Miss Flava parallel parked, tucking the police car in between a white Prius and a blue Golf. There was no actual need to parallel park, there were several open spaces that could be driven straight into in the shopping centre car-park across the road, but she was determined to quietly prove to Detective Inspector Playfair that she was a competent driver.
"You said that there were no traffic wardens here?" was Playfair's dour comment as she turned the engine off. "Because if there are they'll be watching. They're like cuckoos you know."
"Cuckoos? Do you mean hawks, Sir?" Miss Flava looked across at her boss to find him staring out through the windscreen at an elderly lady with a big shopping bag and a poodle. She'd stopped under the weight of Playfair's glare and was looking nervous. Her poodle yipped, straining at its leash.
"Cuckoos," said Playfair, not looking away from the old woman. "The ones that lay their eggs in other birds nests. Vipers, the lot of them. And I think I've found one."
"Vipers? Playfair, I think you're mixing your metaphors rather badly, you don't find vipers in birds nests, and certainly not hatching out of cuckoo's eggs. And stop staring! That's an old woman, there are no traffic wardens in Haversham! There are two vacancies for traffic wardens and that's it!"
The poodle yipped again and pulled harder, trying to get away. In the back seat Calamity stirred, her ears pricking up, wondering what they're just heard.
"She looks like a traffic warden," said Playfair. "She's got that deer-in-the-bull-bars look, see. He pointed, and the old lady quivered, dropping her shopping bag. There was a soft crunch.
"Deer in the headlights, I hope," said Miss Flava marvelling at her boss's ability to desecrate the English language. "Although the way you drive, perhaps you're more accurate."
"What?" Playfair looked away from the old woman to glare now at Miss Flava, who was used to it. Out of his blistering gaze the old lady sagged like a puppet whose strings had just been caught, letting go of her dog's lead. The poodle barked again, and now Calamity sat up, her ears pricked and her eyes raking the view through the windscreen for the source of the noise.
"Down girl!" bellowed Playfair as Calamity prepared to spring. Miss Flava leaned towards the side-window instinctively, but Calamity obediently sat, as did the old lady. Her poodle yipped again and ran off, narrowly missing knocking a cyclist off his bike.
"Here," said Miss Flava, seizing the letter from the back seat just ahead of Calamity sitting back down on it. "Read this, so you at least know why we're here, and I'll keep an eye out for balloons."
"Cuckoos," said Playfair unfolding the paper. "Although in summer, perhaps caddis flies would be better."
"Cuckoos, then," said Miss Flava. "And Feng Shui consultants."
Five minutes later, after some grumbling and the occasional expletive directed at passers-by that Playfair thought were unnecessarily obstructing his sunlight, he laid the paper down on his knee and stared through the windscreen again.
"A murderous muse?" he said. "That's a bit odd, even for a place with no traffic wardens."
"What and what?" Miss Flava had read the paper and spoken with Right Reverend Derek Battle and had no idea what Playfair meant by either part of his statement.
"Well," said Playfair sounding thoughtful. His fingers drummed on his knee. "Traffic wardens are a lot weird in and of themselves, they kind of focus weirdness and unpleasant sensations in one place. A place that has no traffic wardens has to spread all that weirdness around a bit, so everything ends up being a bit odd, doesn't it?"
"Does it?" Miss Flava was still hunting for the source of Playfair antagonism to traffic wardens.
"Yes," said Playfair. "It's like a place with no mathematicians. Everyone else seems to get a bit cleverer to compensate."
"What are you trying to say, Playfair?"
"Shoot all the mathematicians and force people to be traffic wardens for a year. National Service, or something like it. Build some back-braces for people."
"You can't go shooting mathematicians!" Miss Flava was aghast. "But... but you're distracting me, Playfair, damn you. What was that about a murderous muse?"
"Melpomene," said Playfair, waving the paper. "According to this statement a man was murdered by the muse Melpomene. And considering she's the personification of a two-thousand year-old Greek ideal, that's very interesting."