Thursday cont, Friday 5th October
Dorothy made rather a fuss when Jane Barker was discovered unconscious on her sofa, TV blaring, artificial electric fire full on. That was in truth partly because she had recently rather neglected her neighbour, who went on and on about ‘dear Jim’ although her husband had most of the time been referred to as ‘that dratted man’ when he was alive.
The doctor wondered if the two drugs had fought it out in Jane Barker’s body. She would be kept on a drip and under observation for a day or two. She had slept from late afternoon on Wednesday until she was found on Thursday, surprised that anyone had missed her. The news of dramatic poisoning of the chorus ladies was not revealed to her immediately.
Dorothy hurriedly packed a few things into a bag for Jane and accompanied her to the hospital. Jane said her insomnia was from missing Jim. Dorothy did not believe her, but she was sorry for Jane and wondered how she would take the news that her soup had poisoned about a dozen of the chorus.
It was not until after breakfast on Friday that Cleo was able to discuss her phone call with Fay Colby the previous day, or even tell Gary the astonishing news about Brass. Gary had walked all around the village including the chip shop, where he bought enough to feed a regiment. The rest of Thursday had been taken up with getting the family organized. Toni had finally been able to unpack and make herself comfortable in Grit’s spare room.
Gary had called Nigel, who was still working in the office, to hear of anything he should know about. He had drawn a blank except for being told that the hospital was pleased with Jane Barker’s progress. She was not going to die after her misadventure. Otherwise HQ was simply ticking over as they waited for forensic findings.
Dorothy had phoned to say she had caught the first bus home after accompanying Jane to the hospital, but had not been able to talk to her properly because Jane had not let her get a word in edgeways, so proud was she of her survival.
“At least she’s getting better, Dorothy. That’s more than you can say of some of the other soup swallowers.”
“I’m sure she is innocent, Cleo. I don’t think she understands what has happened.”
“Did Chris look around in the house?”
“Only briefly. But a thought has occurred to me: What if Jane tried to take her life? She did not get on with Jim towards the end, but she’s lost without him, and I don’t think she would ever admit it, even to herself. She was unconscious from a large dose of sleeping pills, not from the soup, which she had only nipped at because it tasted bitter, she said.”
“Maybe she left a note, Dorothy. Do you still have the house key?”
“I do, as a matter of fact. I’m going to look after her house plants until she comes home.”
“So you could check if Jane wrote a suicide note, couldn’t you?”
“I suppose I could, but would that be right? Jane is still alive, after all. I don’t want to pry and she may want to destroy that note.”
“I’d rather you saw it than the police,” said Cleo.
“You’re right. I’ll go now,” said Dorothy. “I’ll phone you back.”
Cleo mused that a suicide note might be convenient if it took Jane completely off the list of suspects. She did not think that the silly woman was really under suspicion, but unless proved otherwise, she would remain a suspect in the poisoning of the chorus women for some time, however improbably that was.
A few minutes later Dorothy phoned back to say that she had found nothing to suggest that Jane Barker intended to kill herself, but her packet of sleeping pills was empty, so she had possibly not thought of writing a note before swallowing them.
“She must be grieving for Jim, whatever she thought of him when he was alive,” said Cleo.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” said Dorothy. “Jane has made a great show of mourning for him, but she’s enjoying being free to do what she pleases. I doubt whether suicide has ever occurred to Jane.”
“But we can’t take her off the suspect list yet, can we?” said Cleo. “Just as a precaution, I mean.”
“I’m sure we can, Cleo. She doesn’t have brains to plan a murder and I can’t imagine what motive she could have.”
“Then we’ll have to look elsewhere…”
Getting up and breakfasting with a comparative stranger in their midst was a whole new experience for the Hurley family, though Joe, who had taken it upon himself to jog to the baker’s for fresh croissants in honour of Toni’s arrival, was later to remark that the girl was infinitely preferable to Sonia, his ex-girlfriend, who had paid him an uninvited visit a while ago and been complimented back to South Africa, much to everyone’s relief.
Toni had been briefed by Grit the previous evening and was proving a godsend even on her first day. PeggySue was soon on the way to the nursery with Grit and accompanied by Toni, who was wheeling the little twins. Cleo and Gary fed Teddy and Tommy and drank the coffeepot empty several times. Charlie and Lottie declared they were going to Cecilia’s house to watch a Barbie movie. All the routines having been accomplished, and Gary, who was in no hurry to go to HQ, and Cleo were glad to sit and talk while keeping a watchful eye on Teddy and Tommy, who were now scrapping for a toy in the playpen).
“You’re hiding something,” Gary said.
“What makes you think that?”
“You’re smiling to yourself a lot. Can I share the joke?”
“I’m a bit speechless actually.”
“I know about the baby,” said Gary. “So what is it?”
“If I were to tell you an unlikely story of someone we know going to marry someone else we know quite out of the blue, would you find it strange?”
“That really depends on who it is,” said Gary. “For instance, if Robert Jones were to announce that he is going to marry Edith I would be appalled.”
“But she’s entitled to a little happiness after all the drama.”
“So is Robert, but not with her, surely.”
“No. Edith has different plans.”
“That’s a relief. I thought you were going to tell me that Robert is tying some kind of knot with some kind of unlikely female again.”
“You were an unlikely feather in Robert’s cap, my love.”
“I have never resembled a feather,” said Cleo. “I’m talking about Edith Parsnip.“
“So Edith has set her sights on someone, has she? Not Brass, surely!”
“Yes, Brass. The guy with surprising erotic talents that satisfy even Edith, presumably.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“Not in so many words.”
“I hope he’s up to the village vamp.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted to happen, Gary?”
“Are you seriously trying to break the news to me that Brass and Edith are going to get spliced?”
“That’s what he said.”
“You must be joking. Edith is not mentally stable, and neither is Brass if he decides to marry the woman.”
“Brass thanked me for getting them together by getting you to send him to her the other night.”
“But that’s only three days ago.”
“Love at first sight. How long did it take you to decide I was the right woman for you?”
“About three seconds…”
“Well there you are then.”
“I suppose it’s a good idea if it makes them both happy, but it doesn’t solve any of the crimes we have on our list.”
“You are changing the subject, Gary.”
“And you are avoiding it!”
“And you are in denial on all counts. Apart from that tramp, it’s possible that all the others were victims of accidental poisoning.”
“We don’t even know how many of them will survive, Cleo. The hospital is being very reticent and some are quite ill.”
“Maybe the medics are waiting for you to ask.”
“Then I’d better do so. Pass me the phone, there’s a love. You are nearer.”
“Chief Inspector Hurley here. Can you put me through to someone who knows what happened to the dozen or so women brought in with food poisoning?”
“I suppose you mean Intensive,” was the reply.
“If that’s where they are, yes. I’ll put you through.”
Gary was forced to listen to five minutes of supermarket jingle before someone had time to answer his call to the ward.
“Two dead,” the ward sister told him.
“I did not actually ask that, but did I hear you say two dead? Why were the police not informed?”
“All in good time. It only happened during the night. The survivors have only just had breakfast.”
“I’ll send a forensic team and a detective. I need an exact report of how, when and why those women died,” said Gary.
“All right. Just calm down. Shouting won’t get you anywhere,” said the sister. “I’ve only just finished the breakfast round.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that we may have murder cases on our hands.”
“Listen, Sir. One died of heart trouble. The food poisoning just gave her the push. The other one got a pillow over her face. I admit that it could be suspicious.”
“Do you mean she was smothered?”
“Probably by accident. It does happen, Sir.”
“Wasn’t someone on duty?”
“Yes Sir, but we are short staffed at night and Mrs Crown phoned in sick and then came in late after all.”
“I’ll be over myself in an hour. I want to talk to a doctor who can tell me what is on the death certificates.”
“Can you give me the names of the nurses on duty overnight?”
“Only one, Sir. As I said before, Nurse Crown.”
“Your Crowning glory, then,” said Gary as he rang off.
“That was not necessary,” said Cleo, who had been listening in. “You confused the poor woman.”
“She’s not as confused as I am. One night nurse and two dead under suspicious circumstances. Some hospital!”
“All the more reason not to be enigmatic, Sweetheart.”
“If one of those chorus women was smothered and one fell out of bed with a heart attack, I wonder how many are going to survive their misadventure,” said Gary.
“The plot thickens,” said Cleo. “All the more reason to find out what happened to Margie that night before she was found among the marigolds. There could be a connection.”
“I’d almost forgotten about her. But she was not poisoned Cleo.”
“The deaths might not be connected, of course unless the killer saw that Margie was not eating any soup and decided to use other means of getting rid of her.”
“But they could be, couldn’t they? You just said so,” said Gary. “Wouldn’t that make Babsi the killer? Isn’t she the woman who went out with Margie after they’d been arguing during the rehearsal?”
“You’ll have to find that out, Gary. One thing is sure: Killing off the Finch Nightingales is becoming someone’s mission in life.”
“That chorus always was a wasps’ nest,” said Gary. “I thought it was because they disliked Laura Finch and wanted to be rid of her, but there’s obviously more to it than that.”
“Talk to Robert again. Maybe he forgot to tell you something.”
“You talk to him, Cleo. I’ll go to the hospital when I’ve asked Chris to meet me there.”
“You could talk to Jane Barker while you’re there. Tell her how glad you are that she is recovering.”
“I might just do that.”