Sunday, 5 February 2012


"Look, Inspector," said Ronald, his accent thickening to the point where single vowels seemed to take entire second to pronounce, and wobbled around the inside of his mouth like they'd been partially stunned before being spat out.  "Look, it was a simplistic slip of the tongue, a lapsus lingue, if you like."
"I don't like," said Playfair.  "And what has a slip of the tongue got to do with lingerie?  Are you suggesting that I'm just some thick clod plod?"
"Oh no!"  Ronald waved his hands frantically, reminding Miss Flava of the last traffic warden she'd seen from a car when Playfair was driving.  "Oh not at all, Sergeant Inspector!  I just wanted–"
"Detective Inspector," said Playfair.  "I'm sure you just wanted, Mr. Ronald.  And I'm equally sure you just took, didn't you?"
"I don't know what you're saying!"  Ronald wailed, his eyes now bright with tears and his hands trembling.  He still held them out before him, silently imploring Playfair to take pity on him, and much of his previous arrogance now seemed well held in check.
"I really want to know why you're here," said Playfair.  "Metaphorically, metaphysically, and cinéma verité.  The man who owns this house is dead several times over and has been for days, so what the bloody hell are you doing here?  Why are you in here?  Why are you insulting my Detective Sergeant?  Why are getting in the way of my police dog?  And why don't you care, in the slightest, about your sister-in-law?"
"It's a rehearsal," said Ronald, his voice high-pitched and wobbly.  His accent had receded a little and he was much easier to understand now.  "Melissa and I are Tricksters, we work with Iain to get his shows right and make sure the illusions work.  Melissa is the set-dresser and I'm an Illusionist.  I work out how to make the tricks work in ways that the audience won't be able to spot.  We have a rehearsal today, and Iain wasn't here when we arrived.  That's nothing new, so we let ourselves in and started setting up anyway.  We were expecting him back around lunchtime."
"What do you mean, that's not unusual?" said Miss Flava, not looking up from her notebook.  She was writing quickly, using shorthand.
"Iain often spends the night elsewhere," said Ronald a little hesitantly.  "He has a lot of fans."
"Hah," said Playfair, a smile playing around his eyes.  "And he always gets back at lunchtime, does he?"
"Well no," said Ronald.  "He gets back when he gets back, and usually he'll be back quite early for a rehearsal.  There's always a lot to go through, and Iain's quite demanding on the technical side of his tricks."
"So why lunchtime this time?" asked Miss Flava.
"There was no breakfast laid on," said Ronald.  "Iain normally has someone in preparing breakfast, or sometimes gets an outside caterer for the day, but when we arrived this morning the house was quiet and there was only a little food in the fridge.  We thought that he knew he'd be late."
"Hah!" said Playfair again, but this time with a little bit of an edge to it.  "Indeed he was."
Miss Flava frowned, and pointed at the drying and curling sandwiches.  "So where did they come from then?"
"Melissa usually makes a couple of trays of sandwiches to bring with her," said Ronald.  "She's just sad really, she fancies Iain and is trying to get him to notice her.  She brings these trays of horrible sandwiches hoping that he'll have forgotten to get food, and then she'll be able to impress him.  She was delighted when we couldn't find any sign of breakfast this morning."
"Did you eat any of the sandwiches?" asked Playfair.
"No," said Ronald, looking pained.  He rubbed his stomach absently with one thin, bony hand.  "I don't much care for cucumber and chutney, egg and mackerel mayonnaise or pureed broccoli and riced chicken sandwiches.  Melissa ate a couple.  The cucumber ones I think.  Is this important?"
Miss Flava, who hadn't written anything down about the sandwiches, shook her head, but Playfair nodded at the same time.
"You never know what details are important," he said, "Until you need them.  After all, it might turn out that the thought of these miserable sandwiches deepened the Great CumuloNimbus's depression to the point where he decided to kill himself rather than face any more of them."
"Really?  Iain was depressed?  He never said anything!"  Ronald's mouth dropped open, and his hands started shaking even more.
Miss Flava sighed and noted the sandwich fillings down with bad grace.  "We don't know if Stormy the magician was depressed or not, yet," she said.  "Do you have any reason to believe he might have been?"
"No! Of course not!  He was very successful!" said Ronald, almost hiccoughing with each exclamation.  "Look around you, you can see how successful he was!"
"Thank-you, I will," said Playfair immediately, and Miss Flava had to hide her smile quickly.  It wasn't quite permission to search the house, but Playfair would rework it until it certainly sounded like permission had been granted.
"Where do you live?" she asked.  There was a crunch from somewhere nearby, and they all turned to look, a little guiltily, at where Melissa was still lying on the floor.  Thankfully Calamity was nowhere to be seen, so they all looked around the room, trying to locate the crunch.  The crunch sounded again, and they found Calamity sitting under one of the trestle tables in front of the apron, eating sandwiches from one of the trays.  The sandwich crunched in Calamity's jaws.  Playfair looked at Ronald.
"Probably the pureed broccoli and riced chicken," he said gloomily.  "I've needed dental work when I've not been able to avoid the sandwiches."
"Where do you live?" repeated Miss Flava, already dreading the next drive with Calamity.  "We'll need to come and talk to you some more about all of this, but for now you and Melissa will need to leave while we determine if this house should be treated as part of the crime scene."
"Oh.  Oh right," said Ronald, and gave her his address, also located in Little Haversham.
"Hmm," said Playfair, examining the sandwiches, but not, Miss Flava noted, doing anything to stop Calamity from eating them.  "This looks like ham in this one."
"Egg and mackerel mayonnaise," said Ronald.  "Trust me on this, Inspector."

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