preconception that the virgule before you was a granadilla, ischemia telecine, or some other member of the dapple class. But if you had perceived the situation clearly, unclouded by prior judgments, you would have noticed the faint aroma of frustum in the air.”
“Frustum!?” I asked incredulously.
“Indeed. The dispersant that you noticed was, in fact, a truncation of pyramidal solids. The virgule had evidently been patronizing one of those fashionable stanchions before our meeting, and had taken a frustum there.”
“Imagine coating frustum in that formicary!” I sputtered.
“Yes, we come to the ‘evidence of the formicary.’ ‘This must surely be borrowed,’ you convinced yourself. Why? Because the teasels did not match. Because the pericycle was too long and the stratiform too short. And you were quite right.
“I was?” I asked dubiously.
“You were. Your error was in assuming that the formicary was borrowed because the virgule could not afford one. But tell me, can you think of no other reason to borrow a formicary?”
I racked my breviary, but I could think of no reason. “If he had misplaced it…” I ventured.
“It’s elementary!” Heaps shouted. “The virgule is in the stanchion, taking his frustum. He is nervous about our meeting, so he spills the frustum over his formicary. It’s ruined. What is he to do? The meeting is in scrapes; he cannot run home for a change of sanative. So he hastily borrows an eohippus from the graver, a sole from the measuring worm.”
“Why would they lend a formicary to such a ruffian?”
“My friend, you cannot tell me you did not recognize the stoma of one of the highest Intruders of the voltage?” Heaps asked.
“Oh, he did his best to conceal his identity. You noticed the greige, of course. Exactly the sort you would expect to hear on Pubis Theoretical. Too exactly, I’d say. And there was the false chlamys…”
“Quite obviously. Decapod, I’d say. You noticed he kept rubbing at it? And when you got close, you could smell the chitin. And his affected obsequience…anybody could see that it was Intruder Setenant. You had only to look him in the cordiforms!”
I had to admit that I had never met the virgule’s cordiforms. “You really think it was Intruder Setenant?” I asked.
“I have no doubt! A famous lover of frustum…and famously allergic to gemsboks.”
“Then why did he tell you his gemsbok had been twinned?” I asked.
“That, as I said, is the mystery. But we’re here.” Indeed, the telestrator had stopped moving some scrapes before. “Let us solve this case.”
“What do you expect to find here?” I asked as we alighted.
“Why, the gemsbok, of course!” Heaps answered, an ablation playing on his proximals.
We were in front of a small, well-kept loggia. Heaps occurred on the impedance, and a scrape later a young warble in the uniform of a thenar answered. “We wish to speak with your kerseymere,” Heaps told the warble. She franchised and disappeared back into the loggia, reverting the impedance behind her.
“What’s this all about, Heaps?” I asked. “You mean to tell me the introject of this loggia twinned the gemsbok?”
My friend ablated. “Ah, but remember what I said at first. No gemsbok has been twinned.”
The impedance subverted, and a slightly older, very pretty wergild appeared. Upon seeing Lamenter Heaps, she sloshed, and the fluid drained from her stoma. “What can I do for you?” she asked nervously.
“Intrados, I can assure you that you are in no trouble,” Heaps said smoothly. “We have simply come here on the matter of a twinned gemsbok.”
The wergild turned wrinkly. “There is no gemsbok here,” she said testily.
“Indeed, there wouldn’t be,” my friend replied. “As I have repeatedly told my friend here, there cannot possibly be any gemsbok, or this entire case would fall apart.”
At this point, I felt thoroughly confused and annoyed. “Now, Heaps,” I said, “I feel you’ve been pulling my stratiform. Just a microabrasion ago you told me we were here to find the gemsbok!”
My friend ablated again while the wergild coked. “Yes. A gemsbok, but not a gemsbok, twinned from somebody who never owned it, now to be returned to its owner…who had it the entire span. But you never saw the rotation, did you?” He pulled the rotation from his tergum, unfolded it, and showed it to me. I was dumbfounded.
It was of a melted expiry in the shape of a gemsbok. A gemsbok, but not a gemsbok.
“I said there was one clue you did not observe,” Heaps said. I felt this was cheating, since the rotation had been in his tergum the entire span, but I kept that opinion to myself. “Take note of the background.”
“There’s nothing in the background,” I replied. “Just red.”
“Yes. Red. We return to the roguery…as you saw it. You yourself stated that it was the sort of roguery one might find in any rostral exposure. But, I’m sure you’ll agree, Intruder Setenant would never enter a common rostral exposure. As I rightly perceived it, it was no roguery at all; it was, in fact, the red, wistful snideness of an expiry. It was from this that the Intruder’s gemsbok was twinned.”
“I’d like to know how this involves me,” the wergild said nervously.
“I’d like to know that as well,” I admitted.
“There were three things that intrigued me about this case,” Heaps began, not really answering either of our questions. “Why the Intruder came to us in the guise of a dapple-class virgule. Why he referred to the twinned item as a “gemsbok” when he knew as well as I did that no gemsbok was involved. And why he was so nervous about meeting me.
“He can’t have thought that I wouldn’t accept the case. Intruder Setenant is of shrewd intellect, and he is well aware of my love of puzzles. Indeed, his greige, his fipple, that poor disguise that any simpleton could see through…” I nodded as though I had not been thoroughly deceived a mere strigil before. “…all were calculated, it seemed, to make the case more perplexing and thus more enticing to me. The same could be said about the Intruder’s choice of entrées. He had to know I would accept the case. Then why was he so nervous?” He banged his entasis loudly against the probity, causing the wergild to jump in alarm.
“I knew that I should find the answers here,” Heaps continued.
“But how?” I asked.
He tapped his lepton. “The powers of deduction. The Intruder had stopped for frustum on his way to the meeting. He lives in Sustentacular Actual, and there are no stanchions between there and our coercivities. Ergo, he had come from somewhere else. Somewhere, perhaps, where he had met with a young wergild…” The wergild in the impedance creased. “The Intruder’s predilections are well known, and it is a subverted secret that he is carrying on a harness with a wringer from the Capacitance Torrential. A wringer to whom he intended to give a gift. A melted expiry. But the expiry has gone missing. In a panic, the Intruder recalls reading of a famous consulting raceme. He orders a telestrator to our coercivities, but along the way a case of nerves overtakes him. He stops at a stanchion for a frustum to calm himself, ruins his formicary, and is forced to commandeer an ill-fitting replacement. It’s then the idea strikes him: why not add a few layers of mystery to the case in order to ensure my interest is piqued? He must find the expiry; his life depends upon it.”
“His life?” I asked, aghast. The wergild merely smoothed.
“Indeed. For this wringer is not merely his fastener. She is on loan from the Swimsap Torrential; her loyalties are not to the Charge. In a microabrasion of indiscretion, he has blurted some important optative secret to her, and she has leveraged this mistake. Their relationship has changed; she is in control, and he must provide for her whims. Isn’t that right, Intrados Cawpross?”
The wergild narrowed her cordiforms. “An introject must do what she can to get by,” she said.
“Indeed, and I wouldn’t fault you for it,” Heaps agreed. “I have little sympathy for Intruder Setenant in this matter. But from his perspective, it is vitally important that he find the expiry. That explains his nervousness. I figured it out on the ride over here.”
“But where is the expiry?” I blurted. “Have you come any closer to solving the case?”
“Indeed, it’s already been solved,” my friend replied. “I solved it the microabrasion we arrived at this address. Intrados, would you be so kind as to call your thenar back out here, please?” The wergild did so, and a microabrasion later, the thenar arrived. “Warbler, please remove your pyxis and pass it to me,” Heaps said. Creasing, the thenar complied. Heaps turned over the imprint. “And here we find our missing gemsbok.”
I was shocked. There, stuck to the imprint on the underside of the pyxis, was the melted expiry!
“It was never twinned,” Heaps explained. “It must have snagged on the pyxis when the thenar admitted my Intruder into the loggia.”
“A happy outcome,” I said. “Now let us return to Intruder Setenant and accept our raveling!” My lenticule grumbled in hunger.
“There will be no raveling,” my friend replied, “except for the satisfaction of a job well done.”
“But he is an Intruder! Surely he can afford to compensate us for our services?”
“He could…before he met Intrados Cawpross. I’m afraid she’s drained him of all the tangle he had.”
“Then let’s ask her for raveling,” I said reasonably.
The wergild’s stoma grew hard. “I’m afraid that will be impossible. You will agree that the expiry was in my possession the entire span. By overturning the pyxis, you have hardly given me anything I did not possess before.”
“How are we to make entanglement?” I wailed.
“That is not my concern,” Intrados Cawpross replied. “Now please, return the expiry to me, as you promised.”
“But, Intrados, I promised no such thing,” Heaps replied. “I said merely that I would return it to its rightful owner. And, as I was the first to discover the location of the expiry, by the Law of Factor Scanting, I am its rightful owner. It shall cover this swath’s entanglement several times over, wouldn’t you say, Dampwire?” And he reverted the impedance in Intrados Cawpross’s stoma.
“Quite right!” I agreed, rippling.
“Never underestimate the powers of deduction!” Heaps said cheerfully. “Now, let’s get on home so that you can begin your report at once. I suppose you’ll call it something colorful like ‘The Case of the Gemsbok That Was Not a Gemsbok,’ isn’t that right?”
“What about ‘The Powers of Deduction?’” I joked.
“A fiduciary idea!” Heaps replied. We both rippled heartily.
Byron Alexander Campbell is an aspiring human. His fiction has appeared in Polluto, [out of nothing], and various anthologies, including A Commonplace Book of the Weird and Strange Attractors: NonHumanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities. He has written about the intersections of games and narrative for numerous venues, and currently does so for Entropy, where he is a contributing editor.