Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Great CumuloNimbus

Playfair's chair clattered back to the floor on all four legs, and he leaned diagonally forward across the table towards the office.
"A magician?" he said, his voice raising slightly.  "As in, a stage magician?  Someone who does card tricks, or someone who does grand illusions? Grand Guignol, even?"
"Isn't that a type of sausage?"  When Playfair refused to answer, or even to remove his gaze from the officer's face, he continued after swallowing hard.  "He calls himself the Great CumuloNimbus and he does a lot of illusions and disappearances.  He made the town-hall disappear last year, and the year before that he made the Mountgarden's garden bloom in winter.  Just for the one night, mind you.  He's very good."
"Did he bring the town-hall back again?"  It was impossible to tell if Playfair was being sarcastic or not, and the officer decided not to chance it.
"Yes, it came right back, right after the show.  Just like it had never been away," he said.
"At least he keeps the place tidy then," said Playfair sitting back at last.  "How many of his shows have you seen?"
"Uh, well, I don't know," said the officer.  "I mean, he usually does one every Christmas, and there's often a summer one, unless he's travelling of course, but then he'll usually do a Spring one before he goes then... and of course, he's a local boy, so you try and show a bit of support, don't you?"
"Do you?" said Playfair.  "You certainly sound like a fan.  Are you bothered that he's dead, then?"
"Now look here," said the officer, his voice getting gruff.  "Anyone dying round here is a cause of bother.  You can come here with all the attitude you want, and think that we have pigs living round the back and no internet connections, but we still do the job, and we do it right."  He rose to his feet while he was talking.
"I'm sure Playfair didn't mean–" said Miss Flava trying to step tactfully in before Playfair could speak again, but the officer cut her off.
"I'm sure he did mean it."
"I still mean it," said Playfair.  "And I'm glad that you're bothered that he's dead, as it means you'll have looked all the harder into who might have killed him.  So what you need now is someone who didn't know the victim, who can stand back with a little bit of objectivism and help sift the wheat from the chaff.  Or the pigs from the sheep, or the shit from the sherbert, or whatever else you might sift out here beyond the barricades."
"...Ayn Rand?" asked Miss Flava.  The officer sat down, looking a little calmer, although also a little puzzled as people tended to be after one of Playfair's monologues.
"Yes," said Playfair.  "Very odd woman.  I recommend you study her."
Now it was Miss Flava's turn to get annoyed.  "What, so I can be a very odd woman too?"
"No.  So that you don't end up like her."  Ignoring the look of fury on Miss Flava's face he faced the officer again.  "Look,... er... whatever you name is, from the report I've read, and I know that it's incomplete, you have a murdered magician and so far no suspects.  That can't possibly be right; if nothing else he must have had parents, and most murders are family affairs.  You've done a lot of digging, you've turned up a lot of evidence–"
"Tortoise shells," muttered Miss Flava, still fuming, but Playfair ignored her.
"–and now it's time to find out what that evidence is telling us.  I've been sent to help out, and that's what I'm going to do.  Now, tell me all about Stormy the Magician."
"Who? And my name's Alf, Sir."  The Sir was delivered meaningfully, with a strong intimation that it could be taken away again just as quickly.
"The Great CumuloNimbus," said Playfair not quite patiently.  "CumuloNimbuses are stormclouds."
"I never knew that!" said Alf.

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