The locked room was empty apart from the smell of decomposition. They ripped up the boards to find a corpse clutching a strong magnet.
Whether it was suicide or death by misadventure is unclear. Certainly, no note was found. However, in the weeks and days before his death, Montgomery Panton’s behaviour had been growing increasingly eccentric, possibly delusional. Friends – if a man like Panton may be said to have friends – spoke of his conviction that a secret society of assassins called The Men of Mist was on its way to kill him. That perhaps explained why he installed bars on all his windows and locked himself in his study.
According to his milkman – the last person to see him alive – Panton believed that The Men of Mist possessed almost occult powers. No lock existed that they could not pick. More than that, as their name implied, this was a veritable band of phantoms able to melt away and pass through any crack, no matter how small. Or so the persecuted man claimed. Panton cancelled his milk with the words, “How is one to hide from such fiends?”
A coded journal in one of his desk drawers awaits decipherment. It is hoped that it will provide greater insight into Panton’s state of mind. Until then we can only conjecture. It seems possible that, in a desperate bid to conceal himself from the imagined assassins, Montgomery Panton lay down in the floor space of his locked study, pulling the floor boards in place over him. He used a magnet of improbable strength to draw the nails into the holes already made, thereby concealing his hiding place to the casual observer.
His morbid, pathological fear of the superhuman Men of Mist was more powerful than either his hunger or his thirst. Nothing would induce him to come out from his hiding place. And so he expired, presumably from starvation.
There is only one other possible explanation, that Montgomery Panton was not deluded. If this hypothesis is accepted, the location of the body beneath the floorboards and the presence of the magnet must remain shrouded in mystery, along with all the other acts of that dread society known as The Men of Mist.