Saturday, 19 October 2013


The heli-pad was set off to the side of the clinic, with what looked like about three-hundred feet of flat, grassy ground between the two.  The clinic looked like a small hotel; four stories of smart-white building; each floor had eight sets of french-windows opening out on to a balcony framed by a cast-iron railing.  Some of the doors were open, and a white net curtain was blowing from one of them.  At the ground-floor there was a portico jutting out from the main building, presumably to give the smokers somewhere to shelter when the weather turned bad, that extended about forty feet and had large white planters spaced around it.  The planters held roses that were attempting to climb up the columns supporting the portico, but they didn’t look very enthusiastic about it, and Miss Flava was off the opinion that by growing up here in the first place they were already high enough up.  The main doors were closed, but one was opening even as she watched, and a short, tubby man wearing a tuxedo was emerging.  She forced herself to straighten up, and heaved another breath that seemed somehow to not be enough.
“Good afternoon!” bellowed Playfair happily, not moving.  The tuxedo’d man came forward hesitantly, as though expecting Playfair to start moving towards him.  Playfair simply stood and waited until he’d hop-skipped his way over to them, and then stuck a hand out.  Miss Flava almost called out from the man in the tuxedo to stop, but it would have been too late anyway.  He put his hand into Playfair’s, and she could see the pain cross his face as Playfair squeezed like an anaconda and shook like an alligator seizing its lunch.  When he let go she could see the man in the tuxedo evaluating if his arm had dislocated or not.
“You must be the doorman,” said Playfair, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he’d just shook his hand.  “We’re here to see the owner.”
“I’m the pianist,” said the man bending and straightening his arm gingerly.  “The doorman’s on his break.  Most people just go to reception and sign in, you know.”  He looked at them both.  “And you have to carry your own luggage at the moment.  The porter’s d– definitely not feeling well.”
“He’s dead,” said Miss Flava making the pianist jump.  “We’re the police.  That’s Inspector Playfair, and I’m Miss Flava.  Someone here is hopefully expecting us.”
“Ah, yes, that would me,”said the pianist.  He stuck his hand out again, surely an automatic gesture, and Miss Flava had to hide a smile behind her own hand as Inspector Playfair seized it again and shook heartily.  “Ow.  Clara is expecting you too, I’m just here to make sure that.  Ow.  I’m just.  Ow.  I’m.  Oh, just go in.”  He rubbed his elbow vigorously and muttered ow under his breath again.  Playfair ignored him, and looked over at Miss Flava.
“Got your breath back?” he asked.  “This altitude will kill you if you’re not careful, or not adapted.”
“Yes, thank-you,” said Miss Flava, just a little stiffly.  “And don’t be ridiculous.  Heights don’t kill people, it’s hitting the ground that does that.”
“Heh,” said Playfair.  “I’d get that internet connection as soon as you can then, as altitude definitely does kill people.  Why do you think they have base stations on the high mountains?”
“…because they take days to climb,” said Miss Flava.  “Everyone knows that.  Come on Playfair, stop messing around and let’s go and find the body.”
Playfair let her take the lead and she pushed the main doors open and resisted the temptation to let it fall onto Playfair.  The man could be so smug as to be loathsome sometimes.
The clinic reception was muted; the walls were ash grey and the carpet was moss-green.  There was a large, curving reception desk taking up about a third of the room, behind which was sat a woman wearing a starched white nurse’s uniform.  There were pigeonholes, some of which contains manila envelopes and sheets of paper, behind her, and a couple of steel filing cabinets.  A closed door indicated that there was another room behind there as well.  To the left of the reception was an archway that lead through into a well-lit room with chairs and tables, and to the right were a row of hard-backed chairs and a small coffee-table covered with ancient magazines.  Miss Flava noted Just Seventeen and Cosmopolitan and wondered exactly what the average age of the clientele was.  This side of the room reminded her strongly of a doctor’s waiting room.
“Can I help you?” asked the woman behind the desk.  She wasn’t looking at either of them, seemingly more interested in something on the table in front of her.
“Yes,” said Playfair walking up to the desk.  He put both hands on it, directly in front of her, and leaned over the desk to see what she was looking at.  It was a 7” tablet computer showing a table of some kind, with the cells filled in with long, foreign-looking words.  The nurse turned it over and looked up at him.
“Diet?” she said.  She had brown eyes and auburn hair and looked to be in her mid-thirties.  Her badge, next to her watch, read SRN Hulme.
“No thanks,” said Playfair.
“Then what do you want?”
“Police,” he said, fishing in his pocket for his badge.  After a couple of seconds groping he found it and presented it to her.  She sat back slightly, now alert and watchful.
“Right,” she said, and then said nothing more.  Playfair met her gaze and held it.
“We’re here about the murder,” said Miss Flava recognising that the immovable object had met the unstoppable force.  “We’re expecting to meet the owner.  Clara?”
“Clara’s been dead for three years,” said the nurse not dropping her gaze from Playfair’s.  “Presumably you don’t think she’s been murdered.  The current owner is Sequester Options, a private equity firm, and the current manager, Bob Flind, is your body.”
“Thank-you,” said Miss Flava.  She pulled out her notebook and quickly noted down what the nurse had said, while the nurse and Playfair continued to attempt to out-stare each other.  “Who’s in charge when Bob’s dead?”
“That would be Michael, Mike Humber,” said the nurse.  “He’s due in any minute now; we called him after we called you.”

No comments: