Never Say Dye (A Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery, Book 3) (2 page)

BOOK: Never Say Dye (A Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery, Book 3)
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“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
(
Henry Van Dyk
e
)

Chapter Three
.

 

I sat with Cressida and Mr. Buttons in the kitchen of the boarding house, waiting for the police and medical examiner to arrive.

I was unable to get rid of the sense of uneasiness, and chewed one thumbnail, occasionally exchanging glances with Cressida. I had mentioned to Cressida that I thought it a good idea if she didn’t dye her hair for a while, after what had happened to Sue, and she had agreed – thankfully, without questioning me further.

Mr. Buttons was the first to speak. “It just doesn’t make any sense. We didn’t hear any screams; she didn’t come out of the bathroom for help - although I think she tried as she was at the door, and it was unlocked - and nobody else was in there with her. What could have possibly happened to her?”

I shrugged my shoulders, while Cressida continued sipping her coffee. “It could have been anything, really,” I said. “It’s probably best to wait for the cops to sort it all out. We can guess all we’d like, but until some professionals who know what they’re doing take a look, we’re still stuck assuming.”

“I guess you’re right,” Mr. Buttons agreed. “Those ghost busters upstairs are going to be in for a shocker when they wake up though, either way.”

“I wonder if the place really is haunted,” I said aloud, but to myself.

“This place hasn’t been haunted until today,” Cressida protested. “And what’s taking them so long?”

We sat in silence until the sound of a police siren made us all jump. We hurried to the front door.

Blake walked up to the door with a thin, older man walking beside him.

He simply shook his head, his expression grim. “This way,” Mr. Buttons said.

Mr. Buttons led the solemn procession, with Blake and the doctor behind him, and Cressida and I followed them.

Blake turned to Cressida. “The deceased, she was one of the ghost investigation team?”

Cressida nodded. “The woman’s name is Sue, and she came here with four other team members, all men. This was completely unexpected.”

“It usually is,” Blake said. “So, there were no signs that could have led any of you to believe something was going to happen to her?”

I shook my head. “Do you think something was done to her?” I did not want to use the term
murdered
.

Blake glanced around the narrow corridor. “It’s impossible to tell until we get in there and see what the scene tells us.” He motioned for the doctor to follow him into the bathroom, and then turned to Mr. Buttons. “Please stay out here and make sure nobody disturbs us while we investigate.”

Mr. Buttons nodded. “Of course.”

Blake closed the door as he disappeared into the bathroom. Mr. Buttons motioned to us to join him, and we all leaned close with our ears to the door.

There was no sound for a few moments, and then Blake spoke. “What do you think?”

“I’m thinking this looks like a case of anaphylaxis. I’d say the manner of death was natural.”

Cressida, Mr. Buttons, and I exchanged glances.

“You think?”

I could tell Blake’s voice held more than a note of disbelief.

“All signs point to it. See these red patches on her forearm, here? Those are hives from an allergic reaction. And look here. See the swelling around the throat and mouth? She must have gone into shock using this hair dye. It’s a well-known brand, so that is just another reason to rule out any sort of tampering.”

Again, there was silence for a few moments, and the three of us leaned even closer to the door.

“Can you at least run a tox screen on the victim?”

“She’s not a
victim
, Sergeant,” the man said sternly. “I don’t think it’s necessary, to be entirely honest.”

“So, this anaphylaxis, is it common?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s common,
per se
. It does happen, however, and not infrequently.”

“I think I’ll at least have the forensics team collect that bottle for testing. If something foreign was added to the lotion, it could have triggered the reaction that girl had.”

“Sergeant, I truly think you’re over thinking this. It’s clear-cut. The poor girl needed medical attention immediately and went into shock before she was able to find help. It was a natural death, I assure you.”

Blake grunted and let out a loud sigh. Seconds later, the door swung open, and the three of us jumped back, doing our best to appear as if we hadn’t been listening in to the conversation.

Blake narrowed his eyes at us. “Well, it seems as if the doctor has determined the death was due to natural causes. I don’t need to tell you not to go in there, and an ambulance will be along soon to collect the body. I’ll be right back.” With that, he hurried down the corridor with the doctor.

“What do we do?” Cressida said. “This is the only bathroom on the east wing. The ghost hunters will be awake soon, and they’ll want to use the bathroom. Should I put an
Out Of Order
sign on the door and lock it?”

I had no idea what to do, so I was relieved when Mr. Buttons spoke. “Blake shouldn’t be too long. Let’s just wait here, and Blake can break the news to them.”

Several minutes later, Blake walked back inside without the older man. “Sorry for walking out like that, but I just don’t agree with his assessment of the scene. Something just seems out of place, but it’s more of a gut feeling than anything else.”

I frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Allergic reactions usually give someone time to react, even if it’s only enough time to call for help. People who have known severe allergic reactions carry an adrenaline autoinjector with them, and they obviously have time to inject it. None of you heard her calling for anyone or screaming in pain, right?”

“I didn’t hear anything except a loud bang,” Mr. Buttons said. “Not a peep otherwise. Anyway, what about an autopsy? Is one being done?”

Blake was clearly frustrated. “Doctor Smythe isn’t open to performing one on the victim. He’s so sure her death was due to natural causes, that he won’t even take the time to look into it further.”

I sighed. “Blake, if someone did this, who could it be, and what would be their reasoning behind it? It wouldn’t make much sense.”

Blake frowned. “Murder never makes sense. We’re going to treat it as a natural passing, but if anything else happens that seems out of place, call me right away; don’t hesitate. Now I’ll have to track down her next of kin. I’ll need to speak to the other members of her team.”

Right at that moment, I heard the creaking of the old, tallow wood floor boards as the four men from the ghost hunting team climbed down the stairs. I bit my lip; they were in for most unpleasant and distressing news. I wanted to be anywhere but here.

“What’s going on?” James asked. “Why are the police here?” The others stood behind him, their jaws opened in surprise.

Ken pushed forward to the front of the group. “Why are the cops here?”

Mr. Buttons, Cressida, and I all looked at Blake.

James looked around frantically. “Wait a minute - where’s Sue?” A look of panic washed over his face. “Has something happened to Sue?”

Blake stepped forward. “I’m Sergeant Blake Wessley. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Sue was found deceased this morning.”

The four men gasped in unison and James’s hand flew to his throat. “What happened? She was just fine last night!” His voice broke into a choke.

“We haven’t ascertained the cause of death yet, but we will be looking into it.”

Confused, I spoke. “But I thought -”

Blake’s withering glare silenced me. He turned back to the ghost hunters. “Right now we think the hair dye she was using at the time of death played a role. It could have been natural, an allergic reaction, or it might have been from some tampering. We’re going to run some tests and then we’ll know for sure. There’s no point in speculating until we do know for sure.”

I didn’t know anything about police procedure, but I wondered if Blake would be able to investigate despite the doctor saying the death was due to natural causes. Yet, my best guess was that Blake did suspect foul play, and saw the ghost hunters as the most likely bunch of suspects.

James crossed his arms over his chest. “So, you’re telling me one of my closest friends is gone and you can’t even tell me why?” His tone was belligerent.

Blake’s frown deepened. “As I already stated, we won’t know for sure until we run tests.”

James stepped back. “This is ridiculous. She was just fine last night.”

Ken tapped his arm. “Hey man, maybe we should head back home and take a break from this stuff for a bit.”

James turned to Ken. “What? Are you serious? We need this. For all we know, the ghosts could have done this to her. We aren’t going anywhere!”

“You’re right. You guys are staying put until we know for sure what happened here,” Blake said. “Now, may I ask the whereabouts of each of you this morning?” He pulled a small notebook from his pocket and readied a pen. He glanced at the men, waiting for an answer.

“We were all here,” Ken said, “sleeping.”

“Yeah, asleep,” James added. He sank to the ground and sobbed wildly, his shoulders shaking.

Alex patted his shoulder awkwardly, while Mr. Buttons, Cressida and I looked at each other, at a loss what to do.

Michael bent over James, muttering words of comfort, while Ken just stood there, his hands on his hips.

“What’s going on here?” Dorothy’s strident voice cut through the tense atmosphere.

“Dorothy, Sue has died,” Cressida said.

Dorothy gasped. “What? Sue died?”

We all nodded.

“Can you tell me what you were doing this morning?” Blake asked her, but the question did not go over well.

“Slaving over a hot stove making cooked breakfasts, that’s what!” she exclaimed rudely, waving a stubby fist at Blake. “And no one came down for breakfast, so all the food’s wasted!” Her voice rose to a high pitch. I wondered if all the antique glassware would crack.

Mr. Buttons’ face turned a ghastly shade of red. “Madam, please desist and refrain from this unseemly manner of conduct. There is a deceased person present.”

Michael, Alex, and Ken looked at each other with barely veiled excitement. I expect they thought that Mr. Buttons meant that he had sensed a ghost.

Dorothy narrowed her eyes and glared at Mr. Buttons. “This is what happens when people start to mess with the occult! First your tarot cards,” – she nearly spat the words – “and now these ghost busters. No good will come of it; you mark my words.” She waved her fist at all of us and then disappeared back down the corridor.

Blake walked closer to Mr. Buttons. “Keep an eye on these guys,” he said in a whispered tone. “Please call me if any of them try taking off or make any suspicious comments, or anything.” Mr. Buttons nodded, and I watched the ghost hunters as they stood there, trying in vain to comfort James.

 

 

“God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages.”
(
Jacques Deval,
Afin de vivre bel et bien
.
)

Chapter Four
.

 

I walked into the boarding house and headed for the kitchen. On my way, I came across Cressida sitting next to the landline, her head down, sipping from a coffee mug. “Good morning,” I said.

Cressida let out a scream. “Whoa! You scared me. Lord Farringdon didn’t tell me you were coming.”

I sat on the over-stuffed, plush red velvet, antique grandmother chair next to her and looked down at the fat, tabby and white cat sitting at Cressida’s feet. “Naughty Lord Farringdon.”

“I’m waiting on a call from the plumber,” Cressida said. “He said he’ll call when he’s free and I need him to hurry back right now. He said he’d have my private bathroom finished by today, but he had the nerve to get called out on an emergency. What could be more of an emergency than me having to use the east wing bathroom while mine is out of action? That’s where Sue was, well, you know.”

I nodded in sympathy.

“Anyway,” Cressida continued, “Lord Farringdon told me that not having my bathroom fixed by now will actually cause a real emergency.”

I raised my eyebrows but said nothing.

“It would be easy if you had a cell phone,” I said. “Then you wouldn’t have to sit around by this ancient landline.” I pointed to the old-fashioned, black handset on the wall. “It’s not even cordless,” I added.

Cressida pulled back the folds of her outsized, golden and sky blue sarong to reveal an old-fashioned pager on her belt. “This little guy warns me whenever the phone rings. It’s brilliant.”

I fought the urge to laugh. “Sounds like a plan.”

At the sound of a door banging, Cressida leaped to her feet. “Finally! Someone has been in that bathroom for a good twenty minutes.” She stormed off to claim her turn.

I laughed and walked down to the kitchen to get myself a coffee. No one else was in the kitchen, so I sipped my coffee, my mind on recent events. I thought back to earlier days, and how everything now seemed so much more complicated in comparison. Was this a natural event or a brutal one?

The sound of the landline ringing made me jump, so lost was I in thought. I hurried to the front desk, concerned that Cressida’s ancient pager might not work. I reached the landline, and as I stretched out my hand for the old receiver, I saw Cressida hurrying toward me. My first thought was that her hair was covered in bright red dye. My second thought was that Cressida was staggering. My third thought was that Cressida had not heeded my warning about dyeing her hair.

Cressida hit the floor just as Mr. Buttons arrived on the scene. Without hesitation, I reached for the phone, which had now stopped ringing, and called the Australian Emergency number, 000. I gave them the address and then hung up, then called the police station.

“Sibyl,” Mr. Buttons called frantically, “quick, wash it out of her hair! The poison must be in the dye!”

I ran to Cressida who was shaking on the floor. “We can’t drag her,” Mr. Buttons said. “Quick, fetch water!”

I ran down to the east wing bathroom and mercifully found a plastic pitcher. I filled it with water and grabbed some towels and rang back to Cressida.

Mr. Buttons and I put towels under her head, and I poured the water over her head, at once drying it with towels.

“It must be readily absorbed by the skin,” Mr. Buttons said. “Wash it off your hands each time you go for water.”

And so I ran between the bathroom and Cressida, pouring water on her head and drying off the excess, repeating the process, until at last sirens wailed.

Blake burst into the corridor, followed by two paramedics.

Mr. Buttons stood up. “Blake, it’s the red hair dye, just the same as Sue. She was dyeing her hair -”

I interrupted him. “And she ran out to answer the phone, so the hair dye couldn’t have been in for long and we washed it out, as best we could.”

The paramedics already had Cressida on a stretcher with an oxygen mask on her face. It seemed she was breathing more easily. They took her outside with Blake and me following hard on their heels. “We had a death here yesterday from hair dye,” Blake told them. “It must be a toxin absorbed by the skin.”

As they took Cressida away, sirens blaring, I looked around for Mr. Buttons. He appeared at the door, just as Blake hurried back into the building.

I stood there, in shock, clutching Mr. Buttons’ arm. Neither of us spoke until Blake reappeared, holding a plastic bag containing a bottle. “This is another bottle of hair dye,” he said. “The bathroom is now a crime scene, and Constable Andrews is on his way. Whatever, you do, don’t go in there. I’ve taken this bottle for testing. You said the ghost hunters are out for the day?”

We both nodded.

“Good, but Mr. Buttons, can you give me their cell phone numbers? I’ll need to call them to tell them to avoid that bathroom. They might not take notice of the yellow tape.”

I sat on the front steps, in a daze, while both Mr. Buttons and Blake disappeared back inside the building. I only nodded to Constable Andrews when he arrived. Soon, Blake and Mr. Buttons were back. Blake patted me on the shoulder, before driving away. Mr. Buttons took my arm. “Come on, Sibyl; let’s go to the hospital and see how Cressida is.”

I followed Mr. Buttons to his car, an old, green Bentley that looked as if it had been manufactured in the 1980s. Despite the car’s elderly yet pristine appearance, the engine was powerful - gravel flew everywhere as it surged down the driveway.

In no time at all, we arrived at the emergency room wing of the hospital, where we managed to find a parking spot fairly easily. As we made our way inside, my heart was in my mouth, wondering how Cressida was.

The nurse behind the desk looked up.

“Hi,” I said. “Our friend, Cressida Upthorpe, was just rushed in here by ambulance. We wanted to know her condition.”

The woman frowned. “Are you her relatives?”

“No, but -” I said, but Mr. Buttons cut me off.

“Yes, I’m her husband, and this is her daughter-in-law.”

My mouth fell open, until I remembered that hospitals often refused to give out any information to non-relatives.

The woman frowned. “I’ll just check for you.” She walked through a side door. When she didn’t return after a minute or so, Mr. Buttons and I took a seat.

The nurse returned through her door just as the emergency room door opened, and a young, handsome doctor stepped out. He looked at us. “Are you two here to see Cressida Upthorpe?”

We nodded.

He motioned for us to follow. He led us into a small room and closed the door.

I was fearing the worst, and so apparently was Mr. Buttons, given the way he was clutching my arm, his long, bony fingers digging in painfully.

“Cressida is in a stable condition. She got lucky.”

I breathed a long sigh of relief, while Mr. Buttons said, “Got lucky?”

The doctor nodded. “Something interrupted her. Whatever caused this, was in the hair dye. Given that the police have informed me of the recent death due to what they say is the same hair dye, it is something readily absorbed by the skin.”

“She stopped dyeing her hair to answer the phone,” I said, “and we washed it out as best we could.”

“Will she be all right?” Mr. Buttons’ voice was strained.

The young doctor looked reluctant to speak, but answered regardless. “We can’t make any promises, of course, but at this stage, it looks as if she will make a complete recovery.”

Both Mr. Buttons and I let out a long sigh in unison. I was so thankful that I thought I would burst into tears from sheer relief.

“Can we see her now?” Mr. Buttons asked.

“If you can wait twenty minutes or so,” the doctor said, “she will have a room.” He nodded, and left the room, leaving us sitting there.

“Thank goodness she’s okay,” I said.

Mr. Buttons nodded, and wiped a tear from one eye with an embroidered, linen handkerchief. “She gave me quite a fright.”

“Who would want to kill Cressida?”

Mr. Buttons shrugged. “Cressida and Sue had nothing in common. It might be the case that Sue was the target, and some hair dye meant for Sue was left in the bathroom.”

“You would think the murderer would clear away the evidence, though.”

Mr. Buttons scratched his head. “It’s beyond me. The main thing is that Cressida’s okay.”

I agreed. “Where will we wait?”

“The hospital cafeteria,” Mr. Buttons said. “We have another twenty minutes, so we might as well wait somewhere away from the smell of disinfectant.”

I wrinkled up my nose. I had never liked the smell of hospitals. Soon the two of us were sitting opposite each other at a small, white, plastic table on two uncomfortable, red, plastic chairs. We were sipping horrible-tasting coffee. “At least it’s caffeine,” I said aloud, to no one in particular.

Mr. Buttons did not respond, but kept looking at his watch.

Finally, twenty minutes had passed. “It’s been twenty minutes. Let’s go and find Cressida’s room.” Mr. Buttons stood up.

When we arrived at the front desk of the ward, the woman sitting behind the computer looked up with a smile on her face. “Hello, may I help you?”

“Yes,” I said. “Our friend, Cressida Upthorpe, was just given a room and the doctor told us we could go up and see her.”

“Name?”

“Cressida Upthorpe,” I repeated, more slowly this time.

The older woman slid on a large pair of glasses and pressed them to her nose. She clicked away on the computer’s mouse while peering at the screen. “Room 308.” She pointed down the hall. “Go down there; take the first elevator on your right up to the second floor. Walk past the nurses’ station and look for her room number on your right-hand side.”

We thanked her, and hurried off. After the elevator ride up one floor, we stepped out and walked in the direction of Cressida’s room. 306, 307, 308. There it was. I knocked on the door, but Mr. Buttons walked straight in.

To my delight, Cressida was propped up in bed, looking far better than in my expectations. Blake stood beside her, with a notebook in his hands.

“Hey, you two,” he said.

“It hurt so badly,” Cressida said quietly.

“What did?” I asked, crossing the room to stand beside her bed.

“The hair dye. I’d only just started to put it on, when my pager went off.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “It was hard to breathe, and I felt sick and dizzy. That’s pretty much the last thing I remember, before waking up here.”

Blake crossed his arms. “I’ve called in the detectives. This is going to be treated as an attempted murder, and Sue’s death is going to be investigated as a murder.” Blake nodded to us, and then left the room.

* * *

Later that afternoon, I had two Persian show cats to bathe for the one client, and then I returned to my house. I fed Sandy, and my sulfur-crested cockatoo, Max, and then threw a frozen dinner in the microwave. While it was being nuked, I had a quick shower. I was on edge; I could not get the day’s events out of my mind.

I was about to get dressed, when I heard a knock on the door. I threw on a silk bathrobe, which was the closest thing I could find. My sister, Phyto, had sent it back from China for me; it was a pretty, pale green, with embroidered dragons on it.

I opened the door to see Blake standing there. “Hi Sibyl, may I come in?”

“Of course.” I stood back to let him in. Unfortunately, I forgot that Max was still in the living room. He bobbed his head up and down, and then squawked at me, “I love your outfit. Did it come with a pole?”

I opened the back door and Max flew out. I rolled my eyes, wrapped my bath robe around me more tightly, and turned to Blake. “Would you like a cup of coffee, or something?”

Blake shook his head. “Thank you, but no.”

I was disappointed, but he pressed on. “I have to rush away; they’ve brought a court appearance forward so I have to drive to Sydney tonight. I’ll be away for a few days, and I was wondering if you would mind Tiny for me.”

“Yes, of course.” Tiny was Blake’s chihuahua. My labrador, Sandy, and Tiny were friends – they often played together at the dog park, and after the weekly dog training classes. I was secretly pleased that Blake had asked me to mind his dog – this surely meant that he did not have a girlfriend hiding somewhere. If he had a girlfriend, surely she would be the one to mind his dog. I smiled at my own logic.

“Thanks, Sibyl.” Blake beamed at me. “I do have some bad news, though.”

“What? Not Cressida?”

Blake shook his head. “No, no. It’s the detectives. They refuse to come to town – they say Sue’s death was simply anaphylactic shock.”

I was gobsmacked. “Well, what’s going to happen?” I said.

Blake took a step closer to me. “Sibyl, I want you to be very careful. Call me if anything happens – leave a message if I’m in court. I don’t like going away at a time like this, but I have no choice. When I get back, I’ll sort out the investigation.”

BOOK: Never Say Dye (A Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery, Book 3)
13.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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