I started up the van and pulled away from the kerb. “That dog you spoke to,” I said, “I couldn’t understand him.”
Weedgie snorted. “Who d’ye think ye are? Doctor frinkin’ Dolittle?”
“So…it’s only you I can understand,” I said, “Well, some of the time, anyway.”
“Think yersel’ lucky. Ye’re the only human apart fae that red bampot to get the benefit o’ ma scintillatin’ conversation.”
There was no reasonable response to this so I decided to change tack; get back onto the subject of Don and Mary.
“Right…” I ventured when we’d travelled about a mile back towards Sadie’s. “What we have so far is…Mary’s been ill for two or three months, the same length of time a woman has been coming to their house and supplying poisoned meals. Don tells Mary he’s cooking the meals. The poisoner knows what kind of food Mary likes. People get food-poisoning at Pat’s work, except for Pat and her friend Jill. Pat’s boss dies.”
“Pat and Don are in it thegither,” Weedgie said, “Don’s gone away fur the weekend and so his she. Maybe they’re away thegither.”
I thought about this and had to admit it sounded feasible.
“But why has Don kept quiet about the so-called caterer?”
“He disnae want suspicion falling oan him.”
“So why tell Mary he’s doing the cooking?”
“He’s poisonin’ her. If she dies naebody will ken who did the cookin’.”
“But she’s talking about it, telling Sadie. I heard her.”
Weedgie frowned, bushy eyebrows lowered. “He must be countin’ oan it bein’ mistaken fur an illness. That’s whit everybody thinks.”
“Then why keep taking her to doctors?”
“But it’s different yins each time - the auld biddy said so and she should know. Frinkin’ MI5. Each doctor’s probably come up wi’ a different idea aboot whit’s wrang wi’ her. That way she dies afore anyone gets suspicious and figures it oot.”
I shivered, despite the fairly warm day and the heat inside the van. “It’s horrible. Calculating and horrible.”
Weedgie shot me a look. “And this fae the geezer who killed nine folk.”
“Yes, well, I never slowly poisoned anyone and let them suffer for months. I strangled people…” My voice tailed off as I realised that probably didn’t sound as reasonable as I’d hoped.
“Aye, ye were such a gent…”
“Could you be any more sarcastic?”
“Aye, probably. Ye want me tae try?”
I clamped my lips shut; counted to ten.
And then to twenty.
My budding affection for Weedgie was coming dangerously close to disintegration. God, he was irritating. How was I supposed to take this lack of respect and not throw him out the window?
With a supreme show of willpower, I answered myself. To stay alive. To keep going until I get my reward…whatever that is. I concentrated hard and drew on all my resources, forcing myself into a state of enthusiasm.
“Okay, then,” I said, with a hint of desperation, “What now?”
“Lunch. Ah cannae think oan an empty stomach.”
“I can’t take you into cafes, unless they’ve got tables outside. And not many do.”
“Pubs. Ye can take me into pubs. Get us a pub lunch, eh?”
With a sigh, I looked around and spotted The Rose & Crown a bit further down the road. It was part of a row of shops and there was a space right outside. I parked and observed the cardboard notice stuck in the window.
“This does pub food,” I said, “’Though it might be worse than Sadie’s.”
“Doubt it.” Weedgie shuffled along the seat, ready to jump out with me. “She must be in the Guinness Book o’ Records. Maist lumps in a bowl o’ custard - nae contest.”
We went into the pub and adjusted our eyes to the gloom and cigarette smoke. I found a table in the corner then went up to the bar. I ordered and paid for two steak pies with chips and a pint of lager. When I returned to the table, Weedgie was sitting below it, peering up at me.
“Ye’re drinking and drivin’,” he said sternly, “Could ye no huv got a half pint?”
“This is the sort of pub where you get beaten up for ordering a half pint,” I said, looking around at the scarred linoleum and dented, stained copper tables, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we get passed the Black Spot. I‘ll just drink half of this and then we’ll leg it before they notice.”
“Ah’ll drink the ither half if ye want.”
“No thank you, you’re bad enough sober.” When the food came it was surprisingly good. The barmaid cooed over Weedgie and brought him a bowl of water and a bigger dish to put his steak pie in. The pair of us ate in silence and I thought over our next moves. Pat’s friend Jill might be the way forward. If we could track her down she could tell us about the food poisoning at their work.
We finished and headed out to the van. I opened the door Weedgie said;
“Ah think we should try and see this Jill. The yin that works beside Pat.”
Damn. He’d done it again.
“And how do you propose we do that?” I asked, trying to keep the acid out of my voice.
“Get intae Pat’s room and look fur Jill’s address.” Weedgie looked at me like I was simple.
Double damn. I hadn’t even worked that one out.
I was silent for the rest of the journey, trying to conjure up the burgeoning feelings I’d started to develop for Weedgie and dismiss the violent fantasies which were resurfacing in my head.
I needed to backtrack. We were a pair. A team.
“The A-Minus Team…” I murmured.
“Aye, that’s us.” Weedgie grinned at me and I bit back an answering smile. I didn’t want to think that he could get me to like him when it suited him. But it seemed that he could...
Dear God. I was being manipulated by a talking dog who looked like Mick Jagger and sounded like Billy Connolly.
I thought wistfully of the black nothingness again, and drove on in silence.
Back at the house all was quiet. I gave Weedgie Mary’s keys to return and he trotted off to her room. When he came back I found a note from Sadie on the hall table. It said that Pat and Eric were out, she was going shopping and Mary was resting in the garden.
“Braw.” Weedgie bounded for the stairs. “Let’s go.”
On the first floor, we stopped outside Pat’s door and I tried it. Locked. “We may need to go and find Sadie’s spare keys,” I said, “She’s bound to have a duplicate set somewhere.”
“Hey, d’ye think she goes in oor rooms when we’re oot?” Weedgie looked worried. “Maybe she tries on yer Big Jessie blouses.”
“Hang on.” I had an idea, fished around on top of the doorframe and found a key. “Bingo.”
Moments later, we were inside Pat’s room. It was decorated in shades of peach and had frilly curtains and a dressing table with a matching curtain around the front. A large teddy bear sat on the bed and Weedgie eyed it up.
“Ah could take that nae bother,” he said, “Gie it a guid tannin’.”
“Just leave it alone,” I said, “We don’t want her to know we’ve been in here.” And I didn’t want to know what tanning meant.
I pulled back the curtain at the dressing table and opened the top drawer. Amongst the spilled powder and eye-shadow was a small box; the kind which usually holds an expensive ring.
“Look at this.” I took out the box and opened it. A small diamond twinkled at us from a delicate gold setting. “Looks like an engagement ring. Wonder what happened?”
“Mebbe she poisoned him,” Weedgie said, “See an address book?”
I rummaged some more and sent up a cloud of powder which made Weedgie sneeze. Then I spotted a small black book, fastened to a slightly larger notebook by an elastic band. I removed the rubber band and opened the notebook first.
“Recipes,” I said and Weedgie came closer for a look, “Biscuits, sponges, cakes…seems to be full of baking ideas. D’you think Sadie lets her use the kitchen?”
“Disnae need tae.” Weedgie nodded behind me and I turned to see a Baby Belling on top of a wooden cupboard. It had two rings on top and a small oven. “That wid dae.”
I looked through the address book; there were only four or five entries and two of them were her doctor and dentist. I tore a page out of the notebook, found a pen in the drawer and copied down the addresses and phone numbers for Bernard Nicholson Insurance Co. and Jill Wright. The only other number was her own at Sadie’s.
“No’ mony friends,” Weedgie said.
“Nope,” I agreed. I pocketed the notebook page and put everything else back the way we’d found it. Then we went back out and I locked the door and replaced the key.
“Now to see Jill.” I led the way back down the stairs and out to the van.
“Shame Eric’s gone oot,” Weedgie said, climbing aboard, “We were gaun tae tell him.”
“We still don’t have any proof,” I said, “Remember we’re the only ones who think Mary’s being poisoned.”
“Aye.” He pondered this. “Mebbe we’ll huv a better idea after we talk tae this Jill wummin.”
I drove on. The A to Z was on the seat beside me and I stopped every now and then to check we were heading in the right direction. Jill’s address turned out to be in a block of high-rise flats. I turned into the car park at the front and reversed into a space.
“Frinkin’ balloobies!” Weedgie peered up through the windscreen, “Whit floor is she oan?”
“She’s number sixty eight,” I said, “I hope the lift’s working.”
We stood inside a hallway tiled with green and white squares and looked glumly at the Out of Order notice taped onto the metal door of the lift. Weedgie sighed and turned to the stairs. “Ah don’t suppose ye’d cairry me up there?”
“You don’t suppose right.” I opened the door to the stairwell and leant in. I looked up at the banisters disappearing skywards and felt dizzy. “Maybe we should phone her first?”
“Aye, she might no be in.”
We went off to look for a phone box. “I spent a week in the twenty-first century,” I said, “What I wouldn’t give for a mobile phone right now…”
The first box we came to had been vandalised and the money box emptied. Ten minutes later, we found one that worked. Weedgie squashed in beside me and I dialled Jill’s number. No reply.
“I’m glad we didn’t go all the way up there,” I said to Weedgie as we wandered back to the van, “Let’s wait a bit and see if she turns up.”
“Hey, look.” Weedgie bounded towards a football which was lying on the scrubby grass next to the flats. “Fancy a kick aboot?”
“A kick…?” Good grief, this was ridiculous.
He nudged the ball over to me and I gave it a half-hearted kick in his direction. He pounced on it, flipped it into the air and headed it back. It flew passed me and bounced off the side of the van. “Goal!” he yelled and jumped round in circles.
Forget Mick Jagger. This dog was Pele.
For the next ten minutes I struggled to gain control of the ball as Weedgie ran rings around me and scored four more goals against the side of the van.
“Hey mister! Sign ’im up for Arsenal!”
The voice belonged to a passing youth who had stopped to watch. His girlfriend stood beside him cracking gum. Behind them, a woman approached, carrying a string bag full of groceries. I smiled at the couple.
“They couldn’t afford him,” I said, which made them both laugh. Then I approached the woman as she went towards the door to the block of flats.
“Jill?” I said, “Jill Wright?”
“No, sorry.” She stopped as the couple walked on. “I’m Isobel Taylor. I live on Jill’s floor, ’though. She should be in.”
“I phoned and there was no reply,” I said.
“She’s probably next door at Mrs. Wylie’s,” she said, “Why don’t you come up and try?”
Weedgie abandoned the football and joined me and we followed her inside. To my surprise, she pulled the sign off the lift door and pressed the button.
“It’s working fine,” she said, “Some of us use this sign now and then to stop kids mucking about in it. They fall for it every time.”
We’d fallen for it too. I exchanged rueful glances with Weedgie, then the lift arrived and we sailed up to the seventeenth floor. Weedgie shook his head. “Jings bangs! Ma lugs!”
My ears were popping too. I was glad to finally escape the lift but careful not to look down through the window at the end of the hallway. I’d liked the view from Don’s office window but that had been at a manageable height. This was aeroplane flight-path height. Isobel pointed to a door. “That’s Jill’s flat,” she said, “The Wylie’s are number sixty seven.”
I thanked her and watched her go into number sixty five, then we headed for Jill’s flat. As we approached, the door next to hers opened and a woman came out. “Bye, Sarah!” she sang out as she closed it behind her and turned towards us. “Oh! You gave me a fright.”
She looked about Pat’s age but had reddish brown hair backcombed to within an inch of it’s life and white plastic earrings the size of doughnuts. She wore a red mini dress teamed with startlingly white tights and matching shoes with a small stiletto heel. A white hair band completed the look.
“Frinkin balloobies,” Weedgie said, “It’s Minnie Moose.”
“I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to startle you.” I smiled. “It’s…er…” I suddenly wondered how to broach the matter.
“Ask her aboot Pat,” Weedgie said.
“Have you seen Pat?” I said, “Is she staying with you?”
“How do you know Pat?” She frowned.
“I’m Marty. I’ve just moved into Sadie’s. This is Weedgie, my dog.”
As usual, he had the effect I’d aimed for and missed; the knack of making someone relaxed and friendly. She bent down and petted him.
“You’re Jill, Pat’s friend,” I continued, “She left in a hurry and I thought she’d come here…you‘re a good friend of hers?”
“Jill Wright.” She straightened, held out a hand and we shook. “Pat and I have worked at Nicholson’s Insurance together since we left secretarial college. Come on inside and I’ll put the kettle on. Marty, did you say?”
I nodded, relieved at the turn events had taken. We followed her into a stark, modern flat with white gloss furniture and shaggy carpets. Weedgie ran to the window and jumped up on his hind legs for a look out. He whistled. “Whit a view! Marty, come and see.”
I stood beside him and had a quick glance. “Lovely,” I said and turned away quickly. I felt as if we were in a bird’s nest swaying high in a giant‘s beanstalk.
Jill disappeared into a small kitchen which led off the living room and we heard her putting the kettle on. “Tea or coffee?” she shouted and I plumped for coffee then sat on a rather hard chair to wait. Weedgie came and sat by my side and looked up at me.
“Pat works beside Jill,“ he said, “She is a typist…no’ a caterer.”
I nodded in frustrated agreement.
“Yeah…not sure how that fits in…” I tailed off as Jill appeared with a cloth and wiped the coffee table in front of us.
“It’s nice to have guests,” she said, and I got the feeling she didn’t have many visitors as she fussed around, bringing me a cushion and asking three times if I took milk in my coffee.
“How do you like it at Sadie’s place?” she said, “She’s a good cook, isn’t she?”
I checked for signs of sarcasm and found none.
“Mmm, yes,” I said, “But Pat cooks too, doesn’t she? Or bakes, at least.”
“Oh yes.” Jill sat down opposite in a chair shaped like a bowl. “She makes lovely cakes. And her gingerbread is heavenly.”
“Right.” I nodded and took a deep breath. “And does she bring any of her cakes into work?”
“Yes. We usually have something nice for our tea break. I buy something now and again, but we all prefer Pat’s baking.”
“What about Thursday?” I hoped I sounded casual. “Did she bring cakes in then?”
Jill blinked and looked upset. “Thursday was Bernard’s birthday. That’s Mr. Nicholson, our boss. We had a bit of a party after work, just in the office. Had some wine and nibbles and then tea and coffee and Pat’s baking. She brought some lovely cinnamon buns; she’d never made them before.”
“Did they taste nice?” I held my breath. In the kitchen, the kettle started to whistle. Jill struggled out of the chair with all the grace of a giraffe exiting a sports car, and went towards the noise.
“I don’t know,” she said, “Pat and I never got to try them. They went like, well, hot cakes.” She disappeared into the kitchen and Weedgie and I looked at each other.
“There ye go,” he said, “Pat brings in poisoned buns and makes sure neither o’ them get ony.”
“But why? Why make people at work ill?” I lowered my voice.
He thought about this.
“Whit if it was only yin person she wanted tae make ill…and the rest was so it wid look like an accident? Like food-poisoning?”
“You could be right,” I said, “It makes a kind of sense. But who was she aiming to hurt? Is she after more than one person? I mean, she‘s targeting Mary too…but she can‘t be the caterer. Unless she‘s bribed someone to take the poisoned meals there every fortnight.” I was silent for a moment and then a horrible thought struck me;
“Oh my God, Weedgie! She’s a serial-killer!”