What the hell was that?” Swotsy scanned the evening gloom.
“Cats. Just a bunch of cats. This whole town is filled with godamned cats.”
“Yeah, well, looks more like rats to me. If those little fur balls are cats, they’re the smallest ones I’ve ever seen. What are they, pygmies?”
Violet looked at her and then began to laugh. She bent over double, coughing as she sucked in the cold air. Despite the pain she couldn't stop and howled even louder.
“And what, may I ask, is so funny?” Swotsy was in no laughing mood. The situation was coming apart at the seams and it looked like Violet might be doing the same.
“Not pygmies.” Violet tried to stand upright, but didn’t manage. Her entire frame shook with manic laughter. “Those are, they’re . . . dwarf cats,” she finally choked out and then burst into tears.
Joe sat by himself, stretched out on a town square bench, hidden behind a cluster of snow-clad maple trees. It was cold, biting cold, but somehow it didn’t register with him in the least. His mind was far from snow and cold. The tiny piece of paper he held in his frozen fingers fluttered carelessly in the wind, a miniature white flag.
He had a nasty burning sensation in his stomach, as if he’d eaten lava for lunch. It briefly crossed his mind that he might get sick; that he might in fact vomit. He took a deep breath. The air was glacial, yet his mind was on fire. He felt like he’d been strung up in a furnace and hung out to burn. Slowely. ‘I’ve gone to Hell’, he mumbled out loud to no-one. Pearls of sweat beaded across his forehead.
That last ingredient in the beauty facial. The Black Mask. It couldn’t be and yet there it was, written in the unmistakable flowing script of his mother. No wonder she had kept it a secret. Christ, not secret by half enough. Dwarf juice. Crème de Nain. It couldn’t be, yet . . . A hormone, an enzyme, a molecule – what did he know? Something particular to the dwarf metabolism, something unique. Something found only there. Alice probably didn’t know exactly what it was either. It was just something that worked. The final ingredient leading her down the path to preternatural beauty.
His mind turned over, puzzling pieces falling into place like a bang-up Tetris session. But of course! Gideon Stone. Murdered. The papers had mentioned that he looked more like a prune than a human being when they found him. Sucked dry, a mere husk. And now Joe had uncovered the culprit. His mother, his own loving mother. Loving? Had he said that, thought it? She had murdered Gideon Stone - mariticide. She had milked Stone's diminutive body of its precious life fluids, like he was some kind of chemical cow. But not only Stone. Surely there had been other ‘suppliers’ as well. Ten, twenty; how many? It was too awful to imagine. How many batches of that evil concoction had she brewed over the years? A witch, that’s what she was, straight out of Macbeth. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Those chemistry classes at night school when he was a kid; it had seemed so absurd at the time. Not now. And the circus, of course – a plentiful supply of ‘small people’ for her to sample from. Yes, all falling into place, the blocks tucking snugly together, arranging themselves into a horrendous satanic structure. And then it dawned on him. Why had they moved here in the first place? What did this sleepy little town have to offer that a hundred others couldn’t give more of? One thing and one thing only. Dwarves, this town was chockfull of dwarves.