The Nightmare Pills: A Penny Godwin Story – Part 10

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The view from the base of the Ashton Memorial was breathtaking. The grey Sunday morning had become a clear day, and Penny could see right to the far side of Morecambe Bay, blue and misty in the distance.

She didn’t have time to take in the panorama. She and Welcome were seated on the edge of one of the dry fountains in the corner of the great white folly, discussing what they had discovered. They had hurried to the park as soon as they’d dealt with the bin bags; there was less chance of running into Ross.

‘If he lied to us about the Alka-Seltzer, then that throws into question everything else he said he did,’ Penny said. ‘The sitting up with Chris, helping him when he was tossing and turning, all of it.’

‘He said he locked the door from force of habit,’ agreed Welcome, ‘but maybe he was making sure no one came in.’

Penny nodded grimly. Her insides had been in knots ever since they’d found the second Alka-Seltzer in the bin bag. If Ross was guilty, then the sheer number of lies he’d told, and the amount of planning that would have gone into them, gave her a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Stronger still was the regret she felt for riding roughshod over Welcome’s concerns about Sam. Now, she knew she would consider the evidence as it emerged, and lean on Welcome’s ideas, rather than cling to what she wanted to be true.

‘There are also clues that fit for Ross just as much as they did for Sam,’ Penny pointed out. ‘He spends a lot of time with us, but he doesn’t live in the flat, so he probably wouldn’t know which cupboard Velda keeps the mortar and pestle, so he could have put them back in the wrong place after he crushed up the Prazosin.’

A line appeared between Penny’s brows.

‘But how did he get the Prazosin?’

Welcome looked puzzled.

‘He was in Karla’s room with it, yeah. But Karla saw him get out of bed when he said he was going to make an Alka-Seltzer, and he didn’t take any pills then,’ Penny clarified.

Welcome gnawed on her lip in thought.

‘Well, if he didn’t grab the pills after we all got back from the night out, then he must have done it before then.’

‘He did come back not long after you left,’ Penny reminded her. ‘He said he was grabbing a hat for Karla. He could’ve pocketed the pills then, and just waited till you all came home to use them. Do you remember him leaving on the night out?’

Welcome scowled as she tried to remember.

‘He was the last one into the club,’ she said. ‘But to be honest, we all kind of split up once we got inside. I ran into a bunch of guys from theatre, and I don’t really remember seeing the others much for the first couple of hours. We just did our own thing. Sorry.’

‘So, he could’ve snuck out,’ said Penny, ‘but we can’t be sure how.’

‘And none of this explains why he killed Chris,’ added Welcome. ‘That’s what’s really bugging me.’

‘Me too,’ muttered Penny.

‘I didn’t think Ross and Chris had much to do with each other.’

Penny rubbed her chin, staring out at the sweeping view of Lancaster. She ran through everything she read and listened to about crime to find the right direction to go next.

‘From what I know, every motive is to do with a link between the killer and the victim,’ she said. ‘It can be anything, but they’ve got to be connected somehow.’

‘Unless the killer’s a psycho,’ Welcome pointed out.

‘I don’t think Ross is a psycho,’ replied Penny firmly. Although if he was, would you be able to tell? a voice in her head added.

‘Well, maybe they go back further than uni,’ suggested Welcome. ‘They might know each other from before.’

Penny recalled that Chris had taken a gap year before coming to Lancaster, making him the same age as Ross. It wasn’t impossible, she supposed.

‘But how do we make sure?’ she asked.

‘Well, all we’ve really got is social media,’ Welcome said, holding up her phone. ‘It’s worth a shot.’

Wordlessly, they each began searching. Penny took Ross’s Facebook and Twitter, while Welcome took his Instagram. They scrolled backwards through photos of workouts, dates with Karla, hiking trips, until suddenly Penny touched Welcome’s arm.

‘These pictures are from Revelation,’ she said, ‘on the night of the murder.’

‘Karla tagged us all in them,’ Welcome told her.

Penny narrowed her eyes at the photo in front of her. It was a selfie, taken by Karla, of all the flatmates on the bus into town. Ross was sat at the back, with his whole body in view.

‘Look,’ she said, pointing. ‘He’s wearing trainers.’

Welcome followed her finger, and nodded acknowledgement.

‘Revelation don’t allow trainers. It’s against their dress code,’ said Penny.

‘How do you know that?’ asked Welcome.

Penny grinned ruefully.

‘Because the one time I went there, in first term, there was a whacking great poster on the wall outside that said so. I was wearing trainers and had to go home.’

Welcome pursed her lips.

‘I didn’t notice Ross was wearing trainers. I guess it’s just one of those things you see but don’t pick up on. But hang on,’ she added, blinking in confusion, ‘Ross worked in Revelation in his first year. He knows what the dress code is. Why did he wear trainers at all?’

Penny flicked through the photos. More on the bus, then some in the queue for the club, and finally, those taken inside. Several pictures later, there was another selfie of the whole flat. Karla had stood on a table to take it, and in this one, Ross was wearing black shoes.

‘That’s it!’ Penny exclaimed. ‘He couldn’t grab the Prazosin before you all left, with everyone around, and he couldn’t do it after you got home because Karla would be in the room. So, he’d have to do it when the flat was as empty as possible, but he’d also have to nip back without anyone wondering why. Ross wore trainers to the club because he knew he’d get turned away. Then, he can borrow Karla’s key, get into her room, and grab a handful of Prazosin to use later.’

‘Why would he tell you he was collecting Karla’s hat?’ asked Welcome.

‘Maybe he thought I’d ask too many questions if he told me the truth. I didn’t question for a minute why Karla wanted her hat, but I would’ve wondered why he wore trainers to Revelation in the first place. He just wanted to get in and get out, not chat to me.’

Welcome slowly nodded, reflecting on everything she’d said.

‘So, we’ve basically mapped out what Ross did on the night Chris died,’ she said. ‘I think it all sounds pretty plausible. But we’re no closer to explaining why he did it.’

‘No,’ agreed Penny with concern. ‘Let’s keep looking.’

In silence, they went on scrolling through the different social media accounts. Neither spoke for minute after minute. Penny passed Ross’s first year, and was delving into pictures he’d taken of printed photographs, of himself in a sandpit or on a swing, when Welcome gasped. She zoomed into the picture she’d found, peering closely, and then held it up to show Penny.

‘I’ve found how they know each other,’ she said tremulously.

Penny knew that their case was speculative. They were not the police. They had no hard evidence or clues. All they could do, all they had done since they started investigating, was build a story. One that fitted with the observations they had made, and what they had heard or discovered.

But there was only one way to be sure of it all.

Armed with everything they felt they knew, they took the bus into town that night. They timed it carefully.

They wanted to arrive after Ross’s placement ended, but before he came to campus to be with Karla.

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