Monday, 16 November 2015

SEVENTEEN - The Femme Fatale

Tuesday November 3

Cleo and Gary decided that Edith Parsnip had the strongest motive to kill the vicar. Greg’s description of the tea-lady that included spotting a small birthmark on her left hand would could easily be verified.  It was potentially 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 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 conclusive moment in the identification of the poisoner.
Accordingly, Gary drove to HQ early and asked Greg to send a patrol car to collect Edith without prior notice. Greg should not go himself, as he would be needed as a witness and it was important  to see how Edith Parsnip reacted when she saw Greg. If Edith had served the tea, she might be wondering how Greg could have survived while the vicar died. The patrol team would get to the vicarage after the boys had gone to school. Edith would have no idea that she was going to be collected. A female police officer should be at hand to escort Edith around the vicarage if she was not dressed, for example., She was on no account to be left alone for one moment abd she would not be told where she was being taken.
Gary did not know if Robert had found a way of getting out of his doomed relationship with the vicar’s widow, but he thought it better not to tell him that Edith was going to be detained.
Cleo phoned Beatrice so that someone would be at the vicarage when the boys got home from school, assuming rightly that Edith’s interview would end in her arrest. The actual questioning would be one of the most sensitive ones Gary would ever have to face.
Dorothy and Cleo would be at HQ in time for the questioning unknown to Edith and sit in the observer room.
Dave Gates and Joan Ferguson were relieved to find Mrs Parsnip sober. Greg had explained the situation. Joan would keep an eagle eye on Mrs Parsnip’s actions all the time. Handcuffs should be avoided if Edith was compliant.
Edith was getting ready to go shopping when Dave rang the front doorbell at the vicarage. He explained with charm and a friendly smile that it would be a help if she could identify her husband again for the records. Edith was indeed charmed by the good-looking cop. Once awakened, however, her hunger for sex was seemingly not confined to sex with Robert. She got very close indeed to Dave, who was not expecting such a ‘warm’ reception. With great presence of mind he whispered ‘later’ and the vicar’s wife purred with anticipation. She opened a couple of blouse buttons, heaved her breasts into position, put on a jacket and picked up her handbag.
Joan, a young woman straight out of police training, was quite astonished to see Edith pushed onto the back seat. That was not planned and of course Joan did not know exactly what the situation now was.
“I’ll sit with Mrs Parsnip,” Dave said.
Joan nodded. She had been told how Mrs Parsnip ticked and hoped Dave could cope.
“Who’s your friend?” asked Edith.
“That’s Joan,” said Dave. “She’s my driver.”
“Hello Joan,” said Edith. She was behaving as though they were all going on an outing.
Edith’s hand were free.  Davesoom  realized that not handcuffing the woman had been as good as an invitation, for when Edith found that she was sitting very close to Dave Gates and unable to get out of the car because the doors could only be opened from the outside, she decided to proceed with her flirt. She moved her hands to Dave’s upper leg, which he found extremely embarrassing. Having her snuggle up to him lasciviously and make lewd gestures while whispering obscenities was almost more than he could endure, especially with Joan looking at them in the car mirror and being both amused and shocked. Then Edith suddenly moved to open her handbag instead of pursuing what Dave later decribed as being molested. Dave had no idea what Mrs Parsnip was going to do next. Since he had not searched her handbag he snatched it from her now and pushed it through the gap in the front seats. Joan dropped it onto the mat in front of the front passenger seat. Edith Parsnip said nothing and remained poker-faced for the rest of the journey, her amorous attentions forgotten. Whatever the reason for Edith’s action, Dave had been quicker. He would search the handbag as soon as possible. It would be a feather in his cap if he found something suspicious.
Joan got out at HQ and opened the door on Dave’s side for him to get out.
“The woman’s a nymphomaniac,” Dave whispered. “I wish someone had warned me. I could have handcuffed her.”
“I’ll handcuff her now, Dave. I think she’s going to make a fuss.”
Edith Parsnip was indeed wriggling. Her clothes were awry as she resumed her  lewd gesturing. She tried to pull Dave onto her. Joan grabbed her left wrist and clapped a cuff on it. Dave extricated himself. Joan forced Edith to hold her right arm out for the other half of the handcuffs and then pulled her out of the car exhorting her to behave.
“He’s mine,” Joan said with a wink at Dave. Edith accepted that information and allowed herself to be walked up the steps to the HQ main entrance. At the information desk Dave phoned through to Gary as instructed and was asked to bring Mrs Parsnip up. He was carrying her handbag. He had not looked inside.
“What about the identification,” Edith said. “Why am I a prisoner?”
“You are not a prisoner, Miss,” said Dave. “We have instructions to put handcuffs on anyone who is making a fuss and you were naughty in the car.”
“Yes, I was, wasn’t I?” said Edith coyly. “I’ll show you a lot more later to get you going.”
Joan was appalled. Dave was glad that Edith’s hands were out of service.
“I thought we could use the time more excitingly in the car,” Edith said as she was led up the stairs to the second floor. “It doesn’t take a minute to get there, Dave.”
The vicar’s widow was escorted up the main stairs to Gary’s office. The two patrol cops had no desire to be in the lift with this obscene woman.
***
“Welcome to my office, Edith,” said Gary. “Were the officers rough with you?”
“No,” said Edith in a tone Dave and Joan had not expected. With Gary she was  turning on the sweetness and light.
“They were doing their job,” she added. “This young man has nice warm legs. Why am I here? What about the identification?”
“Later, Edith,” Gary said, thinking of poor Robert’s desperation in the face of this uninhibited woman.
“Does Robert know I am here?” Edith asked.
“No. Do you want me to tell him?”
“He went home last night.”
“Oh dear. Is he sick?”
“Sick of me, perhaps,” she said.
“Why should he be sick of you, Edith?”
“I don’t want them to hear,” she said, pointing with her head at Dave and Joan.
“Wait at the door, please, but inside, Officers,” said Gary, remembering that he had been warned about interviewing women without a chaperone.
“We’ll talk so that they can’t hear us,” said Gary. “I’m not allowed to be alone with you.”
“That’s a pity. I’d like us to have sex, Gary,” she said, her handcuffed hands twitching in what Gary thought might be anticipation. He was shocked to the core. What had happened to her to make her act like that?
“You know I’m married, Edith. And even if I wasn’t…” Gary said at normal volume.
The two patrol cops thought that would probably not stop Mrs Parsnip if she was given the chance.
“I wanted to show that nice officer my whole body,” she said and Gary concluded that she was no longer sane. “He wanted sex with me,” she whispered, “but he belongs to that police woman so we’ll have to do it secretly.”
“Sit down,” said Gary. “You can’t have sex with anyone here or in a patrol car,” he said in a very loud voice. “It’s not allowed.”
Dave and Joan exchanged glances. This woman’s husband was lying stone dead in pathology and she was behaving like a slut.
Gary went to his desk and phoned Roger.
“Can you go to pathology?” he asked him. “I have an important person here. She needs to identify a corpse and you must help me to talk to her.”
Roger realised that Gary was circumventing what he really wanted to say.
“I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Thanks.”
“Another man?” said Edith eagerly.
***
In the foyer Roger met up with Cleo and Dorothy. After explaining that Gary had more or less shouted for help, they all walked down to the pathology lab. Cleo and Dorothy went in a room from where they could see and hear everything without their presence being make known. Edith was brought in by Joan and Gary.
Edith did not seem put out by anything that was going on. After the identification, Gary was going to move the questioning back to his office. Behind the pathology lab observation window, Cleo and Dorothy were waiting for what would happen next. Joan removed Edith’s handcuffs, but would remain next to Edith to make sure that Edith behaved.
“Edith, you know why you are here, don’t you?” Gary started.
“I’m going to identify Mr Parsnip.”
“Let’s get it over then.”
An assistant wheeled in a trolly bearing Parsnip’s corpse and drew back the blue cotton sheet that had been covering him.
“That’s him,” she said. “Impotent bastard. Take him away. Can I go now?”
“That is not the only reason you are here, Mrs Parsnip. We’ll go back to my office, shall we?” said Gary.
Roger had observed the scene with revulsion. He did not envy Gary this suspect.
“I know what you want,” she said, moving in to press her body agains Gary’s. She was rewarded by Joan fixing the handcuffs back on her. Edith’s hands were this time behind her back..
There was no sign of grief or sorrow. Edith had hated her husband.
Back in the office the policewoman made Edith sit down, though she wanted to leave and cursed when she couldn’t.
“What’s your name, Miss,” Edith asked.
“I’m Constable Joan Ferguson, Mrs Parsnip.”
“Well, Joanie, you can learn a lot from me if you watch how I take on this lovely man.”
It was as if Edith did not know Gary.
“I’m married, Edith. I told you that.”
“Never let that stop you, Joanie. You saw where that can land a husband,” she said, referring to the vicar.. “Who’s that in the corner,” said Edith.
“That’s my assistant, Edith. Nigel is taking notes.”
“I always think being gay is waste of good manliness,” Edith said, and Nigel looked horrified.
“Don’t record the obscenities, Nigel,” said Gary. “Mrs Parsnip is not in her right mind and we don’t need to remind ourselves of her excesses.”
“Oh, but I am quite normal,” said Edith. “Take these handcuffs off and I’ll show you.”
Cleo, Dorothy and Roger were shocked at Edith’s conduct, but there was more to come.
***
Gary thought better of removing the scene to his office. He needed his witnesses and the Ladies did not want to be seen. Roger decided he might be needed in the pathology lab. His arrival there was greeted with a queenly smile fro Edith.
***
“Did you kill your husband, Edith?” Gary asked out of the blue.
Edith looked startled, but she recovered her composure quickly.
 “Did you hear my question, Edith?” he said a bit louder. “I asked you if you killed Frederick Parsnip.”
“Who’s that nice man?”
“Answer my question, Edith!”
“Answer mine first,” said Edith.
That is Super-Intendant Stone, Edith. Now answer mine!”
“It was an accident,” she replied.
“Explain that, Edith. I’d love to know what constitutes an accident for you.”
“I wanted to teach him a lesson.”
“With a teapot full of poison, some of which you gave to my colleague, Edith?”
“Stupid fool.”
“Mr Winter is not stupid, Edith, He would not have survived the tea if he had had more than a tiny sip of it.”
“You’re lying, Mr Hurley,” said Edith, which statement served to confirm her intentions.
Gary phoned Greg and he came in a minute later.
“Perhaps you would like tell Detective Sergeant Winter what you think”.
“It’s a trick,” said Edith. “That cop’s dead.”
“What makes you think that, Edith?”
“He got a cup of my special tea and I watched Mr Parsnip drain his cup,” said Edith with a gleeful chuckle.
“That must have been very quick, Edith. Mr Parsnip was thirsty, and you thought a cupful of poison would teach him a lesson, did you?”
“It did, didn’t it?”
“You killed him, Edith, and I know why.”
“You don’t know what a weakling the vicar was.”
“You got rid of him because he would have come back and spoilt your love-nest.”
“He came back to Flora Snow and she phoned me. She said they were staying together and I would lose out because I would not get his salary.”
 “So you decided not to let that happen.”
“What would you have done?”
“Did Flora Snow phone you to tell you all that?”
“Yes.”
“We traced Mr Parsnip because he phoned his son on the mobile phone he had taken from Mr Grisham. We put a spanner in the works, didn’t we, Edith?”
Edith snorted and struggled briefly with the handcuffs.
“A clean divorce would have been better for you, wouldn’t it?”
“I hated him. When he had left, I found the divorce papers he had signed. It would all have ended with me financially secure if the bastard had not run off.”
“Run off where, Edith?”
“Grisham’s car,” said Edith. “He thought he was going to Africa, silly old bastard.”
It was gradually dawning on Gary that Edith had had something to do with Grisham’s killing, too, but what? She was clearly not in command of what had actually happened. Whatever had been planned, she had gone with flow, and when that had not all worked out, she had taken the matter into her own hands.
***
Gary’s mobile rang. It was Cleo.
“You are doing brilliantly, Gary. I definitely think she was mixed up in the Grisham killings. Ask her who helped her. Did she write the invitation to Africe? Je t’aime,” she said and rang off.
Gary mimed ‘moi aussi’ back and nodded.
“Who helped you with your plan, Edith?” he asked her.
“Helped with what plan?”
“To get rid of Grisham.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about and I’m not saying any more,” said Edith and Joan thought the whole of the madness scene was play-acting.
“Just tell me who wrote the invitation to Africa and organized the plane ticket, Edith,” said Gary, his face very close to hers.
“A friend,” said Edith, startled and recoiling. Comfort zones were always in the hands of the participants, but Edith could not really back off now, and Gary wanted to put more pressure on her.
“Frank Cook?” said Gary.
After several moments of hesitation, Edith replied “Who’s that?”
“Gary looked briefly up at the blind window separating his office from the observation room next door.
“You can tell me later, Edith,” he said.
“Lock her up,” he said to Gary. “Joan will help you.”
“Can I go home now?” said Edith.
“No,” said Gary. “You’re staying here, Edith. We can have another chat soon. I’ve quite enjoyed this one.”
“So have I except for the woman,” she said.
Joan smiled at Greg and Gary decided it was possible to indulge in a spot of match-making even with a corpse present.
Edith was led away.
***
“Well, Greg, satisfied that she served you that tea?” said Gary later.
“Pretty sure,” said Greg. Same stature and a birthmark. But she has lots of freckles on her arms, Gary. I’m not sure that we can offer that evidence as secured.”
“It doesn’t matter. She has to all intents and purposes confessed. “
 “I don’t suppose that Joan and Dave will thank me for sending them on that mission,” said Greg.
“On the contrary,” said Gary. “Joan …”
“Caught your eye, did she?”
“I’m going to date her, Gary.”
“Go for it, Greg.
“I will.”
“That Edith Parsnip is a harlot, Greg. She even made me blush.”
***
Cleo, Dorothy, Greg  and Roger went up to Gary’s office.
Gary embraced the ladies and tolerated a pat on the back from Roger.
“That was really gripping, Gary,” said Dorothy.
“It was quite frightening,” said Gary. “I never would have thought…”
“I expect Chris will be able to tell us more soon to confirm what the woman admitted,” said Roger.
“I knew Edith Parsnip was a sullen, sulky person, but I didn’t know how evil she is,” said Dorothy. “And she was play-acting, Gary. I think she’s clever enough to talk herself out of this mess.”
“She was driven to be evil. For her there seemed to be no other road to freedom from the vicar, whom she obviously hated,” said Cleo.
“On reflection, I suspect that Mrs Grisham was the accomplice, Gary,” said Dorothy, and Gary knew better than to laugh at the suggestion.
“But how did she know Edith?” said Gary.
Didn’t she tell us she attended all Edith’s coffee mornings and other events. I expect they got friendly. Mrs Grisham had no axe to grind, but Edith had something in mind even then and cultivated her friendship. She probably saw in Mrs Grisham somwone who was too dumb to know what she was doing.”
“So you think that she told Mrs Grisham about her misery with the vicar and Mrs Grisham had an idea of how to get rid of him?”
“I’m not sure who had the idea, but if murder was on the menu, it could have been like that,” said Dorothy.
Roger was observing Dorothy with admiration.
“I think we should have another brain-storming, Gary,” said Cleo.
“I think we are in the middle of one,” said Dorothy.
“But we can carry on at home,” said Cleo. “I should get home to the girls and my mother.”
“Can I join you later?” Roger asked.
“Only if you share our supper, Mr Stone,” said Cleo.
“I’m still Roger, Cleo, and I’ve heard a lot about the efficiency of the Hartley Agency, so it’s an honour to be part of your discussion.”
“I think we can claim some success because we are under the obligation to think hard without having to act immediately. Sometimes the police are obliged to act first and think later,” said Cleo.
“Seven p.m. for supper, Roger?” said Gary, giving Cleo a less than friendly look.
“I’ll be there,” said Roger.
“Cleo, be a dear and phone Robert. I think that calls for some really good steaks,” said Gary.
“Yes dear,” said Cleo in such a way that they all had to laugh.
***
When Cleo and Dorothy had gone home, Gary did something he decided he should have done already. He wanted to have something concrete to show the ladies that evening. He phoned down for the policewoman who had accompanied Edith to the questioning. He only knew her slightly, but that would not be a barrier to what he wanted her to do, especially as Greg was clearly keen on her. While he was waiting for her, he printed out Edith’s photo.
“Mia Curlew at your service, Sir,” the policewoman said as she entered Gary’s office..
“Oh, I thought I was getting Joan Ferguson,” said Gary.
“She had to go out on another call with Dave. Men can’t search women, and it was for shop-lifting.”
“OK, Miss Curlew, I’m sure we’ll get along fine.”
“I’ll do what I can,” said Mia.
“I don’t think we’ve met before,” said Gary.
 “No Sir. I’ve only been here a week.”
“Do you have a car?”
“Yes Sir. It’s old, but it serves the purpose.”
“I want you to drive to a place called Lower Grumpsfield as soon as possible.”
“In normal clothes, Sir?”
“Yes. I don’t want you to say you are from the police. All I want you to do is to go to the new coffee bar there and find out if anyone has seen the person on the photo I’m going to give you, Can you go now?”
“Yes Sir. I always have private clothes in my locker in case I need them.”
“Very good, Mia. Keep that up. If this goes well, there’ll be more jobs like it. You’ll get expenses, by the way.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Call me Gary. I haven’t been knighted yet! After your mission, come to my home in Monkton Way, Upper Grumpsfield, Mia.The cottage is Number 10. It’s on a corner. I’d like to have your report at first hand. You could stay for supper if you have time.”
“I’d like that, Sir.”
“I like being called Gary by my colleagues. Tell me a bit about yourself, Mia.”
“I was head-hunted  from Manchester, Gary. I’m married and have a child, Jamie. He’s three. I’m on patrol now, but I have had detective training.”
“I have a daughter aged 11 and a one aged 13 months, Mia. I think you met my wife briefly. She’s the lady with the olive skin. What does your husband do?”
“He’s a patrol squad man, Gary, but he’s still in Manchester hopng for a transfer, so we have to live apart.”
“I expect we can hurry things along, Mia. Leave it to me.”
“Thank you. I’m lonely here. I miss my family.”
Exchanging information cleared the air of any misrepresentation. Gary did not want to go through any more problems like the one he had had with Shirley Temple, who claimed he was the love of her life, but soon switched to Roger Stone, presumably because he had a higher position. She had apparently used the same phrases on him declaring eternal love. Opportunism was no-go for anyone attracted to Gary especially now he was at last living with the woman he had loved for years. He wanted everyone to know that.
Gary explained briefly what Edith had probably done, and asked Mia to pay special attention to a waitress named Sophia who was working at the coffee bar and had discovered her boss’s body.
“Don’t rush about the job, Mia. Take all afternoon if you need to. I expect a lot of regulars frequent that coffee bar. Chat them up. I’ll tell Cleo to expect you any time. There’s always someone at home.”
“When did the woman on the photo go there, Gary?”
“I’m going to print out the interim report on the death of Mrs Grisham for you, Mia,” said Gary, and did just that. “We don’t know when or how often our suspect went to the bar, but the murdered woman was found between two and three in the afternoon. I don’t think Edith Parsnip, the woman on the photo  who is now in an arrest cell, would have hung around after the murder, always supposing she did it. She probably went out the back way, but you could ask the counter assistant, if it’s the young girl named Sophia, when she thought she had last seen the woman. Keep it casual and don’t use Edith’s name.
Mia explained that she had talked to Dave Gates, who s´was still smarting from his humiliating confrontation with Edith.
“She is awful, wasn’t she?”said Mia.
“Disgusting.”
“Dave Gates told me she’d made an obscene pass at him.”
“She seems to have discovered her libido, Mia.”
“Not very nice when you consider that her husband is lying dead.”
“Horrible. She wasn’t always like that, but that corpse was probably responsible for what she is now.”
“Tit for tat then.”
“I should think so.”
***
Mia was excited that she should be chosen for such a responsible task. She would call Gary as soon as she could and was delighted to be asked to supper. They exchanged mobile phone numbers and Mia shook Gary firmly by the hand before leaving.
There was nothing much Gary could do that afternoon. He hoped to have something concrete to offer at the brain-storming. That was important. He could not let Dorothy beat him to it every time. Having Mia there at first hand was also an opportunity to do something forr her family. Roger would be there and he was a great puller of strings.
***
Gary was certain that someone must have seen Edith at the coffee bar. After writing a detailed report on his interview with Edith, using a tape recording to make sure it was accurate, Gary wound up his office work for the day, left Nigel to write his report oin the office interview with Edith, collected Charlie and the boys from school and drove home, dropping the boys off at the vicarage on the way. He had already earmarked the following day for looking into Frank Cook’s ‘career’. There was a sporting chance that he was mixed up in Grisham’s death, though Grisham had probably been small fry in spy circles.



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