It was a sunny afternoon and Grad and Esther had braved the threat of a sudden shower or getting tar on their clothes to sunbathe on Brighton beach, all the while engaging in an odd sort of duel.
A couple walked past, arm in arm.
“Scorpio,” said Esther from under her sun hat. “And Virgo. Not sure that’s a good combination, given the position of Venus but it might work out anyway.”
Grad narrowed his eyes. “Ah, but it’s easy for you to say that, isn’t it? How do I know you’re right?”
“What, just from looking at passers-by like this? I’m probably wrong on a good third of them. Well, maybe a quarter. Anyway, what are you going to do – jump out and ask them all when their birthdays are?”
“I’ve got my badge. I could.”
Esther rolled her eyes. “And I’ve got a book, which I was supposed to be reading. I might try and do that before it rains.”
“What do you mean, rain? It’s glorious,” said Grad, sitting up. He was scanning the beach and their fellow sun worshippers closely for a way to settle this. “Pessimist.”
A cloud passed in front of the sun. Esther gave a smile.
“Saw it in the stars, did you?” said Grad.
“No,” said Esther. “On the weather forecast this morning.”
As the clouds gathered and became more ominous, the two of them gathered up their towels, brushed off any stray tar, and made their way off the beach.
“Tell me,” said Grad. “If an Aries was turning his mind towards romance today, would it be a propitious time, astrologically speaking?”
Esther put her arm through his. “Oh, I don’t think one should be too dependent on horoscopes – not for everything. It’s more of a guide. Personally, I think the Aries in question should go for it.”
“Should I quote you on that to your devoted followers?”
Grad grinned, and stopped to kiss her, as Esther wound her arms around his neck.
“Disgraceful,” said an elderly woman from somewhere behind them. “I’ve a good mind to report you two to the police.”
Grad turned. “Madam, I am the police!”
“It’s an undercover mission,” said Esther, giving the woman glaring at them a wink. “Very hush hush. Best say nothing at all.”
“Couldn’t you have warned me?” Grad said, once she’d passed on. “Call yourself a psychic!”
“Well, you see,” said Esther, “it probably isn’t the wisest moment for an Aries to be making romantic attachments, but I didn’t want to put you off.”
Grad held up a finger. “One thing: her. What do you reckon?”
“Oh, Cancer,” said Esther, frowning in thought. “No, no, maybe Leo. Hmm, definitely Leo.”
Mrs Ingleby was still muttering to herself about the shocking behaviour of young people these days – as if it was all right just because they were on holiday when some people had to live here! – when she suddenly found herself being chased after by the man who’d had the audacity to claim he was a policeman.
“Excuse me, madam,” he said, slightly out of breath as he reached her, “but I wanted to ask you something – it’s vital to my investigations.”
“What?” she snapped, still suspicious.
“When’s your birthday?”