The streets of the city emptied as the sun went down. The racket of people and life was replaced with the hum of lamp posts burning magic. Theodore kept watch through binoculars. The upper window of the townhouse offered an excellent vantage of the Tall Man’s territory. They were lucky the owner was so willing to help.
Waiting was the problem. He was anxious, and there was a chance the Tall Man would sense that. He needed to calm his nerves but couldn’t. This ambush was their best chance to corner their target but there was no guarantee it would work.
Theodore wished Oboe would say something. She was normally so chatty but had somehow gone hours without uttering a word. It put him on edge more than anything.
“Oboe,” he said. “Is something wrong?
“I’m mad at you,” she said without looking up from her telescope.
“That much is clear. Why?”
“You got help from that witch. You said he was bad, but you still let him go. That makes us bad too.”
She was being stubborn. “We talked about this,” Theodore said. “Our first priority is keeping the community safe. Dealing with Flip comes after.”
Oboe glared at him. “And that makes using that knife okay?”
Theodore felt a lurch of guilt. “I don’t like breaking the rules either,” he said. “Maybe if I were a real knight we wouldn’t need it. But I’m not. This is our best chance.”
“You don’t need a cheat like that,” Oboe said. “You got me to help you!”
He rolled his eyes. “The only reason we got out okay last time was because I was wearing Flip’s talisman! You weren’t the one that saved us!”
Oboe tightened her lips and turned back to the window. “I guess I’m just useless then.”
“No, that’s not what I’m…” Theodore set down his binoculars and tried to calm himself. “I’m counting on you, but we’re running low on time before there’s mob justice on our hands. This knife is a tool, and we need every tool at our disposal to close the case on this monster.”
“The Tall Man!” Oboe said.
“Yes.” Theodore struggled to remain patient. “He has a name. That doesn’t make his behavior any less monstrous.”
“No!” Oboe grabbed him and shoved his face into the eyepiece. “He’s here!”
Theodore took hold of the telescope and adjusted the lens. The Tall Man emerged from a shadowed alley and crept through the street in silhouette. The creature stopped outside someone’s home and grew taller, tall enough to place a foot inside an open window and shrink inside.
“There!” Theodore pointed at the house.
Oboe pulled Theodore up by the waist and leapt out the window. She shifted into a huge bird and fluttered down into the street carrying him. They touched down together and broke into a dash, hoping to catch the ghast before he killed again.
Theodore seized the door of the house, breathless, and found it unlocked. He didn’t know whether to be grateful or alarmed the resident was so careless. They burst into the living and caused enough noise to startle someone awake. A middled-aged man bumbled out in his bed clothes.
“Huh?” He was half asleep. “Who the devil are you? What’re you doing in here?!”
Theodore flashed his badge, but the man was in enough of a stupor that he might as well have shown him a cake. “Ranger Deputy Grayweather. You may be in danger. Does anyone live on the second floor?”
“What? Only one upstairs is my son.”
Theodore and Oboe hammered their way up the stairs. At the top they found the Tall Man, stooped under the low ceiling at the bedside of a child. The boy was plump, maybe ten years old, and sitting up and alert as they entered.
The Tall Man sighed. “You are persistent.”
The knife shined white hot as Theodore drew it. He maneuvered himself between the ghast and the child, brandishing the weapon in one hand and the talisman in the other.
“You’re coming with us!” Theodore shouted. The Tall Man recoiled at the light and pulled himself out the window into the night.
“Oboe!” Theodore said, looking back. “Stay with the kid!
“He might double back! Keep him safe!”
Theodore climbed out the window onto the roof before she could argue. He made a mental note to instruct the home owner to install safety railing. Whirling around, he spotted the Tall Man dropping into the street below. Knowing he would regret it, Theodore dropped down after him and landed hard on his knees. He would feel this tomorrow.
The Tall Man fled into the dark. Theodore stood at an intersection, unsure of how to give chase. His heart raced. He could not afford to let this murderous creature escape.
He realized the solution. Theodore pulled the cursed ring from his pocket but hesitated. If he put it on, it would be impossible to take off again. Peering into the shadows, he thought about the two victims, the widow left behind, the leshy who was assaulted and the angry farmers. It was all because he let the Red Caps go.
He forced the ring onto his finger and the metal bit down into his hand. Theodore’s sense of direction spun like a compass. He felt the Tall Man like an itch in his brain. The ghast was darting through the streets, loops back toward the alleyway where he first emerged. Now it was obvious. The ghast was trying to lead him in the wrong direction before turning back to escape through his shadow link.
Theodore raced back and cut the Tall Man off at the mouth of the alley. The ghast clawed at the ground to halt his momentum. His black eyes grew wide in panic. Theodore felt a wild rush of excitement as he closed the distance with knife in hand. The Tall Man was faster but had to twist his lopsided body around to run. Theodore mind lit up with his father’s training. He remembered how to charge, how to hold a knife and how to break a guard to stab and twist. Theodore could taste the ghast’s desperation as he scrambled to get away on all fours. The Tall Man leapt back into the shadows and Theodore laughed out loud. There was nowhere to run now that he could sense where the creature was. He cut off the Tall Man’s route again, then again, and drove the beast into a corner against the city’s wall.
“Stop!” The Tall Man pleaded, arms out.
It was too late. Theodore ducked past the Tall Man’s reach and plunged the knife into the monster’s chest. A leash of light sprang out from the wound and bound the ghast hand and foot. The ghast let out a pain shriek and shrank and shrank down to a tenth its size. There, at Theodore’s feet, the Tall May collapsed in a crumpled heap. It was over.