Wilson pressed the button for the buzzer for number six Norfolk Crescent and the three men waited several moments at the outside door. Just as Wilson was reaching out to press the button again the intercom crackled loudly and a reedy voice could be heard.
"Why are there three of you?"
Wilson and Wilczys exchanged looks of puzzlement, while Squareknock just looked smug.
"I said," said the voice from the intercom, "why are there three of you?"
Wilson leaned in towards the intercom and said, "I do beg your pardon, ma'am," in his best doctoral Voice.
"My pardon's not for begging, thank-you very much. Now answer the question, you blighter, and tell me why there are three of you!"
"If I may," said Squareknock softly, and then addressed the intercom. "I am the specialist madam, and these are my men. The better-dressed gentleman is my journeyman, and he will be assisting me in applying the dry-cleaning fluids that we will be using, and the slightly scruffy chap is my apprentice who will be watching, asking pertinent questions, and fetching tea and crumpets as appropriate."
"You'll have to take your shoes off before you come in," said the voice, sounding calmer now. "The carpets are clean, thank Fluffy." The door buzzed loudly, and Jason grabbed the handle almost by reflex and pulled it open. Wilson stared at the door, then at the intercom, and finally at Squareknock. His mouth started to open, but Holes gestured towards the door emphatically, and ushered the two men before him into a faux-marble foyer with two lifts at the far end, and a fire-door discretely hinting at the presence of stairs.
"There is clearly a camera in the intercom," said Squareknock as they waited for the lift to arrive. "To answer the question you are dying to ask, Wilson, we already knew that a certain event had taken place in this home, so when the woman on the other end indicated that she was expecting a visitor that she didn't know, it was clear that she'd hired a specialist to deal with the problem she encountered on returning home. Having understood that, it was child's play to compare her use of language with that found in Cosmopolitan and determine how to assuage her fears."
"What does that mean in plain English, Squareknock?" The lift arrived with a soft ping, and the doors opened on an empty, carpeted square room with sixteen brass buttons laid in a single column in the left-hand wall.
"She's expecting an expert at taking the urine, and we are that man!"
"She must be Mr. Zippi's mother," said Jason suddenly. He'd been looking down at the carpeted floor of the lift, apparently in deep thought, and Holes had assumed that it was reverent awe for his deduction skills. A faint moue of annoyance passed across his face like a raincloud across the sun.
"We shall see when we meet her, but I rather think not," said Squareknock.
The lift pinged again as it arrived, and the doors slid open. The hallway was short and rectangular with a door at either end and the lift doors in the middle. One of the doors was open, and a young woman, certainly under the age of thirty, was stood in the doorway. A stench of urine hit them all at the same time, and Holes coughed, his eyes watering slightly. Wilson, more used to bodily emissions from his time as a doctor, simply winced very slightly, and Jason appeared not to notice it at all.
"Where's your kit then?" said the woman in the doorway, her nose wrinkling as though somehow the three of them were less pleasant that the urine miasma.
"In the van," said Squareknock with a smile, "save for the sample strips that my journeyman has in his coat pocket. First we must ascertain the extent of the problem, and then we can select the correct tools for the job."
"Are you somebody's mother?" said Jason, staring at her. She looked at him and frowned, her forehead barely wrinkling as she did so.
"No," she said coldly. "Why? Are you attractive to people's mothers?"
"My apprentice is a little simple," said Holes smoothly. "I suspect you remind him of the Mother Superior in the Convent School where he was abused for eight years."
"Well, that doesn't sound very nice," said the woman, her face showing conflicting emotions as she tried to resolve how annoyed she could now be. She finally gave up. "Are you coming in then?"
"No!" Squareknock took a step back and found his back pressed against the lift doors. His hand hunted for the lift-call button. "I can tell immediately from the smell that this is a grade 4 problem, and we will need the full panoply of our cleaning equipment. We shall return forthwith!"
"Bring lots of it," said the woman. "I don't know what the rascal thought he was doing, but I think he got the carpet, the curtains, and all the soft-furnishings in the small bathroom, including the cat's fuzzy mice."
"Indeed? He was very dedicated to his task, then?" Holes looked cautiously interested, clearly ready to duck out of any more invitations to enter the reeking flat.
"Blessed if I know," said the woman. "But he pee-ed on everything, I know that much!"