Excerpt from “The Black Mouth of Death”

The Black Mouth of Death

A Solar Pons Mystery


The dead man arrived one hour after supper.  We had just returned to our apartment after a leisurely afternoon and dinner out.  He knocked on the door at 7B Praed Street just as we were closing it behind us, and then, in a most insistent, undead way, pushed his way inside as soon as the portal was reopened. Tall, thin as a skeleton, he slid around me and into the hallway to stand between the two of us.  “Pardon me, sir!” I said sharply, grabbing his bony arm. I fancied I could feel him tremble even through his sleeves.

“I’m a dead man.  I’m a dead man,” he kept muttering.  He was sweating profusely.

“Odd to witness a dead man sweat,” Pons commented drily. “Nonetheless, that is my associate, Dr. Lyndon Parker, who has hold of you, and I am Solar Pons. However, I am sure you already knew our identities, since you were awaiting us on our doorstep.  A pleasure to welcome you into my home, Mr.–?” After a brief pause, he went about putting up his cane and taking off his coat as if nothing odd had happened.

The man looked at Pons a moment, as if seeing him for the first time, and then around the hall, quick and darting, like a cornered squirrel.  “Close the door!  I’m a dead man.”

I complied and shut ourselves into the entranceway.

“We are indeed all dead men, eventually.  Perhaps that is to what you existentially allude. However, you are having a colorful life, I note.  You are an artist.” Pons raised his eyebrows in expectation.

The man gasped, but said nothing.  His darting eyes suddenly pierced Pons’ orbs.  He seemed to study my friend’s feral face intently.

Pons explained, “I can tell by the ink stains on your hands.  There is a possibility you work with inks either in a factory producing it, though your build suggests not since you lack the physical prowess of those workers, or perhaps in a newspaper or publishing house.  Your stooped back would lend itself to bending over the tables more than looking up at the presses, and your atrophied shoulders do not lift and pour the barrels of ink, but rather dip the brush and carefully stroke the page, hence I assume in creative production.  The blackened fingers, the stoop, the piercing, all-seeing eyes– ah, you must be an artist.”

“I…. Yes.”

I was not surprised to witness Pons pull one of his amazingly clear examinations even when caught unawares as we were by this sudden visitor.

“Well, you are already inside, my dear dead man, so please, shall you join us in the sitting room and explain the nature of your emergency?”