The high street was quiet; there was a homeless woman, dressed in a damp dressing-gown, sitting cross-legged in front of a cardboard box outside the Post Office, and there were two dogs trotting happily along, each holding the other's lead in its mouth. A single car had driven past them in the last five minutes, and the traffic lights appeared to have defaulted to a holding pattern of green, perhaps hoping that being obliging they might summon more traffic. Miss Flava looked at Detective Inspector Playfair, who was looking in the window of a travel agency.
"I thought all of these had closed down," she said, nodding at the window where sun-faded posters showed white-sanded beaches and palm trees. There were a number of hand-written index cards advertising trips to Jordan, Syria and Israel for fifteen nights and upwards.
"The internet's done for a lot of them," said Playfair. "But don't underestimate how lazy people are. There are still those who'd rather watch someone else use the internet for them than learn how to do it themselves."
Miss Flava hmmed to herself, thinking of several of the older officers back at the police station whose only activities seemed to be making tea and watching other people do things for them.
"Right," said Playfair, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. "Let's get this over with then."
They looked both ways, even though the road was so empty that it deserved tumbleweed, and crossed over. On the other side of the road, sandwiched between a Subway and Starbucks, was a small shop with a mullioned bay window and a black-painted door with a little, corroded, brass bell at one corner. The sign painted above the window read "Tea and Tentacles".
"What does this place do again?" Playfair's voice was gruff and he appeared to be fascinated by the scuff marks on the bootscraper outside the door.
"Cthulhiana," said Miss Flava after a moment; she had to consult her notepad to check what the word was. "Louise said to tell you that it's like Victoriana, only with more tentacles."
"No!" Miss Flava couldn't decide if she was more shocked that her boss, who was definitely in his fifties, knew about that kind of cultural reference or that she found the idea of it somehow creepy. It didn't fit with her self-image of independent, well-read and liberal.
"Ah, evil squid monsters that will arise when the stars are right then," said Playfair. Miss Flava shook her head, knowing that he couldn't see her, and wondered if he'd sneaked a look at her pad back in the car. What he'd just said was word for word what Louise had told her over the phone. "Well, let's get inside and see these knick-knacks, gew-gaws and whatjamacallits for ourselves then."
"Goo-gor?" asked Miss Flava, feeling rather out of her depth.
"You probably pronounce it jew-jaw," said Playfair without a trace of humour but still managing to condescend like a deity.
"I don't pronounce it at all," she said primly, the effect rather ruined by the bell ringing as Playfair pushed the door open and drowning out her last words.
The interior of the shop was patchily lit, with small LED spotlights in the ceiling picking out display cases and shelves, leaving shadows to pool along the walls and occasionally in the middle of a display for no apparent reason. There were bookcases along the back wall, some of which were located unobtrusively behind a small counter. On the counter was a cash-box and a large calculator, and behind it was a wooden stool on a cast-iron pedastel that looked as though it belonged in a Charles Dickens novel. There were a grand total of five display cases set in the middle of the room, each containing two glass shelves and holding an oddity of items. One case seemed to be mostly jewelry, another was knives, and a third seemed to hold maps, or possibly odd drawings. Against another wall was a collection of scarves with eye-watering patterns blotched on to them by what looked like unskilled batik. In the corner nearest the door was a stuffed cat with demonic red eyes and possibly a touch of mange.
"Can I help you gentlemen?"
Miss Flava stiffened with outrage as the owner of the voice, an elderly woman shuffling along with the help of a stick, came into view from out of one of the patches of shadow.
"Police," she said, holding out her warrant card.
"Bless you dear, I can't see a thing," said the woman. "Not since the Mi-Go took my eyes away with them. They're going to bring me back some new ones you know. Improved ones, that can see into many more places."
"OK," said Miss Flava, her voice neutral. She risked a glance at Playfair, quite expecting him to be inflating his lungs ready to lecture the woman on the improbability of her eyes being worked on independently of the rest of her body, but he seemed more interested in the contents of one of the display cabinets.
"Playfair?" she said, wondering if he'd been listening.
"This statuette," he said, pointing.
"Bless you dear, I can't see a thing," said the woman as though it were an automatic response.
"It's about a foot tall," said Playfair, leaning back as though the statuette were hard to see too close up. "Has about sixteen arms, head is a bit like an exploded tulip, and appears to be standing on a pile of children's corpses."
"Oh that one," said the woman. "£170 dear, and I won't take any less."
"Doesn't it look familiar to you?" He was looking at Miss Flava, who's eyebrows elevated so rapidly they pulled her crow's feet taut behind them.
"I'm pretty certain I'd remember anyone with thirteen arms," she said.
"Sixteen, dear," said the old woman.
"Not the arms," said Playfair. "The face. Look at that and tell me that isn't Tommy Richards."
Miss Flava leaned forward, her skepticism written all over her face. A moment later it had vanished.
"That's better than the police photo-fit managed," she said. "If it weren't for the arms I'd swear it was him."
"Well, and the head's a bit on the squished side," said Playfair. "But still. Who's the sculptor?" His voice was now directed at the old woman.
"Cassandra Styles," said the woman. "I've got all the paperwork here somewhere, though if I'm going to get that out you're going to buy it."
"Not necessary," said Playfair with a ghost of a smile. "It's evidence in a presumptive murder investigation. Miss Flava, take it into protective custody please."
"What?" said Miss Flava and the old woman simultaneously.
"Now, please," said Playfair. "I want to talk to Cassandra and find out what else she's been sculpting."