Crocketts was talking to a reporter. He had been doing a lot of that, over the last few weeks - there seemed to be a new one hounding him every time he turned a corner. All of them were eager to make a story out of the sensational death of Pegasus J. Crawford, and while Crocketts did not have quite the same compelling presence as his master, he was still the one who had known him best, and there was quite a bit of news that could be made out of him. This particular reporter had gone so far as to follow him onto the plane he was currently traveling on.
"No," Crocketts was saying, "I don't believe there is anything suspicious about Mr. Crawford's death. It was a suicide, plain and simple."
"But what about the spot of blood they found in his study?" the reporter persisted.
"It has already been analyzed. The experts agree that there wasn't enough blood there to comprise a serious wound. Several of his servants saw him storming about that room in a rage; I believe it most likely that he harmed himself, purposefully or accidentally."
"But isn't it suspicious that there was no body?"
"Not at all. He jumped from the balcony into the ocean. The tide was just turning; anything that landed in the water at that time would have been swept out to sea. A shred of his clothing was found clinging to one of the rocks, and the blood on it was determined to be consistent with Mr. Crawford's. I believe that, plus the circumstantial evidence of his room being locked from the inside, plus the suicide note and will he left, are more than enough to indicate he took his own life."
"You knew him well. Did you have any clue at all that he was going to do something like this?"
"I regret to say, I didn't see it coming, or I would have done something to prevent it. In hindsight, however, I think it may have been inevitable," said Crocketts. "He had always been a bit eccentric, even as a child, but when his fiancee died... well, he was a man of deep emotions. He was never quite stable after she passed away. The strain of hosting the tournament must have been too much for him. He was acting quite unusual in his last few days - wild mood swings, making peculiar requests, hallucinating. He seemed to believe his fiancee was alive again. A few hours before his death, two of the servants found him in a wild rage, screaming and throwing things at the walls. He definitely suffered some sort of breakdown that ultimately led to self- destruction."
"There are rumors that he was helped along a bit," said the reporter slyly.
Crocketts raised an eyebrow. "Do tell."
"This is just hearsay," said the reporter, "but there are people whispering that you were in some fashion responsible. Rumor has it that you drugged him, forced him to write the will naming you as his sole heir, and then pushed him out the window yourself."
Crocketts took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"Yes, I've heard that story," he said, "and I don't care for it. For one, as I said earlier, his room was locked and latched from the inside, while I was most definitely on the outside. For another, I have been guarding Pegasus since his youth. I was practically a second father to him. I see nothing suspicious in him leaving his possessions to me when he lacks any other living relatives. I am sick and tired of having my name dragged through the mud by jealous people. As a matter of fact, the whole reason why I am on this trip is to get away to somewhere where no one has heard of me or Pegasus J. Crawford or Industrial Illusions, and I can have some peace and quiet - and if I catch you spreading that story about me drugging him, I'll have your paper sued for libel."
"So what are you going to be doing, now that you're a multi-billionaire? Any big plans?"
"No, I plan to take a quiet retirement, and let all this fuss die down," said Crocketts. "The most business I'm doing is renting out a bit of property - the house adjacent to the one I'm living in - just to have something to occupy myself."
"I see. Making friends already?"
"More like... business associates. A young American businessman and his wife. Retired for health reasons. Charming people."
"I see." The reporter looked disappointed; that didn't sound like anything that would interest anyone. "Well, thank you for agreeing to talk to me, Mr. Crocketts. Good luck with everything."
Crocketts accepted the words with a vague grunt. The plane mercifully chose that moment to land, and he used that as an excuse to begin gathering his things together and ignore the reporter. A few moments later, he was boarding the limousine that was waiting for him with his luggage and setting out to what would be his new home. For a moment, he paused to take it all in: a luxurious new home, set amid the splendor of the tropics. Just now, the weather was clear and warm, and flowers bloomed wherever there had been room to plant them. It was a beautiful place. One might even call it paradise.
He was greeted at his new locale by a cluster of eager servants, and he watched them bemusedly as they scrambled to unload his belongings for him. He was still trying to get used to the idea that he was the master now, and everyone here had to answer to him. To help shrug off the sense of unease, he decided to go next door and see what his tenants were doing. He walked across the freshly laid-out pathway that connected the two homes.
It was a pleasant house - perhaps not a palace, but more than enough for two people to live in style. It also had an excellent view of the beach from its front porch, said view currently including a pretty young woman in a swimsuit who was wading in the warm shallows, collecting seashells. Enjoying this view from the comfort of a patio chair was a young man. An easel was propped up in front of him, displaying a painting of a sailboat, such as could be seen drifting serenely by in the distance. This one was remarkable in that the painter had whimsically added a mermaid peeking up out of the water at one of the sailors. It was to be noted that the mermaid looked a great deal like the young woman, and the sailor bore a striking resemblance to the painter. He was a good-looking man, slender and aristocratic, with long silvery hair that was just now bound back to keep the wind from blowing it into his paint. A close observer might have noticed that one of his eyes did not quite move the way the other one did, and that there were traces of scarring around it. At his elbow was a small table holding his painting supplies, and also a bucket of ice with a wine bottle chilling in it, and some glasses.
"Ah, Crocketts! Good to see you!" he said, as his landlord arrived. He turned to call to the woman on the beach. "Darling, look who made it back in one piece!"
She turned to wave. "Hello, Mr. Crocketts! I'll be right up!"
The painter gazed fondly at her a moment before he turned back to Crocketts.
"I hope the trip went well," he said. "How was the memorial service?"
"Very touching. Couldn't have gone better."
"Pity I didn't get to see it."
"I had a recording made. You can look at it later."
"Wonderful! You always did think of everything." He paused for a moment, gazing out at the sun as it set over the ocean. "This will be a good place to start over, don't you think? It's the kind of place that makes you glad to be alive."
Crocketts nodded solemnly.
The other man looked back to him. "Well, don't just stand there! You've come a long way in a short time; you ought to sit down. Won't you join me for a drink?"
Crocketts paused a moment. Then he smiled and sat down in an empty seat.
"Thank you, sir. I believe I will."