Sunday, 15 January 2012

The house on Beechwood Drive

As she drove, Miss Flava marvelled at the exactness of Henry's directions.  Everything, down to the location of traffic lights and roadworks was exactly as Henry had said, and even sparked recollections of things she'd said that Miss Flava had forgotten.  Though that was mostly because of the sheer amount of information that Henry had provided.
Playfair was being quiet in the passenger seat, which was because Miss Flava had pointedly said nothing about the car being about twenty-feet further down the road than she'd left it, having a length of torn tow-rope hanging from the front bumper that matched the one hanging from Calamity's collar, and the hand-brake being off when she'd been careful to put it on when she left the car.  Even when they passed an elderly woman pushing a wheeled shopping basket in front of her he only glared at her until she cringed back, and didn't start on his usual rant about inconsiderate people with wheeled accoutrements.
"This is it," said Miss Flava, turning in at a gap in a high green hedge.  The hedge was neatly trimmed into a rectangle that did a good job of acting like a wall, reaching well above the roof of the car.  There was a small fence in front of the hedge, though it was hard to notice with the hedge extending over the top of it.  The fence was wooden posts but wire rails, and Playfair looked at them thoughtfully.  Miss Flava looked at him, with growing impatience.
"Aren't you going to get out and open the gate?" she finally said, and Playfair looked up at the wooden gate blocking their way into the Beechwood house's drive.
"Don't they have automatic openers for these things?" he said, not moving.
"Probably, if you own the place, or are visiting," said Miss Flava.
"Well, tell them we're visiting then," said Playfair.
Miss Flava was about to sigh in frustration and get out and open the gate herself, but then she spotted that the intercom was, for some inexplicable reason, on the passenger side.  "You'll have to do that, Sir," she said, managing not to grit her teeth.  She pointed.
"Oh, right.  Yes, that is interesting," said Playfair.  He wound the window down, and Calamity promptly sat up on the back seat and tried to get past him to stick her head out.  He twisted in his seat to push her back, and then leaned out of the window to push the button on the intercom.  It buzzed.
"Are you expecting an answer?"
Playfair looked at her, and then had to push Calamity back down on the seat as she spotted a chance to get past him and to the open window.
"Maybe," he said.  "Who knows, his elderly parents might have escaped from the basement where he was keeping them now he's dead.  Or, he might have a housekeeper we don't know about.  Or a friend, of some persuasion.  And failing that, if there's anyone in the house who shouldn't be, they're now nervous and more likely to do something stupid."
"You just don't want to open the gate," said Miss Flava, but then the intercom crackled and the gate swung slowly inwards.  She stared at it.
"Go!  Go!" said Playfair, gesturing imperiously with a finger.  "The gate is open!"
"You knew, didn't you?" said Miss Flava accusingly.  "You spotted something and decided that there must be someone in the house.  You couldn't possibly have known otherwise.  You just couldn't."
"It does look that way, doesn't it?" said Playfair, smiling mostly to himself.  "I'd say go right here."
The drive forked, the left-hand branch looking like it would go to the front of the house, and the right-hand branch appearing to lead round behind it.  Trees lined the drive, but kept a strict eight inches back from the drive's edge, and cast long shadows in the afternoon sunshine.  At the fork the house came briefly into view, and Miss Flava was slightly startled to see how big it was.  There was the main body of the house, built from red-brick and three storeys high, and then there was a wing that looked much more modern, with steel and glass construction reaching up to a fourth-storey.  It looked, from here, like an overgrown conservatory.  On the other side there was another red-brick wing, but not much could be seen of that, and it looked like it might be mostly only two storeys.  She took the right-hand fork, and the house disappeared from view again.  The tires crunched steadily over gravel, and after twenty seconds the path widened out into what was basically a small car-park.  There were two cars already there; one a small two-person run-about with the high roof and almost-lacking back-seat that reminded Miss Flava of the bubble cars briefly popular in the seventies.  The other was a classic car that looked like it had had its hey-day in the fifties, but was polished so that it shone even in the dim, tree-shadowed gloom of this car-park and was spotlessly clean.  Miss Flava parked several car widths away from it, and turned to Playfair.
"Don't let Calamity anywhere near that car," she said.  "That looks like it would be an expensive problem, even if this guy is dead."
"Oh, I don't think it's his car," said Playfair.

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