There was a stunned silence and then everyone started to talk at once. Under cover of the hubbub, Weedgie and I had a mini conference.
“Ye need tae let Eric find everythin’ oot,” Weedgie said.
“I know. I just need to figure out how.”
“Let him go and look in the larder.”
“And he’ll find the hidden box with the poison?”
“We need tae find oot if Don’s involved.”
An idea began to form in my mind. “Eric,” I said, when the noise had died down a bit, “You and Pat should come back with me to Sadie’s. Act as if nothing’s wrong. If we get the chance, we’ll look for more poison. I’ll bet she’s got more than this one bottle.”
“Where did you find that?” Eric said, while Pat wandered away from the window, still looking faint. She flopped back down on the settee.
“I went into Sadie’s larder to get some cakes for supper last night and found the bottle in there,” I said.
“I don’t think I can go back and be normal,” Pat said.
“You have to,” Jill said, “Think of Bernard. Do it for him.”
Pat nodded slowly then sighed. “Okay. I’ll give it a try.”
“Good for you,” Johnny said, looking at her with some admiration. I had another thought, wondered how to make it a reality. I looked at my watch.
“It’s only ten ‘o’ clock,” I said, “If we go back now Sadie will be there. If we wait until after lunch then she might have gone out. We’d have a better chance to look around if she wasn’t there.”
“You’re right,” Eric said, “I was wondering too…does Don know what’s happening to Mary?”
I exchanged a glance with Weedgie and then told everyone about my conversation with Don.
“So Don tells Mary he’s cooking their meals but in reality some so-called caterer is making them?” Jill said, “That’s sneaky.”
“I think Sadie is the caterer,” I said, not wanting to divulge the fact that I’d questioned the neighbour, “It makes a horrible kind of sense. The only thing I can’t figure is, why is she doing it? Why does she hate Mary so much?”
“I can tell you that.” Pat spoke in a sad, flat voice. “I was Sadie’s first lodger, after her husband died. We used to spend some evenings together and one time we both had too much to drink. I told her about Bernard and she told me about Don.”
We were all agog.
“What about Don?” I said.
“Sadie’s house was their family home and after their parents died, she and Mary lived there. Mary was going out with Colin -”
“Sadie’s husband?” I interrupted, and she nodded.
“Mary worked in a florists and Sadie was unemployed and looking for something. Colin told her about a vacancy for the manager’s secretary and she sailed through the interview and got it. The manager was old Mr. Watkins at that time but he retired soon after and Don got his job. He was always more ambitious than Colin.”
“Don inherited Sadie,” Eric said.
“Yes, she became his secretary and fell in love with him.”
“Was he in love with her?” This was Johnny, whose interest amused me as he didn’t know any of the people involved.
Pat shook her head.
“No. Barely noticed her, she said, ’though she tried her best to make him notice. She offered to work at home one night and accidentally-on-purpose forgot the paperwork so he would have to bring it out to the house.”
I suddenly saw where this was heading.
“He met Mary.” I said.
“Yes. Fell madly in love and six months later they got married.”
“Sadie must have been hurt,” Jill said.
“She married Colin not too long after that,” Pat said, “I think it was a rebound marriage for them both. He never got promotion and she gave up her job so they didn’t have much money. Don bought Sadie’s half of the house and let her live there for a really low rent. She lets out rooms for extra cash.”
“How did Colin die?” I said and Eric looked at me.
“You think she killed him off?” he said, “The same way?”
“He…he was ill, so she said.” Pat frowned, trying to remember. “I never met him…oh God, this is awful. I thought she was my friend.”
“She is,” I said, “She’s a friend who just happens to be a murderer.”
“But why now?” Eric said, “Why not bump Mary off when she first met Don?”
“Who knows?” I shrugged. “Maybe she‘s gone slowly mad over the years, decided to get rid of her husband and have another shot at Don.”
The conversation went around in circles for a while as everyone put forward their theory as to why Sadie had flipped and what they thought we should do. Johnny suggested calling the police and Jill agreed but Pat and Eric wanted to be sure that Sadie really was guilty.
Finally, everyone fell silent. The mood was tense. Then Jill pointed out to Eric and Pat that they’d have to find somewhere else to live.
“Sadie’s going to prison. She’s guilty. I don’t care what you say.” Jill frowned at them both. “And even if Don is innocent and he becomes the landlord, do you really want to stay in that house? I know I wouldn’t.”
“No…” she said slowly, “I don’t think I would either…not after all this…and Bernard.” She bit her lip.
“You’re right, Jill. Maybe it’s time to move on.”
I took my chance and leant towards Johnny.
“You’re the drummer who’s trying to put together some entertainers for a cruise ship, aren’t you?” I said.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I’m trying to persuade Jill to come and be a dancer.”
“Well, Eric’s a good guitarist,” I said, “He’s got a guitar and amp now. And Pat has a great voice. You’ve practically got a band right here.”
“Wow…hadn’t thought about that…” He looked around the group. “I know Eric used to play. Didn’t know he was still into it. Hey, Eric!”
I got up and started to clear away the cups from the coffee table and the conversation around me took a new turn. I entered the kitchen and behind me I heard Jill persuading Pat that a break from the past would be a good move for them all. Weedgie appeared beside me.
“Ye’ll huv tae take me oot,” he said, “Ah need a Jimmy Riddle.”
“Oh. Right,” I looked at my watch, then went back into the living room. I took Sadie’s empty container and the bottle of thallium sulfate and put them back into the plastic bag, then handed it to Eric.
“I’m taking Weedgie out for a walk. It’s just gone eleven. Pat and Eric, I’ll meet you down in the car park at twelve and we’ll go back to Sadie’s. Johnny and Jill, it was nice meeting you.”
Everyone nodded briefly and then went back to discussing the possibility of turning the cruise ship plan into a reality. Weedgie and I went out of the flat and he headed for the lift.
“Ohno, I’m not getting back in that,” I said, walking to the stairway, “I’m taking the stairs.”
Weedgie sneered. “Ye big feartie!”
He stood on his hind legs and pressed the button. I dived through the stairwell door and down the stairs, determined to get to the ground floor before him.
Ten flights later, I was dizzy and out of breath. I had to stop and rest before staggering the rest of the way. Finally, I stumbled through the door into the hall and saw Weedgie sitting beside two young girls who were petting him and giggling to each other. They looked up at me in some alarm as I lurched towards them. I tried to speak but my voice came out in great raspy breaths. The girls fled outside and Weedgie shook his head and rolled his eyes.
Damn. He could be sarcastic without even speaking.
I walked unsteadily past him and he followed me outside. Church bells rang out from somewhere nearby and the sun struggled to appear. In the distance a woman walked a small poodle. It seemed surreal that London was having an ordinary Sunday morning.
“That was nice, whit ye did up there,” Weedgie said, “Suggestin’ they all went and worked on this boat. Ah hope they dae that.” He sniffed at a few car tyres and we crossed the car park area to some grass. “Ah’ll miss Pat, ‘though. And Eric. Efter we save Mary we’ll no see ony o’ them again, will we?”
“No.” I kicked at a stone. “I suppose not.”
“Ach well.” Weedgie sounded resigned. “We’ll meet different folks next place we go tae.”
I thought about that for the next few minutes as we wandered about. It felt sad. Arriving in different places, meeting people and liking them, becoming friends; the way I had done so easily when I was sixteen. Only now I would leave those new friends behind again and again. I wondered if people would remember Weedgie and I after we’d gone or if we’d be instantly forgotten.
Hard to forget a dog who looked like Weedgie, but still…
By the time we’d come around in a circle and arrived back at the flats I was feeling quite low. Weedgie looked up at me.
“Haw, ye’ve got a coupon that wid turn milk,” he said, “Cheer up.”
“Coupon?” I was almost scared to ask.
“Fizzog.” He grinned at my blank look. “Face, Marty. Yer face wid turn milk.”
“Oh.” I looked at him, tried to smile.
“Ye’ve got me,” he said, seeming to read my mind again, “Whit other friends dae ye need?”
I laughed despite myself.
“That’s better.” He nodded. “Yer fizzog wis startin’ to gie’ me the heebiejeebies.”
We went and stood by the van and the sun came out from behind a cloud. In the distance cars and buses moved slowly along. A group of children were playing football on the grass at the other side of the flats. Weedgie watched them.
“Go on and join in,” I told him, “I’ll give you a shout when Pat and Eric get here.”
“Naw, ye’re awright.” He shook his head. “Ah’ll stay here wi’ you.” He sat down by my feet.
And then I did the strangest thing; I leant down and scratched the top of his head.
He jumped, looked up at me in surprise.
I snatched my hand away and felt myself go bright red.
Neither of us spoke.
To my relief, Pat and Eric appeared from the flats right then and Weedgie and I did the peculiarly British thing of pretending the awkward moment hadn’t actually happened.
I opened the van doors. “Righto,” I said to Weedgie and he jumped in, followed by Pat and Eric.
I got behind the wheel and looked at everyone. Eric was next to me, clutching the bag with the poison and empty container, then Pat with Weedgie on her lap.
“This will be weird,” I said, “Spying on Sadie. But it has to be done.”
“I know,” Eric said, “It still seems a bit…unreal.”
“Oh, it’s real enough,” I said, as I started the van and drove out of the car park. The journey back to Sadie’s was a silent one; each of us preoccupied with different thoughts. When we arrived, some instinct made me park the van in the next street. “Let’s walk from here,” I said, “See if she’s in.”
We trooped along to Sadie’s front door and Eric pointed along the street.
“Look,” he said, “Isn’t that Sadie and Mary, heading off that way?” Two figures could be seen in the distance walking arm in arm; Sadie supporting Mary as they made their way slowly along the street.
“They could be heading for the park,” Pat said, “Sadie and I sometimes go for a walk there.” She bit her lip, no doubt realising the likelihood was that she and Sadie would never go anywhere together again.
“Let’s go,” I said, ushering everyone up to the door, “We’ll need to be quick, in case Mary gets too tired and they come back.”
We piled into the hall and shut the door. Eric held the bag with the poison and the container.
“We’re looking for more poison, aren’t we?” he said, “We should try the larder.”
“Good thinking.” I nodded. He headed off and I followed him and Pat along the corridor to the kitchen. Weedgie trotted beside me, grinning to himself. Eric was going to be the hero here, no doubt. I found I didn’t mind as much as I thought I would.
In the kitchen, Eric handed the bag to Pat then strode to the larder and pulled the curtain back.
“Where did you find the bottle?” he said.
“Up there, I think.” I pointed vaguely towards the top shelf and the boxes of tinned fruit. Eric brought the strawberries and the pears down and we all looked into the boxes to make sure there was only tinned fruit inside.
“What about that box back there?” Pat squinted up, trying to see. “Custard powder. Let’s look in there.”
The box was duly brought down and opened. I feigned surprise and shock when the remaining nine bottles of thallium sulfate were discovered.
“Don’t hold yer breath fur an Oscar,” said Weedgie, rolling his eyes.
I pointed to the rows of plastic containers.
“Look,” I said, “These all have labels for Don and Mary. Oh, is that one torn?”
Pat lifted up the container with the label I’d half-torn off, and pulled it back to see what was underneath. Her face paled.
“It says C,” she said shakily, “C for Colin. Oh my God, she did poison him!”
“This is grim,” Eric said, beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead, “We have to call the police.”
“She could deny everything,” I said, “Or invent some excuse. And Don could be in on it. Remember his lies about the caterer?”
“I just thought,” Pat said, frowning to herself, “Sadie apologised to Don on Friday when he spat out the ginger biscuit. She said she hadn’t realised he didn’t like ginger. Well, that’s rubbish! She knows all his likes and dislikes. He gave her a funny look at the time…”
I thought back and remembered the incident. “She must have been trying to make us all think she didn’t know about his likes and dislikes. She doesn’t want anyone to suspect her. You think Don’s innocent, don’t you?” I said, and Pat nodded.
“He’s a good person,” she said, “And he really loves Mary.”
“You thought Sadie was a good person,” I reminded her.
“So I did.” She slumped back against the shelf.
The heavy silence which followed was shattered by the phone ringing. We all jumped and stared at one another and then Eric sprang to life and raced off to answer it. Pat, Weedgie and I went to the kitchen door and listened to his side of the conversation.
“Don?” He turned towards us and gestured frantically to the receiver. Pat and I exchanged glances and moved closer. Weedgie was right behind us.
“Uh-huh. Mmm. No, they’ve gone out for a walk, I think. Right. Yes. No problem. Bye.”
He put the receiver down and breathed a huge sigh.
“Don’s coming back. He’ll be here in an hour.”
“He hasn’t had much of a weekend away,” I said.
“He missed Mary and he’s worried about her.” Eric looked from Pat to me and back again. “I believe him. I don’t think he’s got anything to do with this.”
“So what do we do now?” Pat said.
Weedgie tugged at the leg of my cords.
“Ah’ve got a plan,” he said.