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The Unlikely Heir

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I had known Wilde long enough that, while I knew not how he had come to his conclusion, I did not doubt him. Whatever history the fox had with Lupuson, however, did not seem adequate to overcome the inspector's scepticism of me if not of Wilde's deductive prowess. "Surely the bunny must be mistaken," Lupuson said, "Really, however could Cavallo make it here on two broken fetlocks?"

I might have said that Wilde had asked me to confirm his deduction but he spoke before I had the opportunity. "Obviously he could not," Wilde replied, "And Dr. Hopps has made no mistake."

A frown crossed Lupuson's muzzle, and his chin seemed to set itself at an obdurate angle. "Then he must have fallen while fleeing," the wolf said at last, "Horses are well-known to be prone to leg injuries, after all. He then dragged himself to where we stand now and expired. Really, it makes not the slightest bit of difference."

Wilde scratched at the underside of his muzzle, and I thought I saw the start of a wry smile cross his face briefly. "Cavallo did take something of a fall," Wilde said, "And it does make quite a bit of difference. Now, suppose we go back to how this stallion found himself out here. You are correct that he fled Quixano's suite after the good doctor shot him; if we turn the corpse over we shall have proof enough of that."

Wilde rolled one paw in an impatient gesture, and the officer who had been excavating the body, and had only moments ago finished, gave a great grunt of effort as he pushed hard enough to roll the frozen form of Giuseppe Cavallo onto his back. Once I could see the stallion's breast, the injury my shot had caused was obvious; there was a bloody stain, stark against the fabric of his waiter's uniform, to the left side of his rib cage. "I am certain it was quite painful, but equally certain that it was not an immediately fatal wound. His right hoof is bloody from applying pressure to it, but I doubt the bullet penetrated the ribs."

"Unless infection set in, I see no reason that this wound would have been fatal at all," I interjected, "I have seen horses recover from far worse."

Indeed, from my cursory examination of Cavallo it was obvious that the bullet had not pierced the thoracic cavity, but had instead most likely lodged itself between two of the stallion's ribs. Wilde was quite right that it would have been an agonizing wound, the sort liable to crack a rib and result in a miserably long recovery, but I was certain of my diagnosis and was gratified to see him nod in acceptance even as Lupuson's frown deepened. "Yes, yes," the wolf said impatiently, "It is why he fled rather than press the attack, which was rather fortunate for you, Dr. Hopps."

The wolf had turned his attention to me, and his voice had taken on the same patronizingly soothing tone it had when we had first met. "Wounded or not, Cavallo could have torn you apart."

"Would you fancy your own odds against a horse?" I challenged.

I had tolerated what I felt was quite enough of what I considered to be Lupuson's galling lack of respect, and while the words left my mouth of their own volition I did not think I was wrong. Although the wolf was tall and powerfully built, Cavallo had been taller yet with a significantly thicker build. Although I could not deny that had the stallion been able to put fingers on me it would have ended poorly, I would not believe Lupuson would have fared much better. The wolf coughed and stood up a touch straighter. "At any rate, we have the bloodstains in the hallway leading out the door and I know it to be Cavallo's blood. That much is indisputable; you might recall how extraordinary my nose is, Mr. Wilde."

As Lupuson spoke, apparently unable to come up with a retort and forced simply to change the subject, he tapped one finger against his nose. I was familiar enough with wolves from my army days to know that, should one say that two scents matched, there was nothing for it other than to accept it as the truth. "I do," Wilde replied, "And I also recall your nose alone could never have found the fawn."

I admit I found no small amount of pleasure in seeing how Lupuson's mouth worked wordlessly for a moment while Wilde looked up at him with a seemingly bored expression upon his face before the wolf managed to say, "I never disputed that I had help."

"Indeed you have not," Wilde said cheerfully, "And I hope you shall recall, from that auspicious case, that a thing may not be so simple as it appears."

Lupuson was quiet a moment, and then he sighed. "Then explain for me what you think happened," he said at last.

"I noticed something rather queer while tracing the route that Cavallo took," Wilde said, "From Dr. Hopps's testimony, we know that a stallion set off down the hallway, in the direction of the intersection with the bloody hoof print on the wall."

I couldn't help but notice that Wilde had not named Cavallo directly and could not help but interrupt. "Do you mean to say there was a second stallion?" I asked, but Wilde simply shook his head.

If he was at all perturbed by the disruption, he gave no sign of it. "Yes and no," he said, "I could be wrong, of course, but it should be a simple matter to confirm by extracting the bullet lodged in the unfortunate Mr. Cavallo. I do believe that you shot the would-be assassin, but I do not believe he acted alone. After all, had he been alone, it might make some sense for him to flee upstairs to avoid capture, but why then would he drink poison and jump out a window?"

Wilde spoke confidently, but even with what I knew of his methods I was at something of a loss as to how he had reached such a seemingly bizarre conclusion, a reaction Lupuson obviously shared. "Upstairs? Poison? God, Wilde, the evidence is clear. He—"

"He held one hoof against his wound to staunch the flow of blood," Wilde interrupted firmly, "But running full out down the hallway, a rifle clenched in the opposite hoof, he lost his balance and briefly supported himself against the wall with his bloody hoof."

"Which only shows he headed towards the door!" Lupuson said, and I could hear the confusion in his voice.

"It most certainly does not," Wilde replied, "There is no mark left by Cavallo's thumb, so the mark is somewhat ambiguous, but the lengths of the fingers in the bloodstain and simple logic make it clear he did not head for the door."

I thought back on what Wilde had explained so far and suddenly realized what he meant. "His right hoof is the one that was bloody," I said, "If he had turned towards the door, he would have had to reach across his body to lean against the wall."

"Full marks, Dr. Hopps," Wilde said approvingly, "You're entirely correct. Yes, if Cavallo had turned right, he would have braced himself with his left hoof, and likely left a dent in the wainscoting from the rifle. In fact, he turned left, and consequently used the arm that was then closest to the wall for support. The shape of the streaks he left behind make this obvious."

"But if he went the other way down the hallway, why is there blood leading towards the door?" Lupuson challenged.

"Because it was applied after the fact," Wilde said, "You may look at the streak upon the door and see it was daubed on from a cloth. It shows a trace of the fabric's weave. I would conjecture that the second mammal provided some treatment to Cavallo's wound, and later wrung out the cloth to dribble blood upon the floor to hide their own involvement."

"Supposing he did go upstairs, then," Lupuson began slowly, "Why are there no bloodstains leading towards the stairs?"

"The carpeting in the hallway does not cover the stairs, which are made of slate, as is the area at the immediate foot of the staircase. I would suppose any incriminating marks were cleaned," Wilde said.

"I specifically asked the hotel staff not to clean anything," I said, but it was a feeble statement and I knew it.

"I doubt the second mammal was on the hotel staff," Wilde said, and I nodded.

"Mr. Cavallo never walked through the door, then," I said, "After all, how could he have? I expect the stoop would not have been shovelled at that time."

From the height of the snow drifts surrounding the hotel, I would not have been surprised if before shovelling the snow had been four or five feet high around the door. "Indeed, it would have been a tricky exit," Wilde said, "Perhaps the mammal who cleaned up any blood on the stairs also shovelled the stoop. It would have needed to be convincing, after all."

"So you suggest he was thrown out a window after being poisoned," I said, and Wilde nodded.

"The fall explains the broken fetlocks. The poisoning explains quite a bit more. You see the awful grimace his features are set into? In my experience, a death of exposure alone is about as peaceful a death as could be hoped for. The organism gradually fades in strength with a total lack of awareness preceding death. Cavallo, however, obviously died in agony."

A fall from a window, even onto snow, did strike me as a plausible means by which Cavallo's fetlocks might have been broken. Despite Cavallo's muscular build, he had the delicate forelegs typical of his species, and I had seen all too well how susceptible to injuries of the fetlock horses were.

Cavallo did indeed look as though he had suffered terribly, and when I examined his face more closely I noticed that his mouth was full of ulcerations that must have formed quite recently. I had noticed, when the body had first been turned over, that the area around the bullet wound in his chest had turned black, but what I had initially considered the result of his body freezing I saw was actually a discolouration that affected even his fur, difficult though it was to tell against its deep brown. I made a connection instantly and added, "Someone rubbed corrosive sublimate on his wound. He drank some too, I would say."

I had never held a high opinion of corrosive sublimate, considering it an evil to be avoided whenever possible, and I had never used it as an antiseptic. In my army days I would have only considered prescribing corrosive sublimate as a treatment for lues venerea, and then only as a topical treatment. I had heard from a fellow doctor about a soldier who attempted to shirk his duty by drinking a quantity of corrosive sublimate, expecting only that it would make him too ill to serve for a matter of days. Instead it had proven fatal although the unfortunate soldier had lingered nearly a week. I had never forgotten that story, and I could not help but recall that soldier's fate as I examined Cavallo's body.

"I am pleased to hear you agree with my deduction, especially since I did not mention corrosive sublimate," Wilde said, and I suspected that his words were meant for Lupuson nearly as much as they were meant for me, "I am well up in poisons, but I have never made a systemic study of medicine."

"A loss for the medical profession," I said, lightly enough, although I did think Wilde could have made an excellent doctor had his natural aptitude not turned him towards investigations.

"Do you suppose it was mixed into an alcoholic drink?" I asked Wilde, for it seemed to me the most obvious way of masking the unsavoury flavour; poisoning by corrosive sublimate was not a quick death by any means, and the substance itself was purported to have an acrid taste.

"Quite probably," he replied, "Although I think it unfortunately likely that the room Cavallo was thrown from has been scoured of evidence, his killer has committed sufficient mistakes that I am not entirely pessimistic of our chances to find additional clues."

"Supposing the two of you are right," Lupuson said, "Why would another mammal attempt to kill Cavallo? And in such a way?"

Lupuson's tone was not exactly sceptical, but I understood his concern. "You don't know who Quixano is, do you?" I asked, for I realized that there was a crucial bit of information that had not likely not made it to the police.

"A wealthy mule, by all appearances," Lupuson said, "Why?"

"Not merely a wealthy mule," Wilde replied, "Lawrence Quixano is the son of the late Lord Lawrence Whinnypeg, Earl of Meadowlands."

Lupuson uttered a curse too foul to reproduce here and then coughed, his ears tucking back in embarrassment at the unseemly outburst caused by the hot-blooded temperament typical of his species. "My apologies, ma'am," he said, somewhat awkwardly, and I brushed aside the apology.

The wolf's tension did anything but evaporate, however, and he began to pace back and forth, his feet sinking into the deep drifts of snow surrounding Cavallo's body. "If my superiors had known, they never would have sent me," he said, and I thought I caught a note of despair in his voice, "This will have to be resolved quickly, do you understand?"

He directed this last at Wilde, who nodded. "I have always attempted to solve the cases I take with all deliberate speed," Wilde said, as gravely as I had ever heard him make a pronouncement.

"You see the answers to your own questions, I imagine," Wilde said after a moment, as Lupuson's anxious pacing continued, "The obvious conclusion is that Cavallo was a loose end to be tied up, and that the desired impression was that he had acted alone. Doubtlessly it was his prejudice towards hybrids, apparently well-known to his fellow employees, as well as his position in the hotel that attracted the true mastermind behind the attempts on Quixano's life to him."

"Who is that mastermind?" Lupuson asked immediately, but Wilde put out a placating paw.

"I do not know. It is curious, however, how different the two attempts on Quixano's life were. Poisoning by yew is much subtler than being shot, after all. It may be that the would-be killer became desperate to see their goal achieved quickly, or it may be suggestive of..."

Wilde trailed off, apparently seeing how he had obtained Lupuson's full attention. "Well, it bears further investigation," Wilde finished smoothly, "The matter now, however, is what the murder of Cavallo tells us."

I thought about what I could deduce from where Cavallo's body had fallen. I did not think any mammal, save perhaps an elephant, could have thrown a horse ten or fifteen feet away from the hotel. However, even if Cavallo had been tossed to the exact point where he had been found, why had he been facing the hotel with the rifle clenched in one hoof? It did not seem likely to me that whoever had thrown him from a window would allow him to keep his weapon, and I said as much to Wilde. "If he was thrown from a window, why does he still have the air rifle?" I asked, "Do you suppose his murderer planted it on him after his death?"

It seemed to me the possibility that made the most sense, but Wilde shook his head. "Not quite," he said, "Let us consider what happened after Cavallo ran up the stairs. I am sure he met with another mammal, likely in their room."

"And that mammal provided some treatment to Cavallo's bullet wound as an excuse to gather blood and then gave him a poisoned drink," Lupuson interrupted impatiently, "What then?"

"The murderer likely waited until the poison began to take effect," Wilde said, "Cavallo was likely in a terrific amount of pain and may not have noticed that he had been poisoned. But the murderer could not wait too long. After all, Dr. Hopps's gunshots undoubtedly raised the alarm, and the murderer must have known it possible for Cavallo to have left a trail of blood leading right to their door. Thus, I suggest they pushed Cavallo out the window and then threw the rifle out after him. Having disposed of the two major pieces of evidence of their involvement, the murderer then tampered with the crime scene to muddy the waters further."

"I did request the hotel staff to hold all guests until the police arrived," I said, "Did you instruct your officers to allow no one to leave?"

Lupuson's relief was visible. "I did," he said, and then he turned to the officer who had excavated Cavallo's corpse and waited through our conversation in silence, before barking out an order.

"Make sure that order is upheld," he said, "Go!"

The other wolf nodded and then took off for the door into the hotel at a truly remarkable speed. "Well, this might still turn out quite simple after all," Lupuson said, his expression turning back towards good cheer, "It should be no great difficulty for you to find the room Cavallo was thrown from, and from there the guest."

"Perhaps," was all that Wilde said, "But did you not wonder why Cavallo died holding the rifle?"

"Mammals do queer things when dying of exposure," Lupuson said dismissively, "I have seen cases where the victim stripped themselves completely naked, as though it were too hot rather than too cold. Perhaps in Cavallo's final moments he thought he might take a shot against the mammal who threw him from the window. Now, we really must find the room."

Lupuson had already started to walk away when Wilde called him back. "This will take but a moment," Wilde said, and he gestured down at the rifle still held in Cavallo's bloodstained hoof.

"Now, I suggested that Cavallo and the rifle were thrown from the window separately. The rifle, of course, could be thrown a greater distance, and it must have taken Cavallo an excruciating effort to reach it. Once he did, forced to pull himself along with his arms thanks to his broken fetlocks, he headed back for the hotel and did not quite make it, dying of some combination of exposure and poison. But why did he not simply attempt to drag himself to the hotel, with no effort at retrieving the rifle?"

Although Lupuson seemed to be in no hurry to guess, I thought the matter over myself. "If the rifle was to be buried in the snow, it might not be found for weeks, or perhaps months," I said, "Cavallo must have wanted it to be found."

"Indeed," Wilde said, "And the reason why should be obvious upon examining the rifle itself."

At Wilde's words, I took a closer look at the air rifle. It was a beautifully made weapon, with a gleaming stock of finely-grained wood, and all of the metal pieces I could see had been silver-plated and elegantly filigreed. "Yes, yes, it's not the sort of weapon a waiter could afford," Lupuson said impatiently, "What of it?"

Although Lupuson had not spotted what Wilde clearly had, I did. The engravings upon the rifle were mostly arabesque patterns of interlinked leaves, flowers, and vines, but there was a single letter engraved in the stock of the rifle. There, in perfect blackletter, was an unmistakable "W" nearly an inch tall. I tapped the letter and watched Lupuson's eyes widen as he realized what it meant. Perhaps it was an attempt at framing, or perhaps it had simply been an oversight on the part of Cavallo's murderer, but I was sure that the original owner of the rifle had been a member of the Whinnypeg family.


Author's Notes:

In an exciting bit of news for me, this story was featured this week on the Zootopia News Network, a website I highly recommend checking out if you're not already familiar with it. They've got a truly remarkable amount of Zootopia content that they feature, everything from fan art and fan fiction to music videos and toys, and I consider it a great honor to have my story appear there. DrummerMax64 did a great write up for my story, and I greatly appreciate the work that both he and the entire ZNN team do to keep updating the site on such a regular basis! You can see the article here:

http://www.zootopianewsnetwork.com/2018/06/story-unlikely-heir.html

Dr. Hopps definitely has a point when she asks Lupuson how well he thinks he'd fare in a fight against a horse when he continues to be dismissive towards her. In the wild, wolves will sometimes attempt to hunt horses, but it can be pretty dangerous for them. Horses can easily kick hard enough to break bones, and a lone wolf would be unlikely to succeed in taking one down (although a pack would be a different story).

Slate was a popular building material in the 19th century, as steam engines made the manufacture of slate tiles incredibly cheap and slate has a number of attractive properties. Slate naturally forms in such a way that it can easily be split into thin sheets and it's non-porous and consequently is highly resistant to cracking from repeated freeze-thaw cycles the way many other stones are. In addition to its use as a building material, particularly for extremely durable roofs, slate is also what traditional chalkboards are made of (hence the expression "clean slate").

Wilde is correct in stating that hypothermia can be a relatively painless way to die. If it's cold enough outside, the brain begins shutting down, and a loss of consciousness occurs before death.

Corrosive sublimate is an archaic term for mercuric chloride, a compound of mercury and chlorine. As the archaic name implies, it's nasty stuff; although it's a dangerous poison it's not a fast acting one. It readily dissolves in water or alcohol, and if consumed the mercury can then be quickly absorbed into the body, causing irritation, sores, and eventual organ failure. Death by mercuric chloride poisoning can take days, typically due to kidney failure, and is an extremely painful way to die.

Despite how lethal it is as a poison, mercuric chloride saw widespread use in the 19th century as a treatment for syphilis; sufferers would rub it on their sores. It wasn't a particularly effective cure, and it's likely that many symptoms that were commonly attributed to syphilis were actually the result of mercury poisoning from the treatment. The dangers of mercuric chloride became widespread knowledge in the public consciousness in 1920, when American actress Olive Thomas made a terrible mistake while drunk. She accidentally drank her husband's syphilis medicine (he was something of a philanderer) instead of her sleeping medicine, and died five days later.

It was one of the first Hollywood scandals, as wild rumors flew around about Olive Thomas deliberately committing suicide (either after realizing her husband had given her syphilis or in response to his unfaithfulness) or her husband tricking her into drinking the medicine as an insurance scheme. It seems likely that it was a horrible accident, but it definitely impressed upon the public just how dangerous mercuric chloride is.

In the 19th century, in addition to being marketed as a cure for sores caused by syphilis and other diseases, mercuric chloride was also sold as a powder for eliminating bedbugs, an antiseptic, and as a component (in very low quantities) of some laxatives. Outside of dubious and dangerous household and medical uses, mercuric chloride was historically used for developing photographs. All of these various uses meant that it was very easy to get mercuric chloride.

Dr. Hopps's assessment of the dangers of mercuric chloride are in line with her opinion in "A Study in Gold" to prefer a tincture of iodine or carbolic acid as antiseptics. Neither of those will cause mercury poisoning, and while the dangers of mercury weren't quite as well understood in the 19th century as they are today, a reasonably competent doctor would be right to be leery of any medicine containing it. Referencing her army days, a military doctor would definitely be familiar with the signs of and treatments for syphilis, which was once incredibly common among soldiers. The term "lues venerea" is Latin for "venereal plague" and is an archaic term for syphilis. As syphilis was incurable in the 19th century and it was known to be sexually transmitted, there was a significant social stigma around the disease, which Dr. Hopps is somewhat delicately avoiding naming directly.

The expression "to muddy the waters," meaning to make a situation more confusing or complicated, dates at least to the late 1830s, so its appearance here is appropriate.

The phenomenon that Lupuson describes, of people taking off their clothes while dying of hypothermia, is something that does actually happen. It's called paradoxical undressing and no one is quite sure why it happens. It may be that the hypothalamus stops functioning correctly at low temperature and the person begins to feel warm, or it might be exhaustion of the muscles controlling the peripheral blood vessels causing the limbs to flood with blood and inducing a sensation of warmth.

Blackletter is a term for a gothic font; that is, the sort of calligraphic script seen from the 15th century onwards consisting of letters with tall, narrow letters formed by sharp, angular lines.

As always, thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you thought!