The tunnels of the Hollows plunged deeper than Theodore could have guessed. The map they were given took pages to chart every floor of the complex. It took an hour of wandering up and down the spiral of chambers to find the deep back alley leading to the home of their suspect.
A towering pair of double doors stood before them. Theodore lingered at the threshold, trying to still his pounding heart. He thought of his father’s advice. The way to silence fear was to seize it by the throat. Theodore clenched his hand, took a deep breath, and knocked. The door swung inward at his touch.
“Hello?” Oboe stuck her head in the door frame. “Anybody here? We’re here to arrest you! Hello?”
“Oboe!” Theodore yanked her back out.
“A joke, I hope.” A deep baritone voice answered from within. “Come inside, officer. I presume we have something to discuss.”
Theodore hesitated before crossing the threshold. The interior was a dim but opulent ante chamber with high ceilings. A fireplace cast long and flickering shadows. The Tall Man was masked in silhouette but he was impossible to miss. His name fit. He loomed over the room, with long, bony arms hanging at his sides. He turned into the candlelight. His skin was an unadorned shade of gray. His face was empty, devoid of features, no nose, ears, hair, or mouth. There was only a coal black crevasse where eyes should be.
“What brings you to my abode, Deputy?”
Theodore tried to swallow his uneasiness. “How do you know who I am?”
“It is a simple matter to follow the news,” the Tall Man said. “You are the man who stopped the Red Caps. Your reputation precedes you.”
Theodore wondered if that was the only reason. “I am conducting an investigation and need to ask you some questions.”
The Tall Man motioned toward a fine oak table. “Sit. I will tell you what I can.”
Theodore and Oboe sat. The Tall Man reached across the room into the dark and produced a piping hot kettle. He poured each of them a cup of tea, filling the air with the scent of moon herbs. The Tall Man folded himself into a seat. Even sitting, he dwarfed them.
“What would you like to know?” He said.
Oboe leapt at the chance. “What kind of name is the Tall Man?”
“Not the time, Oboe,” Theodore said in a hiss.
“What?” She said. “I’m curious! I haven’t met a bogeyman before!”
The Tall Man was nonplussed. “It is a traditional bogeyman name following the adjective noun form: Descriptive but vague enough to frighten.”
She sipped her tea. “Oh! I get it! It’s to be scary.”
Theodore drummed his fingers, waiting to speak. “Mr. Man. Where were you on the night before yesterday?”
His speech was measured and deliberate: “It was my night off. I chose to haunt in my licensed territory in the capital.”
“Did you meet with a human by the river Wander?” Theodore said.
There was a long pause before the bogeyman answered. “No,” he said.
Theodore felt his stomach churn. He summoned all the bravery he could. “A human was found dead there.”
“Your tea is getting cold,” the Tall Man said. He was right. Theodore did not trust the ghast enough to drink it.
“You knew the victim.”
He bowed his head. “Yes. I’ve known – knew Anthony for many years. My haunting license fell on his childhood home. He was a bright boy, I had to be clever to frighten him. We are all poorer for his passing.”
Theodore looked at the opulent foyer he was sitting in. The furniture was fine hardwood and the décor was antique.
“Does a ghast as successful as you need to haunt to feed himself?”
The Tall Man coiled his fingers around his tea cup. “I do not. I find that feeding on nightmares is a poor substitute for the real thing. I make a point to continue practicing.”
Theodore held his breath. “Did you kill Anthony?”
“No. Are you accusing me of killing a friend?”
Theodore unwrapped the handkerchief containing the ring and placed it on the table.
“I’m obliged to find out.”