Friday, 13 November 2015

THIRTEEN - All saints

Sunday November 1

Just 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.
“Frederick has started to doubt that Flora Snow is Laura,” Dorothy started. ”About time too. In the ambulance he told me in a sort of stage aside that a remarkable change had come over Laura and he didn’t quite understand it as she had never loved him as much before.”
“Before what, Dorothy?” Gary asked.
“I asked him that and he said before they lived together.”
“Goodness. Don’t say they shared a bed, Dorothy,” said Cleo.
“I didn’t ask him and Flora just sat next to him with pursed lips. He wanted her to hold his hand, She was very reluctant, I thought.”
“Was she? There’s some spunk in her after all then,” said Gary chipping into the call. “I wonder if they had sex.”
“Hi Gary. Sorry to interrupt your beautiy sleep. I hope they kept it platonic, Gary. There's nothing like an old fool!”
"Be fair, Dorothy," said Gary. "Mr Parsnip is not even 50."
"But Flora Snow is over 60 and not exactly young at heart, either," retorted Dorothy. “In fact, she’s a bit of a frump in my opinion.”
“A what?”
"Delilah is ten years older than Mitch and they get on like a house on fire," said Cleo.
"Delilah is an attractive woman your age," said Gary.
"And Mitch is a lovely man," said Dorothy.
“Did the vicar really say they were living together, Dorothy?” said Cleo.
 “He say they are,” said Dorothy.
“If so, our holier-than-thou vicar is turning out to be one of those hypocrits who have skeletons in their cupboards,” said Gary.
“He has only just put one there, and that’s Laura,” said Dorothy. “We don’t know if she seduced him, do we? It might all be a figment of his imagination.”
”It’s plausible if he really thinks Flora is Laura,” said Gary. "I wonder if his sexual fantasies started before or after Laura had confessed that she was an experienced hooker."
The three-cornered phone conversation was getting a bit near knuckle. Gary was amused in a wry sort of way. Cleo said she thought it might be heart-ache that drove the vicar on to pretend he was living with Laura. Gary thought the guy was probably only interested in satisfying some sort of suppressed sexual urge. Dorothy thought it could be shock after the incident involving Grisham.
“He was in the wrong job, Dorothy,” Gary said. “People like Parsnip go through their whole lives acting superior and even godly when in fact they are quite ordinary guys at heart.”
“At the vicarage meetings he had always had a special look on his face when he talked to Laura, Cleo. Did you notice?” said Dorothy.
“That’s when he was being himself, I expect, Dorothy,” said Gary.
“Strong, suppressed sexual urges waiting to be released,” diagnosed Cleo. “I wonder if he ever put those urges into practice anywhere else.”
“Is that how you describe me, Cleo? Said Gary. “That definition rolled suspiciously easily off your tongue."
“No, but now I think about it… Not that I could describe you as reticent, Gary.”
It was Dorothy's turn to be amused.
"Can you to interrupt your love affair long enough to finish our phone call?" she said.
"Sorry, Dorothy. Gary can be quite provocative at times.”
“I don’t condemn that, Cleo, but to get back to the reason for my call, I noticed that in those days Laura behaved badly except when she wanted to get the vicar on her side at those meetings,” said Dorothy. “Then she was all sweetness and light.”
Cleo thought Dorothy might have been a bit jealous of the admiration the vicar had had for Laura.
“No, I wasn’t jealous, Cleo. And now, in the ambulance I think he noticed that Flora did not react as he was used to Laura reacting to him. He actually told the paramedics that she was the love of his life and was acting a bit strangely because she was worried about him. Flora just squirmed with embarrassment and told him not to talk rubbish.”
“So she snapped at him,” said Gary. “That must have told him something.”
“I expect it did, Gary. Laura would never have done that. Not with the vicar. We know now that she confessed all the terrible things she had done in the past and Frederick still went on being infatuated.”
“What did Edith think about Parsnip’s attraction to the real Laura Finch?” Gary asked.
“I don’t suppose she was aware how intense Frederick’s feelings for Laura were. What we  now know about Edith and Frederick’s marriage makes me sure she is glad to see the back of him!” said Dorothy. “He often humiliated her and I scolded him for that on several occasions.”
“Did you have a chance to ask him anything more about Grisham, Dorothy?” Cleo asked.
“Yes. Greg introduced his colleague Craig McCullen so I was able to hang on for a bit and visit Frederick in his room. He’d been given a single room because of his mental state and the guard, but he seemed normal to me and talked to me like an old friend, which I am, of course.”
“What did you ask him, Dorothy?” Cleo wanted to know.
“First I tried to find out how much he really remembered. I tried to find out if he remembered Edith and the boys, but he was very vague, as if he remembered, but didn’t want to.”
“That can happen. I wonder if he’s had a slight stroke, Dorothy,” said Gary.
“I wondered that, too, Gary, but they just made sure he is comfortable for the night and were going to examine him tomorrow. As far as they could judge, there was nothing physically wrong with him.”
“The main thing is that he is in the right place now. We can question him again when things quieten down,” said Gary. “You should have phoned from the hospital and I would have collected you.”
“Getting a taxi was easy for me – thanls Cleo - and meant less of a nuisance for you, Gary. Flora Snow left even before Frederick was taken to the ward. She was heartily sick of him, I could see that.”
“We don’t know if she was hoping at one time that he would stay with her,” said Cleo. "Her main emotion might have been disappointment."
“But she was rejecting him, Cleo,” said Dorothy.
“Or pretending to,” said Cleo. “Go to bed now, Dorothy! We'll talk tomorrow.”
“I'm cooking a big pizza or two for supper tomorrow and you are invited, Dorothy," said Gary. "Can you just promise me that you will phone next time you need to go somewhere or get home?”
“That’s sweet of you Gary. You can go to bed now if you aren’t already there. I’m going to prepare a yeast dough to bake tomorrow morning, but we have a date to go to Crumb’s café, Cleo.”
“It’s going to be a calorie day, Ladies,” said Gary.
“Preferable to murder,” said Dorothy.
“Don’t tempt fate,” said Gary.
“Is some time in the afternoon OK for you? Dorothy?” said Cleo. “We can meet here and walk down to the café..”
“Fine. I’ll be with you at about three, then.”
“That’s fine. Gary will look after our daughters. He’ll probably bring them along.”
“I’m going to look after my duvet now, Dorothy. Good night!” said Gary.
“Good night you two,” said Dorothy and rang off.
“Dorothy is sweet,” said Gary. “Would like an espresso, my love.”
“What a good idea.”
Gary pottered in the kitchen and presently returned, Cleo’s cooking apron his only article of clothing.
“I quite like you in that,” said Cleo. “You could start a business as a nacked cook. I’m sure you’d have plenty of custom.”
“Aprons are fortunately bigger than figleaves,” Gary retorted.
“The clients only get the figleaf from their fourth order.”
“I’ll do it if you’ll manage me,” said Gary.
“I do believe you would,” said Cleo.
“It’s cold in the kitchen,” said Gary, “and I have no idea how we are going to get the vicar to talk,” he said.
“Are you linking the two, Sweetheart?”
Cleo sat up on her side of the bed and spread a thin layer of night cream from a small pot she kept at her bedside.
"You aren't putting makeup on, are you Cleo?"
"This is moisturiser, Gary."
"Do I need some?"
"You are beautiful without."
"Nice of you to say so! So are you, actually."
“So with that in mind, why don’t we leave the vicar until tomorrow, Gary?”
“You’re right. I’m not dressed for business.”
“Neither am I now,” said Cleo, casting off her kimono and creeping under her duvet.
“Try my side,” said Gary. “It’s probably warmer.”
“Not in that apron. Aren’t you tired?”
“Not any more…”
A few hours later, Cleo rang Edith to see how she was. She would not talk about the vicar, she decided. Edith said she was going  to attend the church service, at which a new curate would officiate.
“The bishop is coming this evening, Cleo. Won’t you come and support Robert? He’s going to sing some spirituals.”
“Sure. Why not? Dorothy will want to come too, I’m sure,” said Cleo. “I know it’s all over between Robert and me, but I still like to hear him sing.”
“Mr Morgan has been practicing, too,” said Edith. “Now I can listen to him playing whenever I want to without anyone suspecting anything.”
Cleo thought the ‘anyone’ had probably been Frederick Parsnip, acting on his theory of the innate possession of wives by their spouses that was, she reflected, one of Robert’s ideas, too.
“Things are turning out better for you now, aren’t they, Edith.“
“Oh yes. I’m starting to believe I am alive, after all, and the boys are ecstatic that no one is going to force them to go to church. They really hated being preached at. It was bad enough at home, Cleo.”
Cleo realized that it was certainly not the moment to tell Edith that the vicar had been found. Edith clearly did not want him back.
At breakfast, Cleo tried to describe to Gary the state Edith was in.
“In other words ecstatic,” said Gary, summing up. “No boring husband, a new lover, freedom to listen to the music she loves. What more could she want?”
“I didn’t know the vicar forced his sons to go to church to listen to his sermons. I’m starting to ask myself what made that guy tick,” said Cleo.
“I’ve stopped asking myself,” said Gary. “I see him as a totally egoistic, unfeeling person leaving a large family in the lurch for some kind of mythical existence that wasn’t even in Africa, as it turned out.”
“I can imagine that Edith would be worried about him wanting to come back,” said Cleo. “It’s a good reason for not telling her before we’ve arranged something for him.”
“Dorothy couldn’t and I think we should, Gary.”
“Anything for a quiet life.”
Gary admitted that Dorothy had done the most to find the vicar, but in contrast to other cases solved or helped along with her hunches, this time Gary was generous with his praise. He no longer resented what he had once called ‘meddling’. It no longer hurt his self-respect to have outside assistance when he was stuck for ideas.
There was no denying that Dorothy being a long-time friend of Frederick Parsnip was an extra bonus, though she admitted she was often annoyed with him and did not feel that he was really returning her friendship. He wasn’t even up to caring about his family, it seemed.
Cleo found it difficult to believe that the vicar had actually ‘shacked up’ with Flora Snow. Surely he did not really believe that Flora was a reincarnation of Laura Finch. It would be interesting to hear the doctor’s diagnosis of what was wrong with the vicar. Cleo was even more interested in the description of Grisham’s assassin that he would surely give when next questioned.

Gary did not find it difficult to postpose work in favour entertaining his two daughters. Cleo pottered around tidying up, but her mind was still on the events of the previous afternoon and evening surrounding the discovery of the vicar.
“Do you think Greg Winter can get Frederick Parsnip to talk, Gary?”
“It’s worth a try. Parsnip is probably wary of talking to us again."
The officer on night duty sent in a short report to Greg, who was now responsible for the rota and had asked his colleagues to submit a report including anything unusual. Mr Parsnip had slept soundly all night. The first duty officer, who had taken over for the night, reported that nothing had happened. He had looked in on the soundly sleeping and loudly snoring patient every hour and been relieved at 6 a.m. The second guard was to remain there in position in front of the sickroom door until two.
Despite security having been taken care of, Gary was nervous. Thereafter they guards would be on eight hour shifts.
I’m glad Greg is still in charge of the rota system,”  said Gary. “As long as the vicar has to stay there, I'm sure he'll send the right officers to the hospital.”
“I’m sure he will, Gary. He’s a nice guy. I’m glad he’s joining the hoimicide squad.”
“So am I, but I’m worried, Cleo. We don’t know what the vicar did before Miss Snow picked him up so what do we do if the vicar doesn’t remember? I can see the mystery of the missing vicar being shrouded in fog for all time unless he shakes off his amnesia.”
“If he has genuine amnesia. We’re in the dark at least until we find Grisham’s assassin, and depending on the wayward Mr Parsnip to tell us is a lottery, given that he might not know anything more than he has already told us,” said Cleo. “But it also worryies me that Miss Snow must have known he was missing, at the latest on Thursday, when the local weekly paper carried an article entitled ‘Has anybody seen the vicar lately?’” said Cleo. “She did not call the police although she must have known his family would be very anxious about him, but she could have called the agency .”
“She wanted to keep him for herself, Cleo, though how she intended to do that long-term is a mystery to me.”
“It is possible that the vicar told her to keep quiet about his whereabouts because he wanted everyone to think he is in Africa,” said Cleo. “It’s also possible that he really did have amnesia when she found him. His memory was blanked out over the time he left home for the airport and it is possible that his mind had simply blanked out the whole of his marriage and Laura’s murder, too.”
“I’d like to know if that third person he talked about even exists,” said Gary. “We have to face it: the vicar could be a murderer, Cleo. The reconstruction of Grisham’s death was sound, but only if he was drugged in the car. What if he got out and the vicar killed him somewhere else, then dragged him back to the car, but to the passenger side. That would explain why Grisham was found on that side of the car.”
“Parsnip might also have faked an attack on himself by stabbing a syringe into his fur-lined waistcoat when he wasn’t wearing it,” said Cleo. “There’s really only one blemish on that idea.”
“And that is?”
“It is hard to imagine Parsnip possessing a syringe and a drug like curare if he didn’t steal them or take them, possibly from Grisham,” said Cleo. “So where else could they be from?”
“It points to a plan, doesn’t it Cleo? How else could he organize the syringe?” Gary asked. “The more I think about it, the less can I visualise the vicar as a killer, though he probably read all about curare when he was reading about Africa.”
“Curare was in use all over the place, Gary, not just in darkest Africa. Wikipedia says it originated in Central and South America.”
“Let’s ditch the idea that Parsnip had a curare filled syringe at his disposal, Cleo.
“The murder might not have been premeditated. He may even had to fight Grisham if Grisham had been ordered to kill him. He was younger than Grisham and probably had more strength,” said Cleo. “But one thing is clear to me. Carrying a poiseóned syringe around indicates premeditated application, probably to kill, but piossibly just to lame.”
“Assuming you can control the amount that gets out of the syringe into the body, Cleo. And meanwhile the murder of Mrs Grisham, committed in the same way, Chris says in his first report, is also gathering dust.”
“That can’t have been the vicar,” said Cleo.
“I’m not sure about that, though by Thursday he was safely ensconced in the armchair or even  in Flora Snow’s bed. She would not have let him out and I can’t think of a reason she could have to go to Lower Grumpsfield.”
“It’s clear that the vicar was living with Miss Snow in some form or other. I’m sure that Flora Snow did not let the vicar out at all, let alone to go on a mission somewhere without her. She probably locked him in or even gave him sleeping pills to make sure he stayed in the house while she went out.”
“We need answers to all the questions we have not yet put to the vicar,” said Gary. “We should not say anything to Edith, yet. I don’t want her rushing to the hospital and I doubt whether Mr Parsnip would want to see her, anyway, assuming he even knows who she is.”
“There is a chance that Miss Snow will tell Edith if she wants to be rid of Parsnip,” said Cleo. “What if she has already told her and Edith is simply not spreading the news, or has even told Miss Snow to hang on it him?”
Cleo phoned Dorothy to warn her not to say anything.
“I wasn’t going to, anyway, and I’m not going to church this morning, Cleo,” she said. “Once a week is enough for me and I’d like to hear the bishop speaking this evening.”
“I heard that there’s a new curate this morning, Dorothy. Don’t you want to see him?”
“Maybe I do. Are you going?”
“I’m making an exception because Robert will probably sing the songs he is planning for the service this evening,” said Cleo.
“I’d better go then. I’ll collect you on my way and we’ll go together,” said Dorothy. “I’m rather glad Gareth Morgan has decided to play for both services.”
They all set off together. Gary turned off at the vicarage to walk PeggySue across the common and feed the ducks. Charlie ran into the vicarage to play with the Parsnip boys. Dorothy and Cleo walked across the old cemetery to the church.
“It’s funny Mr Parsnip not being here,” said Edith, meeting them there. “Have you heard anything about him?”
Cleo and Dorothy exchanged glances. Mr Parsnip?
“Nothing concrete, Edith,” said Cleo. “Just don’t worry.”
“Robert is going to practice his spirituals for this evening.”
“That’s nice,” said Dorothy.
“I was hoping he would,” said Cleo. “But I’m also curious to see the new curate.”
“Don’t get a shock then, Cleo. It’s a she.”
“Wow! That’s awesome.”
“One of the bishop’s ideas. She can use Frederick’s old study for the time being. I’ve made it into a bedroom for her. It would have been difficult with an extra man in the house.”
“Robert is staying I suppose,” Dorothy said.
“Oh yes, most nights," said Edith almost ashamedly, but not quite. There was defiance in her voice. It was the new Edith. She was wearing perfume, had put on some makeup and looked happy. "I’ve no idea what Mr Parsnip will do when he comes back, but he can sleep in his study and our new curate can sleep in my utility room.”
“While Robert sleeps in Frederick’s bed, Edith?” said Cleo. “Won’t that be a problem?”
“I’d rather not think about the problems,” said Edith. She did not pursue the idea that the two sleuths might know something about the vicar’s whereabouts. She probably did not want to know. Everything was going smoothly for Edith at the moment and she did not even contemplate the idea that Robert might find the situation impossible should the vicar insist on coming home.
Robert sang his spirituals with as open a throat and fervent an expression as Cleo and Dorothy had ever heard. The cold indifference of Edith’s husband had been replaced by the Robert’s friendly nature. The affair had done both the lovers good, Cleo decided. She was proud of him, if the truth be known. She did not love him, but she still loved his voice and was glad she had been there. Dorothy was greatly enthused. So much so that she led the clapping at the end of his performance. That was not usual, but the new curate, a young woman straight out of theological collage, also clapped hard. By the time Robert had sung two encores and the curate had delivered a rousing sermon and thanked everyone for coming and Robert for the glorious singing, it was midday.
Gary had returned to the cottage and put one of Gloria’s casseroles in the oven. PeggySue had enjoyed two helpings of mashed potato and gravy from the casserole before Cleo got back. Dorothy had declined lunch with them saying that she had cooked ahead.
“Well, how was your ex?” said Gary.
“In good form. He sings beautifully.”
“Which is more than can be said for me,” said Gary.
“I didn’t say that and I don’t choose my men for their singing, either,” said Cleo.
“Did you choose me, then?” said Gary.
“I rather think you chose me first,” said Cleo. “But I’m not taking bets on that. Anyway, if we live long enough your singing might improve.”
“Do you want me to take lessons, Cleo?”
“That’s not such a bad idea.”
“Lunch is ready and I’ll think about it.”
“I don’t choose my men for their cooking either. We’re having one of Gloria’s casseroles warmed up, I take it.”
“You underestimate me, Cleo. I made the salad from fresh, and I actually made this casserole with only a little help from Gloria.”
“’Baby, aged one year, used as food tester for greedy couple’ would be a rather compromising news headline, Gary.”
“At least she isn’t getting cat food. We had a case of that a while back. Don’t you remember? That wasn’t all the woman did. She put her husband on a diet of chopped razor blades.”
“For heaven’s sakes, Gary.”
“She’s doing life for what that did to her husband’s insides.”
"I would find a less detectable way of disposing of an unwanted husband."
"You would replace him, Cleo."
"That would be more humane and it's what people do with their unwanted partners all the time."
"Correction, we think that's what they do."
The casserole was really tasty, and Cleo said so.
I’ll take you on, after all,” she said. “I owe you a hug!”
“Greg phoned, Cleo.”
“What did he have to report?”
“Nothing much. During one of the regular inspections by one of the officers, Mr Parsnip had asked for paper and something to write with. The officer had sent one of the nurses down to the shop to purchase the articles and had given her the money to do so since Mr Parsnip did not have any. Then the officer went off duty so he did not see anything Mr Parsnip had written. Greg has taken over until a relief comes and he’ll do the night shift. He’s going to try to find anything Parsnip has managed to write.”
“A confession would be nice.”
“But unlikely.”
“Or a suicide note.”
“Possible, I suppose,” said Gary.
Cleo and Gary had time for a passion-driven siesta before Cleo was due to go to the new café with Dorothy.  Charlie had been instructed to come straight to the café at four.
The phone rang just before three. Gary was nearest the phone, so he took the call. It was Greg and he sounded very distressed.
“You aren’t going to believe this, Gary.”
“Go on, Greg. Just tell me.”
At about one thirty a nurse brought me a cup of coffee. I don’t know what was in it, but I went to sleep…”
“…And now Mr Parsnip has disappeared.”
“No, Gary, he’s dead.”
Gary’s voice changed. Cleo’s heart sank.
“Are you sure?”
“They are in there trying to revive him, Gary.”
“But they don’t know when he died, do they?”
“No, but they always try to resuscitate.”
Cleo rested her head on Gary’s shoulder. She felt cold.
“How could it happen?” said Gary.” Any idea? “Violence? Smothered?”
“There was a cup of coffee on his locker, Gary. I assume that was drugged to the hilt.”
“Did you manage to hang on to that cup, Greg?”
“Yes. It’s in a plastic bag. Mine isn’t. When I woke, the cup and saucer had gone.”
Who brought it to you, Greg. Can you remember?”
“A short woman in a nurse’s uniform. I was so grateful for the coffee that I didn’t really look at her.”
“So you would not know her again.”
“Probably not.”
“I’ll be right over, Greg. Don’t go away!”
In the meantime Cleo had got up, answered the front door bell and let Dorothy in. She explained in a few words what had happened at the hospital.
Dorothy was horrified.
“Robert came to the vicarage and cooked lunch,” sie said “He’s with the boys now. Edith went out. She said she had a headache and needed some fresh air. I don’t know where she is. I can’t even tell her.”
“I’ll have to support Greg,” said Gary. “Parsnip was poisoned and he’s probably too dead to be revived. Poor Greg was drugged, but came round, probably faster than expected. I think you should stay here, Cleo. Skip the café opening, please.”
“Of course we’ll stay here, Gary,” said Cleo.
“You go with Gary, Cleo. I’ll stay with the children. I couldn’t go out enjoying myself at the café while Frederick is lying dead at the hospital.”
Gary put his arms round Dorothy. She was sobbing. He motioned to Cleo to join them. There was silence while they all got used to the new situation.
“So there must have been an assassin on at least one occasion,” mused Gary. “Why else would that happen to Parsnip?”
“We know he was present at Grisham’s death. The killer was not taking any chances,” Cleo added.
“The irony is that the vicar was probably safe under Miss Snow’s roof,” said Dorothy.
“I expect that someone was watching out for the time when Frederick would be vulnerable,” Gary speculated. “Did someone follow him from the scene of Grisham’s murder?”
“We’ve also got to come to terms with the fact that our assassin could be female,” said Cleo. “A woman would be less noticeable to a guy like the vicar and more likely to get in to serve coffee.”
“I’ m afraid you are right, Cleo. Let’s all have another big hug before we go.”
One of the burning questions in Gary’s mind as he drove to the hospital was whether Mr Parsnip had been examined that day. Had he suffered a stroke? The case of Grisham and his wife’s murders was still notr solved and now the vicar was the also dead. Gary phoned Chris Marlow while he was driving to the hospital. The forensic scientist said he would drop everything and come there.
Greg was grateful that Gary and Cleo had come immediately.
“We need to know if you drank all the coffee, Greg,” said Gary.
“No, I didn’t. It tasted strange and I wanted to call the nurse back, but she had gone. I poured the rest of the coffee into that plant pot over there because I did not want to hurt the woman’s feelings.”
”So she did not know you had not drunk much. Thank goodness you didn’t, Greg. We know now why it tasted strange, of course, but I’m surprised that it knocked you out so fast and even more surprised that you came to after only about an hour.”
“There are drugs like that,” said Chris. “We know that you didn’t swallow a lethal dose because you are alive and well.”
“I feel a bit queasy to tell the truth,” said Greg, and Chris called a ward sister, introduced himself as Dr Marlow, forensic pathologist, and asked her to take a blood sample for him to analyse and give Greg something against the nausea.
“Have you been on duty all afternoon, Sister?” Gary asked.
“Yes. I only saw the officer snoozing and I thought he had just dropped off, but that’s understandable. It must be very boring just guarding a closed door.”
“Did you see who brought me the coffee, Sister?” Greg asked.
“No, but we have so many on the staff that I don’t know everyone. Are you sure it was a nurse, Sir?”
“Now you mention it, I’m not sure, but the uniform looked like a nurse’s overall.”
“It could have been a cleaner,” suggested the sister. “They have to wear white overalls so that we know they are clean and tidy and they work all day. Did that person wear a headscarf?”
“Yes, and tinted glasses. I wondered about that.”
“She may have been a Muslim,” said the nurse, “but they are very trustworthy and conscientious as a rule.”
“The headscarf could have been a disguise, so it could have been anyone, couldn’t it?” said Gary.
“Put like that, I suppose it could,” said the sister. “We can’t keep track of all the staff. We have to trust them whatever job they are doing.”
“So there’s no security check on them?”
“Not once they are in. Anyway, I should think it is easy enough for someone to come in through the main door and then get into the service area, especially if they are wearing a white overall.”
“It would also be easy to bribe a cleaner to make the wards accessible,” said Cleo. “I don’t suppose those cleaning ladies earn much.”
They were all shocked at the idea that a patient could be vulnerable because security was not being taken seriously enough. The hospital direction would have searching questions to answer. Why bother to guard a sick room if the rest of the place is an open house?
“I can see you are shocked,” said the sister. “I’m often shocked about what goes on here, but we don’t often have a murder.”
“Assuming you can recognize what is a murder and what is not,” said Gary.
The sister bowed her head. That is exactly what had gone through her mind on several occasions. How many of her nursing staff were ‘angels of mercy’ ready to pocket a fat premium for helping relatives to an inheritance?
“Can we talk about that some other time,” she said to Gary, who nodded understandingly. “Come to HQ, Sister, but call me first,” he said, handing her his business card. “Discretion is guaranteed,” he added.
The medical team that had been trying to revive Parsnip came out of the room with bowed heads.
“Exitus,” said a doctor. “Sorry.”
“Can we go in?” asked Gary.
“Yes,” said the doctor. “There’s nothing to see. The patient died peacefully. He just slipped away.”
Chris, Greg, Cleo and Gary trooped respectfully into the room and stood around the bed.
“What a way to end,” said Greg.
“If he had been left where he was he would be alive now,” said Gary. “It’s my responsibility, Greg, but I had to do something. He could not hide away for ever with someone he thought was someone else and we still don’t know if he killed Grisham, though I doubt it now, because at least one other person was involved and we could not find a valid motive except self-defence.
“You mean the woman who put drugs in the coffees could have been an accomplice,” said Greg. “Or someone desperate to silence Parsnip?”
“She must have been. Do you think it could have been a man dressed as a woman?”
“I didn’t get that impression, to be honest,” said Greg.
“You weren’t looking for one, Greg.  That’s why questioning witnesses is so difficult.”
Chris put plastic gloves on and proceeded to look around the room more carefully.
“There was possibly even a fourth person involved,” said Gary. “Someone prepared to drug a police officer in order to gain entry to a patient and then poison him is an assassin. We know now where she could have got the syringes.“
“You’re right, Gary,” said Chris. “I wish we had found one in that cutting.”
“Our murderer was cunning, Chris. He or she would not have left them for you to find.”
“I’ll get the area searched again, Gary. There were a lot of leaves around. We didn’t turn them all over.”
“I was hoping to ask Mr Parsnip a lot of questions tomorrow, but he needed to be medically examined and if necessary treated. I did not want my questioning or even my presence to be in the way.”
“This has hit you hard, Gary,” said Chris. “But you only did what legal procedure demands.”
“I keep telling myself that,” said Gary.
“Go home. I’ll get the medical report and send a team to take another look at the place where Grisham died.” said Chris.
“I hope they find something,” said Gary. “Up to now nearly everything has been theoretical.”
“I’ll sort out the police stuff,” said Greg, who was starting to feel better.
 “See you tomorrow at HQ, Gary,” said Chris.
“If they ask about next of kin, don’t tell them anything. Just say that I’m taking care of breaking the news to them, Greg,” said Gary. “Edith and the boys know me. Cleo and Dorothy will also be there. I think that would be better than having you on her doorstep.”
“I agree,” said Greg.
“And Greg, I’m glad you did not drink much of that coffee.”
“So am I,” said Greg.
Gary and Cleo decided to go home to the cottage to discuss the situation further with  Dorothy. The problem was that keeping Mr Parsnip’s death a secret was almost an impossibility.
“Why don’t we just get it over with,” said Cleo.
“I’ll stay here with the children,” said Gary. “I think you will cope better without me.”
I’ll meet you at the café at five, he said.
I was a good idea, Dorothy and Cleo agreed.

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