Tuesday morning dawns and Zeke goes to the police station to give Paul the results of our working. I tend to the store and make us some money. When he comes back, he tells me that Dorothy and Laurie are still in the hospital but that it looks like they will both live. Paul has shared the results of his interview with John Robert’s widow who flat out denied picking nightshade berries. I don’t believe her but can’t think of any way to prove it. I just keep thinking that out of everyone involved in this horrid mess, Dorothy Schmidt stands to gain the most from her husband’s death—if I can just get past the basic fact of her shadow-like personality and lack of any apparent backbone. But even the most timid of creatures can be cornered and become vicious…
I have a steady stream of customers all day so once again, any detailed conversation about this between Zeke and me has to wait until we are closed for the day and having dinner. I get elected to do the cooking tonight, so I am chopping and sautéing when Zeke brings his stack of papers and notebook out. He settles onto one of the stools at the counter and flips through the pages, putting them into separate stacks as he scans each one.
“Okay. Let’s see if we can sort out the sheep from the goats and find out who did the world a favor.”
“I assume you mean, we’ll find out who killed John Robert.” I grin ruefully and stir the vegetables some more.
“Oh yes. I keep thinking we have all the information in front of us, we’re just not putting it together right.”
“All right, so what is right?”
“Well, let’s see if you and I agree on the facts.”
I nod at him and motion for him to continue.
“John Robert led a life of selfish egotism, ignoring the fact that this had created some serious enemies, at least one of whom would want him dead.”
“I’d agree with that.”
“He was in poor health, which was known to at least some of the coven. I would assume that his wife, his son and his daughter were also very aware of that. Which makes me wonder if Sarah was actually hoping that the mistletoe would do him in, but someone else got in first with their own poisonous trifle. There are a number of things that could have been given to him that would have looked like heart failure from the life he led.”
I nod again, busy tasting the sauce I am making. Zeke leans over and also tastes it, making m-m-m-m sounds and smiling at me.
“Whoever made that trifle was fairly sure of it being lost in the crowd of sweets that were being given to the High Priest, with no clear indication of where it had come from. This indicates either an enormous amount of balls or a familiarity with the household routine, since this person was also apparently sure that no one else would eat it except John Robert. Unless you are right and it was originally meant for Mike and somehow ended up at the wrong house and so John Robert’s death was an accident.”
I stop dishing up his plate as I look at him. “But the police are treating it as murder…Oh I see, an accidental murder, not the intended victim. Except that the only one who really benefits from Mike’s death would be Laurie…”
“Exactly. But then why the fight in the garden? Had the trifle already left the house and she staged the argument, hoping somehow that the end result would be what it was, or was that a coincidental event? And if so, why didn’t she go to the Schmidts’ and retrieve the deadly dessert? I can’t believe that she would let it go, knowing that it was poisonous and just let anyone in that house eat it…”
“So it was not made by Laurie for Mike. It was meant for John Robert.” I put his plate in front of him and he digs into it. I can cook, I just prefer to let him.
“Mmph. Yesh.” He mumbles through a mouthful. He swallows and continues. “I don’t see how it could be meant for anyone except John Robert, and how it could have been made or given to him except for someone in the house itself. If it was sent from the outside, we still have the same problem as if Laurie had made it for Mike. The killer ran the risk of someone else eating it.”
“So you’re saying it was Dorie, John Junior or Sarah.”
“Yes. It has to be. Convince me it can be anyone else and I’ll change my mind—but you have to be able to prove it.”
“You know I can’t. I totally agree with you. It has to be one of them. And I hate to say it, hate to fall back on clichés, but…poison is usually a—“
“—Woman’s weapon.” He interrupts me. “Yes.”
“So is it Dorie or Sarah? They both have more than sufficient cause to want him dead. Although I’m not sure why Dorie would wait so long…”
“Maybe things festered long enough, they had reached a head? Maybe she wanted to be single so that she could marry Barry Tisdale? I don’t know why anyone would stay with a man who was so foul to them…” He trails off as he remembers how long I had stayed with my husband. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. But you have to admit there’s usually a reason why a woman stays.”
“Of course, I’m just not sure I see Dorie’s.”
“Status, comfortable living, the children, penance for her own behavior. Any one of those, or some combination.”
“You know, the idea that she brought this onto herself by being…wild and so she had to endure it because it was punishment for her supposed wrongdoings, a repayment for her guilt—or should I say, her feelings of guilt?”
“Ahh. Martyrdom has never attracted me.”
I point to his stacks of paper. “So what does this organization of dead tree pulp indicate about the perpetrator?”
He grins at me. “Not much. But in support of my theory-and-pretty-much-the-truth, I have tried to sort out what is ummmm metaphysical evidence from the actual physical evidence. Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”
“And they are?”
“First, John Robert died from atropine, found in the berries of deadly nightshade. We will ignore the subsequent defiling of his corpse as irrelevant to the specific crime of his death. Both acts were opportunities taken, not part of the grand original plan to remove him from this mortal coil.”
“All right, I’d say that’s a fact.”
“Second, the berries almost assuredly came from Mike Johnson’s garden, picked around Fall Equinox and in some manner preserved for use at Yule, which indicates serious premeditation, as Paul has said.”
“I see no evidence to argue with that, so it’s classified as accepted fact pending some startling discovery.”
“Thank you, Watson.”
“Hey, how’s come you get to be Sherlock?”
“Because I look better in a deerstalker and overcoat than you do.”
“Hmph.” I make a face at him and continue eating my dinner.
“Third, Dorothy and Laurie were poisoned by atropine, but not the berries from Mike’s garden. Except that Dorie had pure atropine in her blood as well, which indicates that there was some left over and she somehow ingested them. The cops didn’t say anything about unexplained toast and jelly, so I suggest that she knowingly ate them.”
I hadn’t thought about that… “Which means that she is the one who poisoned Laurie.”
“And also herself, probably to throw suspicion off.”
“How could she do it, knowing that she might die as well?”
“Remember in the movie ‘The Princess Bride’ where Wesley has the duel of wits with the Sicilian?”
“He wins and the princess asks him how he managed it and he tells her, ’I spent two years developing a tolerance to iocaine powder.’ You think she developed a tolerance?”
“Something like that. She was already on medication that would have begun the process. She must have picked a helluva lot of berries, to have this ongoing consumption of them.”
“Zeke?” One of the prime side effects of atropine has popped back into my brain. He raises eyebrows and I answer the unspoken question. “Dry throat and husky voice. Dorie has always been soft spoken, but at Samhain…”
“It was like she could barely speak. And there was every reason for her to be heard, if she didn’t want to incur John Robert’s wrath—which she did anyway. I hadn’t thought of that, but it certainly fits in.”
I am about to answer him when once again, that marvel of modern science interrupts us. The phone rings and we are both startled. He reaches out and answers it.
“Hello? Yes. Hey, how are you? Oh, we’re solving your murder for you. What do you mean, which one? Oh…well, yes. John Robert’s. I thought we all agreed Mike’s was an accident, and really, we know who did that. I know that—that’s your job! Have you?” He listens for a moment. “No shit?! Yes, of course. Yes, sure. See you then.” He hangs up.
“Guess who has confessed to murder?”
“Can’t be Dorie or you would have told him we knew it. So Laurie has admitted that she killed her father?”
“No. Shelly Johnson came into the police station, nearly hysterical according to Paul, sobbing and just saying over and over, ‘I did it, I admit it, I did it. I didn’t mean to…make him leave me alone!’ They had to get the police doctor to give her a sedative. Paul’s on his way with her to the hospital, to see if they can get more sense out her with some serious mental medications. Seems she kept babbling about Mike’s ghost being at the house and tormenting her for days now. I wish one of us was a medium…we could go talk to him.”
“No thank you. I prefer not to talk to the dead. Talking for spiritual beings is sufficient.”
“Yeah, well. I can hardly wait to hear this. Paul’s supposed to stop by later if he can and it’s not the middle of the night before he can get the story out of her.”
“In that case, you should clean the kitchen up, if we’re going to have a guest. And I’m going to brush Vader…he needs it.”
“We’re not done solving John Robert’s murder.”
“You know, as much as I would like to know who did it, I’m tired of murders and death, especially if we’re going to talk about Mike’s later on. Can we let this go for now, please?” I reach out to touch his cheek. “I want a brief moment of peace. Brushing the dog is about as close as I’m going to get until Paul arrests someone.”
He pulls me to him and holds me against his body. “Okay, but when Paul comes, we will talk about John Robert to see if this can lead to an arrest.”
I hug him back and then get the brush out of the cabinet. Vader wiggles with happiness—being loved and adored is such hard work and it’s only right that he should be groomed for the next stint of adoration.
TO BE CONTINUED…