“It’s the damndest caseof Bluebeard Syndrome I’ve ever seen.”

Detective Spellacy lit a cigarette and stared at the police psychologist for a beat through an acrid haze of blue smoke. “Doesn’t Bluebeard Syndrome have to do with matricide?”

“Indeed; in my preliminary interview with the suspect he confessed to an overwhelming urge to marry and, then, in time, to dispose of his brides. But, conversely, he has a most acute phobia of physical contact with other people—skin to skin, it repulses him—so he simply sublimated his desire in another fashion—” He gestured with a nonchalant wave of his arm to the haphazard pyramid of latex blow-up dolls stacked in a corner of the garage of the staid and sedate suburban home. A pugnacious dog with yellow snarling teeth, obviously trained for just such a purpose, stood sentry over the open-mouthed but mute victims of his owner’s pure, burning impulse.

“Interestingly,” the psychiatrist continued, examining the cuticles of his fingernails and wishing he had a cup of strong black coffee, “the adjective ‘sublimate’ derives from the Latin ‘sublimare,’ meaning ‘to rise up,’ and, of course, inflating a blow-up doll, for lack of a better turn of phrase, involves blowing air into a tube in order to ‘rise up’ the lump of latex into the physical proximity—albeit a rough one—of a human form. The human mind is a richly complex tapestry, Detective Spellacy.”

Spellacy frowned and crunched the glowing orange butt of his cigarette on the garage floor with the heel of his Florsheim shoe. “Yeah, but how do you explain why he decapitated Mrs. Viridian next door?”

“That,” said the psychiatrist, “is for you to figure out; my work is finished here.”