Define Murder

By Laura Schiller

Fanfiction for the Hermux Tantamoq Adventures

Copyright: Michael Hoeye

Twilight was falling on Pickdorndle Lane, its littered streets and weedy gardens softened by the orange sunset. Hermux was walking Linka home after a night at the movies; they walked arm in arm.

"Hermux?"

"Yes?" He looked down at her almost abruptly, as if reining in his thoughts from far away.

"There's something you're not telling me."

He looked away. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You're a terrible liar, you know that?" She swatted his arm gently. "Please. Talk to me. Maybe I can help."

"It's … personal," he said, barely audible.

"It's about the theatre, isn't it?"

It had been five days since the events at the Varmint Theatre – Nurella Pinch's comeback, the attempted bombing, and Hermux's confrontation on a boat with Corpius Crounce (or Magner or Purvit or whatever his name was) which he refused to mention. He had assured Varmint, Beulith, Glissin and Linka that Crounce would not be coming back, with such a stony expression on his normally kind face that they had not asked. As for the rest of the world, they assumed he had left to begin his life of crime elsewhere; Tucka was rumored to be outraged at being jilted by her so-called lover.

Hermux let go of Linka's arm, stopped, and turned to face her. Alarm flickered in his face.

"What makes you say that?"

Linka had had her suspicions until now, but the look on his face confirmed it. He felt guilty. And she could guess why.

"Did you kill Corpius Crounce?"

Hermux nodded slowly, hands in his pockets. When he looked up, his brown eyes were filled with tears.

"I understand," he said, "If – if you don't want anything to do with me after this. I wouldn't want anything to do with me. Goodbye, Ms. Perflinger. Take care of yourself."

He lifted his hat and began to walk away.

For one moment, Linka was so stunned that she let him. Suspicions or not, it was hard to wrap her mind around the idea of this mouse – this plump, gray, kindhearted mouse who had rescued her from Dr. Mennus and saved the whole Varmint Theatre from blowing up – as a killer.

It made no sense. Therefore, it couldn't be right.

"Hermux!" she called, launching herself after him and grabbing him by the shoulder. "Wait! What do you mean by that? How did it happen?"

He tried to shrug her off, but she hung on.

"What difference does it make?" he snapped.

"I know you, Hermux Tantamoq. You wouldn't hurt a fly. I want you to tell me exactly what happened and let me make up my own mind. Don't you dare walk away from me without an explanation."

Hermux explained, briefly and haltingly. Crounce been uncooperative. He had meant to tie Hermux up and throw him into the water. Terfle had tried to hypnotize Crounce into letting them go, but to no effect. They had fought, and Crounce had flown over the side of the boat. Hermux had steered it away without looking back.

Linka nodded gravely into the silence that fell once Hermux's account was over. He watched her, tears still glinting on his fur, waiting for an answer. Her mind whirled, searching for the right words to say.

"Well," she said, somewhat shakily. "That … that doesn't sound like murder to me. I'd say it's a clear-cut case of self-defence."

"Does it really matte what you call it?"

"Yes, it does!" she snapped. "What he tried to do to you, that's murder. Premeditated. You didn't have a choice – it was his life or yours. And quite frankly, when it comes between choosing you and Crounce, it's pretty clear whom the world is better off without."

She grabbed the lapels of his tweed coat and straightened them in a proprietary he way he normally would have loved. He caught her paws in his and squeezed them tightly.

"You can't judge who deserves to live and who doesn't, Linka," he argued. "He was a crook, yes. He's done bad things, yes. But he also loved his daughter, and thanks to me he'll never see her again. He'll never have the chance to become a better person. Think of that!"

"And what if he'd killed you? I happen to value your life a lot, Hermux. So do all your friends. Look, I've done a few things I'm not proud of in my lifetime. It's not only honest people who need pilots, and I need to make my rent somehow. I've smuggled, lied, used a gun when I had to. We just have to live with it, as best we can."

Hermux bowed his head and let go of her paws.

"I didn't want you to know about this," he murmured. "I wanted … to be your hero, I suppose. Your watchmaking knight." He smiled wryly. "So much for that, eh, Linka?"

"So much for that."

She thought of the first time she had met him. Mr. Tantamoq the watchmaker, who in fact had barely registered in her notice, except as a very polite gentleman mouse with a very tidy shop, who seemed somewhat in awe of her as the shyer sort of male mice tended to be. She thought of a livid Hiril Mennus interrogating her about the watchmaker 'snooping around' her property; Hermux's concern for her as both of them lay in the mousetrap; realizing he had risked his life for her. Their excursion to the desert, where he had revealed himself to be a witty, resourceful and brave companion. She had saved him that time, with her sharp-edged ring. She thought of their various dates, friendly conversations, the smile he used to show only her. And now this, the fact of shoving Crounce off the boat. It did not ruin the rest of her memories, she thought. It only colored them differently.

"The trouble with knights," said Linka, "Is that they only exist in stories."

"What do you mean?" he asked guardedly.

"I mean you're not getting rid of me that easily. I don't want a hero, Hermux. I just want you."

For the first time that evening, his lips curved into a shaky, but real, smile.

"I'm glad," he said. "Well, not – you know what I mean. But I will be."

The sky had slowly darkened as they spoke; it was a deep navy blue, with a full moon shining in it like a polished pocketwatch. To the west, a few streaks of pink were all that remained.

"That's my mouse." She kissed him on the cheek and offered her arm. "It's getting dark. I think you'd better stay with me tonight."