“It looks like it,” I said, with a grimace, “There’s no easy way to say this.” I turned to Don.
“Is Sadie your caterer?” I said and then had to repeat the question as he stared at the thallium sulfate as if in a trance. Weedgie went over and nudged his leg.
“Oh…er.” Don swallowed, tried to focus on me. “Yes. Sadie offered to teach me to cook, just after Christmas. I wanted to surprise Mary with home-cooked meals but…I wasn’t very good. So Sadie made some meals for me to freeze and I was supposed to pretend they were mine until I’d practised enough to make them myself. But then Mary got ill…”
He looked at his wife who shivered.
“Sadie brought me loads of cakes and biscuits she’d made, just after Christmas,” she said, biting back tears, “I ate them. It wasn’t long after that I was sick. I never made the connection.”
“So then Sadie offered to come and make a batch of meals every fortnight. I told Mary I was making meals for both of us and freezing them and she did the labels for me,” Don looked at Mary, “I don’t know why I kept on pretending I’d made them…I wanted you to be impressed. It was stupid.”
Pat, Eric and I exchanged looks.
“We know you had nothing to do with this,” Eric said, bringing out the box with the remaining nine bottles of poison, “But Sadie had these in her larder. They’ve got your company name on them.”
Don took the box and nearly dropped it. His hands shook as he laid it down on the table.
“We use this…this stuff,” he said, then stared off into space and frowned, “When Sadie worked for me she was responsible for stocktaking. She must have stolen this back then and covered her tracks.”
“Why would she want to…to get you out of the way?” Pat asked Mary, stumbling over the words, her voice gentle, “She must have planned this for ages.”
I found the container with the torn label and showed Don the initial underneath.
“She made sure the boxes with D on them held safe baking so you could eat them. The ones with M were poisoned. She tried to copy Mary’s writing so no-one would suspect her. But look at this. Could C be for Colin?”
“He was ill.” Mary shrank back into the cushions on the settee. “The doctors were unsure what it was, just like with me…eventually they said pneumonia. Don…Sadie killed him!”
Mary started to sob. Don stood up and went to her, crouched down and put an arm around her shoulders. He looked up at Eric.
“Just before Colin became ill, I gave my half of this house to Mary so effectively, she owns the whole property now. She wanted to give the house to Sadie but I persuaded her not to, said it would be something to fall back on if I ever lost my job. So she made a new will instead and left it to Sadie.”
“Did you tell Sadie this?” Pat asked Mary, who nodded. Pat looked at me. “So Sadie knew if anything happened to Mary the house would be hers.”
I frowned. “But why poison Colin then and not Mary?”
“Sadie’s the only one who could tell us that,” Eric said, “Maybe they fell out over the will or she didn’t want to share the house with him if she inherited it. She took that poison years before, ’though, she must have had the idea in the back of her mind since then.”
“Sadie’s in love with you,” Pat told Don.
Mary and Don looked at each other. Mary’s eyes were tear-stained and Don’s were troubled.
“We knew that,” Don said, “It was a sort of…joke between us.”
“It doesn’t seem so funny now,” Mary said.
“We told Sadie at Christmas that we were thinking of adopting a child,” Don said, “Perhaps that’s what triggered the…madness. Sadie probably thought Mary would change her will again and cut her out.”
“Jings bangs,” Weedgie said, “The things folk dae fur money.”
“You need to get Mary to a hospital,” Eric said, “Take one of the bottles with you and hopefully they’ll know what to do.”
“Yes.” Don stood and helped Mary to her feet. “I don’t know if I can drive, ’though…” He looked at me.
I looked at Eric. “I can’t drive,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll take you. Eric, you’d better come too and direct me.”
“Don’t leave me here with Sadie.” Pat leapt to her feet, alarmed. “It’s because of me she got found out! Poor Bernard. I just hope the police don’t think I had anything to do with that.”
“We’ll all go,” Eric said and picked up the half-full bottle of thallium sulfate. We made our way out to the hall. Sadie’s door was still locked.
“The police,” Mary said, as we went down the steps to the pavement, “Do we have to tell the police…?”
We all looked helplessly at each other as Don opened the car and helped Mary onto the back seat. He and Pat got in either side of Mary and Eric. Weedgie and I got in the front.
“Mary, she tried to kill you,” Pat said, “She may have killed Colin and she was responsible for Bernard’s death. We can’t just forget about that.”
Mary started to sob quietly and I started up the car and drove off. We were an odd group of passengers, each absorbed in our own thoughts about Sadie and what had happened. I put my foot down and we had a clear run to the hospital. I stopped at the entrance to the casualty department and Eric went inside with Don and Mary.
Pat got out then leaned back inside the car to tell us she was off to find a phone and call Jill to update her and Johnny.
I moved the car to the car park and then it was just Weedgie and myself. We sat for a few moments looking blankly out of the windscreen as pairs of nurses in starched white uniforms with black capes over them marched smartly past and went into the hospital.
“Ooh, matron!” I said finally and Weedgie grinned.
“We’ve done it,” he said, “We’ve saved Mary’s life.”
“Well, I hope so,” I said, “If there’s something the doctors can do…”
“Aye, they’ll help her.” Weedgie was adamant. “She’ll be fine. This is whit we‘re here fur - tae save Mary.”
I wished I shared his optimism and blind faith in Mr. Scarlet and The Committee, whoever they were. I didn’t voice my fear that this was all just my own personal hell and it would end badly for me and everyone else involved. We waited for over an hour and then Pat and Eric came out and found us.
“They’ve started something called…chelation, I think.” Eric frowned at Pat who continued;
“Yes, it looks hopeful. They’re giving her this stuff which binds itself to the poison and then it can leave her system. But she’ll be in hospital for a while.”
“That’s good.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Ah tellt ye.” Weedgie looked smug.
“And they’ve contacted the police,” Eric said, causing me to sit bolt upright and Weedgie to jump in his seat.
“What? When are they coming?” The words had no sooner left my lips when a black and white police car swerved into the hospital grounds and stopped at the main doors. Two policemen got out, straightened their hats and entered the building.
“Time for Weedgie and I to leave.” We got out of the car and I gave the keys to Eric, “It’s been great meeting you both.”
“Where will you go?” Pat said.
Good question. I wish I knew the answer.
I shrugged. “Who knows? We’ll be fine…and I hope you all go on the cruise ship with Johnny and Jill.”
“We’re planning to,” Eric said and Pat grinned.
We stood and chatted for a few minutes and I felt a pang of regret when Pat kissed Weedgie and myself, Eric shook hands and cuddled Weedgie and we finally walked away towards the hospital gates.
“Whit happens noo?” Weedgie said as we emerged onto a busy street.
“I imagine Mr. Scarlet will find us.” I began to walk along the street. “Meanwhile, I think we should find a café with tables outside and catch up on lunch.”
“Braw idea.” Weedgie’s ears pricked up and he trotted beside me as we passed shops and small businesses and then finally we spotted a small café situated lightly back from the street with a small enclosed area at the front which held four tables.
I sat down and Weedgie positioned himself below the table and I ordered pie and chips for us both. Once again, the waitress took an instant liking to Weedgie and brought him a bowl of water. I settled for a coffee and we passed a pleasant hour or so watching the world go by.
After we’d left and wandered around a few more streets, the sky clouded over and rain started to fall. We dived for shelter in a doorway and I suggested finding our way back to the van.
“It’s in the next street from Sadie‘s, far enough away for us to be okay if the police are there,” I said and then had a sudden thought; “We all went and left her locked in her rooms. What if she’s gone?”
Weedgie pursed his lips and I made the mistake of looking at him right then.
Mick Jagger to a T. Give him a tambourine and he could sing Sympathy for The Devil.
I tore my gaze away.
“It’s funny,” he said, “Ah ken she’s a murderin’ flinker but ah still like her. Ah widnae be too bothered if she did get awa’.’”
I sighed. I knew what he meant but it still didn’t make it right.
“This is weird,” I said, “I never used to think like this. Well, maybe I did before…” I tailed off and looked at him.
“Before yer seventeenth birthday,” he supplied for me, and then continued, “Y’know, ye huv changed since Thursday. Ye’ve saved Lorraine and Mary and ye’ve been nice tae me. Ye’ve looked efter me like a real dug owner. Ah appreciate that.”
Guilt swamped me and for a few moments I couldn’t speak. I left the doorway and Weedgie followed me. We crossed the road and entered a small park.
“Well…you’ve changed a bit too,” I told him, desperate to shift the attention to him.
“Oh, aye?” He looked quizzical.
“Yes. You haven’t been swearing quite so much.”
His ears shot up.
“Frinkin’ balloobies! Are ye jinkin’ sure?”
The rain got heavier and we started to run. Finally, we stopped under an oak tree and discussed our options, coming to the conclusion that our van would be shelter at least.
“Ah hope that red bampot hurries up and finds us,” Weedgie said as we watched rain dripping from branches and people hurrying past on the streets outside, shivering under umbrellas, “Ah’m getting’ cauld.”
After an age the rain tailed off and we emerged, damp and miserable.
“Which way?” I wondered out loud, “The A to Z is in the van.”
“Maybe they’ll gie us another yin,” Weedgie said hopefully, but no street atlas arrived.
“Guess we’ve had our map quotient for this trip,” I said, “Come on, let’s start walking and hope we’re going in the right direction.”
After a while I spotted a bus stop with a timetable and stopped for a look, but none of the street names meant anything to me.
“It’s tea time noo,” Weedgie said.
“What, you’re hungry again?”
“Ah’m a growin’ dug, ye ken. Ah‘m peckish…ah could dae wi‘ a wee snack.”
With a sigh, I led him along the road until we found a dingy pub called The Otter where we went in and I bought beer and crisps.
“This is braw.” Weedgie slurped his beer from the glass. “Like mates doon the pub havin’ a pint.”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this…” I wished Mr. Scarlet would materialise right there and then. I looked around the pub but only saw hardened drinkers, small, grimy old men hunched over whisky glasses and smoking the kind of cigarettes that left nicotine stains to the knuckles. I wondered briefly how they would cope with the twenty-first century smoking ban and indulged myself with an imaginary picture of their outrage and confusion. Then I was rudely brought back to reality by a loud burp from Weedgie.
“Pardon.” He licked his lips and grinned. “No’ a bad pint, that.”
I sighed and fed him the rest of the crisps, trying to ignore the stares of three Neanderthal-looking characters who were slumped around a table in the corner. They all wore leather jackets and jeans and had greasy hair slicked back in quiffs not unlike Weedgie’s. One of them was enormous and hulking with one big eyebrow which bulged over his broken nose, while the other two were small and skinny with bad skin and even worse teeth. I mentally christened them The Missing Link and Dumb and Dumber.
“Come on, let’s get out of here before the three stooges in the corner ask us for a photograph.” I got up and headed for the door, followed by Weedgie who only slowed long enough to stick out his tongue at the trio and blow them a raspberry.
“Subtlety really is your middle name, isn’t it?” I said as we walked swiftly away from the pub.
“Naw,” he said, “It’s Sebastian.”
“And what’s your surname?”
“Pinkleton-Crawford. Ah’m a posh dug.”
I grinned, shook my head at him and we carried on.
The sky darkened, dusk fell suddenly and streetlights came blinking on around us. We trudged along street after street, and then we found ourselves in a less than presentable part of town. Small shabby houses gave way to Victorian factory buildings and soot-blackened chimneys. I stopped and looked around, spotting a narrow street heading away to the right which looked hopeful.
Shadows jumped and shifted and I suddenly felt uneasy and turned back to look for Weedgie. He was sniffing at a lamp-post, his image reflected in a puddle on the rain-soaked pavement, like a murky surrealist painting. Salvador Dali’s depressed period.
“C’mon,” I said and crossed to the narrow street, “This looks like it might double back and take us somewhere better.”
Without waiting for him, I strode off down the street, which was flanked by tall brick buildings. I kept my head down, the uneasy feeling intensifying, until I suddenly ran out of road. I blinked in surprise at the wall in front of me and realised the road was an alley and a dead end.
“Oh, great.” I turned around then stopped, heart rate accelerating madly. Standing yards away from me was the Missing Link and his two companions from the pub.
And they didn’t look friendly.