I walked into the house. Her house smelt fresh and clean but not very warm. It smelt faintly of bleach. I wondered vaguely if she was an obsessive cleaner or if it was Special Branch who had been cleaning up during their evidence gathering. Or the often missed third option – both. It had been my impression over the years that the most common misdiagnosis by inspectors was due to missing the blend option. Oftentimes things weren’t as clear and organised as to have only an option a and an option b. Sometimes, often even, it was both. Or in the direst of investigations it was option c.
I was supposed to be interviewing this woman but why? I knew now that it was no longer a case of bird ‘flu, but what was it instead? I could ask her but presumably if she actually knew she’d have mentioned it already. I decided to go ahead. Cadeau hadn’t seemed particularly keen for me to be here in the first place it would be best perhaps to at least aim at the impression of a normal investigation.
Her house was arranged unorthodoxly with her front room at the back, which led to my first question as I walked into the room.
“Unusual to find the front room at the back, wouldn’t you say Ms…” I felt leaving things dangling was possibly the best way to get information.
“What is the purpose of this she said,” She said this in a voice that was not on directional volume. A voice that boomed in all directions. The purpose seemed to be to attract the attention of anyone other than myself to respond.
“Mr Citron is aiding us with our investigations,” Geoffrey chipped in.
“Well what’s the point of him? What about the other five men who have been in here. At least they seemed to have bothered to learn my name”.
“W-W-Well,” Geoffrey stammered, “your case has been being upgraded and moved around as we’ve got more information about it. We started by believing that your house was the epicentre of a case of bird ‘flu. But now we think this isn’t true. But unfortunately we don’t know what it is now. Now that it has become an obscure non-contagious case we have brought in Mr Citron.”
“Oh,” she said, as though the matter had been settled some hours ago and that Geoffrey had been reiterating rather than revealing.
“So,” I ventured, “Ms…”
“This lady is,” Geoffrey started.
“This lady can speak for herself,” she said on her own behalf, “I am Sarah Lockwinter. Miss Sarah Lockwinter. And you I notice are a Mr rather than a detective. Why is that.”
“Ah,” Geoffrey started.
“I too can speak for myself,” I said stopping Geoffrey short, “I am a kind of contract worker. I only get brought in if the case is really strange and the police can’t solve it. They don’t always characterise it this way but it’s true isn’t it Geoffrey.”
“Yes, yes it’s true.”
“I’m a gun for hire, but I do – just like those old fashioned criminals have certain principles.”
“What are they?” she asked.
“Well, I never like to interview sober. What do you say to a drink?”
Sarah nodded at this, stood up from her couch and walked over to the drinks cabinet.
“Officer,” she said to Geoffrey, “do you mind leaving us alone for a moment. I wouldn’t like to put temptation in your path.”
“Oh don’t mind me,” Geoffrey said.
“I do mind you, thanks.” Said Sarah, and with that she gave him a look so filthy that you would really have thought it would be a requirement to join a nunnery afterwards just to purge the spirit. It was a micro gesture but it was enough to convey to Geoffrey that he should back out of the room and wait until we were finished. And so that is exactly what Geoffrey did. He nodded at me just before he left. It was a nod asking for reassurance, I gave him none. It would have compromised me with the witness.
“So, Mr Citron, what’s your poison?”
“Hmm, a slightly less original joke than you’d probably hoped.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Well, never mind. You weren’t to know. I still get it less often than I get the offer of a squeeze of lemon. People like to say, ‘Mr Citron, a squeeze of lemon?’ which is particularly stupid because the drink I drink most often would curdle with such an addition and yet they say it to me anyway.”
“So what’s that?”
“What’s the drink.”
“Ah a White Russian.”
“That requires milk doesn’t it.”
“Yes. Sadly the police have my milk?”
“As evidence? But we know it’s not ‘flu now.”
“No, for their tea.”
There was suddenly a silence in the room. In fact this would have been the kind of situation where a breeze would have picked up to make a slight whistling sound if there had been one – but all of the windows were fastened shut.
“So what will it be.”
“I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
“Okay then a gin and cranberry.”
“You can have something else.”
“No, no. A promise is a promise.”
What had I let myself in for? I had been willing to accept any kind of regular alcohol and maybe tonic or water but to have fruit introduced was asking for trouble in my book.
She brought the drink over. It even had ice in it which she’d fished out of a plastic pineapple. I took a sip. It was immediately refreshing and then the after-taste made you feel more thirsty than you had at the start. It seemed like a dangerous kind of a drink. One that made you want more the more that you drank. Ye Gods!
I looked her in the eyes and said, “tell me about your neighbour’s cats.”
“What?” she asked as she looked surprised.
Tune in next week for the fourth and final part of The Citron Investigation: The Influenza Adventure.