Wednesday, 23 January 2008

On dogs and driving

DI Playfair was driving. Miss Flava was sat in the passenger seat, and the Rottweiler, Calamity, was alternately on the back seat and in Miss Flava's lap, trying to find somewhere she thought was comfortable. Crossing from the back seats to the front and back again meant that she was regularly shifting the gear-stick and stepping on the hand-brake, but this made little noticeable difference to Playfair's control of the car. His foot pressed the accelerator to the floor constantly, and the car's actual speed was regulated by the foot-brake and the clutch. The engine roared like an ancient dragon with haemmorroids, blue-black smoke rose from both the exhaust pipe and the bonnet, and the gears clanked like a medieval knight in a full suit of armour. Miss Flava had mentioned this to Playfair once, and he had glared at her and announced that all the cars in the police pool were like that.

He had also named the Rottweiler. Her trainer, when introducing her to the department had suggested that they pick a short, one- or two-syllable name for her, and Rosie had been popular until Playfair came in, looked at her, and named her Calamity. To everyone's astonishment she had taken to him instantly, and responded to her new name immediately. When Miss Flava had asked him why Calamity, he had said, "Name of my favourite Crimean nurse. Calamity Jane."

"That was Florence Nightingale," Miss Flava had said. "Calamity Jane was a wild-west frontierswoman who fought native Americans."

"Rubbish," Playfair had said, snorting. "Florence Nightingale is a character from the Magic Roundabout, like Ancient Mu-mu the Cow and Bob Dylan."

The conversation had gone no further.

"Is this liaising with the community?" said Playfair, shouting over the roar of the engine. He never took his eyes off the road, which he was glaring at as though hoping it was going to do something he could arrest it for.

"What?" said Miss Flava, stretching her legs out after Calamity's latest visit to her lap.

"Is this liaising with the community? Talking to this antiques shop owner. Only you said they didn't want me to liaise with the community anymore."

"Oh, I see," said Miss Flava. "No, I don't think anyone thinks this is a real crime, which is why we've got it. And it won't be liaising with the community at all unless you listen to the owner."

Playfair hmmphed, and tried not to smile. "I listen to people," he said. "I listened to Nnnk-Thss tell me the plot to the Usual Suspects. Have we got any leads on why there are more heads than bodies yet?"

"You only listen when you've run out of other ideas," said Miss Flava. "Your approach to policing is just a variant on shouting 'It was you what done it, ain't it!' at everybody until someone breaks down and confesses everything. Then you leave it for three weeks, and astonish everyone in the department by revealing that you know how the crime was committed. You sit there, with an unbearable smugness that would leave Sherlock Holmes green with envy, and point evidence out that everyone saw and no-one thought was evidence, and leave us all thinking that you have to be the greatest sleuth in history. Then you shout at us all for sitting there in awe of you until someone breaks down."

"It's therapy," said Playfair gruffly, his chin sunk into his chest so that his collar could hide his mouth while he eyeballed the road. "It's cathartic for you."

"Therapy?" Miss Flava paused, caught off balance. "You view yourself as a psycho-analyst?"

"See, made you think there, didn't I?"

"Let's all dance on the grave of Freud," swore Miss Flava. "You're part of the psycho-antagonist school of thought, aren't you? You provoke reactions from people and then analyse them."

"And work out what's wrong with you all," said Playfair. "I don't think most of you are cut out to be detectives."

"I don't think most of the department know they're signed up as patients in an experimental psychology experiment! Playfair, you're the most twisted, devious, manipulative corkscrew of a thinker I've ever met! How-"

"Bodies and heads," said Playfair sharply.

"Oh," said Miss Flava again. "Oh. Well, it turns out that all the bodies do have heads, they'd just been cut off and sewn inside the abdominal cavity. The 41 other heads are still unknowns. Mr. Nnnk-Thss thinks they're talking to him though. In snake."

"Does that mean we have a statement from him that mostly reads 'Hisssssssss'?"

"Yes, and one that talks about someone called Henry Trotter and what sounds like a giant anaconda."

"That'll be Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets then," sighed Playfair.

"You know him?"

"It's another film."

Playfair finally took his foot off the accelerator, swung the steering wheel and wrenched the handbrake up. The car slewed across two lanes of oncoming traffic, the tires squealing like a eunuch at an orgy, mounted the pavement still turning, and ground to a halt just shy of a lamp-post. Calamity picked herself up from out of the foot-well and started barking excitedly. Miss Flava swore under her breath, and Playfair grinned like a boy who's just hotwired his first Porsche.

"Let's go and arrest this shopkeeper then!" he shouted.

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