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Lorna Webster hummed softly to herself as she performed her usual morning chores. It wasn't that she enjoyed housework, but on this morning she was happy - surprisingly happy. Her husband, who normally worked from home, was away for several days at a business meeting he had to attend in person. She loved Steve and missed him while he was away, but as fulfilling as their marriage was, she found it refreshing, invigorating, to have the house to herself - well, apart from six-year-old Becca. But Becca was at school, so yes, for the moment she had the house completely to herself, and she was thoroughly enjoying the rare solitude. A loner by nature, she had surprised herself when first she started dating Steve then, a few months later, agreed to marry him.
Steve was far more gregarious - indeed, their personalities could hardly have been more mismatched. In her more introspective moments, she thought that might have been what drew them together. In some ways she envied the ease with which he interacted with others, while happily standing back and letting him do so, watching but not really wanting to participate in the social events he so enjoyed. And she knew that Steve, in some ways, envied her ability to be content with her own company, the ease with which she could amuse and entertain herself.
Their friends were - with one exception - his. Only one of their friends was hers, despite the attempts made by Marisa, the sister of Steve's closest male friend - to befriend her. But although she liked Theo, she hadn't liked Marisa much, though good manners kept her from revealing that to anyone, even Steve.
She and Marilyn Young had been in the same class at school; two loners drawn together by the need, at school, to have a partner for certain things, they had remained casually friendly thereafter; often several weeks would pass between the times they saw each other, though each considered the other her closest friend. Marilyn had been her bridesmaid, the only person she could ask... although she knew that even if there had been several people available to her, Marilyn would still have been her bridesmaid of choice.
Lorna had no real regrets; she loved Steve, she loved their daughter - though she had never wanted children, and certainly didn't want another child - but she sometimes felt overwhelmed by their company; she missed having 'me-time'. At those times she envied Marilyn, who had never dated, never wanted to date, wanted nothing to do with men... and remembering how Marilyn's stepfather had made her flesh creep on the rare occasions she encountered him, Lorna thought she knew the source of her friend's aversion to men. Marilyn had left home the day she was legally old enough to do so, and to the best of Lorna's knowledge had never gone back, even to visit her mother.
As she worked, Lorna allowed her mind to wander. She had always had a vivid imagination, and before her marriage had spent many happy hours making up stories; mostly fantasies. She often thought that in another life, if she had never met Steve, never married, she could have had a reasonable supplementary income as a writer - she was pragmatic enough to know that few authors actually earned enough from their writing to make a living from it, that she would have had to have a regular paying job as well. But Steve had an old-fashioned way of looking at marriage; it was his place to support his family, his wife's place to make a comfortable home for them. No wife of his was ever going to work, he had said. Not even if that 'work' was a paying hobby. And so she had suppressed the rich worlds of her imagination, the adventures her characters enjoyed, in favor of the - yes, she had to admit, monotony of real life. The one indulgence she had allowed herself since her marriage was the bedtime stories she made up for Becca.
She would not have changed her life. She was happy with Steve, and if she occasionally wished that he understood her need to give her imagination free rein, well, giving up her fictional world seemed a small price to pay for his devotion and the security with which he surrounded her.
A knock at the door broke into the story she was constructing, and putting down her duster she went over and opened the door.
"Parcel for you." The delivery man was elderly, and, she guessed, probably glad that it was a fairly small parcel.
Puzzled - who could be sending her a parcel at this time of year? It was two months since her birthday, a month until Steve's, nearly three until Christmas. Lorna opened the box and, from the generous padding, lifted out a big jar of honey. There was a covering note - "Enjoy. Marilyn." She frowned slightly. It was unlike Marilyn to give her a present except at Christmas, and then they normally exchanged presents in person. On the other hand Marilyn, who had left some six months earlier on an extended vacation, might have decided to send this as an inexpensive holiday present, especially as she had said she mightn't return to America; and had probably asked the shopkeeper to add the printed message before sending it. There were no stamps on the packet, only a printed label too faint and smudged for Lorna to make out what it said.
Yet it seemed an odd present. Marilyn knew that she didn't care for honey, and Steve positively disliked it. Oh, well, Becca, who did like honey, would be happy. Throwing the wrapping and note into the trash, Lorna put the jar away in a cupboard in the kitchen, and carried on with the dusting.
Jim and Blair were spending a lazy evening half watching television, half spasmodically discussing a recent case that had stalled, when Jim raised his head. "Visitors," he said. "Steven and someone I don't know."
He waited for the knock on the door before moving swiftly to open it. "Stevie! Come in."
Blair's lips twitched slightly at the calculated surprise in Jim's voice as he hit the standby button on the remote, glad that nothing on television that night was particularly enthralling. "Coffee?" he asked as Jim ushered their visitors over to the couch.
"No, thanks," Steven said. "This isn't a social visit." Jim looked from him to the man with him, noting the strained look on the stranger's face. "This is Steve Webster. He's a business associate of mine, and - well - he has a problem. Strictly speaking it isn't a case for Major Crime, but... Hell, I think you'd be more help in solving this than Homicide is."
"Homicide?" Jim asked.
Webster licked his lips. "My wife's been arrested and charged with killing our daughter," he blurted out, and it was clear to both Jim and Blair that he was maintaining his self-control by the merest thread.
Blair moved quietly to the kitchen and started the coffeemaker. This might not be a social visit, but even though Steven had refused it, a cup of coffee would give Webster something to do with his hands.
"What happened?" Jim asked, his voice quietly sympathetic. He was more used to playing 'bad cop' when they were facing a criminal, but he had learned at least some people skills when facing an obvious victim.
Webster took several deep breaths. "I was away," he said. "A business trip. Mostly I work from home, but just occasionally I have to meet the people I work for - " He broke off, clearly fighting to keep from breaking down.
"Steve works in computing," Steven put in, obviously giving his friend time to regain at least some of his composure. "He's done a lot of work for my company. We met at one of those face-to-face conferences, and the coincidence of our having the same first name and both living in Cascade... Well, we got friendly."
"I was away," Webster repeated. "Apparently Becca took ill during the night - vomiting, diarrhea... Lorna waited a day to see if she would shake off whatever bug had upset her stomach, and when she wasn't any better the next morning took her to the doctor, and he had her admitted to the hospital. She seemed to be improving during the day. Lorna visited in the afternoon and again that evening, and two or three hours later Becca started vomiting again... and... and... " He broke off again.
"Take your time," Jim murmured as Blair came over and put a mug of coffee on the table in front of Webster, along with a bowl of sugar and the milk. As Webster used the adding of milk to his coffee as an aid to pulling control around himself again, Blair went back to the kitchen for coffee for Steven, Jim and himself.
Webster swallowed a mouthful of coffee. "She died," he whispered. He took another mouthful. "The doctors had no idea why; they thought it might have been something she'd eaten, but Lorna insisted that Becca hadn't eaten anything that could have caused it; nothing that she hadn't eaten dozens of times before. But the autopsy showed that she'd been poisoned, and the next thing we knew, Lorna'd been charged with killing Becca."
"You were home by then?" Jim asked.
"Yes; Lorna phoned as soon as the hospital called her. I left a message to explain what had happened - there was only one meeting left anyway - and came straight home.
"I don't deny Lorna never wanted children - she agreed to one because she knew I wanted a child - but she did love Becca. She wouldn't have killed Becca! She couldn't have! She... " He fumbled the mug down on the table, and buried his face in his hands.
Steven laid a comforting hand on Webster's shoulder. After a minute, the grieving man raised his head again. "Homicide isn't considering anyone else, Lorna's been denied bail... Mr. Ellison, is there anything you can do to find out what really happened?"
Jim sighed. "On the face of it... Mr. Webster, can you suggest anyone, anyone at all, who might have poisoned Becca?"
"No," he whispered. "But I'd stake my life that it wasn't Lorna! It had to have been an accident..."
It was Blair who said quietly, "Steve, did they say what the poison was?"
Webster shook his head. "I don't think so... They might have, but as soon as they said 'poisoned' I... I lost track of what they were saying. I'm sorry."
"No, it's not surprising. Anyway, they'd probably have given it a long polysyllabic chemical name - the kind of name that nobody except a toxicologist would be able to remember. We can check that, at least." He caught Jim's eye. "Depending on the poison - it could have been something Becca ate away from the house." He turned his attention back to Webster. "Do you know if any of her friends took ill?"
"No... no, I don't know. Sorry."
"There's no reason you should know," Jim said reassuringly. "All right, Mr. Webster - we'll see what we can find out."
As Steven followed Webster out of the loft, he glanced back at Jim and mouthed, "Thanks."
Once the door had closed on their visitors, Blair looked a little anxiously at Jim. "What do you think?"
"Oh the face of it, given what Webster said... it does look as if Mrs. Webster did give Becca something that poisoned her," Jim said. "He does genuinely believe that she didn't, but... If Mrs. Webster didn't want children, only agreed to have one because he wanted a child, it's possible that she came to resent the tie. I think we need to speak to her as well as whoever did the autopsy. It could have been Dan, but it's more likely to have been someone at the hospital."
"And since it's Homicide's case, that means treading very carefully if we're not to offend whoever has the case?" Blair said.
Jim nodded. "We need to have a word with Simon first."
"He won't like it."
"No, he won't. But if necessary, we can get Stevie or Dad to put some pressure on the Mayor to get him to shift the case to Major Crime." Jim gave a wry grin. "Sometimes it's useful having rich relatives who know people... "
Blair was right; Simon didn't like it. "Bad enough when the Mayor or the Commissioner gives us a case that rightfully belongs to another department." He glared at Jim. "But when you come to me asking to take over a case from Homicide, because your brother asked you to... "
"Simon," Jim said quietly. "Webster genuinely believes that his wife wouldn't, couldn't, have killed the child, but from what he told us, Homicide is so convinced she did, they aren't bothering to investigate further. I'd at least like to do two things - check and see what poisoned the child, and then have a word with the mother. I'd soon know if she was lying about not giving her daughter anything harmful. If it turned out that the poison was something like... oh, medication that the mother was taking, marked 'keep out of reach of children', well, you know how often children do manage to get their hands on that sort of thing. It'd have been the mother's fault for not putting her medication away securely, but the most you could pin on her would be carelessness."
Simon rubbed a hand over his mouth. "All right," he said at last. "Go down to Homicide and have a word with Captain Jerome. But make it clear you're not trying to take over the case!"
"I'll get Blair to do the talking," Jim said. "Three years ago, Blair had Jerome's son in one of his classes, gave the kid a bit of extra help that boosted his grade, and Jerome's had a soft spot for him ever since."
Blair shrugged. "Just doing my job," he said. "Kenny's bright enough, he was just having a bit of trouble understanding something. All it needed was having it explained - fully - in simpler language."
"Maybe, but it wasn't your subject, was it?" Jim said.
"No, but it was one I'd taught one semester as a stand-in when the TA who normally taught it was having a difficult pregnancy. I saw Kenny was worried, asked him about it, and when he said who his lecturer was... It was one of those cases where the teacher simply assumed that anyone attending university was intelligent, so if there was a problem the student hadn't been paying proper attention; so even if Kenny had gone to him, it wouldn't have helped. He'd never have thought to simplify the explanation, just told Kenny to pay more attention."
They left Simon's office and went to Homicide.
"Blair! Haven't seen you for a few weeks," Jerome greeted them.
Blair grinned. "We've been busy," he said. "How's Kenny doing these days?"
"Very well," Jerome said. "He's settled down well in his job, and he's already being given more responsibility, which, considering his youth and inexperience, says his bosses are pleased with him."
"That's good," Blair said. "Just you wait, he'll be head of his department before you know it!"
Jerome grinned. "I'd like to think so, but he'll need a few more years yet before he can take on that sort of responsibility."
"I think he's got what it takes," Blair said seriously. "Five years at most, and he'll be on the fast track up the promotion ladder."
"I'll get back to you on that in five years," Jerome threatened.
Blair laughed. "Ten dollars on it?"
"You're that sure?"
"I'm that sure."
"In that case... I'll take your word for it. Now, I'm sure you didn't come here just to ask about Kenny - especially when Detective Ellison is with you. What can I do for you?"
"We had a visit last night - Jim's brother, with a friend. Apparently the friend's daughter died recently, poison showed up in the autopsy, and the mother was arrested and charged with murder."
"Webster," Jerome said.
Blair nodded. "Steve Webster is convinced his wife couldn't have killed the child, but nobody is telling him anything, and - well - Jim's brother wondered if we could find out anything for the man."
"It's mostly circumstantial," Jerome said. "The child was ill, Mrs. Webster took her to their doctor, who got the child admitted to hospital. She seemed to be improving, then that night, about three hours after the mother visited, the child had a relapse, started vomiting again, and died."
"Yes, that's pretty well what Mr. Webster said," Blair agreed.
"In the short time the child had been in the hospital, the doctors hadn't been able to discover a cause for her condition, so there was an autopsy, and poison showed up - the child had ingested a fair amount of it."
"What was the poison?" Blair asked.
Jerome shuffled quickly through some of the papers on his desk, found the one he wanted and glanced quickly through it. "Acetylandromedol - and I've no idea if I'm pronouncing that properly."
"I don't think I've ever heard of that one," Jim said.
"I hadn't," Jerome agreed.
Blair was frowning thoughtfully. "There's something in the back of my mind... I feel I should know it... Damn, why can't I remember?"
"Don't try to force the memory," Jim advised.
"I know, I know," Blair muttered. "The more you try to remember something... It was one definite reference... " He shook his head, but continued to look pensive.
"Captain, would you mind if we went and had a word with Mrs. Webster?" Jim asked. "As Blair said, Mr. Webster asked if we could find out anything."
"She's denying wanting to harm her daughter. But then she would."
"Jim's very good at knowing when someone is lying," Blair said.
"There's always the possibility that it was an accidental poisoning," Jim said.
"That's true, but what makes it suspicious is the fact that once she'd been admitted to the hospital the child seemed to be getting better, then two or three hours after her mother visited her, she had a relapse. As if she'd been given more of the poison." Jerome looked from one to the other. "Go and see Mrs. Webster. I'll let the prison authorities know to expect you."
When they met Lorna Webster in the prison governor's office, in the presence of Doreen Lovat, the governor, and two guards, it was immediately obvious to both Jim and Blair that Lorna was extremely upset.
They had already decided that Blair should ask the questions, so now he stepped forward.
"Mrs. Webster, I'm Blair Sandburg," he said. "This is my colleague, Jim Ellison. I know this is difficult for you, but we'd like to ask you one or two questions about what happened to Becca."
"I've already told the police everything I know," she said. "It hasn't helped me much, has it?"
"Your husband is adamant that you did nothing to harm Becca," Blair said. "After speaking with him, and with the men who originally questioned you, we got permission to ask you a few more questions. Forgive me if we go over some of the same ground - I know this can't be easy for you."
She licked her lips nervously, but nodded. "If it helps you find out what really happened... "
"What happened the day before she took ill?"
Lorna shook her head. "Nothing, really. Steve - my husband - usually worked from home, but he was away at a meeting in Tacoma. Becca was at school. I have to admit I enjoyed having the house to myself for a few hours; it let me get the housework done without interruption. Becca got home from school - "
"You didn't go to the school to get her?" Blair interrupted.
"Five of us shared the school run - we each did one day a week. I did Mondays. That day, it was Ann Cox from Number 375. She dropped Becca off at the gate, and Becca came straight into the house. We had dinner about 6 pm, then Becca did her homework - she was always very con- " Lorna broke off, choking back a sob. Blair waited patiently. After a minute she went on. "Very conscientious about it. She... she wanted to do well. When she finished, she read for a while, then went to bed."
"She didn't have any supper?" Blair asked.
"Just a slice of bread with some honey on it," Lorna said.
Blair stiffened. "Honey?" he asked, and something about the note in his voice alerted Jim, who had been quietly monitoring her physiological response to Blair's questions. "Just ordinary honey from the store?"
Lorna shook her head. "No. A friend who's on holiday in Greece sent it to us as a present. It seemed a funny thing to send, because neither Steve nor I like honey, and Marilyn knows that - but Becca loves... loved it. She... she ate two or three spoonfuls from the jar as well as what she put on her bread, but I didn't mind - honey's a natural product, after all."
"Yes," Blair said. "So then she took ill during the night - ?"
"Yes. She was ill all the next day - "
"Did she eat anything that day?" Blair asked.
"She wasn't hungry - well, she was vomiting or trying to... I gave her as much liquid as she would take. It gave her something to bring up... "
"Did you try to encourage her to eat something - anything?"
"Just a little of the honey. She asked for it - said it was really good honey, better than... than anything I'd bought from the store."
Blair nodded. "And then when she was still sick the next day - ?"
"I took her to the doctor, and he had her admitted to the hospital. And she seemed to be getting better... "
"Hospital food isn't the most palatable around - crazy, isn't it, when you think that the people being expected to eat it are already not feeling well. When you visited her, did you take in anything for her to eat?"
"When I visited her in the afternoon, she asked if I'd take her in some honey that night, and I did... that was all."
"Do you still have what's left of the honey?" Blair asked.
"It should still be in the kitchen, unless Steve's thrown it out."
"I imagine he's had more on his mind than tidying the kitchen," Blair said. "Thank you - that's been very helpful. Oh - one last thing. Your friend Marilyn, who sent you the honey - do you have a contact address for her?"
She shook her head. "She was travelling around, and the postmark on the package was very blurred, so I don't even know where she was when she sent it. She's not due home for several weeks - if she comes home. She was seriously considering emigrating, if she found someplace she liked."
He pushed his notebook and a pencil to her. "Can you write down her full name and her address in Cascade for me? Thanks," he added as she pushed the items back. He glanced at the governor. "Thank you, Ms. Lovat."
She nodded to the guards, who took Lorna away. Once the door was closed behind them, Lovat said, "I find it hard to believe that Mrs. Webster killed her daughter, but who else could it have been?"
Blair said, very quietly, "The person who sent her the honey." He looked at Jim. "Did she read guilty to you?"
"No. She's afraid that she maybe didn't do what was best for Becca, though she's telling herself she did all she could - but that's a normal 'could I have prevented it?' reaction. You said 'The person who sent her the honey'?"
"I think the poison was in the honey," Blair said quietly.
Doreen Lovat said slowly, "So you think she did kill the child?"
"Yes, but I'm sure she didn't know that was what she was doing. And now I'm wondering... Mrs. Webster said her friend Marilyn knows she doesn't like honey - so why send her a jar of it? There's more to this than is immediately obvious. I wonder... No. I'll swear Webster was genuinely concerned."
"You wonder if Webster had thought up a complicated plot to get rid of his wife and daughter?" Jim asked.
"No, I don't," Blair replied. "Like I said, he was genuinely concerned. Anyway he had to know his wife didn't like honey, and he wasn't going to try to poison the child he'd wanted."
"Mr. Sandburg," Lovat said.
"Surely, if someone had put poison in the honey... wouldn't it change the taste?"
"No, it wouldn't, because it would be the honey itself that was poisonous. It's something I read a long time ago... Two or three reported incidents in Classical Greece. The autopsy report on Becca gave the poison as acetylandromedol. It sounded familiar, but it's so long since I read about it... and I only ever saw the word written. Actually the poison has several other names that are easier to remember. But as soon as Mrs. Webster said 'honey'... There are some rhododendrons that have nectar that's poisonous to man. Bees collect the nectar quite happily; the poison doesn't affect them. It's not usually fatal, but it invariably makes anyone who eats it very sick for two or three days. Becca would probably have recovered if Mrs. Webster hadn't thought she was being kind by giving her some when she was in the hospital... though the next time she ate any of it, she'd have been sick again."
"All right," Jim said. "Let's go and see Mr. Webster, see if what's left of the honey is still there. At least that'll prove what killed the child."
On their return to the PD, they gave the honey to Serena for analysis, to have a scientific confirmation of Blair's belief, then went on to the morgue to see Dan Wolf.
Dan shook his head when they asked him about the autopsy. "It would be done at the hospital," he said. "I only get the cases where we know, or have strong reason to believe, that there's foul play. With an unexplained death in the hospital, it's a hospital doctor who's most likely to perform it, to establish cause of death for the record.
"Because it was poison, we got a copy of the autopsy report, but it would have gone direct to Captain Jerome. I didn't see it."
"Yes, he was able to tell us what the poison was," Blair said.
"Right, let's go and see him again," Jim suggested.
"So what do you think?" Jerome asked as soon as they entered his office.
"Blair thinks it might have been an unfortunate accident," Jim said.
"The child ate something the mother should have had safely locked away?" Jerome asked.
"No. We've given Serena some honey to check for poison. If there's... " He looked at Blair.
"Acetylandromedol," Blair said.
"That, in it, then Mrs. Webster wouldn't have known she was giving the child poison."
Jerome frowned. "Why not?"
"Blair," Jim said.
Blair quickly explained about the poisonous nectar, and Jerome's frown deepened. "Does that mean a contaminated batch of honey? Are we likely to have several deaths?"
"No," Jim said. "A friend who's on holiday in Greece sent Mrs. Webster a jar of the stuff as a present. She did say she thought it was odd, because her friend knows she doesn't like honey, but the child did like honey so she was the only one who ate it. Apparently she thought it was really good; when she was sick, it was the only thing she wanted to eat - "
"So her mother gave her more of it," Jerome finished.
"She didn't think it would do any harm, because it's a natural product," Blair said.
When it came in, late the next afternoon, Serena's report said that the honey was indeed poisonous, containing grayanotoxin.
"It's not the same poison," Jim said.
"What?" Blair asked, looking up from the report he was reading.
"Serena says the poison in the honey is grayanotoxin." He stumbled slightly over the pronunciation, not sure which syllable should get the emphasis, so very carefully giving each one the same intonation. "Not the same poison."
"It is the same," Blair said quietly. "Grayanotoxin is another name for acetylandromedol... though it's probably more accurate to say that acetylandromedol is another name for grayanotoxin. It's got some other names as well."
Jim sighed. "Let's go and see Jerome again."
As they walked into his office, Captain Jerome put down the report he was reading. "Hello, Blair... Ellison."
"We've got the analysis of the honey from Serena," Jim said.
"The honey was definitely poisonous. But it isn't a deadly poison, from what Blair tells me; most of the victims do recover."
"So it was just unfortunate that the child died?"
"I think so - but..." Blair said. "It was certainly Mrs. Webster's good luck that she doesn't like honey, so didn't eat any of it."
Jerome sighed, and indicated the papers he had just put down. "I hadn't had a chance to read the autopsy report on the child fully," he said. "And I suspect the men assigned to the case didn't, either - the actual cause of death was heart failure caused by the poisoning. Nobody saw past the word 'poison'."
Blair nodded thoughtfully. "If her heart was weak at all... Grayanotoxin can cause low blood pressure and bradycardia but also ventricular tachycardia."
"Wait a minute - the poison - "
"This particular poison has half a dozen names," Blair said. "Grayanotoxin is more commonly used than acetylandromedol."
"Oh." Jerome was silent for a moment, then went on. "You said 'but'?"
"Someone sent the Websters the honey. The woman it was allegedly from is on vacation and out of contact, but she knows that Mrs. Webster doesn't like it, so why send her some? I find myself wondering if the honey was sent by someone who doesn't know that; I'm wondering if Mrs. Webster was the target, and Becca was collateral damage."
Jerome glanced at Jim, who grinned mirthlessly. "Think about it, Captain. It could be worth asking Mrs. Webster if there's anyone who hates her enough to want her dead."
"She mightn't know," Jerome said. "Anyone who hates enough to kill might very well hide that hatred, knowing that it would make him a suspect if he did indeed kill." He sighed. "In the face of this - " he touched the report - "we've got no reason to hold Mrs. Webster. I'll see about getting her released in the morning."
As they washed up after dinner that night, Blair said, "It might be an idea for us to go and see Steve Webster, let him know the situation. Lorna's going to need a lot of emotional support."
Jim nodded. "Though I guess Steve will need emotional support as well. But we can at least let him know... "
They put on their coats and headed out.
When Steve Webster opened the door to Jim's knock, it seemed to both men that a slight look of relief dawned on his face when he saw them.
"Come in," he said. "You have some news for me?"
"Some good, some bad," Jim said as Webster showed them into the living room.
A woman who appeared to be about thirty was sitting there; she looked up as they came in. "This is an old friend, Marisa Demas," he said. "Marisa, Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. They've been investigating... " he swallowed. "Investigating Becca's death." He looked back at them. "Have you... found out anything?"
"Yes." Although they had decided beforehand that Blair should give the explanation, Jim spoke before Blair could answer. "It seems to have been nothing more that a tragic accident. Your wife will be released as soon as the paperwork's done - probably, now, in the morning."
"Thank God! Marisa, isn't that wonderful?" Webster only glanced at the woman, before continuing, "Was it the honey?"
"Yes. Blair - you know more about it than I do." Jim stepped back.
"This particular toxin isn't in itself particularly deadly," Blair said. "Most people who consume it just get a seriously upset stomach. What it can do, though, is cause quite a strain on the heart - basically that's what causes the occasional death." He knew he was over-simplifying the explanation, but he didn't himself fully understand what grayanotoxin poisoning actually did - toxicology wasn't a subject he'd ever delved into - he had understood very few of the words in the 'description' of what it did that he had found, and ordinary dictionaries didn't include the words he hadn't known.
"Apparently Becca's heart gave out," he went on. "The trouble was that although it was the honey that was making her sick, it was also the only thing that she wanted to eat, so - believing it to be a harmless source of nourishment - your wife kept giving her more of it; and Steve, she's going to be very, very aware of that. It's up to you to convince her that it wasn't her fault. How many people know that honey can be poisonous? Only a very few; beekeepers, for example, should be aware of it, but how many people actually keep bees? I only know because in my university studies I came across mention of honey poisoning from over two thousand years ago, in Ancient Greece - but it's not something that'll be mentioned in the history books used in schools.
"It was Lorna's good luck that she doesn't like honey - though it would probably only have made her sick - "
"She doesn't?" Marisa said. "But I've seen her buying it - "
"Becca liked it. She bought it for Becca," Webster said.
" - and sheer bad luck that Becca had an undiagnosed heart weakness, so that it failed under the strain that the poison was putting on her body," Blair finished.
"What I don't understand, though..." Webster went on slowly.
"Yes?" Jim asked.
"Why did Marilyn send us a jar of the stuff?"
"That's a question that'll have to wait till she gets home again, and we can ask her," Blair murmured.
"If she comes back," Webster said. "Before she left, she was talking about staying in Greece, if she found someplace she liked."
"I doubt she'd find it that easy just to stay," Blair said. "Of course, she could stay as an illegal immigrant, but that's no way to live. Illegal immigrants can be exploited by ruthless businessmen, forced to work long hours for minimal pay in order to survive... If she found someplace she liked, her wisest option would be to set things in motion to buy it, ostensibly as a holiday home, come back here and see about emigrating legally.
"No, if she has any sense I'd expect her to come home, then - if she had found someplace she liked - contact the Greek Embassy, and apply to immigrate."
"Lorna certainly seemed to think she wasn't meaning to come home," Marisa said. She hesitated for a moment before adding, "Maybe she resented Lorna for being married when she wasn't, and took an opportunity to do something to harm her."
"No," Webster said. "She never wanted to marry. She never trusted men. It took a long time for her to accept me, to accept that she could expect me to treat her as if... I'd say like a sister, but it was more extreme than that. As if... as if I were a woman too."
"Oh." Marisa glanced at her watch. "Oh, goodness! I didn't realize it was getting so late. I have to go. Steve, tell Lorna I'm glad she's been found innocent."
"I'll do that." Webster got up to see Marisa out. He returned almost at once. "Thank goodness she's gone! She's the sister of a good friend, so I've known her for years, but I've never really liked her, though I don't know why. She's hardly been away from the house since Lorna was arrested, supposedly to give me moral support, but I'd swear she was trying to seduce me half the time."
"Maybe she was," Blair said. He frowned. "Demas is a Greek name, isn't it."
"Yes - her grandfather came here from Greece, at least - oh - fifty years ago."
"The story about honey poisoning in Ancient Greece has to be known to modern Greeks, I would have thought - if I learned it through my studies, I'd certainly expect Greek children to hear about it... even if it was only through a 'tale told by a grandfather'."
"She was fairly worried when we confirmed it was the honey that killed Becca," Jim added. "You weren't looking at her, but she was very tense."
"And very anxious to throw blame onto Marilyn," Blair added.
"You think Marisa might have sent us the honey? But why?"
"What did you say about her a minute ago?" Jim said.
"She's been here a lot since Lorna was arrested, but - You think she wants me? Thought that if Lorna was out of the way, I might turn to her?"
"It's possible, but remember, grayanotoxin isn't usually a fatal poison, so why did she do it? And proving it won't be easy."
"And where did she get the honey?" Blair asked.
Webster pushed his hair back. "Theo Demas and I have been close friends for nearly twenty years. If Marisa is the one who sent us the honey... How will that affect our friendship?"
"Do you blame him at all?" Blair asked.
"If we can prove something against his sister - would he blame you for wanting justice?"
"I would hope not. But family loyalty... "
"Steve - if he puts loyalty to the sister who was responsible for the death of a child ahead of his loyalty to the friend whose child she killed, he's not worth your friendship," Blair said quietly.
Webster sighed. "My head tells me that. My heart... No, I'm sure he wouldn't throw away twenty years of friendship."
"You said Marisa has been a regular visitor since Lorna was arrested. What about Theo?" Jim asked.
"He's been out of town," Webster said. "His firm has a branch in Chicago, and he's been there for the last four months. But he's phoned every night to find out what's happening. At least tonight I can give him some good news."
Late the next afternoon, Webster and another man who was walking on crutches came into the bullpen. Blair happened to be looking towards the door as they did, and waved. "Over here, Steve!" he called. "Is Lorna home?"
"Hello, Blair... Detective Ellison," Webster said. "Yes, I picked her up quite early this morning. Her mother came over, is staying with her while I collected Stefan and brought him here, since he isn't allowed to drive yet.
"This is Stefan - Stefan Demas - my friend Theo's cousin. Yesterday, not long after I told Theo what had happened, Stefan phoned me. We... Stefan thinks he knows something."
Jim and Blair glanced at each other. Blair said, "Just a moment - " and went to collect a chair. As Webster helped Demas to sit, Blair went on. "Mr. Demas... Stefan. Any help you can give us... "
Demas was looking very unhappy. "Steve and I... we'd met through Theo, but didn't really know each other, so he had no way to know that I keep bees as a hobby, sell some honey through a local store. I know about the danger of rhodotoxin. There's a big patch of ponticum on a hillside near my home, and every spring I move my hives several miles away onto the land of a farmer friend who grows fruit. Three months later, I move the hives back. We both benefit; he gets his fruit fertilized, I get toxin-free honey.
"This spring, I had an accident and had to spend several weeks in the hospital. As you see, I'm not completely recovered yet. My cousin Marisa sometimes helps me with the bees, and she offered to see to moving the hives, collecting the honey, processing it... "
"And she knows about rhodotoxin too?" Blair asked, easily adapting to this third name for the poison.
"Yes. We knew - Theo and I - that when she was younger, Marisa had a... a crush on Steve, though he never noticed and we didn't tell him; and she wasn't happy when he married Lorna - but we thought she'd outgrown it. But... I have six hives. I saw Ty - my farmer friend - two or three weeks ago, and he asked if I'd lost one, because Marisa only put five into his orchard this year. It didn't seem important enough to contact her specifically about it, but I was meaning to ask her about it next time I saw her, because... well, what did she do with the sixth hive for those three months? But then last night Theo phoned and told me about Becca... and I got in touch with Steve immediately. I think Marisa left the sixth hive beside the ponticum, to get a batch of toxic honey."
"So Marisa has resented Lorna since Steve married her, but this year was the first chance she had to do anything to... well, get back at Lorna," Blair said slowly.
Demas nodded, his face even more miserable. "I think so," he said. "I don't think she would have expected anyone to die. I think she just wanted to make Lorna very sick, and didn't stop to consider the child."
"That's possible," Jim said.
"How did you learn about rhodotoxin?" Blair asked.
"When I first got interested in beekeeping, I read up everything I could find on the subject before I bought my first bees. That included information on rhodotoxin. But I knew about the possibility anyway - Grandad sometimes told us legends about our ancestors of two thousand years ago, and one of his stories was about how Mirthridates of Pontus slaughtered Pompey's army after some of the women gave the men food sweetened with honey. It made them sick so they were easily defeated. I'd always thought the story unlikely - why would the women have a supply of poisonous honey anyway? - but Marisa certainly knew that story."
"Back then, wars were always fought in the summer, and the women might have had enough warning of Pompey's advance that they had time to put the bees to the ponticum," Blair said, almost absently. "I think you're right, though - Marisa probably only expected the honey to make Lorna sick, and she'd have been chuckling to herself, knowing that she was responsible for Lorna's misery... She did sound surprised when Steve told her that Lorna didn't like honey and only bought it for Becca. Can you give us Marisa's address?"
"Yes," Demas said. "1389 Seattle Drive."
Jim scribbled it down as Blair said, "Thanks. And thank you for coming in. We realize how difficult it must be for you, giving evidence against a relative."
"Theo and I are both agreed. Marisa might not have done this, but she had the opportunity, and a child died. If she did do it, she should pay."
"Stefan - you know how much I appreciate your help, don't you?" Webster asked. "Whether Marisa did it or not - anything I can ever do for you... "
"Just - don't blame Theo," Demas said.
"I never did," Webster replied. "He's not responsible for anything Marisa might have done. Neither are you."
"Thank you," Demas murmured.
As Webster helped Demas to stand, Jim closed down his computer, and then he and Blair followed the two men out of the bullpen. Webster and Demas left the elevator at street level, while Jim and Blair continued down to the garage.
Marisa Demas might have thought she was playing a practical joke on a woman she presumably considered a rival, although it was clear to both men that Webster had never given her any reason to think he might be interested in her; but practical jokes often go wrong, and this one had proved fatal.
It would be counted as manslaughter rather than murder, certainly, probably even involuntary manslaughter, but Marisa would certainly have to pay for her 'practical joke'.
1389 Seattle Drive proved to be a very residential area. A car was parked in the drive - Jim recognized it instantly as one that had been parked outside the Webster's house the day before.
There was no answer to their knock. Leaving Blair at the door, Jim made his way around the side of the house, peering in the windows as he went. He went almost all the way around it before reaching a window that looked into a sitting room. There he saw a body lying back in an armchair.
He rejoined Blair, and checked the door. It was unlocked, and they went in. Jim quickly found the room he had looked into.
The body was cold. An empty pill bottle stood on a coffee table beside the armchair, an empty glass beside it. Marisa Demas, it seemed, had gone home from her visit to Steve and taken an overdose. A piece of paper and a pencil also sat on the table.
Blair leaned over to read the note.
"I'm sorry, Steve. I never meant for your child to die. You're the only man I ever loved."
Jim and Blair looked at each other. "And he didn't even like her very much," Blair murmured as he pulled out his cell phone.
It was quite late before they arrived back at the loft. As they went in, Jim said, "I can't help being sorry for her."
"I know. She didn't even have Steve's friendship," Blair said sadly. "It was her brother who was Steve's friend. She was just the kid sister - Steve never saw past that, would never have seen past that.
"A lot of kid sisters develop a crush on their big brothers' friends, but outgrow it. I suspect that having fixated on Steve, though, Marisa never quite grew out of it. Maybe she first met Steve at a point in her life when she was particularly vulnerable, at an age when a crush seemed like positive love, and something in her nature meant that she felt she had to stay loyal to that love, that moving on and loving someone else was a kind of betrayal."
"It's not a betrayal if the person you want doesn't want you and makes it clear, makes himself unavailable by marrying someone else."
"You know that and I know that. Any sane person would. But I wonder if Marisa was quite sane. Well, we'll never know. I just hope Steve and Lorna manage to survive what she did to them."
"Yes," Jim said. "I hope they do." He sighed. "I'm hungry. What do you want for dinner?"
"There's some ostrich chili in the freezer," Blair suggested. "It won't take long to nuke that."
"That," Jim agreed, "sounds fine."