Theodore stuck the knife into his cork board, beside his grocery and to do-lists. The Tall Man hung limp like a marionette. It was strange seeing how small and pathetic he looked now.
Dawn was breaking outside the cottage. He should’ve taken the Tall Man straight to the city watch, but he didn’t know how to account for his use of the spell yet. One thing at a time. He set down at his desk to compose a letter to Alderman Pearce. It was a relief to tell him with certainty there was no need for his angry mob.
Oboe paced. He told her to sit down but she wouldn’t for more than a moment. She hadn’t stopped moving since the moment they got back. She hummed and shuffled and squeezed herself, all the while her hooves clicked on the floor. It was distracting. He made her wait in the kitchen but it was only a minute before she wandered back.
“What is it?” Theodore said, annoyed.
“A bunch of things are bothering me,” she said.
Theodore went back to writing. “You need to relax. The crisis is over. There’ll be a chance to tie up the loose ends after we rest.”
Oboe did not let it go. “Why would the Tall Man attack a human? He has a haunting license. He has lots of money too. It doesn’t make sense.”
Theodore chewed his lip. “There may not be a reason. Some of the Red Caps just hate humans. It might not be anything more than that.
“Most of them DO have reasons, though,” Oboe said. “And he didn’t just attack a human. A ghast was killed too. Why would he go that far?”
Theodore grimaced. He wanted to focus on the letter and this interruption was keeping him from it. “If he was about to get caught, maybe he felt there was no other way.”
“That lady, the widow, she said something about her husband being friends with a ghast,” Oboe said. “The Tall Man said something like that too. Maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe he was just friends with the kid, too.”
Theodore kept his eyes on the letter. He placed his pen down and took a long, careful breath. “What that suggests to me is that the ghast works to gain the trust of his victim before choosing to strike. Rather insidious, if you ask me.”
“But we don’t know that for sure!”
He looked up to glare at her. “The ring you found is evidence linking the Tall Man to the scene of the crime.”
She looked down at his hand. “The ring you’re wearing now?”
Theodore clenched a hand over the jewelry. “I’m certain the University will find a way to remove it. If not, its effects can still be documented and submitted as evidence. I didn’t want to use it, but it was the only way to ensure the arrest.
Oboe glanced at the cork board. “Just like the knife, huh?”
He prickled. “Why are you doing this? The case is already solved! Yes, I admit I broke regulation but I had to! The villagers are on the brink of violence and it’s the only thing I could do!”
“That doesn’t mean the Tall Man did it!” She said.
Theodore growled in frustration. “He attacked us! He fled when confronted! He’s our culprit, that’s the only way this makes sense!”
“It’s not that simple!” Oboe said. “Just because you want that to be the answer doesn’t mean it is!”
Theodore was speechless. If she was right, it meant he used illegal magic to capture an innocent creature. It was unthinkable. He had crossed too many lines to be wrong.
“What do you want me to do?” He said. “I can’t release him. People have died. It’s too risky.”
Oboe stood straighter, her eyes unyielding.
“We have the wrong creature,” she said.
Theodore buried his face in his hands. Why was she dragging doubt into this? He needed to finish the letter. This needed to be over. There wasn’t enough time to be wrong.
“The courts will decide,” he said. “If they say it’s not enough proof, they’ll let him go.”
“Theo,” she said, stern. “We should keep looking.”
Theodore got to his feet. “Why? Because a kid thinks he’s innocent? Ridiculous! There’s no need. We’re done! We already won! We’re not going to waste time chasing leads we don’t even have!”
He was trembling. Oboe looked at him with all the certainty that was draining out of him. She stomped her hoof.
“Fine!” She transformed into a bird. “If you’re gonna be stupid, I’ll do it myself!” She hammered her wings, whipping into the air. She zipped through an open window and disappeared into the Whirlwood.