Miss Girard, the Feng Shui consultant, had turned up wearing a hat that Constable Wright had last seen in a film about the nineteen-twenties. It had to be nearly three feet across, most of which was a floppy brim, and the whole thing was cerise. Somewhere underneath it was a short, slim woman with the personality of a razor-blade. He was rather unsure if he should be arresting the hat for attempting to eat the woman, or arresting the woman for wearing a hat likely to cause a breach of the peace. He was also thinking wistfully of his plate of steak-and-kidney pie that was cooling in the break room behind him while he tried to deal with this woman at the front desk.
"Would you mind removing your hat, ma'am?" he said. "I think it's rather hindering matters here."
"How can my hat be hindering anything?" she snapped back, her voice high and waspish. "It's a hat."
"It's an obstruction," said Constable Wright slowly, "in particular, it is obstructing me from seeing who I am talking to."
"You don't need to see me!"
"Right ma'am, you see, I definitely do. You are asking for permission to come into a police statio–"
"I'm telling you that I have an appointment! You asked me to come here!"
"I can tell you right now that I didn't," said Constable Wright with heartfelt emphasis. "And you can't have an appointment with Inspector Playfair, and you're refusing to let me see who you are. You can leave now, or I can arrest you for suspicious behaviour."
"Susp–! Beha–!" The woman jerked with each cut-off exclamation, quivering like a mushroom about to release its spores. "Who are you? Who the hell are you? I'm here to see Inspector Playfair, and I want to see him now! How is that suspicious behaviour?" She was screaming as she reached her last sentence, and to Inspector Wright's gratitude the noise had summoned a senior officer to the front office.
"Asking to see Inspector Playfair is very suspicious behaviour," said DCI Alan Conner, coming out of an interview room where he'd been applying nicotine patches. "No-one who knows him, or knows of him would ask to see him, and people who don't know him wouldn't know to ask for him. So you're in trouble already. Take that stupid hat off and let's find out what your grudge is."
"This is a Zandra Rhodes!" Miss Girard's voice was getting very squeaky as rage pushed its pitch higher and higher, and listening to her now was like listening to fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. Both men shivered.
"It's a hat, and you have to take it off." DCI Conner cracked his knuckles and ignored the look of awe that he got from Constable Wright. "Or we can take it off you."
The hat was slowly removed. Miss Girard was actually too short to be able to reach the brim while wearing it, so she had to push it off her head, let it tilt forward, and then catch the rear rim before it hit the ground. She could only just hold it off the ground. Without the hat she looked business like but starved. Her black hair was tangled up with combs and other detritus artfully poked into it, and her make-up had been applied with more enthusiasm than skill.
"Bloody hell! You look just like–"
"Naomi Campbell, I know," said Miss Girard.
DCI Conner, who had been going to say "Amy Winehouse" with much more accuracy decided not to continue.
"Well, why do you want to see Inspector Playfair then?"
"I need to look round his office and talk to him, get a feel for who he is. I need to see how he approaches his space and interacts with it. You can't just go putting any old soft furnishings into a room, you know."
"Crap." DCI Conner looked at Constable Wright, who still looked very puzzled.
"This is the Fungus Shoe woman," he said, gesturing vaguely at Miss Girard, who despite not wearing it was still doing a very good job of hiding behind the hat. "She's redoing the office for some reason." Constable Wright sudden looked enlightened, and his mouth opened in an expression of comprehension. "She's not allowed anywhere near Inspector Playfair."
"What?" said Miss Girard at the same moment as Constable Wright said "Right!" DCI Conner pretended he hadn't heard her.
"She can be escorted round his office, but not left alone in there. She can talk to his secretaries, but someone has to be there at all times with her. And she is completely in charge of soft furnishings, except where common sense says otherwise."
"Right," said Constable Wright. "I shall escort her after lunch."
"Steak-and-kidney?" said DCI Conner, sniffing. "Good choice. Miss, please take a seat and someone will be with you shortly."
"The Shoe Fungus only affects the kawagina plant, you know," said Miss Girard putting her hat back on and sitting down. The view from the counter was 'talkative beach umbrella.' "What I do is called Feng Shui. And I do need to meet Inspector Playfair."
"We call that a death-wish," said Constable Wright cheerfully.