Back | Next

Chapter 6


Midnight-12:27 AM

Eohippus stood shivering in the snow as Mallory leaned against the side of the booth, thumbing through the pages of the phone book.

"Is Carruthers listed?" asked the little horse.

"Colonel W. Carruthers," read Mallory. "I don't suppose there can be two of them."

He pulled a coin out of his pocket, inserted it in the phone, and dialed the number.

"No answer," he announced a few moments later.

"He's probably ushering in the New Year," suggested Eohippus. "What about his address?"

Mallory checked the book again. "124 Bleak Street," he said, frowning. "I've never heard of it."

"It's between Sloth and Despair," said the dark horse.

"Those are streets?" asked Mallory.

"They are in this Manhattan."

"And you've been to Bleak Street?"

The dark horse nodded. "I pulled a death cart after one of the Grundy's plagues."

"A death cart?"

"The Grundy plays for keeps," said Eohippus grimly.

"I guess he does," acknowledged Mallory. He laid Eohippus across the dark horse's withers and clambered awkwardly onto the horse's back. Then he clutched Eohippus to his chest and wrapped the dark horse's mane around the fingers of his right hand. "All right," he announced. "Let's go."

The dark horse started trotting across the stark white landscape of Central Park, which seemed to shimmer and glow in the ghostly light. After they had proceeded for a quarter of a mile, Mallory noticed that the flat landscape had become punctuated with eerie shapes.

'.'What the hell is that?" he asked, pointing toward the largest of them.

"A snowman," replied Eohippus.

"It's not like any snowman I ever saw," said Mall6ry.

"Well, actually, it's a snow gorgon."

"Some kid's got a hell of an imagination," said the detective.

"Yes," agreed the tiny animal. "The feet should be much larger."

"You mean something like that actually exists in this world?" demanded Mallory.

"Of course," replied Eohippus.

The snow structures became increasingly complex, culminating in a castle that could have housed a small battalion.

"Beautiful work," commented Eohippus. "Notice how all the bricks are made of ice—and I'll bet the drawbridge actually works."

"Who could have built it?" asked Mallory, looking around for some sign of life. "It's only been snowing for twenty or thirty minutes."

"Who knows?" replied the tiny horse. "Why not just appreciate it before it melts?"

"Not knowing things bothers me," said Mallory. "I suppose that's why I became a detective."

"It's just as beautiful whether you know who created it or not," said Eohippus.

"Not to me, it isn't," replied Mallory doggedly.

"Philistine!" muttered the dark horse.

Mallory decided not to press the issue and turned his attention back to the snow sculptures, some delicate and crystalline, others straight out of his worst nightmares. Here and there some enterprising ad men had rushed out into the snow and indulged their creative instincts: exquisitely detailed snowmen and women displayed carefully textured smoking jackets, robes, bras, and shoes, each with pricetags and store locations prominently displayed, and an antiquarian car dealer had even sculpted a Duesenberg and a Tucker, complete with drivers in the proper period attire.

"Well, what do you think?" asked Eohippus after they had passed yet another castle.

"I haven't made up my mind," replied Mallory. "Part of me thinks it's fascinating." He paused. "And the part that's a detective thinks these things provide muggers with an awful lot of places to hide."

"We don't have any muggers in Central Park," said Eohippus.

"Don't, count on it," said Mallory. "I just saw some movement behind that snow sphinx."

Eohippus looked in the direction he indicated.

"It's just a puppet show," he announced after a moment.

"Outside, at midnight, in a blizzard?" demanded Mallory in disbelief.

"What better time or place?" replied Eohippus. "Lots of children are permitted to stay up late to usher in the New Year. This keeps them from becoming nuisances at their parents' parties."

As they drew nearer, Mallory could see a number of small children, all wearing robes similar to his own, sitting cross-legged on the ground, laughing happily as a man and a woman, totally covered with snow, went through an elaborate Punch-and-Judy routine. As Mallory studied the children more closely, he could see furry and scaled tails poking out from under almost half the robes. A pair of teenaged girls, one quite human, the other sporting a huge pair of leathery wings, both of them obviously assigned to watch the children, stood at either side of the group, looking incredibly bored.

"Don't they get cold?" asked Mallory.

"They're wearing protective robes and cloaks," answered Eohippus.

"I meant the actors."

"I can't imagine why," said Eohippus.

"They're covered with snow," Mallory pointed out.

"Of course they are. They're snow inside and out."

"Are you trying to tell me that there aren't any people under all that snow?" demanded Mallory.

"That's right," replied Eohippus.

"I don't believe it!"

"It's the truth," said the tiny horse. "Every time we get a measurable snowfall, the kids run out to this spot for a Punch-and-Judy show. I don't know how, but the snowmen remember the scripts from one winter to the next."

Just then Judy hit Punch on the head with a rolling pin made of snow, and Punch, weeping and wailing, collapsed to the ground while the children laughed and cheered.

"You see?" said Eohippus. "That blow would have killed a real person."

"I agree," said Mallory. He paused. "I guess I'm just used to my Central Park."

"This isn't to imply that this Manhattan is without its dangers," continued the tiny horse. "But they come from different sources."

"Such as the Grundy?"

Eohippus nodded.

Then the children were behind them, and they came to a bleak, barren area that was punctuated only by an occasional snow sculpture. Finally the dark horse reached the end of the park and turned onto a narrow, freshly plowed street.

"Where are we now?" asked Mallory.

"On Sorrow Street," said Eohippus.

"Never heard of it," said Mallory.

"It's only a block long," replied the little horse. "It runs from Gluttony to Lust."

"They don't exist in my Manhattan."

"Of course they do," said Eohippus. "They just have other names."

They came to an intersection, and the dark horse stopped for a red light. Mallory took the opportunity to look down the cross street.

Every building had a doorman, each dressed more exotically than the last. The interiors seemed to be plush and dimly lit, and high-pitched laughter pierced the cold night air. The doorman of the building nearest the corner, a tall bronzed man dressed in a turban, a metallic gold vest, velvet pantaloons, and shoes with toes that curled upward, was persuasively describing the delights of his establishment to a well-dressed gentleman who seemed normal in every respect except for a huge pair of white wings that stuck out through the back of his overcoat; finally he nodded, passed some money to the doorman, and entered the building, where a pneumatic and suggestively clad young woman immediately took him by the arm and led him out of sight.

"Lust Street?" asked Mallory.

Eohippus nodded.

"Why is it adjacent to Sorrow Street?" asked the detective. "Are they all rip-off joints?"

"No," replied the tiny horse. "They give the customer exactly what they promise: unbridled carnality, with absolutely no uncomfortable emotional involvements."

"Sounds like everyone's getting their money's worth," commented Mallory.

"True," agreed Eohippus. "Yet almost all of them wind up on Sorrow Street sooner or later.''

"I assume that Gluttony Street is composed of restaurants?" continued Mallory.

"Each and every one a four-star establishment."

"They also give the customer what he wants?"

"More," said Eohippus grimly.

The light turned green, and they proceeded for a short block, turned left, went another block, and took a right. Once again the ambience of the neighborhood changed: the brownstone apartment buildings managed to look dusty even while covered with snow, rusted Nashes and Studebakers and Packards that hadn't run for years lined the street, beneath every streetlight huddled an undernourished beggar, and most of the stores had OUT OF BUSINESS signs posted on their doors.

"Bleak Street?" guessed Mallory.

Eohippus nodded, as the dark horse came to a stop.

Mallory looked at the black-draped windows confronting him. "There must be some mistake," he said.

"This is 124 Bleak Street," replied the horse.

"But it's a funeral home!"

"That is hardly my fault."

Mallory dismounted and placed Eohippus on the sidewalk, then turned to the dark horse.

"Stick around," he said. "I've got a feeling the phone book was wrong."

"You needed transportation to Bleak Street. I provided it. My obligation to you is ended."

The horse turned and trotted away down the street.

"A nice loyal friend you've got yourself," remarked Mallory caustically.

"He's in terrible pain," answered Eohippus. "His legs are unsound, and between our weight and the snow  . . ."

"I know," said Mallory. "I just get the feeling that he blames me personally for all his misfortunes."

"He blames all men," said Eohippus.

"Well, I think a little silent suffering would do wonders for his personality," said Mallory, turning his attention back to the building. He stared at it for a moment, then approached the front door and tried the handle.

"That's curious," he muttered.

"What is?" asked Eohippus.

"It's open."

He entered, followed by the little horse, and found himself in a candlelit circular foyer. Along the back wall were three doors, each decorated with a funeral wreath. To the left were four gilt chairs facing an elegant mahogany desk.

An elderly man wearing a dark, double-breasted pinstriped suit a somber tie sat at the desk, writing in a black, leather-bound ledger with a quill pen. He was incredibly gaunt, with deep, hollow cheeks and sunken eyes. His hair, which was steel gray, formed a prominent widow's peak just above his thin eyebrows.

"Are you here to claim a body?" he asked in a deep, cadaverous voice.

"No," said Mallory. "I'm looking for a Colonel Carruthers."

He smiled, displaying a row of crooked yellow teeth. "Ah! Then you want the Morbidium."

"I do?"

"Yes," said the man. He squinted down at Eohippus. "I'm afraid we don't allow dogs."

"He's a horse," said Mallory.

The man stood up and took a step toward them, then bent over and stared at Eohippus. "So he is," he said at last. He straightened up. "We don't have any rules barring horses, but it's highly irregular." He looked at the little horse again, then shrugged his narrow shoulders. "I don't suppose one more irregularity will make any difference. Please follow me, sir."

He went through the nearest doorway, and Mallory and Eohippus fell into step behind him. They walked through a narrow corridor that was illuminated by evenly spaced candles in pewter holders affixed to the walls, then came to a spiral staircase and began climbing down.

"Exactly what is this Morbidium?" asked Mallory, lifting up Eohippus and carrying him.

"It's the storeroom for the mortuary upstairs," answered the old man.

"They store bodies down here?"


"And that's where Carruthers lives?" persisted Mallory suspiciously.

"That's right."

"This may be a silly question," continued Mallory, "but is the Colonel alive?"


"And you and the Colonel work in this Morbidium?"

The old man laughed. "We live here."

"In a mortuary?" asked Mallory unbelievingly.

"Not everyone is fortunate enough to set aside sufficient funds for his retirement, sir," replied the old man as he reached the bottom of the staircase. "The mortuary supplies us with a warm, dry room in which to visit and a fine supply of truly luxurious caskets in which to sleep—and in exchange we do such maintenance work as may be required."

"And they leave the caskets down here for you permanently?"

"Goodness, no!" answered the old man. "They're a business. Every casket is for sale. But as each is sold, they must restock; it would be quite embarrassing for them to find themselves with more corpses than coffins." He paused. "Actually, it's like changing beds every couple of days; it helps break up the monotony."

"It sounds uncomfortable," remarked Mallory.

"Oh, no, sir," said the old man. "Modern caskets are quite spacious and luxurious. In fact, I can honestly say that I never owned a bed half so comfortable."

The old man led them along a corridor.

"Here we are, sir," he said. "I'll point the Colonel out to you."

He opened a door, and Mallory and Eohippus followed him through into a large room.

There were upwards of forty coffins at the far end of the chamber, many of them quite elegant but a few rather mundane and nondescript, each positioned upon its own table. All but a handful of them were supplied with blankets and pillows, and as Mallory looked at them more closely, he noticed that half a dozen elderly men and women lay sleeping in them. One old man had on a set of Walkman earphones, and was tapping his fingers against the side of the coffin in time to the music.

The remainder of the room resembled the lobby of an aging hotel that, while in good repair, was badly in need of redecorating. The chairs and couches, though deep and comfortable, were sadly out of date, the pattern of the carpet had been discarded as old-fashioned sometime before World War II, the ashtrays were more elegant than functional, and the gilt-framed prints on the walls were by painters who were long dead and even longer-forgotten. A phonograph that displayed a representation of a dog listening to his master's voice was playing a 78 RPM recording of one of Rudy Vallee's less memorable love songs.

A number of men and women, most of them quite elderly, were seated on the furniture. A couple of the men were dressed informally in white tennis togs and another wore a sports shirt, a sleeveless sweater, a leather golf cap, knickers, and spiked shoes, but the remainder were clad in dark suits, high-collared white shirts, and somber ties. All of the women wore either print dresses or business suits and most wore hats with veils; some of them wore kidskin gloves, and one, an ancient white-headed woman with regal bearing, was enveloped in a fur wrap that seemed to be composed almost entirely of foxes' heads, tails, and feet, with each head chewing vigorously on the tail ahead of it. Almost all the men and women held dainty little demitasses filled with coffee, and most of them were also munching on cookies or pastries.

A burly woman, vibrant with life, sat at the end of the room nearest to the caskets. Her auburn hair, coiled tightly in a bun, was unmarked by gray, though Mallory estimated her age at between sixty and sixty-five. She wore a brown tweed jacket, a wool skirt, a very businesslike tan blouse, and a silk tie.

"That's her," said the old man.

"That's who?" asked Mallory.

"The Colonel."

"You mean the Colonel is a woman?"

"Have you got something against women?" asked the old man.

"Not at all," said Mallory hastily. "I was just surprised."

The old man caught her attention, and the Colonel got to her feet and walked briskly across the room.

"I have someone who's here to see you, Colonel," he said.

She stared at Mallory. "Do I know you?"

"Not yet," said Mallory, extending his hand. "My name is John Justin Mallory."

She took his hand and shook it vigorously. "I'm pleased to meet you, Mallory. You may call me Winnifred." She looked at Eohippus, who was still tucked under Mallory's arm. "What have we here?"

"A horse," said Mallory.

"Quite a small one," she said, unsurprised. "Has he got a name?"

"Eohippus," said the tiny horse.

"Well, I'm pleased to meet you, Eohippus," she said, reaching out a hand and gently tousling his forelock and mane as he wriggled with pleasure. "You've got a manly little voice."

"Thank you," said Eohippus.

She turned back to Mallory. "Can I offer you some tea, or perhaps a scone with some clotted cream?" She paused. "To be perfectly truthful, they're not all that good, but one does what one can."

"No, thank you," said Mallory. "What I'd really like is some information, and perhaps even some help."

She chuckled. "I'm having enough trouble just helping myself these days. It comes from spending all my time studying the beasts of the jungle instead of the beasts of Wall Street." She shrugged. "But that's neither here nor there. What kind of information do you need?"

"I understand that you know something about unicorns," began Mallory.

"Wrong! I know everything about unicorns. I've been studying them for close to forty years." She looked at him sharply. "What's your interest in them?"

"I'm hunting for one."

"Excellent!" she said happily. "I'm always glad to talk to a fellow sportsman, Mallory. There's nothing quite so invigorating as staring into the bloodshot little eyes of a bull unicorn as he prepares to charge!"

"I believe that this particular unicorn has been domesticated," replied Mallory.

"What a shame!" said Winnifred. "They're such noble sport in the wild! Ah, that's the life, Mallory—the sun overhead, the wind in your face, surrounded by your loyal trolls, hot on the trail of a unicorn with a record horn! And, oh, the smell of unicorn steak cooking over an open fire! It makes my heart beat faster just to think of it! That's where you should be, Mallory—out in the wilderness, not hunting some poor brute who has probably been reduced to wearing a bridle and saddle." She paused. "You know, if this were even ten years ago and I still had my trusty .550 Nitro Express, I'd volunteer to take you along on a real unicorn hunt."

"I'd be honored to have you with me on this one," said Mallory.

She smiled wistfully, then sighed deeply. "I'd just be in the way, a fat old woman who's short of breath and spends most of her time living in the past. You don't need me, Mallory."

"You're exactly what I do need," said Mallory. "I'm not a hunter; I'm a detective."

"A detective?"

He nodded. "The unicorn I'm after was stolen this afternoon. I've got until daybreak to find it."

"You mean it's right here on the streets of Manhattan?"

"Well, I doubt that he's still on the street," replied Mallory. "But he's somewhere in the city. And," he added, "I don't begin to know how to go about finding him."

"It's quite a challenge," she mused, trying unsuccessfully to hide her interest. "Your employer wants it by dawn, you say?"

"That was the stipulation."

"Hmmm. That doesn't give us—excuse me: you—much time." She turned to him. "Who do you think stole it?"

"I know who stole him: the Grundy, and a leprechaun named Flypaper Gillespie."

Winnifred frowned. "Why would the Grundy want to steal a unicorn?"

"It was Larkspur," said Eohippus.

"Larkspur?" she exclaimed. "That puts an entirely different light on it! Of course I'll help you, Mallory." She frowned. "The problem is that you're going to need more help than I can give you."

"I thought you knew everything about unicorns," said Mallory.

"About their habits, and how to track them down, yes," explained Winnifred. "But I don't know very much about that ruby in his head. Or what the Grundy can do with it. We're going to have to enlist the aid of an expert."

"On unicorns?" asked Mallory, confused.

"On magic."

"Then the ruby does have magical powers?"

"If its powers aren't magical, they're so close to magic that it makes no difference."

"Shouldn't we make some attempt to find out if it's magical?" asked Mallory. "There may be certain precautions we have to take."

"That's why we're going to pay a call on the Great Mephisto," she said firmly. "He'll know—and if the stone is magical, he'll be able to tell us what to do."

"He's a magician?"

"The best."

"Where can we find him?" asked Mallory.

"He's very fond of a little bar on the next block," replied Winnifred.

"Would he go there on New Year's Eve?" asked Mallory.

"Why not?" replied Winnifred. "He has nowhere else to go." She checked her wristwatch. "There's every likelihood that he'll be there in the next twenty or thirty minutes."

"He'd better be," said Mallory. "I've still got a deadline. My client will be put to death at sunrise if I haven't got Larkspur back by then."

"Oh? Who are you working for, Mallory?"

"An elf named Mürgenstürm. Ever hear of him?"

She shook her head. "The name is unfamiliar to me. What's his connection to Larkspur?"

"He was supposed to be guarding him when the Grundy stole him."

"That's very curious," said Winnifred.

"What is?"

"Placing such a valuable animal in the care of a single elf. He must be quite formidable, this Mürgenstürm."

Mallory smiled wryly. "As a matter of fact, he's the most scatterbrained, oversexed, cowardly little bastard I've ever met."

"That doesn't fit," Winnifred announced firmly. "Something's very wrong here, Mallory."


She nodded. "Why would the elves' guild entrust Larkspur to someone like that? They've got a reputation for being the finest security force around. Why should they 'take the most valuable thing they've ever had to protect and place it in the charge of an elf such as you've described?''

Mallory frowned. "It doesn't make much sense, does it?"

"It certainly doesn't," agreed Winnifred. "Could he have lied to you, Mallory? Could it be an inside job from start to finish?"

"I doubt it."


"Three reasons," answered Mallory. "First, he hired me to clear him with his guild. Second, he was genuinely terrified when he found out that Larkspur was in the Grundy's possession. And third, the Grundy keeps trying to scare me off and has already tried to kill me." He shook his head. "No, the Grundy stole the unicorn; I'm sure of it. But suddenly I've got a batch of questions about that little green wart."

"You mean Mürgenstürm?" asked Eohippus.

Mallory nodded.

"For example?" said Winnifred.

"I know you have detectives in your Manhattan. Why did he come to my Manhattan for one?"

"That's easy enough to answer," said Winnifred. "Any detective from this Manhattan would have spotted the flaws in his story. This addle-pated, incompetent act you describe wouldn't have fooled anyone who knew Larkspur's value." She frowned. "But as for why he wanted a detective in the first place, or why he's putting on this act  . . ." Winnifred shrugged. "I have no idea."

"You and me both," muttered Mallory. "And then there's Felina."


"A cat-girl. She's been tagging along with us since half an hour after I arrived. I wonder if she's in on whatever's going on?"

"I wouldn't worry too much about a cat-person," said Winnifred. "If they have any loyalty at all, it isn't for sale, and I certainly wouldn't trust one to keep a secret." She paused and looked at him sharply. "Perhaps you'd better return home, Mallory. Since Mürgenstürm obviously lied to you, you're under no obligation to remain here."

"Most of my clients lie to me the first time around," replied Mallory. "It's an occupational hazard. And this one is paying me enough for me to officially believe him until dawn." Suddenly he got to his feet. "Get your coat. We can't stay here."

"But Mephisto almost never shows up before one o'clock," protested Winnifred.

"Then we'll wait for him."

"What's the matter, Mallory?"

"I left a message for Mürgenstürm to meet me here. And while I may officially believe him, I don't think I trust him."

Winnifred walked immediately to a closet, pulled out a white, ankle-length fur coat and a pair of boots lined with the same fur, and led the detective and Eohippus out of the room and up the long flight of stairs.

The snow had stopped when they reached the street, and Winnifred started off to her right.

"Hi, John Justin Mallory," purred a familiar voice. "That's a tasty-looking little animal you have with you."

Mallory looked up and saw Felina perched atop a streetlamp.

"What are you doing up there?" he asked.

"Sitting," she said, her eyes never leaving Eohippus, whom Mallory had set down on the ground.

"How long have you been here?"

"I don't know."

"How did you find me?" demanded Mallory.

She smiled and jumped lightly to the ground. "You're much easier to follow than a unicorn," she said, squatting down next to Eohippus. "Cute little, sweet little, fat little, chewy little tidbit," she crooned in a singsong voice.

"Uh  . . . Mallory?" said Eohippus nervously.

"This is Felina?" asked Winnifred.

Mallory nodded. "She was helping me track down a unicorn in the park when dietary considerations intervened."

Felina reached out her hand to touch Eohippus, and Winnifred slapped it. The cat-girl jumped back quickly, spitting and hissing.

"You are to leave him alone," said Winnifred firmly. "Do you understand?"

Felina snarled at her.

"Do that again, young lady, and I'll put a leash on you," said Winnifred.

Felina's demeanor abruptly changed from aggressive to subservient.

"A high-spirited species," Winnifred explained to Mallory. "You have to lay out the ground rules and let them know who's in charge right at the start, or you're just asking for trouble." She looked at Felina. "Now, we're not going to have any more problems about touching the little horse, are we?"

Felina smiled and shook her head. Mallory decided that it was a little too toothy a smile, and decided to pick Eohippus up and tuck him under his arm.

"The bar is just on the next block," said Winnifred. "Actually, it's a very pleasant place. Large drinks, small prices."

"Then let's go," said the detective.

"Right," she agreed, striding off vigorously. "Suddenly I feel alive again. I'm out of that musty mortuary, and the game's afoot!" She took a deep breath. "Ah, smell that invigorating air, Mallory! It reminds me of the time I hunted the yeti in the Himalayas."

"I didn't know yetis really existed," remarked the detective.

Winnifred laughed and turned around to better display her white fur coat. "What do you think I'm wearing?"

"I'm glad you're on our side," said Mallory. "And I'm glad you rescued me from another New Year's Eve surrounded, by a batch of people who are just sitting around waiting to die," she replied earnestly.

"What the hell is a vibrant person like you doing with them anyway?'' asked Mallory.

"I really don't know," she replied honestly. "I just drifted into staying there, and they made it so comfortable that before long it became too much of an effort to leave."

"That's why I stay in Manhattan," agreed Mallory. "It may not be much, the air may stink and the streets may be unsafe, but somehow getting through the day has always seemed like less work than moving."

Suddenly she stopped and lifted her gaze to the cloud-covered heavens.

"Be on your guard, Grundy!" she shouted. "We may not look like much, we may lack your dark powers, we may not have your evil allies—but we're going to give you a run for your money, I promise you that!"



Back | Next