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Aconitum

By mhowalt All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

Chapter 19

The two hunters walked briskly down the street. Hector hoped that no one had heard Tomas’ proclamation. “We can’t be sure that it wasn’t a werewolf,” he muttered.

“You saw that wound as well as I did. Besides, why were chickens not eaten? Why did the wolf not gorge on any of the victims? Why are there no traces of it anywhere? Hector, it’s not a werewolf!”

“Shh,” implored Hector and touched the brim of his hat as a couple of young and very attentive ladies walked past them. “I suppose you are right, but …”

Tomas plunged his hands into his pockets. “It’s not our area. We hunt werewolves, not people.”

“But it looks like a werewolf to everyone else,” Hector muttered with a sigh. “We have a murderer who is pretending to be a werewolf.”

“Which makes me furious! It’s a waste of our time,” hissed Tomas. “We could have moved on and actually taken care of our work somewhere. Instead we are stuck here, looking for some common murderer.” He stopped talking while they passed a house and left the village. They needed to discuss this out of earshot of the villagers.

“What do you suggest we do, then?” asked Hector and sat down on a tree trunk in the side of the road.

“We pack up and go.”

“No.”

Tomas shook his head. “What do you mean? No what?”

“I mean,” Hector said and broke a twig for emphasis, “that we can’t just go. They asked us for help with a werewolf …”

“But if there isn’t one, we can’t hunt it. I can’t conjure up a werewolf. Can you?”

Hector studied his partner. Tomas had not tried it before. Hector had, once, and Stephan had been seething for days about a murderer leaving dog hairs on his sliced up victims and thus fooling everybody. “Yes, it’s a waste of our time and an insult to all hunters,” he said, “but we can’t leave. Who will catch the killer, then? There are no police officers here. No one to investigate. People think it’s a werewolf. If we disappear, there won’t only be a murderer on the loose. People will think that we, the hunters, Frankfurt, everyone of us who are meant to protect them, are letting them down. That we couldn’t find the werewolf and left. We can’t go anywhere before we have proved that it isn’t a werewolf.”

Tomas studied the ground. He clearly wanted to argue, but there was nothing else to say. “Fine. You’re right. So what do we do? Put up a poster and ask the killer to step forward?”

Hector smiled. “Tempting, but no. We will have to work like the police would do. Find a connection between the murders. Find a weapon.”

Tomas hid his face in his hands for a moment. Then he looked up at Hector and laughed. “This is ridiculous. How will the board even pay us for this task?”

“I don’t know. But we agree, yes?”

Tomas nodded. “Yes. We agree, Hector.”

They reviewed their conversations with the inhabitants once more. The outcast was still under no suspicion. Hector could simply not imagine that he was capable of hurting anyone. Patrick Braun’s wife had been devastated and she didn’t know the first victim. The neighbours had not revealed anything, either. None of them had seen the alleged werewolf, but they had not seen anybody else running from the scene of the crime, either. And it could not be any of them. There was not time enough for them to get rid of the evidence. The Junghoffs had seemed shocked. The only thing Hector could think of was the small uncertainty of whether the victim had been at the local tavern or not. “We can start with that,” he said. “If Adam was there, someone may have seen him argue with somebody or avoid somebody.”

“Are the two murders connected?” Tomas asked. He broke off a leaf of grass and chewed at it. “Werewolves just kill, but people have reasons, right? We may be looking for someone who didn’t like those two.”

“Perhaps they both owed money to the same person. The first victim had debt.”

They decided to go back to the tavern and question the owner and the people there. Hear if they could find a connection. If not, they would look for the murder weapon and talk to the families again.

“Do you know if any of them had issues with anyone in the village?” Hector asked the tavern’s owner after finding out that Adam had not been there the night he died, and that Patrick rarely visited the place.

The man stopped cleaning the mug in his hands and frowned at Hector. “Why are you asking that?”

They should probably have planned the questioning better. Everybody thought they were looking for a werewolf. Hector’s mind raced. The feeble explanation that werewolves usually attacked people they didn’t like when they were human could have consequences that he did not even wish to think of.

Tomas leaned across the bar and made a gesture at the man to get closer. “It’s confidential,” he muttered. “We are looking for important clues, and you can help us.”

The man looked impressed. “Everybody liked Patrick Braun. He went to church, only drank once in a while. Was a good husband.” He shook his head. “The other one … the first victim, that is, he wasn’t from around here. Maybe the werewolf followed him here.”

Tomas nodded. “I see. Did he have problems back home?”

“I don’t know. They say he had some debt.”

“To whom?” Hector asked.

The barman shrugged. He didn’t know.

The hunters thanked him for his time and left.

“But the second victim didn’t owe anyone money,” Hector said once they were outside once more.

“Not that we know of. Let’s talk to his wife again.”

Hector ran a hand through his hair. He would rather go and find a murder weapon and a killer, but they were fumbling here. It was wrong that they were even involved in all this. “Will you do it? You talked to her already. Maybe she feels safer with only you there.”

“Maybe you are trying to get off the hook,” Tomas snorted. “You’re coming with me.”

The wife was surprised to see them. Her husband would be cremated the following day, and she was clearly miserable. She had never heard of a debt.

“Why are you asking all those questions?” she said.

“We are trying to investigate some things,” Tomas replied as evasively as he could.

“My husband did not owe anyone anything. We are not rich, but we take care of ourselves. I don’t understand what it has to do with his … his death. Don’t you give him a bad reputation.”

“We aren’t going to,” Tomas said. “We’re sorry.”

“Why haven’t you caught the werewolf yet?” she asked, now in tears.

Hector cleared his throat. He didn’t like this. It was even worse than when there was a werewolf to be found. “The … The guilty party is probably hiding. It may take a little while.”

None of them spoke when they left the wife to go back towards the scene of the second crime. Hector wasn’t sure why they were doing it. It wasn’t as if the murder weapon would suddenly turn up there when they hadn’t found anything before.

“What are we looking for?” Tomas said. “What looks like a werewolf’s claws?”

Hector scratched the back of his neck. “A big, dull knife … or …”

“What?” Tomas said.

It was ridiculous. He had removed the outcast from the equation right away, but had that been a mistake? “Or a rake. The outcast had a lot of old garden tools.”

Tomas groaned. “If it turns out to be the village idiot, I’m going to quit!” he exclaimed. “It’s never really him. Never!”

“He didn’t seem the type …” Hector muttered. But what did he know about murderers? He had been right that the man was no werewolf. He knew how to find those. But ordinary human beings who killed? He knew nothing of them.

They made their way to the house. It was uncomfortably close to the farmhouse where the second victim lived, and it was a ridiculous confirmation of ridiculous prejudices if it were true. But they had to follow through.

The outcast reluctantly let the door creak open and glared at the two hunters. “I told you I’m not a werewolf,” he said.

“Yes, and I’m sorry for …” Hector trailed off. For what? Thinking that he had killed someone?

“We passed your house and noticed your incredible garden tool collection,” said Tomas with one of his disarming smiles. “May we take a look at them?”

“Why would two werewolf hunters care about garden tools?” asked the hermit.

“Now, Hector here’s from the countryside,” said Tomas conversationally. Clearly he had an answer to everything. “He misses farming and all that from time to time, so he is interested in tools like these and their uses. What do you use them for?”

The hermit shrugged. “The garden.” His garden did not look like it had seen a hoe or a rake for years.

“Do you really?” Tomas asked, trying to catch the man’s glance.

The outcast kicked a bit of weed that had made its way to his front door with his slipper. “I like them. People don’t understand … I am going to do something about the garden. Soon. It’s nice to have the tools for it.”

“But right now they’re just sitting there. Does that bother you?” Tomas asked, gesturing at the pile of rakes and shovels. “Or make you frustrated? Do you sometimes feel like just taking them and using them … for something?”

Hector tried to look at the sky. Anywhere but at Tomas and the old man.

“No,” replied the outcast. “But you can’t have them. They’re mine!”

Tomas opened his mouth, but Hector cut him short this time, “We just want to look at them! Can we? Please?”

The hermit considered it. “Fine. Look at them,” he then said. “But no taking them. I keep track of them and I will know if you take any of them.”

Then the hunt was on. A very different hunt from what they had expected. All the garden tools were in a neglected state, some of them decomposing.

“Hector,” Tomas said. He had a rake in his hand. When Hector took a closer look at it, he could see human hairs between the teeth and traces of blood on the handle. “I think we have the murder weapon.”

Hector looked over his shoulder. The outcast was still keeping an eye on them. He did not seem scared. Just alert. They went back to him with the rake. “What did you use this for?” Hector asked.

The man squinted as he studied the garden tool. “Nothing,” he said.

“Just be honest,” Tomas pressed on. “Were you threatened? Mocked? Did they owe you money?”

“I have never seen that rake before!” shouted the outcast. It was possibly the strangest thing anybody had ever yelled at them.

“But it was here with the other garden tools,” Hector said. He looked at the rake again. It was not rusty. It had no broken teeth. In fact, it looked a great deal newer than the other tools.

“I don’t know why it’s here. Maybe your werewolf put it here!”

The hunters exchanged glances. “You have a point … You actually have a point. Can we take this rake? If it’s not yours anyway,” Tomas said.

The man waved his hand at them. “Yes, yes. Just take it and go. Find that werewolf and go away.”

“Alright,” said Hector as they were making their way through the outcast’s garden. “Now we just need to find the killer.”

“Who has got rakes?” Tomas said. “Everybody,” he answered his own question. “Who has a missing rake?”

Hector shook his head. Who would admit that they were missing a rake if they were the killer?

“Can we give it to the doctor and say it’s the murder weapon and then leave?” Tomas asked.

“It will look like a bad excuse because we are incompetent hunters who can’t find the werewolf. We … We will talk to the cousin of the first victim. He probably knows whom the victim owed money to.”

“Or,” Tomas added, “the rake is his.”

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