The next name on the list was Melanie Joseph and Playfair tsked when he saw it.
“Do you think Kevin’s tried it one with this one too?” he asked. Miss Flava, who was looking up and could see Melanie approaching, smiled and said,
“I doubt it. I think he’d be worried that she’d say yes.”
“What on earth makes you say th–“ said Playfair, his voice disappearing as he looked up and was confronted by a tiny old lady, wrinkled as an ancient apple, with Cardinal red hair and bright grey eyes. She thrust her hand out at him, and he sat back slightly, looking at it as though it was poisonous.
“I don’t bite,” said Melanie, continuing to offer her hand. Playfair took it a little reluctantly and shook it. It was warm and dry, her palms were smooth, but her fingers never moved from their slightly contracted, almost claw like shape. “I used to, when I was younger, but even then it wasn’t in public.” Her voice was papery as though she had something slightly wrong with her throat, but she spoke quickly and precisely as though she’d already thought about what she was going to say. She offered her hand next to Miss Flava, who shook it immediately, and with more warmth. “May I sit down, or is this going to be quick?”
“Sit, please,” said Playfair waving a hand. “I’ll try and keep it quick, but that does depend on you to some extent.”
“You met Kevin already,” said Melanie as she sat. “He said so as he was coming out. Going to the gym probably. Nice lad, but a one-track mind.”
“We’re not here to talk about Kevin. Can you tell us who you are, and what your reason for being here is, please?”
“I’m Melanie Joseph, and that’s a Ms. thankyou. I had a husband once. In fact I had four of them, one after another, and they never got any easier to manage. I gave up after the last one died, and it’s been a relief ever since. I’m here because I’m an old lady and this is a clinic. It’s a nice place to stay and be looked after, and the view is stunning.”
“It’s surely not a cheap place to stay,” said Playfair, and Miss Flava nodded, remembering the brochure. “I doubt you could afford this on a state pension.”
“That’s very intrusive of you,” said Melanie. “And I’m sure that it’s not relevant to your investigation.”
“Hard to say,” said Playfair, shrugging his shoulders. “It could be that you’ve committed the crime here to cover up the fact that you haven’t got the funds to stay here any longer. Or you might have been the intended target and are still in danger. You don’t have to tell us, but it would certainly help us make more intelligent decisions if you do.”
Miss Flava carefully didn’t look at her boss to avoid letting Ms. Joseph see how impressed she was by his off-the-cuff description of why she should tell them how she was funded. She wondered if it was really ethical to let Ms. Joseph think that she might be the next victim of a murderer, but Ms. Joseph seemed clever enough not to let Playfair get to her that easily.
“Hah. Oh, very good Inspector, or whatever rank you are! What a nice way to threaten a little old lady!”
“The scales of Justice need a little polishing from time to time,” said Playfair carefully. “To keep them shiny and bright.”
“With those words it’s a wonder your polish doesn’t eat holes in them! Very well Inspector, I am independently wealthy, and I have a financial advisor who can explain to you what that means in more detail if you’d really like to know. My husbands all worked, bless them, and I took an interest in what they did, both mentally and financially. And though they’re now beyond my reach, they’re still looking after me.”
“Did they all die of natural causes?”
There was a moment of silence and Miss Flava braced herself for the outburst that was sure to follow. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d have had to pause an investigation while she took down a complaint about or against Playfair. She turned a page in her notebook and readied her pencil.
“Wuhahahaha!” Melanie doubled up with laughter, turning into a small ball with the enthusiasm of it. When she unfurled a little, Miss Flava could see that her face had gone as red as her hair, and tears were leaking silverly from the corners of her eyes. “Oh Inspector, I like you. Not enough to marry you, mind, but if I were twenty years younger I’d think about it. Hahaha, natural causes! You go dig them up, if you want Inspector. I’ll wait! I’ll wait! I’ve waited thirty years since the last one died, it would make me laugh some more to see their old bones out in the daylight again, accusing me. Oh my, natural causes!”
When the laughter had died down Playfair, who was now smiling broadly, continued his questioning. Had she heard anything unusual in the last day, or seen anything odd. Did she know Bob, the Day shift manager? Were there any specific therapies she’d used at the clinic, and who had administered them?
Melanie smiled as well and answered quickly: Nothing odd had happened that she’d seen, and although she knew Bob she hadn’t seen much of him in the last few days. She’d been here nearly two months now, so she knew that was a little unusual, but she hadn’t thought much of it. She had a list of age-related therapies that she was taking, and she didn’t know off-hand which she’d had yesterday, but she’d authorise the clinic to release the details if Inspector Playfair thought it might be useful.
Inspector Playfair nodded and said that he was sure it would be.
And with that, her interview was over and she departed again, moving slightly stiffly but swiftly nonetheless, and left Miss Flava tapping her pencil against her notebook thoughtfully.
“She seems a lot younger than she claims to be,” she said. “Whatever therapies she’s taking must be working.”
“She’s a sly devil,” said Playfair. “She hasn’t told us what she’s doing here you know.”
“She’s here for therapy,” said Miss Flava, surprised. “She told us that.”
“No, she’s here having therapy,” said Playfair. “But she could get age-related therapies in lots of places. Why here? What makes this place special? I’m sure it’s not the weight-loss effects of altitude for her, and you’d think that high altitude and thin air would be bad for you if you’re old and might not have such good lung capacity any more. No, she’s up to something and she’s very cleverly hiding it from us so that we don’t even know what it is that’s being hidden.”
“Do you think that you might overthink things sometimes?” asked Miss Flava, but there was no barb in her words. She’d seen Playfair make these intuitive leaps before with devastating success. “And you can’t possibly think she killed Bob. She can’t be more than half his height, let alone twice his age!”
“There is that,” admitted Playfair after a moment. “But just because she doesn’t look like a killer doesn’t mean she isn’t. This could be a locked room mystery.”
“I hope not,” said Miss Flava, with deep sincerity.