Tuesday, 17 November 2015

NINETEEN - Ladies' day

Wednesday November 4

“I’ve decided what to do,” Gary told Cleo at breakfast.
“You talked in your sleep, Gary. I think you were rehearsing that questioning.”
“I’m taking on some of the Hartley Agency idiosyncrasies.” said Gary. “One of them is to think seriously about the suspects. I used to get some facts, put them in order along with tangible evidence and lock a suspect up, usually after charging him or her with whatever offences were on the cards.”
“And now?”
“I want to know what makes Edith tick,” said Gary. “She isn’t the sort of killer we normally get.”
“Is there a normal sort of killer?”
“They all have a common denomination,” said Gary.
“And that is?”
“What you say about them, Cleo. Something has led them to becoming vulnerable in one way or another They combat their own weakness with a show of strength and superiority. They believe that excuses their murders. They have been driven to them, they believe.”
“Sure. As Dorothy would confirm, you have to look for the motive and the motive may not at first be logical, but you have to keep looking until you can tie up the motivation with the deed and the deed with the perpetrator.”
“We haven’t talked about the greed motive, have we?” said Gary.
“Do you want a lecture?”
“Yes, Dr Hartley. Why not?”
“OK. Greed has many faces,” said Cleo. “Greed for power, money, love, freedom – take your pick. A longing for any of those things might or might not induce murder, but greed is possibly the strongest candidate of all.”
“But Edith’s did not kill out of greed, did she?”
“You could deduce that she was greedy of a life withoug the blank hatred of a man who was making her life a misery,” said Cleo. “Hatred changed her psyche so much that a weak, shy, diffident woman turned into a scheming killer.”
“Talking of schemes, are you coming along to be in at the kill?” Gary asked.
“Do you want me to be there?”
“Yes.“
“What about Dorothy?”
“I’m not so sure about that, Cleo. Dorothy knows so much about Edith and dislikes her for various reasons. She might take it into her head to give Edith a piece of her mind.”
“I don’t like Edith, either,” said Cleo, “but knowing Edith might be a reason for Dorothy to witness events.”
“We’ll let Dorothy decided,” said Gary.
A phone call to Dorothy elicited the decision that she would observe events but not interfere, she was quite sure.
***
At Gary’s office Nigel sat well back, equipped as usual with his notebook and biro. Roger sat expectantly in a corner of the room. He wanted to witness what went on and thought Gary might need moral support, but he was also curious about Edith Parsnip. From her actions she could have been  an amazon of a woman, but she was slight, thin and nervous. The small birthmark on her left hand that had only been mentioned in Greg’s report was quite evident among the paler freckles as Edith played nervously with her fingers.
Nothing about Edith could be described as contrite, however. She wore an air of defiance, She was indignant at being handcuffed and between two policewomen, one of whom was Mia Curlew and the other Joan Ferguson.
“Edith, did you send Mrs Grisham to play a joke on the vicar?”
Edith’s face lit up before she frowned..
“The stupid woman made a mess of it,” she said.
“But you knew how to deal with her, didn’t you?” said Gary. “It’s a pity you would not remember what happened a day or so later at the coffee bar.”
Edith was indignant.
“But I do remember!”
“What do you remember?”
“I found her in the back room as usual,” said Edith.
“What back room?” Gary asked.
“At the coffeebar. The silly woman confessed that she had made a mess of the job.”
“What job, Edith? You are talking in riddles,” said Gary.
“She let Mr Parsnip get away,” said Edith.
“Get away from what?”
Cleo had chosen to sit with Dorothy in the observation room next door, but now she decided to join Gary.
“Hallo Edith, “ said Cleo. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“Did you plan this at your fancy agency?”
“Plan what, Edith?”
“To get me trapped here.”
“You are not trapped, Edith. Just tell Gary what he wants to know.”
“What does he want to know?”
“I want you to tell me why Mrs Grisham had to die, Edith,” said Gary.
“I only wanted to teach her a lesson,” said Edith.
“So you plunged a syringe into her shoulder.”
“The silly fool wanted to give me the syringes back,” Edith said. “One was still full, so I thought it might be fun to try it on her.”
“Did you know the syringes had poisonous liquid in them?
“It was medicinal,” Edith said.
“Where did you get it?” Cleo asked.
“I’m not telling,” Edith said.
“That’s why you put the liquid in Frederick’s tea, I expect.”
“That was fun, wasn’t it?”
I was now clear to everyone that Edith was either not sane or putting on a stupendous act. Cleo was worried.
Was Edith really schizophrenic, or was she leading a dual life with a multiple personality she could not know existed? If so, which part of her identity was gripping her now?
“Why don’t you ask Flora Snow about Mrs Grisham?” Edith said.
“That’s a good idea. We’ll do that, Edith. Don’t run away!” said Gary.
***
The questioning was adjourned. Cleo and Gary had no idea what Edith had meant. Eventually Flora Snow would be brught in. In the meantime Nigel had brought coffee for everyone from the canteen, but Edith had refused after asking if it was poisoned. Gary decided that she was looking for a scapegoat in Flora Snow. He would soon put an end to that little game.
Cleo mused that Flora Snow had not been mentioned at the brain-storming the previous evening.
***
Half an hour later Miss Snow was escorted in by a patrol team that had happened to be driving up and down Huddleton Minor’s main street.
Flora Snow had not been amicable to the patrol officers.
“We’re only following instructions, Miss Snow,” they had said.
“From Edith?”
“Edith who?”
“A friend,” replied Miss Snow.
“I see,” said one of the officers. He had no details of why the woman was to be questioned, but mentioned that in a low voice to Gary as he brought Miss Snow in.
***
“Ah, Miss Snow, nice to see you,” said Gary.
“That’s Laura Finch,” said Edith. “Something funny is going on round here.”
“Did you see this lady at the coffeebar, Edith?” Gary asked on impulse.
“It was her.”
“I am Laura Finch,” said Miss Snow.
Gary mused that Miss Snow had been counting her options.
“OK, Laura. Why did you visit Mrs Grisham?” said Edith.
“I can visit my friends if I want to.”
“So the waitress told you she was in the back room, did she?”
“What if she did?”
It was a strange situation. Edith was now questioning Flora Snow.
“OK, said Cleo, after a pause “I think I know what’s coming.”
Cleo addressed Miss Snow directly.
“You sat down with a coffee in a corner of the bar to wait for Mrs Grisham to reappear, but she didn’t, so you went into the back room and found Edith leaning over her.”
Cleo had used the logic of a spy to reach that conclusion, thought Gary. Dorothy wondered how she could have missed that trail.
”She had killed her. I don’t know why, but she had killed her,” said Flora Snow.
“That’s not true,” shouted Edith. “I only gave her a drop of that stuff in the syringe to teach her not to mess around with my plans.”
It was a tricky moment.
“The syringe lay on the table, didn’t it, Miss Snow?” said Cleo.
“I just wanted to try it out,” said Flora. “Then all of a sudden it was empty."
"You mean try it out like on your late husband, I suppose," said Cleo. "Did you take the syringes with you when you left the coffeebar, Flora?”
“I’m Laura and syringes are useful,” said Flora.
“Did you know what was in them, Miss Snow?” Cleo asked.
“I’m Laura,” said Flora as if she were brainwashing herself to believe that. ”Frederick told me what had happened in the car.”
“Another day and I’d have had you as well,” screamed Edith. “You stole my husband and now you wanted to steal Robert!”
“Who’s Robert?” Flora asked.
The two women were led away to the cells.
***
“I’d give anything to know what that was all about, Cleo,” said Gary.
Diorothy emerged from the observation room.
“It#s all about motives,” she said. “We didn’t even mention the only other person who could have had a motive. That was negligent of us and I’m to blame. I was also fixed on the idea of Edith as the overall suspect.”
“But was it all that simplistic?” said Cleo.
“Where did you get that idea, Cleo?” said Gary.
“It occurred to me that Miss snow had been left out of our brain-storming, although she had a motive to kill whoever had killed Parsnip.”
“But surely Edith had the strongest motive,” said Gary.
“OK. Or we were unaware of something vital in the case,” said Cleo. “I figured that if Edith had mentioned Miss Snow, the woman had done something apart from phoning Edith and telling her that the vicar was staying with her.”
“But hadn’t Edith just found the ideal way of being rid of the vicar?” said Gary.
“I doubt if that would be enough,” said Dorothy. “At some point the vicar would want to get back to his job, if only to finally get to Africa. After all, the bishop was all for it.”
“The problem for Edith was that she wanted Parsnip out of the way, but not living in the next village with another woman.”
“Or brainstorming was not ver effective, Roger,” sie said.
“It was very effective, Dorothy, because Edith Parsnip was in a state of panic and wanted to defend herself. I dare say that she had time overnight to realize that she would have to play-act her way out of a very tricky situation. She would never have mentioned Miss Snow had she not thought it would ease her own situation.”
“I’m asking myself if Flora Snow would have got away with her vengeance if Edith had not accused her. After all, only Edith knew that she herself had not killed Mrs Grisham, though she would have been defenceless for an hour or so after a drop or two of that fluid. Greg had the same reaction, didn’t he,” said Dorothy.
“We were negligent about Flora Snow. We did not discuss her at all,” said Gary.
“She was not on our list of suspects,” said Cleo.
“The woman intrigued me, however,” said Gary. “I asked Colin to find out what had happened to a university professor with the name Snow.”
“Wow!” said Cleo. “You didn’t tell me about that.”
“It was such a shot in the dark.”
“What did Colin find out, Gary?” Dorothy asked.
“Professor Dr Snow died of a mysterious neurological disease. No autopsy was held because the attending doctor did not suspect anything.”
“So you think there are parallels,” said Roger.
“There seem to be,” said Gary. “I’m afraid I was too wrapped up in the idea that Grisham was still involved in something criminal, when as far as we know, he was merely a retired guy who knew too much.”
“But he did not die for that,” said Roger.
“We know that now,” said Gary.  “But at that time we did not know that Mrs Grisham’s panic about Parsnip running off had cost him his life.”
“I don’t really understand why Mrs Grisham wanted her husband out of the way,” said Dorothy. “They could have driven home and said Parsnip had changed his mind and jumped out of the car. All they had to do was agree on their story.”
“She was another worm that turned, Gary,” said Cleo. “She was also scared of Edith. Now we have seen how Edith can behave that is understandable.”
“She also saw that the syringe had not killed the vicar,” said Gary. “It’s possible that she thought the whole business was not serious, after all.”
“Why did it not kill him,” Roger asked.
“Because it got stuck in his winter lambskin waistcoar, Roger,” said Cleo. “Chris put that in his report. I had sent him the waistcoat for analysis.”
“I’m impressed, Cleo,” said Roger.
“It was just a hunch, Roger.”
“Only one thing is clear to me and that is that everything must have happened in quick succession,” said Gary, wondering if the order of events would ever be known. As far as I can see, Mrs Grisham took advantage of her husband sliding over to the front passenger seat and shouting to a fleeing vicar to come back. She grabbed a syringe and plunged it into her husband’s shoulder. I think she provoked Edith by foolishly telling her that Parsnip had escaped and that insensed Edith. Can you imagine Edith’s panic when she realised that Mrs Grisham had not managed to dispose of the vicar?” said Gary. “It delivers us the perfect motive for killing Mrs Grisham.”
“Except that she didn’t kill her, did she?” said Cleo.
“No. And we now have good reason to believe that Miss Snow went to that coffee bar armed with a loaded syringe. I assume that Edith ran off leaving Miss Snow with the unconscious Grisham woman and decided that both women would have to go,” said Gary. “It’s shear luck that Edith is still alive. Mss Snow would have got her if she’d had a couple more days.”
***
“What about Edith’s state of mind?” said Cleo. “Miss Snow is probably guilty of two murders. She does not yet know that we suspect her of killing her husband by the same method. I don’t suppose forensics looked for a puncture hole in the corpse of Professor Snow.”
“I hope Edith does not resort to suicide,” said Dorothy. “I’m sure that she realises that Robert won’t want anything more to do with her and that she’ll have to leave the vicarage whatever else  is decided about her future.”
“She has left already,” said Gary. “The charge of murdering her husband will stand and she will a long sentence.”
“Even if she thought she was teaching him a lesson?” said Dorothy.
“She also attempted to murder Greg, Dorothy. She must have known that there was powerful stuff in the teapot and she was surprised that Greg had not been killed by it,” said Gary.
“My dear Dorothy,” said Roger, “ That is also  quite a common defence and won’t be taken seriously.”
***
”Let’s talk to Robert soon,” said Gary. “I think he’d appreciate a full explanation. I wonder now how much of a way out of her marriage Edith saw in him.”
“He would have ditched her eventually because of her domination of him sexually. That was simply to much for a proud man to bear,” said Cleo.
“I think Robert was her hope of securing her future,” said Dorothy.
“She loved him, Dorothy,” said Cleo.
“But her way of going about showing him her love frightened and disgusted Robert,” said Gary.
“That what makes it all so tragic,” said Cleo. “Did you notice that Flora Snow is insisting that she is Laura? I hope a shrink will put her right on that if it was not play-acting.”
“Of course it was play-acting,” said Dorothy. “She hopes to be declared insane and therefore unfit to stand trial.”
***
“I should go now,” said Roger. “That really was quite a nasty experience.”
“Shall we go home now, Gary?” said Cleo.
“I think a dose of domesticity might do us all good.”
“I’ll keep shop and get my report done,” said Nigel. “Then I’ll go home and have another nightmare.”
“Good work, all of you,” said Roger. “I’ve seldom come across such a curious case.”
 “We’ll take you home, Dorothy,” said Gary. “You look all in.”
***
The dose of domesticity had to wait, however. Their first obligation was to talk to Robert, so Cleo, Dorothy and Gary called in at the shop. Gloria was about to go to collect PeggySue from the nursery and would feed the child and start cooking.
“I think you know what I have to say, Robert,” said Gary.
“She’s guilty, isn’t she?”
“Not exactly how we thought, Robert. Shewanted Mrs Grisham to kill the vicar, but that plan backfired. She attacked Mrs Grisham and thought she had killed her when she hadn’t. That was left to the woman who insists on calling herself Laura Finch.”
“Did I hear you say Edith and Flora Snow have both turned killer? I can’t believe that,” said Gloria.
“Miss Snow admitted it, Mother. Edith was delighted about it all, though I doubt if she was in her right mind.”
“What nasty specimens of humanity those two women are,” said Gloria. “You’d better keep away from Edith Parsnip, Robert.”
“I was planning to,” said Robert.
With those parting words ringing in her ears, Gloria left the shop.
***
“You can visit Edith, Robert,” Gary suggested.
“What for? To have her telling me a pack of lies?”
“Or the truth,” said Cleo.
“I’m not planning to be a go-between,” said Robert. “Can you just leave me alone now. This has been a nightmare of a week.”
***
Dorothy bought some sausages and walked home saying she needed some fresh air. She was depressed. Only the prospect of the Spiritual Revue was keeping her from falling into a deep hole. She hoped Robert felt the same.
“See you this evening, Robert,” sie called from the shop door.
“What?”
“The Revue, Robert.”
“Oh that. I’ve been practising a bit, Dorothy. I’ll be there.”
So that prospect was lifting Robert’s spirits, too.
***
“Robert’s right, of course,” said Cleo later. “We can’t expect him to spy on the woman he was in love with not long ago.”
“We’ll wait and see if he visits her. If he does, she might confide in him.”
“What a dilemma for poor Robert,” said Cleo.
“As long as he doesn’t come round hoping you’ll go back to him.”
“Not in a thousand years, Gary.”
“Then we’ll have to find him someone else.”
***
They had not been home for more than five minutes when Julie, Robert’s daughter phoned.
“Guess what, Cleo? Dad and Mum have agreed to meet on neutral ground.”
“How did you manage that?”
“Dorothy thought it might be a good idea.”
“Dorothy never misses a trick, Julie. I hope that Robert and Rita get on better this time round.”
“Dorothy had a hunch that it would work.”
“Then it probably will. Dorothy’s hunches have a knack of being spot on.”
***
“I beg to differ,” said Gary to Cleo after listening in but not saying anything.
“Don’t!” said Cleo.
“Why didn’t Robert tell us that he is meeting his ex-wife again?” said Cleo.
“Don’t you think he’s talked enough about his private life, Cleo?”
“Maybe we can help him.”
“Over my dead body,” said Gary. “Didn’t I hear you say you were going to change into your kimono, Cleo?”
“And didn’t I hear you say you needed a siesta, Gary?”
Maybe we could combine the two. Je taime.”
“Moi aussi,” said Cleo.


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