Never Say Dye (A Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery, Book 3) (5 page)

BOOK: Never Say Dye (A Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery, Book 3)
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“You can't be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.”
(Hal Borland)

Chapter Nine
.

 

I drove my van to dog training. Mr. Buttons was sitting in the passenger seat, and the two dogs were sitting in the back. The dogs were excited to be going to dog training – Mr. Buttons – not so much.

“Sibyl, I don’t want to participate,” he said again for the umpteenth time. “I just like watching you and Sandy.”

I rolled my eyes. “Mr. Buttons, Blake will be ever so appreciative of you taking Tiny to his class. Besides, Tiny is very well behaved, not like Sandy.”

As if on cue, Sandy stuck her muzzle forward, and a pile of slobber flew through the air. Mr. Buttons whipped out his embroidered linen handkerchief, and I made a mental note to tighten her car harness.

For such a small dog, Tiny’s excited breathing was loud. I smiled as I thought once again how strange it was for a big, tall, muscled cop to have a chihuahua. I had enjoyed having Blake’s dog with me for a week, and so had Sandy. The dog might have been tiny, but he was as sweet as could be, and tolerated Sandy launching herself on him in glee and playing too rough. He was a tough, little dog. However, all this playing happy families had me thinking how nice it would be to have Blake and Tiny with me permanently.

I gave myself a mental slap. What was I thinking? My divorce was new, so new, in fact, that the property settlement was still ongoing. I had an appalling track record with men – after all, my ex-husband had not only tried to kill me, but was delaying the property settlement on the grounds that he was in jail, awaiting trial for the murder of his girlfriend’s boyfriend – not to mention my attempted murder of course. I figured alone and single was the place I needed to be.

I parked the van, clipped the leashes on the dogs, and walked over to the grounds with Mr. Buttons. I nodded to the advanced class. “There you go. Tiny knows what to do.”

“But I don’t,” Mr. Buttons muttered as he walked away, with Tiny trotting politely beside him.

I led Sandy to the beginners’ class, and she jumped up and down in her excitement. The instructor made us line up. “Now,” she said, “make your dogs sit quietly for a few minutes, please.” She gave me a long, hard look as she said it. “The advanced class is about to start training on the new obstacle course for the Agility Training competition dogs, and I thought it would benefit you all to watch the first few dogs go through their paces. This is what your dogs will eventually be able to achieve if you work hard enough.” She waved her arm expansively.

The advanced class always trained next to us, and I ran my eye over some jumps, some poles, and a big tube. I could see Mr. Buttons’ face was white and drawn. I gave him a thumbs up, and he smiled weakly.

Mr. Buttons’ instructor was even louder than mine. “You!” she yelled at Mr. Buttons. “You’re first. Remember, your dog hasn’t done this before, so you need to show your dog what to do first. And remember, this is off leash.”

Mr. Buttons unclipped Tiny’s leash, and took a step forward.

“Stop!” the instructor yelled. “This course is timed; you have to run.”

Mr. Buttons took off at a decent pace, but to my horror, actually jumped the first jump. Tiny simply ran behind him, but did not jump. My horror increased when I realized that Mr. Buttons intended to do the entire course, as if he were a dog. I stood in silence when Mr. Buttons ran up and down the steep ramp, and then weaved expertly through a row of poles.

Tiny, so far, had avoided every obstacle. People in my class were chuckling softly, but when people in the advanced class broke into helpless laughter, their instructor, to her credit, silenced them. My own instructor was doubled over, shaking and clutching at her stomach.

Mr. Buttons had a little trouble jumping through the hanging tire, and even more trouble on the teeter board. Mr. Buttons must have been getting tired, as he crashed through the next jump. He righted himself, and then set up the jump again, making sure it was level before he proceeded at speed to the bright blue tube.

I gasped when Mr. Buttons disappeared into the tunnel. I gasped again when he got stuck in the bend. “Help him!” I said to my instructor, but she was in no fit state to do anything. Finally the bulge in the tunnel inched forward, ever so slightly, and after what seemed an age, Mr. Buttons emerged triumphantly from the tunnel.

He jogged back to the instructor, who had the presence of mind to congratulate him and act as if nothing untoward had happened. Members of her class, however, did not have such self constraint. Several wiped tears of laughter from their eyes, and quite a few of them had their hands over their mouths.

“Okay, show is over – back to class,” my instructor managed to say through her giggles.

I had my cell phone in my pocket set to vibrate. I usually left it in the van during class, but had been a bit flustered with Mr. Buttons complaining at length about taking Tiny into class. We were doing the
Stay
, when my phone vibrated. I resisted the urge to pull it from my pocket as the instructor was staring at me, as she usually did, albeit this time, she chuckled every few moments.

The phone continued to vibrate on and off throughout the class, which was both irritating and frustrating. The second the class was over, I retrieved my phone from my pocket. I did not recognize the Caller I.D., but answered anyway.

“Sibyl,” a scratchy voice said.

“Cressida,” I exclaimed, before looking up at Mr. Buttons, who was hurrying toward me. “It’s Cressida,” I said to him. “By the way, congratulations on the class.”

Mr. Buttons beamed.

“Who’s with you?” Cressida asked.

“Mr. Buttons.”

“Well, I’m coming home, and I wanted to know if you could come get me.”

“Of course,” I said. “Let me take the dogs to my place, then we’ll be right there. Sorry I didn’t answer first off – we’re at dog training.”

“All right, but hurry up, will you? I need a cheeseburger. This hospital food is awful.”

“Sure,” I said. I hung up and slid the phone into my pocket. “Cressida is being released; do want to come and pick her up with me?”

“Yes, and I need a stiff drink after that,” Mr. Buttons said.

“What, a scotch or something?”

Mr. Buttons shook his head. “A milkshake,” he said, in all seriousness.

I laughed as I climbed behind the wheel. I drove to my cottage, and Mr. Buttons stayed in the van while I put the dogs in the yard. Then I jogged back to the vehicle and climbed in, a smile on my face the whole time. I was eager to get Cressida back home.

As soon as we walked into the hospital lobby, we saw Cressida and a nurse. Cressida was sitting in a wheelchair, and I figured she wasn’t too pleased about that.

“There they are; can I stand up now?” Cressida asked.

The nurse smiled, a strained smile that told me she was tired of dealing with Cressida, and shook her head. “Not yet, let’s get you out through the doors.”

“Hurry up then, please,” Cressida said through clenched teeth, folding her arms over her chest and leaning back in the chair. The nurse pushed Cressida forward and I held the door open for them. When they were on the sidewalk, Cressida stood and the nurse turned and pushed the wheelchair back inside.

“Good riddance to this place,” Cressida said. She then held her arms open and I hugged her, and to my surprise, so did Mr. Buttons. Cressida then hurried to the van. “Let’s go get that burger; I’m starving.”

Cressida sat in the passenger seat while I drove, leaving Mr. Buttons to sit in the back of the van. We went to the McDonalds drive through, and I ordered a cheeseburger and fries for everyone, and a chocolate milkshake each for Cressida and me, and a Diet Coke for Mr. Buttons. As we waited for the food, Cressida leaned toward us. “I remembered something about that day, when someone tried to kill me,” she said.

“What?” I asked, while accepting the food through the window of my van.

“I saw that ghost boy, Frank?”

“James,” Mr. Buttons said. “Frank is Dorothy’s son.”

“Right. I saw James and Dorothy arguing.”

“About what?” Mr. Buttons asked as I handed him his Diet Coke, before driving off.

Cressida took a long drink of her milkshake before answering. “I don’t know. I don’t think Dorothy much cares for talk of ghosts; she seemed mad that James was there. She told him something - I think I’m remembering it right, but she told him there were real things to fear in life, and not to waste his time looking for fake things.”

I shook my head. “Real things to fear? That sounds ominous.”

“I know,” Cressida said, nodding. “It does, doesn’t it?”

Mr. Buttons stuck his head into the front seat. “Anything else?”

“It’s hazy, to be honest.” Cressida shook her head, clearly trying to remember. “Anyway, tell me what’s been going on without me.”

Mr. Buttons and I had visited Cressida in the hospital only the day before, and had told her about the nicotine. Of course, Blake had already informed the doctors. “There’s not much to tell,” I said. “We brought you up to speed yesterday.”

“Wait a minute,” Cressida said. “I remember something I thought was very peculiar. Lord Farringdon told me that Dorothy and James seemed comfortable with one another when they spoke. He said it seemed as if they knew each other. I remember thinking it was strange.”

“Maybe they do know each other,” Mr. Buttons said, and I shot him a look. We usually humored Cressida when she said that her cat provided her with information, but on this occasion, Mr. Buttons appeared to be taking her seriously.

“Dorothy’s son is the one who contacted James and his group, telling them about the boarding house. Maybe he didn’t just find them online,” I said.

“Or maybe he did, but Dorothy knows James as well,” Mr. Buttons added, “and was upset to see him there.”

“I think we need to find out more about your new cook,” I said to Cressida, and she nodded.

When we reached the boarding house, I pulled up as close as I could to the steps of the front porch. I helped Cressida up the stairs, even though she kept pulling her arm away and, at the same time, gripping my arm. Mr. Buttons followed along, carrying with the small bag Cressida had at the hospital, and we took her to her room.

“I don’t want to lie in bed,” Cressida said, but she lay down anyway, and she quickly fell asleep after I gave her a prescribed pill. Mr. Buttons and I left the room, shutting the door.

“Is it safe for her here?” I asked him.

“I can keep an eye on her,” Mr. Buttons said. “This house has seen some strange things lately, though. I don’t know how safe any of us are.”

It wasn’t a comforting thought. We walked downstairs and sat in the front hall. There were two overstuffed chairs in the rear corner, with a small table between them.

“I wonder if Dorothy is around,” I said in lowered tones.

“I think I can hear her banging around in the kitchen.”

I nodded and fell silent for a moment. Sure enough, there was someone in the kitchen making noises. Pans banged together, and the water turned on and off. I leaned toward Mr. Buttons.

“Let’s go check out her room,” I said.

“Would that be proper?” Mr. Buttons asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. “No.”

“All right, you sold me on it,” Mr. Buttons said, slapping his knees and standing up. We crept up the stairs and went down to the end of the hall. Dorothy had the last room on the left, and I felt a wave of relief when I tried the door and it swung open freely.

“Trusting sort of woman,” Mr. Buttons remarked.

I nodded to him. “Stay by the stairs. If you see her coming up, cough. Loudly.”

“Very well.” He turned and marched down the hall back to the staircase. I watched him and then went into the room.

Dorothy’s room was larger than most of the other bedrooms in the place, save Cressida’s. There was a twin sized bed pushed into the corner, and beyond that nothing in the room beside a dresser and a reclining chair. I went to the dresser first, and had just pulled open the top drawer, when I heard Mr. Buttons coughing. Surely the woman wasn’t coming upstairs, was she? What terrible timing.

I shut the dresser drawer and turned, hurrying for the door. Mr. Buttons coughed again just before I exited, and when he saw me, his face relaxed. I pulled the door shut and hurried down the hall. Dorothy and I reached the top of the staircase at the same time.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hi,” Dorothy replied, in none too friendly a tone.

“Cressida is home.”

Dorothy just grunted and brushed past me. Mr. Buttons and I watched her walk down to her room and disappear inside it.

 

 

“Complacencies of the peignoir, and late

Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,

And the green freedom of a cockatoo

Upon a rug mingle to dissipate

The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.”
(
Wallace Steven
s
)

Chapter Ten
.

 

Mr. Buttons and I were in his car, intent upon investigating Dorothy. It was a quiet car ride, as Mr. Buttons did not have his radio on, and the Bentley hummed along peacefully.

I looked at the scenery, all bushland until we reached the top of mountain, then twists and turns to the bottom of the mountain, after which were green fields and houses dotted here and there, signaling that we were approaching civilization.

“We'll figure it out,” Mr. Buttons said, as he turned off onto the exit that led to our first glimpse of civilization in almost an hour. “I've got your back, Nancy Drew.”

I laughed at the nickname. I wasn't planning on being the local gumshoe who went running down every mystery that crossed my path. I was instead looking forward to a nice, quiet life where the words,
I'm bored,
might cross my mind more than once a day. “Please, no. I loved the series, but trouble always found that girl.”

Mr. Buttons turned his head to glance at me with raised eyebrows. “You’re saying it doesn't follow you?”

I had to laugh. “I'm hoping that’s a coincidence. I'm serious - no more detective work for me after this one is solved.”

Mr. Buttons smiled. “Sure - no more detective work, not until the next mystery pops up.”

“Stop it, or I'll start calling you my sidekick, George.”

Mr. Buttons wrinkled up his nose at the idea. “George was a girl.”

“It's either that or Bess – and anyway, how did you know that her sidekicks were girls?”

Mr. Buttons shot me a look. “I read some crossover stories with the Hardy Boys. Look them up - super mystery series. Mom was convinced that television was out to rot our brains. We spent a lot of time reading and outdoors.”

“Did you ever try to solve a neighborhood mystery?”

“What fan hasn't?” He laughed. “The old man at the corner of the street was very generous about not pressing trespassing charges. It took me a while to learn that not every cranky man who lives alone at the end of the street is hiding a sinister mystery. He was just a hoarder who had a thing for taxidermy.”

I laughed, trying to imagine Mr. Buttons as a child, sneaking around and peeking in people's windows, looking for adventure. “Now, back to business. Do you really think we’ll find out anything from Dorothy’s last employer?”

Mr. Buttons stroked his chin with one hand. “I honestly don’t know, but it’s certainly worth a try. It’s difficult given that her last place of employment was as a cook in a private hospital; we might’ve gotten more out of a private employer.”

I nodded. I had been thinking the same thing. “Still, as you say, it’s worth a try.”

“It’s our only lead,” Mr. Buttons said. “I’m glad Cressida is staying in your cottage today with instructions not to open the door to anyone. I’d be dreadfully worried if she was alone in the house with that, with that, that woman!” he spat.

The small, private hospital appeared nice enough once we managed to find it after navigating a maze of small streets. The whole hospital was pristine, as I suppose, would be expected. The office windows sparkled. The floors were immaculate, and the décor looked as if it were straight out of a box. Nothing was out of place. The woman at the reception desk directed us to the Human Resources office.

There, at an oversized desk, sat a woman reading a stack of papers. She looked at us from over her glasses. We exchanged handshakes and pleasantries.

“I suppose it's not a surprise that Dorothy took to a boarding house. She was a dedicated cook.” The woman wiped her glasses clean as she studied us with a well practiced, friendly smile. Something about the smile felt to me insincere.

I likewise plastered a friendly smile on my face. “Did Dorothy have a lot of contact with the patients?” I glanced down at the copy of the resume I had brought, tilting it so the woman could see it. Mr. Buttons had proclaimed that it would make our mission there appear more authentic, and I could see that he was right.

“No, she was a cook. She remained in the kitchens.”

I widened my smile and tapped the file. “Is it okay to ask why she resigned her position here two months ago?”

“I’m afraid she didn’t disclose that information.”

“That's a shame,” Mr. Buttons said in a pleasant tone with a smile that did not reach his eyes. “Now, as we said on the phone, we happened to be in the area today, so we thought we’d call here in person rather than speak on the phone. We have several applications for the position of cook, but have narrowed it down to Dorothy and one other candidate.”

The woman nodded.

I pressed on. “And the reason why we wanted to ask you face to face, is that written references are often glowing, but we need to know the facts. You see, although the position is for a cook, it is at a boarding house, and the cook will come into regular contact with guests. We need a cook who will be pleasant to the guests.”

The woman looked down at her desk, and then up at me. “Do you mean you want a people-person?”

I nodded. “Exactly. Is Dorothy a people-person?”

The woman hesitated for a moment before answering. “No. Not at all, actually. In fact, she had a terrible temper.” The woman faltered again.

“Do go on, please,” Mr. Buttons said. “I can assure you; this conversation will go no further.”

His words appeared to have the desired effect, as the woman then launched into a tirade against Dorothy. “She was the most obnoxious, ill-tempered woman. She screamed at all the staff. Why, one day, in a fit of temper, she threw glasses at another cook and smashed them against the wall. It’s a wonder she didn’t cause serious injury to the other cook. That’s why we had to let her go.”

Mr. Buttons and I exchanged glances. “Oh, so she didn’t leave employment here of her own accord, then?” he asked.

The woman shook her head. “No, not at all. But please keep that just between us.”

We assured her that we would, thanked her, and left.

On the way back to the car, Mr. Buttons said to me in lowered tones, “So she lied on her résumé, but that doesn’t mean she’s a murderer.”

I agreed. “We do know that she has a bad temper, though, and she might have murdered Sue in a fit of temper.”

“What about Cressida?”

I scratched my head. “Perhaps Cressida was an accident – she was using Sue’s hair dye, after all.”

Mr. Buttons agreed. “That does make sense.”

The car ride home was consumed with us comparing notes and discussing the fact that Dorothy had a temper, and what this meant for our investigation. By the end of the car ride, we had gotten no further.

“So what's the plan?” Mr. Buttons asked as he turned his car into the boarding house driveway and headed further along to my cottage.

“All I can do is call Blake and tell him, but he’ll be angry with us for looking into it,” I said, my stomach muscles clenching at the thought of Blake’s reaction.

“It’s obviously that dreadful, uncouth woman, Dorothy,” Mr. Buttons said. “We should ask Cressida to sack her.”

I shook my head. “We have no idea, really. We could be wrong about her.”

Mr. Buttons got out and hurried around the car to open my door. “How could we possibly be wrong? If it were any more obvious, there would be a neon sign over the dreadful woman’s head saying,
Here I am; arrest me
!” Mr. Buttons gestured dramatically as he said the last part. “Besides, every time I pull a tarot card about her, it’s always
The Moon
, and that means deception.”

“Mr. Buttons, what if we ask Cressida to sack her and it turns out that she’s innocent? What if people ask us where she is? Having to say,
We falsely accused her of murder and sacked her,
wouldn’t go over too well at all.”

“Is that you, Sibyl?” Cressida's voice called from inside my house.

“Yes, it’s only us,” I called out, as I unlocked the door. As we made our way inside, two dogs made a mad dash to the door to give us their energetic greeting. I was glad I was taking care of Tiny for Blake while he was out of town. Sandy and Tiny had become firm friends, to the point where they were now inseparable.

Cressida high stepped and stumbled over the two dogs that were doing their best to stay underfoot. They whined impatiently with their tails wagging in expectation. I leaned over and gave each one an affectionate scratch behind their ears.

“Certainly lively here,” Mr. Buttons said, as he closed the door behind him. “Good day, Cressida. How are you feeling?”

I looked up to see Cressida shuffling slowly, wrapped tightly in a bright orange robe, which was enlivened by purple, sequined flowers. Tiny and Sandy scampered off to chase each other around the room.

My brow creased with concern. “Cressida, you should still be in bed.”

Cressida smiled, still as pale as a sheet despite the heavy layers of bright makeup. “I can’t stand lying around in bed. You’ll be pleased to know I was lying on the sofa, watching TV. Anyway, how did it go – did you find out anything?”

“Do you mind if I use the kitchen, Sibyl?” Mr. Buttons said, as he made his way there, already knowing the answer. “Can I make you ladies some tea?”

“I need coffee,” Cressida moaned.

“Tea is better for the body and soul.”

“Coffee is better for my brain and sanity.” Cressida gave a small pout and batted her eyes. One eyelash half fell off and dangled at the corner. Cressida did not seem to notice and I thought it best not to point it out.

Mr. Buttons smiled. “All right then. Sibyl?” Mr. Buttons turned to me.

“Coffee for me too, please.” I smiled at his expression. He shook his head in resignation and muttered about uncouth and unseemly Australians preferring burnt coffee beans to an afternoon cup of Earl Grey or Yorkshire tea. It had been a regular discussion off and on throughout the past few months. He was doing his best to convert me, and it was working, at least to some degree.

“Okay, so spill. What did you find out? Anything useful?” Cressida asked as she leaned forward, her eyes gleaming with barely contained excitement.

I told Cressida everything, and in the retelling, it seemed not as exciting or useful.

“Ken from the ghost group showed up a little while ago,” Cressida commented, as she reclined somewhat on the sofa, propped up by numerous cushions.

I was horrified. “But Cressida, we said not to let anyone in – we don’t know who the murderer is!”

“Calm your farm, Sibyl. I didn’t open the door to him – we spoke through the closed door.”

Calm your farm?
Where had Cressida picked up that expression? Aloud I said, “What did he want?”

“He was just checking to see if you were here. He wanted to tell us that James had an altercation with Dorothy, and considerable yelling was involved.” Her eyebrows rose. “If Dorothy cannot keep her attitude to herself, then she needs to consider a change in career. I didn’t mind her attitude so much when I thought she would avoid the guests.”

“She'll be gone before you know it,” Mr. Buttons said, as he returned with a coffee mug in each hand.

“You're probably right.” Cressida accepted the cup and stared at the contents. She gave Mr. Buttons a charming, pleading smile. “Sugar?”

Mr. Buttons rolled his eyes dramatically, but seemed more than happy to go and put the sugar into her coffee. “Would you like ten lumps of sugar, or twenty?”

“Thirty,” Cressida said with a teasing, regal tone. “Anything less just kills the taste for me, darling.”

I smiled with relief. If Cressida was joking around and drinking more than water, she was well on her way to recovery.

“Okay, you two. Play nice while I make a call.” I waved my phone at her.

“Do we have to?” Cressida gave a mock, tragic look.

“Yes, we do,” Mr. Buttons called from the kitchen.

I don't know what I'd do without these two
, I thought. I walked outside to make the call in privacy – out the front door, that is – if I walked into the back yard, all Blake would hear would be rude cockatoo speech.

To my relief, Blake picked up on the second ring. I explained that Mr. Buttons and I had asked Dorothy’s previous employer about her, and had found out that Dorothy had a terrible temper and had been let go for that very reason. I glossed over the fact that we had driven to the private hospital to ask the questions in person.

As I had expected, Blake seemed less than thrilled about me investigating. “Sibyl, I thought I told you to be
careful
while I was gone.”

My face grew hot. “Of course I was careful,” I said. “Mr. Buttons and I were simply checking Dorothy's references, as far as anyone knew.”


Careful
means doing nothing at all until I get back to investigate.” He sighed loudly. “What caused you to look into her last job?”

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