16 Zachary interviews Iris; the flowers speak; Evie takes a shower; Janice gets muddy.

Oregon

66.7 Zachary Brown found a copy of the Medical Examiner’s autopsy report waiting  on his desk Thursday morning.

66.8 Blue’s death was attributed to the head injury resulting from a drunken fall. Zach tossed the report aside and looked at his email.

66.9 There was Billy’s note with his intuition about poisons. “Damn,” Zach said. He  picked up the phone and called the State forensics lab.

67.0 He had to talk to two other people before he could reach Melanie. So much for a private request for testing.

67.1 “Sure Zach,” she said happily. “We certainly didn’t look for such unusual organics. But we can. I’ll get it going, just for you…”

67.2 “But Zach, get the ME to request it too will ya? Must be regular-army around here.” Zach thanked her and said goodbye.

67.3 Jeremy the Techie had also emailed a report about Blue’s computer. It was an overview summary with attachments.

67.4 The summary listed points that Jeremy had titled, WHAT I FOUND. “Like something from fourth grade,” Zach thought.

67.5  The bullet points followed: –-Blue influenced Iris Oat to hire Evie Lane to a high-paying landscaping job in Newport.

67.8 –Blue was in love with Evie Lane. They met years ago. They also both participated in some kind of drug program someplace.

67.9 “Someplace?” Zach muttered to ] himself. “Come on Jeremy, you can do better than this.” He read on.

68.0 –Blue had saved a scan of Jill Oat’s poison-plant essay and emailed it to Evie.

68.1–Blue hated cats and Evie convinced him to try a plant poison on some cat. Ground up roots. Sounds like it resulted in a dead cat.

68.2 -There were some lists of people. I don’t know yet who the people are. “Great.” Zach was exasperated.

68.3 He thought of Billy’s remark that “Evie Lane has moved in with Wendell Oat.” He picked up the phone again.

*********************************************

68.4 An hour later Zachary parked his car in front of the dome house. An old woman answered his knock at the door.

68.5 “You must be the detective,” Iris said. She looked him over as if he were something rare and amazing.

68.6 The she smiled and opened the door wide.“I am Iris Oat,” she said as he walked in. “Do you have a gun?”

68.7 Zachary wondered for a moment if this woman could be demented. “Yes,” he said. She laughed and led him to a couch.

68.8 The bright day came glittering in through all the flat windows of the dome. Iris was smiling. Zach relaxed.

68.9 “Now Detective Brown,” She began, then interrupted herself. “Oh, I am much too old to call you all those words. May I use a name?”

69.0 “Zachary,” he said, and she nodded and smiled, delighted. “I think Z names are so important,” she said, looking over her glasses at him.

69.1 He wondered again about her mind.  Her face was softly wrinkled and her gray hair caught up in a clip on top of her head.

69.2 There were little escaped curls around her face.“Mrs. Oat,” Zachary began. “No indeed,” she said. “I am not a missus anyone. I am Iris.”

69.3 “Iris,” he began again. “Did Roger Filp influence your grand-niece, Jill, to convince you to hire Evie Lane?”

69.4 “Who?” Iris stared. “Do you mean Blue? Well Zachary I can say that Jillie did suggest I hire Evie. And it may be that Blue told her to.”

69.5 “Is Jill here?” Zach glanced around. Iris looked worried. “No, she is on a plane over the Atlantic.”

69.6 Zach looked at his notes.“Is Jill interested in poisonous plants?” “Oh yes,” Iris said. “She is planning a garden. Or she was…”

69.7 “You see right now I am terribly vexed by Evie Lane. She has moved in on my pathetic brother like some kind of viper.”

69.8 “So you don’t have any poison plants yet?” “No, and now that Blue is gone and I’m about to fire Evie, we likely never will have any.”

69.9 “You see Jill wanted to grow the plants to impress Blue, who was her English teacher. She wrote a paper, got his attention…”

70.0 “Iris,” Zachary said then. “Do you know anything about a cat that was poisoned?” Iris sat back against the couch.

71.1 “Do you mean the one who was violently ill under the séance table at Margaret Benson’s house and then died on the porch?”

70.2 Zachary wondered if perhaps he should have given this interview to Jesse Roberts after all. “Yes?” he said. “Well,” Iris continued…

70.3 “Billy Killins did think the cat’s eyes, all horribly dilated, suggested poison. Monkshood plant I think. Do you know Billy?”

70.4 “Yes, I do, “ Zach said. He took all the information about the séance, then he shut the notebook. “Thank you Iris,” he said.

70.5 There was a knock at the door. Natasha flowed in, all long dress and silk scarf and velvet hat. Iris welcomed her as Zachary was leaving.

70.6 Iris introduced them, and Zach said hello, but Natasha stopped short and stared at him in silence. After a long moment she spoke.

70.7 “The child is strong,” she said as she looked directly at him. “Do what you must.” He looked back at her suspiciously and she smiled.

70.8 “She is sensitive and wise,” Natasha added. Then she leaned forward confidentially. “An old soul.”

70.9 “May I ask,” Zachary said, after a moment, “your thoughts on the dead cat? At the séance?” He was fumbling for his notebook.

71.0 Natasha became Russian. “Simply sick cat who became dead cat. Guides say murderer is punished. Is all I know.”

71.1 After Zachary left Natasha turned to Iris. “I am here to tell you,” she said. “Jill is in my dreams. My trance dreams…”

71.2 “I called Billy to watch out on this trip they take. I’m just saying. I called him, in the night.” Iris felt a wave of fear.

71.3 “Is it the flight?” she whispered. “No no,” Natasha said. “Something in a woods, and an empty house. Billy was kind, and will pay me.”

71.4 “A London woods?” Iris was puzzled. Then she paid Billy’s $40, right after she made Natasha some coffee and toast.<

Scotland:

a3.2 Wednesday. The first real progress meeting on the death at Broxburn Plants. A mass of evidence, but worrying gaps.

a3.3 The gaps were a credible murderer and a credible motive. There was also missing information on the drug in the victim’s veins.

a3.3.1 It was worrying that Euan and Janice had vanished. Tom Fordyce had got a call from Stuart Ross. He had said Janice was safe.

a3.4 Beyond that, he would say nothing. Bill had rung him and put on some pressure, but Stuart made clear there was no deal

a3.5 “They could be in extreme danger,” Bill had said. “Look”, Stuart replied, “I have no more idea than you where they are.”

a3.6 “I’m doing you the favour of letting you know they aren’t dead. Beyond that, I can’t tell you anything. Watch the TV.”

a3.7 Bill had watched, but there was nothing. The story was off the front pages for the moment. Except for the Daily Mail.

a3.8 The Mail was running a ‘Find Cupcake’ campaign, and all Scotland was phoning the police with information about the missing cat.

[Really Egfrith I had no idea you could write so sensitively about dear Cupcake. Very nice.]

a3.9 Several cats had been delivered in person to police stations as remote as Stornoway. None of them were Cupcake.

a4.0 Bill’s team had to field several outraged calls. There was nothing he could do. A free press is a free press.

a4.1 Falkirk police had got round to visiting West Forth Timber. Fergus McLean was away on business.

a4.2 His girlfriend had denied all knowledge of Euan and Janice. The report went into detail. There was a barn, and lots of hay.

a4.3 There was a very fierce horse in the barn. A stallion, the report emphasised. Unpredictable. A search was inadvisable.

a4.4 Robbie Bain’s computer had revealed little, apart from the usual tax fiddles. Bill wasn’t interested in them.

a4.5 The list of online customers was still being scrutinised. There was nothing to suggest a lead there, so far.

a4.6 The burnt-out Land-Rover had been traced. Stolen, several weeks ago. The corpse’s clothing: purchased in Livingston.

a4.7 In all, it was not good. Bill had liked to think he would have it wrapped up within the week. Now he was not sure.

a4.8 There was movement in front of his desk. He looked up. Shona. “Anything new on Twitter?”
“From Uncannydeath? Nothing.

a4.9 “But the flowers. I’ve had a thought. Remember the last tweet said letters and numbers?”
“I remember.”
“Well, what numbers?

a5.0  I was asking myself what numbers we had. I remembered. Mr Bain’s online catalogue. His plants are numbered.”
Bill looked at her.

a5.1 “You’ve worked it out, haven’t you?”
“I think so, Sir. I started with all three plants. Noted the numbers. Nothing I could see.

a5.2 I sort of wrote them down with their numbers. Like ‘Pansies (Viola) -607, Amelanchier – 33. Cotinus – 103. Except, I didn’t.”

a5.3 “What do you mean?”
“What I actually wrote was just abbreviations. Pan…607, Am…33, Cot…103.
“I’m being slow here.”

a5.4 “Let me show you.” Shona took a page off his pad and wrote: ‘Pan Am 103’. She turned the page so that it faced Bill.

a5.5 “Dear God, Lockerbie,” murmered Bill.
“I was just a child, said Shona.”
“Lockerbie. That’s all we need.”
“I could be wrong.”

a5.6 “I hope you are,” said Bill. “But I have a feeling that you aren’t. I’ll need to take this upstairs. It gets political now.”

a5.7 The destruction of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988 is seared deep in the minds of the Scottish police and judiciary.

a5.8 There are unanswered questions to this day. It’s a ripe field for conspiracy theorists. Justice was wrong, or lacking.

a5.9 Or there was a cover-up. Or there was a CIA drug connection. Or a South African connection. Or the wrong man was fingered.

a6.0 The story refuses to die. The Scottish Government released Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009.

a6.1 This was shortly after his appeal against his conviction had been granted. The conspiracists renenwed their theories.

a6.2 Bill had not been involved. All he knew was that relations between the Scottish police and various US agencies were strained.

a6.3 The strain had been renewed following Megrahi’s release, especially since he had refused to die in the allotted timescale.

a6.4 In other words, to a Detective Inspector investigating a routine murder, a Lockerbie connection was pure poison.

a6.5 Much as he wished it otherwise, Bill felt in his bones that Shona had guessed right. He had no choice.  He bade goodbye to his day

a6.6 Picked up the phone to his boss. “Sir, you are not going to like this. Broxburn. There may be a Lockerbie connection. Yes, I’m afraid so.”<

Oregon

71.5 Iris and Natasha sat in the sunshine that streamed through the windows of the geodesic dome house.

71.6 Natasha secured the two twenty-dollar bills in a skirt pocket, finished her coffee and seemed about to leave. Iris decided to ask.

71.7 “Natasha,” she said. “I’m worried about my brother Wendell. He thinks he is in love with a very much younger woman…

71.8 “I was going to call, to make an appointment.” Natasha raised her eyes to look at Iris, then glanced outside at the empty garden.

71.9 She smiled. “All will resolve, Iris,” she said. “Don’t worry. But rather take good care of yourself.”

72.0 As Natasha walked quickly to her car she felt sorry about the shadow she saw around Iris. But Iris was old and old people do die.

72.1 Worse might be the emotional misery awaiting that detective…

***********************************************

72.2 When Zachary got back to his office he sat down at his desk. He kept hearing Natasha’s words. Was she really talking about Emma?

72.3 It was crazy. How could that woman know anything? He put it out of his mind as he tried again to reach Evie Lane by phone.

72.4 Evie answered on the ninth ring. “Detective Brown?” she said. “Sorry– I was just getting out of the shower. Had to find a towel…”

72.5 “…I was going to call you, soon as I put on some clothes.” Zachary blinked. “You coming over?” she asked.

72.6 “Miss Lane,” he said. “Could you meet me in my office at the police station, in maybe 45 minutes? Would that work for you?”

72.7 “Oh sure,” Evie said, “I can do that.  See you in just a bit!”

72.8  For a moment Zach feared she might arrive in her towel. THAT would impress the city hall secretaries.

72.9  He poked his head in at Owen’s office. “I’m talking to Evie Lane in my office in a few minutes. I want backup.”

73.0 Zach was disappointed when that tech kid Jeremy appeared, instead of Roberts. “I was just sent down here,” Jeremy said.

73.1 He carried a paper cup of coffee in one hand and his cell phone in the other. He sat down across the desk from Zachary.

73.2 “How can I help you, Detective?” he said, and he dripped some coffee on the desk top. “Clean that up,” Zach said.

73.3 “Otherwise I just want a witness. And possibly a chaperone.” Jeremy looked puzzled until, a moment later, Evie Lane appeared at the door.<

[do not even THINK of describing Evie Lane’s attire]

73.4 Evie walked up the steps and into the police station. The receiving officer had led her downstairs to Zach’s office.

73.5 He knocked once and opened the door to Zach’s small office to let her inside. She found two men, or a man and a teenager

73.6 The boy stood up when she entered. She loved it when men did that. The man behind the desk finally spoke. “Miss Lane,” he said.

73.7 He introduced himself and the child, Jeremy Anderson. The detective smiled just enough that Evie was reminded of Richard Gere.

73.8 Jeremy spilled more coffee. “Oh, sorry!” he said. Evie wondered briefly why this teenager was present, then resumed her study of Zach.

73.9  She had thought a lot about the impression she wanted to make here. She wore some well designed jeans, a new black sweater and very light mascara.

74.0 She settled into the chair and crossed her legs and her tall leather boots. Her blond hair looked a little damp and the room smelled flowery.

74.1 “Well I’m here, Detective,” she said. But Zachary took his time. “Miss Lane,” he said. “You were with Mr. Filp the night of his death.”

74.2 “Poor Blue,” she said sadly. “I tried to get him to cut back on the drinking. It’s why I broke up with him.”

74.3 “When was that?” “That night. It was that very night. But he didn’t seem all that upset. Just really drunk.”

74.4 “We have found emails you wrote to Mr. Filp. He used his influence with Jill & Iris Oat to get you the landscaping job in Newport.”

74.5 Evie watched Zach’s eyes. He didn’t scare her. He was very attractive. “Networking,” she said, and he looked away from her smile.

74.6 Zach took a deep breath. “Can you tell me about the drug program you and Mr. Filp were involved in after college?”

74.7 Evie hesitated. Clearly the computer deletions had failed. She tilted her head and sat back even as her mind raced.

74.8 “No sir,” she said. “I can’t. Maybe ask your senator. Or the president.” Zach made some notes before he looked at Evie again.

74.9 “Mr Filp emailed you a copy of Jill Oat’s paper discussing the poisonous qualities of monkshood plants.”

75.0 Evie replied quickly. “Jill, for some reason, wanted a poison plant garden. Blue sent me the paper for my own protection.”

75.1 Jeremy leaned forward. “That paper was sent before you worked for Iris Oat,” he said. Zach glared at him but said nothing.

75.2 Evie turned and looked Jeremy over, head to toe. He grew pale. “You must have a role here,” she said, “but avoid immature conclusions.”

75.3 Zachary frowned. “Miss Lane,” he said, “do you know anything about a poisoned cat?” Evie looked blank.

75.4 She shook her head slowly. “I have no idea.” she said. Zachary continued. “Why didn’t you get help for Mr. Filp, before you left him?”

75.5 She said patiently,“He drank, Detective. A lot. It was nothing new or out of the ordinary. I told him I was done & I left.”

75.6 “You had a glass of brandy,” Zach said. “Yes,” Evie said. “It was not easy telling him how I felt. The brandy helped.”

75.7 “Was Mr. Filp alert when you left?” Zach asked. “Oh yes,” Evie said. “He wanted me to stay. But enough is enough.”

75.8 Zachary circled back. “Were you worried about his condition, how inebriated he was, when you left the restaurant?”

75.9 “No,” she said flatly. “It was typical.” Then she added, “I am so sorry Blue died, but it was simply not my fault…

76.0 …He drank before I ever said I was leaving him. He always drank. I couldn’t take it anymore.” Tears welled up in her eyes.

76.1 Jeremy offered her his coffee-soaked paper napkin but she shook her head. Zachary leaned back in his chair.

76.2 “And already,” Zachary continued, “you are living with Wendell Oat, brother to Iris.” Evie wiped her eyes and looked defiant.

76.3 “Wendell is the first man I’ve ever met who truly loved me,” she said. Jeremy looked at the floor. “He is just the finest…” More tears.

76.4 Zachary waited. Evie cried. Jeremy spilled more coffee. There was a  sound which might have been a whispered oath from the detective.

76.5 “Okay Miss Lane,” Zach said. “That’s it. But I want you back tomorrow—I’ll call.” She could hardly believe it–he was letting her go.

76.6 She stood up & sniffed. “You have my number, Detective Brown,” she said. Then she smiled just a little but Zach looked irritated.

76.7 After she left Jeremy started talking. “You gonna just let her out of here, just like that? I don’t think she’s being straight at all.”

76.8 “Yeah, well I need some facts Jeremy before I can accuse anyone of murder. Go back through all that material you found…

76.9 …Especially the drug part. I need something solid here. Where the hell is the next lab call? And Owen needs to talk to a senator.”

77.0  Evie got in her car. Her coat was on the seat, and there was a packed bag in the trunk.

77.1 She stopped at a cash machine, then continued to a drugstore. She bought scissors, some Clairol Rich Red-Brown and a towel. >

[Oh dear. She really does have her own ideas I’m afraid…]

[This Zach person is useless.]

[I’d call it harsh.]

Carlisle (England)

c6.7 Thursday evening. Euan had hardly spoken all day, and Janice hardly dared say anything to him. They were both exhausted.

c6.8 Their host, who had simply said ‘Call me Harald,’ before packing them into his car, had only one thing in mind for them.

c6.8 “My friend Bryndis says you will help me with my researches for some days, and I shall feed and house you. That is OK by me.”

c6.9 But the ‘researches’ so far had turned out to be extremely hard work. They had arrived at Professor Harald’s tiny house in Carlisle.

c7.0 They had been shown a room in the attic, with one single bed. They had dropped what little stuff they had. Then they were off.

c7.1 The Professor’s car smelled of dog and ancient mud. They were going to a battlefield. It was important to take measurements.

c7.2 The battlefield was called Solway Moss. In 1542 The English had defeated a Scottish army here. “The leaders was bad,” said Harald.

c7.3 “They should never have lost, but they quarreled. Always the same with Scots. The English just wait a bit. Scots quarrel, and pfft!”

c7.4 Which just about summed up her country, thought Janice, ruefully. Bravado, quarrel, pffft!. The professor had other ideas.

c7.5 “You will please help by measuring. I have a thirty metre measure. The course of the rivers has changed since the sixteenth century.”

c7.6 They had spent what was left of Tuesday measuring rivers. Wednesday, they measured mud. “Silt build-up,” the professor explained.

c7.7 “Couldn’t we find a sword or something?” asked Janice. “With a metal detector? Wouldn’t that be easier?” Professor Harald frowned.

c7.8 Janice thought he looked like an angry hobbit when he did this. “Metal detection is for later. First, we need the measurements.”

c7.9 On Thursday morning, Euan had rebelled. “I need to go to Newcastleton,” he said. “Can we go there sometime soon?”

c8.0 Professor Harald looked up from where he was thrusting a striped pole into the mud by a riverbank. “It is an interesting place.”

c8.1 He ran muddy hands through his greying hair. “A hotbed of thieves. Two hundred years, and no one could control them. Not the Scots.

c8.2 Not the English. Raiding, thieving, murdering, jailbreaking. Not even Carlisle was safe. Hidden routes over the border.

c8.3 All as bad as each other. But Armstrongs were worst. Don’t believe what you read in ballads. Protection rackets. Tell me about them!”

c8.4 “Can we go there?” Euan’s jeans, bought in a discount store in Carlisle, were streaked with mud. Janice, wisely, had bought wellies.

c8.5 “Useless,” said the professor. “It is all trees now. The old routes to Tynedale are thick forest.” He stood up and clasped his pole.

c8.6 “The thing about you people is you have no respect for history. You plant trees on the hills your ancestors rode on raids.

c8.7 Do you know how the hot trod was called out to recover stolen cattle? How the riders carried a burning peat as sign of truce?

c8.8 How they met on the border, English and Scots, at Kershopefoot, just by Newcastleton, to work out the border law?” He looked at Janice.

c8.8.1  “What do you know of this? It is your past. You should know it. In Iceland, we honour what has been, more carefully.”

c8.9 “I still need to go,” said Euan unmoved. Janice knew he was frustrated, because Harald’s house had no broadband. He was out of touch.

c9.0 And the obsession was growing, the more he ploughed around in the mud. His father. She supposed he had the right to know.

c9.1 Harald was goggling at Euan, maybe reluctant to believe that his researcher had independent desires. “Very well. Maybe Saturday.

c9.2 Yes, Saturday we make a trip to Newcastleton. I shall show you the old routes over the hills. But there is much walking through trees.

c9.3 For now, however, it is important to find where the Scots were trapped between two rivers in 1542. The land has been drained.”

c9.4 ‘Thank goodness for small mercies,’ thought Janice. She saw herself thigh-deep in an undrained bog. It wasn’t her, not exactly.

c9.5 That Thursday evening, she slipped out of the house and found a phone that still took coins. The chance of catching Stuart was remote.

c9.6 On press day, most of the Courier went home early. But he was still in the office, just. “I’m on my way out, Janice. Where are you?”

c9.7 “Somewhere. Did you run it? Run my piece? I can’t get the Courier here.” In Bathgate, Stuart leant back on his desk. “I’m afraid not.

c9.8 The editor spiked it. Sorry Janice. But look, I told STV. They may use it.” “With my name?”
There was no point in false consolation:

c9.9 “Probably not, I’m afraid. But look, the story’s out there. That’s the main thing.” In the Carlisle phone box, Janice was near tears.

c10.0 “Stuart, I’m covered in mud and I’ve had a horrible day. And you haven’t even run my story.”
“Janice, why don’t you come home?

c10.1 Your mother’s been…”
“I don’t care, I don’t care…”
Stuart blew out his cheeks. “Janice what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know…

c10.2 What’s the point in me spending my day talking to a crazy Icelandic geek and Euan in a sulk, if you don’t even…” Speech deserted her

c10.3 Stuart made up his mind. “Janice, I’ll say three things and let you go. One, you have all the right instincts to be a great journalist.

c10.4 Two. If it’s a good story, you have to stick with it, no matter the disappointments. Three. No one will blame you if you don’t.”

c10.5 There was a long pause. “Thanks, Stuart, you’re a pal.” The line went dead. Stuart found his coat and turned the lights out.

c10.6 Had he done right? She was really just a kid, and God knew what she was getting into.<

NEXT

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