Thursday, 12 January 2012

Traffic wardens

Miss Flava went back inside the police station to ask for the address, turning the engine off and taking the keys with her.  She was tempted to take DI Playfair with her as well, just to make sure that he didn't try hotwiring the car while she was gone, but finally she decided to try trusting him.  Which left her with a sense of foreboding all the while she was walking away from the car and back into the police station.  Henry looked up as she came back in.
"By yourself?" she asked, sounding polite and disinterested.
"Playfair didn't bother to find out where Beechwood Drive was before we left," said Miss Flava.  "Can you tell me?"
"Neither did you," said Henry quietly.  "Well.  Beechwood Drive is about five minutes drive away, it's in the posher part of Little Haversham.  They film period dramas round about there from time to time, but I don't think we've issued any permits this week, so you shouldn't be seeing anyone wandering around in what looks like their nightie...."  Her instructions were careful and detailed, so much so that Miss Flava was wondering if Henry spent her time memorising road atlases by the time she'd finished.
"By the way," she said, "on the way here we passed a really badly parked car.  Well, I say parked, it was more abandoned than anything else."
"Oh, I'm sure the traffic wardens will be on that in no time then," said Henry, turning the pages of a manilla folder casually, as though trying to suggest that Miss Flava was interrupting valuable police business.
"What traffic wardens?"  Miss Flava's voice was like an icicle in mid-summer, unexpected, sharp, and frosty.
"Little Haversham traffic wardens."  Henry had looked up when Miss Flava spoke, and was looking surprised.
"You don't have any," said Miss Flava.  "I checked before we came here.  You have vacancies for two, after the last two eloped together."
To her surprise, Henry's face suddenly screwed up.  "Tom and Paul," she said, her voice getting higher.  Her shoulders trembled.  "They were... they were my housemates."
"They were both male?"  Miss Flava tried not to sound too interested.
"Yes!  Yes, they were, and they were in love and they wanted to do something romantic.  So they eloped to Gretna Green to get married, only when they got there Tom's ex was there getting married as well, and then, and then Tom tried to stop the wedding because he said he still loved his ex, and then Paul got all upset, and now they're still up in Gretna Green and sulking and won't talk to each other, and whenever that happens they need me to mediate, only I can't take any time off at the moment, and now I think I'll never get any time off because the magician died and no-one knows why."
"Breathe," said Miss Flava, watching Henry get redder and redder and hearing her getting squeakier and squeakier.  "No really, breathe.  Before you pass out."
"Eeeep!" said Henry, finally complying.  She panted a little as she finally started to get some breath back.
"That's a lot to take in," said Miss Flava carefully.  "But I'm sure that now that DI Playfair is here there'll be some kind of resolution fairly quickly.  One way or another he does solve crimes very well, even if he alienates everybody else in the process.  So you'll be able to get up to Gretna Green in no time and bring Paul and Tom back to their senses, the altar, and then Little Haversham.  I'm sure of it."
Henry sniffed, and looked at her through reddened eyes.  Miss Flava wondered for a moment if she'd considered auditioning for vampire movies.
"Are you sure?  DI Playfair seems like he's just going to make things worse."
"He seems like that, yes.  All the damn time.  But somehow, even when the rest of us don't have a clue what he's doing or why, he's finding out who did the crime and getting ready to pounce."
"Is he like Columbo then?"
"I've never seen him in a raincoat," said Miss Flava thoughtfully.  "But no, he wouldn't waste his time pursuing the criminal and tricking him into confessing.  He'd just set Calamity on them and claim that it was her own doing."
As if on cue Calamity raced into the police station with a tow-rope tied to her collar.  The other end appeared to have torn off from something else.
"Oh good lord!"  Henry regained her composure quickly and produced a large plastic net from under the counter.  "Don't worry!  I trained with the dog unit for a week, I'm sure I can catch that dog."
Miss Flava eyed the net, and then whistled piercingly.  It seemed to resound throughout the police station, and Alf appeared from the interview room in a cloud of tobacco smoke, just as Calamity bounded back from the canteen clutching an egg-and-cress sandwich in her mouth.  She lay down at Miss Flava's feet and started eating the sandwich.
"Calamity," said Miss Flava, pointing.
"My sandwich!" yelled a moustachioed policeman from the canteen doorway.
"Not any more," said Henry, slightly perplexed that Calamity seemed to have got more of the sandwich around her muzzle than actually in her mouth.
"It's alright," said Miss Flava.  "She doesn't really like egg."

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