Sunday, 15 November 2015

FIFTEEN - Blame the stork

Monday November 2

“Is it Monday already?” groaned Gary. "I don’t want to get up."
“You really should. It’s past seven thirty.”
“That late? What about PeggySue’s breakfast?”
“I let you sleep, Sweetheart. She’s had a snack to go on with. Why don’t you have breakfast with the girls while I’ll take quick shower? I don't want to be late for my clinic appointment.”
“Get up, Daddy,” said Charlie, running into the bedroom fully dressed and carrying PeggySue..
“Hello, Sweetheart. Where have you come from? Don’t you have to go to school?”
“Not just yet, Daddy. You haven’t had your breakfast, and I thought perhaps you’d take me there…!
“Yes, Sweetheart. Of course. You look a bit bothered.”
“I think something terrible must have happened at the vicarage,” said Charlie. “Cedric phoned, Mr Parsnip is dead. Everyone is very upset except for Mrs Parsnip. Cedric said she was  really funny when they got home after football. He said she was falling about and she had to be put to bed by Aunty Clare.”
“I was there some of the time, Charlie, but I didn’t see Cedric,” said Cleo, who had just finished her shower and was looking for some clothes to wear.
“He was hiding in the cupboard under the stairs. If you leave the door open a little bit you can hear everything.”
 “I’m glad you did not have to be there, Charlie,” said Cleo. “I don’t think you should go to the vicarage for a few days.”
“I’m never going there again, Mummy.”
“Don’t say that, Charlie. The boys need you.”
Charlie turned back to Gary.
“Why is he dead, Daddy?”
Gary decided a truthful answer would be more useful than some silly excuse.
“Someone poisoned him, Charlie.”
“In the hospital?”
“I’m afraid so. If you want to stay home today, we’ll call the school and say you don’t feel well.”
“I’ll be all right,” said Charlie.
“Then I’ll take a quick shower now and we’ll have some breakfast before we leave,” said Gary, swinging his legs out of bed and reaching for Cleo’s kimono, that had now been discarded by its owner.” I’ll phone the vicarage and see if the boys want to go to school today. I can take them with me and explain the situation to their class teachers.”
Charlie insisted on carrying PeggySue around until the little girl decided that crawling was more comfortable.Breakfast followed. Gary fed PeggySue.
“We have to go now, Charlie,” he announced after consulting his watch.
“Aren’t we too late for school, Daddy?”
“No, Sweetheart. I’ll explain everything and tomorrow everything will be normal again.”
“When will you be home, Gary?” Cleo asked.
“What time is your clinic appointment?”
“At ten-thirty. I’ll cook a late lunch, shall I?”
“Yes, please. I’ll  try to be here by one.”
“I’ve no idea how long I’ll be at the hospital.”
“Are you ill, Mummy?” Charlie asked anxiously.
“No, Sweetheart. Just checking on the new baby.”
“That’s all right then.”
“Edith behaved very badly yesterday. I expect she has a massive hangover this morning, Gary.”
“I’d be surprised if she hadn’t from what you told me.”
“What’s a hangover, Daddy?”
“That’s what you get if you drink too much alcohol, Charlie,” said Gary.
“Is that why Mrs Parsnip was so funny?”
“Yes, Charlie,” said Cleo. Charlie went to get her satchel for school.
“Edith has time to reflect on her conduct yesterday. Robert must be at the shop by now,” said Cleo to Gary.
“I just hope he got out of that lion’s den,” said Gary. “Perhaps you should go to Edith and see about things.”
“I’ll send Dorothy if she she hasn’t already thought of going. I can’t cancel the clinic appointment.”
“On no account are you to cancel anything for Edith,” said Gary. “I feel sorry for Robert, but we can’t play nursemaid to him.”
“Who would have thought that Edith is such a vampire,” said Cleo.
“Did you bring all your books home, Charlie?” said Gary ans Charlie came in from her bedroom.
“Most of them. In my satchel, Daddy. What’s a van-pire?”
“I’ll explain in the car. Not Van-pire, a vampire.”
Gary took hold of the satchel.
“You put bricks in this, Charlie, judging by the weight.”
Charlie kissed PeggySue and Cleo and went out with Gary.
***
When PeggySue had been  dressed ready for nursery school, Cleo decided to phone Robert after all and was quite relieved to hear that he had managed to escape from Edith. He had spent the night at the vicarage, she thought.
“He wasn’t in my bed this morning,” she said. “He is probably at the shop even earlier than usual.”
Cleo was not for the first time disgusted with Edith’s conduct. The vicar was being refrigerated at pathology or on the slab and she was carrying on with Robert in a way that confirmed her coldness towards the vicar. Since Robert had left her for Edith, she did not need to feel sorry for him. He would have to learn to cope.
***
 “Can you remember anything about yesterday, Edith?” Cleo said, pressing on with the phone-call.
“No.”
“So you don’t know why I was there with Dorothy.”
“I don’t even remember you being there, Cleo. I have a terrible headache this morning. I’d like to go back to bed now.”
“Are the boys OK?”
“They got themselves breakfast and went to school with Gary. I heard his car but I haven’t seen them today. Clare left a note to say she had taken the twins home. Why would she do that and what was she doing here?”
“She was putting you to bed, Edith.”
“But I’m a big girl. I can get ready for bed by myself.”
“Not after two bottles of elderberry wine, Edith.”
“Oh that…” she retorted.
Edith did not seem to want to hear what Cleo had wanted to tell her the day before. Cleo decided to tell her now.
“You do know that Frederick is dead, don’t you?”
“Is he?” replied Edith.
“Yes. Aren’t you even sorry?”
“No, Cleo. To be truthful I could not care less,” said Edith.
“Go back to bed and try to think what Mr Parsnip’s death means for you and the boys, Edith. You can call me back when you have come to your senses,” said Cleo and slammed the phone down.
***
The call to Dorothy was next on the list, but Cleo hesitated. She had to leave for the clinic after dropping PeggySue off at nursery school and that was more important than listening to Dorothy going on about the change in Edith’s personality.
At her cottage, Dorothy had been  up very early. Pruned one or two trees  and added twigs to the bonfire to sooth her nerves. She was still shocked about Frederick’s death and Edith’s apparent indifference. Dorothy was starting to wonder how much Edith was to blame for the whole situation, including the Grishams’ fate.
***
“I’m sorry, Dorothy, but I have to go to the clinic this morning. Can we talk later?”
“Of course, Cleo. Is something wrong?”
“No. Just a check-up except that I have a hunch.”
“About the baby?”
“Could be. Talk later. Can you call in at the vicarage this morning?”
“I thought of that myself,” said Dorothy.
“I talked to Edith just now and she does not care a dime about Frederick. I hope Gary will call her in for questioning today.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Bad enough, Dorothy.
***
Cleo took PeggySue to the nursery school before driving to Middlethumpton. Gloria would collect her granddaughter about midday. Gloria loved caring for PeggySue and Cleo was normally glad to attend to agency business for a couple of hours.
The baby clinic part of the hospital was in a different wing to the one in which Frederick Parsnip had been murdered, but Cleo had something else on her mind right now, so she only had time to look in mainly out of curiosity. A police guard was still on duty there.
“You can’t go in, Miss,” the officer told her.
“Is that the room where Mr Parsnip was poisoned?”
“Yes Miss. Forensics want to look at it again.”
“If Chief Inspector Hurley turns up, just say I was here briefly, will you?”
“Oh. Are you…?”
“His wife? Yes. But I’m also Cleo Hartley and I have an appointment at the other end of the hospital. I’ll be late if I don’t get a move on.”
“I’ll give the Chief Inspector your message, Miss,” the officer said, smiling. What a catch with those smouldering eyes. Those ladies were said to be good at the erotic stuff, too.
It wasn’t really important to see the room, decided Cleo. What was important was that it was still under surveillance.
At the clinic she was examined and an ultrasonic photo made of her baby.
“Babies,” said the midwife.I would say you are three months gone. Or even four. Do you remember…?”
“Certainly not. I don’t keep a sex diary,” said Cleo.”Are you telling me that I’m expecting twins?”
The midwife nodded. 
“There are no twins in our family,” said Cleo.
“There are now,” said the midwife.
“And up to four months into pregnancy?”
“Judging from the ultrasound photo, but it’s sometime hard to tell if the mother has not kept track of when…”
“Listen lady,” said Cleo, now quite irate at the innuendoes. “I have sex with my husband at least once a day. How am I supposed to know when it happened,” she said, enjoying the shocked look on the midwife’s face.
“You are not shocked, I hope,” said Cleo.
“It’s unusual, I admit,” said the midwife.
“That depends,” said Cleo. “I had a marriage to a brutallo and one to a sex moron and now I have a great guy and a marriage I’m really enjoying,” said Cleo.
“Well,” said the midwife, “just look after yourself and cut down your salt, Miss.”
“I thought you were going to advise me to cut down something else, but I can’t make any promises on that,” was Cleo’s parting shot.
***
She and Gary had never talked about the possibility of two babies instead of one, but she knew how he felt about them having another baby together Before she was even out of the baby clinic she had already decided that having two was going to make Gary even happier and the logistics even harder.
Robert had been horrified when she announced that she was expecting PeggySue and PeggySue was now a year old. He had known that the baby could not be his, but had pretended it was until they had separated and he had been obliged to tell the truth.
He had known that Cleo wanted a baby. He had turned a blind eye to her affair with Gary, and she had fallen for the ruse. She really had thought Robert could be PeggySue’s father despite his deficits as a lover. If there was anything designed to put a wife in the arms of a rival, that was it, she reflected. How many royals had been born on the wrong side of the blanket while their consorts amused themselves with other ‘pastimes’?
Cleo was euphoric, old memories of her marriage to Robert were forever stifled.  Edith was welcome to him if he could stay the course. Would Rober continue with that relationship now? Edith had definitely overstepped the line the previous day. Cleo could see that he was ashamed of her and horrified. Before his affair with Edith he had called her a silly woman. No doubt that is what he was thinking now.
Cleo was not given to singing, but she sang along to the music on the car radio all the way home. She could not say exactly when the babies were due since she was not sure, but would reveal that there were two of them. When should she break the news? Then Gary phoned and before she could stop herself, she had hinted to Gary that the cottage was going to be very crowded in a few months.
“I know that, Cleo. That’s why the builder is coming at lunchtime to measure up. I should have warned you.”
“Wow! You don’t waste any time.”
“Our plans for the cottage have been sanctioned, so I organized the firm responsible for building the extensions to HQ. I hope that was OK. This whole business with Parsnip has rather taken over from our domestic issues.”
“The extensions are great news, Gary.“
“Even if they are not all ready in time for the next Hurley, who knows…?”
“Who knows….?” Cleo echoed.
“Chris has sent me the preliminary results of the investigation at the hospital.”
“I looked in on that ward this morning on my way to the clinic.”
“How come?”
“I was curious. The officer on guard would not let me in.”
“Good. That means he’s doing his job, though he’s really there to prevent Edith from getting in.”
“Isn’t that locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, Gary?”
“That’s what I think She is not fit for anything but her bed and a darkened room, but she might take it into her head to put on a grieving act. We haven’t heard the last of Edith, my love.”
“What about her alibi?. Even Edith can’t be in two places at once.”
“You’d be surprised how many people try to pull that one off. Chris says that the detailed blood test on Mr Parsnip will take longer, but he found a poisonous substance in the blood sample and it will be compared with the poison Greg fortunately only got a taste of that and disposed of in that plant pot. There were fingerprints everywhere, but it’s unlikely that any will be identified. The most interesting discovery was a short note Mr Parsnip had written and concealed under his pillow. Shall I read it to you?”
“Can you bring a copy home?”
“Of course.”
“Then I’ll wait,” said Cleo. “I’m very curious, but I must start cooking.”
“I’ll skip the hospital now I know there’s still a guard on duty. To be honest, I didn’t want to check through Greg because he might have interpreted that as checking up on him, and I would not do that. Greg is totally reliable, but not all his colleagues are. I’ll be home in half an hour.”
“I’ll be waiting, Gary.”
***
Cleo’s greeting rather started Gary.
“Are there twins in your family?” she said.
“You always ask me leading questions during our hugs, Cleo. I just want to tell you how much I love you and you invariably want me to think about something else.”
“It isn’t really something else, Gary.”
“Spare me the riddles. I’m not up to them.”
“You sound like a victim of the elderberry wine. Look what it did to Edith!”
“It addled her brain, but I’m starting to think there wasn’t that much to addle.”
“That’s only because she embarked on her erotic trip too late.”
“Which does not explain the five Parsip children.”
“It might explain why Frederick kept well away from her.”
“Eventually…This time Robert is the victim,” said Gary. “I would not like to be in his shoes.”
“You won’t ever have to be. don’t think you could ever be as tame as Robert.”
“Let’s skip lunch and check that out, Cleo.”
“I don’t need a confirmation. Anyway, siestas are after lunch not instead of. And you haven’t heard my news yet. I have to eat for three.”
“I hope not. One of your portions is plenty.”
“Twins, Gary. Twins!”
“Is my brain addled , too?"
"I shouldn't think so, but we are having two babies, one for you and one for me, or something like that."
It took a few moments for Gary to react appropriately.
"Well I’ll be damned! I’m on cloud nine again. Another pre-lunch hug, please.”
***
As usual, Gloria’s timing was perfect.
“Do you guys ever stop the lovin’ business?”
“Not voluntarily, Gloria,” said Gary.
“I have good reason to hang up my sleuthing apron for a while, Mother.”
“You do?”
“We are having twins.”
“Who’s we? Not Robert, I hope. You’ve only just sorted PeggySue out.”
“You know it can’t be Robert and it wouldn’t be. These babies are genuine seaside products,” said Cleo.
“But that was months ago,” said Gary.
“That’s how long babies take, Sweetheart.”
“I wonder what Edith will say to that,” said Gloria. “She wants a daughter before it is too late.”
“Then she’ll have to shop around,” said Cleo. “Quite apart from Robert not being able to sire any kids at all, did he tell you about Edith’s behaviour yesterday?”
“Yeah. He’s pretty cut up.”
“He has to get away from her, Gloria,” said Gary.
“Am I getting that job?”
“If you can think of something – maybe someone from your line-dancing troupe?”
“Maybe. From what he told me this morning, Edith has already cooked her goose.”
“As long as he doesn’t get ideas about Cleo again,” said Gary.
“That’s not his style,” said Gloria. “I think he’s basically a single. Nice to everyone but non-committal.”
“And hardly any experience with the opposite sex,” said Cleo. “Except for a teenage misadventure that left a girl pregnant on the other side of the planet and me, whom he could not fathom at all.”
“Don’t look at me,” said Gloria. “If I was looking for a partner, which I’m not, it would be a rich octogenarian with four cars and a castle.”
***
The phone rang.
“There’s one now, Gloria,” said Gary. ”You are next to the phone. Answer it, please.”
It was Robert in a state.
“Gloria, can you come back to the shop? There’s trouble at the vicarage. I’ll have to be there when the boys get home from school.”
Since the speakers were on, they could all hear what Robert said. Cleo and Gloria rolled their eyes and Gary shook his head.
“OK. I’ll be back at two,” said Gloria.
“Thank you so much, Gloria,” Robert was heard to say before he rang off.
***
 “Edith is a pain,” said Gary, who was certainly not going to tell Gloria what he and Cleo thought of Edith’s involvement in the vicar’s killing.
“How about checking up on some of her alibis, Gary?” said Gloria out of the blue.
The room went silent apart from PeggySue babbling on.
“I’ll do that, Gloria, and thanks for the tip! Let’s eat now,” said Gary. “Cleo, can you get Dorothy to visit Miss Snow with the news about the vicar?”
“Don’t bother. She was in the shop this morning and Robert told her,” said Gloria, who seemed to know what role Miss Snow had played in Mr Parsnip’s reappearance, so Robert had probably told her about Miss Snow harbouring the vicar.
“How did she react?”
“She shortened her order.”


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