Mike Mallet leaned back in his desk chair, swirled the ice cubes in his glass of cheap Scotch, took a slug, and leveled his eyes at the peculiar man sweating in his direction from the other side of the desk. “Mister Brainum, you won’t be seeing your clown in centre ring again.”
“I… understand there was some sort of mishap?” Brainum said, wringing his handkerchief. He dabbed his forehead with it and went back to wringing it.
“Not to put too fine a point on it,” Mallet said, and leaned forward over his desk, “he was jugulated.”
“I… oh! I…” Brainum did two more cycles of dabbing and wringing. “I…” He took his spectacles in his hand and inspected them. At length he put them back on his face and looked up. “What does that mean?”
“Well, we came in, and found him on the floor with a considerable mess: broken eggs, a broken pitcher, and… Bonzo wasn’t looking in top form either.”
Brainum smiled faintly. “His name is Ziggy.”
“Well,” Mallet said. He lifted his glass and tilted into his mouth an ice cube, which he crunched for a few seconds. “I think he was more zaggy by the time we found him.”
“It’s because he was a Libra,” Brainum said.
“…You’ve lost me.”
“Greek for Libra is ‘Zygos’,” Brainum said, more-or-less accurately.
Mallet nodded sagely, pulled open a low drawer in his desk, pulled out a bottle of whisky, and refilled his glass. He drank the glass down, refilled it again, and put the bottle back. “I did not expect to be learning Greek today,” he muttered as he shoved the drawer shut.
“But what happened?” Brainum said. He patted his jacket pockets as he spoke and found that he did not, in fact, have a flask on him, or a cigarette, or anything at all.
“Well, we think he was juggling some eggs…”
“Oh, ‘jugulated’,” Brainum said.
“Nothing to do with it,” Mallet said. “It was interesting that he seemed to have dropped them just as they were in a perfect alignment—”
“He might have done better with a squeegee.”
“‘Syzygy’ is also related to ‘Zygos’,” Brainum offered helpfully.
Mallet looked at him the way he would look at a raccoon trundling past a picnic table. He lifted his glass and then didn’t drink any of it. “We thought the smashed pitcher had something to do with it…”
“Smashed picture?” Brainum said.
“Pitcher,” Mallet said, and set his glass down. “Jug.”
“Oh, jugulated!” Brainum said.
“Nothing to do with it,” Mallet said. “And it turned out that the pitcher didn’t hit him. He knocked it over as he fell.”
“So what… how… jugulated?” Brainum said, and dabbed his forehead, and wrung his hanky.
“You don’t know much Latin, do you, mister?”
“No,” Brainum said. “It’s all Greek to me.” He let out a quick squeaky laugh that he quickly stifled into a hiccup.
“You know what this is?” Mallet drew his fingertip across his collar bone.
“Eczema?” Brainum said.
“The collar bone,” Mallet said. He lifted his glass and, eyes fixed on Brainum, pointedly drank 1.25 ounces of Scotch in a gulp. “The yoke.”
“Zygos!” Brainum said.
“In Latin, ‘jugulum’. I’m sure the Latin is related to the Greek.” He was right, as usual.
“He broke his collar bone?”
“Do you not know what the veins that go right past it are?” Mallet leaned forward, the veins in question bulging in his neck.
Brainum shrunk back and clutched his handkerchief until the blood all went out of his knuckles. “Uh… jugular?”
Mallet flopped back and raised his hands in hallelujah position. “Someone came up behind him and slashed his neck through the jugular veins. Jugulated him.”
Brainum’s eyes popped wide open like two overboiled eggs. “Jugulated means…” He shakily drew his finger across his throat in the classic gesture. Mallet responded with an emphatic thumb-up, a gesture which, by the way, in the Roman circus meant ‘Yes, go ahead and dispatch your opponent. Jugulate him, impale him, whatever!’
Brainum suddenly knitted his brows. “But… how did you not see that right away?”
“It didn’t take long to notice it,” Mallet said. “But all the eggs had landed right on top of his clavicle, obscuring the matter at first.”
“Oh…” Brainum said. He hiccup-giggled. “The yolk was on him!”
Mallet leveled his eyes on Brainum, to the extent possible. Then he shoved his glass across the desk. “Here. I think you need this.”