The voice from inside Karla’s room shook violently. Penny and Welcome shared a nervous glance.
‘Sorry babe,’ said Welcome. ‘It’s me, and Penny. We just wanted to come and see how you were holding up.’
It took a long time for Karla to come to the door. When it slowly opened a crack, to show only half her face, they saw she hadn’t taken off her makeup from the night of the murder. It was now smeared across her face. Her eyes were wide and sleepless, her lips scabbed from restless gnawing.
Penny remembered how much death upset Karla. Her grandfather had passed away only the previous term; she had gone home that very afternoon and not come back for weeks. Penny could only imagine how this was affecting her.
‘I… I… sorry,’ said Karla.
‘You don’t need to say sorry, honey,’ said Welcome. ‘Just wanted to check you were okay.’ She looked at Karla’s face. ‘Hey, do you want a hand taking that off?’
Penny eyed Welcome admiringly, thinking she was doing a great job of talking their way into Karla’s confidence. Then, a hideous feeling gripped her stomach.
Of course, Welcome wasn’t just drawing Karla in for questioning. She was genuinely concerned.
How will that concern hold up when we narrow down the suspects, though? Penny thought, immediately followed by a twinge of guilt. It was true, they would have to be direct and focused on their search, but where did the feelings of her friends fit into that?
Karla, meanwhile, touched her fingertips to her smudged, tender face, and started to cry. Instantly, Welcome coaxed the door open and held Karla in her arms.
‘I know. I know,’ she said softly.
Penny stepped in and laid a hand on Karla’s shoulder, over Welcome’s arm. They stood there together for a few seconds before Karla sniffed mightily and straightened up.
‘Thanks guys,’ she said. ‘Come in.’
They followed Karla inside. The lively, popping colours and lights of her bedroom somehow all seemed muted and dim. Even the photos felt fainter in the half-light of the closed blind.
Welcome sat Karla on her bed. Penny sat beside her, holding Karla’s hands, while Welcome found a bottle of micellar water and squeezed it onto a cotton pad. She began softly wiping the makeup from Karla’s downturned, blank face.
‘It’s just… none of it makes sense,’ said Karla emptily. ‘I keep trying to run through it in my head, but it all seems really confused. It’s like it’s all been shaken up.’
Penny concealed a deep breath as she got ready to begin.
‘I know. The confusion makes it even scarier, doesn’t it?’
Karla nodded around Welcome’s firm but gentle strokes of the cotton pad.
‘Y’know,’ said Penny carefully, ‘we were learning in Psychology, about how trying to talk through something helps get it ordered in your head.’
Welcome shot her a glance which read: I hope you didn’t just make that up.
‘Do you think that would help?’ Penny asked.
‘Maybe,’ replied Karla.
Even so, she was silent for what felt like minutes. Welcome finished wiping her makeup off and sat on her other side, sandwiching Karla between herself and Penny. The silence was unawkward, but deeply tense with the unspoken gravity of everything. Penny couldn’t help feeling conflicted about the unspoken agenda that she and Welcome were keeping hidden.
‘Well, we all went out,’ Karla began suddenly. Penny and Welcome’s ears pricked up. ‘We got on the bus into town. We were taking lots of photos, singing, you know? Then we got to town and went to Revelation. I was the first in. Then we, y’know, danced and got drinks and stuff. It was a really good night. But then Chris picked a fight with some guy and got chucked out. I guess the air got to him ‘cuz he was sick. We got him home and put him to bed. I think Velda did him an Alka-Seltzer. Then… then yeah. Me and Ross went to bed, like everyone else.’
‘Is this helping, babe?’ Welcome asked.
‘Did you sleep right through?’ Penny asked. ‘Nothing woke you up?’
Karla frowned, trying to remember.
‘Actually, there was one thing. Like, really late, Ross got up and went out.’
Over Karla’s bowed head, Penny and Welcome’s eyes met. Penny could sense that the same cold feeling was running down Welcome’s spine.
‘How come?’ asked Penny.
‘He went to make Chris another Alka-Seltzer,’ said Karla. ‘He said enough time had passed that he could have another one.’
Welcome looked a little relieved, but Penny’s cold feeling didn’t completely go away.
‘What time was that?’ she asked.
‘Maybe… maybe about quarter past three,’ Karla answered. ‘Then he got back in bed, like, half an hour later. He told me Chris had been a bit sick again, so he stayed to help and sat up with him.’
‘That’s a lovely bloke you’ve got there,’ said Welcome warmly, giving Karla a squeeze.
‘Yeah,’ said Penny. She left it a moment, then said: ‘Well, hope you’re feeling a bit better, Karla. We don’t want to crowd you.’
She began standing up, wanting to get back her room and talk things over again with Welcome.
‘Um… no… I mean… please stay,’ Karla said.
Penny looked at her. Karla was very pale, trembling a little. She looked a little like Penny felt after one of her dreams.
She and Welcome remained with Karla, making soft conversation to fill in the dead quiet of the flat. Meanwhile, Penny’s mind raced.
Now they knew someone else had been up, roaming the flat, that night. Thanks to Dalil and Lucien, they now knew that Chris’s door might have been unlocked at the same time as Ross got out of bed. Penny had found the door locked about twenty minutes after Karla said Ross had gone, but it still left time for him to leave the room and get back to bed in half an hour. Had he really gone to make Chris that Alka-Seltzer? Had he really been sitting up with him for thirty whole minutes?
The questions iced up her insides. Ross? The genial, friendly Ross? Could it be possible? Was it right to even suspect he could do such a thing?
Finally, after these horrid thoughts had whirled through Penny’s head like mad revellers for almost twenty minutes, Karla felt almost like herself again. Or at least a subdued version of herself.
‘Thanks for coming to see me, guys,’ she said. ‘I love you two.’
‘Not a problem, Karla,’ said Welcome, hugging her. ‘You know we’re both just down the hall if you need us.’
‘Yeah,’ said Karla, pulling back and turning to hug Penny. ‘It’s so great having you to talk to.’
They embraced, Penny grimacing over Karla’s shoulder. Her mind was running through everything they’d learned from her, but she felt awful that they had basically interrogated someone who just wanted help. The two did not sit well together.
As she and Welcome made for the door, Penny noticed her Prazosin on the shelf.
The night Chris had died had been shot through with nightmares. So had last night. She didn’t want another like them.
‘Karla?’ she asked, pointing to it. ‘Can I take these back?’
‘Oh, yeah, of course,’ said Karla absentmindedly. ‘Thanks for letting me borrow them.’
Penny nodded, taking the bottle of pills.
As soon as they were outside, she and Welcome headed for Penny’s room.
‘You lent someone your medication?’ Welcome asked incredulously.
‘Well… she said she needed it,’ answered Penny, aware of how stupid it sounded as a reason.
In other circumstances, they might’ve laughed at that. But the implications of what Karla had told them now weighed too heavily.
When Penny’s door closed behind them, they sat numbly on the bed.
‘He was up and about during the time when, so far as we know, the door was unlocked,’ said Penny, bluntly.
‘Maybe he was just helping Chris, like he said,’ offered Welcome.
‘I mean, maybe,’ Penny agreed. ‘I just… I guess I never thought we’d even have to consider Ross.’
To her, Ross had always been the ultimate example of someone who would never hurt a fly. He was the kind of guy who could diffuse any tension and was always ready to talk things over. Then, she remembered the words of every detective story she knew. No one was above suspicion.
‘Do we need to, yet?’ asked Welcome. ‘All we know is he got up. And we were trying to explain that second Alka-Seltzer. If what he said to Karla was true, then we’ve covered that, and it means he probably didn’t do anything.’
Penny was about to say: ‘That’s a pretty big ‘if’’, when suddenly she felt that spark of energy inside her. A piece clicked into place.
Feeling so fretful over the news about Ross, she had been staring down at her hands, in which she clutched the Prazosin bottle. As she and Welcome talked, she’d turned it over and over in her hands, and suddenly, the fine print on the back jumped out at her.
Her head snapped up to face Welcome.
‘Welcome… I think I’ve just worked something out,’ she said.
‘Remember how I was confused by Chris’s legs being swollen?’
Welcome looked briefly ill.
Penny held up the Prazosin bottle, the back towards Welcome, with her finger hovering over the text she had seen. Welcome leaned closer to read it.
Side effects may include: Swelling in the legs …
Welcome stared, open-mouthed, at Penny.
‘Just like Chris had!’ she exclaimed. ‘Penny… you mean Chris was poisoned… with Prazosin?’
‘I think he might’ve been!’
With one accord, they both scrambled to uncap the bottle. There were still at least ten of the small pills left inside.
‘Are there lots missing?’ asked Welcome.
Penny cursed quietly.
‘I can’t remember how full it was when I lent it to Karla.’
‘How would someone even use this to kill someone?’ Welcome asked.
Penny’s eyes widened. It was one of those magical moments when the dominoes inside your brain fall perfectly.
‘Okay, so Prazosin is an alpha-blocker,’ she said. ‘It lowers blood pressure. That’s how it stops you having nightmares – your blood doesn’t flow into your brain so much and keep your mind active. Low blood pressure needs an increase in your heartrate to recover, but Prazosin won’t cause any harm if you take the right dose. The thing is, alcohol causes your heartrate to slow down. So, I guess, if someone was very drunk, and they took a big dose of Prazosin, their blood pressure would drop, their heart wouldn’t keep up, and they’d lose consciousness. Then, it would be easy to kill them.’
‘No way,’ said Welcome, amazed.
‘This is feeling like a premeditated murder,’ Penny continued. ‘The killer would have to know all that about Prazosin to make it work.’ She shuddered but tried to focus. ‘The question is, how did the killer get Chris to take that much?’
‘Yeah,’ agreed Welcome. ‘‘Even if he was drunk, he wouldn’t have let someone force him to take a big handful of pills. Maybe they crushed them up?’
Another domino fell. Penny actually rose to her feet, the excitement of realisation momentarily flaring through the seriousness of it all.
‘Of course! Velda’s mortar and pestle!’
Hastily, Penny explained about Velda finding her mortar and pestle, cleaned, in the wrong cupboard, on the morning after the murder.
‘So,’ she said, beginning to pace. ‘The killer crushes up the Prazosin with the mortar and pestle. They put the powder in the Alka-Seltzer glass, and give it to Chris. After everything is done, they wash up the glass and the mortar and pestle. They put the glass back where everyone knows it is, but now they’ve cleaned them, they can’t put the mortar and pestle back on the counter. They don’t know where they belong, though, which is how they end up in the wrong cupboard.’
‘At least that means we can rule one person out,’ Welcome broke in. ‘Velda. She wouldn’t’ve put her own things in the wrong place.’
‘Or she deliberately put them in the wrong cupboard to make it look like someone else did it,’ suggested Penny.
‘But she didn’t have any Prazosin to use,’ Welcome countered.
At that, they both suddenly fell silent. Welcome’s words brought an awful realisation.
Someone had to say it.
‘So… we need someone who was out of bed when Chris’s door was open,’ Penny ventured.
‘Who would know there was a mortar and pestle they could use, but who might not know which cupboard was Velda’s,’ Welcome followed on.
‘And who had access to the Prazosin.’
Neither could bring themselves to utter the name.
Penny’s Prazosin had been in Karla’s room.
So had Ross, who had got out of bed, and who didn’t live full time in the flat, so wouldn’t know where everything lived.
They stared at each other in silence, looking warily at the Prazosin occasionally, like it was something sinister grinning up at them.