I am progressing very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in very complex forms; and the progress needed is incessant. (Paul Cezanne)
...Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things. (Richard Dawkins)
.......We are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. (Ray Bradbury)

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

19 - Ladies' day

Wednesday November 4

“I’ve decided what to do,” Gary told Cleo at breakfast.
“You talked in your sleep, Gary. I think you were rehearsing that questioning.”
“I’m taking on some of the Hartley Agency idiosyncrasies.” said Gary. “One of them is to think seriously about the suspects. I used to get some facts, put them in order along with tangible evidence and lock a suspect up, usually after charging him or her with whatever offences were on the cards.”
“And now?”

18 - Brainstorming

Tuesday cont.

Gary got home early enough for a siesta. Gloria would take PeggySue for a walk. Charlie was going to play with her classmate Helen,  who lived nearby, so she would not be coming straight home after school. Gary and Cleo would rest for a couple of hours. Siestas in the afternoon were probably their best times of the day: time to muse, make love and regenerate. Talking about crime was not high on the siesta agenda.

Monday, 16 November 2015

17 - Captured

Tuesday November 3

Cleo and Gary were agreed that Edith Parsnip had the strongest motive to kill the vicar. The evidence that Greg had revealed in his description of the tea-lady, that he had noticed  a small birthmark on her left hand woud have to be verified, of course. If it could be, it was a damning clue to Edith’s guilt. Cleo could not remember noticing if Edith had such a birthmark. It would make life a whole lot easier for the sleuths if Edith was guilty, though it would be devastating for the boys. Over a pot of coffee she and Gary discussed the  possible break-through to identifying the tea-lady. Gary would confront Edith with Greg . That might be the answer to identifying the poisoner.
***

16 - Who's who

Monday cont.

Gary had only just arrived back at the office on Monday afternoon when Roger Stone rang.
“Gary. We have a problem,” he said. “I got a phone call this morning warning me about Frank Cook. Can you come to my office. We need to talk personally in case our phones have ears.”
Before Gary sat down he made a thorough search of Roger's office.
"I'd hate this room to be bugged, but it is, Roger." He said, removing a predatory bug from the underside of the phone and dropping it into a vase containing water and a few flowers.
"I think we should go for a walk,” Gary proposed. “It's quite hard to bug the great outdoors."
“Who would do that?” said Roger.
“HQ is not as safe as houses, Roger.”
Out in the little park a couple of streets away from HQ the air was fairly free of carbon monoxide and presumably completely free of clandestine eavesdroppers.
“Did you know Cook personally before he came, Roger?”
“No, but he was highly recommended.”
“My two amateur sleuths were suspicious of him.”
“Hang on to those ladies. They have a nose for crime.”
“Meaning?”
“Frank Cook not only investigates crime. Apparently he is also involved in it.”
“What kind of crime?”
“For a time he was on a panel giving new identities to crown witnesses, Gary.”
“And misusing his job?”
“Let’s say he was using his job to manage disappearing acts for wanted felons.”
“Nicely put. At a price, I take it.”
“ Why else? One of his clients was Grisham but not under that name.”
“Really.”
“We think he kept the data so that he could extort money out of his clients and possibly others.”
“Who told you all that, Roger?”
“MI5.”
“Had you asked for information on him?”
“Not directly, but I mentioned him to a colleague in the MI5 and he told me that Cook had been fired.”
“So how did he get here?”
“He intercepted MI5 mail. The MI5 people responsible for anonymous mail decided to play a trick on Mr Cook. They sent a mail set up for the purpose then followed its trail out of their inbox to Mr Cook’s inbox and back again. Cook read information that was entirely fictional and acted on it, trying to blackmail the colleague set up for the trap. They knew that the faked mail was the only source of that equally faked message. Challenged, he said he had stumbled on it. He was fired.”
“So he intercepted your mail requesting an assistant for me.”
“Grisham was the vital word. It was in my mail and presumably he had an app showing up anything containing that name connected with a previous client.”
“Very cunning. What name did Grisham use before he became Grisham?
“Smith.”
“John Smith, no doubt. How unimaginative is that!” said Gary.
“Almost anonymous. Who would suspect anyone named John Smith of anything?”
“But someone found out, Roger, otherwise he would not have needed a new alias.”
“Then he was named after the author of a book someone was reading.”
“Am I thinking what you are thinking, Roger?”
“Not yet, Gary. There’s more.”
“We have evidence to prove that Edith Parsnip knew Frank Cook from time spent as a student in Switzerland. She was an au pair girl for his family. He must have been about 17 and she was in her early twenties.”
“I should say that it’s a small world, but that hardly does justice to what I’m hearing now,” said Gary.
“He looked for Edith, traced her to Upper Grumpsfield, and phoned her. He had traced Grisham by methods known only to himself, but presumably via a link in the system. I assume he phoned Edith and wanted to know if she remembered him.”
“Were the two of them a pair, Roger?”
“I don’t know. Mrs Parsnip must have told him all about her village, her husband, his church and his parishioners. In fact, she told him all he needed to know. Grisham was a church-goer. That was what interested Cook most.”
“Grisham had defaulted the fraudulent payments to Cook, I assume.”
“Worse than that, from Cook’s point of view. Grisham wasn’t his first new identity, but his second. Cook had only known the first one officially, so he did not have any information on the second nom-de-plume. It took some time for Cook to connect Grisham with the guy who really had defaulted the payments that Cook said would secure his safely. But when he did, he decided to act, since Grisham had double-crossed him. No one gets away with double-crossing a guy with the criminal energy of Frank Cook.”
“Could that be why he anglicized his Germanic name, Roger?”
“I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out what Cook did in Switzerland. I’ll get Europol onto that.”
“OK. So Cook has been arrested, I hope.”
“Not yet. That’s where you come in, Gary.”
“That sounds ominous.”
“We can’t charge him on theories, Gary. We need evidence that he was involved in Grisham’s death and it would be useful to know why Mrs Grisham was also targeted.”
“Are you sure he did it, Roger?”
“No, but I hope he did.”
“I’ll be honest with you, Roger,” said Gary. “Edith is a suspect and I’ll have to find out if Mrs Grishem was friendly with her. Edith is a very mixed up lady with various exes to grind. I’m not sure that she needed assistance from anyone to do what she had decided what is good and right.”
“If that’s the case, we’ll find a different way of Nailing Cook, Gary. Don’t stop doing what you are planning.”
“I’ll talk to the ladies and call you back. I think we need some underground detecting to match Mr Cook’s, or at least to get into the way he would go about acting out his own particular form of villainy.”
“OK. But don’t get too near him, any of you. He’s a nasty character, Gary.”
“You can say that again!”
“Your women are intuitively unbeatable,” said Roger. “And to be blunt, that astuteness could be the death of them.”
“I’ll do my best to protect them Roger. I love them both.”
“I know you do, Gary, and I care what happens to all of you.”
“I know this might be a wild goose chase, but at least it’s shedding some light on the Grisham case. I thought we were going to have to shelve it and just make do with Parsnip’s demise,” said Gary.
“There are too many angles to be investigated, Gary. It’s a can of worms, if ever there was one,” said Roger. “We also need to know if Parsnip was in any way connected.”
“I shouldn’t think so, Roger. In the past everyone has accused him of only thinking of himself. If he was into any kind of intrigue, some other personality in him must have been responsible.”
“Pointing to bipolar, Gary.”
“Possibly. He left a note, by the way.”
“Do you have the note with you?”
Gary handed Roger a copy of the note. It was obviously unfinished. Parsnip had probably intended to write more. The note was not signed, but it proved that Parsnip really did think Laura Finch had been reincarnated:
***
“I am sorry to have caused you any distress, Laura.
I will not go back to the vicarage or to the job as vicar of the parish.
If you will have me,   I  will come back to your loving arms, my sweetest love.
There should be a large sum of money coming to you soon. Please share it with my ex-wife if I am not out of here in time to deal with it myself. I know I can trust you because you are the love of my life, my dearest love…”
***
“What money could he have been writing about? The Parsnips were as poor as proverbial church mice,” said Gary.
“It could all have been a massive lie told by a man who was no longer sane.”
“Or someone was going to pay him for something, Roger.”
“We could check his bank account,” Roger suggested.
“If he had a joint account with his wife, surely she would have noticed,” said Gary.
“Or he had a separate account for his own transactions, Gary. Could one of your cute sleuths find out if there was any discontinuity in the vicar’s belief that it was Laura.”
“I can’t really see Miss Snow rising to any bait. She was in a very mixed-up state when I saw her on Saturday,” said Gary.
“How mixed up? Could Dorothy find out?”
“She’s the only one who could, I suppose,” said Gary. “She interviews people as though they had committed some offence or other at her ballet school in London. Smallest common denominator plus shock treatment. A lesson in slyness, actually.”
“Admirable, Gary. You have hit on some very useful assistants!”
“Look at these photos of both ‘Laura’s,” said Gary, finding the photo gallery on his tablet. “They do look uncannily alike.”
“Amazing,” said Roger.
”Mr Parsnip had difficulty telling his own wife and her twin apart, Cleo once told me. Apparently he would memorize what Edith was wearing and call her sister Clare. Cleo experienced that at meetings held in the living-room at the vicarage.”
“Then we can assume that the vicar was not play-acting, Gary.”
“Probably not. Dorothy knows more, I’m sure.”
“Keep me informed, Gary. I didn’t offer you a drink so shall we go to the cafeteria and have a coffee?”
***
Gary was not sure how he should deal with Frank Cook. He had two alternatives. Either he could send the guy on harmless missions to keep him occupied, or he could find an intricate case that would automatically keep him away from the Grisham case, and that would – if he took up the kind of thought experiment Dorothy indulged in – mean inventing something for him to investigate. He went back to his office to study Cook’s CV and read the various reports that he already had on Grisham. He did not think there was anything to be gained from looking into the vicar’s activities except to find out if he had any enemies. The guy was dead. He had been poisoned, and he only had one definite enemy and that was himself, unless yu counted Edith.
Gary was indeed nervous about what Edith could do after hearing about her uncontrolled behaviour under the influence of drink and her newly-discovered sensual lust. He would get a photo of her and look at it. Sometimes faces on photos told you a story if you looked at them for long enough. Gary was not into esoterica, but there was no harm in appealing to the subconscious.
***
Cleo was having the same thoughts. She was planning to print a few photos including those of known felons, Edith and Frederick so as to ask strangers on the street to say what kind of people they thought were on the photos. It was a game really, but one that appealed to the subconscious and had been known to focus attention on elements that had previously gone unnoticed if it was something we do every day with people we meet in the flesh. We often make mistakes about character, misled by a person’s lips or eyes. The whole idea harked back on her thesis about what murderers look like and why we cannot normally tell them apart from innocent people. It was not just a pet theory. Someone might say something instructive about Edith, for instance.
Cleo remembered her dissertation, which had caused discomfort among the peole to who she had introduced it. What is an innocent person, anyway? When I look in a mirror I see one, don’t I? Most people would agree that you can’t see from looking at someone what goes on inside their heads and you don’t know from looking at yourself what you are going to do in the future.
***
After his talk with Roger, Gary phoned Dorothy and she was pleased to provide him with a good image of Edith looking straight at the camera. What a coincidence. Dorothy had  been trying out her new mobile camera on faces at that BBQ a week ago. She would send the shot from her phone immediately.
“Why do you need it, Gary?”
“For my records, Dorothy,” replied Gary, and Dorothy immediately smelt a rat.
“I’m going to Crumb’s new café with Cleo and the baby this afternoon, Gary. Care to join us?”
Gary had been undecided about what to do that afternoon. He could read reports at home and – if he was honest with himself - he was hooked on being with those two sleuths and his daughters. He looked forward to some brain-storming on new ideas and, he had to admit, to the light-hearted banter that accompanied every conversation.
“What a good idea,” he said. “I’ll collect the kids from school and bring them all. They need something to cheer them up, and I’m not averse to a nice cream cake.”
Dorothy had not told Cleo about Gary coming to the café, so the surprise was perfect when Gary arrived with 6 children. He explained later that some of them had been sitting around outside school waiting for the bus and the twins were dragging their feet home from primary school and looked very disconsolate. Whereas the older boys had long since given up their father as a bad loss, the younger boys had still hoped he would take an interest in them one day.
Cleo was sure that Robert would ditch Edith now he realised what kind of a woman she was. She was also haunted by the thought that Edith might have had something to do with the Grisham case. A serious talk with Dorothy was necessary. When Gary suggested between cream cakes that they should have a brain-storming session that very evening because he wanted to tell them something important, Dorothy and Cleo were all for it.
Meanwhile, all the Parsnip boys had found a table, Cakes and coke had been set before them. Charlie was helping with Peggysue. Cleo knew Gary was going to talk to the boys about their father. He would know what to say and the boys respected him.
“I want you to know that you can always come to me, boys,” he started.
“Thank you, Sir,” said Albert.
“Why don’t you just call me Gary from now on. We are friends, after all.”
Listening to Gary’s approach, Dorothy was moved by his warmth, Cleo knew what was coming.
“Stand up, Boys!”
They all stood up obediently.
“Have you ever seen men making a scrum in a Rugby match?” he asked.
The younger boys had no idea what that was.
“Come into the centre of the café and just open your arms wide, like this,” he said, demonstrating.
“Now we are just going to close in so that we are all in a big huddle,” said Gary.
The children had great fun making their scrum work.
“That’s how it’s going to be from now on, kids,” he said. “All for one and one for all!”
“I’ll show you again,” he said, beckoning to Cleo, Charlie and Dorothy.
They hugged with PeggySue somewhere in the middle. The boys applauded and joined in.
The other customers in the café applauded warmly at this show of affection.
“You do have a lot of children, Sir,” said the waitress.
“I do, don’t I?” Gary replied wondering how Parsnip could have avoided viewing his family with delight and joy.
Dorothy asked the waitress if she was related to Betty Coppins. She looked like her. “She’s my aunty,” said the girl. “Betty was my father’s sister.”
“So you‘ve heard what happened, haven’t you,” said Dorothy.
“Yes Miss, but I didn’t have much to do with her because my cousin is horrible.”
“I expect you mean Jessie, don’t you?”
“Yes Miss, but she’s been put away,” said the girl.
“The problem is that we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our relatives.”
“I wouldn’t choose Jessie, that’s for sure,” said the girl. “She murders people.”
“Who told you that?” Dorothy asked.
“Everyone knows that,” replied the girl. “I must get on now. Can I bring you anything else?”
***
After a happy outing that did not finish until after the boys could not put away any more cake, the party left and they all walked to the vicarage. Charlie did not want to go in, so she stayed outside with PeggySue and Dorothy while Cleo and Gary accompanied the boys in through the kitchen door and squared things with Edith, who had thought they were all playing football and would come home when they’d had enough.
Edith did not comment on the vicar’s death. Cleo and Gary decided it would be better not so say anything, either. Robert appeared from somewhere in the house and declared that he wanted to talk to Gary about something, alone.
“You are not going to fight over me, are you?” said Edith, and Dorothy looked at the vicar’s wife and shook her head in disgust.
“No danger of that,” said Gary.
“We’ll go into the living-room, if that’s all right, Edith,” said Robert, gesturing to Gary to follow him.
Cleo had no clear idea what Robert wanted to tell Gary. She wondered if it had something to do with Edith’s unusual sexual demands. Edith said nothing. She put the kettle on for tea. There was no sign of supper for the boys. On the other hand, she was not sure if they could possibly eat anything else after all that cake.
***
“OK. What is it, Robert?”
“I’m worried, Gary. Edith said something in her drunken state last night that will not go out of my head.”
“Not about…”
No. Not about the sex thing. This is something quite different and I don’t understand what she meant.”
“Have you asked her, Robert?”
“I tried, but she denied having said it, and since she was extremely drunk, perhaps I should believe that she really could not remember.”
“But you don’t, do you? You’ve heard the saying ‘in vino veritas’.”
“That’s foreign, Gary. I only speak English with a smattering of Welsh.”
“It’s Latin and translates to ‘in wine there is truth’.”
“Oh.”
“The saying exists in many languages, Robert. What it means is that drunken people tend to tell the truth, so what did Edith say?”
“She told me she only wanted to teach him a lesson.”
“You think she meant the vicar, don’t you?”
“I don’t know what to think.”
“Do you know where she was early on Sunday afternoon, Robert?”
“Not all the time. I went to the shop to do my accounts and see to things.”
“We’ll have to find out,” said Gary. “I’m sure she was only blabbing, but it will ease your mind, won’t it?”
“I think she’s capable of killing, Gary.”
“We all are, Robert. Did you…well, did you sleep together last night?”
“Yes. I went home, but she followed me later. She was stark naked under her raincoat, Gary. Sometimes I think she’s insane.”
“She told Cleo that you had gone to shop early, Robert. I don’t suppose she remembers last night’s episode.”
“I sent her home before it got light. I have lost all feeling for her, Gary.”
Gary could see that Robert was reticent about telling him what had happened. Robert was very conservative and embarrassed at the idea of even talking about sex
“She was even more awful last night. Gary. I didn’t have a chance. She grabbed my – well, you know what -  and started to manipulate me. Then she threw me down and sat on me. Short of hitting her, I could not prevent what happened next.”
“Excuse my asking, Robert. I can see you are not liking this talk, and I did not invite you to tell me any details, but did you – well did you like what she did?”
“Enjoy myself?”
“No, that’s not exactly what I meant, Robert.”
“It all went the way it always does, if that’s what you mean, Gary.”
“More than once?”
“Yes,” said Robert ashamedly.
Gary was reminded of female rape victims he had had to deal with in the past. He had never had to deal with a case of a male victim before. They probably kept quiet out of shame. But after all, many women did not come forward for the same reason.
“Edith raped you, didn’t she, Robert?”
“I thought only men did that.”
“Men and aggressive women, Robert, or women who are sick in the head.”
“She hurt me, Gary. I’m all bruised after one of those sessions.”
 “You want to get out, don’t you, Robert?” There was no point in harping on the situation. Robert had to get out fast. This kind man did not deserve to be the victim of anyone, let alone an insane woman hell bent on sex.
“Yes, but I can’t let the boys down. They have nobody.”
 “What about Beatrice and Oscar.”
“Edith does not want them anywhere near, Gary.”
“I’ll get Dorothy to phone. Oscar may be the right person to help the boys now.”
“I thought I was the right person,” said Robert sadly.
“You might be, but not as long as Edith rapes you at a time when she should be feeling a little bit of sorrow about what happened to the vicar and thinking about his funeral and the futue of the family. That’s not normal.”
“I suppose you’re right, Gary. What do you suggest?”
“Say no to her advances, and if she behaves improperly, take her into the bathroom and put her under a cold shower. I suppose there is a shower here?”
“Yes. For the boys.”
“That’s the only advice I can think of at the moment. I think she’s in some sort of shock or trauma, but I’m not a doctor.”
“I could get Dr Mitchell to come. Maybe she needs some pills.”
“In the old days, the condition I think Edith has was called manic depression and I think it’s a better description than bipolar disorder. She needs a diagnosis before she can be treated properly, but again, I’m not a doctor.,” said Gary. “Perhaps you can get Dr Mitchell to help on that.”
“I just hope it’s not closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, Gary.”
“So do I. Just one question, Robert.”
“Go ahead.”
“I don’t want to pry, but are you in love with Edith?”
“I think I’ve stopped even liking her.”
”That does not surprise me, in the circumstances, Robert, but give her a chance.”
“I would, but I’m not sure I can, Gary.”
***
Cleo had had no success at all trying to engage Edith in conversation. She seemed wrapped up in herself and had no desire to be friendly. When Gary and Robert had finished their talk and returned to the kitchen, Gary said he had work to do and they should get home, especially as the girls needed their tea and an early night. Cleo said that Dorothy had already gone back to the cottage with the children. She would give them their supper and Charlie would help to get PeggySue ready for bed.
Walking back to the cottage, Gary was disinclined to talk about what Robert had said, but promised an explanation when they got to their brain-storming session. First priority was to look after the girls. Gary would go through Charlie’s homework with her before they had supper. She was good at school, but he liked to keep abreast of what they were doing, and Charlie had fun teaching her father things that had not even been thought of when he was her age.
Cleo made pizza on a big tray ready to go in the oven. Charlie helped chop the mushrooms and decided how everything was going to arranged. PeggySue listened to a song or two sung by Dorothy. Charlie could stay up for a bit after supper and watch a video. The three grown-ups sat at the dining table for their think tank session.
“I’m going to bed,” said Charlie. “I’ll sing some more songs with PeggySue.”
“That’s a good idea, Sweetheart,” said Gary.
Charlie went solemnly to kiss the grownups good night and went off to bed.
***
“It’s your turn first, Gary,” Cleo started. “What did Robert have to say to you? He seemed desperate for advice of some kind.”
“I’m glad that Charlie decided to go to bed. What I should be telling you is not meant for her ears. In fact, I’m not sure I should be repeating some of the details.”
“Don’t then, Gary,” said Cleo, noticing that Gary was perturbed about what Robert had said to him.
“To cut a long story short, after he had described Edith’s behaviour, Robert told me that he thinks Edith could have killed the vicar,” said Gary.
“That reflects what we think, doesn’t it?” said Dorothy. “I certainly think she’s capable of it.”
“Her alibi is rocky, Ladies,” said Gary. “Robert does not know if Edith was at home at thime the vicar was killed.”
“Wasn’t he at home?”
“No. He went to the shop to do his accounts.”
“Escaping from Edith, no doubt,” said Cleo.
“ I wonder if someone saw him there,” said Dorothy.
“You don’t seriously think that Robert would poison the vicar, do you Dorothy?”, said Cleo. “He couldn’t hurt a fly!”
“I agree and Dorothy does not know about Edith’s fetish, Cleo,” said Gary.
“Tell me, Gary. I’m all ears,” said Dorothy.
“I’m not sure you’d really want to hear about it.”
“I would.”
Gary made sure that the girls were asleep.
 “I’m nearly asleep, Daddy,” said Charlie. “I know you want to talk business,” sie said.
“Je t’aime,” said Gary.
“Moi aussi,” replied Charlie. “But tell me about just one bit of police buisness.”
Gary obliged with a harmless tale.
“Now close your eyes and go to sleep. I’ll put the light out, shall I?”
“I won’t eavesdrop, Daddy.”
“Promise?”
“Promise.”
Gary planted a kiss on his daughter’s forehead, kissed PeggySue on her plump cheek and returned to the dining-table.
 “I just hope Charlie does not want to become a policewoman,” he said. “She just pretented to nod off when I was telling her about someone stealing toys from a department store and it turning out to be a 63 year old housewife with no children and a flat full of stolen toys. Then she asked me to pass her book. The characters in there are more realistic for an eleven yearold, I assume.”
“I think I’d fall asleep if you told me that story,” said Dorothy.
“Well, Charlie didn’t, but I persuaded her to let me put off the light.”
When Gary had finished telling Cleo, who already knew, and Dorothy who didn’t, about Edith’s nymphomaniac acts, Dorothy was not too shocked to tell Gary that she was not really surprised. Edith had always been too good to be true; a paragon of virtue. Such women often had relapses!
“Not a relapse, Dorothy. She isn’t ill.”
“In my book she is, Cleo. Her husband is murdered in the afternoon and gets drunk and rapes her boyfriend in the evening. That is not rational behaviour.”
“I’m going to phone Greg and ask him to describe the woman who served him the tea that knocked him out.”
Greg was able to report that no one had been near the room Parsnip had occupied,
“Keep the guard up for a couple more days, Grag,” Gary advised. “We may be onto something.”
Gary asked Greg to describe his tea-lady again.
“She was wearing a white overall, Gary.”
“With a name badge?”
“I didn’t see one.”
“What did she have on her head?”
“I think she must have been a Muslim. She was wearing a big scarf pulled right down over her forehead and almost covering her shoulders.”
“What colour was the scarf?”
“Darkish and patterned. Not very noticeable.”
“Do you remember anything else, Greg. It’s really important.”
“She was wearing glasses, Gary. Huge sun-glasses. And she did not really raise her head. And there was that tiny birthmark on her hand.”
“Could it have been Edith Parsnip?”
“Who?”
“Mrs Parsnip. She had a motive.”
“You’ll have to explain that, Gary.”
“She was having an affair and did not want the vicar back under her roof.”
“Just let me think for a moment…Well, the woman was very slight. I suppose it could have been her.”
“Was she wearing rings?”
“No. No rings, but there was that birthmark on the back of her left hand.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yes. She poured the tea out and then she took a cup and saucer into Mr Parsnip’s room and must have poured him a cup. Then she came back very quickly and almost ran down the corridor with the teapot. I was feeling groggy. I thought I was just tired from getting up early.”
“You didn’t think anything was odd.”
“No. I wasnÄ’t groggy from the the tea then, Gary. I didn’t try it until she had gone. I remember now. I was chewing gum and I had to get rid of it first, so I got up and put it in a waste bin. Then I tried a minute sip of the tea. It smelt funny and I felt funny anyway, so I poured it into a plant pot. Then I went to sleep. But I’ve told you all that before.”
“Chris analysed the soil in that plant pot, Greg. There was enough poison in it to kill a football team.”
“Good God. I had a narrow escape.”
“You were extremely lucky, Greg. If you think of anything else, let me know.”
***
“You heard all that, didn’t you?” said Gary, returning to the table. “What do you make of it?”
“Edith definitely had a motive,” said Dorothy.
“How did she get into the hospital?” asked Cleo. “Did anyone see her come and go?”
“I’m going to interview her at HQ tomorrow,” said Gary.
“You can bluff a bit,” said Dorothy. “Pretend someone saw her.”
“Exactly, Dorothy. Do you want to be there?”
“Yes, but invisible.”
“OK. Do you have time, Cleo?”
“I’ll make time. Gloria will take care of PeggySue after nursery school.”
“Let’s say eleven, then, shall we?”
“We’ll drive in, Dorothy,” said Cleo.
“No, Cleo, I’ll take the bus. I like to be independent.”
“OK.”
“Of course, that does not solve the Grisham killings,” said Gary.
“Unless she has something to do with them as well,” said Cleo.
“She saw the vicar off at the vicarage, Cleo. She can’t have intercepted the car a few minutes later somewhere else. She doesn’t even have a driver’s licence,” said Dorothy.
“But she might have hired someone,” said Cleo.
“Who, for instance?”
“How about Frank Cook?”
“We don’t even know for certain if she knows him. I think we can keep the possibility in mind, but we should do some research first.”
“She could have killed Mrs Grisham, I suppose,” said Dorothy.
“But what would be her motive, Dorothy? You always need a motive. You insist on a motive!” said Cleo.
“Let’s get that research done,” said Gary. I’ll get fingerprints off Edith first thing and send them to Chris for identification. She must have left them somewhere, at least at the hospital. I know there were unidentified prints there.”
“Too many, surely, Gary.”
“It’s worth a try.”
“That all sounds like a good way forward,” said Dorothy.
“I’ll get some coffee go and put another pizza in the oven now,” said Gary.
“Don’t put  a pizza in, take it out, Gary. It should be ready by now and I don’t even know if we need one. Are you still hungry, Dorothy?”
“Solving murders makes me hungry.”
"Not solving them does the same for me, Dorothy," said Gary.
Dorothy cleared everything off the table and laid fresh places for three. Gloria would not be around. Her line-dancing group had to prepare for the Christmas Revue. Auditions would be taking place soon. Gloria was ambitious. She wanted to impress Dorothy with the dancers. They would fit in beautifully with the spirituals, she thought. Dorothy had already prevented Gloria from dressing them up in hula costumes but she had no idea what they would wear instead.
Gary looked in on his daughters. Charlie was still awake, had put the light back on and was reading a book about dragons.
“Come and have some more pizza,” he whispered.
“Look who’s here,” said Gary, returing to the living-room with Charlie piggy-backing. “Do we have time for a hug before I bring on the pizza, ladies?” he asked.
“We always have time for a hug,” replied Cleo.
The pizza, though one of the frozen sort, was excellent. Washed down with Chianti and followed by fruit and cheese, it was a perfect supper, they all agreed.
Now Charlie really was tired. Cleo took her to bed while Gary escorted Dorothy home.  Cleo was still clearing up when Gary arrived back.
“I’ll help you now,” he volunteered.
“Perfect timing, Sweetheart. It’s all done!”
A text message from Chris asked them to read his newest lab report NOW. When Gary got back he found Cleo printing it.
“Read this, Gary. It may be what we need.”
“The poison in the vicar’s glass, in the plant pot and in Greg’s blood analysis was identical. The vicar’s cup revealed two lots of prints, from the vicar and someone else. The prints on the back seat of the car belonged to Grisham and someone else. Chris thought it might be a woman’s hand.
“If they aren’t Edith’s prints, whose are they?”
“But we know they can’t be Edith’s,” said Cleo.
“Do we, Cleo? What if Edith decided to accompany the two men to the airport.”
“There’s never been any question of that, Gary. Don’t complicate the issue. Edith wanted Mr Parsnip out of the way and waved him off. When he turned up again she went to the hospital and killed him in cold blood. Those prints in that car don’t have to be from the same day. I thought we’d decided that.”
“ I won’t speculate,” said Gary. “I’ve got a hunch, but I won’t expound it.”
“Let’s get some sleep, Gary. Tomorrow is going to be a long day and I’m tired.”
“Too tired?”
“No. Not too tired.”


Sunday, 15 November 2015

15 - Domesticity times two

Monday November 2

“Is it Monday already?” groaned Gary. "I don’t want to get up."
“You really should. It’s past eight.”
“Oh. What about PeggySue’s breakfast?”

Friday, 13 November 2015

13 - All saints

Sunday November 1

Soon after midnight Dorothy phoned. She had just arrived home from the hospital in a taxi and was eager to tell Cleo what had happened in the meantime. Gary listened in, of course. He was just as curious.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

12 - Halloween

Saturday October 31

Saturday started late except that Charlie was up soon after six and had switched on the Saturday morning kiddies’ TV entertainment, made herself cocoa in the Microwave, found the chocolate biscuits and settled down for a couple of hours of uninterrupted viewing before the grown-ups appeared.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

11 - Albert

Friday October 30

Cleo and Gary made the most of their free day, but once Charlie arrived home later than usual because she’d been to hockey practice you could say that the honeymoon was over for the time being. Charlie’s knees were bloody and she was dishevelled.
“Didn’t you take some extra clothes, Charlie?”
“I forgot, so I had to wear my everyday uniform.”

Monday, 9 November 2015

10 - Dorothy rides again

Thursday October 29


Frederick’s disappearance had left Upper Grumpsfield’s parish church. St Peter’s, in disarray. The Bishop would be sure to send someone to preach on Sunday, but that did not solve the problem of the traditional Christmas entertainment, most of the responsibility for which fell on Dorothy Price’s shoulders.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

9 - Small talk

Wednesday cont.

Gary was giving PeggySue her supper when the front door bell rang. Cleo opened the door to Chris, who was accompanied by a young man. Gary introduced his little daughter briefly and went to put her to bed. PeggySue was tired. She would sleep all through whatever loud conversation and laughter ensued.
“Come in, Chris and introduce me,” said Cleo.
“This is Mike. He is my new partner.”

Saturday, 7 November 2015

8 - The coffee bar

Wednesday October 28

Cleo and Dorothy agreed that the walk down the hill to Lower Grumpsfield would do them good. It was quite a long way. Plenty of time to discuss the Grishams and not least the continued absence of Frederick Parsnip.
“Do you think we should have invited Edith to join us this morning, Cleo?”
“No, Dorothy. I’m not sure I would have known how to approach her. Anyway, she’s probably sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring,” said Cleo.

Friday, 6 November 2015

7 -Too many Cooks?

Tuesday cont.

Robert had included porterhouse steaks in Cleo's order although she hadn’t asked for any. No T-bone, however. Was that symbolic of their estrangement? T-bone steaks had been frequently on the menu that she and Robert had grilled and eaten together when their appetite for them far exceeded the appetite they had for one another. In the end, their passion for good food had replaced any vestige of passion in that marriage. If Cleo had not felt committed to keeping the partnbership going, whatever it cost, she could have put an end to what was becoming a farce. Gary’s only explanation later was that she had been in denial.

6 - More Hometruths

Tuesday cont.

Cleo decided to get off shaky ground. She and Dorothy would certainly find out more about Grisham with their own methods and make an effort to trace the vicar, though Cleo did not think there was much hope if he had decided to disappear.
“Exactly who is the new guy, Gary?”

Thursday, 5 November 2015

5 - Hometruths

Tuesday October 27

Domestic bliss is all very well, but it doesn’t get crimes solved.
Gary had asked Roger Stone, his superior at HQ, for advice on the Parsnip case and was meeting him early on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

4 - B420 slash 256

Monday cont.


About ten miles from Upper Grumpsfield Gary followed the instructions the patrol officer had given him. He was to turn off the main road and drive down a very bumpy lane for about a hundred yards to an open space. There they would find the car and the polic officer in charge would be waiting for them. The area had been cordoned off and an ambulance was standing by.

Monday, 2 November 2015

3. Abandoned

Monday cont.

At Cleo’s cottage Gary was having a relaxing Monday morning. His job would have required him to be at Headquarters in Middlethumpton had he not had Nigel to take care of office business. Gary had loads of reports to write and could do that at home. The other reason for preferring home to HQ was the novelty of living in perfect harmony with the woman he declared to be the love of his life, who had now signed the divorce papers organized by Robert and was waiting eagerly for the day she and Gary would be free to marry. What had started out as a flirt and become an intermittent affair was now an established status quo.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

2 - Beatrice

Monday October 26

Although the five Parsnip boys would brag at school about their hero of a father going to Africa to convert the pagans, they were not sorry to see him go.

1 - Never on a Sunday

Sunday October 25

The grand opening of Upper Grumpsfield’s new cake shop and café was now less than a week away, but some of the villagers were gossiping about something quite different. Rumour had it that the nice family butcher, who had recently moved back into the flat above his shop after deserting his wife and moving out of her cottage, had entertained a lady. She had stayed most of the night before hurrying back to (and here voices were lowered reverently) the vicarage. Cleo Hartley, the owner of that cottage, had not even wasted half a day before inviting her long-time lover to occupy the now vacant half of her marriage bed.