"Dead?" Melissa gasped dramatically, and one wrist was flung upwards to land against her forehead like some nineteen-forties movie starlet's idea of shock. Sadly Melissa misjudged it badly and her bony wrist rapped against her forehead like a hob-nailed boot striking the boot-scraper, and her eyes rolled up in her head and she collapsed on the floor in a heap for real. Miss Flava looked at her pityingly, Playfair barely spared her a glance, and Ronald Verges acted as though she wasn't there. Only Calamity paid her any attention, sneaking out from behind Playfair's legs with her head lowered as though hoping that if she couldn't see Miss Flava then Miss Flava couldn't see her, until she reached Melissa. Then her long pink tongue lolled out of her mouth, and she started licking the woman's eyes.
"Why do dogs like the taste of eyeballs?" asked Miss Flava, watching Ronald Verges. He still didn't look down at the fallen woman.
"I don't know," said Playfair, with a hint of exasperation. He sighed heavily. "Easier to chew, maybe?"
"Surely they'd just pop?" Still no reaction from Ronald Verges.
"Hah, yes. Maybe that's what they like about them. Grapes for dogs!"
"The Great CumuloNimbus is dead, Sergeant?" asked Ronald, his foot tapping slightly as her spoke. He held his arms tightly across his body, and his face was drawn, his mouth pinched.
"Detective Inspector, actually," said Playfair. "I have a card here somewhere...." He produced nearly a dozen cards of various shapes and sizes from an inside pocket and dropped them on the floor. They clattered, causing Miss Flava to raise an eyebrow.
"No, don't help me," said Playfair turning round and bending down and somehow managing to stand on Ronald's tapping foot in the process. "I've got them all!"
There was a noise like a steam-kettle starting to boil in the next room, and Miss Flava noted that it was coming from Ronald as he tried not to let Playfair know that he was standing on his foot. His pale face was going a putrid pink, and his teeth were gritted to the point where they were nearly grinding together.
"There, got them all," said Playfair standing up and finally shifting his weight off Ronald's foot. He put them away in his pocket again. "Now Mr. Ronald, you were saying that the great CumuloNimbus is dead."
"No! No, you were saying that, Inspector. I was only repeating it."
"How do you know that the Great CumuloNimbus is dead then?"
"I just said, Inspector, you told me."
"Hearsay, then. You're spreading malicious rumours about the demise of a local celebrity without checking if they're true or not first? Is there a reason for this. I mean, a particular reason, other than the obvious?"
"Wha–" Ronald stared at Playfair with his mouth open. Then he realised what he was doing and it snapped closed again like a striking venus fly-trap. Miss Flava pulled Calamity away from Melissa, noticing with a little bit of concern that Melissa's nose now appeared a little nibbled.
"No, I'm not spreading rumours," said Ronald, getting his thoughts together. His accent, already rather Home Counties, became plummier still. "One doesn't do that kind of thing. You told me, mere moments ago, my dear chap, that the Great CumuloNimbus was dead, and I'm now trying to find out why you are telling me that. One that."
"Because he is," said Playfair. "And you are in his house, which is suspicious, with a woman, who looks suspicious, doing suspicious things in a suspicious manner. And this, you see, makes me suspicious."
"That's a lot of suspicion," said Miss Flava, sounding helpful.
"Oh do shut up, you dim tart," said Ronald. It sounded reflexive, as though this was a standard come back for the women in his life. The silence in the room was thick enough to cut with a bread-knife, and when he realised why, his still-ruddy face finally started to pale. "I was talking to my sister-in-law," he said. He pointed at the unconscious woman on the floor, lying in a pool of dog-drool. "She's a daft tart and a dim bint."
"I really hope you know more Arabic than that one word," said Playfair, producing a notebook from a pocket Miss Flava was sure he'd shown to be empty at least twice today. "Or that's language likely to cause disorder. And possibly a hate crime."
"A hate crime?" said Ronald, over-enunciating his aitche.
"Well, I hate you," said Playfair. "And causing me to do that is definitely a crime."