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.
Gloria was happy to play an active role in the family, though she was anxious about Robert, who was not enjoying a happy end to his marriage and an optimistic new beginning to life thereafter.
But Gloria had a plan. She would call Julie, Robert’s grown-up daughter, although she hardly knew her. She knew that Rita, Robert’s ex-wife returned out the blue, did not want anything to do with him, but Gloria thought Robert deserved a second chance. Match-making was something Gloria loved doing, though admittedly she had tried to match the wrong pairs and keep unmatched pairs together in the past.
If Gloria had not yet heard about the efforts Julie was already making to bring her parents together, it was not really her fault. Nobody told Gloria things they did not want spread around. Robert was the least likely to confide in her, knowing how many people at the shop already did that in exchange for whatever gossip Gloria had heard recently. It was really the only reason Robert was uneasy about her working for him. There could be no other reason. Custom had doubled since he had introduced American meat cuts and his flamboyant, garrulous assistant. The fact that Gloria was Cleo’s mother was losing significance now that Robert had decided to scrap his marriage.
Robert delivered the steaks personally to Cleo’s cottage. There was no open animosity about his relationship with Cleo, but he could not help the pangs of hurt he suffered when he realised how little they had to say one another and how different the worlds were from which they had emerged: hers the academic career and union with a like-minded partner, his a handwork and a union with a woman he had thought attractive for a short time, but now almost feared.
During the day, he had paid a short visit to the vicarage. There he had found Beatrice in charge and learnt that Cleo had phoned to tell Beatrice that Edith would be charged with murdering the vicar after confessing. Beatrice was shocked and dismayed that the five boys were now to all intents and purposes orphans. She broke the news to Robert, who was appalled and immediately blamed himself for what had happened. His life was collapsing like a house of cards.
“You can’t expect people to tell you things if they don’t know they are important to you, Robert,” Beatrice had told him.
“But everyone knows how important Edith is to me.”
“Is she, Robert?” said Beatrice. “Are you being truthful?”
Robert would have liked to defend himself, but didn’t.
“I expect Cleo knows all the facts, but she doesn’t gossip, does she?”
“No, of course not,” said Robert .
Cleo had not told him in so many words what was happening to Edith, but why should she?
So Robert only heard the news about Edith’s arrest from Beatrice. On reflection, Robert was relieved that Edith had been unmasked, though he had tried not to believe that she would go to such drastic lengths to rid herself of a husband who apparently wanted a divorce. Edith was tearful when she told him that Her apparent sadness was, however, in direct contrast to the eagerness with which she had undressed both of them and insisted on the horse-and-rider game she used to get things going, to use her words.
Robert had been convinced that something was wrong somewhere in Edith’s mental condition. Her behaviour was extreme. As far as their relationship was concerned, Robert knew that things could not have gone on as they were. Apart from acting oddly, Edith’s greed for what Robert thought was perverse sex was probably a reaction, a form of nervous breakdown. It frightened him. He had always had a low desire for sexual contact and he thought Cleo had felt the same. He thought ruefully of Cleo’s gentleness and sympathy, both of which were, he knew now, based on compassion rather than love. Her passion had been spent on Gary all through their marriage.
But dwelling on the past was not Robert’s custom, either. It was all over now, and he would have to make the best of it, preferably without any further contact with Edith. He was friends with Gary and his contact with Cleo was more normal now they both knew essential truths about one another. Getting into contact with Rita had nothing to do with their blighted short marriage thirty years ago, he told himself. His daughter’s effort to help her father had been acknowledged, but Robert was going to think hard about entering into a new relationship now the episode with Edith had come to a catastrophic end.
Robert told Beatrice in a few words what Edith had been up to, her change of personality, her greediness for hard sex in which she took the initiative and he was to play the willing slave, and above all his despair. Beatrice was appalled and truly sorry about the misery Robert was clearly suffering. They waited for Oscar to turn up and Robert took the opportunity to pack the few personal belongings he had left at the vicarage. He would not go there again except to visit the boys. Beatrice’s husband Oscar promised to take charge of them until a solution could be found.
Beatrice was reminded of Edith’s amnesia after her shock at being propositioned by the fraudulent bishop who had been in charge of the diocese before the new one came. Had her change of personality already started then? Was Edith running away from herself in those days? Was her amnesia a form of shelter? Frederick had cow-towed to that bishop as he always had to everything in authority. At the same time he had thrown his weight about whenever he could.
And now the vicar was dead and Beatrice’s sister-in-law had literally done away with him.
To her chagrin, Beatrice thought that Edith might have treated Frederick to forced sex at one time, subjecting him to the kind of humiliation Robert had experienced. It might explain why Frederick had never really liked being a father. Female victims of rape often rejected the offspring that resulted from it. Perhaps the same applied to men. Whoever thought rape was men’s prerogative was misinformed.
Edith had become depressed as time went on. Falling in love with Robert was a novelty for her. That might explain why she was suddenly extrovert, but it still did not explain her preference for hard sex and abuse of a kindly man like Robert.
Robert went back to his shop. He had closed for an hour so that he could go to the vicarage. Now he opened up again for the final hour of the day. When there were no customers he pottered around, preparing cuts of meat, making some herb sausages from a new recipe, writing lists of what needed to be ordered from the wholesalers, and preparing orders. His feelings for and against Edith were indescribable.
Robert was in such a sorry state when he delivered the steaks that Cleo felt the need to comfort him. She and Gary tried to talk him through his problems, but Robert really needed to be alone, so their invitation to him to stay for supper was refused and Robert made his way home to his flat above the shop, his life in pieces.
Dorothy phoned him before she left for supper at Cleo’s cottage.
“Don’t forget the rehearsal tomorrow night, Robert,” she said.
“I don’t think I can sing a note,” he told her.
“Rubbish. Of course you can. You need to do something creative now, Robert. I’m relying on you.”
“That’s kind of you, Dorothy.”
“I’m not being kind. Without you there will be no Spiritual Revue.”
“OK. I’ll come, but I don’t feel like singing.”
“Just think of what those slaves went through, Robert.”
“I will, Dorothy. I’ll be there tomorrow evening.”
Gloria fortunately took over the cooking, for otherwise supper would have been a very late meal. Helping Robert had been a priority, Cleo had explained to her mother.
Roger and Dorothy arrived more or less at the same time. Mia arrived last.
She was introduced to everyone as a new colleague from Manchester. She nodded to Gary that her mission had been positive. Cleo did not know about Mia’s mission. If Gary wanted to pull a rabbit out of a hat, he should be allowed to do so.
The meal was fantastic.
“I’ll leave now,” said Gloria, when everything in sight had been eaten up and the table cleared ready for the brain-storming.
“We’d better have a hug first,” said Gary. To Roger’s surprise he waltzed around the room with Gloria, telling her what a fine cook and mother-in-law she was.
“Don’t mind them, Roger,” said Cleo. “It’s the new Gary.”
“What‘s that?” said Gary. “Why don’t you join in?”
“We haven’t been invited.”
“You are now,” he said, gathering Cleo, Mia and Dorothy into his arms. Gloria gathered Roger up and he declared that he had never known such craziness before.
“But nice,” Dorothy said.
“A good introduction to the brain-storming,” said Gary. “If people hugged more they might kill less. Take the example of Edith. She was a cold fish, if ever there was one.”
“I’d rather not,” said Cleo. “I’m not into raping men.”
Mia observed the dialogue wide-eyed. Rogar exchanged glances with her. Cleo was nothing if not forthright.
“It’s all relative, Cleo,” said Gary.
“So is global warming,” said Cleo. “Shall we get the brain-storming started? I’m sure Roger thinks we are all mad here.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” said Roger.
“Enjoy the evening!” shouted Gloria as she left.
“And Mia must think we are nuts.”
“No, not really,” said Mia. “I get a feeling of family here.”
“And I’m happier and more relaxed now than I have been since Elinor was arrested,” said Roger.
Roger’s wife had committed two murders and was serving life.
“Thank Cleo for that,” said Gary.
“It’s called partnership, Roger, and we are into it in a big way,” said Cleo.
“So where do we start, Gary?” said Dorothy, anxious to get on with the business in hand.
“Let’s start with Mia,” said Gary, and everyone except Cleo looked surprised.
“Sergeant Curlew has been at HQ for only a week, but she’s bright and keen. I sent her to Lower Grumpsfield to find out if Edith had been seen at the coffee bar. “Mia, tell us what you found out!”.
“Fire away,” said Dorothy.
“Sophia, the coffee barmaid, recognized the woman on the photo. I did not say who it was, but she said that the woman on the photo was a good friend of the late Mrs Grisham.”
“Great,” said Gary.
“Sophia said that the two women often went into the back room for a chat, so she had not thought it unusual on the day Mrs Grisham was killed and had only gone in to get coffee beans for the machine.”
“That’s exactly what the girl told us at the time,” said Gary, “except that she didn’t identify Edith because no one asked her to, of course. Edith had not been linked with Mrs Grisham.”
“And she did not get to see a photo of Edith, either, did she?” said Dorothy. “On reflection, that was negligent.”
“Hmmm,” said Gary. “If we had known then what we know now we could have cut a few corners, Dorothy.”
“Too true,” said Dorothy, mollified.
Mie continued with her report.
“Sophia said she had not seen the woman since Mrs Grisham was killed.”
Gary asked Mia if she thought Sophia had suspected something, but the answer was negative. Edith had often left via the back door of the coffee bar, so Sophia did not think it unusual that she did not see her leaving that day. The storeroom door was often left open to let air in and always unlocked during opening times. All doors were locked at closing time.
“Anyone could have got in and out,” said Dorothy. “Even someone who helped Mrs Grisham to kingdom-come.”
“Hmmm,” repeated Gary.
“When I asked Sophia if she thought the woman on the photo could be responsible for Mrs Grisham’s death, Sophia was shocked,” said Mia. ’Friends don’t do that,’ she had replied and Mia thought it was wiser not to continue her questioning.
“Good thinking,” said Gary.
“Just one question, Mia. Did Sophia or anyone realise that you are a police officer?” Roger asked.
“No. I said I was actually looking for a cousin who looked like the person on the photo.”
“I’m not sure if I would have believed that,” said Gary.
“Sophia did, I’m sure,” said Mia. “She was turtling with a gaunt looking lad the whole time. I doubt if she would have bothered to make up a story herself and she had no reason not to believe mine.”
“Write a report, please Mia. It would help if you could do it first thing in the morning.”
“I will, Sir. Shall I bring it to you in the office?”
“Send it me as a file, Mia, but come to my office as well. I’d like to hear your opinion of the whole setup there when you’ve had time to think about it.”
“OK. I’d better go home now. My husband always rings at eleven. He’ll be worried if I’m not at home and haven’t told him I’d be out. I would have told him about your invitation, but I didn’t have time.”
“Come again, Mia,” said Cleo.
“I’d love to. Goodnight everyone.”
“Miss Curlew seems efficient,” said Roger after Mia had left.
“Can you get her family here, Roger?”
“I’ll try. There is a position for a patrol cop i If he could fill in for Greg Winter. Winter could then concentrate on being a detective instead of taking on a dual role. I’ll see to it in the morning.”
“What do you make of Sophia identifying the woman as a friend of Mrs Grisham, Cleo?” Gary asked.
“Part of me had been expecting that,” said Cleo.
“All of me had been expecting that,” said Dorothy. “I think we can now assume that Edith killed Mrs Grisham.”
“But why would she do that?” Roger asked.
“To cover up her role in the Grisham murder,” said Dorothy, as if she had thought that all along..
“Go ahead Dorothy. Tell us your theory,” said Gary.
You didn’t have to invite Dorothy twice to expound on her hunches.
“Well, for a start, I can’t imagine Mrs Grisham wanting her husband dead, so it must have been connected with Frederick Parsnip since we can safely assume that Edith had wanted to be rid of Frederick for some time and could not think how.”
“I don’t understand the logic, Dorothy,” said Gary.
“Think about it,” said Dorothy, putting on a voice that sounded like the sort of voice she would have used when giving a piano lesson to a small boy with grubby hands.
“The vital link for me is the friendship between Edith and the woman,” said Dorothy. “Frederick was going away without a thought for what would happen to his family. Edith resented that and hated him anyway. Now she saw how she could get rid of him for good.”
“We thought she was doing that by sponsoring his trip to Africa, from which Edith did not think he would return,” said Cleo. “In fact, we thought she might have constructed that invitation and plane ticket, though we could not think how she could finance the latter.”
“You’ve never mentioned that, Cleo,” said Gary.
“I think we must have scrapped the idea,” said Cleo.
“Carry on with your theory please, Dorothy!” said Roger.
“Well, I think that Edith persuaded Mrs Grisham to thumb a lift on the road to Heathrow. It was early and Mrs Grisham knew the car and the route. I expect Grisham was amused and possibly a little puzzled to see his wife standing on the kerb. Of course he picked her up.”
“Ingenious, Dorothy,” said Gary. “So that third person could be her. Didn’t Chris say the fingerprints could be a woman’s?”
“Mrs Grisham’s target was not Grisham but Frederick. That is what Edith had plotted with her. She had probably told Mrs Grisham that it was a harmless joke and Mrs Grisham had wanted to help Edith.”
“This is all a bit far-fetched,” said Gary. “I can’t imagine those two women hatching out such a plot.”
“No. Wait!" said Roger." There is a certain logic about the description of events. Let’s hear what Dorothy thinks happened next.”
“Thank you Roger. As planned, Mrs Grisham directed her husband off the main road to where the car was later found. We don’t need to know how she knew about the lane. She may have driven there with Grisham some time earlier. It isn’t relevant now.”
“And then?” said Roger.
“Edith had instructed Mrs Grisham to jab the syringe into Frederick Parsnip. She did that, but was not skillful enough. The needle did not go right through his thick overclothes.”
“What you are saying contradicts what Parsnip told us, of course,” said Cleo.
“Frederick was lying,” said Dorothy.
“How do you know that?” said Cleo, who thought Dorothy’s story was a bit over the top.xxxx
“Mrs Grisham would have been nervous when she realised what she had been persuaded to do. She fled, dropping the bag of syringes. Frederick panicked and fled. After a while, Mrs Grisham came out of hiding, probably to retrieve the syringes. Then she decided that Mr Parsnip would tell on her so she dug a syringe into Grisham’s shoulder. She might have thought that would make it all a game should she be questioned. She did not know that the content of the syringes was not just a sleeping drug, but a deadly one meant for the vicar, of course. So Mr Grisham was killed by accident.”
“Alawys supposing that Mrs Grisham did not want to use the lan to get rid of her husband, too,” said Gary. It could have happened differently,“
“OK, the last part is hard to swallow,” said Dorothy.
Cleo wanted to make a useful contribution.
“Let’s can assume that the plot Edith had hatched out was to kill Mr Parsnip. She would hardly have told Mrs Grisham that she was about to become a killer. Grisham thought it was fun that his wife got in the car and drove off the road quite voluntarily, having no idea what his wife was up to!”
“OK. Let’s sum this up now,” said Roger. “Mrs Grisham was ostensibly ‘hired’ by Edith Parsnip to teach the vicar a lesson, but she was not thorough enough, and the vicar fled. She sank her reserve syringe into her husband’s shoulder instead. Let#s say it was to stop him talking. She did not know that the contents of the syringe were deadly. Grisham had probably already moved to the passenger seat to shout after Parsnip, who had fled. Parsnip had taken off his dog collar previously because it felt uncomfortable. Now Mrs Grisham dressed her husband in the dog-collar and left him to his fate, which she thought was sleeping it off. That would make the dog-collar a quirky bit of humorous revenge.”
“It all sounds likely, whichever story you want to believe,” said Gary.
“Edith had probably told Mrs Grisham that it was all just a prank,” added Dorothy. “So Mrs Grisham caught a bus back to Lower Grumpsfield not knowing that she had killed her husband.”
“Or she did know, and did not want anyone else to know,” said Cleo.
“Supposing one of those slightly varied versions of what happened actually fits what really happened,” said Gary. “Why did Mrs Grisham claim that her husband had been murdered. Wasn’t that playing a very dangerous game?”
“It’s a typical double bluff, isn’t it?” said Cleo.
“Or she wanted to confess, but had been threatened by Edith to keep her mouth shut,” said Dorothy, who had now lost any vestige of sympathy she might once have had for Edith.
“Assuming we now know what happened, Mrs Grisham was an innocent party to an evil plot,” said Roger. “But why did the vicar’s wife want to kill the vicar in the first place if she was getting him out her hair by sending him to Africa?”
“In one word ‘hatred’”, said Cleo. “She had been humiliated time and time again by Mr Parsnip. She had fallen in love with Robert and had defied decency by spending the night before the vicar’s departure in her new lover’s bed.”
“She might also have been ashamed of having done that,” said Dorothy.
“I doubt it,” said Gary. “I was shocked at how brazen she was. I don't think she had a guilty conscience,” said Roger. “She's one of those killers who like to think there is no alternative that will solve their problems."
“Talking of hindsight, an elaborate murder plot like any of the versions we’ve heard now about could not have been instituted at the drop of a hat. Mrs Grisham had to get out of Lower Grumpsfield to the road Grisham would be using to get to the motoway”
"With more hindsight, I don't think there was much genuineness about Edith except in relation to the children,” said Dorothy. “That was the only reason she stayed on at the vicarage and made the best of things while Frederick sharpened pencils and invented ridiculous sermons."
"Sharpened pencils?" said Roger.
"Hundreds of them, Roger," said Dorothy. "Every time he had a problem or was bored or had space in his day he grabbed a scalpel and a box of pencils and wore them down one by one."
"Crazy," said Cleo.
"Potty," said Dorothy.
“Excentric,” said Roger.
“As mad as a hatter,” said Gary.
They all fell silent. Did what Dorothy had described really happen?
“To sum up," said Roger, since the brainstorm seemed to be over. “Edith killed Mrs Grisham because she was afraid the woman would say something damaging about her. I think that’s the conclusion we have reached.”
“I think she will own up to that, " said Dorothy. "She’s probably proud of herself.”
"Or she's had time to reconsider and isn't saying anything," said Gary.
“Or some other part of her personality was responsible and she is unaware, as in the multiple personality syndrome,” said Cleo.
“She might realise what she did and be ashamed,” said Dorothy.
“I doubt it,” said Gary.
“I don't think she can have a guilty conscience,” said Roger. “She justifies her actions as being the only way out of the situation in which she found herself. I was once married to such a woman."
“Come on Roger. Your ex-wife was defending the social advantages of being married to you. She did not want anyone spoiling that. That’s why Shirley had to die.”
“But I should not have taken up with Shirley,” said Roger.
“You were at your wits’ end with your wife’s infidelity and extravagance, Roger. Her behaviour was scandalous,” said Gary.
“Be glad it’s all in the past, Roger,” said Dorothy. “I don’t know all the facts, but I’ve just heard enough to assure me that you were the injured party in the end.”
“Thanks, Dorothy,” said Roger.
“Back to our Brainstorming,” said Cleo. “I’ll some fresh coffee then we can recap again for clarity and to decide which version we are going for.”
“Don’t make it sound too simple,” said Gary.
“But it is simple. Most crimes are,” said Cleo. “We find them difficult to solve because we cannot easily get into the minds of people consumed so much by hatred or other ulterior motives that they feel obliged to obliterate the cause of it.”
“Don’t preach, Cleo,” said Dorothy. “Let’s have that coffee. I’ll help you.”
“Fact is that Edith made Mrs Grisham an accomplice so that she could be unwittingly instrumental in the death of Mr Parsnip,” said Cleo. “But it all went wrong for Mrs Grisham because Mr Parsnip was dressed for the Antarctic. After due consideration, Edith went to the café and killed Mrs Grisham so that she could not talk.”
“Of course, Frederick did turn up eventually,” said Dorothy. “Isn’t it possible that Mrs Grisham had told Edith she had killed him when she hadn’t? She would have incurred Edith’s wrath, In her warped frame of mind, Edith would have had no difficulty in making that a reason to kill Mrs Grisham. She was only protecting her own interests.”
"That’s what I mean about getting into a murderer's mind," said Cleo. "Edith plots to kill or frighten her husband and her accomplice uses the mission to kill her own husband instead. Edith must have been furious."
"That is no use as an argument for the defence," said Gary, "but it's good material for tomorrow's questioning."
“We will never know the whole truth,” said Roger, “but it is possible that Edith Parsnip will say enough for us to charge her with the murder of Mrs Grisham.”
“Over to you guys then,” said Cleo. “Coffee’s coming up as soon as I can leave this gripping think tank.”
“One point we haven’t mentioned,” said Roger. “This rules Frank Cook out, doesn’t it?”
“It seems to, Roger. No MI5. Just a couple of vindictive women.”
“I suppose you could call that a happy end,” said Gary.
“Wait and see if Edith thinks that, Sweetheart,” said Cleo. “She may have a better version of events.”