Miss Flava and Inspector Playfair were sat in the lounge. Like the room off the reception, it had one wall entirely taken up with windows, providing another spectacular view from the mountain top, with green, flower-strewn meadows falling away and fluffy white clouds dotting the perfect-blue sky. The furniture in here was less cluttered, more spread-out, and featured firm sofas clustered around low wooden coffee tables, and some stuffed, high-back armchairs gathered in a semi-circle around a fireplace. There were logs in the fireplace that looked either new or fake, Miss Flava hadn’t yet decided which was more likely, and a mantlepiece held an ormolu clock and photographs of horses. She and Playfair were sat in the armchairs on one side of the semi-circle, and the pianist was sat opposite them. He looked nervous, and was playing with a thread hanging from the button-hole of his shirt-cuffs.
Back in the pool room the Scene-of-crime Officers were gathered around the body and strewing yellow tape everywhere. They had shooed Playfair out the moment they saw him, but Miss Flava was given to understand that she could stay and watch, if she wanted, but she wasn’t to touch anything. Playfair had shaken his head, and so she’d refused; if he’d thought that there was anything special going to found on the body she was sure he’d just have walked off and left her there.
She’d just finished explaining to the pianist what his rights were in the matter, and why they were talking to him. He looked unhappy, but hadn’t attempted to leave or complain that they couldn’t do this, so she counted this as a small victory.
“Did you know the victim?” she asked, working down a short, but standard, list of questions that she liked to try and get through before Playfair went off at a tangent. The pianist looked a little puzzled.
“Well yes,” he said. “He’s Bob, he’s the day-shift manager. He employed me. Of course I knew him.”
“Thank-you,” said Miss Flava. “I’m asking purely for the record. Some of these questions will seem a little simple, or the answers will seem obvious, but I need to ask them and to hear your answer so that we don’t jump to any conclusions.”
“Lawyers,” said Playfair with a harrumph. The pianist looked at him then, and looked away, back at Miss Flava.
“I suppose what you’re not saying,” he said, “is that if you decide I murdered Bob and you haven’t gone through your list of questions, then some lawyer might find a way to say that you didn’t follow procedure and so I can’t be tried.”
“Mostly,” said Playfair.
“Not exactly,” said Miss Flava. “That’s not quite how trials work, no matter what you see on television. But it is important that we understand exactly how things came to this position, so that we can find the murderer.”
“Or murderess,” said the pianist.
“Well, it could be a woman, couldn’t it?” he asked. “It doesn’t have to be a man. Or was Bob killed in some way that rules a woman out?”
“Is there any kind of murder that could rule a woman out?” asked Playfair.
“Well I don’t know,” said the pianist. “Perhaps if Bob’s back was broken by a punch, or something, something that needed a lot of strength, perhaps. Maybe he was stabbed with a pen, and it was forced through muscle, or bone, or something.”
“I’ll give you a tenner if you can beat Miss Flava here in arm-wrestling,” said Playfair. “And why do you think that the murderer broke Bob’s back?”
“Uh, I don’t,” said the pianist, his face going pale. “I was just suggesting ideas, um. Well, you know.”
“Right,” said Miss Flava. “Might I suggest that you stop giving Playfair ideas and just answer the questions?”
“Yes,” said the pianist. He seemed to sag in on himself a little, but he answered the rest of Miss Flava’s questions quietly and to the point.
“Who else is staying in the clinic that you know of?” asked Miss Flava.
“Oh, well I don’t know names,” said the pianist. “I just play the piano, and I’m not really supposed to mingle with the clients. They’re all here for treatment, and I’m just staff. But there’s some bodybuilders, because of the competition that’s going on, there’s a few of them, and then there’s the usual middle-aged women who want to look younger. Oh, and there’s another man who doesn’t seem like he belongs here. He keeps himself to himself though.”
“What do you mean, doesn’t seem like he belongs here?” Miss Flava wrote quickly, her pencil scratching across the coarse paper of her notepad.
“Well, he’s ridiculously thin,” said the pianist. “He’s like a stick with a ping-pong ball on top.” Playfair barked a laugh, but didn’t follow it up with an interruption, so the pianist continued. “He can’t be here to lose weight, but the clinic doesn’t do bulking up, or health cures or anything. It’s focused around losing weight and being beautiful.”
“Could he be here for a beauty treatment?” asked Miss Flava.
“I suppose,” said the pianist, but he didn’t sound convinced.
“Who else works here?” asked Playfair. “We’ve met you and Nurse Wendy so far, and we’ve seen Bob’s body. The nurse mentioned a night shift manager.”
“Mike,” said the pianist. “He should have arrived by now, I don’t know what’s keeping him. Um, other than Mike and Bob there’s Wendy, there’s me, there’s the kitchen staff, I think there’s a few chefs and there’re some porters. There’s the pool guy, he makes sure that the pool’s all working properly and there’s nothing wrong with it. And then there’s Doctor Demson, he’s the presiding doctor for the clinic. But he’s hardly ever here unless–“ He stopped, and looked from Miss Flava to Playfair.
“Unless?” said Miss Flava.
“Well… unless anything goes wrong. Not that it ever does!” He looked at his feet now, and refused to be drawn any further when Miss Flava pressed him. Finally she gave up and looked at Playfair.
“How about Clara?” he said.
“Clara?” The pianist didn’t look up.
“When we arrived you said that she was inside and would meet us. We never met her.”
“Oh, you must have misheard me,” said the pianist. “Clara’s dead, she has been for a while. I can’t think what I could have said that you’d have misheard like that though. Perhaps I was just asking you to go in?”
“That must be it,” said Playfair. “Thank-you, you’ve been enlightening.”
The pianist looked up now, his cheeks still pale but with a bright red spot in the middle of each, as though he couldn’t decide if he should be embarrassed or frightened and was trying out both.
“You can go,” said Playfair, and the pianist stood up immediately. He smoothed down his suit jacket, and paused, his mouth opening and though to say something, and then he seemed to think better of it and left the little semi-circle of chairs.
“Curious chap,” said Playfair thoughtfully. “I wonder why he changed his mind about Clara?”
“Nurse Wendy told him to?” said Miss Flava. She flicked back through the notes she’d made, rereading them and considering what she’d heard.
“Or perhaps Clara did,” said Playfair. “But either way, someone doesn’t want us to think that we might be able to talk to Clara. I wonder why?”
“I’m absolutely certain you’ll find out,” said Miss Flava. “You hate people creating unnecessary mysteries.”