Friday, 25 October 2013

A body in black

Miss Flava hurried through the doors after him, knowing perfectly well that he was going to do exactly what he’d just accused the nurse of.
“Don’t touch that body, Playfair!” she called, her voice echoing oddly in the space.  “The forensic team need to see it, and it’s already been moved once.  Don’t you dare touch it!  I won’t back you up on it this time.”
Playfair halted a couple of feet from the corpse and looked back.  Miss Flava tried to slow down, and realised how wet the floor was.  She skidded forward slightly, struggling to maintain her balance, and would have succeeded if the floor hadn’t made the transition from smooth concrete to rough tile, with little lego-like protrusions to help bare feet grip just where she skidded to.
A hand caught her elbow and steadied her, and she caught her breath.  Playfair looked at her, and for a moment she thought she saw something almost human in his eyes.  Then he’d looked away and was looking at the body again.
“No,” she said firmly.  “I’m very grateful for you catching me, but that does not mean that you get to mess with the evidence.  We wait for the forensics guys to get here.”
“SOCO’ll take ages,” said Playfair, just a little plaintively.  “It seems ridiculous to have the best source of clues sitting there decomposing and to stand around admiring it.  It’s not like this is the Tate, you know.”
Miss Flava had spent the previous weekend going round the Tate in London with an overenthusiastic artist who was trying to date her.  She’d spent nearly eight hours on her feet looking at just about everything the gallery had to offer, and being told lots of historical (and occasionally inaccurate) information about it all.  They’d done paintings, installations and sculptures, and while some of them had genuinely impressed her, a lot of it, despite her boyfriend’s best efforts, had left her cold.  She completely agreed with Playfair that this could have been an installation in there.
“You’re thinking of Tracy Emin,” she said.  “That’s the kind of thing she’d exhibit.”
“I’m not,” said Playfair.  “I don’t know who she is.  How long do you think it will take SOCO to get up that hill out there?”
“Well they’re not that fit, as a group,” said Miss Flava thoughtfully.  “And they’ve got quite a lot of equipment to carry.”
“Heavy equipment,” added Playfair helpfully.
“Right.  So… a good half-an-hour I should think.  And they’ll be grumpy when they get here.  So if you think I’m telling you off for wanting to touch the body now, think about what they’ll have to say when they find out what you’ve done.”
Playfair looked away and stared around the room.  Miss Flava had seem him have shouting matches with forensics guys before now, and although he’d usually won them, he did sometimes get a run for his money.  She was curious actually as to why he was holding back; it wasn’t as though he ever listened to her unless she was saying what he already wanted to hear.
The swimming pool had natural light coming through horizontal slit windows up near the ceiling, and fluorescent lights arranged around the edges of the room.  The combined effect was to leave the centre of the pool slightly dimmer than anywhere else, but there was plenty of light to see the body by.  There was a dull hum, probably from a filtration unit – she recalled that the nurse had been going to say that they hadn’t wanted the body to contaminate the pool, so she guessed that they had no intention of draining the pool and refilling it even though a corpse had been found in there.  She shuddered, glad that she wasn’t a guest here.  There were wooden slatted benches pushed up against the wall on three sides of the room, presumably to allow people to sit out when they were tired of swimming, or possibly for an audience in case there were competitions going on.  Miss Flava fished in her pocket for her notebook and made a note to ask about competitions or exhibitions that might happen here.  There was a strong smell of chlorine in the air, enough that from time to time it caught in the back of her throat and made it tricky to breath in for a heartbeat.  She wondered if that was normal too, it seemed like a lot of chlorine for an indoor pool.
“No thermostat,” said Playfair.
“What?”  Miss Flava looked around, but she couldn’t see the distant walls clearly enough to see for any switches or dials.
“No thermostat,” said Playfair.  “Temperature must be regulated from somewhere else.”
“Probably the filtration room,” she said.  “You can hear the hum.”
“Right,” said Playfair.  “Where do reckon that is then?”
“We need to know what temperature the water’s at,” he said.  “The body was in it for some length of time, and that will affect it’s rate of cooling.  And also I want to see if it’s been changed recently.”
Miss Flava smiled.  “Up or down?”
“Either or both,” he said.  “It’ll still tell us something.”
They found the door fairly quickly, hidden behind a shelf of flotation aids that wheeled easily out of the way.  It was green, metal, had ventilation fans in it, and was, of course, locked.
“I’ll go and ask for the key, shall I?” said Miss Flava, knowing she was wasting her breath.
“No, I got this,” said Playfair producing what looked like nailfiles from a small leather pouch that came from an inside pocket of his jacket.
“It would seem more legal if I went and got the key,” said Miss Flava while he poked them into the lock.
“And they’d know that we were checking this,” said Playfair.  “This way I get to find out before they know I know.  That gives us an edge, and this is all about finding the right edge.  Something’s going on here, that much is obvious, and I don’t think it’s just a murder.”  There was a click and Playfair turned and beamed at her.  “Forty seconds,” he said.  “It’s an easy one, because it’s indoors and only really intended to keep nosy people out.”
“Like us?”
“Like us.  But forty’s still pretty good.”
“It could just be a murder and some slightly stupid members of staff, Playfair,” said Miss Flava, but she didn’t believe herself.  Nurse Wendy had made her suspicious too.
“Hah.”  Playfair opened the door and reached in and groped around the edges of the room until he found a light-switch, and pressed it down.

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