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

BOOK: Never Say Dye (A Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery, Book 3)
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Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them
?

(
Rose Kenned
y
)

Chapter Five
.

 

In the time that I had been living in the grounds of the boarding house, I had never been in Mr. Buttons’ room. I sat in it now, perched in a corner upon a wooden chair that had a pale blue cushion affixed to the seat by two small strings wrapped around the back frame. Mr. Buttons stood at his closet, pulling on a tan jacket over his usual button-up shirt. We were going to go down to my cottage, to have some privacy while we talked about the murder, and Cressida’s subsequent poisoning. I had been surprised when Mr. Buttons had asked me up to his room while he finished getting ready, but it turned out that he had something to tell me that he simply couldn’t wait to discuss.

Once his jacket was on, he turned and walked over to me. “I can’t hold it in any longer, my dear.” He clapped his hands together and smiled.

“What is it?” I asked.

“That poison, in Cressida’s bottle of hair dye, I managed to take some of it.”

My mouth fell open. “You what?”

“I took some of it, with all of the craziness going around, it wasn’t very hard. I put it in a small vial – anyway, that’s not the important part.”

“That’s not the important part?” I asked. “I’d love to know what is.”

“I sent it in for testing.” A grin so massive spread across Mr. Buttons’ face that I could count every one of his white teeth.

“You sent it in for testing? Where? Who?”

“Let’s get down to your place,” he said, waving his hand at me. “The walls have ears, and all of that.”

“But,” I started, but he was already half out the door. I had no choice but to follow.

We went down the staircase together and out the front door. I waited until the path toward my house curved to the left, and the boarding house was lost behind a row of delightfully scented, lemon eucalyptus trees that blended into a variety of wattle trees, before I turned to Mr. Buttons.

“So what now?” I asked. It annoyed me a little to see that Mr. Buttons was just as pleased with himself as he had been in his room.

“I sent it to be tested.”

“Tested?” I parroted.

“To see what exactly it was.”

I was a little frustrated. “Yes, I realize that, but who exactly did you send it to?”

Mr. Buttons threw up his hands. “Oh I don’t know, some company I found on the internet. You send them something, and pay a fee, and they tell you what it is.”

I tried to process the information. “Okay, so you sent the poison to be tested. When do you get the results?”

“I paid a rush fee, so it should only be a few days.”

We had reached my cottage. Mr. Buttons sat on the couch patting Sandy, while I went into my kitchen to make a pot of tea. After I put the tea on, I took Sandy into the back yard, while inadvertently letting in my foul-mouthed, sulfur-crested cockatoo, Max.

“Hello, idiots,” he squawked, landing on the sofa behind Mr. Buttons and pecking at his hair. “Oh look, it’s dumb and dumber.”

“Max!” I scolded.

“*^&$%#” was Max’s reply, so I caught him and put him out the back door, too.

When I returned, I poured the tea, handed Mr. Buttons his cup and saucer. and then sat next to him on the couch. We both took a moment to take a sip of tea and then we looked at one another.

“You do realize that Blake will have the poisonous hair dye tested, don’t you?”

Mr. Buttons nodded. “Yes, but Blake is away in Sydney in court, and nothing’s happening right now.”

I agreed. “You do have a point.” I was about to say more, when I heard a shout from outside.

Mr. Buttons heard it as well. “What was that?”

I set my cup on the coffee table and stood up. We both walked to the front door. I pulled it open a crack. I saw nothing amiss, but then we heard the angry voice again, off to the right, toward the boarding house. Mr. Buttons and I hurried outside, and skirted behind the row of wattle trees.

Mr. Buttons caught my arm and I stopped in my tracks. From our vantage point behind the wattle trees, we could see Dorothy, the new cook, and her son, Frank. Frank had visited Dorothy at the boarding house once or twice.

Dorothy had been the one yelling. I peered through the bushes, and saw she was wearing a white coat and bright orange plastic shoes as she stood on the side of the path with her son. They had come from the boarding house no doubt, and I wondered if they were simply talking a walk, or whether they were coming to see me. I had no idea why they would come to see me; I hadn’t said more than five words to either of them in the month since Dorothy had started the job.

“You idiot!” Dorothy screamed. She was holding a big, wooden spoon in her hand, and she pulled it back and then whacked her thirty year old son on the arm with it.

“Momma,” Frank yelled, rubbing his arm with his hand. “I’m sorry.”

“I worked hard to get this job. And I’m too old to be working at all, much less working hard, and here you are making it worse for me.”

“I didn’t know,” Frank whimpered.

“Of course you didn’t,” Dorothy yelled. “You never do. How could you be so stupid as to tip off James about the boarding house! Why would you tell them there are ghosts here? There are no such things as ghosts! Do you think I wanted James here?”

“I didn’t think.”

“No, you never think!” Dorothy whacked Frank’s arm again with the wooden spoon. With that, she threw up her arms and turned to face the direction of the boarding house. She hurried forward, leaving her adult son to bound after her.

Mr. Buttons and I looked at one another. “What’s that about?” I whispered. “She and Frank seem to know James.”

Mr. Buttons scratched his head. “Dorothy hasn’t let on that she knows James, and James certainly didn’t let on that he knew Dorothy. How strange.”

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Mr. Buttons simply shrugged.

“I wish we could find out.”

“I’ll keep an ear open. Perhaps you should come to dinner this evening.”

I nodded. “Thanks, I will.”

Mr. Buttons and I parted company, and I returned to my cottage. I had only been sitting in the cottage for a short time, listening to my cockatoo insult me for a few minutes, when I pulled my shoes back on and went outside.

I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but I walked along the path toward the boarding house. When I reached the boarding house, I kept walking, and then made my way down the side of the building and into the back yard. Past that was the bushland, and I strolled this way and that as I wound through the eucalyptus trees, stepping over small, fallen branches.

I often walked this way with Mr. Buttons, of a morning on the days when we both walked Sandy. I sat on a fallen branch that was set close to a stream of water, and listened to Pobblebonk frogs croaking. One large such frog was sitting on the edge of the water, and I watched it for a while, as it, in turn, appeared to watch me with its bulging, yellow-rimmed eyes. The air was still, and the frogs were the only sounds I heard, apart from the occasional screeching of the yellow-tailed, black cockatoos, an eerie, high-pitched sound that always, for some reason, chilled my blood.

I thought about Cressida. She was always so full of life, so loud. She wore too much make up, and dressed like a theatrical teenager instead of a woman in her fifties. I looked out at the creek, but my vision blurred and my eyes stung, as salty, warm tears welled up.

I stayed on the tree branch until I was sure I would not cry again. I had to go back past the boarding house, and I did not want anyone to see me. Finally, after half an hour or so, I stood and turned. My heart leaped into my throat when I saw Dorothy walking my way. She, in turn, seemed just as alarmed to see me. Her head snapped up and she shoved her hand into her coat pocket, but not before I saw that she was holding something.

“Oh, didn’t know anyone was out here,” Dorothy said, her tone snappy.

“I come out here sometimes,” I said.

Dorothy simply nodded and hurried past me. I shrugged and walked past the woman, heading toward the bushland that led back to the boarding house. When I was in the trees, I looked back.

Dorothy was still there, and I saw her pull something from her pocket and throw it in the creek.

 

 

 

“The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life… The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds -- how many human aspirations are realized in their free, holiday-lives - and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!”
(John Burroughs, Birds and Poets, 1887)

Chapter Six
.

 

There was a knock so soft at my front door that I almost didn’t hear it. I was standing in the kitchen, leaning against the countertop and eating from a bowl of oatmeal that I held in one hand. I sighed and glanced at the clock. It was a little after seven, and I thought that was too early for anyone to be bugging me.

I kept my bowl in one hand, and passed through the living room and to the front door. I opened the door to find the head ghost hunter on my step.

“James, what can I do for you?”

“Oh my goodness,” the man said in a dramatic tone, stepping forward. “I feel them. May I come in?”

I hesitated, remaining in front of the man, so he was barred from entering my home.

“You feel what, exactly?”

“Spirits,” James said, but his voice was soft, and his attention seemed to be far away.

“There are no spirits here,” I said firmly. “You came to tell me my home was haunted?”

James shook his head. “No, I came to ask you something, but I’m telling you, I feel them here. Truly. I would love to come in.”

I sighed and stepped out of the way.

James walked directly to the center of the room. He stretched his hands out and spun slowly. “I wish I had brought my equipment,” he said. “This feels like ghosts.”

“Who you gonna call?” Max said, and James opened his eyes and glared at the cockatoo.

“I get that from enough humans; I didn’t think I’d have to hear it from a bird.”

“You’d be surprised what you hear from that bird,” I said, closing the door and taking another mouthful of oatmeal.

“Really, I have to come back here later, and bring my equipment. Someone is here  more than one, I think.”

I let out a long sigh. “What did you need to ask me?”

“Oh, yes,” James said, clapping his hands together. “I was wondering if I could have you come back up to the boarding house with me. I have my camera set up, and I wanted to interview you.”

“Me?” I asked. “Why?”

“Well, I know some odd things have happened here, or rather, at the boarding house. And, you know, losing poor Sue. Strange goings-on have been happening, and I’d like to ask you about some of them.”

I pursued my lips. “Look, it’s not strange in a paranormal sense,” I said. I took my bowl into the kitchen and laid it in the sink. When I returned to the living room, James was by the front door, his hand resting on the knob.

“Please, just agree to come up to the boarding house. I’d like to speak with you and Mr. Buttons together.”

“Fine,” I said. “Give me some time to get ready.”

After he left, I turned and headed to my small bedroom. I dressed quickly in jeans and a sweatshirt. I pulled on some white cotton socks and my old trainers. James was nowhere to be seen, and I guessed correctly that he was waiting for me outside.

As I shut the door, Max called after me, “What, no goodbye, you old hag?”

I rolled my eyes and the door clicked shut, and then James and I fell in step with one another and started on the path to the boarding house.

“How did you get into ghost hunting?” I asked as we walked.

“Fell into it, I guess you could say,” James said with a shrug. He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I was always interested in the paranormal as a kid,” he continued. “My Grandma died when I was young. She lived with us, and every time I went into her room after that, I could feel her there, with me.”

I looked at the man. He looked as though he believed what he was saying. “I’m sorry about your grandmother,” I said.

James nodded and then smiled. “Thanks. But like I said, it was a long time ago, and knowing that she was still with me, in that room, it made it all easier, you know? I know we don’t stop existing when we die. I know she was there in that house. She wanted to check on me, to make sure I was okay, so she stuck around. I would do it for my grandkids. I will some day.”

“You have kids?” I asked, realizing that despite the fact he and his crew had been here for several days already, I knew next to nothing about James.

The ghost hunter shook his head. “No. At least, not yet. I was almost married, but we called it off before the wedding.”

“How come?”

“Just wasn’t working out. She wanted something different out of life than I did.”

“That happens sometimes,” I said, as memories of my own bitter divorce flooded back.

“Yeah, she wanted to know that we weren’t going to be homeless, and I wanted to prove to everyone that ghosts exist. There isn’t much money in that, or at least, we thought so at the time.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Spending a little time one on one with James had certainly softened my view of him. He always seemed strange when he was with his team, and the cameras and the odd tools of his trade. He had been running around the boarding house with the energy of a toddler.

We arrived at the boarding house and went up the stairs to the front door. James pushed the heavy door open and stepped inside, and I followed him. We met Mr. Buttons in the dining room.

The dining room was long and rectangular, and its long table had been pushed to one side of the room. James and his crew had set up some filming equipment at one end of the room. There was a camera with two lights on a metal stand. A love seat was sitting in front of the camera, and the small folding chair was beside it.

“I wanted it to be like a conversation,” James said, as he moved to the big camera and began to fiddle with it. “Please, have a seat.”

Mr. Buttons and I sat on the loveseat, and we grinned at each other. I watched as James got the big camera running, and then he moved to a black bag on the floor and pulled out another camera, this one smaller. He also pulled out a thin, metal rod which had three bars that folded down to make a stand. He fixed the smaller camera to the stand, pointed it at the empty chair, and began recording.

“You all set?” he asked, and we nodded. “Great, we’re recording everything, and I can edit it later, so don’t worry, be natural.”

There was a moment of silence and then James started. “Sibyl, how long have you lived here?”

“Well I don’t live here; I live in the cottage on the property, a quarter mile away.”

“Right,” James said, and I could see he was already flustered. I wondered why he didn’t have the other members of his crew there. He didn’t appear to be too comfortable with interviewing. “I meant that. How long have you lived in the cottage?”

“A few months,” I said.

“Mr. Buttons, how long have you lived here?”

Mr. Buttons smiled. “Please, call me Thaddeus,” he said in an exaggerated English accent.

I had to bite my lip and stare at the floor to keep from laughing. I knew that Mr. Buttons’ first name was not Thaddeus.

“Thaddeus, how long have you lived in the boarding house?”

“Three years last month,” he said, and this, at least, was true.

“Have you ever seen anything strange in this house?”

“I’ve seen a number of people murdered,” Mr. Buttons said.

“But have you seen anything supernatural?”

“No.”

“Surely, in a place like this, you’ve heard strange noises.”

“No,” Mr. Buttons said firmly.

Once again, I hid my smile. I shot a glance at James and couldn’t help feeling a little bad for him. I had been prepared to give him a hard time as well, but our walk over to the boarding house had changed my opinion of him, if only a little. I still thought that someone who dedicated their life so relentlessly to trying to get a ghost on a recording must be a bit daft, but he seemed like a nice guy.

James turned slightly on his fold out chair to look at me.

“What about you, have you seen anything supernatural? Or heard anything?”

“I haven’t,” I said softly, wishing I could spare his feelings, but unwilling to lie.

“Can I tell you about what brought me here?” James asked, and Mr. Buttons and I nodded. “I heard a story about this place,” James continued, “and tell me if this brings back any memories of something you might have forgotten, but I heard the tale of a man who died in the attic. I don’t know how he died, or why he was in the attic, but he passed away up there sometime in the thirties, and since then people have heard footsteps. A lot of people claim this; I read it all on the internet. You’ve never heard footsteps?”

“I’m not upstairs enough to hear them,” I said. I didn’t have the heart to say on camera that the boarding house had no attic.

“I’ve never heard them, but I am quite old, of course,” Mr. Buttons said, winking at me. “I might be missing it. Perhaps it’s time for a hearing aid.”

“Maybe,” James said. He turned off the cameras and then shook our hands. “Sibyl, thanks so much, and Thaddeus, thank you for the interview.”

“Of course. Good luck with everything,” Mr. Buttons said, and then he and I went out of the dining room.

“Sibyl,” Mr. Buttons said, “let’s take a stroll around the grounds.”

“Sure,
Thaddeus
,” I said, and Mr. Buttons chuckled. We went out the front door and walked slowly down the steps of the porch. We walked along the front of the boarding house and then turned to walk down the side. The back yard was massive and sprawling, and when the manicured lawn stopped, a stretch of bushland began.

We walked in comfortable silence until we were in the trees, and then Mr. Buttons broke the silence.

“What about James? Do you think he’s the murderer?” Mr. Buttons asked.

I took a moment to reflect on it. Finally, I shook my head. “He doesn’t quite seem the type to me.”

“Is there a type?”

“For murderers? Probably.”

Mr. Buttons nodded. “You might be right.”

“What about Dorothy?” I asked, and then I slapped my forehead. “Oh, I completely forgot. I was walking down here yesterday, and I saw Dorothy throw something into the creek.”

Mr. Buttons’ eyes widened. “What was it?”

I shrugged. “No idea, I was too far away. But why would she throw something into the creek?”

Mr. Buttons rubbed his chin. “It would be easy for her to inject poison into hair dye. She had opportunity.”

“But what about motive?”

“You’ve been watching too many crime shows again, Sibyl.”

I laughed, but then sobered. “You know, my whole life feels like a crime show these days.”

“I don’t know what her motive could be,” Mr. Buttons said, “but clearly, whoever did it had a motive.”

Mr. Buttons and I walked to the ridge above the creek. The water was murky and green, and small birds darted in and out of the reeds. The sound of the Pobblebonk frogs was ever present.

“I don’t know who else it could be,” I said, after a few moments. “It can really only be Dorothy, James, or one of the other ghost hunters for that matter. They knew Sue, but then again, it sounds as if Dorothy and her son, Frank, knew her too.”

Mr. Buttons nodded, and then we were silent again, both of us working on the same problem. We finally gave up and walked back toward the boarding house. I stopped at the front porch and watched Mr. Buttons climb the steps and disappear inside, before I went down the path to my cabin. I pushed the door open and was greeted by the bird.

“Feed me, %$&,” he said. I went to his cage and opened a small hatch near the bottom. I pulled out his food bowl and filled it with seed, and then put it back. His water was good, but I topped it up, hoping this would redeem me in the bird’s eyes.

“Thanks for nothing, you ^%$#@ &##,” the cockatoo squawked, and I knew I hadn’t redeemed anything. I turned and went to the living room, sitting on the couch and pulling an afghan blanket over my legs. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes, planning on putting some more thought to the task of solving the murder, but instead I fell asleep.

 

BOOK: Never Say Dye (A Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery, Book 3)
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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