CAWL clinic – Clara’s Altitude Weight Loss Clinic according to the promotional material lying in Miss Flava’s lap – was, unsurprisingly, located near the top of a mountain. Miss Flava looked out of the passenger-side window as the car trundled up the road, its engine roaring with the effort. The view was extremely picturesque, so much so that she felt slightly nauseated looking at it. There were purple-tinged mountains in the distance, their tops wreathed around with wispy white cloud, and alpine meadows in the foreground. Little white flowers, probably Edelweiss she thought, dotted the lush green grass, and here and there a bucolic-looking cow stood idly, cudding away and regarding her back with soft, brown eyes. The only thing that was missing was cow-bells and Heidi.
She glanced back down at the brochures and turned a glossy page. The pictures showed the interior of the clinic, which appeared to be dark woods and white sheets, steel sinks and heated towel-rails, balconies and acres of wooden floor. Undoubtedly the place cost a small fortune to visit even for a day. She looked out of the window again, and spotted the cow-bell around the neck of an aggressive-looking cow as they rounded the corner. Oh good. That only left Heidi to find, and she had the complete set of clichés. She turned another page, wondering if there was any explanation as to who Clara was or why she’d chosen to build a clinic all the way up the side of a mountain. Getting the laundry done must be a real pain, and they’d probably need daily deliveries of food if all the fresh vegetables mounded onto plates in these photographs was to be believed. There were several more pages of textless photographs of the clinic, including one of a kitchen the size of a primary school teeming with white-coated chefs, presumably all chopping vegetables and cleaning lettuce. Then finally a page with some densely-worded text and, in tiny print, costs of a stay. Miss Flava squinted, then decided she was happier not knowing.
“It’s all very Mozart, isn’t it?” said Inspector Playfair. He was driving, and whereas his normal approach was to hold his foot on the accelerator until he needed to hit the brake, he was a little unaccustomed to terrain where he had to hold his foot on the accelerator or let the car roll backwards.
“Thomas Mann,” said Miss Flava automatically. Inspector Playfair looked at her quizzically. “Mozart wrote The Magic Flute,” she said. “Thomas Mann wrote The magic mountain.”
“Fine,” said Playfair looking back at the road, which was as steep and empty as ever. “It’s all very Mannly then, isn’t it?”
Miss Flava stifled a sigh, knowing that Playfair had created the bad pun deliberately to annoy her because she’d corrected him. “Yes,” she said. “Though hopefully with less tuberculosis.”
“Weight-loss clinic, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Apparently there was a study done about five years that showed that high altitudes reduced appetite and increased weight-loss in people subjected to them. Miss Clara, whoever she may be, thought she’d capitalise on this and open a weight-loss clinic at the top of a mountain.”
“So she can just take the fees and do nothing, and people will lose weight anyway? Clever girl,” said Playfair. There was a hint of grudging approval in his voice. Ahead, the road turned to the left, and as the car laboured round the corner they could see a flattish area of tarmac that was the car-park.
“Well, the brochure does list a variety of classes you can take to help lose weight,” said Miss Flava flicking back to the beginning of the brochure. “They’re all very masculine sounding though: Fat Camp, Bootcamp, Military Exercise, Fitness Regimen. Huh. All the instructors appear to have military ranks though, so maybe that’s why.”
“No spas? No manicures? Nowhere for me to get my nails done?” Playfair’s tone was neutral, and Miss Flava wondered for a brief second if he was joking, before wondering at herself for thinking that he might not have been.
“Not listed,” she said. “You probably have to ask.”
The car came to a halt in the car-park, and Playfair put the hand-brake on just in case. He opened his door and released his seatbelt in one economical movement, and got out, stretching as he did so. Then he twisted from side to side, eliciting crunching sounds from his spine, and sighed. “That’s been a long ride,” he said. “They should make these mountains smaller.”
Miss Flava got out more slowly and more stiffly, and tried to stretch more demurely. “I don’t think people build mountains, Playfair,” she said.
“They built this one. This is the only man-made mountain in the world. It started off as a spoil-heap, then it got added to by a number of urban planning projects that needed to go down to bedrock, and then finally some eccentric geezer decided to go the whole hog and turn it into a full-blown mountain.”
Miss Flava stared at her boss. He shrugged. “You can look it up if you like,” he said. “Not sure if you’ll get a signal for a phone up here though, you might have to borrow an internet connection.”
“You can’t build a mountain,” she said, aware that she was repeating herself but otherwise lost for words. “That’s ridiculous. You’d never get planning permission!”
“You should be allowed to go down 180 feet to find bedrock,” said Playfair. “But they did, and that’s why the Aperton flood plain won’t just flood but will become a lake if the River Ate ever breaks its banks. Which way do you think the clinic is then? Up?”
“What?” Miss Flava looked around, and realised that the car-park was isolated; there were no buildings in evidence around it. There was a narrow path, nearly a defile, that led further up though, and from its steepness she realised why the car-park was here and not next to the clinic itself. “Oh, I guess. It looks like the exercise starts here.”
“Oh good,” said Playfair. He was broad-shouldered and muscular, and Miss Flava suspected that he thought that getting fat was some kind of weakness. She was rake-thin, and had been all her life, but she didn’t much fancy having to walk nearly vertically up a mountain just to reach a clinic. “How do you think they get the deaders down?”
“Deaders. When someone dies at the clinic, probably from an overdose of exercise or vegetables, how do you think they get the bodies down? An ambulance wouldn’t get up as far as we did.”
Miss Flava didn’t know, but when they reached the top of the incline ten minutes later, and she was bent double trying to get her breath back and clear the coloured spots from before her eyes, a chirpy Playfair said, “Ah! A heli-pad. That’s how they do it.”