“What do you want?” I jumped up and Weedgie jumped down from the bench. We stood and faced him.
“Isn’t this nice.” Mr. Scarlet’s smile held more than a hint of sneer. “You’re a team. Didn’t I tell you this?”
Weedgie looked quizzically up at me as I bit my lip and stayed silent. Mr. Scarlet walked up to us.
“The Committee chairperson was checking the minutes of the last meeting.” He sighed. “And they overlooked something. This is important. Whatever you discover, you can’t go to the police or anyone in authority.”
“What?” I frowned. “Why not?”
“Because that would draw attention to yourselves and you have to remain in the background. You have no past, no connections with anyone living. It has to stay that way. You have to be anonymous.”
“So whit happens then?” Weedgie wanted to know. “How dae we stop the murderer?” Except he said; ‘murrdurrurrr’.
“What?” Mr. Scarlet said, “Stop the what?”
“The killer,” I said smugly, “Can’t you understand English?”
“Scottish,” Weedgie said, “If ye don’t mind!”
Mr. Scarlet frowned and crossed his arms. “You must have someone else inform the authorities,” he said, “And you both fade into the background.”
“No way,” I said, “We do all the work and someone else gets the glory? I don’t think so.”
“Aye,” Weedgie joined in, “That’s no’ fair.”
“Deal with it,” Mr. Scarlet said, “Or find yourselves in black nothingness for ever.”
I clenched my fists. “I’m not fading into any background. I was famous, you know.”
“Infamous, more like. There’s a big difference.” He smirked.
“People wrote books about me.”
“Some people write really bad books,” he said, “And some people read any old rubbish.”
“People admired me.” I stepped closer, spat the words out.
He shook his head and laughed. Weedgie gulped and shuffled closer to me.
Mr. Scarlet’s voice was low and scornful.
“People despised you, Marty. Decent people wouldn’t give you the time of day. The only people who admired you were sad, lonely misfits with no real friends. The sort of people whose neighbours would say, ‘Oh, what‘s-his-name? Didn’t really know him. He was quiet. Kept himself to himself.’ You know the type, Marty. Losers. Just like you.”
He stepped back, pushed up his jacket sleeve and glanced at a large silver wristwatch. “I have to go. Remember what I said. No glory.”
And then he was gone.
A frustrated growl escaped me and I strode away from Weedgie and paced up and down, seething to myself and imagining all the horrible, painful things I could do to Mr. Scarlet.
Finally I slumped back onto the bench and Weedgie jumped up beside me.
“Ah don’t like that red flinker,” he said, “He’s a bampot. He didnae need tae be that nasty tae ye. Ye’re no’ a loser.”
I forced a smile, looked down at my hands. “Thanks. I don’t like him either, Weedgie, but he’s in control of our lives. We have to play by his rules or we’re finished.”
Weedgie sighed and hung his head. We sat there until the sun set and streetlights came on and then I realised something pretty scary.
Mr. Scarlet’s pronouncement about Weedgie and myself had come true.
We were a pair.
We had become a team.
A team united against Mr. Scarlet…but a team, nonetheless. He’d played his hand well, timed his assaults perfectly, and now Weedgie and I had to rely on each other for our very existence.
I considered the black nothingness for a moment. It still seemed quite attractive. Then I sighed and stood up.
“C’mon, Weedgie,” I said, “Let’s get back. We need to talk this through. If we have to involve someone else then who’s it going to be?”
“We cannae tell Sadie,” Weedgie said, “She’d be horrified at someone trying tae kill her sister. And she likes Don.”
“Pat? What about her?”
“Don’t think she’d believe us…she’s too nice.”
“That leaves Eric.”
“He disnae like me.”
I remembered Eric’s look of disgust the first time he’d seen Weedgie. It was probably similar to the look on my own face when I first saw Weedgie. I had a pang of regret about that now.
“He was probably just shocked to see you that first time,” I said, “Maybe he’s scared of dogs. He hasn’t been nasty to you, has he?”
“Naw, suppose no’.”
“He’ll have to do, then. We’ll get him on his own tomorrow, after we’ve been to Don’s house. That‘s if we‘ve got some kind of proof. We have to get proof before we involve Eric.”
“Righto, partner.” Weedgie grinned his too-human grin at me and we walked back to Sadie‘s. On the corner of the street opposite there was a phone box, and I caught a glimpse of bright blonde hair inside it.
“Hey, look over there,” I said to Weedgie, “Is that Pat inside the phone box?”
Weedgie squinted through the darkness. “Aye, it’s her. Why’s she in a phone box when there’s a phone in the hall? Sadie’s put up a wee sign that says ye can use it if ye pay fur the call.”
“C’mon,” I said, and we crossed the road, “We’ll pretend we were walking back this way…if we accidentally hear part of her conversation…?”
“Ah like yer style.” Weedgie trotted happily beside me as we dodged traffic and headed for the pavement opposite. I appreciated the irony of now having to help Weedgie avoid accidents or injury and just hoped he would be doing the same for me. We approached the phone box just as the door swung open and Pat stumbled out, hand over her mouth. She stared blindly at us, her face chalk white.
“Pat? What is it?” I stepped quickly forward and supported her before her legs buckled. She leant back against me and stared down at Weedgie as if she‘d never seen him before. “What’s wrong?”
“Jill. I phoned Jill. My friend.” She gulped. “Friend at work.” She took a deep breath while I remembered.
“Of course. They’d been ill at your work, hadn’t they? You got the day off. Food-poisoning, wasn’t it?”
She nodded and tears streamed down her face. “Mr. Nicholson…Bernard…our boss. He’s died.”
“Oh.” I frowned. “That’s…that’s dreadful, but…was he an old man?”
“Forty two.” She shook her head. “He had a heart condition…but…it’s not right. It’s not!”
Weedgie and I exchanged awkward looks. Had Pat been in love with her boss? It certainly looked that way. I cast around for something to say.
“Your friend Jill…is she alright?”
“Yes. Yes…she’s fine. She was like me, she didn’t eat any of the…” Pat tailed off, her frown deepening, and then I saw fear in her eyes.
“What is it? What’re you scared of?”
“Nothing. No-one. I don’t know. Oh, I don’t know…!” She pushed away from me and went running off down the street. Weedgie took off after her but slowed down and stopped when he realised she was heading back to Sadie’s. I caught up with him and we crossed together and arrived just behind Pat. She stumbled through the front door and made for the stairs.
“Pat!” I tried to stop her but she shook me off and climbed wearily up the stairs.
“Jings bangs,” Weedgie said, when she was out of sight, “She was lucky, then, her and her pal. They didnae eat whatever it wis that caused the food-poisonin’…” He tailed off and looked up at me. I bit my lip, shook my head.
“No,” I said softly, “Don’t think that…”
“Well, whit else can ah think? We’re talkin’ aboot poisonin’ and someone died at her work…dae ye think she was practising oan them? Did she take some food in tae her work? Did she tell her pal no tae eat it?”
I sat down on the bottom stair.
“It can’t be Pat,” I said, looking around to check no-one was listening, “It just…can’t. She was upset about her boss. I think she was in love with him.”
“She could be a good actress. Maybe she saw us comin’ and put oan a show fur us ootside the phone box. She’s been actin’ weird a’ day.”
“I don’t know, Weedgie, I just can’t think straight.” I stood up. “Let’s go and say goodnight to Sadie. I need some sleep.”
We went along to the lounge where jazz music was blaring from a record player. Sadie and Mary shared a settee while Eric sat in an armchair. They all held glassed of sherry and as we entered, the two women were laughing at something Eric had said.
“Boys, you’re back!” Sadie flung her arms open, and Mary giggled some more. I realised they were both a little tipsy. “You’re looking miles better,” I told Mary, and she did look much healthier; her face was flushed and her eyes bright.
“I’ve had a small sherry.” She hiccupped. “Think it’s gone to my head. This is the best tonic I could have, being here with Sadie. It’s like we’re girls again! This is fun…’though I’m feeling a bit tired…it’s what I need.”
Weedgie went over to Eric and sat in front of him He stared up at his face.
“You know,” Eric said, looking down at Weedgie, “I’ve been a bit wary of your dog because I’m normally allergic to them. I usually come out in big red lumps and my eyes close up, but…I’ve been fine with Weedgie.” He reached out and tentatively patted Weedgie’s head, then examined his hand. He tried again and grinned. “I think I’m cured.”
We all laughed and then Sadie asked if I’d seen Pat. I told her Pat had come in and gone upstairs and that we were going to our room now too. I said goodnight to everyone and then Weedgie and I left the room. Sadie came out behind us and we all climbed the stairs.
“I’ll just see if Pat is coming for a sherry,” she said, “Mary wants to catch up with her.”
“Mary seems a lot better,” I said, “She seems to have more energy than she did this afternoon when she arrived.”
“Must be my home cooking.” Sadie grinned. “Sometimes a change of scene can work wonders. Well, goodnight, then.”
We were at the first landing. Sadie headed for Pat’s room and knocked on the door as Weedgie and I carried on upstairs to our room. I closed the curtains and put on the lamp and then Weedgie picked up his water bowl and dumped it at my feet.
“Ah need clean watter,” he said.
“Alright.” I sighed and took the bowl. He followed me out of the room and watched through the banisters as I descended the stairs to the bathroom. Sadie was still outside Pat’s door.
“Come on, Pat,” she was saying, “You can tell me. Whatever’s wrong, you can tell me. Don’t cry!”
I went into the bathroom and filled the bowl. When I came out, Sadie was standing at the top of the staircase leading back down. “She won’t speak to me.” She frowned and looked worried. “Has she said anything to you?”
I considered what to do. If Pat was guilty - and it certainly looked bad for her - then Sadie deserved to be warned. I resolved to say something…but not too much…there was still no proof.
“She’s had a shock,” I said, “Her boss has died rather suddenly. I think it was after the food-poisoning she told us about.”
Sadie looked stunned. “Food-poisoning killed him?”
“Well, I think he had a condition…heart trouble, so Pat said. That would make it more dangerous for him, maybe. But they were all sick, remember? She said so this morning.”
“Oh…well…yes. Goodnight then…” Sadie drifted off down the stairs as if in a dream. I went back up to Weedgie, who’d heard the whole conversation through the banisters, and we entered our room and closed the door. I put the bowl down and he had a drink and then sat back and looked at me.
“Here’s a thought,” he said, “If Pat poisoned folk at her work…why would she tell us a’ aboot it? Why not keep schtum?”
“She probably thought it would be treated as food-poisoning. She didn’t think anyone would die.”
Weedgie went over to his red furry bed, jumped inside and sat down.
“Ah cannae believe it’s Pat. Why wid she want to kill Mary?”
“She’s in love with Don?”
“Ye just said she’s in love wi’ her boss. Are ye saying she’s in love wi’ them baith?”
I sighed. “Maybe…she was in love with her boss and they fell out so she poisoned him…”
“But she was greetin’. Unless that was an act, like ah said. But still…” Weedgie frowned, “Somethin’ disnae add up…”
“No,” I agreed, “It’s the time frame. Mary’s been ill for months so if Pat’s the poisoner -”
“Pat the Poisoner.” Weedgie laughed. “That‘s some name. Like Happy Families…only no’.”
“She’s been dosing Mary with poison for a while,” I went on, “So…how has she done that? She would have to go to Mary’s house…”
We both thought for a minute and then announced in unison;
“Aye!” Weedgie was excited. “She lied aboot bein’ a typist. She works fur the caterer.”
“We’ll find out tomorrow at the house.” I felt happier. Started to undress. We were getting somewhere.
“We’re the A-Team,” Weedgie said in an appalling attempt at an American accent.
“The A-Minus Team, more like.” I laughed and got into bed.
I switched off the lamp. “Night, Weedgie.”
Damn…what was happening to me? I was beginning to like Weedgie and, what was worse, I found the thought comforting. I had no-one else in the world right now and we were forced to stick together. I decided there and then that I may as well take Mr. Scarlet’s advice and try to enjoy the experience.
I sighed to myself.
Here lies Martin Hollis…serial-saver.
Ten minutes later, Weedgie jumped onto the bed. He turned around in circles four or five times then flopped down and stretched out, head on the pillow next to mine. Two minutes later, he was snoring.
I made a mental note to buy ear-plugs.