Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The cupboard under the stairs

"Don't you think the room's a bit odd?" said Miss Flava, not moving as Playfair started off towards the other door.
"No," he said.  "Come along."
"No, really, Playfair," she said.  "Look at it, it's like it's two rooms in one, a study and a lounge.  But the house is huge, so why would he need to use one room twice like this?"
"Perhaps that little theatre we just came through takes up more space that you think.  Let's look through the rooms, that'll probably tell us how he liked his house laid out."
Miss Flava looked around again, half-convinced that she was missing something about the room.  She thought that the dead magician would be hard put to entertain anyone in here, and even if he did spend his romantic liaisons elsewhere, as Ronald and his sister-in-law had suggested, surely he had to have the occasional visitor.  Even if they were all business?
"Come on!" shouted Playfair from beyond the door.  "I've found the hall!"
She knew that he was being sarcastically enthusiastic, but she found herself hurrying up just a little anyway.  For all he was obnoxious and hard to work with most of the time, she did respect both her boss's incredible ability to annoy everybody and still solve the crime, and she found herself admiring his boundless self-confidence.
The hall was carpeted in beige, had a flight of stairs leading upwards, a door below the stairs, and several doors leading off to either side.  There were no windows, and all the light came from a single, energy-saving lightbulb hanging barely from a frayed cord near the foot of the stairs.  Playfair was stood by the door beneath the stairs.
"Do you believe in witches and wizards, Miss Flava?" said Playfair.  He never called her by her first name, preferring to retain a certain level of formality that she'd long since given up with.
"No," she said.  "Why?"
"Well then, if we open this door and find a nine-year-old boy sitting in here crying and looking lost, we'll be in agreement that it probably isn't Harry Potter."
"Really?  You think the magician is keeping children in the cupboard under the stairs?"
"Keeping an open mind," said Playfair airily.  "Never expect anything."
He opened the door, which stuck a little at first and then pulled free.  No-one came out, so Playfair leaned in and shouted, "Harry Potter?  It's Voldemort, come to get you!"
"Really, Playfair," said Miss Flava, her hands on her hips as she stared at him.  "We're supposed to be investigating a crime scene."
"Yes," said Playfair.  "Which makes this a little interesting, don't you think?"  He stood aside, inviting Miss Flava to come and look inside the cupboard.  There was nothing to see directly through the door, but when she leaned in and looked to the side her eyes widened.  Hanging from a hook in the ceiling, suspended by a rope tied around its neck, was a fully-dressed body.
"It's not real," said Playfair, seeing her reaction.  "The hands are plastic, and the neck is far too thin for a human being, but why would Stormy have this hanging in the cupboard under the stairs?  We know he's got space for props over in his theatre."
Miss Flava swallowed, a slight acid taste in her mouth from her stomach's contraction at the side of a hanged body.  "That's a good question, Playfair," she managed, backing out of the cupboard and away from it.  She stood, catching her breath and relaxing.  "It does look like this wasn't part of any act."
"Right," said Playfair.  "Got a sticker for SOCO?  I think they should pay special attention to this."
"In the car," said Miss Flava.  "I can go and get–"
"No need," said Playfair.  "Just remember it and phone it in before we leave.  Now, where next?"
Miss Flava swallowed again and found her notebook to write down a reminder.  Playfair seemed to have more energy than a battery-operated bunny.

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