“I was thinking Chinese for dinner tonight. Wife says I need to lay off, but then she eats just as much as I do when I bring it home.”

“Are you even listening to yourselves?” I said. “Talking about moo goo gai pan when a man is dead and murdered in his own home?”

The officer shrugged. “It’s no worse than one of his movies. You ever see any of them?”

“Yes,” I said, my insides heaving at the splatters of blood and the outline on the floor which depicted the unrecognizable heap in which director Candon Verbridge had been found. “I wasn’t a fan. Too gory.”

“Too gory?” the officer said. “That was the best thing about them. Best splatterpunk director to come out of America during the last fifty years.”

“And you don’t find it at all odd that he was, himself, splattered and cored?” I asked. A police officer with a fondness for splattercore seemed a much better preparation for the scene of a violent homicide than a lifetime of reviewing films.

“Huh. I suppose it is,” said the officer. “Maybe it was a copycat. Some nutty fan. The scene looks a lot like The Scattered Stains, doesn’t it?”

It didn’t just look like that nauseatingly, horrifyingly gory movie, I thought. It was nigh identical, at least from what I could remember seeing through my fingers at the screening. I was about to say something in reply, to confirm the officer’s theory, when a thought struck me:

The Scattered Stains had been about an incorporeal entity that had murdered anyone who refused it.

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Jameson huffed on his cheap, mean cigarette. “It was a mystery for a long time, but now it’s pretty much an open secret: the royal family has a genetic predisposition to acute bufomorphic osculitis.”

“Acute…what?” The strong local Cinnibarian liquor was making Cartyr’s ears buzz, but he was still reasonably sure that the last thing Jameson said would have come out as gibberish to the stone-cold sober.

“Did they just throw you into this assignment out of grammar school, or what?” the elder journalist groused. “Acute bufomorphic osculitis is when someone with massive inborn magical potential–specifically, for alteration or mutaremagicae–and can’t control it. Different families have different strains of osculitis, probably dating from whatever forebear had the mutation in the first place.”

Cartyr sipped his local firewater. “That doesn’t explain why the princesses can never marry.”

“It’s sex-linked, so only the ladies can get it. Men are just carriers.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s something in the big book of reporting about getting to the damn point,” Cartyr cried, thrusting his pencil at his blank reporter’s notebook. “You still haven’t told me what buffomoronic occultis is!”

“Guess you never had any Latin in grammar school either.” Jameson ground out his coarse smoke and lit a new one from the ashes. “It means that anyone the Cinnibarian princesses kiss turns into a toad, and that any toad the princesses kiss turns into a man. Or, I suppose, woman.”