Arsenic and Red Lace

Chapter 8

"You're joking."

Madeleine Hightower looked up at her from her desk, not a trace of humour in those great dark eyes.

"I am many things right now, Agent Lisbon, but 'joking' is not one of them. Between Jane's stunt and your lack of protocol and procedure, there is no way the DoJ can take this case to court."

Teresa Lisbon folded her arms across her chest. "So they're gonna walk."

"Yes, Agent Lisbon. They're going to walk."

"But we caught them in the act. It took the EMS team 10 minutes to revive him! They have a veritable pharmacy in their greenhouse! Who knows how many men they've poisoned over the years?"

"That is the dilemma when we don't follow the book, isn't it?"

"But the greenhouse—"

"Is Fruit of the Poisoned Tree, Agent. The search was illegal therefore all evidence gathered in that search is illegal and therefore inadmissible. You should have gotten a warrant."

"There wasn't any time."

"And now there isn't any case."

Lisbon sighed and sat back, not quite ready to be defeated just yet.

"There was probable cause," she grumbled.

"Really?" Hightower glanced at her file. "An invitation to tea from a consultant, whom you admitted to having kicked off the case only hours previous."

"He was suffering from arsenic poisoning."

"Not according to your Dr. Witherspoon's analysis."

Lisbon frowned. That had been unexpected indeed. No arsenic traces in the chunk of hair she'd unceremoniously ripped from Jane's head.

"Maybe there wasn't enough in his system. Maybe it needed more time…" It sounded lame. She could tell the moment it rolled off her tongue. And not for the first time, did she find herself cursing the wiles of Patrick Jane.

"Didn't sound like probable cause to the DA and doesn't sound like probable cause to me." Hightower studied the file. "And you, Agent Lisbon. Did you announce yourself as CBI before you kicked down those little old ladies' door?"

"Little old ladies? They poisoned him. He was practically blue!"

"Did you?"

She sank back into her chair, scowling. "I don't remember…"

"Odd. Neither does your Agent Cho."

Lisbon ground her molars, but said nothing.

"Now this, this is interesting." Hightower flipped the page. "The Forensics report confirms a higher than normal arsenic reading in that iron fence…"

"Yes, ma'am," Lisbon mumbled.

"In fact, the levels are off the charts. Arsenic, mercury, cyanide and lead in copious amounts. There was a gate leading to the house on Sunnyside Court, wasn't there?"

"Apparently so, ma'am."

"A gate that was often used by gentlemen heading over to the Sunnyside residence for tea?"

"Yes, ma'am. Apparently so."

"Even Eugene Holloway."

"Even Eugene Holloway, ma'am."

"The OEHHA has commissioned the fence be utterly removed and a new heavy-metal-free one installed. They are pursuing charges on the manufacturer, a company in New Mexico. And on our recommendation, this new one will not have a gate leading to the Sunnyside residence or anywhere else off the property. …"

"Yes ma'am." Lisbon sighed.

Hightower closed the folder, clasped her hands across it as she leaned over her desk. "So, apparently this is not a homicide."

"No, ma'am."

"It might have been a homicide, Agent Lisbon. It might have been, in fact, many homicides, but right now, according to the law which neither you nor Mr. Jane upheld, it is not a homicide. Do you understand?"

"Yes, ma'am."

The woman studied her for a long moment.

"How is he, anyway?"

She shrugged. "Oh, he's gonna be fine. They have him in 'chelation therapy,' whatever that is. Something to get the arsenic out of his system. He'll probably be off for a few more days."

"He was pretty sick, wasn't he?"

She sighed, remembering. "Yeah, he was pretty sick."

"Well," she allowed a hint of a smile to cross her stern face. "From what I know of Mr. Jane, he usually has his reasons for doing what he did."

"Oh, he always has his reasons, ma'am."

"And they're probably good ones."

"They're gonna have to be."

Hightower shook her head, leaned back in her chair.

"When he's back, I want him in my office immediately. As soon as one sorry butt-ugly brown shoe crosses security, he's here. You got that, Agent Lisbon?"

Lisbon suppressed a grin. "Yes, ma'am," she said, with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm than she should. "Is that all?"

"Yes, Agent Lisbon. Have a lovely day."

And Teresa Lisbon left the heavy, sunny office for the activity of the bullpen.

"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""

Her agents glanced up, then quickly back down as she reentered the bullpen and strode swiftly to her office. They knew better than to ask. The fact that she was back told them all they needed to know.

She lowered herself behind her desk, paused to sweep her eyes across the chaos there. Files, papers, disks and pens, Jane's copy of Hamlet now hers, her computer happily glowing with several messages, and flowers. One bouquet of yellow and pink carnations from Craig Witherspoon and two wilting wisteria, forgotten and unwatered in a Tylenol bottle vase.

She shook her head.

He had almost died.

He had played her to protect two crazy old ladies and he had almost died. In a way, he had tried to tell her. The 'issues', the moral, ethical, personal issues. Death and dying, suicide and euthanasia, sadness and grief, roads he himself lived on, crossroads he himself faced every day. The widows had found a path. Jane was still searching for his.

Damn him for taking her there.

There was noise in the bullpen and she glanced up.

Damn him to hell.

Patrick Jane was in the building.

"""""""""""""""""""""""""

"Hey!" cried Grace Van Pelt, as she sprang from her desk to give the consultant a hug. "Aren't you supposed to be in the hospital?"

"Meh," he grinned. He couldn't hug back. His hands were full of blue and red gift bags. "There ain't no joint big enough to hold dis lug."

Both Rigsby and Cho joined them. Rigsby had hands on hips, nodding and grinning. "So, 'Chelation Therapy,' huh? Sounds ominous."

"Oh, yes, well," said Jane. "Interesting. Lots of needles, blood work, chemicals. Not to mention doctors. I think I prefer the arsenic."

"Harold says hi. He misses your chess moves. Cho and I aren't nearly as good."

Jane brightened. "You and Cho?"

"Yep," said Rigsby. "Yesterday and today. They're sharks, man. Sharks."

"Old school," said Cho. "But sharks."

"Well," said Jane. "That makes me very happy. Thank you."

He handed Rigsby a bag.

The big man beamed, dug into the tissue, and pulled out a tin. He beamed some more.

"One pound of gourmet organic honey and sea-salted peanuts! Awesome! Thanks, man!"

He tore open the plastic lid, the foil liner, dumped a handful into his palm and tossed them back into his mouth. He closed his eyes in bliss.

"Me next. My turn." Grace clapped her hands together in anticipation. With a little bow, Jane held another gift bag. She snatched it from his hands, pulled a white and black plush dog from the tissue.

"Happiness is a warm puppy," he said sweetly.

"Snoopy!" she exclaimed. "I love Snoopy!" She hugged the stuffed toy to her chest. "He's going to live on my desk. Thanks, Jane. I love him." And she kissed Jane on the cheek, a gesture he happily accepted, before bouncing off to place her new treasure on her desk, beside the computer.

Cho eyed him. "I'm not going to kiss you."

"Wait 'til you open your gift bag, sunshine. You might just change your mind." And he held out the third.

Cho eyed it. Jane waggled the bag, waggled his brows. Cho snatched it up.

It was a book.

'Smoke and Mirrors – Card Tricks and Carnival Stunts Explained,' by Edward R. Norris.

Cho grinned. "Cool," and he ambled over to his desk, already flipping to the first page.

One bag left, and it was a biggie. In fact, it seemed to almost take two hands for him to lift it, and the tissue popped out and over the top like a waterfall. With bag in hand, he ambled toward the door to Lisbon's office.

She made a point not to look at him.

"Knock knock," he said.

"Go away."

"Your supposed to say 'who's there."

"I'm not ten, Jane. I don't do 'Knock Knock' jokes."

"Ah."

And he stood for a moment in the doorway, holding the gift bag, looking at the ceiling, waiting. Finally, Lisbon looked up.

"Aren't you supposed to be in the hospital?"

"None of the doctors were as likable as Craig."

"Go home. I don't want to talk to you today."

"I have a present for you."

"I don't care."

He thought for a moment. "Well, it's rather heavy. May I come in and put it down, just give my arms a little rest. Chelation therapy takes a lot out of a guy."

"Damn you, Jane!" She slammed her hands on her desk and rose to her feet, and he backpedaled, looking as if he might run away. She beat him to the door however, shoved him and his over-sized gift bag into the office and slammed the glass behind him.

"Sit," she snarled.

He sat.

She leaned into him, a finger just inches from his face.

"How dare you? How dare you do that to me, string me along like that just to protect some widows you just met? That's low, Jane, even for you. That's low and cruel and, and… just low."

"I left you a note."

"What if I didn't read it?"

"Why wouldn't you read my note?"

"Because I was angry, Jane. I was very, very angry with you."

"I knew you would read it."

"How could you know that? How could you possibly know that?"

"I know that I knew. I knew you would come. There wasn't any danger."

"Don't you ever play me like that again, you got that?" It wasn't a question.

"I'm sorry," he said, blue eyes earnest.

"No, you're not. You'll do it again, whenever it suits you, but you know what? It hurts Jane. It hurts."

He looked down, cradled the bag in his arms.

She leaned on her desk. Dammit how he could diffuse her with a look.

"I know what you were doing, even why you did it. You wanted to make sure the sisters couldn't be prosecuted because you like them, and you understand them and they understand you and all that crap. I get your issues now, those ones that you talked to Craig about, euthanasia and suicide and death and dying. I get it. I do."

"They were helping," he said quietly.

"And what if, just once, they were wrong?"

"They weren't."

"But if they were?"

He sat very still, clutching the gift bag as if it were a life preserver. Finally, he sighed.

"Well then, that would be bad."

"Yes, Jane. That would be bad. That would be more than bad. That would be murder." She folded her arms across her chest, waited for her words to sink in before continuing. "You crossed a line, Jane. Suicide, assisted or not, is still illegal in California."

"It shouldn't be."

"Can you tell me that you would be sitting here in my office if it weren't?"

There was no response to that.

He sat for a few moments longer before rising to his feet. He placed the huge gift bag on her desk, shook out his arms and trudged toward the door, pausing for a moment longer. He didn't look at her.

"No one noticed Eugene Holloway. Not how sad he was, not how long it took for him to die, nothing. The staff, his friends, no one."

Damn his deep, deep waters.

He shrugged, threw her a furtive glance. "For what it's worth, I'm glad you noticed."

She sighed, not ready to give in just yet. "Go home. You still have a few days sick leave and you look like hell."

Their eyes met for a moment. His wary and proud, hers good and fierce.

He closed the door behind him.

She felt sick to her stomach.

Damn him to hell, she thought. Him and his deep waters and transport trucks and Peanuts and Shakespeare. He would be the death of her.

And she was so very, very, very glad he was alive.

And with that thought, the hint of a smirk that usually tugged into her cheek reappeared, so she turned to the big blue bag, stared at it for a long moment before tearing the white tissue out the top and tossing it on the floor. She was immediately assaulted by the most amazing smell.

Flowers. The biggest bouquet she had ever seen, a hundred blooms in wild colours and shapes and sizes, in a vase of finest crystal. Carefully, she lifted it out of the bag and set it on her desk. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen and made Craig Witherspoon's bouquet look like a high school corsage. Damn him to hell.

She was so very glad he was alive.

And she smiled like she had never smiled before.

Suddenly, she frowned, brought her hands up to her mouth and rushed from the office to the ladies' room. There, she 'woofed up her cookies' as the stomach flu claimed it's thirteenth agent.

And from outside her office, Patrick Jane watched and smiled too, before quietly turning and leaving the bullpen.

""""""""""""""""""""""

All that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity. (Hamlet 1.2)

"Look, you can't do things like that! Now, I don't know how I can explain this to you. But, it's not only against the law, its wrong!"
"Oh, piffle!" (Arsenic and Old Lace)

The doorbell rang, and Estelle Mountbatten shuffled over to see.

"Who is it, Estelle?" called Theodora. "Who ever could it be?"

"Who ever indeed?"

She swung the door open to reveal Patrick Jane, standing on the step, a bouquet of flowers in his hands.

"Oh my dear! Theodora, Theodora, it's Patrick!"

"Patrick?" Theodora rustled over. "Oh Patrick dear! Please come in! We've missed you terribly."

"Yes, terribly. Do come in."

And Jane did, stepping past the sisters and pressing the flowers into their hands. They hugged him, they kissed him, they fussed over him like hens.

"The police had been ever so dreadful, dear."

"Dreadful business, police."

"Yes, dreadful."

"They accused us of killing those poor men!"

"Terrible business, murder."

"But it's that fence, isn't it, dear?"

"Yes, that beautiful, poisonous fence."

"Isn't it odd how so many lovely, lovely things can turn out to be so dangerous?"

"Oh, yes, terribly odd."

They were slowly making their way over to the couch.

"They're going to rip it out, you know. Rip it right out."

"And there will be no gate for the gentlemen to visit."

"Whoever will visit us, Estelle? Who ever will visit?"

"Oh Patrick will visit, won't you dear?"

"Oh, do say you'll visit, Patrick? We would miss you terribly."

He smiled at them. "I would like nothing better."

"Oh that's wonderful, Patrick. Thank you."

"Yes, wonderful. Thank you."

"Now, dear," said Estelle. "Do you have time for tea?"

"Yes, dear," said Theodora. "Please say you'll stay for tea?"

"I'd love to," said Jane, smiling like the sun.

"Now, which blend would you like? We have camomille and ginger…"

"Mint and lavender…"

"Wild lemon…"

"Actually…" He shoved a hand into his pocket, pulled out a tea bag. It swung on a little string. "I brought my own."

They looked crestfallen.

He smiled some more. "However, may I borrow three tea cups? The china ones with the red roses. I'd like to show you a little game I know…"

In the other hand, he held up a peanut.

They brightened.

And together, the trio sat down to tea.

The End