We made it out of the house without alerting Sadie. I put the case and bag with Weedgie’s food and bowls in the back of the van then we piled into the front with the carrier bag holding Pat’s container and the poison. I took off with a screech of rubber.
“Gaun’ yersel’ Marty,” Weedgie said, jumping about the seat beside me, “Wish we had a car tae chase.”
“As long as the police don’t chase us.” I took the corner on two wheels and we raced towards Jill’s flat. Sunday morning traffic was quiet and the streets of London sped by. I noticed we were low on petrol and stopped briefly at a filling station where a sleepy-looking young man filled the van for me and offered to check my oil level and tyre pressure.
“Jings.” Weedgie was impressed. “They don’t dae that fur ye nooadays, dae they? An’ the price o’ petrol - it‘s like thirty pee a gallon.”
“What do you know about petrol stations?” I asked as we took off again.
“Seen them oan the telly.”
“I’m just glad you don’t have access to the internet,” I said, “I dread to think what you might see then…”
“Oh, ah’ve got ma ain Facebook page,” he said, “Six hundred and sixty six friends.”
I glanced at him and he grinned slyly at me.
Damn. I never knew when he was kidding…
Ten minutes later, we pulled into the car park outside Jill’s block of flats. I took the carrier bag with the container and we headed inside. In the hall, I ripped the Out Of Order notice from the front of the lift and we stepped inside. The door closed and I pressed the button for the seventeenth floor.
I pressed it again.
Weedgie and I looked at each other. “Aw naw,” he said, “Ye’re no’ tellin’ me…”
I sighed, pressed the button to open the door and then had a mild panic attack when it stayed shut. I jammed my finger on the button and then Weedgie shoved me aside, jumped onto his hind legs and pressed both front paws on every button he could reach.
“What -?” I stumbled back as the lift shuddered and then began to clank it’s way upwards, “How did you know to do that? Oh, don’t tell me…”
“Seen it oan the telly.”
When we reached Jill’s floor I practically leapt out of the lift. “I’m taking the stairs back down,” I said as we approached her door. I didn’t have to knock. Jill opened it and beckoned us inside. She was still wearing her Minnie Mouse outfit and looked like she hadn’t had much sleep. Her hair was squashed to the side and she only had one false eyelash still attached, giving her an odd lopsided look.
“Heard the lift,” she said, “Hoped it was you. Listen…” She hesitated outside the door to her living room, “Pat’s saying some…strange things. I don’t know if Bernard’s death has upset her more than I realised or…” She shrugged helplessly.
“Don’t worry.” I patted her shoulder. “I think I know what she wants to say to me.”
Aiding and abetting Sadie in murdering her sister.
We entered the room and I saw Pat sitting on the settee beside Eric. Another man sat on the floor beside Jill’s bowl-shaped chair. He was around the same age as Eric and Pat but had dark hair as long as mine and three more strands of love beads.
“Another Big Jessie,” Weedgie said in disgust.
Everyone looked tired and dishevelled and Eric clutched a cup of cold coffee. He got up and I sat down next to Pat.
“I’ll make us some fresh coffee and toast,” he said, “None of us has slept much and I‘m hungry.”
“Eric and I got a lift home with Johnny,” Jill said, flopping into the bowl seat, “Oh, this is Johnny, by the way.” She gestured to the other man and he and I exchanged nods. “It was past midnight but Pat was sitting outside my flat waiting for me. We’ve been talking and talking and she asked for you. I can’t make sense of what she’s saying.”
I turned to Pat who looked wan and shell-shocked. She stared straight in front of her at the carpet. I touched her arm.
“Pat?” I said gently, “What did you want to tell me?”
She raised her head and slowly turned towards me. Her eyes filled with tears.
“I killed him.” She burst out and started to sob. “It…was…my…fault!”
“She keeps saying that, over and over,” Jill said, “I think she means Bernard. Is that right, Pat? I’ve told you that wasn’t your fault -”
I held up my hand to stop Jill and she stared at me in surprise. Then I looked back at Pat. Her sobs had turned to long shuddering breaths as she tried to speak.
“It was the cinnamon buns, wasn’t it?” I said. She nodded and bit her lip.
“The cinnamon…” Jill frowned and looked from me to Pat, “You mean the ones we had on Thursday?”
“Except you didn’t have them, did you? And you and Pat were the only two people who didn’t get food-poisoning.” I reached for the carrier bag and took out the plastic container. “This is Pat’s, isn’t it?” Jill nodded and I showed it to Pat who shook her head.
“It’s yours, Pat. You took the buns to work in this container. Is this your writing on the lid?”
And suddenly Pat was still and quiet. She looked straight into my eyes and took a deep breath.
“That’s why I wanted to talk to you,” she said, her voice shaky but clear, “I can’t get my head around this. I’ve been sitting in a hotel room since yesterday morning trying and trying to make sense of it all. You…you’re a stranger. You can look at this and not feel involved.”
I frowned. “What do you mean? What doesn’t make sense?”
“That’s not my box.” She gestured towards the container. “And they weren’t my cinnamon buns.”
The penny dropped.
“They were Sadie’s,” I said and she nodded.
“Sadie was teaching me to bake, giving me recipes,” she said, “I took cakes into work quite often but I still wasn’t as good as her. She would give me some of her own baking now and then to take. I -” she stopped and looked embarrassed.
“You told everyone Sadie‘s cakes were yours?” I guessed and she nodded again.
“So, on Thursday…” I stopped and let her continue.
“I took in Sadie’s baking for…for Bernard’s birthday.” Her voice dissolved into sobs again. Eric came back into the room with a tray of coffee and Jill struggled out of her chair and went to help him. I decided to wait until Pat was ready to talk again. I took a cup of coffee and drank absently, my mind going round in circles.
Sadie’s baking; not Pat’s. The question was…did Pat know what she was taking into work? Her reaction at that moment said not. I glanced at Weedgie. Jill reappeared carrying a large plate of toast and put it on the coffee table. She sat down in the tortuous chair again and Eric flopped on the carpet at her feet.
“Gie us some toast, Marty.” Weedgie sat down beside me. “Ah’m Hank Marvin.”
“The guitarist from The Shadows - oh, right. You’re starving.” I winced and looked around but no-one reacted to what I’d just said. They all looked like zombies.
“Heh. Heh. Heh. Numpty.” Weedgie said through a mouthful of toast.
Fot the next fifteen minutes we all sat and ate toast and drank coffee. Jill made a second pot and we all had another cup and then the caffeine kicked in and everyone became more lively. I turned to Pat again.
“Tell us what happened on Thursday.”
She sat up and took a deep breath.
“On Wednesday night I tried to make cinnamon buns from Sadie’s recipe but I burnt them. I went to ask her if I could take some of her baking instead but she’d gone out to bingo. I knew she wouldn’t mind so I went down to the kitchen and looked in the larder. She had two boxes of the buns so I thought it would be fine for me to take one.”
“And you took this box.” I gestured to the plastic container I’d placed on the settee between us. She nodded.
“Yes. It was the nearest one.”
“Did the other one have the same label?” I asked, “Or did you put the label on this box yourself?” I watched her closely as she replied;
“No, the labels were on the boxes already. Sadie must have put them on.”
“Wednesday night.” I reminded her. “You took the box with the label that said M. Did the other box of cinnamon buns have the label D?”
“Yes, it did.” She looked at me in surprise. “How did you know?”
“I’ll tell you later. Did you tell Sadie you’d taken the box?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t get the chance. She’s always late back from bingo and I was tired and went to bed. In the morning she was rushing around and then she went out shopping. So I just took the buns and went into work.”
“And neither Jill nor you ate any of the buns?”
“No. We were making teas and coffees and chatting. When we came back into the office the buns were all gone. Everyone laughed at us for being too slow.”
“You forgot to take this back with you.” I tapped the container.
“Yes. I rushed off to catch the bus. Jill spotted it and brought it home with her.”
“What happened on Friday morning?” I asked.
“I went in to work but there was only the caretaker there and then Bernard’s wife called in to say he was sick and so was everyone else so they were shutting the office. I came back to Sadie’s and then…”
“You two fell out,” I said, “You were miserable after that.”
“Yes. When I came back in with you - remember, I met you outside in your van - we went into the kitchen and Sadie was baking. That reminded me about the buns. After you’d left I told her I’d taken them and joked that they might be what made everyone ill. She rushed off into the larder and then went mad. I’ve never seen her so angry. She asked me for the box and I realised I’d left it at work. I didn’t know then that Jill had brought it back here with her.”
“Did you talk to Sadie about the buns again?”
“Not really.” She sighed. “Apart from apologising over and over. Sadie was so frosty with me, I couldn’t understand why she was reacting like that. I wondered if the buns could have made everyone ill and I went and looked at the recipe to see if there was any ingredient that might do that, but…” She shook her head.
I looked at Weedgie.
“Tell them,” he said, “Show them the wee bottle.”
“There was an extra ingredient in those buns,” I said, and everyone looked at me. I watched Pat’s face as I brought the thallium sulfate bottle out of the bag. She frowned in puzzlement.
I held the bottle up.
“What is it?” Jill wanted to know.
“Thallium sulfate,” I said, still looking at Pat. She was totally confused.
“What’s that?” she said, “I’ve never used that in a recipe before.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” I said, and then she leant forward and squinted at the label.
“Is that a skull and crossbones?” Her voice rose to a pitch mostly audible to dogs. Weedgie gave a grunt and shook his ears.
“Wait a minute.” Johnny looked excited. “Thallium sulfate. Yes, that’s what they used at that club I used to play in on a Friday night, when I sat in with that skiffle band.”
“The Pied Pipers?” Eric said.
“That’s them. They were rubbish. They split up last year.”
“I heard they’d changed their name.”
“What about the thallium sulfate?” I said, fearful they would be sidetracked down a musical avenue.
“The club had rats. They called in some pest control guy. And that was what he used.”
“Are you sure?” Jill’s eyes were like saucers.
Johnny nodded. “I read the label on the box he had. Joked with the guy that it would be a good name for a band.”
“Oh my God!” Pat clamped a hand over her mouth and looked like she might faint. I looked to Jill and the two of us helped Pat to her feet.
“The window.” Jill steered Pat towards it and I wrestled with the catch. It opened a few inches. “Safety window,” Jill said, “Only opens so far, in case you fall out. Here, Pat, try and get some air. You’ve had a nasty shock. We all have.”
“I’ll say.” Eric looked at me. He seemed to have grasped the salient facts. “Who was Sadie intending to poison, then? She didn’t expect Pat to take those buns into work with her, so who was she going to give them to?”
I went and sat back on the settee, then held up the container and pointed to the label.
“M,” Eric read out loud, and then looked at me, “Bloody hell, Marty! She’s been poisoning Mary!”