Marie’s Medical Room Mystery
“Marie Emily Parkinson!! Please stand up!!”
Miss Blunt, my English Grammar teacher, had the voice of a regimental Sergeant Major on the parade ground, so I slowly stood up and clasped my hands in front of me as the whole class looked on. Next to me my so-called best friend Shirley was covering her mouth with her hand.
“Do you wish to add something to this, Miss Edgeworth?”
“No, Miss Blunt,” Shirley said as she put on her best serious face and sat straight up. Miss Blunt fixed her gaze on me. “Now, Miss Parkinson, would you care to explain to the class what was so fascinating that it distracted you from the lesson?”
Now, bear in mind this was in the late spring, in 1964, so we were all dressed in the Carrington Grammar School uniform - which, in those days, was a crisply ironed white shirt or blouse, buttoned up with the blue and black tie properly secured on top, and a black blazer over a black jumper with blue trim. For the boys, they had to wear matching trousers with sensible shoes, while we girls had to wear a knee length pleated skirt, white socks and flat shoes. Is it any wonder we liked to dress differently outside?
In fact, that was what I had been talking to Shirley about - what we were going to wear to the youth club that night. But this wasn’t dressmaking, so if I said that I knew I would be in trouble - as if I wasn’t already.
“Sorry, Miss Blunt,” I eventually said with my head bowed, “We were only discussing how we were going to work together on your homework this week.”
“Hmmm,” Miss Blunt said as she eyed me through her glasses, and then turned round, her robe swishing in the air as she walked back to the desk. “Very well then - but I expect to see your work next Tuesday. You may sit down.”
As I sat, I saw Philip looking at me with a small smile on his face. Philip Merton was the son of P C Merton, who worked at the local station, and - well, he was a hunk, with a bit of Paul McCartney about him. I quickly smiled back before picking up my pen and listening to the rest of the lesson.
It was a relief when the bell rang and we were allowed to walk slowly out. None of your mad dash to the door like you seem to do these days - it was a respectful, quiet filing out, at last until we got past the wrought iron gates.
That was when I finally said “Shirley Edgeworth, if you try anything like that again in the class I will kill you!”
“Oh come on Marie - she does look like a bat in that outfit,” Shirley laughed as she shook the band out of her red hair. Shirley and I had been friends since the first day of school, growing up together, sharing many of the same interests, even the same classes. As we walked down the street towards the main road, she said “What are you going to wear tonight anyway?”
“I’ve got this new dress,” I said with a smile, “that’s going to make Philip talk to me, come hell or high water. I want to save that for tomorrow, though, so tonight it’s pants and a jumper for me!” We both laughed now as we made our way home - and no, we had no idea what was going to happen that weekend, or what it was going to mean to both of us.
Anyway, we got home, and after I had eaten my dinner, talked to my mum and dad about school and what we needed to do at the weekend, I had an hour or so to spare, so I went up to my room. Lying on my bed, I picked up the Nancy Drew book I had been reading the night before and started to flip through the pages.
Now Carrington wasn’t the metropolis you seem to think it is now in those days, so for a seventeen year old student there was very little to look forward to, without a trip to the nearby towns. The one exception was Friday Night - Friday mean the Carrington Youth Club, with the occasional Saturday disco as well at the school, and this particular weekend was one where that was happening. So tonight I was going casually dressed as it were.
Eventually I got off the bed and pulled a mustard coloured round necked jumper and a pair of brown Capri pants from inside, putting them on before I hung my school uniform up, and then slipped on a pair of kitten heels, before sitting at the dressing table and running a brush through my brown hair. I was interrupted by a knock on the door and Shirley came in, a thick cardigan on over her blue blouse and linen skirt.
“Ready to go,” she said as I stood up. I nodded as we left the room, ran down the stairs and left to the sound of my mother saying “Don’t be late back, now!”
It was a twenty minute walk from my house to the hall, but it was already fairly packed as Shirley and I walked in. We went to the tuck shop and bought ourselves a bottle of Coca Cola each, sipping on the straws as we watched the others dancing to a song on the record player.
You make me wanna Shout!
“Hey,” Shirley said as she nudged me with her elbow, “When did Billy Simpson get back in town?” Billy was what they used to euphemistically call “A bit of a bad ‘un” - he had recently been out of school, most people assumed because he was spending some time at the local Borstal. I looked over at him as he stood in the corner, his long blonde hair over the collar of a scruffy leather jacket, as he talked in low whispers to a young lad I didn’t recognise.
“Who knows,” I said as I put my bottle down. “Whatever it is, however, I’m sure it...”
My talking was interrupted by a scream from the floor, and as Shirley and I looked on we saw a girl from the year below us at school lying on her side, her legs twitching slightly as she stared ahead of herself with a vacant expression.
“Make room,” we heard the Reverend Timms say as he and his wife ran towards her. He knelt by her, cradling her head in his hands, while she checked his pulse, then stood up and said “I’ll call an ambulance.” As she headed for the door, I saw Billy and the other boy slip out as well, still talking in low whispers.
“What happened,” I said as I knelt next to the minister. “We think she may have taken something,” he said as he gently held her head, “My wife has gone to call for an ambulance. It’s a great pity, really - this is the third time this has happened in a month.”
“Three times? Are they connected?”
It was Saturday morning, and as we did every Saturday Shirley and I were sitting in the Willow Coffee Shop, nestling one of those new fangled cappusshino or whatever they’re called in our hands as we watched the world go by. We both had on short sleeved blouses and flared skirts as we sat there.
“I don’t know, but it is a bit of a coincidence.” I put the cup to my lips as I said this and drank the foaming brown liquid inside.
“In the month since Billy Simpson got back, three girls have collapsed after taking what they thought were diet pills. You don’t think he’s behind it do you?”
“Who’s behind it?”
I looked up to see Philip standing there, a coffee cup in his hand.
“These girls falling ill - we were wondering if your dad knew anything about it.”
“If he did, he wouldn’t tell me - and he’d tell you to stay out of it, Marie. He still hasn’t forgotten what happened that day you snuck into the Manor House.”
“I did manage to stop that gang that were stealing the paintings, you know.”
“Only because you managed to signal with a compact out of the window of the room you and the mayoress were bound and gagged in!” He looked at me, and I swear there was a look of real concern in his eyes. “Marie, who were you talking about?”
“Billy Simpson - Did you know he was back in town?”
“I did - and he’s paid for what he did, so just stop worrying about him. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Oh,” Shirley said with a wicked looking smile, “Are you worried about little old Marie? What about me, Philip - do you worry about me as well.”
Philip had the sense to blush as he walked away, leaving Shirley to enjoy the pleasure of the swift kick I gave her under the table. As she pursed her lips to frown at me, she glanced out of the window and said “Hold on - there’s Billy now with that boy.”
I picked up the menu and watched as they walked past, before grabbing Shirley by the arm and dragging her with me out of the cafe. We walked down the street after the two boys, taking care to make sure we weren’t seen by them, as they walked and talked to each other.
They stopped for a moment outside the record store, so I stopped with Shirley and we looked in the window of the dress shop, eyeing up the new slip dresses that had come in. I glanced towards the boys, and for a moment I was sure that Billy had seen me as well, but when I glanced away and back I saw they had gone into the store.
“Come on,” I said as I pulled Shirley with me. We walked into the shop, and saw Billy and his ‘friend’ walk into one of the booths with a long playing record. I plucked one at random, went into the booth next door with Shirley and stuck it on, pretending to listen to it with her through the headphones while instead trying to hear what Billy was saying.
“Yeah, I’ve got the next shipment for you,” I heard in a Yorkshire accent, “And I promise you, these ones are good.”
“I hope so,” Billy replied, “I don’t want any more things like last night on my conscience.”
“Good - be in the medical room at the school during the disco tonight at 8.30, and make sure nobody follows you.”
I hurriedly put the headphones on mine and Shirley’s ear as the two boys walked out, listening to the song I had picked.
You're no good, you're no good, you're
Baby, you're no good, I'm gonna say it again
You're no good, you're no good, you're no good
Baby, you're no good
“Marie,” Shirley said when we left a few minutes later, “You have to tell PC Merton. If they’re dealing in pills, this is way out of your Nancy Drew league.”
“We’ll be fine,” I said with a confident smile, “I’ll come round and pick you up at seven tonight, and we’ll go to the disco together.”
Seven o’clock saw me walking up the garden path to the Edgeworth house, a camel coat over my outfit. I knocked on the door and waited until Shirley opened it.
“Ready,” she said as she tied a headscarf round her neck, the point down the back of her white roll necked sleeveless jumper. She was also wearing a white skirt that came to just above her knees, tights and white stiletto heeled shoes.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said as she closed the door and we walked back down the garden path, chatting together as we joined the other youngsters heading to the Grammar School. The disco was always strictly for Sixth formers and other young people in the town, so we didn’t feel totally out of place as we walked back into the forbidden grey stone building and went to the Girl’s Cloakroom.
“Wow,” Shirley said as I took my coat off, “You weren’t kidding about the dress.” It was a light green shift dress, with a wide belt around my waist that had a silver buckle, and I was wearing under it a grey silk roil necked jumper with green suede shoes on my feet.. I’d spent half an hour and half a can of Silvikrin putting my hair up into a beehive, and the outfit was completed by a silver crucifix around my neck.
As we walked in, the DJ was playing a song by Cilla Black, and a few couples were dancing on the gym floor.
As the trees reach for the sun above,
As my arms reach out to you for love,
With your hand resting in mine,
I feel a power so divine,
You're my world, you're every breath I take,
You're my world you're every pray'r I pray,
If our love ceases to be,
Then it's the end of my world for me,
With your hand resting in mine,
I feel a power so divine,
“Marie! Wow, you look fantastic!!”
“Thanks, Philip,” I blurted out as I realised he was standing next to us, blushing myself this time. “Have you been here long?”
“Oh, just hanging round,” he said as he looked round the room, trying to look casual. “Can I get you two a drink?”
“Yes please,” Shirley said quickly, perfectly spoiling the mood as I watched him walk away. As he did so, however, I saw Billy Simpson at the far side of the room, and nudged her in the ribs.
“OW!” she called out, until she followed my line of sight and saw him standing there. “So, what are we going to do now?”
“Come on,” I said as I took her by the hand, “We’re going to hide in the medical room and see if we can hear what happens.”
“Shouldn’t we tell Philip?” she called out as I dragged her away.
“Nah - if we hear anything, we can get him later,” I said as I led her into the corridor and round the corner. At the far end was a glass fronted door, with the words “School Nurse” painted on the glass in black paint. We walked quickly down to it, and as I tried the handle I was surprised to find it wasn’t locked.
“Come on,” I said as I opened the door, pulling Shirley in with me as I closed the door behind us. The room was in darkness as we moved towards a long couch at the toher side of the room. Stopping there, I grabbed a white screen and pulled it over us as we both sat down.
“Now what,” Shirley whispered as we heard the sound of the music playing.
Before I had a chance to answer, the door opened and we heard some music.
I asked my baby for kiss
She shook her head like this
I asked my little girl for kiss
She shook her head around like this
She said, "Ooh, yeah"
Bama lama, bama loo
Bama lama, bama loo
Bama lama, bama loo
Bama lama, bama loo
Now, I dig that style
It's drivin' me wild with
Bama lama, bama loo
“All right,” we heard Billy saying, “Let me see what you’ve got.”
“Are you sure we won’t be disturbed?”
“Nobody knows we’re here - I picked the lock earlier tonight to make sure we could get in and out quickly. Now, let’s see what you have.”
Shirley and I held our breath as I peeked through the curtain, and saw the backs of both Billy and the other boy as they looked at something on the desk.
“And you’re 100% sure these are safe?”
“Have I ever lied to you before?”
“Several times, but I’m going to forgive them for now. Hang on a minute and I’ll...”
There was a loud clattering noise, and I slowly turned my head to see Shirley holding a metal tray in her hand. “Oops,” she said as she smiled weakly, only for the screen to be drawn back suddenly. I turned to see Billy and his friend looking at us.
“What the... Aren’t these the two girls who followed us today?”
Billy smiled as he replied “Yeah - Marie Parkinson and her little friend Shirley Edgeworth. Still playing Little Miss Drew, Marie?”
“What business is it of yours, Billy? Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going back to the hall.” I started to try and walk past them, my hand in Shirley’s, but Billy’s friend put his hand on my shoulder and said “No - I don’t think you will.”
“Oh, who’s going to stop me - you?”
“No - my friend Mack here will,” he said as he took a small metal case out of his pocket and pressed on the side, making a very thin, very sharp blade pop out of the casing. I heard Shirley gasp before saying “Well, since your friend wants us to stay, how can we refuse?”
“Smart girl,” he said as he looked at Billy. I looked at him as well, and for a moment I could have sworn fear passed through his eyes. When I looked again, however, he was stone faced as he said “Well, what are we going to do with them?”
“We need to keep them out of the way until we can get out of the area,” his friend said with a smile. “I saw a store cupboard down the corridor - go and see if you can find something to tie them up with.”
Now, somehow I knew that was coming, but it still came as a shock to me as he said that. Not as big a shock, however, as when Shirley said “Oh boy - does this happen to you every time you investigate, Marie?”
That actually made me stop and think - I’d only looked into, interfered with, or stumbled into, depending on who you talked to, four cases, and in three of them I had ended up bound and gagged. The fourth was different - someone knocked me out with some sort of drug that time.
Billy came back into the room, carrying in his hand a number of lengths of rope that I recognised as old gym equipment. “These will have to do,” he said as he passed his friend one length, kept another one himself and put the rest on the medical bed. “Both of you, turn round and put your hands behind your back.
Shirley looked at me, I looked at her, and we both turned round, moving our hands behind our back. I felt the rope been wound round my wrists, pulling them tightly together palm to palm - it was certainly not a new feeling, but as Billy wound the old grey length around and between my wrists I knew I would not be going anywhere quickly.
“Oh,” I heard Shirley say, so I looked over and watched the ‘friend’ tightly binding her crossed wrists together. “This - this certainly feels different. How did you feel the first time, Marie.”
“Scared half to death,” I admitted as I felt Billy pass some rope around my waist, firmly fixing my wrist behind my back as he cinched the band, passing it between my arms and my waist behind my back. “This actually feels sorta nice,” Shirley said as the same thing was done to her, the grey rope showing up against her white jumper, “even if it is biting into my skin.”
“If you don’t shut up,” the man said as he turned Shirley round, “I’ll take that scarf of from round your neck and stuff it into your mouth. Understand?”
Shirley had the good sense to nod at this point as we were made to sit back to back on the floor. It was at this point I wished I had worn some tights or stockings, as Billy crossed my ankles and tightly pulled more rope around them, the cords digging into the skin on my legs as they were forced together.
“Still think this is an exciting thing to do,” I said over my shoulder to Shirley as Billy pulled more rope around my legs, just below my knees, and started to tie them together as well.
“Well, it beats double Maths,” Shirley said as she watched her own legs been tightly bound, the rope compressing her tights around her legs as the other young man passed the ends between them and pulled once more.
“See if you can find some bandages or something,” he said as he stood up,. Billy opened a glass cabinet and took out a larger roll of white bandage, which he started to wrap round our waists, pulling it tightly to hold us both together as he wrapped it round and round.
“Hey,” Shirley said over her shoulder as Billy pinned the bandage at the side, “Maybe we can have a Mummy party after this. You know, like in that film they showed on the telly the other night?”
“A mummy party ?” This time I had to laugh. “Somehow, Shirley I don’t think they’re going to allow us to do thmmsdsmmasdm.” My words were cut short by the worst thing imaginable - a roll of cotton wool that was pushed into my open mouth by Billy’s friend. I heard Shirley say “You can’t be seehdhsdhhdfg” as he pushed a second roll into her mouth, before he said “Close your lips and pucker up.”
“Pkrp,” I mumbled, as I heard what sounded like something peeling off a wall, and then a ripping sound. Shirley said “mmggdddmstk” before he walked round in front of me and I saw what he had used.
“Your turn, doll,” he said as he peeled a length of wide brown sticking plaster free from the roll, tearing it off before he stretched it between his hands and stuck it over my lips. As he smoothed it down, the fabric seemed to form a second skin, sealing my lips and making it impossible to move my chin.
As he leaned over me, I could smell the onions on his breath. So when he took my crucifix off and put it in his pocket, saying “this looks nice - I’ll take this as well,” I screamed as loudly as I could at him. All that came out was “Nnnuddnnnt,” but at least I tried.
“Come on,” Billy said as he picked up several bottles from the table, “Let’s get out of here before someone else walks in.” He looked at us, and mouthed what I could have sworn was “Sorry” before he and his so-called friend opened the door, more music coming through as he did so.
Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun
Well, I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I'm goin' back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain
The door closed, leaving Shirley and me to try and get loose. I tried to find the knot around my wrists with my fingers, but Billy had tied it well out of reach - and it wasn’t made any easier by the fact my wrist were held so tightly to my back. I then tried to wriggle round, but that only made Shirley call out “Whtdduthnkurddng?”
“Trngtgtloos, seelee,” I mumbled back, “Cnurch mwrsts?”
I could feel Shirley’s fingers moving against my hands, but she seemed to be having even less luck than me. I then tried to push out the wad in my mouth - in the manor house, that had worked really well. That time, however, it was the knotted riding scarf that was holding it in - this time it was the sort of plaster that took three days to get off at the best of times, and these were not the best of times.
Shirley then tried to carry out her own suggestion. “HHHLPPPPPP!” she called out at the top of her voice, “SMBDDEEHLPMMMM”
“Tsngd,” I mumbled back, “hodlknhr?”
“Marie, Marie, Marie - you just could not help yourself, could you?”
I looked to the doorway, my eyes widening as I saw Philip standing there, a curious expression on his face. “I told you no to go looking for trouble, didn’t I,” he said as he walked in and knelt beside me, “and yet here you are. So, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“Just a little,” he said as he reached over and gently peeled away the plaster from my lips, “It’s a good thing for you my father was waiting outside.”
“Ddhhhrr - mssrre,” I said as I pushed the wet cotton wool out of my mouth, “Did he catch Billy and the other kid?”
“Of course he did,” Philip said as he ungagged Shirley and then started to unwind the bandage from our waists. “He set the whole thing up with Billy.”
“Billy? You mean he wasn’t the one selling the diet pills?”
“No,” Philip said as he removed the ropes from my legs and helped me to stand up, “but Billy knew he was. He’s been helping Dad, but when you two blundered in he had to play along. He asked me to give you this.” Reaching into his pocket, he took out my crucifix and held it in front of me. Shirley gasped as she looked up from her sitting position.
“Philip - I don’t know what to say,” I gasped.
“Say you’ll come to the pictures with me next week,” was his reply as he started to untie my arms, “there’s a film I think you might like - A Hard Day’s Night.”
“And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Sara Philips looked over at her grandmother as she placed her coffee cup carefully on the table in front of her, and straightened her knee length grey skirt.
“Billy Simpson,” Sara said as she sat back. “You don’t mean Chief Inspector William Simpson?”
“The one and the same,” Marie said as she stood up and walked over to the window. “He really did turn over a new leaf - but when you next meet him, tell him your grandmother Marie said to say hello for her.”
“Well I never - still waters really do run deep.” Sara’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her mobile phone ringing. “It’s Rachel,” she said as she looked at the screen, “Probably telling me to get a move on for the radio interview. You’re going to listen, aren’t you?”
“And miss my favourite granddaughter’s big moment?” Marie walked over and hugged Sara. “Go get them, tiger,” she said with a big smile, “I’m sure this is going to be a memorable day.”