“Is that no’ clever?” Weedgie said, as we watched her disappear through the kitchen door, “Ah mean, clever in a sleekit way.”
“Why can‘t you just say sly?”
“Because I‘m sayin’ sleekit.” Weedgie spoke as if I were three years old. “Don lets Mary think he makes the meals - which we cannae prove - and she writes the labels fur them. That makes it look like Mary made the meals, doesn’t it?”
“It looks like she’s poisoning herself,” I said, and then a suspicion found it’s way into my head, “You don’t think she is, do you?”
“She could be, ah suppose…maybe she found oot aboot Don’s affair and she’s doin’ this tae make him feel guilty.”
“Oh, for crying out loud…” I threw my arms up in frustration. “Now I don’t know what to think.”
Weedgie sighed. “Naw. Ah still think someone’s trying tae kill her. That’s why we’re here, mind? Tae stop it?”
“But we don’t know who to stop,” I said, “Maybe we should take the night off. We might be better detectives on a Sunday…”
“We should keep that box.” Weedgie nodded towards the plastic container. “It’s evidence.”
“You’re right. I’ll stash it in our room. Back in a minute.”
I nipped upstairs to our room and put the carrier bag with the container inside into the bottom of the wardrobe. I came back down just as the front door burst open and Sadie staggered in with an armload of bags and something smelling wonderfully of vinegar.
“Fish and chips,” she said with a grin, “No cooking tonight, come and get it!”
I decided that no cooking tonight were the sweetest words ever to pass Sadie’s lips. Weedgie bounced up and down on the spot, tongue lolling.
Mary emerged from the kitchen with a teapot and Eric came down the stairs and helped Sadie with her bags. Then everyone headed to the dining room where plates were quickly heated and cutlery brought out of the drawer. A few minutes later, we were all seated around the table tucking in, with Weedgie in his usual position at my feet. His Wedgwood bowl overflowed with a large fish.
“Braw!” was his only comment before he tucked in.
I ate my meal in a trance, oblivious to the conversation around me. I wondered when Pat would return, and if I could really prove that she had baked poisonous cakes and taken them into work.
After dinner, Eric went off to change and returned downstairs in a natty blue suit.
“Jings bangs,” Weedgie said, “It’s a Burton’s dummy.”
“Nice suit,” I said to Eric, while Weedgie added;
“If ye’re in a Tarantino film or a shop windae…”
“Thanks.” Eric smiled as I tried to keep a straight face.
The three of us left in the van a few minutes later and I kept the conversation on safe topics like music and what nightclubs Eric and Jill went to. After we’d dropped him off at the flats where she lived, Weedgie turned to me and said wistfully;
“Ah’d like tae go tae a nightclub. Could we no’ go wi’ them?”
“No, we couldn’t.” I sighed. “They wouldn’t let you in, and anyway, we’re supposed to be keeping a low profile. You trying to do the Twist on some dance floor is not a low profile.”
“Hmmph. Suppose ye’re right.”
He sat and stared out of his window as I drove away. And then I realised I was stuck on a Saturday night with nowhere to go and no-one to go with apart from Weedgie.
Could the black nothingness really be much worse?
I drove around until I found the edge of a park and stopped the van. We sat for a while and then I said;
“Those cookies of Pat‘s were good, weren‘t they?”
“Cookies are easy enough tae make,” Weedgie said.
I snorted. “Oh yes? You could make cookies, could you?”
He straightened up. “Aye ah could. Ye get yer butter, caster sugar, thallium sulfate, the yellow bit oot an egg, plain flour -”
I looked at him. “What? What was that?”
“He sighed. “The yellow bit oot an egg, whit dae ye call it -”
“No, no,” I said, “Before that. Something sulfate?”
“Butter, sugar, thallium sulfate -”
“Yes, that. Thallium sulfate.” I frowned. “Never heard of that. What is it?”
“Don’t ken. White pooder. Ye don’t use much.”
“Is it like baking powder?”
“Ah suppose.” Weedgie did his strange attempt at a shrug. “Ye mix a’ that up and that’s yer basic cookie dough. Then ye add yer flavourins.”
“Ooh, hark at you!” I grinned. “Fanny Craddock.”
“Haw! There’s nae need fur that kind o’ language. Wash yer mooth oot wi’ soap.” He shook his head and muttered. “And ah’m the yin who’s no’ supposed tae swear…”
“I wonder if it‘s worth going back to Don‘s company for a look about. I know it’ll be closed for the weekend, but…” I said, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel.
He looked at me and frowned. “Ah’ve remembered ah forgot something,” he said, “Ah mean, ah’ve forgotten something ah should huv remembered. Ach, somethin’ wis there…and noo it’s awa’.”
“Never mind, it‘ll come back to you,” I said, “Let’s see if there’s a football in the back and we can have a kick about this park.”
As soon as the words left my mouth I thought, what the…? then I told myself I’d suggested this because I needed some exercise to work off the fish and chips.
“Braw!” Weedgie jumped up and we climbed out and went around the back of the van. I opened the doors and there was a black and white football rolling around. I took it out, locked up the van and spent the next hour chasing after the ball as Weedgie kicked it, headed it and ran between my legs with it. When I noticed we’d gathered a small audience of dog-walkers and youths I figured it was time to leave.
I decided it wouldn’t be worth a trip through Saturday night traffic to Don’s company, so we drove back to Sadie’s and headed up to our room. I refilled Weedgie’s water bowl and put out some more crunchy bones for him.
“Ye’re getting’ better at yer dog ownin’ duties,” he told me.
“Wish I was getting better at working out how to save Mary,” I said and he stopped crunching bones and stared at me.
“What?” I said.
“Ah’ve remembered,” he said, “The writin’. Ah ken where ah saw it.”
“Don’s work. Watkins & Scott. Ah saw it afore. It was wee writin’.”
“So, where did you see it?”
“On the wee box. The thallium sulfate box.”
I was puzzled. “Are you sure? Where did you see this box?”
“Doonstairs.” Weedgie jerked his head towards the door. “In Sadie’s kitchen. Ah read it when she was bakin’. Ah read a’ the boxes and packets.”
“The cookie recipe,” I said and he nodded.
Something felt wrong, but I couldn’t quite work out what…
“The fur oan ma neck’s staunin’ up,” Weedgie said, “Ah’ve got a funny feelin’ aboot this.”
“Me too,” I said, starting to pace up and down. Weedgie went and sat in his furry bed and watched me.
“Don’s company make lenses,” I said, as I passed him.
“Aye,” Weedgie said.
“And Sadie has a box with their company name on it.” I turned and came back.
“Aye. It was oan a label. Stuck oan the front.”
“They don’t make the powder? The thallium sulfate?”
Weedgie thought about this as I passed again.
“Naw,” he said eventually, “It was a plain coloured box wi’ that sticker oan the front an’ a funny wee drawin’ under it.”
“Why would Don’s company use baking powder?” It didn’t make sense. I stopped pacing and faced Weedgie.
“What was the funny wee drawing?” I said and he sniggered.
“Ah luv it when ye try tae speak Scottish.”
“The drawing?” I frowned at him.
“Awright, keep yer drawers oan. It was a wee face and some bones like they yins.” He nodded towards his crunchy bones and I thought, a face and bones…
“Oh my God,” I said, “A skull and crossbones? Was that it?”
“Aye. Like pirates huv oan their flags.” Weedgie stood up, his tail wagging madly. “Whit does that mean?”
“It means we’ve found what goes into Mary’s food, Weedgie,” I said, “It means thallium sulfate is poisonous.”
“Frinkin’ balloobies!” Weedgie jumped out of his bed and started pacing up and down in the opposite direction to me.
For the next few minutes, we were both deep in thought, processing this unexpected development.
We paced, we passed each other, we paced, we turned, we paced, we passed each other, we paced, we turned, we paced, we didn’t quite manage to pass each other and I tripped over Weedgie and fell flat on my face.
“Ooyah!” Weedgie jumped away.
I groaned and turned onto my back. Weedgie pounced.
“Ooof!” He landed on my stomach and chest, and stared down into my face.
“Ah saw Sadie put that pooder in the biscuits,” he said, “Why did ah no’ stop her? Ah should‘ve stopped her!”
“You…didn’t…know…what…it…was.” I tried to draw breath. “Would…you…get…off…me?”
“Please…” This was through gritted teeth.
He jumped off and I took a deep breath and sat up.
“Does Sadie ken whit the pooder is?” Weedgie said in a quiet voice.
“That, dear Weedgie, is the question…” I put my head in my hands. “How could she not know? It’s got a skull and crossbones on the front.”
“Well, ah didnae ken whit that meant. Ah thought that was jist fur pirates.”
“But you’re a dog…who watches too much TV.” I stood up. “I can’t believe she didn’t know what she was putting into…” My voice tailed off.
“Whit? Ye’ve thought o’ somethin’! Whit is it?” “There are two reasons why she would put that poison into her baking,” I said slowly, thinking as I spoke, “The first one is; Don gave her the box, told her it was special baking powder or something and she’s using it innocently…”
“Aye, that could be right.” Weedgie wanted to believe this. “She would dae that - she likes Don.” He paused and looked at me again, then winced. “And whit’s the second reason?”
“You know the second reason,” I said, looking him squarely in the eye, “Sadie knows damn well what the powder is and she’s poisoning Mary.”
There was a silence that seemed to last forever. Weedgie looked down at the carpet and sighed. I sat on the settee and put my head in my hands again.
Finally, Weedgie cleared his throat.
I raised my head and looked at him.
“We ate they biscuits yesterday,” he said.
My eyes widened and I clutched my stomach. “Are you okay?” I said, “Are we okay? Do you feel ill?”
“Naw, ah’m fine, and so are you.” He rolled his eyes. “Listen. She made twa lots o’ they ginger biscuits. And she didnae put that pooder in the first lot. She took the thallium sulfate box oot the larder afore she mixed up the second lot.”
“So…we ate the first lot?”
“Aye. Everybody except Don.”
“Because he doesn’t like ginger…” I hesitated.
“Or because he thought they might be poisoned.” Weedgie finished the sentence for me.
“Does he know about the poison? Is he in it with her?”
“Well, the box comes fae his company. He could have thought she‘d brought oot the poisoned biscuits by mistake, so he spat his oot.”
I had another thought. “Sadie stopped you from eating one of those biscuits; the one that fell on the floor. She didn’t want you to be poisoned.”
Weedgie sighed again. “Ah like Sadie,” he said, “Ah wish she was innocent…but ah don’t think she is.”
“No,” I said, “It doesn’t look like it. What I’m wondering is…where do Don and Pat fit in?”
“Ah’m wondering how much o’ that poison Sadie’s got in that larder doon there. Ah think we should go and see whit‘s behind that curtain.”
I looked out the window. “It’s dark now.” I shut the curtains and switched on the lamp. “We’ll need a torch.”
Weedgie looked around. “There’s wan there.”
I followed his gaze and saw a big rubber torch on the bedside table.
“I wonder how they do that?” I said, “We don’t get everything we wish for, do we…?”
“Naw,” Weedgie said, “We just get stuff we need.”
“What about the football, then?”
He looked at me. “We needed that.”
“What for? To muck about with?”
He continued to stare. I began to feel unnerved.
“We needed that to huv a laugh thegither. It was a laugh, was it no’?”
“I suppose. Well, for you it was; making me run about like an idiot. But it didn’t have anything to do with helping Mary.”
“But it helped us tae become…pals.”
Good God, he actually believed we were friends.
I stared at him and then, with a flash of bewildered horror, I realised he could be right. I had played football with him because he liked it and I did it to cheer him up because he couldn’t go to a nightclub. I was behaving oddly, in a way that brought back memories.
“Whit?” Weedgie’s eyes seemed to bore into me, and before I knew what I was doing, I opened up to him.
“Before my parents died, I had friends, I was happy and outgoing, and then…I changed. I closed off to people. On the surface, I looked normal and happy but I never had friends after that. Not one.”
“Until me.” Weedgie grinned. “Ah’m yer new pal.”
Weedgie and I as friends.
I decided to ignore the feeling for the time being and put it to the back of my mind. Then I took a deep breath and channelled my inner TV cop.
“Okay, partner,” I drawled, picking up the torch, “Let’s go hit that larder.”
“Ah’ll cover ye. A’ the best cops say that.” Weedgie trotted out of the room and down the stairs and I followed. “Don‘t ken whit it means, ’though…”
We got to the ground floor and heard the strains of Sadie’s television.
“Are they both in the lounge?” I said.
Weedgie crept along the passage with me close behind. When he got to the lounge, he stuck his head around the door. I heard the sound of gunfire and jumped in fright.
He reversed back to me. “They’re baith in there, watchin’ a gangster film,” he said and I grinned, the image of Sadie toting a gun fading from my mind.
“Here goes.” I led the way down to the kitchen. “Operation Larder.”
When we got there, I switched on the torch and crept around the table towards the back of the room. Weedgie stayed in the doorway.
“Ah’ll be the lookout,” he said, “If Sadie comes ah’ll bark an’ warn ye.”
I stopped, turned around and shone the torch in his face.
“Could you not just shout ’Sadie’s coming’ and warn me that way?”
He blinked in the torchlight. “Aye…that‘s whit ah meant,” he said, embarrassed. He scowled at me.
I grinned in delight.
“Numpty!” I said, and his frown disappeared. He returned my grin and I swung the torch back towards the larder and carried on, still smiling to myself.
I pulled the curtain aside and slipped behind it into a cool, musty-smelling space. There were shelves around all three walls laden with cartons, tins, boxes and bags of food, baking supplies and finished cakes, biscuits and sponges. On the bottom shelf I found six plastic containers filled with baking; all with the letter M on the labels. All held ginger biscuits, treacle buns, orange cupcakes, ginger buns and coconut cookies.
Then I found duplicate containers of cinnamon buns, orange cupcakes and treacle buns which were labelled with a D. Separate lots for Don and Mary, so he would know which ones to feed her.
I dug out my wallet and compared the writing with the labels from Don’s house. The M and D looked identical and the other writing similar. If Mary had written the labels for the containers in their freezer, had Sadie tried to copy them for the containers which held baking?
Picking up one of the M containers, I tugged at the label, thinking we should keep this as evidence; but it was glued on.
“Damn,” I said under my breath as the label tore across the middle. I shone the torch on it and saw an older label beneath it. This one read choc chip cookies and had a different initial at the top. I squinted and turned the box this way and that, trying to make it out. It looked like a C but I couldn’t be sure. I pressed the torn label back as best I could and returned the box.
Then I took a deep breath and searched for the thallium sulfate.
Ten minutes later, I was still looking. There was no sign of a small box or anything with a skull and crossbones on it. I shone the torch around the top shelves. There were cardboard boxes which looked like they’d come from a wholesaler; they each held a dozen tins of fruit. One had peaches, the next strawberries, the third had pears. I squinted behind the strawberries and spotted a fourth box which held custard powder.
I turned away, disappointed. Maybe Sadie had panicked after Pat’s boss died, and got rid of the poison. She probably had enough in those containers of cakes and biscuits to finish Mary off.
I moved towards the curtain and something nagged at me; a strong feeling that I’d missed something.
I turned back, played the torchlight slowly over each shelf. As I got higher, the feeling intensified. Finally, I stopped at the box of tinned strawberries. Carefully, I reached up and hefted the box down onto the floor, the tins clunking inside as I moved it.
“Whit’re ye daein’ in there?” Weedgie’s frantic whisper rang out. “Playin’ frinkin’ steel drums?”
I shone the torch on the box filled with custard powder.
Who needed that much custard?
I had to stand on tiptoe to reach it, so Sadie would have to use a chair. Awkward thing to do every time you wanted to make lumpy custard to go with your tinned fruit. Why not put it on a lower shelf?
I eased the box forward and then braced myself for the weight of twelve tins of custard and lifted it off the shelf. It was so light I nearly fell backwards.
“Huv ye found it?” Weedgie’s voice was right beside me.
“Aargh!” I jumped back. His head was sticking through the gap at the side of the curtain. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“Wheesht.” He frowned, looked behind him and vanished. I heard Sadie’s voice saying something about a cup of tea, and then the kitchen light came on and I was trapped.