The two of them left Rachelle’s property and ventured onto a sodden hiking trail. The air was crisp with the scent of rain.
“Petrichor,” Murry said.
“’Petra’ meaning stone and ‘ichor’ meaning the fluid that flows through the Greek Gods. When it rains, an oil is released from the plants. I’ve been told it’s a wonderful smell.”
“What do you mean you’ve been told?”
Skunk stopped. This was the man from the Stakeout Bistro. It made perfect sense. Mink was meeting with Murry. Being the master detective he was, he disguised himself as Skunk so he wouldn’t rouse suspicion within the town. His plan couldn’t have gone less accordingly…
“ Congenital Amosnia,” replied Murry. “I was born without the ability to smell. That’s why your cologne had no effect on me. I’m also an acrobat and contortionist, in case you were wondering about that whole back flip thing I did off the taxi cab.”
Skunk much preferred the sound of the forest over the sound of Murry’s arrogant voice. The forest was alive with sound. The leaves rustled as squirrels leapt from branch to branch. Birds ruffled the rain from their feathers. Skunk could hear the splash of the lake. The sound made him feel ill with remorse. He almost killed a man―another man.
“You tricked me,” Skunk said. “Terence never kidnapped my wife. You wanted me to kill Terence. Why?!”
Murry was like a statue. His body was a piece of carved wood. His bored black eyes seemed to be studying the universe.
“Terence has something I need―an ability.”
Skunk snickered, “If you think for one moment I’m stupid enough to believe Terence can predict death―”
“Oh, but he can. I’ve seen it. Acquiring his ability was a sub-mission of sorts. My main mission involved that vandal of yours.”
A semi rotted bench stood adjacent to the trail. It was fuzzy with moss and decorated with the carvings of romantics. Murry sat delicately on the soft wood. Skunk ensured not to sit directly beside him. He didn’t trust this man.
“Paul is his name,” Murry continued. “He works as an assistant at Amigone Funeral Home―one of Terence’s employees.”
Skunk wondered how it was Murry knew about the circumstances surrounding Belleville. The place wasn’t exactly hallmark on a map. Murry answered Skunk’s question before he even had time to open his mouth.
“You have to understand, Mr. Mayor, I have connections everywhere. I’m everyone and no one. One day I’m a store clerk, the next day I’m a school teacher. Because of my many different masks, I am able to collect valuable information and store it away in my mind for later use. For instance, you’ll recall an incident involving Temaru and some mystical mushroom pizza. Despite what Temaru made you think, he is dedicated to me. He never consumed any magical mushrooms. The whole thing was an act to get your old security guards out. I must say, Temaru really gets into character. A little melodramatic if you ask me. His performance also led you to the Medical Certificate of Death. Archie is the doctor who signed it. He works for me. At the moment, he and I are on no speaking terms. You see, Mr. Mayor, I faked my own death.”
Before he could continue, Skunk stopped the man. He couldn’t believe how casually Murry spoke. He rid a security team of their jobs, impersonated Skunk, and plotted to have Terence killed.
“You're a damn sociopath,” Skunk uttered.
Murry laughed. It was a breathy weezing sort of laugh. Certainly not the sort of laugh Skunk imagined coming from someone with such an even tone.
“This coming from a murderer!”
Skunk hung his head. He hated Murry. He wanted to take a fist full of wood chips from the ground and shove them down the man’s throat.
“Continue,” Skunk said through clenched teeth.
Murry cleared his throat, “Are you familiar with a drug called tetrodotoxin?”
“Yes. It comes from puffer fish and is extremely toxic.”
“If taken in sublethal doses, it causes one to appear dead, or in a zombified state. After disguising myself like a dead old man, Archie administered this toxin to me. He’s an expert, you see, and I trusted him to give me just enough. But the idiot gave me too much. Terence almost embalmed me alive! Not to mention the toxin almost killed me. Anyway, the plan was this: knock Terence unconscious, call Archie, kill Terence, steal his ability, revive Terence, and no one would be the wiser.”
“Oh God…” Skunk couldn’t believe he was sitting next to this man―this insane man. He also couldn’t fathom why his wife would ever get associated with such a wack job.
“Long story short, I woke up bleeding out from my jugular, and Terence fainted from the shock, concussing himself in the process. I had just enough blood in me to call upon the aid of my team. Thank God for Pollock’s muscles and big van. I eventually lost consciousness from the lack of blood in my body. Archie managed to save both me and Terence―only after nearly killing us. He can go to hell for all I care.”
Something didn’t make sense to Skunk. “You had Terence in your custody, why didn’t you just kill him and steal his so-called power then?”
Murry choked on his laughter. “I would have! Only, I was unconscious at the time and couldn’t make the decision. If you ask me, Archie planned the whole thing out. He and I don’t always agree with each other’s tactics. He nursed Terence back to health and then returned him to his own residence, safe and not dead.”
Skunk sighed and rubbed the moisture from his forehead. It was so humid he could see water droplets riding the breeze.
“Tell me about Paul,” Skunk said. He was tired of hearing about Terence.
“Oh yes, Paul. He’s narcoleptic. He experiences something called microsleep episodes. Even in his sleep, he can continue to function. He awakes and has no recollection of his actions.”
“Are you saying this man vandalized my town in his sleep?”
“Precisely. Belleville was the perfect target, what with your horrid security. Thankfully, my team changed that. We got him on film, Mr. Diggory.”
Skunk remembered. The man with the spiked platinum blonde hair emerging from the library.
“We found him passed out on a…”
“Park bench, I know. I heard that part.”
“Hmm,” Murry rubbed his chin inquisitively, “interesting. Your cologne paralyzes but keeps the victim conscious. Nasty. I like it.”
It was nasty. Skunk would never be able to void his mind of his father’s screams. The panic he felt in his stomach as he watched his father claw at his eyes. The ambulance came too late. The house smelled of burnt flesh and rotting kelp. Skunk remembered fleeing the place, gas mask still in hand. His wife was in the car, ready for a getaway. No wonder she was involved in Murry’s plans.
“What I especially find humorous about this whole escapade was your stupidity.”
“I beg your pardon?” Skunk said.
“You sprayed your repulsive cologne into the easterly gale while facing eastward. Haven’t you ever heard the expression a wise man never urinates into the wind? Terence survived because you efficiently managed to spray more cologne into your own face than his! At best you made him dizzy enough to stumble over the edge into the spray below.”
Skunk couldn’t help but chuckle. Anger often stifled his common sense.
“ That pesky kid with the bushy hair pulled Terence to the beach and performed the kiss of life. It was really quite romantic. Terence would have drowned otherwise, and I would have been able to predict death.”
Skunk knew exactly who Murry meant. The man with the pleasant face and curly hair who worked at Amigone Funeral Home. His name was Ash Wilson. Skunk didn’t know what Terence could have possibly done to deserve the man’s respect. Ash had defended Terence adamantly during the questioning.
“Where is Terence now?” Skunk asked.
“With that asshole Archie at his cabin. Terence’s little savior insisted on being there as well. Pollock and Archie came with the van and transferred him there for treatment. The cabin is where Ninny and I staged my death. She played the part of my bereaved daughter.”
“What of Paul?”
“Upon discovering Paul on the park bench, Temaru and Ninny awoke him. They were to act as a couple on an evening stroll. As far as I know, Paul is unaware of his condition. Temaru and Ninny were to suggest he see his doctor and drive him home. They were not to let on they were observing him, and they were not to inform him of his narcolepsy. That will be Terence’s job. Informing Terence will be your job, Mr. Mayor.”
Skunk stood. His behind was clammy from the saturated wood of the bench. He dreaded seeing Terence. The memory of Skunk’s father was a whip that lashed at his mind. Being in Terence’s presence would only encourage the flashbacks. Still, Skunk had to apologize. He had a duty to protect his town from anymore future vandalisms. If he didn’t tell Terence about Paul, who would tell Paul? Paul needed time from work at Amigone Funeral Home to seek treatment for his narcolepsy. Only Terence could grant him his leave.
“Take me to the cabin,” Skunk declared.