Saturday October 31
“Do you hear what I hear,” Cleo whispered to Gary, who was still fast asleep at just about half past six.
Saturday started late except for Charlie getting up soon after six. She had switched on the Saturday morning kids’ 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.
“I can’t hear anything,” he said.
“I’m going to look.”
“Do that. I’m going to sleep for a bit longer, but before I do, a small hug might be appreciated.”
“I don’t trust your small hugs, Gary, but I’ll be back for one when I’ve looked in at the girls.”
Cleo was amused to see that Charlie had curled up on the sofa, covered herself with the plaid and gone back to sleep, leaving the TV blaring. Cleo went to see if PeggySue was awake. She was, so Cleo changed her and took her into the kitchen to get her a drink and make some coffee for herself.
The next time Cleo looked for Charlie, she had moved from the sofa and was fast asleep on Cleo’s side of the bed with one small hand stretched out to hold Gary’s. Cleo put PeggySue next to Charlie and herself next to PeggySue to complete the quartet.
At nine Gary was astonished on waking to see that he had a bed full of women, as he described the scene. Two of the ‘women’ were asleep.
“What a great start to a day,” he exclaimed.
“I just hope it ends as peacefully,” said Cleo. “I was having a lovely sleep just now and look at these girls. Aren’t they cute!”
“But we are all getting up now,” said Gary, removing the warm duvets.
“Gary, I wouldn’t do that to you,” said Cleo.
“Someone has to get some discipline into this place,” he said. “I’m going to take a shower.”
Soon, raucous singing could be heard in competition with the waterproof shower radio at full throttle.
He’s happy, thought Cleo.
By ten, Charlie was ready to go for the bus to Middlethumpton.
“Don’t forget to come, will you?” Charlie said as she kissed them all goodbye.
“We’ll be there,” said Gary.”I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Sweetheart.”
Back at ther breakfast table drinking about his ninth cup of coffee, Gary decared that it was time to talk about a strategy for getting to Parsnip.”
“Is Snow’s house being watched?” Cleo asked.
“I hope so. I gave clear instructions.”
“It’s a really weird story,” said Cleo. “I know the vicar was inclined to fantasize, but if he is at Miss Snow’s house and genuinely thinks she is a reincarnation of Laura, we have a mentally sick guy on our hands.”
“Do you think he could be violent, Cleo?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so, but he’s definitely unbalanced if Dorothy’s hunch is right.”
“We have to find out if he killed Grisham, Cleo. If he did, why? If he didn’t, how did he get away from the assassin?”
“We need to go to Miss Snow’s house quite innocently, not giving an impression that we suspect something. Dorothy described her as being very chatty.”
“You’ve never met her, so it might be a good idea if you and Dorothy go there together. Dorothy can say she’s come to find out if the dog is OK, and she can introduce you.”
“I expect she knows who I am, Gary. Everyone seems to round here. I have a better idea.”
“You could go to the pub in Huddlecourt Minor and chat with Molly. She might have seen or heard something and is keeping quiet about it. Dorothy and I would go to Miss Snow’s house and I would text you what we discovered there.”
“That could be dangerous, Cleo.”
“I doubt it. Dorothy is with me and she has known Frederick Parsnip for a long time. I think she will know how to deal with him, and I’m not exactly witless!”
“I’d prefer it if we arranged for me to come along a few minutes later,“ said Gary, who was understandably uneasy. I’ll drop you off and drive to the pub, chat with Molly and drink something non-alcoholic, then drive back to collect you. If it’s all pie in the sky you could walk towards the pub and we’d find each other. Huddlecourt Minor only has one main street, so if you walked down it I would be sure to see you.”
“That sounds OK.,” said Cleo.
“But there’s a sporting chance that the vicar is there, however absurd the whole story is.”
“I’ll call Dorothy and invite her to the hockey match,” said Cleo.
“Dorothy was delighted to be asked. She arrived within a few minutes and was, to Gary’s amusement, wearing her famous hat with the cherries on it.
“You’d better leave that here,” he said tactfully.
“Don’t you like it, Gary?” said Dorothy. “It’s cherry hat number three. Hat number one was coveted by Miss Plimsoll and hat number two lost its cherries.”
“Very nice, but tt might blow off.”
“Don’t worry about that, Gary. It’s nailed on.”
The hockey match was entertaining. 22 little lionesses raced across the pitch, whacking ankles, pushing and shoving, lifting the hard little ball way higher than was actually allowed and generally fighting for ground. Gary thought girls’ hockey was infinitely more violent than any sport he’d seen men indulging in. Charlie was proud to have her parents, Dorothy and her little sister there, though the latter slept peacefully through all the screaming. Charlie managed to survive the match, which her team won, with only minor scratches and bruises.
Lunch was partaken of by all with varying degrees of enthusiasm at a stand selling chips in aid of some charity or other. At two thirty the family was back home. Cleo and Dorothy would drive to Huddlecourt Minor at four. Cleo helped Charlie remove the hockey-field grime under the shower and put ointment on her wounds. The girls were to go to the vicarage. Edith was delighted to see them when Gary dropped them off. Cleo deliberately stayed away. Gary would answer any questions suitably and not divulge where the vicar could be and that they were about to track him down.
A few minutes after four Dorothy and Cleo rang Miss Snow’s bell. Cleo was standing well back. She hoped Miss Snow would invite Dorothy in. Then Dorothy would beckon to her and Cleo would pretend to have been phoning someone, to provide a logical reason for not standing on the doorstep. The idea was not to overwhelm Miss Snow and raise suspicion.
“Why Dorothy, how nice to see you.”
“Nice to see you, Flora.”
“I can’t ask you in, Dorothy. My cousin is visiting and he is asleep on the sofa.”
“I don’t mind. I’d love to meet your cousin.”
It didn’t take much to make Flora Snow nervous. Her nervousness now was approaching panic stations. She had fear in her eyes, Dorothy commented later.
“You haven’t met Miss Hartley, have you?” said Dorothy, beckoning to Cleo. Cleo was clutching her mobile phone and squinting.
“How do you do, Miss Snow. The light is too poor for me here. Could you come and read this text message? I forgot my glasses and Dorothy could not see it, either.”
“Well,” said Miss Snow, and stepped forward.
Cleo was astounded at Flora’s likeness to Laura. She would have believed they were identical twins, had she been told that. But the women had different mothers. What fluke of nature had made them look so alike?
In an instant Dorothy had darted into Flora’s flat. That wasn’t strictly legal, but under the circumstances necessary, she told Gary later.
Asleep on the sofa was –as Dorothy had surmised – Frederick Parsnip.
Seconds later, Miss Snow had realized that she had been duped and dashed back into her flat screaming to Dorothy to get out before she called the police. Cleo sprinted in after her and closed the main door.
“He’s here,” said Dorothy.
“Get out,” screamed Miss Snow.
Her screams woke Mr Parsnip.
“What’s up, Laura?”
The vicar looked round wildly and his gaze fell on the two sleuths.
“Don’t tell Edith I’m here,” he said without any kind of preamble. He didn’t even seem very surprised to see them.
“I knew you’d come to see if I’m all right, Dorothy.”
“Are you all right, Frederick?” Dorothy asked.
The vicar stood up and went to Flora Snow.
“You know Laura, don’t you?”
Cleo phoned Gary and told him to make haste. After gesturing to Dorothy to guard Frederick Parsnip and Flora Snow, Cleo went to the front door to wait for him. Dorothy put her hand on the pistol in her handbag. She would fire at the ceiling if necessary. Cleo told Gary what to expect. Then they went into Flora’s living-room together.
Nobody had moved.
“Look who’s here?” said Cleo.
“Unbelievable,” said Gary.
“And you know who this is, don’t you?” said Mr Parsnip.
“Who is it, Vicar?” Gary asked.
“It’s Laura,” said the vicar, putting his arms round Miss Snow possessively. “She isn’t dead after all.”
There was no denying the uncanny likeness with Laura, but Laura had been dead for ages. Everyone knew that.
Everyone except Frederick Parsnip, it seemed.
Dorothy wondered why Flora Snow had not insisted on her true identity unless she had an axe to grind. Dorothy was not really surprised that given his clearly unbalanced state of mind, probably the result of the events on that short journey with Grisham, Frederick thought it was Laura, even if this woman was half a head shorter and a lot plumper than Laura Finch had been. Laura and Flora had had the same father. The vicar was not known for his ability to recognize people even when his brain was working normally.
“It’s a dream come true,” said the vicar.
“How did you get away, Mr Parsnip?” Gary asked.
“Get away from what?”
“From the person who killed your driver.”
“I ran,” said the vicar.
“What did you do before you ran away?”
“I don’t remember.”
“He’s not wearing the clothes he came in,” said Flora. “I went to Middlethumpton on the bus and bought him some.”
“Did you? So you were thinking of making this a permanent arrangement, were you, Miss Snow?” said Gary.
“Finch,” said the vicar. “Her name is Laura Finch.”
“Never mind the name, Frederick, Mr Hurley asked you to tell him what you did before running away,” said Dorothy.
“I was in the car,” the vicar said.
“Was it your car?” Dorothy asked. Of course she knew it wasn’t, but getting the vicar to talk was the main objective.
Cleo and Gary looked at one another and decided to leave the questioning to Dorothy. Mr Parsnip seemed to be warming to her.
“My car? No, I don’t think so.”
“Whose car was it?
“I’m a vicar,” said Frederick out of the blue. “I remember that.”
“Where were you going in that car, Frederick?”
The vicar seemed to be giving a lot of thought to the question. Cleo wondered how much was loss of memory, how much was shock and how much was duplicity.
Dorothy had decided to sit on the sofa. After some minutes fondling Miss Snow’s hand, the vicar joined her, sitting on the arm of the sofa.
“I was going to Africa,” he said.
“Why were you going to Africa?” Dorothy asked.
“I had an invitation to look after….souls,” he said.
“So you were driving to the airport to catch a plane, I suppose,” said Gary, irritated by the slow pace of the questioning.
“I wasn’t driving. Mr Grisham was driving.”
“Who is Mr Grisham?” asked Cleo.
“I’m not sure. He offered to drive me. Then we stopped and someone got into the car. I remember that,” said the vicar.
Then he looked frightened.
“I’ll have to go now,” he said. “I don’t want them to catch me.”
“Who are they?” Gary asked.
“I don’t know, but they must not find me here.”
“No, Mr Parsnip. You can’t go now,” said Gary, moving to the door. Cleo moved to the window. There was no knowing what kind of strategy this confused man would use to get out of the flat.
“We just don’t want you to go anywhere on your own, Frederick,” said Cleo. “You are not well enough.”
“Laura will come with me, won’t you, Laura?”
Dorothy looked at Flora and indicated that she must say no.
She needn’t have worried. Flora Snow looked horrified. It was one thing pandering to a man who seem to have lost his mind and needed shelter, but quite another humouring him by pretending she really was her half sister. Miss Snow had fed him, dressed him and comforted him. She had given him time to recover, but the longer he stayed, the more convinced he became that she was Laura. It was too late for her to tell him she wasn’t. He would not have believed her. Cleo wondered if it would help him if he saw Laura’s grave, but decided that it would be too much of a shock at this time.
“We must call emergency services,” said Gary. "The guy is unpredictable. The situation is volatile. If he realizes what is happening, it might be too much for him and he could even try to commit suicide. We can't have that."
Cleo agreed that that would probably be the easiest way to get him out of the flat and into some kind of medical therapy without too much fuss. Parsnip had not said much about what had happened the day Grisham was murdered. Judging from his mental state, he was hardly likely to be arrested. You could hardly charge a guy with a crime if he just thought he was living with someone he loved. Gary thought they could stretch the case to include hiding from the police, but did the vicar even know he was missing? Only one thing was clear: he would have to be detained while decisions about his mental state were being made.
“So what did happen that day, Frederick,” insisted Dorothy.
“I’ll get his things,” said Flora.
“Don’t forget yours, Laura,” the vicar called out.
Flora fetched the outer garments the vicar had been wearing when he arrived. To their surprise he had worn a fur-lined leather waistcoat under a very thick lined parka. He must have been sweltering hot.
“Weren’t you hot in all those clothes, Frederick?” Dorothy asked.
“It gets cold at night in Africa and the waistcoat was too fat for my suitcase.”
“Was anyone else in the car except you and Mr Grisham, Frederick?”
“Only someone who got into the car when we stopped,” he said.
“Why did you stop?” Gary asked.
“There was this person waving. We thought she needed help.”
“So it was a woman, was it?” Dorothy asked.
“I don’t remember,” said the vicar.
“It all sounds like a reasonable explanation,” Gary said to Cleo in a low voice. He was starting to doubt the vicar’s amnesia.
“The person got in the back, directed us where we had to drive, and when Mr Grisham stopped the car that person jabbed something into his shoulder,” said the vicar, getting quite worked up as he recalled more details.
“Couldn’t you see who it was?” Cleo asked.
“I didn’t look very closely.” said the vicar.
“I saw a hand go up and come down on Mr Grisham. Mr Grisham was dead very quickly. Then the woman – I think it was a woman - moved over to behind me and shot me in the shoulder,” he said.
“But it wasn’t a gun,” Frederick,” said Dorothy. “Mr Grisham was not shot, he was poisoned through a surgical needle.”
Cleo and Gary wondered if Chris had missed something. Did the point of the needle containing the poison stay in Grisham’s body? If so and the same thing had happened to the vicar, why had he survived?
“What happened then, Frederick?” Dorothy asked.
“I did what Mr Grisham did. I played dead. I wasn’t quite sure if I was still alive,” he said.
“But you were sure that Mr Grisham was dead,” said Cleo.
“Mr Grisham stopped breathing. Just like that,” he said, snapping two fingers. “He had breathed quite loudly, but then the sound stopped.”
“And then?” Dorothy asked.
“I waited for a long time until the stranger had gone. I remember being shaken, but I was playing dead like we did when we were children,” the vicar continued.
“Did you see the assassin, Mr Parsnip?” said Gary. “It’s really important that you remember.”
“No. I told you that. But I heard her voice.”
“So it was a woman,” said Cleo.
“It could have been a man with a high voice,” said the vicar.
What did the person say?” Cleo asked.
“Got you now, or something like that,” said the vicar.
Frederick Parsnip started to sob. Flora put her arm around his shoulder protectively.
“Now see what you’ve done,” she scolded the three sleuths.
The vicar pulled himself together as another thought occurred to him.
“It’s all right, Laura. They are only doing their job. Let’s go to bed.”
“No, Frederick. You are sick. You must go to the hospital,” said Cleo.
The vicar looked at the woman he thought was Laura and she nodded.
From being domineering and bossy to his children and his wife, Frederick Parsnip had become docile and submissive. The woman he thought was Laura was now in charge.
“What about your family?” Dorothy asked. “What about Edith’s family?”
The questions were provocative and difficult for the vicar to answer. It was impossible to tell if he was putting on an act. It wasn’t in his character, Dorothy knew, but he was not himself, so anything was possible.
“Events can change characters,” said Cleo. “The gentlest of people can become a killer.”
“Laura is my family,” said the vicar. “Your son was killed, wasn’t he, Laura?”
Flora looked very uneasy now. The game had gone on too long.
“I’m not Laura. I’m Flora,” she shouted.
“Don’t shout, Laura,” said the vicar. “These people won’t hurt you.”
“I’d like to look at that waistcoat, Miss Snow,” said Cleo, partly to combat the tension that was building up in the room and partly because something had occurred to her.
Flora handed her the waistcoat.
Cleo thought she could see some damage to the shoulder seam. Something appeared to be stuck in the seam on the right side.
“You won’t need this now, will you Mr Parsnip?” she said, rolling the waistcoat so that the shoulder seam was in the centre. If it was tainted with a syringe needle tip filled with a neurological drug, careless handling could be lethal.
“It isn’t very cold out. I’m sure your thick parka is warm enough,” said Dorothy, realizing that Cleo had spotted something.
Gary just looked on in wonder at the teamwork between his two ladies.
The vicar nodded and Cleo asked Flora if she had a plastic bag big enough to hold the garment. She planned to get the waistcoat to Chris as soon as possible. Gary looked puzzled.
“I’ll keep it safe for you, Frederick,” said Cleo.
“Thank you,” said the vicar.
“One more question, Frederick,” Dorothy asked. “Where is Grisham’s mobile phone?”
“I’ll get it,” said Flora.
“The battery is dry,” said Frederick.
“Did you use the phone, Mr Parsnip?” Gary asked.
“I don’t remember.”
Gary had rung for an ambulance on his mobile phone. Now you could see its lights blinking through the glass door of the flat. The paramedics listened to Gary’s instructions on the doorstep before getting a wheelchair from the ambulance and approaching Mr Parsnip. The patrol car that had been watching the house drew up behind the ambulance. Greg got out.
Greg Winter had been promoted to detective status. He was a great colleague and Gary hoped he would soon be assigned to the homicide squad. He did not think that the Swiss guy, Cook, would be with them very long. In fact, he did not trust the guy and could not understand how he had received such a glowing report from Roger Stone.
“Greg, we have found Mr Parsnip. He’s in the flat. He is confused and has memory problems. He is to be under 24/7 guard while we find out for certain if he is innocent of Grisham’s murder. If he is, he might be able to help us find the killer. The balance of his mind is definitely disturbed.”
“At least he has turned up, Gary. By the way, my application has been processed. I can work officially in your team from December and before then I’ll help as much as I can.”
“That is great news, Greg,” said Gary. True to his new feeling of loving the whole world he told the astonished Greg Winter that it was time for a hug.
The paramedics were talking quietly with Mr Parsnip, so Cleo went to Gary and asked him what the sudden embrace meant.
“Greg’s coming to us, I mean the squad,” he said.
“Congratulations, Greg. Then a hug is certainly appropriate,” said Cleo, also embracing Greg.
Greg was not used to such gestures of affection from work colleagues.
“Go with the flow, Greg,” said Dorothy, shaking him by the hand. “Since these two people made their trip to paradise official, no one has been safe.”
“We aren’t married … yet. We only cohabit,” said Cleo. Greg knew all about them.
“Cohabit?” said Gary. “Is that what you call it?”
“Ok, we share table, car and bed, but not toothbrush. Gary would want me to tell you that,” said Cleo with a grin.
Greg thought this woman with the olive skin and sexy figure was gorgeous. He would have liked to get to know her, but he knew better than to give any sign of wanting to. He could imagine that Gary could be quite jealous of anyone flirting with Cleo.
“Wow,” he said.
“Is Mr Parsnip protesting, Dorothy?” Gary asked, giving Greg what Greg would have described as a keep-off-the-grass look.
“No, Gary He’s as meek as a lamb, “ said Dorothy, standing near to the little group on the doorstep. “I’ve never seen him like this before. It’s Flora Snow who is protesting.”
“Serves her right,” said Gary. “She should have been truthful.”
“She is truthful. He doesn’t believe her,” said Dorothy.
“Ask Parsnip about his wife, Dorothy,” said Gary.
“I don’t want to upset him, Gary. He seems so happy to have Laura at his side.”
“Don’t you start, Dorothy. It isn’t Laura and we all know that,” said Gary.
“But he doesn’t, Gary, and I won’t answer for anything if he finds out in a crude and undiplomatic way that he has been fooled,” said Dorothy.
“I agree, except that he fooled himself,” said Cleo. “Let’s get him to the hospital and they’ll deal with him.”
“Sorry, Ladies, but that isn’t good enough,” said Gary. “I’m going to ask him one or two more questions before he leaves,” and did just that.
“Do you want me to tell your wife that you are back. Mr Parsnip?”
“My wife is over there,” said the vicar, blowing a kiss at Miss Snow.
Gary turned to Cleo and Dorothy.
“Whatever is bothering him, it includes cutting out his family,” said Cleo. “Leave him to the doctors.”
“OK. You’re right. Mr Parsnip is in cloud cuckooland,” said Gary.
“He thinks he is on cloud nine, Sweetheart.”
Mr Parsnip was wheeled to the ambulance. He was strapped on, usually as a precaution in case the patient fell out, but this time the security precaution was in the forefront.
“I’ll go with him,” said Flora Snow.
“So will I,” said Dorothy.
“I think it could be something like schizophrenia,” said Cleo to Gary, as they drove home. “Probably caused by that terrible experience in Grisham’s car.”
“He had a narrow escape and that was only because he reacted with great presence of mind,” said Gary.
“Self-preservation. An instinct we all have, Gary.”
“Like goose pimples when we sense danger or avoid it,” said Gary. “Maybe his goose pimples told him to play dead.”
“You could be right. We say goose bumps, and they are part of our reptile brain mechanism. The hair stands literally on end as the follicles attaching the hairs to the skin become swollen.”
“Goodness, Dr Cleo,” said Gary.
“Doctor yes; medical no,” said Cleo.
“I didn’t know you were that high up the academic ladder,” said Gary.
“Does it matter?”
“It increases your awesomeness, Cleo.”
“Anyway, goose bumps are an alarm signal,” said Cleo, “ and helpful sometimes. You can’t control goose bumps. They are almost like a lie detector.”
“I get them when I look at you in your kimono, Cleo,” said Gary, “and I’m not lying.”
“Exactly; just turned on.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” said Gary. “We’d better get home to Gloria. Our gregarious Granny won’t want to spend the evening in our lovenest.”
Mr Parsnip was transferred to the Psychiatric Clinic in Middlethumpton. He was seemingly quite healthy physically, but distraught psychologically. He would be examined by a psychiatrist before any decision about his sanity was made. A and E were not responsible for first sight diagnoses except where it was obvious. Mr Parsnip was now quiet. A mild sedative sent him to sleep.
Flora Snow had accompanied the vicar since she was to all intents and purposes his partner. However, she had remembered to put her passport in her handbag so that she could identify herself whatever the vicar insisted. Dorothy had dropped her pistol into Cleo’s handbag. She did not want to be caught armed. She explained to all and sundry that she was going along because she knew the vicar well and had solved a case involving Miss Snow long before Mr Parsnip turned up at her house. The paramedics could not have cared less. They were thankful that they didn’t have blood, sweat and tears to deal with.
Back home, Cleo and Gary made coffee and ate what was now a very belated supper. PeggySue had been tucked into bed and Charlie was on her way there. Gloria was ready to leave and gone in an instant.
Cleo and Gary were relieved at the outcome of the evening, but aware that a Saturday night should not end with so many unanswered questions, so they wanted to start immediately to answer some of them.
“At least Dorothy will be there to see what happens to the vicar when he realises where he is,” said Cleo.
“He won’t like that. I’m glad Greg followed in the patrol car. His colleague can start guarding the vicar straight off,” said Gary.
A phone call from Greg confirmed that they had arrived at the clinic. Greg would set up a rota. His colleague that evening was a young officer named Craig McCullen. Craig was also an amateur boxer. He was not as experienced as Greg, but to be reckoned with by anyone trying it on. Craig would stay with or near Mr Parsnip until a replacement arrived. On no account was Mr Parsnip to be left to his own devices. There was a high suicide risk.
“I don’t think the vicar would actually commit suicide,” said Cleo. “But it can’t be ruled out.”
“He might not, but his alter ego might if he is schizophrenic or has a split personality,” said Gary. “I learnt a lot about that when I was doing my burnout sessions at the clinic. I was amazed at what the other guys sometimes said. We didn’t learn much about that during out training, but it’s a factor to be reckoned with.”
“We don’t know how much of Frederick Parsnip said can be believed,” said Cleo.
“Could he have made it all up, Cleo?”
“He could make up any amount of junk, judging from the sermons I was obliged to listen to sometimes. The vicar was a boring speaker and a boring person except when he went on about saving African souls.”
“We could watch a Woody Allen DVD to wind down,” said Gary.
“I can think of better ways of winding down,” said Cleo.”
“I’ll go with that. A little TLC would also do the trick!”
“No witches on brooms tonight, then?”
“We met one in Huddlecourt Minor,” said Gary.
“So we did. I hope Dorothy is coping with her.”
“If I know Dorothy,she will get on a bus and make for home, leaving the woman to fend for herself. I know I would,” said Gary.
“I’ll phone her and tell her to get a cab home. We’ll pay.”
“I’ll wait for you, shall I?”
“I’m not planning to stand you up, Gary.”
“I used to be afraid you would, you know.”
“Not then or ever.”
“I’ll warm the duvet, shall I.”
“That’ll be fine for a start.”