I froze on the spot, crouched over the box of custard powder, and wondered how I could explain myself if Sadie opened the curtain. Secret craving for custard? Addiction to tinned fruit?
And then I heard a scuffling sound and Weedgie shouted; “Run, Marty!”
“Weedgie! Bring that back! My best tea towel!” Sadie’s voice faded from the room. I lifted up the box of custard powder and then stopped, set it back down again and tried to open it. There was sticky tape over the flaps on the top. Why would Sadie do that? All the other boxes were left open.
I picked at the edge of the tape and wished I had longer nails. A small piece came away and I scrabbled for the end again, cursing under my breath and listening out for Sadie returning. After an age, I managed to pull back most of the tape, then I dug my fingers under one of the flaps and tugged. It bent back enough for me to see a smaller white cardboard box inside. What…?
I reached down with both hands and wrestled with this second box, opening the lid and peering inside. There were ten small brown boxes inside the white box. I lifted one out and my breath caught in my throat. I read the white label; Thallium Sulfate, Watkins & Scott, 24 Carlton Place, London. Below this, the skull and crossbones leered at me.
I opened this box and pulled out a brown glass bottle, half-full of white powder. It had the same label and skull and crossbones on the front.
No prizes for guessing where the rest of the powder had gone.
I shoved the bottle inside my shirt pocket, then put the empty box back inside the white one, shut the flaps on the large outside box as best I could and lifted it back up onto the shelf. I’d just hefted the tinned strawberries up onto the shelf in front of it when I heard Sadie’s voice again.
“You are a naughty boy!” She sounded more amused than cross, and I guessed she’d managed to retrieve her tea towel. I grabbed my torch, switched it off and stood uncertainly behind the curtain, then nearly cried out as it swung back and Weedgie’s head appeared.
“Frinkin’…!” he said and rolled his eyes in frustration as I shrugged. then he backed away and I heard another scuffle.
“Weedgie! My oven-glove! No!”
This time I was out like a shot as soon as her voice faded. I skirted the table and trotted out into the hall. I tucked the torch inside my shirt and appearing at the lounge door as Sadie backed out, tugging on one end of the oven glove. Weedgie, on the other end, eyed me balefully.
“Aboot frinkin’ time!” He released the glove and Sadie fell backwards into me. I grabbed her and stopped her falling over, feeling myself recoil as I touched her. I wanted to accuse her there and then, in front of Mary, but I held my tongue.
Mary appeared in the doorway and laughed. “He’s in a playful mood tonight,” she said, petting Weedgie, “We’re just going to have a cup of tea and some of Sadie‘s delicious cookies. Would you like to join us?”
“No thank you.”
“Nae frinkin’ way.”
“I’m…er…having another early night,” I said, “Thanks all the same.”
I desperately wanted to tell Mary not to eat anything and then I realised that if Weedgie and I were there, Sadie would have to use the ‘safe’ cookies.
“On second thoughts,” I said quickly, with a smile, “I am rather peckish. Weedgie and I would love to join you.”
“Whit? Are ye mental?” Weedgie grabbed the bottom of my jeans and tried to drag me away.
“Let me help you in the kitchen, Sadie,” I shook my leg and gave Weedgie a meaningful look, “I can bring the cookies through.”
He let go, looked at me and then realisation sank in.
“You found the poison,” he said, “Didn’t ye?”
“There’s no need.” Sadie tried to usher me into the lounge but I held firm.
“Nonsense. Least I can do. Weedgie, you keep Mary company while I help Sadie.”
“Aye, aye, captain.” Weedgie nudged Mary back inside.
“It’s almost as if he understands you,” she said.
“Isn’t it just?” I smiled sweetly and followed Sadie into the kitchen.
“Where do you keep the cookies?” I said, pretending to look around the room. She dived past me into the larder. I hoped she wouldn’t find the container with the ripped label but she reappeared almost immediately and I saw she’d chosen the two labelled D; orange cupcakes and treacle buns.
“No cookies?” I said innocently.
“We finished them earlier,” she lied smoothly, “I’ll have to bake some more.” She filled the kettle and set in on the cooker. As she lit the gas, I wandered towards the larder.
She looked over nervously. “Would you get the cups and saucers, Marty?” she asked.
“Of course.” I veered away and went to a cupboard with a glass front where I could see the crockery she wanted. “You’re a really good baker, Sadie. Maybe you would show me how to make some of your biscuits?”
“Oh, you don’t want to be baking.” She laughed shrilly. “Find yourself a nice girl who’ll do all that for you.”
I remembered Sadie’s husband who’d died two years earlier.
“You must miss your husband,” I said, “Did you bake for him?”
It was an innocent question on my part; just something to make conversation and ease the awkwardness I now felt in her company, but the reaction from Sadie was unexpected.
“No!” Her voice was raised. “I did not. Colin didn’t have a sweet tooth.”
And then I realised two things; first, that she was lying about baking for her husband and second…
Cold fear gripped me. I had to grasp the back of a chair for support.
The old label on the container in the larder, under the one I tore; the initial C.
Sadie had poisoned Colin.
I tried to think back to what Pat had told me about him, could only remember being told he’d died. I looked warily at Sadie as she heated the teapot and decided I had to stay calm and keep the conversation neutral.
“Weedgie and I had a game of football in a park tonight,” I said.
“Oh?” Relief was obvious in her voice. “Who won?”
I set the cups, saucers and plates on a tray. “Who do you think?” I forced a grin and tried not to wince as she laughed loudly. “One of us is the new Bobby Charlton…and it’s not me.”
“Are ye awright?” Weedgie appeared in the doorway. I bit my lip to stop myself from replying and nodded instead. He stayed and watched Sadie fill the teapot while I carried the tray through to the lounge.
Mary had turned the sound down on the television and I caught a glimpse of Edward G. Robinson in a fedora, pointing a gun at another man in a fedora. I wished I had a gun right then but I knew one wouldn’t materialise; I couldn‘t hurt anyone. I smiled at Mary and she helped me set out the tea things.
Sadie and Weedgie arrived a few minutes later and we settled down to demolish the orange cupcakes. Boy, they were good. In between bites, Weedgie stared hard at Sadie and muttered; “Frinkin’ murderer.”
And then I reached for the teapot and heard a thunk. Everyone looked my way and then down at the torch which lay on the floor. I thought fast.
“I’m taking Weedgie out again,” I said, “It’s dark. And you never know who‘s hanging about at night.”
“We do have streetlights.” Sadie bristled defensively and forced a smile. “This is a good area, you know.”
“It’s a lovely part of town,” Mary said, “So peaceful and yet handy for shopping.”
Sadie drew her a look which was less than kind. I picked the torch up and signalled to Weedgie. “Well, thanks for the tea,” I smiled at Sadie and Mary, “We’ll be off.”
“Bye, then.” Sadie carried on drinking her tea and Weedgie and I made our escape. Once we were out on the street I said, “Sadie’s jealous of Mary, alright. Did you see the way she looked at her just now? Mary and Don are in a much better part of London, with a bigger house. Sadie must feel like the underdog.”
“Hey, don’t bring dugs intae this.” Weedgie trotted beside me. “Whit aboot the poison?”
I produced the bottle and he nodded. “That’s it. That’s whit she put in the cookies.”
I told him about the box disguised as custard powder and the amount of thallium sulfate Sadie had stashed away. Then I told him my theory about Sadie’s husband.
“Jings bangs!” He stopped dead in his tracks. “Why dae ye think she did him in?”
“I don’t know. We’ll try and find out but we need to speak to Pat before Don comes back tomorrow.” I yawned. “I’m tired. Let’s go back and try to sleep.”
We headed back to Sadie’s and neither of us spoke. When we entered the hall we could hear Edward G. Robinson again. “She’s in there watchin’ that film wi’ Mary pretending everything’s hunky dory,” Weedgie said as we climbed the stairs, “She‘s frinkin‘ twa-faced. Naw - three-faced.”
I muttered an agreement and we reached our room and went in. I closed the curtains, put on the lamp and took the bottle of thallium sulfate powder out of my pocket. I put it in the carrier bag beside Pat’s baking container and then I got undressed. Weedgie flopped in his furry bed and looked at me.
“We’ve no’ got long,” he said, “Ah can feel it. Time’s runnin’ oot.”
I got under the covers, turned off the lamp and waited for the onslaught. Ten minutes later, he was still in his furry bed.
“What’s up?” I said into the dark room, “This bed not good enough for you?”
“Ah thought ye would sleep better by yersel’,” came the reply, “Ye always toss and turn. Keeps me awake.”
“Keeps you…? Well, your snoring keeps me awake,” I said.
“Ah don’t snore.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Ah’m telling’ ye, ah don’t!”
“And I’m telling you - ooof!” He was on my chest, breathing on me. I braced myself and then recoiled in horror as he began licking my face. “Uuh! Yeeugh! Get…off!” I frantically tried to brush him away.
“Heh. Heh. Heh.” He laughed his creepy laugh and bounced over to lie down beside me. “That wis yer guidnight kiss.”
“Thanks,” I said, “But you shouldn’t have…you really shouldn’t have. Uurgh.”
I drifted off to sleep to the sound of his sniggering and had a disturbing dream where Sadie had a scratchy beard and was trying to kiss me. I woke at seven to the sound of the toilet flushing then Weedgie returned from his morning visit to the bathroom, which, I realised with some horror, I was now regarding as normal behaviour. I went for a wash and dressed in blue corduroys, a white cheesecloth shirt and two strings of love beads.
“Could ye be a bigger Jessie?” Weedgie shook his head at the sight of me returning to the room. “Would ye no like some dangly earrings tae go wi‘ thae beads?”
I looked around; had a sudden feeling.
“We have to pack,” I told him, “Get our stuff in the van, ready for a quick getaway once we unmask Sadie and Don. It has to happen tonight.”
“Righto,” he said cheerfully, “Wonder whaur we’ll end up next?”
“Who knows,” I said, dragging the case out from under the bed. I preferred not to think too much about what would happen next. For all I knew Mr. Scarlet had lied and we were destined for black nothingness anyway.
I kept my thoughts from Weedgie as I packed away my clothes and toiletries and then squashed the torch and his furry bed on top of them. Weedgie had to join me sitting on top of the lid to close it. He had a final drink and then I packed his bowls back into the carrier bag with the redundant dog food and the remaining crunchy bones.
“We never got that tin-opener,” I said, “I thought that was something we needed, yet it didn’t appear.”
“We didnae need it,” Weedgie said, “You gave me some o’ your scran. And ye bought me chips.”
“Scran?” I looked at him and shook my head. “You should come with subtitles. Or a dictionary at the very least…”
I opened the wardrobe again and took out the carrier with Pat’s empty container and the poison inside.
“Our evidence against Sadie…and Pat,” I said, “You know, I still can’t - ”
The sound of the telephone ringing stopped me short.
Weedgie and I looked at each other and the hair on the back of my neck started to rise. We heard Sadie shuffling out into the hall below and the ringing stopped.
“It’s for us, I know it.” I stepped out onto the landing and Weedgie followed.
“Who’d be phonin’ us oan a Sunday mornin’?” he said, “Is it Don?”
I shrugged and then backed away as I heard footsteps on the stairs. I closed and locked our bedroom door and started down the stairs with Weedgie close behind. On the first floor landing we came face to face with Sadie.
“Oh!” She jumped and clutched her heart in fright.
“Yeargh!” I stepped back, giving an involuntary shudder.
“Frinkin’ balloobies! It’s a giant blancmange!” Weedgie hid behind me at the sight of Sadie with rollers in her hair covered by a hairnet, and face devoid of make-up but slathered in greasy white cream. She sported a lurid pink quilted dressing gown and matching fluffy slippers.
“It’s the phone,” she said when she’d got her breath back, “For you. It’s Eric.”
“Eric?” I hadn’t expected this. “Where is he?”
She shrugged and started back downstairs. We followed. “Don’t know. He says it’s urgent.”
When we reached the hall, she yawned loudly. “I’m off back to bed for my Sunday lie-in.”
She shuffled off through the door to her part of the house and I picked up the receiver.
“Marty.” He sounded excited but nervous. “You’ve got to come over here.”
“Why? Where are you?”
“At Jill’s. Pat’s here, she wants to speak to you, she’s upset. She won’t talk on the phone.”
I looked down at Weedgie and grinned. “Right. I’ll be over as soon as I can. See you.”
I hung up and raced back upstairs, Weedgie puffing behind me. Once we were in our room, I told him what Eric had said.
“Jings bangs! It’s happenin’. We’re gaun’ tae find oot the truth.”
“Here’s hoping.” I gathered up the case and carrier bags. “Let’s put these in the van before we go. I’ll hang onto the keys meanwhile, but with a bit of luck, we’ll be leaving Sadie’s house for good tonight.”