I nearly said, “What?” but managed to stop myself just in time.
“Let’s put the boxes back on the shelf but keep the poison out,“ Eric said, “That way she can’t use any more. We’ll have to tell Don. I don’t know how I’m going to do that…“
Eric and Pat went back to the kitchen, looking troubled, and I crouched down beside Weedgie.
“We need tae set a trap,” he said, “Find oot if Don’s innocent.”
“What kind of trap?” I said.
“Use the biccies. Huv a tea party. See if he eats the yins that are meant for Mary.”
“Genius!” I stood back up. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“’Cause ye’re a numpty.”
We went to the kitchen, where Eric and Pat were closing the curtain in front of the larder. Eric held the white box full of thallium sulfate.
“I’ll stash this in my room,” he said, taking the bag from Pat, “I‘ll keep all the poison and the empty container together to show Don.”
“Weed - I mean, I have an idea,” I said, and suggested the tea party. “We’ll surprise Sadie so she can’t take control. We can have everything set up when she gets back. What do you think?”
“Yes,” Eric said, “I can see how it would work. I’ll stash the poison behind the settee in the lounge instead and we can get the coffee table set out.”
Pat took charge of crockery while Eric hid the bag of evidence behind the settee and then helped me remove the containers of baking from the larder. Finally, the coffee table was set for six people with cups, saucers, side-plates and fancy serving plates. I had all the M-labelled containers ready. I opened them and gingerly set out treacle buns, orange cupcakes and coconut cookies on the serving plates.
“Better watch Weedgie doesn’t try some,” Pat said.
“Whit does she think ah am?” Weedgie said, “A daftie?”
“He’ll be fine.” I reassured her. “We just have to make sure no-one else tries one either. I hope Sadie doesn’t call our bluff. She might let Don eat some, just to look innocent.”
Pat shook her head.
“She wouldn’t risk anything happening to him,” she said, “She went to all the trouble of using separate labels so he would be safe. I think she’ll give herself away.”
I went back to the larder and fetched the containers with D which contained treacle buns and cinnamon buns. I set them down under the coffee table beside the empty M containers.
“We’re all set,” Eric said, “Just need to boil the kettle.”
“I’ll do that,” Pat said and we heard a key turn in the front door. We all froze and looked at each other. Weedgie trotted out to the hall.
“It’s Lorraine!” he shouted.
For a moment I thought ‘Lorraine who?’ and then I remembered; my victim who wasn’t.
“It’s Lorraine,” I said to Pat and Eric then added quickly; “I think.”
She came into the room, bringing with her a bouncy kind of energy which clashed wildly with the sombre feeling we had created.
“Hey,” she said, “What’s up?” And reached for a coconut cookie.
“No!” Three voices hailed her in unison. Pat took the cookie from Lorraine’s hand, replaced it on the plate, then wiped her own hand along the back of the settee.
“What on earth…?” Lorraine looked at us all in turn. I couldn’t meet her gaze. I felt wrong-footed and awkward.
“It’ll take too long to explain,” I said, “We’re waiting for Sadie.”
“So am I,” Lorraine said, “I saw her and Mary at the end of the street when we passed in the van. I need to tell her I’m moving out.”
“What?” Eric said, “You’re moving out today?”
“Yes.” She grinned and pointed a thumb over her shoulder. “My mate Joyce’s brother and his cousin brought me back in her brother’s van. They’re helping me move my stuff to Joyce’s. I’m going to be sharing with her.”
Pat and Eric exchanged rueful glances.
“Looks like everything’s changing around here,” Pat said with a sigh, “For everybody. Marty, what will you do?”
“Oh, I’m moving on,” I said, “I have to leave quite soon. Today, in fact.”
“What about the police?” Eric said, “They’ll want a statement from you, I would imagine.”
“Oh, you can sort all that out,” I said, “I don’t want to be involved with the police.”
“What’s going on?” Lorraine said, “Why are the police coming?” She looked at me. “Are you some sort of criminal?”
If only you knew…
They all looked at me then. I did some quick-thinking and even quicker lying. Played to my strengths.
“It’s Weedgie,” I said, and everyone’s gaze shifted to him.
“Whit?” He scowled at me. “Ye cannae blame me, ya flinker!”
“I sort of…stole him,” I said, “From a cruel policeman. So, I don’t want to be involved with them.”
“He’s a police dog?” Lorraine frowned at Weedgie. “No offence, but he looks more like a stray mongrel from the pound.”
“Whit? Ye plinkin’ cheeky wee boomby! Ah‘ll huv ye ken ah‘m mixed-pedigree -”
I interrupted Weedgie’s rant. “This guy treated him badly. I couldn’t stand to see it so I stole him. They’ll want to arrest me for it, him belonging to a policeman and all…” I looked beseechingly at Pat and her expression softened.
“Oh, Marty,” she said, “That’s wonderful. You rescued a poor dumb animal.”
“Haw! Wha are you ca’in’ dumb, ya flinkin’ ploopy -” I grabbed Weedgie’s collar and stopped him launching himself at Pat. Strange voices sounded in the hall behind us. Eric went out and I heard him greeting Lorraine’s friends.
Pat moved to the door and I released Weedgie. He shook himself and glowered after her, muttering darkly under his breath. I glanced over my shoulder at Lorraine just in time to see her pick an orange cupcake from the table and bite into it.
“No!” I twisted round and leapt towards her, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Spit that out! Spit it out!” I slapped her hard between the shoulder blades and she coughed, spluttered and spat out the piece of orange sponge. Pat rushed up to her and took her arm.
“Lorraine, please come away from here. I can’t explain now but - you have to leave.”
“I’m trying to.” Lorraine glared at me. “I just wanted a quick snack but this nutter attacked me!”
“Saved your life, more like,” Pat said, “Did you say Sadie was at the end of the street?” She began guiding Lorraine towards the door. “Marty, we need to keep Sadie away from here ‘til Don arrives. I‘ll make pots of tea and coffee.”
“No worries, I’ll hold her off.” I pushed past them and headed for the front door, Weedgie at my heels. Eric was directing two young men and a young woman up the stairs and Pat thrust Lorraine after them.
“We’ll miss you, Lorraine,” she said, “Leave a note with Joyce’s address and we’ll keep in touch. Eric and I will be moving on too.”
“To the high seas,” Eric said with a grin. Looked like the cruise ship was on, then. Lorraine went up the stairs and Pat headed for the kitchen.
I opened the front door and looked out. Sadie and Mary were just strolling past the row of shops and heading for home. A scruffy white van was parked outside and as I went down the front steps Don’s Zodiac purred to a halt behind it. I waved to him and turned to Sadie and Mary. A shadow passed over my eyes as I saw Mary’s strained face. Sadie’s expression brightened as Don emerged onto the pavement.
Lorraine’s friends piled back out of the house just then, carrying suitcases and a cardboard box piled with magazines. They opened the van as Don stopped to wait for Mary. Lorraine came out holding a lamp, ran down the steps behind her friends and they all converged at the rear of the van.
Weedgie appeared beside me.
“You stopped Lorraine scoffin’ that wee fairy cake,” he said, “Ha! Ye saved yer first victim.” He shook his head and grinned. “Ye’re goin’ soft.”
“Didn’t stop to think,” I said, watching her as she laughed and joked with her friends, “It just happened.”
“Ye big softy,” Weedgie said in a sing-song voice, “Big Jessie softy!”
I made a face at him and turned back to Sadie and Mary. A taxi sped along the street towards us, the driver looking in his rear-view mirror at his passenger instead of watching the road. His hands were moving off the wheel, his mouth opening and closing in what was no doubt his own personal tirade against the government and what he would do if he was prime minister.
I felt a warning shot of adrenaline surge through me and I stared moving back towards the white van, scarcely aware of what I was doing. I picked up speed and darted past Don just as Lorraine slammed the van door shut and then lost her balance. With a shriek, she stumbled backwards into the road.
The taxi driver jolted into action and slammed on his brakes just as I grabbed Lorraine’s arm and hauled her back towards the pavement. With a nanosecond to spare, the taxi missed her and slewed to a halt as Lorraine and I tumbled onto the kerb.
“Frinkin’ jinkies!” Weedgie bounded up and stared at me. “Ye did it again!”
The next few minutes were a blur of activity, with apologies from the taxi driver, stuttered thanks from Lorraine, worried exclamations from Sadie and Mary and a stern admonition for the taxi driver from Don. Lorraine insisted she was fine and then we all went back inside where she explained her departure to Sadie and said she hoped Sadie would find someone else to take the room.
“Oh, don’t worry, dear,” Sadie said, smiling with a kindness I suspected was for Don’s benefit, “It’s been lovely having you stay here. You must keep in touch.”
After promising to do just that and giving out her new address, Lorraine helped her friends with the last of her belongings. Then we all stood in the doorway and waved as the white van lurched away.
It was a surreal moment, saying goodbye to my non-victim. I looked at Weedgie and shrugged. Then I turned to Eric and Pat.
Time for action.
“We’ve set out tea and coffee in the lounge,” Eric said to Sadie, Mary and Don, “Do come on through.”
“Splendid.” Don smiled at Mary and gave her a kiss. “I missed you darling, decided to come back early and get you,” he said and she smiled at him. Sadie observed this exchange with a blank expression and then took Mary’s arm and steered her away from Don.
In the lounge, Eric hovered around while Pat sat on the edge of an armchair. Sadie and Mary took the settee. Sadie was so busy directing covert glances at Don she hadn’t noticed what was on the coffee table. I gestured to Don to take the remaining armchair.
“I’ll grab a pouffe,” I said, avoiding Weedgie’s startled gaze, and pulled up the round leather monstrosity from a corner of the room. I perched gingerly on it, looking from Eric to Pat, hoping Eric would take charge.
“I hope you don’t mind, Sadie,” he said, standing at the foot of the coffee table and pointing to it, “But we’ve brought out some of your…delicious baking.”
“What?” Sadie tore her gaze from Don and looked first at Eric and then at the table. Her mouth fell open and she turned pink. “You’ve brought out what? This is my baking?” Her voice rose several decibels as she scanned the plates and their contents.
“Yes,” Eric said, reaching below the table and lifting two of the empty M containers, “The buns and cookies were in these.” He held the containers up so we could all see them and Sadie’s face turned bright red.
“No,” she said, “We can’t eat these!”
“Nonsense,” Eric said, and picked up the plate with treacle buns. He turned to Don, who picked up his side plate and looked expectantly at the buns.
“Don, would you like a treacle bun?” Eric said as Pat, Weedgie and I held our breath.
“Delighted.” Don picked the largest one. “Treacle is one of the flavours I do like and Sadie‘s baking is the tops.”
“No!” Sadie leapt to her feet and dived around the coffee table to his side. The bun was touching Don’s lips when she snatched it out of his hand.
“What the - ?” Don looked at Sadie in bewilderment and Mary’s shocked gaze travelled between them both. Eric, Pat and I exchanged tense looks. Weedgie stared at Sadie, brows lowered. I reached below the table and brought out the container of cinnamon buns with D on the label.
“These buns are…stale,” Sadie said, her voice shaky, “You can’t eat these, Don.”
“What about these ones, then?” I said, holding up the container, “Cinnamon buns. They’re the same as the ones Pat took into work with her. Only they‘re not the same…are they, Sadie? This label says D. That’s D for Don.”
“What?” Sadie’s voice was faint. Her gaze locked on the container and I could see her mind working furiously, looking for a way out of what was fast becoming a nightmare.
Eric fetched the bag of evidence, opened it and took out the container which held the cinnamon buns Pat had taken into work. He held it so everyone could see the label.
“The cinnamon buns Pat took into work were in this container,” he said, walking round to stand beside Don, “This one has the letter M on it. M for Mary.”
Don and Mary were flummoxed; they stared at Eric and myself and then at Pat. Sadie swallowed and licked her lips, eyes darting towards the door. I took a step forward and blocked her way.
“What’s wrong, Sadie?” I said, “You seem very uncomfortable all of a sudden.”
“Just what is going on?” Don said, “Is this some kind of a joke?” He looked at Sadie. “What’s the matter? You look terrified.”
“And so she might.” Pat finally spoke, her voice bitter. “Because of her, my boss is dead.”
Mary gasped and Don spluttered. “What on earth do you mean? Pat, you’re talking in riddles!”
Sadie spun on her heels, darted behind me and rushed out of the door. I swore and ran after her, only to see her race into her living room and slam the door in my face. I heard a key turn in the lock. I pounded on the door and Weedgie arrived beside me and began scratching at it.
“Sadie, ye frinkin’ murderin’ boomby! Come oot here tae ah bite ye!”
“She’s not coming out any time soon.” I gave the door a furious kick and then turned back and headed for the lounge. Weedgie and I arrived as Eric was saying;
“And we think the cakes and meals she made for Mary have this stuff in them.” He handed the bottle of thallium sulfate to Don, who took it with trembling fingers.
“My god…” His face was ashen. “Oh my god…”
“So…so, what you’re saying is…” Mary’s voice was faint and tremulous. “Sadie’s…been poisoning me?”