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By Franc68

'How weak our mind is; how quickly it is terrified and unbalanced as soon as we are confronted with a small, incomprehensible fact. Instead of dismissing the problem with: 'We do not understand because we cannot find the cause,' we immediately imagine terrible mysteries and supernatural powers'.—Guy de Maupassant

I had never known the ceaseless bouts of superstition that were intertwined, with the numerous fears attached to the mystery that haunted the rustic kinsfolk of the village of Castle Combe in Wiltshire, until my imperative visit. The village and the civil parish were located within a shire of England, northwest of the village of Chippenham. The village had two parts: one was the narrow valley of By Brook, whilst the Upper Castle Combe was situated, on the higher ground to the east. In the year of 1894, I had arrived at Castle Combe, after receiving a pressing correspondence by the Wiltshire Police. I had recently assisted in solving a riveting case in the Isle of Wight, when I reached the village, and I was eager in knowing more of the case, since the details I was given were vague and speculative. The trip from London was wearisome but yet, I was prepared to offer my service to the Wiltshire Police respectfully. There I met and shook the hand of Officer Lionel Giddings, who was to assist me on the case that was called, 'The Howl of the Wiltshire Mastiff'. The person who had sent me the correspondence a Captain Woodward had left the area to tend to a personal family matter, and left in charge of command, Officer Giddings.

'It is a great honour to have you here assisting us in the case Detective Crow', Officer Giddings said.

'That is good of you to say Officer Giddings, and as always, I am ready to help the authorities solve any insoluble mysteries or cases. That is the main reason why I have come to Wiltshire, and in particular Castle Combe', I replied.

'And that is good to know Detective Crow! Although, we are limited in resources here in the shire, we are still committed to the values demonstrated by our police force', Giddings acknowledged.

'Good, then let us proceed with the investigation. I had been perusing the few details that were sent in the correspondence of the case. It is my understanding then, that the virulent attacks were reported within the vicinity of the villages of the shire, and that the victims were mauled to death, by what appears to be something unclear to me. Am I to assume Giddings that the victims were attacked, by a wild beast or animal?' I enquired.

'According to the few witnesses sir that is the case', Giddings averred.

'Then we are speaking of what, a wild hound, a wolf, or another unknown savage animal roaming about the countryside untethered?' I queried.

'That would seem to be accurate, but the witnesses who we have spoken to have made mention of the colossal size of the beast with a daunting appearance', Giddings declared.

'Colossal size you say Giddings? What we must concentrate is not on the hyperbolic descriptions of the attacker, but instead, on the veritable facts that we must depend on to solve this ongoing case. It is an unfortunate tendency amongst the witnesses, to embellish their accounts of the assailants. This I have learned regrettably, while working on my sundry cases that have required my direct involvement', I replied.

'Yes indeed sir!' Giddings said.

I was escorted to the crime scene of the last murder by Giddings that was perpetrated beyond the main street, nearby the By Brook River of Castle Combe. The body of the victim a Mr. Ridgeway was discovered exactly on the embankment of the river below the bridge. His body was extremely mauled and had evident bite marks of a massive canine. The area was clammy and damp, and it was an abditive place to find the deceased body of the victim, within the trodden mire, amongst the ample shrubbery and thick foliage. We were not fortuitous with the change in the weather, since the rain of yester had practically eliminated any reasonable clew that we could retrieve. Thus, we were compelled to effectuate an elaborate search of the area, for any soupçons transparent that would result in a possible lead, despite the sprinkling rain. I had not seen such vicious bite marks, since the 'Skull Murders', where the culprit included a large mastiff in his murders. That apparent vraisemblance was telling and rather disconcerting to me, but it was the most important clew that I could surmise from any credible assumption. I made my analysis known to Giddings, as we gathered around the soil of the edge of the river.

'There is no doubt that we are dealing with a large canine, whose attack was deadly Giddings. The only question is where can we find this enormous canine?' I said.

'A large canine sir? Then it must be a large wolf, but it can’t be, since there has not been a wolf sighting reported in this area for decades. Could it be the dog of a villager sir, since this is the countryside?' Giddings asked.

'No Giddings! What foul creature has committed this murder is not a mere dog, but instead, a very potent and fierce mastiff', I responded.

'Bloody be, but there are several villagers, who have mastiffs, as their watchdogs. Where do we begin sir?' Giddings stated.

'At the residence of the first owner of a mastiff Giddings. You will instruct the other officers to make a list of those individuals who have mastiffs at their homes or businesses, and then the officers will visit each and every home that has a mastiff, and question the owners. I know it may seem intrusive Giddings, but it must be done', I told him.

Giddings had left to accomplish that monotonous task, whilst I returned to the Police Station in Devizes, to peruse more the accounts of the witnesses given, and to contemplate the composition of the village and its countryside, from one of the windows. At the Police Station I had spoken to a certain Mr. Whatley, who was the only person who witnessed one of the gruesome deaths. According to Mr. Whatley, the attacker was not a mastiff, but a daemon from hell. His vivid account and descriptive details of the beast was exaggerative to say the least, but yet, I refrained from being insensitive to his fanciful remarks. We finished the interrogation and he left, whilst I remained behind. The rain had begun to drop with a full force outside, and I had pondered the unfolding events, within the Police Station for the nonce. What had intrigued me were the notable houses, including a particular manor that stood on the outskirts of the village. I was not certain of who the proprietor was, or the history of the manor, but I assumed him or her to be an influential resident of the shire. When Giddings returned that eventide, he had brought me a comparative list of landowners who had mastiffs on their properties. Fortunately there were not many, and that was a blessing in disguise. However, that did not preclude the possibility that the mastiff had strayed from its owner. I asked Giddings if there were any reports of missing mastiffs in the area, and he told me that none were reported. Therefore, the mastiff was either wild, or one of the villagers was concealing the truth from us.

At the time, I could not prove or disprove either one of the contingencies, and the only option I had available was analytical and sensible. That night I had instructed Giddings to have the officers patrol the area not only in the search for the mastiff, but as well, to prevent another murder. There was not a local curfew imposed yet, and Giddings was reluctant to cause hysteria amongst the residents. I did not attempt to dissuade him, until there were more murders committed. My principal preoccupation was the immediate capture of the mastiff, and this would require my absolute and undivided attention and perseverance. I knew that if we could trap the canine, then we could determine if the beast had belonged to someone, or had reacted savagely, due to the alarming contagion of rabies. I had not thought of that dreadful circumstance, and if that was the case, then by all means, this would answer the cause and inducement to kill. Perhaps it was best to resolve that dubious probability by examining the post-mortem necropsy that was performed on the victim. Thereafter, I examined the corpse and spoke to the pathologist, who performed this forensic procedure.

The pathologist had concurred with my analogy of the canine being a large mastiff, but I was interested in knowing more of his studious observation and revelations. I began to enquire about the nature of the mastiff, and in particular, his physical composition. I had presumed that the canine in question was male judging from the wounds inflicted on the victims, but it was uncertain to me, what were the characteristics of the animal. Thus, the pathologist disclosed the following information, the docility of a mastiff is tame, but when referring to one that has the contagion of rabies then, he can become totally unpredictable. Within the nucleus of a family, he will permit the children to play with him, but the blind ferocity of the mastiff will often wound the hand of the master who assists him to combat. The mastiff distinguishes facilely, from friend or foe, when he enters the field with temper, and engages in the attack as if confident of success. If the mastiff of these murders bore the exact characteristics that the pathologist was describing, then it was natural to believe that he was dauntless in his ferocity. When I asked the pathologist that question, he looked at me and gave me a candid affirmation of my theory.

This was extremely disturbing, and I could only ponder in my ruminative thoughts, the actual contemplation of such a ghastly realisation. It was of an exigency to the investigation that we focused our effort, on the cause and effects. This was paramount for the evolution of the case, and to the solution that we were seeking. However, before I could assume the responsibility of that arduous task, I had to confer the distinctiveness of the facts that were compiled with Giddings. Once I saw and spoke to him at the Police Station, we discussed the issue at length. I had informed him of the conversation I had with the pathologist, and I noticed that something was bothering him. When I queried about his puzzling expression he told me that in all his years of his profession, he had not confronted an inexplicable villain or suspect such as this one. I thought his admission was candid and admirable, but I had mentioned the 'Skull Murders', and how that case had altered my perception of a murderer. I sensed my asseveration was comprehended by him, and I attempted to convince him of the intrinsicality of the nature of a killer.

That night the sanguineous canine had killed once more, and it happened, while I was staying at the local inn that Giddings had found for me in the village. Immediately, he arrived at the inn to inform me that there was a dead body discovered, behind the St. Andrew’s Church that had a clock situated, in the church tower that rang at every hour of the day. When we examined the body there were evident bite marks that were similar in pattern to the prior victims of the case, but this time, the body was completely unrecognisable. The head was dissevered entirely from the torso, and the victim was an elderly farmer of the area. There was no discussion of the method employed by the canine, but instead, how could we prevent another senseless murder. Verily it was impossible to predict, when the canine would murder anew, and despite our resolution, the mastiff was persistent as he was ruthless. However, the canine would leave behind two important clews retrieved that would result afterwards, in concrete evidence. It would allow us to conclude that the mastiff had belonged to a certain owner in the region. The question would be who was that unidentified owner?

'Good God it is hard to believe that a mastiff could have done this horrible act sir', Giddings ejaculated.

'Not if you believe such as I believe. It is no ordinary mastiff as I have alluded to before Giddings—for we must not be overwhelmed, by the sheer brutality of this murder perpetrated. We must be cognisant and not unconscionable of the fact that the canine is ubiquitous, and driven by an unmerciful passion that is shared not merely by him alone', I stated.

'I am afraid I don’t understand sir. What do you mean by that?' Giddings asked confoundedly.

'It is fundamental Giddings. First observe the tracks in the soil, they are apparently those made by a canine, such as our killer. But there are also footprints beside the victim', I said.

'But sir, these footprints could have been made by the victim before the attack', Giddings interjected.

'Not likely Giddings, since the footprints seem to lead away from the murder scene to another direction, and logically from the clews I have reviewed, the victim could not have had enough time to react. Therefore unequivocally, these footprints belong not to the killer, such as these other that appear canine in composition', I acknowledged.

'But the footprints seem to indicate that individual could have been a witness too sir?' Giddings replied.

'Indeed Giddings, but there is one more telling fact that has led me to the most rational conclusion yet', I said.

'And what is that sir?' Giddings asked.

'The footprints were made by an obtrusive nobleman and not a mere peasant or villager, as are the majority of the residents of this area', I responded.

'How can you be assured of that sir?' Giddings enquired.

'By the mere soles of the shoes that are not representative of the common folk of this area! You see Giddings there is one absolute advantage of travelling such as I have done in my profession. You start to distinguish the demonstrative clothing and the footwear of individuals, who you associate with either, by acquaintance or by circumstance', I asserted.

I was not certain that he fully understood, but I perceived that the gist of my argument was conveyed in a manner that was conducive to the interpretation of his rationalness. But as we left the area, I had found on the ground of the earth, a collar that seemed to belong to our canine. There was no name written on the collar that was detected, but what I did find unusual and significant was the fine leather that it was fabricated from. I told Giddings about that unique distinction and he had indicated to me that it could have be torn from the canine in the attack by the victim, but I dismissed that possibility, since the victim was frail and elderly. In order for me to analyse effectively the brute force of the attacks and of the mastiff, I compared my physiognomy to the first victim reported, who was equally of my stature. Since I was 5ft and 10 inches, and weighed ten stones as that man who was murdered by the mastiff, I gradually began to realise that the canine would had not only as I had thought been bigger in size, but also strong enough to kill a grown man, without too much difficulty. It was appearing to be that way, and the compulsive need to attack was plainly visible.

However, I was starting to believe that the mastiff was not alone in these gruesome attacks, and that someone was instructing the mastiff to kill. The question that lingered in my mind was who was the mastermind of these murders, if this mastiff was not? Even though I could not still disprove that the canine was wild or prove that there was a person who was the owner, I was more convinced that he did not have rabies. Of course his irrational behaviour would suggest otherwise, and manifold villagers due to the superstitious trepidation that persisted in the area had believed that it was a wild untamed beast that was killing the villagers. As we spoke a dreadful howling sound could be heard from afar. I quickly turned around and looked at Giddings, as we stood by the corner of the church, where neither one of us could decipher the direction of the noise precisely. The visibility of the night had become dimmer by the minute, and the oil lanterns we carried with us were useless to search, beyond the central location of the village. Thus, there was not much we could do, except to take in consideration the minacious sound of the howling. I was certain that the howling was our mastiff, though Giddings said it could have been the sound of any dog of the village.

The next morning, we gathered at the market village of Devizes to speak about the tragic occurrence from the foregoing night, and we managed to agree that we had to impose a curfew on the villagers; although this meant that if there was a person behind the planning of the truculent murders, that person would have to change the pattern of the killings to not be noticed or suspected. That seemed to be practical, but yet the complexity was that in imposing the curfew, we the authorities would be more observant; and that meant that the person perhaps would not seek to kill or have the mastiff kill for him. I could not help but muse in my brain the inducement for these murders, and if there was an individual who was instructing the mastiff to murder, for what purpose or gain? What I was focused on were the retrievable clews discovered and the ability for the mastiff to escape without clear detection. The thought of the strange manor that I had recently seen from a distance had remained, as a constant and visual reminder of something that was indefinite in my conscious awareness. I had to know more about this aspectable manor that stood on the outskirts of the village, and I began to ask Giddings who was the proprietor of the estate.

Giddings would make the conscientious disclosure that he was not aware of who was the proprietor, but he could investigate and discover that elusive identity. If we could ascertain that piece of vital information, then there would be a compossible link to the consequential events that had been developing directly. After I considered the effect with a laden ponderance, each and every detail of the case that had been a continuation of the quondam concatenation of the mystery, I attempted to attach a measurable component of rationality to my progressing theory. This was necessary, since I had based always my fundamental concept, in this inflexible foundation that is called ratiocination. Until we had the actual name of the proprietor, we had to proceed with the existing course of the investigation. In the meantime, we gathered at the last crime scene, hoping to find any residual clews that perhaps were there to be uncovered. Since it did not rain much, I knew the soil of the earth would not be that dank. I was a man of great perspicacity and unmitigated resolve as well, and I had learned through experience that the solution existed, in the consecution of the apodictic events that had transpired.

I began to survey the totality of the area and I cogitated, the conceivable direction of the mastiffs' grand escape. As I was glancing at the agrestic landscape, I could not help but notice that the most viable escape led to the extensive forest ahead, where the tall inspissated trees stood. I bethought myself of the probatum we had amassed during the methodical investigation, and had surmised that we had directed our timely dedication to the mastiff. Thuswise, we had failed to discern the indistinctive fact that the mastiff was only a calculative subterfuge exerted. There were no longueurs in this case, and the consecutive actions taken by the mastiff were not a mere coincidental consequence. I was nequient before in assuming the ambiguous distinction, between the mastiff and its certain owner, but I was embragled by the inauspicious succession of each murder. That was not a perspicuous reality that I had envisaged introspectively. Were all these victims connected to some intricate involvement of a secret society? Surely, I thought that these precise victims were murdered not by a sudden chance occurrence, but instead, by a common association that was bonded by some material profit, where vengeance was exacted, with a daring impunity foreseen. I saw then a peculiar object lying on the ground, and it appeared to be a gold coin of the once Emperor Hadrian of Rome. I picked it up, and showed it to Giddings.

'Good God Giddings, if I am correct in my assumption, then this gold coin belonged to the Roman Emperor Hadrian', I affirmed.

'It does looks like that sir, but what would a gold Roman coin be doing lying about in the middle of Wiltshire?' Giddings enquired with a flummoxed expression.

'That is simple Giddings, if my memory does not fail me completely the Romans built several large entrenchments in this area, and were present as well in numbers', I replied.

'But it does not directly prove that this coin was somehow related to the murder, or it belonged to the area', Giddings rejoined.

'True, but if these coins were found, then these entrenchments were excavated by someone', I answered.

'By who sir?' Giddings asked.

'That I am not certain of, but I can assure you Giddings that whoever excavated had a good reason to conceal the finding of any worthy coins, including this gold coin we have discovered', I uttered.

'Do you truly believe that this is related to the murders and the mastiff sir?' Giddings persisted.

'If I had to be so overt in my contention, then I would extrapolate from that postulate of yours in concurrence', I opined.

'What are we to do next then sir?' Giddings asked.

'We find the entrenchments', I replied.

We were able to speak to an eximious archaeological expert who lived in the area, about the ancient Roman coin and the entrenchments also. The gentleman whose name was Mr. Wheeler had heard of these famous entrenchments, but he was not aware of our discovery of the gold coin. When he examined it his eyes illumined with a passionate interest. He then enquired the location where we found the coin, and I had explained to him that at the crime scene of the last murder. I was fully determined to seek the origin of this fascinating mystery, and the immeasurable trove that was to be uncovered. I could not abjure the increasing thought of the unwist affinity that the recent revelation disclosed. Mr. Wheeler revealed afterwards that the supposed entrenchments were likely to be found on one of the farmyards of the village. This new information divulged had stirred my active ken that was essential I sensed in the case. There was an intimate detail of the murders that I had not realised before, and that was the victims that were probably killed by the mastiff had been attacked selectively, because of their connection to each other. It was urgent that we unravelled this impending conundrum forthwith, and avert another senseless murder. The rudimentary stage of the investigation had progressed to the secretive aspect of the murders that was crucial, as we pondered the natural occurrence of another heinous murder.

We headed towards the farmyard that was nearest to the vicinity of the prior murder, and we spoke to a Mr. Hibberd the proprietor. He was a middle-aged man, who was unassuming in his nature. When he enquired about our visit, we made mention of our investigation, but since I did not have any palpable evidence linking the coin to the murders or the mastiff, I refrained from acknowledging my suspicion. Instead, I focused my enquiry on the subject that had interested me, the likely site of the excavation. If this site was located on the property of Mr. Hibberd, then there would be some visual proof. That was assuming that we would find any clew construed as pertinent to the case. My investigative prowess was remarkable, but it would require superb efficiency. Generally within the details are the facts of an aphorism, and I took notice of Mr. Hibberds' words. The arcadian fields of the countryside of the village were vast and plenty. I felt there was a mild hesitance expressed by Mr. Hibberd, as I was asking him questions. In the end he acquiesced to our excavation, but only to a small area of his farmyard that was available for us to see. We began to examine thoroughly the surface of the ground, for any significant clews. At first there was nothing indicative of the surface that would provide a sufficient analysis, until I espied something odd from the circumference. What I saw was a mound that protruded, and when I asked Mr. Hibberd his reply was, he had been ploughing the earth. He then began to unearth the mound, and there was no evidence of unusual activity.

Giddings whispered in my ear, 'Sir, there is nothing notable to be found here!'

I whispered to him, 'For now, we are finished here. Let us return to the Police Station in Devizes'.

'Aye sir!' Giddings replied.

Once we returned to the Police Station, I was notified by one of the officers of the identity of the proprietor of the manor that had intrigued me. His name and surname was Lord Alden Dancey. The officer also had told me that he was of the local nobility, and had recently purchased the manor, from a member of the illustrious lineage of a quondam feudal baron, whose name remained anonymous. The good tidings had allowed me to pay a visit to this Lord Dancey. Giddings had accompanied me on the visit, and when we arrived at the manor, the aristocrat was at home. We were greeted by his butler, who escorted us to the main hall, where Lord Dancey was standing gazing outside through the window. My first impression of him was of a man of presumption, but could be easily regarded, as a chap of delectation. He was not that procerous in stature, but he appeared magnanimous in persona; although I perceived there was no ignominy in his imperious mien. His hair was brunneous, yet his eyes were of a sable tincture of deception. He carried at his side an ornate wrought black walking stick, with a luminous gold mastiff on the handle. The striking image had captivated Giddings' attention, and had distracted him, until I had recognised that sudden lapse in his consciousness. The immediate thought of the mastiff that we were seeking had entered in our minds, and had somewhat incommoded our visit. However, Giddings regained his concentration and I sensed that Giddings was once more focused on the issue that had brought us to the manor in the first place, a conversation with Lord Dancey. I was anxious to hear his voice and identify his character.

'Detective Crow, I was not expecting you so soon, but since you are here, then you are my bidden guest for the day. I suppose that you are here to question me, about the dreadful murders that are occurring in the area?' Lord Dancey spoke.

'I was not aware of your consideration for me Lord Dancey', I responded.

'A glass of spirits or wine for you and Officer Giddings, to soothe your anxiety and tension?' Lord Dancey asked.

'That is very noble of you Lord Dancey, and since you are offering, two glasses of wine would do for the both of us', I answered.

Giddings was a bit loath to take the glass of wine, since ethically it was against the code of conduct for an officer whilst on duty. I convinced him, and explained that it was only a token drink of wine, 'I see no trouble at all Giddings, for a sip of wine will not hurt a common fellow'.

I noticed his collection nearby of the most famous brands of spirits national and international, 'Your collection is to be admired Lord Dancey, if I may ask, since when have you been collecting spirits?'

'Oh it is a family business Detective Crow and we have distilled the best spirits in this area, and have imported them abroad as well', Lord Dancey replied.

'What about gold Roman coins? Do you fancy them too Lord Dancey?' I asked intrepidly.

'I beg your pardon, did you say gold Roman coins?' He questioned.

'Yes!' I pronounced.

'Well, I would suppose that it depends on the coins' worth, and if they were authenticated of course', Lord Dancey stated.

'What If I told you Lord Dancey that they were of exceeding monetary worth?' I replied.

He paused for a meditative moment before he said, 'Oh then that would change the complexity of the situation'.

'How, if I may query Lord Dancey?' I persisted.

'How? Oh I am sure you the intellectual man of ratiocination would suffice it to say conclude the same thought that I would Detective Crow', he stared and defied my tactic.

I returned the stare and then asked, 'And what would that be Lord Dancey?'

'That if those coins truly existed, then there would be a handful of gentlemen in this region, with an enormous fortune to benefit', Lord Dancey assented.

He was not a man whose confession could be extracted under any heavy duress, and we were intellectual coevals, 'I am no arriviste, but instead an august man from the reputable lineage of the Danceys, though at times I can be a Bacchanalian, I always entertain my guests. Do you not find my wine to be of fine quality detective?'

'Oh it is of fine quality, and I thank you for the kind hospitality and wine my lord', I responded.

I witnessed his blithe attitude toward me as he blathered, and concealed it effectively with his liberal platitude and feigned nature. I felt that his enacture was that of an anacreontic sybarite, and his hidden temerity was yet to be released before me. What I had known of him was his fulsome charisma, and as I perceived his blatant lack of probity, my theory was putative before, but then it became factual, when I started to add the clews together. Giddings had seen me musing, as we were departing the manor of Lord Dancey. He was interested in knowing my observation of Lord Dancey, and if I was suspicious of his implication in the murders. Naturally, I had a growing suspicion as we began to depart the manor that Lord Danceys' comportment fit the profile of the duplicitous fiend, but yet, there was not adequate proof to correlate that presupposition. He was a man situated in the local aristocracy, and he did not appear to possess a mastiff; even though his walking stick was a dire representation of one.

I thought I had a clear suspect in my case, but an obstreperous sound from the distant hills was heard, and it resounded so intensively. It was a howling reverberation of a canine. Lord Dancey had been standing at the hall, as he was leading us to the front door for our departure, when the howling occurred. I perceived another murder and I excused myself along with Giddings for our immediate departure, but I did not dismiss the casual grin that I saw of Lord Danceys' incisive wit and insidious charm as we were walking out of the manor. I was completely absorbed with the new revelations of the investigation that were happening, and my pertinacity in resolving this case had become more tractable. It would have been counterproductive for us to have antagonised Lord Dancey into a peevish nature, since my suspect list still included him. Where and when the mastiff struck was still unpredictable and unforeseeable.

This time the horrid resumption of the murders had occurred in the Cotswolds that was in south central England upon a saturnine night. The Cotswolds, was a range of rolling hills which rose from the winsome meadows of the upper Thames to a steep escarpment, known as the Cotswold Edge, above the Severn Valley and Evesham Vale. The villatic landscape had stone-built villages, with stately homes and gardens, but the hills, forest and countryside were an opportune area, where the mastiff could easily escape or hide. Once at the Cotswolds, we saw the dead body of the latest victim of the mastiff, and it was Mr. Wheeler the archaeological expert, who had been helping us in the investigation. The attack was savage and the bite marks discovered on the neck demonstrated the extent of the cruelty of not only the mastiff, but as well as the master controlling the animal. The pattern resembled the usual pattern of the other murders, but the identity of the master of the mastiff had remained an intricacy that was the irreconcilable contrast of an unabatable indiscretion.

There were the usual clews found and the only unique revelation was the victim. I pondered instantly, for what reason would Mr. Wheeler be killed? The only thing that I could deduce from any inference of speculation was the pending link of the treasure trove and the secret association that I struggled to decipher. Giddings on the other hand had associated the death to the mere circumstance of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, since we could not prove a connection with Mr. Wheeler and the other victims. I was not satisfied with that incertitude of the situation, and had commented to Giddings that we had to intensify our effort on unmasking the master and not the incontinent beast. Gradually, I had been sensing that the beast was nothing more than a ploy to disrupt the authorities and the link to the Roman treasure. This murder had begun to arouse the fear and hysteria of the locals even more, and the portending augury, propounded the notion of the mastiff being a supernatural being of ugsome horror, amidst them terrorising in the darkness.

My apparent fixation to find this evasive master of the mastiff had become an unwanted obsession on my part. My hope in solving the mystery depended on a major error committed on behalf of the manipulative person, behind the taming of the mastiff. The mysterious coin and the supposed master of the mastiff had to be connective, if we were to establish any credence to our theories and conjectures related. Therefore, I devised a bold, but an effective plan that would answer any of my lingering doubts and questions. I began to surmise in the depth of my constant thoughts, the corresponding nature to the incipience of the case, and how the murders had each evolved. At that precise moment, I remembered the colourful Mr. Whatley, the witness who I had spoken previously at the Police Station. It all began with him, and his unimaginative story and description of the beast. It was pivotal to the investigation that we located Mr. Whatley at once.

When we visited the home of Mr. Whatley, he was absent, and apparently he had left the shire, from what we were told by his neighbours. Thus, my urgency to speak again with him would have to be delayed, until further notice. The next person to visit was Mr. Hibberd, and I was certain that he was hiding something that was incriminating. I had started to connect the pieces together, and it was becoming crystal clear to me who, were the three main suspects of this case. Mr. Hibberd, the landowner, Mr. Whatley the loquacious witness, or Lord Dancey the pompous aristocrat. When we reached the property of Mr. Hibberd he was also absent, and we were unaware of his location. It was extremely ironic that both Mr. Whatley and Mr. Hibberd were not present. I wondered in the back of my mind, if they had vanished from the face of the earth, either by mere volition or by circumstance; regardless of that feasibility, I was determined to investigate in abscentia of the truth.

We had visited the manor of Lord Dancey, who was the remaining suspect we had on our list. Once we arrived at his estate, he had greeted us at the front door, with the singular expression of his lordly hauteur that was noticeable. What was not known to us was the fact that he was not alone. He had a guest that had joined him in the main hall, and lo and behold that unseen guest was Mr. Hibberd. I sensed this absolute fluster in the reaction and tremulous stare in the patent pallor of Mr. Hibberd. I was surprised to find him at the home of Lord Dancey, and the instantaneous thought of this inusitate gathering had stirred this penetrating interest in me. I knew that Lord Dancey was a man who seemed to enjoy entertaining with his great panache, but this was a distinctive parlous game that the nobleman was willing to play at whatever hazard exposed.

'Detective Crow it is good to see you once more, and I assume that your visit is not convivial', Lord Dancey said.

'I am afraid my visit is far from being associated to conviviality Lord Dancey, and I have come to speak to you. And Mr. Hibberd I was not aware that you and Lord Dancey were acquaintances', I answered.

'I had expected you to say that Detective Crow and my acquaintance with Mr. Hibberd, is strictly business. You see, he has come to sell me his property, since the good Mr. Hibberd will be leaving the area soon. He has inherited an estate in Wales, and plans on returning to the country of his mother. Nevertheless, since you and Officer Giddings are at my manor, then I asked, what has brought the both of you to pay me a visit this day?' Lord Dancey queried.

'You are correct in your assumption Lord Dancey, for my visit is based on the actual investigation of the murders that are betiding', I stated.

'Then please join us for a glass of wine. Oh, ever so admirable and dedicatory you are Detective Crow. I would loathe being your foe, but then again, I am confident that it would be exciting. Do you not think so detective?' Lord Dancey asked raffishly.

'A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and we then know how to meet him', I quoted.

'Aesop the eternal Greek fabulist. I do love that quote, but there is another which I much fancy detective. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects', he quoted.

'Oscar Wilde, ever the man of irrefutable controversy, but wise and brilliant as a writer', I replied.

'Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. It is a better quote of Wilde', he rejoined.

His insouciant disregard and his characteristically pithy remarks reflected the callous nature of his state of asteism. He sought with his overweening hubris to provoke me, but it was I who provoked him. The indefinite disquisition of a dissension amongst two intellects and willing discussants was manifest and caused me to utter, 'That all depends Lord Dancey'.

'On what? Although the inanity of the argument may seem tawdry or paltry, I do love epigrams; even though I much prefer a Wildean epigram. Do you not believe that Mr. Hibberd?' Lord Dancey remarked.

'Yes my lord!' Mr. Hibberd spoke.

Lord Dancey had thus prevaricated to my enquiry with his flagitious mannerism, and there was this imitable skulduggery seen upon his supercilious countenance at times fitfully. He was not displeased with my enquiry, and his actions bore no compunction that would imply he was a flagrant sociopath. My capacity to amuse or intrigue his scelestic disposition had allowed me to gradually formulate the inimitable opinion that Lord Dancey was not sequacious. He showed no evident sign of a dispiriting nature of an autochthonous gentleman, and instead, he sought the salutary benefit of his magnificent spirits collection that he adored conspicuously. Mr. Hibberd did not tarry much, and soon he was on his merry way; but not before I was able to ask him one last question that made him more anxious as he fretted. As it was my consuetudinary method in my questions, I had asked him about the soles of his shoes.

'If you don’t have any objection Mr. Hibberd, I would like to see your soles', I responded.

'His soles you say detective? Can I ask why?' Lord Dancey enquired in a nonplussed fashion.

'I say old chap, don’t be flummoxed—for it is only a trivial question!' I told him.

He lifted up his soles, and I noticed the residual soil and it was fresh. I was no expert as Mr. Wheeler, but I did take notice of his expertise and assessment, 'Oh Mr. Hibberd, I did not know that you had been digging up lately at the farmyard. One would believe that a man, who was on the verge of leaving the area, would not be digging up the ground of his property; unless there was something of exceeding value. Do you not think so Mr. Hibberd?'

'Poppycock, for it is the soil of any ground Detective Crow. Now, if you do not mind, I have business to attend to with another guest. But before you go if I may ask, are you a man of draughts such as I am, or a man of chess?' Lord Dancey interposed.

'Soon you will know', I replied.

We left the Dancey Manor, and the encounter with Lord Dancey and Mr. Hibberd as I knew it would abraid them to react. Finally, the peripeteia of the case would afford me the sufficient resolve in solving the case, and apprehending the mastermind behind the murders. By dint of sheer determination and opportunity, we would come face to face with not only the towering mastiff, but as well with the sinister master of the mastiff. I had told Giddings when he asked me about why I had questioned Mr. Hibberd of his soles that soon he would know the complete veracity of the consecutive events that were developing. There was a refractive moonlight when we returned to the Cotswolds, as it was then eventide, where there was an eerie undertone of nature. Giddings was still clewless to what I had been planning in its totality, but as I attempted to explain a loud din from afar was heard, and the silence was broken. We found Mr. Whatley stone dead, as someone had disposed of his cadaver. However, we did not have much time to examine the body, because the howl persisted. It was the bloody mastiff, who was following our every step, but the question I had, was he alone? We stood by the edge of the rising hills with luciferous torches, as we looked at each other.

'Good God, what was that sir?' Giddings asked.

'Hush Giddings, be still!' I said.

We listened to the stentorian howl, and therewith from the creepy edge of the rolling hills emerged from the glint of the moon, the shadow of the towering mastiff with his massive body, broad skull and the head of a square appearance. The mastiff stood 76 centimetres in height and roughly weighted 21 stones. The mastiff had an unmistakable head with dewlap and flews, and the black mask was visible even on its brindle. The fawn was a golden yellow colour, and the apricot was a slightly reddish hue up to a striking, rich red. The brindle markings were heavy, even and clear stripes, but were a bit light or patchy. There was an unknown stranger who was standing with the intimidating mastiff, but he was dressed in darkled colours and could not be recognised discernibly. I saw the ineffable expression of the face of Giddings, as we stared at the inimitable horror that was approaching us, with full force.

'What are we to do sir?' Giddings asked impatiently.

'Stand our ground old chap—for if we run, the mastiff will surely catch us! Now quickly, grab your pistol and be ready. The mastiff is coming Giddings!' I shouted.

When the mastiff got closer I held the pistol as I waited for the beast to come, but as I did, Lord Dancey was standing behind us, pointing a pistol at our backs furtively. The mastiff stopped and did not move, 'Indeed, you are a very persistent man Detective Crow. I underestimated your prowess and diligence, but it will do you no good to continue, since after this night, you will be dead along with Officer Giddings. I do not regret the death of that wastrel Mr. Whatley—for it was necessary. I certainly shall not be woebegone, with his departure from this world. Now throw your pistols on the ground'.

After we did what he commanded I said, 'True it does seem to be the case, but you forgot one important thing that is a detail one cannot eschew', I stated.

He laughed before he asked, 'And what is that my good fellow?'

'It will do no good to cavil, for the evidence will prove your absolute guilt Lord Dancey. You see, as a detective we have learned by rote of the missteps of the criminals that are always habitual in the end', I answered.

'It is very churlish of you Detective Crow to answer my question, with an ambiguous statement. You do not insinuate that I am equal to you, when on the contrary, I am more adroit. I am a connoisseur of arts, and not a whippersnapper. Now, do not offend me by your virtue. Henceforth, I shall comport in the manner I desire. You equivocate with a taradiddle, so that you do not accept the eventuality of your fate', Lord Dancey replied.

'What fate? Perhaps you should turn around and see who is standing behind you', I said deceiving him.

As he had turned around, I knocked down the pistol on the ground, and grabbed his arm in the tousle. The mastiff stood still with pouring saliva dripping from his sharp teeth. Afterwards, I managed to take possession of Lord Danceys' pistol, and when that occurred, he ordered the mastiff to attack me. As he lunged at me with a sudden thrust that was powerful and surreal, Giddings had killed the beast with several bullets, including one to the head. 'The howl of the Wiltshire Mastiff' had abated, and so did the indefatigable devotion to his master. The fugacious mastiff had learned to kill through the inculcation of the modus operandi employed, and the most damaging clew that inculpated Lord Dancey was his own conceit and greed. His unhinged mind reflected his disturbing turpitude as was the sanguinolency of the mastiff. There was no inequity to the case, and Lord Dancey was a man of rapacity and vengeance that merited all the draconian measures of chastisement, for his despicable crimes. I suppose his Bacchanalian nature had reminded him of the cult of the Bacchanalians of Rome. He had been conspiring to make a handsome fortune with the gold Roman coins that he along with Mr. Hibberd had been excavating, near the geoponic farmyard of Mr. Hibberd. In the end there were indeed Roman gold coins to be discovered, and they were donated to the local museum in the shire. Mr. Whatley was also involved in the fiendish plot, but was killed as a matter of elimination. Mr. Hibberd was soon arrested in Wales and charged with the crimes too. The mastiff was used as I had begun to suspect, as a decoy and imposture to frighten the residents with a superstitious tale of a praeternatural beast that was no more than a massive canine. Lord Dancey had trained and instructed the mastiff to kill those who were his enemies, although some were coincidental. I had disregarded his final effrontery and fleer toward me, but I did remind him of one last thing that was fastidious to him, I was more a chess player than a draughts player. Before I left Wiltshire, I played a good game of chess with Giddings, and as to be expected I won. It seems that the analytical application triumphs even with an insightful game of chess.

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6 Nov, 2017
Crime, Mystery, Thriller

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