Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A moment alone

“I still think it would be better if Mike were here,” said Wendy.  “I spoke to him about twenty minutes ago, so I’m sure he’s nearly here by now.”
“I doubt it,” said Playfair, smiling again.  “It took Miss Flava and I fifteen minutes just to hike up from the car-park.  Unless Mike lives in the car-park, I’d say he’s still a way away from us.  And while we’re standing here talking, who knows what you’ve got the porters doing to the body?”
“The signs say the swimming pool is over there,” said Miss Flava, pointing.  There were little white signs with black lettering and arrows indicating directions by each closable door leading off reception.  Wendy looked furious.
“Let’s go then,” said Playfair.  “When Mike arrives we’ll be at the swimming pool.  Unless he takes a half-hour or so, in which case I imagine we’ll be back here again talking to you some more.”
Wendy scowled and glared at computer screen behind the desk.  Then she pointedly starting tapping on the keyboard and moving the mouse with sharp, jerky movements, not looking up again.  Playfair shrugged as though he had no idea what had caused her bad temper, and led the way through the archway towards the sign indicating the swimming pool.
The room off the reception was flooded with sunlight as the entire side-wall was windows held in slender steel frames.  The view, out across the town at the foot of the mountain, and then onto rolling green fields and hills, was spectacular and the kind of thing you expected to see on the cover of shortbread tins.  There were fluffy white clouds hovering in the azure sky, and dark shapes that might have been birds of prey.
The room was filled with furniture, to the point of clutter.  There were lots of small square tables, around which were invariable four hard-backed chairs.  The tables were too small for four people to comfortably eat at, and instead of cutlery, there were pencils at all four corners.  Beneath the windows were a couple of bright white sofas, overstuffed and low-seated so that sitting in them was like falling backwards into a cloud.  Miss Flava noted that they looked very hard to get up gracefully from, and probably very hard for a lady to sit gracefully on.  At the end of the room was a larger table set with the requisite four chairs, and an easel.  To the left of the easel was a wooden door with three directional signs attached to the wall, all indicating that beyond the door were the swimming pool, the changing facilities, and the Billiards room.
Playfair opened the door, yanking on the handle so hard that it literally flew open and Miss Flava felt the draught of air from it.  On the other side was a narrow, beige-carpeted corridor with institutional-green walls and tiny slit windows up near the ceiling to provide daylight.  Fluorescent tubes ran the length of the corridor in the dead-centre of the ceiling.  Near the other end one was flickering.
Miss Flava closed the door behind her out of a natural sense of tidiness, and as soon as the door clicked shut Playfair spoke.
“She’s lying,” he said.
“Well yes,” said Miss Flava, who’d noticed it as well.  “About just about everything if you ask me, but what caught your attention in particular?”
“Bob,” said Playfair, advancing down the corridor.  The narrowness of the corridor meant that he could block it by squaring his shoulders and walking down the middle of it, which he was doing.  “There’s no way she and Bob were close.  I’d say if he ever tried it on with her he went home with a fat lip.”
“Really?”  Miss Flava considered Wendy for a moment, and wondered if the woman was really capable of violence.  Most were, she admitted, but Wendy didn’t seem the type to hit people.  Sarcasm maybe, that seemed to be a given.  Or telling lies about them behind their backs.  “I was more interested in why they moved the body.  Do you think she really called the Board of Directors for advice?  It seems… I don’t know, above her station somehow.  I don’t see why she’d think to call them at all to be honest.”
“And is Clara dead or not?” asked Playfair.  He’d reached the end of the corridor now, where it branched both left and right.  The signage indicated that the pool and the changing facilities were to the left, and the Billiards room to the right.  “That seems like a very pertinent question.”
“Who’s Clara?” asked Miss Flava.  “Left, Playfair, we’re going to the swimming pool.”
Playfair reversed direction.  “I suppose the body shouldn’t wait,” he said.  “Clara, the owner of the place Clara.  Whom the pianist told us was expecting us, and that nurse told us was three years dead.  Either this body’s been here a lot longer than we knew about, and Clara died waiting for us to get here, or someone’s got the wrong end of a very sticky stick.”
The corridor widened suddenly, just in time to accommodate double doors with glass panels reinforced with steel mesh.  Playfair flung them open like a diva making her entrance on stage, and found himself confronted by another set, through which the swimming pool could be seen, and an archway to the right that led into a tiled area, presumably the start of the changing facilities.  He pushed open the second set of double doors and a whiff of chlorine made Miss Flava choke momentarily.  When her eyes cleared again the doors were swinging behind Playfair, who was striding over to a man in evening dress lying prone at the side of the pool.

No comments: