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The taxidermist had imparted a drunken wink to the stuffed owl over the bar. Mr. Witherwax returned the wink and kept his gaze fixed resolutely aloft, well aware that if he lowered it, Mr. Gross would burst into anecdote. Considering the quality of the anecdotes, this was something to be avoided at any cost; but there must come the moment when the glass was empty; and Mr. Witherwax must look down to have it refilled. Beside him Mr. Gross cleared his throat ominously. Mr. Witherwax deliberately turned his back to the sound, looked along the mahogany terrain toward the door, and beckoned to the bartender.

"Who's that, drinking by himself down there?" he asked. "Maybe he'd like to join us; a man shouldn't be a solitary drinker. You can leave the cherry out of mine this time, Mr. Co-han."

"Co-han, by God!" the bartender corrected. "Him? His name is Murdoch, or maybe it's Mud, and I'm thinking he's not a lucky man for you to know. He may be having murder done on him. . . . What'll you be having, Mr. Gross?"

"The usual—a Boilermaker, with a long shot. That reminds me, I knew a man once—"

"What is he, a gangster?" said Mr. Witherwax.

"I don't want to get mixed up in nothing, only do him a favor. Bring him down here and give him a drink on me. Tell him the Devil died on Tuesday night, and we're holding the wake."

Mr. Cohan smiled a smile of sly superiority through his folds of fat as he set out the ingredients of the Boilermaker. "No, he would not be a gangster. It's worse even than that. He lost his dragon."

"A friend of my uncle Pincus was kicked in the belly by a kangaroo once," said Mr. Gross. "He—"

"I don't care whether he lost a dragon or found a mermaid," said Mr. Witherwax, desperately. "Bring him down here and give him a drink."

The bartender, with the shrug of a man who has done his duty and will not be responsible for the consequences, stepped to the end of the bar. As he spoke to Murdoch, the latter turned a thin and melancholy face toward the first comers, then nodded. There was no trace of previous potations in his gait; but he would have a double Zombie, thanks. As he lifted his glass in salute, Mr. Gross gazed at him with fatherly interest.

"Is it true," he asked, "that you lost your dragon?"

Murdoch choked on the last mouthful, set down his glass and looked at Mr. Gross with pain. "If it only was my dragon, I wouldn't care," he said, "but it was borrowed."

"That's right, and I misspoke meself," said Mr. Cohan, heartily. "I remember it was right here at this bar that you loaned it off that magician felly, and him drinking his own special drink."

Murdoch reached for another swallow. He drizzled some of it on his chin as the door opened, then gave a sigh of relief at the sight of a stranger.

Witherwax returned his gaze to the drunken owl, which stared back glassily. "I haven't never seen a dragon, and I don't expect to," he said. "Didn't St. George or somebody get rid of the last one?"

"He did not," said Mr. Cohan, having supplied the new arrival with beer. "This here, now, animal we're talking about I seen it with me own eyes; and it was as dragon as could be; and it belonged to that magician felly Abaris."

"Still does," said Murdoch in a rueful tone. "That is—well, I don't know why I let myself get mixed up—I didn't like him—oh, what the helll" He took a long pull at his double Zombie.

Witherwax turned his gaze to Mr. Cohan. "Who is this guy that owns a dragon? One of them scientists?"

A magician, I'm telling you [said the bartender]. He gave me his card once; maybe I got it here. Theophrastus V. Abaris [he lined the syllables out slowly]; you would have seen him yourself, Mr. Gross. He used to come in on Thursday nights when you did. A big, greasy tub of lard, not honest fat from the wife's cooking like meself. Pale as a corp he was, with his hair hanging down over his coat collar and a little squeaky voice like a choirboy. It's not easy you could miss him if you seen him once.

One of them real solitary drinkers he was [Cohan continued], that never buy one for the bartender nor get one on the house, neither. Not that he wasn't friendly; he could talk the tail off a brass monkey, only you couldn't understand half of what he said. I ast him once what he done for a living, and all he said was something that sounded like some kind of religion—I mis-remember the name.

["Pythagorean," said Murdoch, gloomily, and took another drink.]

That could be it, and thanks, Mr. Murdoch. I never heard of it before, but I ast me brother Julius that's on the force about it, and he said it didn't look good, but there's no law against it as long as they don't tell fortunes. It has something to do with books. There's some of them old books that are worth all kinds of money.

That's what he went away for, he said, since the last time I seen him, to get some book, he said, a book by somebody named Nebulous or something like that.

["Zebulon," said Murdoch.]

You should of heard him talk about it. He says it's hundreds of years he's been after the book, which is always the way he talks, so that when you can understand what he's saying, you can't believe a word of it. It seems he had the book once; he says he found it on an island in the pink Arabian Sea, just as though I didn't know seawater ain't pink.

Then he says the holy Saint Peter stole the book off him; and besides being a lot of malarkey, he shouldn't be putting his tongue to the names of the holy saints that way; and I told him so. But now he's going to get it back, he says, because there's going to be a convention of fellies in the same line of business over in Brooklyn, I think he said.

["Brocken," corrected Murdoch.] Okay, in Brocken. I remember on account of the date being the first of May, and I thought maybe it was some gang of Commies or something like that, but me brother Julius, that's on the force, says no.

Still and all, it's good for business having him in here once in a while, with the tricks he plays, moving his fingers all the time like he's playing a piano that ain't there. Did I ever show you the bottle of private stock he drinks out of, Mr. Gross?

[Cohan ducked down to produce it. "Vin sable," read Witherwax from the label. "I know what that means; that's French, and it means 'sand wine.' Have something yourself on this round, will you Mr. Co-han?"]

Don't mind if I do; the first today but not the last, and thank you. Well, I guess they must use black sand with it or something, because you can see for yourself how dark it is, like it was mixed with ink. Gavagan gets it for him from Costello's the importer. No, I wouldn't be selling you a drink of it, Mr. Gross; it would be as much as me job was worth. This here Abaris is that particular; and he is a man I wouldn't want to have take a dislike to me, because of the funny things he can do.

[A sound vaguely imitating a rusty hinge emanated from Murdoch.]

Why, you wouldn't believe it yourself sometimes, and I wouldn't either, only I seen them with my own two eyes. You know Mr. Jeffers, don't you, Mr. Witherwax? Well, it's a different man he is today than he was, and all because of this Abaris. A fine young man and a fine young felly he always was, except that in the old days, before you began coming in here, Mr. Witherwax, he maybe had too much money and spent too much of it on girls. Take them alone, either one; the money without the women, or a good girl without the money that can be a help to a young felly, and he's fixed for life. But put them together; and often as not, the young felly goes on the booze.

No, you needn't laugh, Mr. Gross. I'm not the man to say anything against good liquor, but I wouldn't want anyone to walk out this door that couldn't go on home on his own two feet. Good liquor helps a man to see that after all it's a small thing that disturbs him; but when you take liquor without the trouble, then the liquor becomes the trouble itself, and that's bad.

This was the way it used to be with Mr. Jeffers. He got to taking the liquor with the women, and then without them; and he could be a nasty drunk, too. When I would try to hold him back, he'd go around the corner there to that flashy place, where they don't care what they sell you, and get himself a skinful. Many's the time my brother Julius had to take him home, blind drunk. This evening I'm telling you about, Mr. Jeffers was in here, and so was this Abaris—he used to call himself Doctor Abaris, did I tell you? But when I ast him could he take a wart off her finger for the wife, he said no, so I'll not be giving him the name.

So I said to Abaris, was there any trick he could do to make Mr. Jeffers stop drinking, like maybe the time he borrowed the bottle and poured three different things out of it? So he says: "Yes, my dear Cohan; of course, my dear Cohan. Fill up his glass," in that nancy voice of his, and he begins to make those motions like playing the piano.'

I filled up Mr. Jeffers's glass with brandy like he ordered; and he puts his hand to it; but before he can get the glass to his lips, the brandy is back in the bottle, by God. So after we tried it three times, Mr. Jeffers lets the glass alone; and a funny look comes over his face and he walks out. I thought maybe at the time he was headed for the flashy place again; but he comes back the next night; and you can call me an Orangeman if the same thing don't happen with the first drink Mr. Jeffers orders, while he is cold sober. I don't know how it would be if he come in tonight, but Mr. Jeffers hasn't touched a drop of anything stronger than beer since the day, and you all know it as well as I do. Abaris himself says the trick is simple; it's nothing but a continuing appropriation, he says.

"Apportation," said Murdoch. "I thank you, Mr. Murdoch. Excuse it, I must see what this gentleman will be having."

"A cousin of mine in Milwaukee once—" began Gross, but Witherwax hastily addressed Murdoch: "What's this business about a dragon? Did he make you think you'd seen one coming out of your drink?" The young man sipped his Zombie.

No, nothing like that [he said reflectively]. In fact, I thought it was all part of a stock joke, you know, like kidding someone over his luck with the dice or his long ears. I've seen plenty of magicians, like everybody else, at clubs and on the stage; and this Abaris didn't strike me as a particularly prepossessing specimen. In fact, I used to wonder how he made a go of it, because just as Mr. Cohan says, he looked rather greasy and was never well dressed. People like to be fooled; but they want to have it done in the grand manner, by a man with a waxed mustache, wearing a white tie and tails at high noon.

So I was just joking myself when I asked him if he were really a magician. [Murdoch shuddered slightly and took another sip.] He has black eyes, with pupils that have a kind of vertical look that I can't describe; he looked at me out of them and said yes, he was, did I have any objections; and from the way he said it, I knew right off that I'd made a mistake. But there didn't seem anything to do but pretend that I hadn't noticed, so I laughed and said he was just the man I wanted; I needed a magician or a Pied Piper at least, to get the mice out of my apartment.

[Witherwax laid a bill on the counter and made a circular motion over the glasses. Mr. Cohan bent to the task of making refills.]

I have an apartment on Fifth Street [continued Murdoch], on the third floor over one of those Fairfield restaurants. The only thing wrong with it is that it is—or was—simply overrun with mice. I had to keep all my food in metal or glass containers; they chewed the bindings of my books—really an infliction. You haven't any idea of what pests they can be when they get out of hand.

Now, wait a minute [he held up a hand toward Witherwax, whose attitude indicated speech]. I know what you're going to say. You're going to ask why I didn't get an exterminator or a cat. Well, I live alone and do a good deal of traveling, so it would be no use trying to keep a cat. As for the exterminator, I did get one; I got half a dozen, in relays. They came around once a week with traps and mouse seed, which they scattered over the floor until it crunched underfoot, and I suppose they did kill a lot of mice. At least the place smelt like it. But the mice kept coming back.

The trouble was that Fairfield restaurant; it was a regular breeding-ground for them. You know the chain is owned by an old girl named Conybeare, Miss Gwen Conybeare. Like a good many other maiden ladies who have all the money they need and more time than they know what to do with, she fell for one of those Indian sects. You know, with meetings in dimly lighted rooms and a prophet with a towel around his head. I suppose it's her business how she wants to spend her time and money; but this particular religion had a feature that made it my business, too. Her teacher convinced her that it was wrong to take life—not human life, but life of any kind, just as in India, where a man will get rid of a louse by picking it off himself and putting it on someone else.

She gave absolute orders that no death was to occur in a Fairfield restaurant and wouldn't allow an exterminator on the premises. So you see that as fast as I got rid of the mice in my apartment, a new supply came up from below; and I had a real problem.

This Abaris person naturally couldn't know that. When I said I needed a magician to get the mice out of my place, he looked at me with those vertical-appearing pupils and made a kind of noise in his throat that I swear gave me the shivers all through. [Murdoch shivered again and gulped from his Zombie.] I felt as though he were going to hypnotize me, or make my drink jump back into the bottle, like Jeffers's, and so before anything like that could happen, I began to explain that it wasn't a joke. As soon as I got to the part about Miss Conybeare, he smiled all across his face—he has very full, red lips—and made me a kind of bow.

"My dear young man," he said, "if it is a matter of a psychosophist, I should ask nothing better than the opportunity to assist you. They are the most repulsive of existing beings. Let me see—ha, I will provide you with the king of all the cats, and mouse corpses will litter the doorstep of Fairfields."

I explained that the king of the cats wouldn't do me much more good than the crown prince, because of my traveling.

He put a hand up to his mouth and spoke from underneath it. "Hm, hm," he said. "That makes it more difficult, but the project is a worthy one, and I will not willingly abandon it. I will lend you my dragon."

I laughed, thinking that Abaris was a much cleverer man than he looked, to have turned a mild joke around on me in that fashion. But he didn't laugh back.

"It is a very young dragon," he said, "hatched from an egg presented to me by my old friend, Mr. Sylvester. As nearly as I can determine, I am the first person to raise one from the egg, so I must ask you to take particularly good care of it, as I wish to present a report at the next meeting of the Imperial Society."

I thought he was carrying the joke so far that it strained a bit, so I said of course I would take the best of care of his dragon; and if it wearied of a diet of mice, I'd be glad to see that it was provided with a beautiful young maiden tied to a tree, though I wouldn't guarantee the results, which I understood to be usually unfortunate for dragons in such cases.

He gave a giggle at that, but it trailed off in a nasty kind of way and he tapped his fingers two or three times on the bar. "It appears that you treat this with a spirit of levity," he said. "These are high matters. Therefore, and purely as a preventative, I shall accompany the loan of the dragon with an engagement. I shall require you to permit me to put a curse on you when I return from the Brocken if my dragon is not returned in good order." He produced a knife with a small, sharp scalpel blade. "Prick your thumb," he said.

Well, things had gone too far for me to pull out at this point without being ridiculous; and besides I was curious about what kind of charlatanry he was going to produce by way of a dragon, so I stuck myself in the thumb and a drop of blood came out on the bar. Abaris leaned over it and made a little sort of humming song, all in minors, twiddling his fingers in the way Mr. Cohan described. I didn't like the expression on his face. The drop of blood vanished.

[Mr. Cohan had been leaning against the back of the bar with his arms akimbo. Now he came to life. Vanished, did it?" he said. "The devil of a time I had trying to get the mark of that drop of blood out, and the best part of it's there yet. If you get the right angle and look close now—see—there it is, like it worked right through the varnish into the wood. Isn't that queer, now?"] There was nothing queer about the dragon, though [said Murdoch, and for the first time Witherwax noticed that the Zombies were beginning to have some effect on his speech]. It was a real dragon. I knew it was, as soon as Abaris brought it to my place in a metal box, and that was when I really began to worry a little. It hooked its feef—I mean, it cooked its food on the hoof. Wouldn't touch a dead mouse at all, not at all. But when it got near a live one it would go whooof and shoot out a flame, and there was the mouse, all cooked.

Witherwax said: "I never thought of that. They must have the flame for something, though. That is, if it was a real dragon."

Murdoch stuck out a finger. "Look here, ol' man, don't you believe me? It's bad enough—"

"Now, now," Mr. Cohan intervened heavily. "There will be no arguments of the kind in Gavagan's Bar. Mr. Murdoch, I am surprised at you. Not a word has Mr. Witherwax said to show he doesn't believe you. And as for the dragon, I seen it with me own two eyes, right here on this bar; and near the end of the bar and all it was."

He brought it in here in a big tomato-juice can [the bartender went on], to show it to me because it was here he heard about it first, and because of the wonderful way it would be cleaning the mice out of his place, so there was hardly one left. I will say it wasn't much to look at, being like one of them alligators about a foot and a half long, with a couple of little stubby wings sticking out of its back.

Maybe it didn't like being out on the bar or something, because before Mr. Murdoch could get it back into the can, it run down to the end there, and there was a felly sitting drinking a Tom Collins and minding his own business. This dragon let off a puff of flame about a foot long that burned all the hair off the back of the felly's hand, and would you believe it? It boiled the Tom Collins right over the side of the glass so it made a mark on Gavagan's varnish. This felly jumped up and run out of here; and as that sort of thing is bad for business, I told Mr. Murdoch he'd have to keep the dragon out of the place; and that was the beginning of all his troubles.

Now, Mr. Murdoch, it's all right. I was just going to tell them that the reason you brung the dragon in here was thinking it would maybe help with the rats we have in the cellar, bad luck to them; and also because it was getting hungry. The mice were clean eaten out; and Mr. Murdoch had no luck at all when he brought it home a piece of beefsteak or a pork chop, for beef or pork it could not have but must catch its food for itself. The dragon was getting thin, he used to say, and would be saying something like "Kwark, kwark," and even trying to catch flies, that was so burned to pieces with the flame that it had nothing to eat from them at all.

So what does Mr. Murdoch do? He does what any man of good sense would do and tries to take it to the zoo until Mr. Abaris gets home from Brooklyn or whatever it is. He puts it in the tomato-juice can with a cardboard top, but the dragon did not like the trip here to the bar at all, and it burns a hole in the cardboard, and out it comes. Then he puts it in a wooden box and the same thing happens, only it nearly burned up the apartment that time. Then he tries to call the zoo to come get it, but devil a bit would the zoo have to do with that.

"Why not?" asked Witherwax. "Oh, it's a long story, a long, long story," said Murdoch. "They said they couldn't take it unless I gave it to them, and I said I couldn't do that, and they said I should take it to a pet stop—I mean, pet shop; and I told them it burned a hole in the box. That was bad, because the zoo, it said, what did it say? It said, oh yes, they'd send a wagon right around for the dragon, in charge of a keeper named Napoleon Bonaparte. So I hung up. Maybe the whole thing didn't happen." He drained the last of his Zombie unhappily.

It happened as I'm the living witness [said Mr. Cohan stoutly]. When Mr. Murdoch gave me the word on this, I says to him, if you can't take the dragon to his food, then do the next best thing. Doc Brenner now, he tells me there's places where you can buy rats and mice and things like that for experiments; and if this isn't an experiment, what is? So when I got the address of one of them places from Doc Brenner, Mr. Murdoch goes there right away, and then he remembers he has ordered some wood to make bookshelves out of. So what does he do but leave the key to his place downstairs in the restaurant.

Well, this boy that brought the boards in—he was in here afterward, and young as he was, I wouldn't refuse him a drink, because he was needing it—this lad put the boards down, when all of a sudden a mouse runs out of the corner by the pipes, with the dragon after it. It must of been a new mouse. The dragon was not stalking like a cat, the way it usually did, but hopping across the floor, with its claws scratching the boards and its wings trying to fly, and every third hop it would let out a flame a foot long.

The mouse made a dive for that pile of lumber, with the dragon after him. The lad that brought the boards was hit by a tongue of flame—he had a hole in his pants leg you could shove your fist through—before he got out of there, thinking maybe Gavagan's would be a better place for him. What happened next I cannot tell you; but the nearest a man can come to it, the mouse crawled in among them boards, and the dragon set them afire while trying to cook the mouse.

However that may be, when Mr. Murdoch got back with a box under his arm and live mice in it, his apartment was in a fine grand blaze, and firemen spraying water through the window and chopping things up with their axes and having themselves a rare old time. That part was all right, because Mr. Murdoch had insurance. But there was no insurance on the dragon, and when he got in afterward, by God, not a trace of the beast could he find. Whether it got burned up, or flushed down with the hoses or run away to the Fairfield restaurant, he has no idea at all. And now here's this Abaris coming back from Brooklyn and Mr. Murdoch with no dragon for him, nothing but the box of mice he has been keeping, hoping the dragon would show up.

So now this Abaris will put the curse on him, and what it will be I don't know and neither does he. No, Mr. Murdoch, you will excuse me from giving you another double Zombie this night.

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