Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To read the first eight chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html.

Chapter 9

Monday 4th November 1985: 18.05 – 18.30

Section (a)

Kevin Proctor stared out of his Cavalier’s windscreen, not seeing the road ahead of him or the parked cars and houses drifting by on either side.

He was vaguely aware that he should be taking at least an interest in what was going on outside, but at this moment he couldn’t have cared less.

He’d been so close this time to offering Sally a lift home. So close to having her beside him in the car. So close to taking things one stage further.

Further than what?

No – don’t think like that. From little acorns mighty chrysanthemums grow, remember? Every journey has to have a first look at the road atlas.

It would have been the perfect opportunity. He’d have chatted to her about the events of the day; most of which, unfortunately, had been telephone calls from HL Danvers about the three new manuscripts that had landed on his desk that afternoon, couriered over specially by the benighted nothing-like-a-writer. He’d have told Sally about how he’d been about to start reading that other author’s manuscript each time the phone had jangled. She’d have given him a smile, maybe placed a sympathetic hand on his knee…

He swerved violently as a parked car drove straight at him. Hey – what’s the idea!

At some point in the journey – maybe a hundred – no, perhaps two hundred – yards from her flat, he’d have said with an air of casual insouciance, ‘Say, Sal. How about we continue this discussion over a drink later?’ (Actually, he might have made it ‘over dinner later?’ Yes. Or would that have been too fast?)

She’d have given him another wide smile (did she have a smile – he’d never seen any evidence of it? He was certain it would be wide, though), and replied, ‘That’s a wonderful idea, Kev. Pick me up at eight. I’ll be waiting…’

He shivered at the thought of the promise in those ellipses. Sally Evans and ellipses…

Hell!

His foot hit the brake almost before his eyes registered the figure that lurched in front of his headlights. His cross-plys screeched, and his body went rigid, waiting for the inevitable crunch.

None came.

After a while, when none still came, he began to wonder why the world had gone so much darker than it already had been.

He felt around his face to see if there was some kind of problem there. Oh – that was it. His eyes, he found, were screwed so tightly shut that not a chink of streetlamp was able to penetrate.

Tentatively, he ventured opening one of them.

There was a body sprawled across his crumpled bonnet, its face staring sightlessly in at him, twisted out of recognition against his shattered windscreen.

He rammed the eye shut again. His stomach, which a moment before had been happily contemplating dinner with Sally Evans, began to threaten the expulsion of his lunchtime sandwich; from either direction, or possibly both at once.

Oh, God. What a mess!

He had to do something. They might not be dead. They might be merely winded. They might be…

Oh, God!

But there hadn’t been a crunch. Surely there would have been a crunch…

He opened the other eye, to see if that made things any better.

What the…? It did!

There wasn’t a body sprawled across his crumpled bonnet staring sightlessly in at him, its face twisted out of recognition against his shattered windscreen.

No crumpled bonnet, for that matter. Nor shattered windscreen.

What the… a second time?

He tried his first eye again. No. Definitely no body, no damage.

Maybe it was okay to keep both eyes open now.

As far as he could see, there was nothing amiss at all.

And nobody seemed to have jumped out at him a few seconds before, either. Ditto the first six words of the sentence-before-last.

A bang on the driver’s door window made him jump so violently he smacked his head on the roof.

He saw twinkly lights for a few seconds; then, rubbing his head vigorously and saying words under his breath he didn’t know he even knew, he wound down the window.

‘Excuse me, dear,’ the little old woman who was standing there said, ‘I seem to be rather lost at the moment. Could you direct me to Diamond Crescent, please?’

Of course – what Sal would have said in response to him asking her out was, ‘My name’s Sally, Kevin. And don’t be ridiculous; what makes you think I would possibly want to go for dinner with you!’

‘I’m sorry?’ he said to the woman.

Her face had a deathly white look to it. As though all the pigment had been bleached out of it; or as if the skin had gone transparent, and he could see her skull underneath its thin, wrinkled layer.

One eye fixed him with a surprisingly fierce stare, though. The other…

He tried not to look at the other eye.

‘I said, could you direct me to Diamond Crescent?’

Except – she didn’t actually say it as such. She more…

Where was the voice coming from? Not from her lips. And yet – it surely was she who was asking him the question…

These ellipses made him shiver too. But nowhere near in the same way as the Sally Evans ellipses had earlier.

‘Well, dear?’

He shook himself mentally. ‘Erm – well, it’s hard to say,’ he managed to say in contradiction to what he’d just said. ‘How are you – I mean, are you driving or walking?’

There was the kind of pause that HL Danvers, in obeisance to the god of cliches, would have described as ‘pregnant’.

‘Do I look as though I’m driving?’ the woman…

‘Said’, for want of a better description.

‘Ah. Well.’ He cast around for something intelligent to append. ‘I suppose not,’ he managed, wondering as he said it whether that suited the adjective ‘intelligent’.

‘That’s right, dear,’ the voice came.

That was it; the voice came. Directly into his head. Not through the usual media of lips and eardrums.

‘So?’ the voice came again.

‘Oh, right.’ He peered around his surroundings, trying to ascertain where he was.

Oh, yes. Policemorgue Avenue. How the hell had he got there…?

‘I think you need to…’ he began.

‘Why don’t you offer the lady a lift?’ another voice said, from right beside him. The other side of him.

And this one did actually say.

‘Yes – good idea,’ he heard himself say in return.

Then, very slowly, he turned his head.

Then, very quickly, he turned his head back again.

The passenger door opened.

‘So kind of you,’ the little old woman whatever-she-did as she got in.

Into the seat from which the other voice had said.

He summoned a smile which he could feel his face refuse point blank to allow itself to display. ‘A p – pleasure,’ he managed to reply, in a voice he at least knew was his own, and a least came from his lips; but one that he barely recognised, nonetheless.

There was another nine months of pregnancy.

‘Well, dear?’ the old woman…

‘Oh.’ He turned the key to restart the engine. ‘Of course.’

With a leg that shook so much he was afraid for a moment it wasn’t going to co-operate, he managed to depress the clutch, select first gear and pull away.

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Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To read the first seven chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. For the first three sections of chapter eight, please see the posts below.

Chapter 8

Monday 4th November 1985: 17.20 – 18.00

Section (d)

‘Please make haste, Father Rawlings,’ Joseph said.

He was watching as the vicar made a leisurely circuit of the outside of his car, shining a torch over every inch of it as if the street lighting wasn’t adequate enough to show that, yes, it was still the same one he’d had that morning, and yes, it still had the requisite number of tyres.

With each of those inches, Father Rawlings bent to examine something in minute detail, tutting as he picked a pebble from a tyre tread or buffed a headlight with a cloth he’d already spent an age searching for in the boot.

Please, Father Rawlings!’

The vicar opened the bonnet, and began peering at the complexities of the engine. ‘One must attend to the safety aspects of motoring,’ he said. ‘It wouldn’t do to have an accident on our way to rescuing my wife.’

‘If you do not hurry, sir, there may be no your wife to rescue!’

Father Rawlings straightened. ‘We have plenty of time, Joseph,’ he said in a maddeningly reasonable voice. ‘Clarissa cannot possibly reach Miss Foster’s house for another twenty minutes or so. It’s only a fifteen minute drive.’

He bent back to his task. ‘Now – which one is the dipstick again?’

Having watched Only Fools And Horses a few evenings previously, an answer sprang to Joseph’s mind that he only just managed not to articulate. Instead, he asked, ‘But supposing Clariss – Mrs Rawlings – has taken the bus?’

‘Then that will be even better. The bus will take at least another half-hour. The route is so tortuous, it has to call at the same stop in Spiral Street three times before the driver can find his way out.’

His study of the engine over, the vicar closed the bonnet and bobbed below roof level on the other side of the car. His voice, when he spoke again, came as a disconcerting reminder of the bodyless one in church that morning.

‘You really must not worry so, Joseph.’

He reappeared, somewhat in the manner of a periscope emerging from the sea to spy enemy ships on the horizon. ‘Anyway,’ he said, thoroughly wiping what looked like perfectly clean hands with the buffing cloth, ‘I’ve completed my inspection, and I think we’ll be safe to proceed. Do jump in.’

With a sigh of relief, Joseph opened the passenger door.

Oi, you!’ a cry came from behind him. ‘Makumbo!’

That sounded very much like an enemy ship. Joseph froze, one foot already in the passenger well.

If I count to ten, the thought came unbidden into his mind, I wonder if this nightmare will become a happy dream instead?

A happy dream involving tea followed the thought; but as that concerned the object of his current anxiety, another involving Hettie Number One, Mabel Number Cartwright and hat-based pointy objects chased it from the scene before he’d even counted past zero.

He turned to the source of the cry. The inspector who’d interviewed him that morning was advancing on him, a look on his face which instantly gave Joseph no hope that this was a courtesy call.

That supposition was confirmed when, seconds later, the inspector reached him, grabbed the lapels of Joseph’s coat, and, it seemed, began to try to ram them up Joseph’s nose.

‘I wanna bloody word with you, Makumbo!’ The inspector’s speech was a muddled slur, and Joseph smelt the staleness of what he assumed was beer on the breath accompanying the sentence. The stink was so appalling, he ducked his head in the hope his lapels might fit.

‘Excuse me,’ the vicar’s voice came from the other side of the car. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’

‘You stay outta this, Your Revernence!’

The policeman’s arm came up under Joseph’s chin and began to thrust his head back towards the car roof. Oddly, at this moment Joseph found three statements battling in his head for the right to be spoken first.

One: Mr Inspector, Father Rawlings’ wife is in great danger, and if you delay us further it may be too late.

Two: Please, my head is not meant to be at this angle; would you kindly release me so that I can breathe?

And three: Surely you mean ‘Reverence’?

Due to the angle worried about in statement number two, not even the relatively snappy number three had room to manoeuvre past his windpipe. Also due to the angle worried about in statement number two, Joseph began seeing twinkly lights in front of his eyes, and a certain encroaching darkness behind them.

Due to the delay worried about in statement number one, and the fact that the vicar didn’t seem to be taking any action beyond his mild verbal protest, some part of Joseph that he hadn’t been aware of before kicked in.

And kicked out.

The kick was extremely accurate, not to mention forceful. There was a satisfying ‘oomph’ noise from the inspector as he curled into a ball at Joseph’s feet.

Joseph stepped to one side, massaging his throat and trying to get his breath circulating back to where it was needed.

‘I say, Joseph,’ Father Rawlings said. ‘Do you think that was wise?’

Section (e)

St Andrew peered out at the church’s interior; empty, quiet and plunged into gloom now all the corpse-removing and fingerprint-dusting was over. Swathes of gaily-coloured tape still smothered every surface, giving off an ethereal glow that relieved the darkness a little. But frankly, the church was not the jolliest of places once the lights were extinguished.

Normally, once that happened, he and James would settle into bickering about the events of the day, even if their sole topic was what kind of spider it was currently spinning a web over the pair of them. But given his fellow effigy’s enforced untalkative phase, that enjoyment was denied him. He’d tried striking up a conversation with James’s gargoyle girlfriend, but all she did was throw an explosive ‘Men!’ back at him, so he’d quickly decided that that was a no-go.

He sighed. There was no prospect of the scheduled Evensong taking place to relieve the monotony, either. The police had made it quite clear the church wasn’t to be used until they’d finished investigating.

That made it perscena non grata as far as any more plot development went.

What on earth was that supposed to mean?

‘James?’ he said.

‘Mmm?’

‘Do you wonder why we’re here?’

‘Mm mmm?’

Andrew repeated his question.

‘Mm mm mm mm mm mm?’

‘I want to know,’ Andrew said, ‘because we don’t seem to have done much these last few chapters; and we’re unlikely to do much in the next few either.’

There was silence for a moment. Then: ‘Mm mm?’

‘Oh.’ Andrew paused, confused. ‘Did I say chapters? I meant, hours.’

‘Mm.’

‘I mean – what’s it all about? Existence? Us? Two lumps of stone carved into a bigger lump of stone? In short – why are we here?’

‘Hmm,’ James said. ‘Mmm. Mm mm mm mm mmmmmm. Mmm mm.’

Andrew sighed again, not one hundred percent convinced. ‘Perhaps you’re right. Maybe we’ll have something really important to do later on, which’ll make it worth while our having appeared at all. We can but hope.’

End of Chapter 8

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To read the first seven chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. For the first two sections of chapter eight, please see the posts below.

Chapter 8

Monday 4th November 1985: 17.20 – 18.00

Section (c)

Spiky Simmonds hurried along Policemorgue Avenue on his way to the Pig and Truncheon. As he went, he checked over his shoulder every few seconds to make sure no disembodied voices were following.

He was well aware that he looked a prat, but this evening, he couldn’t give a toss about style and his reputation. If he saw anything remotely invisible behind him, he was going to run like buggery and stuff what anybody thought.

He’d have rather stayed in, keeping to his bedroom with a packet of Players and the Mills and Boon romance that nobody at the post office would ever be allowed to know was one of his secret vices. But his mum wanted the place clear for a seance; she’d been asked to call up Ivy Baxter’s husband Wilf, and once that old sod had been in, the whole house had to be cleaned of dripping ectowhatsit afterwards.

He’d never been scared of the dead bods his mum conjured up. The thing was, at least they said what they wanted to say through his mum. Their voices didn’t jump out at you in the Gents without so much as a cough to let you know they were there.

Another check. Nothing. He passed an alleyway that separated a couple of buildings, and glanced down it, his heart thumping. The darkness from it leapt out at him like a panther, and not a hilarious pink one like in the film he’d watched the other night.

Thank God the lighting was good in this street. He supposed that here, being one of the areas the Filth had a presence, the council was bound to overlook the fact that electricity cost money; unlike in places they could actually use it – like the local dementia hospice, where twice a week staff, and volunteers like himself, had to pretend to residents that the war was still on and they’d all gone down the shelter to stay safe from bombs.

Another alleyway loomed. He made ready to run past it.

‘Excuse me, young man,’ a voice quavered from behind him. ‘Could you possibly tell me the way to Diamond Crescent? I seem to be a little lost.’

Shit!

He’d been partway through an in-breath, and now it stuck in his throat, uncertain whether to continue down or come straight back up again.

How the hell had somebody managed to sneak up on him? He’d only looked…

The last alleyway. They must’ve come out of there!

These thoughts chased each other round his head, and called down to the sweat glands under his arms to let a flood commence. Then, another more reasonable one interrupted their game of Tag. There was something about this voice which wasn’t quite the same as the other Voice; the one with a capital ‘V’.

It was that of a little old lady. Not a bogey-monster invisible man.

The stuck breath exploded outward in a surge of relief. He turned.

Indeed, it was a little old lady, and she was lurching towards him with a curious kind of shuffling motion, like one of the extras from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

Lots of old wrinklies had funny walks. So there was nothing weird about that.

The next thing he noticed was the white coat she was wearing. Like some kind of doctor; or maybe one of those bods who worked in a lab somewhere.

She might be one of either of them. So there was nothing weird about that, either.

She was almost up to him now. Lots of people came close to him on a daily basis. So there was certainly nothing weird about that.

She didn’t have anything on her feet.

Wasn’t there something just slightly weird about that?

She had a small tag attached to one of her toes.

That was a bit weird.

She reached him. He looked at her face.

At her left eye.

That was very – Oh, shit!

‘I’m so sorry; I’ve been told to do this for someone called Bill Johnson,’ she said.

Although her lips didn’t actually move while she was saying it.

That was reallyOh, shit, shit, SHIT!

He tried to scream as she dragged him into the alleyway, but by then her hand was clamped over his mouth.

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To read the first seven chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. For the beginning of chapter eight, please see section (a) below.

Chapter 8

Monday 4th November 1985: 17.20 – 18.00

Section (b)

‘Well, I’m off then, Sarge.’

Ernie Bulstrode flapped a hand in Terrence Dawson’s direction. It was the nearest to a ‘good night’ he ever gave the lad; and would be for another – he made a mark in the five-year desk diary that lived under the counter along with three back-issues of Busty – 1,295 days. After that, the constable would have concluded his Keep-the-bugger-guessing Probationary Period, and would qualify as a copper to be taken notice of.

He waited a minute or so before climbing into his own overcoat. Locking up the enquiries area, he followed Dawson out into the street.

Something was up. He’d known it since the lad had come back from Charlie Meredith’s office a short while ago. For a start, there was a suspicious bulge in Dawson’s shirt-front. Not huge, and the lad obviously thought it wasn’t noticeable; Ernie estimated three sheets of A4 at most. The frustration had been that there wouldn’t be time to prise it from him and find out what the hell it was.

Short of simply ordering the constable to hand it over, of course. And Ernie Bulstrode was no way going to resort to the bloody obvious, aggravating as the alternative – not knowing – was.

He’d briefly contemplated ordering the lad to strip from the waist up. Much as that would have been in his power to do, though, it might have led to some awkward questions in Complaints Authority Land, a place he had not the slightest desire to visit.

Dawson’s first action on returning to his post had been to casually – and again, obviously thinking Ernie wasn’t taking notice – flip open the St Marmalade’s file and study the topmost sheet. That, Ernie knew, was the one holding the names and addresses they’d gathered that morning.

Dawson had spent the remaining time before leaving staring at the map of the town pinned up beside the reception counter. Ernie had never taken anything approaching a maths degree, but he knew damn well that two and two made a bigger number than two, and he knew just as damn well what Dawson was thinking.

The top person on the list was Hettie Whatsit, the woman Makumbo insisted had committed the murder. It’d been that barking vicar’s wife who’d supplied her address, along with those of the others who’d been present. (And their names. For some reason, the Makumbo lad had insisted on talking about them in numbers. Ernie couldn’t help feeling sorry for the boy, but did wonder if he was a sight more off his meatloaf than the vicar.)

Ernie allowed his mind to dwell on the wife a moment. By ’eck, that church had been cold…

He snapped back to the present.

It was a pound to a pre-decimal penny that Dawson was on his way to the Hettie woman’s place to have a quiet word or three. And mathematically speaking again, Dawson plus a material witness quite likely equalled a bloody disaster waiting to happen.

He could see the lad just down the road, heading in completely the wrong direction to be going homeward. Keeping a careful distance, he began to follow towards what was obviously going to be Diamond Crescent.

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

Chapter 8 begins. To read the first seven, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html.

Chapter 8

Monday 4th November 1985: 17.20 – 18.00

Section (a)

‘There’s an aardvark in the pub (in the pub)
And it stole my pint and grub (pint and gru-u-u-ub)…’

Hamish McStrapp – inevitably known to his friends as ‘Jock’ – meandered his beat down the corridor of the police mortuary, singing an aria from Chas Gonad’s world-famous opera Tutte Fan Frutti. The acoustics were spot on in that particular stretch, and the tonal quality echoing from the walls blended with his own not-unmusical voice to create a veritable choir of McStrapps. Sometimes he wished he had a tape recorder handy to capture the sound.

He could only hope the mortuary’s occupants appreciated his efforts. Though how well they could hear him through the drawers they were locked into nightly, he wasn’t sure.

His was the early-evening shift; at midnight he would hang up his hat and his uniform jacket, and make his way home to Mrs McStrapp, who would no doubt have a tasty something lined up on the table for him.

That was the problem with the shift he was on. He started too early for dinner, and ended too late for supper. Lunchtime, consequently, was when he did his best work at the trencher, and he patted his ample stomach as he remembered the delicious steak pie swimming in gravy he’d enjoyed at one o’clock, followed by treacle pudding and custard at a quarter past.

Of course, Lizzie had also packed him a couple of sandwiches, a family-sized pork pie and an apple turnover for his eight-thirty break-time; but that was a heck of a while to wait. Fortunately, there was a confectionery machine not far off his beat, and he began to feel in his pocket for the loose change he always made sure he kept there.

‘And it eats my curry for its tea
And never leaves a bit for me…’

He reached the mortuary doors and peered in through one of the small round windows set into them. As far as he could see, no-one was on duty, even though it was still a while before official closing-time. Probably all at a seminar, he thought. Working life was full of seminars nowadays. He’d had to attend one only a week before, teaching him how to walk down a corridor quietly enough not to disturb the occupants of the room he was passing.

‘Am I being too noisy for ye?’ he called through the window. ‘Might sorry, lads and lassies.’

Chuckling to himself, he was just strolling on when a loud ‘screeeeeeeeeee’ from inside the room halted him in his tracks.

Puzzled, he returned to the window. He’d heard that sound before.

It was the noise of one of the less-than-well-oiled drawers sliding open – or shut.

He peered in again. He was sure he hadn’t seen anybody…

He still couldn’t. He tried the door. Locked. That proved there was nobody in residence.

Nobody on this side of the Great Divide, anyway.

He craned his head round, trying to take in the hard-to-see corners of the room.

Definitely nobody there. Though yes, he could see that one of the drawers was lying open when it decidedly shouldn’t have been…

The door exploded outwards. Hamish, smacked squarely in the face, chest, knees and everything else, hurtled backwards with a grace that had eluded him since schooldays, landing against the wall opposite with a bone-shaking ‘crunch’.

The world turned briefly black, and then refocused into a wavy sort of normality; albeit one where stars appeared to have manifested themselves on the corridor ceiling rather than outside where they belonged.

‘I’m so sorry,’ somebody called.

There was something distinctly odd about the apology, and in his befuddled state it took him several seconds to work out what it was.

The ringing in his ears from where the wall had interrupted his flight was so loud, it was blocking out any other sound. And yet – he’d definitely heard the ‘sorry’, as clearly as if it had been shouted into his head.

Directly into his head.

His brain, which was executing a passable impersonation of a kettledrum, froze. Very slowly, he turned his head to one side, then to the other.

The first direction was fine. Except for the stars, which shifted in line with his vision, nothing and nobody was in sight.

In the other direction, however…

His eyes sprung wide. Something that looked from the back aspect like a little old woman was shuffling along the corridor away from him. It had on a lab technician’s coat, and the limbs that poked out of it were wrinkled and pale; deathly white, in fact.

It had on no footwear. Apart, that was, from a small tag attached to a piece of string which looked as though it was flopping from one of the figure’s toes…

‘Hey!’ he opened his mouth to call, then had a rethink and told himself very firmly to shut the hell up.

He stayed prone and watched as the figure continued its curious shuffle along the corridor. Eventually, it reached the corner he himself had turned several moments before, and vanished from sight.

Slowly, he hauled himself to his feet, wincing with every movement. His mind had unfrozen itself and was now turning somersaults at a rate that would have made a professional gymnast green with envy. Unless he was very much mistaken, a dead body had just escaped from the mortuary, and was heading for the outside world…

How the braw bricht moonlicht nicht was he going to report that to Mr Thomas, his Head of Security?

But hold on – did he actually need to report it?

Strictly speaking, his job was to safeguard the premises and ensure that no criminal activity took place therein. Was an escaping dead body, technically, criminal activity?

Then he looked at the door that had met with him so forcefully. The top and middle hinges had been ripped from their moorings, the bottom one was bent to all buggery, the glass in the window had formed a mosaic on the floor, and the door itself was leaning at a drunken angle in his direction.

That, technically, was damage to the property. Something that fell within his purview.

Daingead!

Yes, he would have to report it.

But before he did, he was damn-well going to find that sweet machine, and the drinks one beside it. What he needed now was a large injection of Mars bars and sugary tea.

It was a shame the machine didn’t do the Mars deep fried. But they were still good to dunk, even so.

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

Chapter 7 concludes today. To read the first six chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. The rest of chapter 7 can be found in the posts below, and will also be posted to my website soon.

Chapter 7

Monday 4th November 1985: 16.20 – 17.15

Section (e)

In the Rawlings’ sitting room, Joseph checked the clock on the mantelpiece again. Clarissa had been gone for nearly thirty minutes. Surely she’d have been able to find Hettie Number One’s address by now?

He stood, wondering whether to go and investigate her whereabouts. Then he sat again. He wasn’t sure he wanted to roam the vicarage with Father Rawlings possibly still irate over his carelessness at the church.

He repeated his up-down calisthenics, then did them again. He was on his third recurrence when he heard footsteps in the hallway outside. At last!

The door of the sitting room swung open, but instead of the hoped-for sashay of femininity, Father Rawlings stepped in with a rather more masculine gait.

The vicar stopped at the threshold, surprise on his face. ‘Oh. Mr Makumbo. Joseph.’

Joseph felt heat rising from his collarbone. ‘Erm – Father Rawlings. I – er – I am waiting for Mrs Rawlings to return,’ he gabbled. ‘She is getting some information for me – regarding… Regarding…’ He ground to a halt, unsure whether he wanted the vicar to know of his interest in Hettie Foster.

But Father Rawlings was staring around the room, as if searching for a prized possession. Now he completed his entrance, a puzzled frown on his face. ‘Yes,’ he said, his voice matching the frown. Reaching the armchair opposite Joseph, he more fell into it than sat. Once there, he stared around again as if double-checking he hadn’t missed anything.

‘Is something wrong, Father Rawlings?’

‘Hmm?’ The vicar’s gaze stopped wavering and settled on Joseph. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I thought Clarissa would be here. She isn’t anywhere else; I’ve been looking for her. That’s why I’m surprised to see you. I assumed that whoever our visitor was would be gone by now.’

Joseph stared at him. ‘She is not anywhere in your house?’

‘No. Apparently not.’

‘You mean that she has gone out?’

Father Rawlings looked at him with a touch of his asperity from that morning. ‘Really, Joseph. Do you often repeat yourself in such a fashion?’

Joseph, puzzled, replayed the last few sentences. Oh – he saw what Father Rawlings meant. ‘I am sorry,’ he said. ‘It is just – as I told you, Mrs Rawlings was getting some information for me. The address of one of the ladies at the prayer meeting this morning. Hettie – Foster?’

The vicar’s eyes widened. ‘Harriet Foster? Why? Why do you need her address?’

Joseph hesitated. Besides not knowing whether they were talking about the same person, he still wasn’t sure how much to confide.

He suddenly realised he needed to make a decision quickly. He spun a mental coin, which came down Heads.

His mother, of course, would have taken his father’s belt to him for daring to play games of chance. But his mother, he told himself again, was no longer the major influence in his life. He also determined that sooner or later, he was going to believe that.

‘Father Rawlings,’ he said, ‘as I was trying to explain this morning, Hettie – Miss Foster – killed Miss Mabel Cartwright whilst we were in the meeting. It seems that the police do not believe me, and I wish to ask her to tell them the truth. That is why I asked Mrs Rawlings for her address.’

‘Oh, well.’ The vicar waved a hand, as if in dismissal. ‘As to that, I could have told them Miss Foster was likely to have been behind Miss Cartwright’s death. She normally is whenever one of the elderly parishioners go to glory while at the prayer meeting.’

Joseph stared at him, aware that his jaw was once again heading floorwards. ‘You could have told the police that Miss Foster killed Miss Cartwright?’

‘Now you’re repeating what I say, Joseph. You really ought to rid yourself of this habit.’

‘But – but -’ Joseph wasn’t sure how to say, ‘Then why the hell didn’t you tell them!’ He didn’t have the required vocabulary, for a start; and besides, he was too stunned to say anything.

However, Father Rawlings saved him the necessity of doing so, by continuing: ‘The thing is – why would Clarissa have gone out at this time?’

‘She would not normally?’

‘Not unless she’s on a pastoral visit. She does often visit the sick for me.’

‘So she may be doing so now?’

The vicar shook his head. ‘I don’t believe we have any sick at the moment. All our flock are rampantly healthy.

‘And besides,’ he continued, ‘Clarissa would never be so rude as to go out and leave a visitor. It’s most unlike her.’ Once again he swept the room as if expecting to see his wife climb out of the sideboard or somewhere.

Joseph’s thoughts had been turning in a very unpleasant direction, and now he felt he had to follow them. ‘Father Rawlings, I think that we may need to try to find Clarissa – Mrs Rawlings, I mean. I told her a – well, a small untruth; and she may have gone to see Hettie Foster to verify my statement. If she has – then I am afraid that she may be in terrible danger.’

The vicar’s face turned a deathly pale. ‘You mean that she might be visiting a murderer?’

Joseph forbore to point out that the vicar was now repeating what he’d just said. Instead, he leapt to his feet. ‘Father Rawlings – do you know the address of Miss Foster?’

‘Well, no. But it will be on the membership list.’

He too rose from his chair; more of a lurch than a leap, though. ‘Wait there,’ he said. ‘I’ll fetch it.’

‘Hurry, sir.’

Father Rawlings paused as he reached the door. ‘Be assured, Mr Makumbo,’ he said, with a tone as severe as anything Joseph’s mother could have summoned, ‘that your lies will be exposed to the light.’

That is all very well, Joseph thought. But for myself, I am more worried about your wife being exposed to someone with a pointy object in their hat.

‘Do hurry, Father Rawlings,’ he urged.

But having intoned his warning, the vicar had already left the room.

End of Chapter 7

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

Chapter 7 continues. To read the first six chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. The first three parts of chapter 7 can be found below.

Chapter 7

Monday 4th November 1985: 16.20 – 17.15

Section (d)

Amita Chowdhary wandered away from Jack the Ripper Court, her mind playing over both interviews she’d conducted there.

She wasn’t happy with either of the mental recordings. For one thing, she wondered if she should have been firmer with Darren Chafford; she might have been able to shake his obviously absurd story if she’d shown more contempt, say.

And for the other thing…

Owen Sheadley, the Chaffords’ next-door neighbour, had confirmed that, yes indeed, Ronnie and young Darren had been with him for the whole of that morning, including whatever time it was that whatever it was had happened, wherever it had taken place.

And did she by any chance have a younger sister at home?

She could still feel her skin crawl at having been in the same room.

He hadn’t been too specific about what he and the Chaffords had been up to together, playing the ‘old man with a touch of the doolallies’ card. He had, however, been extremely specific about the age he wondered if her sister might be, and while the number only bordered on the illegal rather than crossing into it, the fact that he must be seventy years older than that made his enquiry sickening in the extreme.

That aside, he’d obviously been lying through his lack of back teeth about his morning’s activities. Unfortunately, she had, at least for the moment, to accept his word as proof of the Chaffords’ innocence.

The early-evening air was chilly, and she drew her coat snugly around her. She was only dawdling, reluctant to hurry back to a work situation where she felt as welcome as curry-flavoured ice cream.

Maybe she should seriously think about asking for a transfer to somewhere less white-centric. The trouble was, if she got the wrong place, she might well be stepping out of the frying pan into the roaring blaze.

Of course, she didn’t have to go back to the station quite yet. Not if she could find a reasonable excuse to stay out.

An area of further investigation would help. Naturally, the boss wouldn’t approve; but then, if it led to a breakthrough in the case, maybe one of the higher-ups would take notice and it might even be pursued properly.

And if it didn’t, she wouldn’t actually have to tell anybody. Even if the DI noticed her absence, she could blame it on a delay in the enquiry he’d given her.

She shivered as she realised how devious her mind was becoming. Was this really what being a copper was all about?

Uneasily, she shrugged the thought off and tried to concentrate instead on where to begin.

Really speaking there were two crimes to be solved. The murder and the robbery. The DI, in his muddle-headed, prejudiced way, was trying to pin both on Joseph Makumbo; but what if they were separate from each other?

Well – she’d failed to get anywhere with the latter; suppose she thought about the former for a while?

There was some woman involved, for example. She’d read the notes that Terrence Dawson and Sergeant Bulstrode had taken at the scene. The ones where Joseph Makumbo was adamant that a woman named…

Named…

Hettie, something. That was it. According to Joseph Makumbo, this woman, Hettie, killed the other one. That piece of evidence (if evidence it was, rather than blame-shifting) was being totally ignored at the moment.

Maybe she should try to ascertain Hettie Something’s exact role in proceedings.

But how? Her heart sank as she realised she’d have to go back to the station anyway, to find the woman’s surname and address. That was bound to mean getting sidetracked by some worthless job given to her on a whim, and she’d never get to Diamond Crescent at all.

She stopped dead.

Diamond Crescent? Why had she thought of Diamond Crescent?

But then – her eyes widened as she reflected on the idea – didn’t it make a kind of sense?

Diamond Crescent. Very smart, a collection of OAP bungalows looked after by the council, each with a small garden out front, most of them well-tended and blooming with flowers and shrubs.

It was the kind of road she could imagine an old, churchgoing lady residing in.

But where on earth had the idea come from to look there?

She shrugged. Did it matter? Even if there was nothing in it, it would keep her away from the station for a bit longer.

Okay. She crossed the road and began to head towards Diamond Crescent. She hadn’t a clue what number this Hettie might live at, if she lived there at all. But if it was meant to be, maybe something would turn up to give her guidance.

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To read the first six chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. To read the first two parts of chapter 7, see the posts below my recent ‘Doctor Who’ one.

Chapter 7

Monday 4th November 1985: 16.20 – 17.15

Section (c)

DI Jack Hampshire was fuming, and not only because of the cigarette he had stuck between his lips.

He was hammering at Joseph Makumbo’s front door and yelling, ‘Come on, I know you’re bloody in there!

That bloody interview. What the hell had happened?

He’d listened to the tape, and been astonished how much he knew of what he’d heard on it.

All that guff about little old ladies and pointy objects, for example. He remembered every bit of it; he just couldn’t remember actually being told it.

And he wouldn’t have had time to be told it. He’d been in that room for five minutes; seven, tops. That was definite; he’d verified how long he’d been gone with the blokes in the squad room. And yet he had thirty-four minutes-worth of interview on tape.

Come on! Open up!

It must have been bloody Makumbo! Some kind of voodoo trick, no doubt. It was just what his kind did!

He beat a few more minutes-worth of tattoo on the door. It remained stubbornly unanswered.

Right!

Stepping back, he raised a foot, prepared to give the offending piece of timber a good, Sweeney-style kicking-in.

A clicking of locks sounded from inside, and the door swung hesitantly open.

‘Hello?’ a small, elderly, mousy man said. ‘May I ask what on earth you’re doing?’

Hampshire shot forwards and grabbed the man’s cardigan, hauling him nose to nose. ‘Where’s bloody Makumbo!’ he barked.

The man recoiled; his eyes widened and his jaw began working as if he wanted to speak but couldn’t remember how. Smoke from Hampshire’s cigarette curled up between them, and he snatched it from his mouth and brandished it in front of the man’s face. ‘Makumbo! Where is he? Quick, you bastard!’

The man went cross-eyed. His jaw continued to wobble severely; then, just as Hampshire was choosing which of his captive’s nostrils to hide the impromptu weapon up first, a quavering sound emerged from the man’s lips: ‘Who – who are you?’

‘I ask the bloody questions!’ Hampshire snapped. Half-regretfully, he shoved the cigarette back into his mouth. ‘Who the hell are you, if it comes to that!’

‘I – I’m Mr Jones. Mr Makumbo’s upstairs neighbour.’

‘Right, Mr bloody Jones, Mr Makumbo’s upstairs bloody neighbour, I’ll ask again. Where the hell is Makumbo!

Jones’s eyes were like ping-pong balls. Any wider, they might well have left their moorings and begun rolling around the floor.

‘I – I’ll call the police,’ he whimpered.

‘I am the bloody police!’ Hampshire shot back.

He didn’t bother reaching for his warrant card. He always figured that the only credentials he needed were his natural air of authority and the threat of a knuckle sandwich. Besides, he’d lost the card months before, and didn’t want to confess this at the station and go through the rigmarole of getting another one.

Instead, he tightened his grip even further; so much so, his fingernails nearly met the back of his hands through both the other man’s clothing and his own palms.

‘I – I think he might have gone to see the vicar of St Marmaduke’s,’ Jones whimpered. ‘He went out about an hour ago. I was just coming in from the shops as he passed me at the door, and he said something about the church. Some terrible crime. He was very distracted. I got the impression he was off to the vicarage.’

‘At bloody last!’ Hampshire released his grip, sending the luckless Jones flying, and wheeled around.

Right!

He marched down the path and out onto the pavement. By God, Makumbo had better be at the vicarage or he’d start arresting everybody within a five-mile radius for obstruction, whether they had anything to do with the case or not.

And after he’d banged Makumbo away for murder, robbery and playing merry hell with time, he’d get on with his task of finding the bastard who’d run off with his missus thirteen years before.

And he would find him. If it was the last bloody thing he did!

Who’s Good

If you read any of my previous posts on the subject, you will see that I wasn’t in favour of a female Doctor Who.

Not for any sexist reasons, just to reiterate (and to save you from having to look up ancient posts). My objection was from the point of view of consistency of character, something that every author has to try to cope with. Here was a character who has been on our screens (with a slight break) for over 50 years, and up until about 5 years ago there was no hint that he could ever be anything other than male. To me, suddenly turning him into a woman would be like JK Rowling getting halfway through book seven of the Harry Potter series and suddenly revealing that Harry was, in fact, Harriet, and had been hiding the fact from everyone around her for the last six years.

However, having said all that, I was willing to give the new, female Doctor a chance. And I have to say that Jodie Whittaker has well and truly won me round. Not only is her Doctor warm, funny and engaging, but her storylines, under the care of programme head Chris Chibnall, have been a darned sight better than most of those served up to her predecessor, Peter Capaldi.

So good on you, Jodie, and here’s hoping you have a good long run in the Tardis!

Meanwhile, I’ll be back at St Marmaduke’s soon.

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To read the first six chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. To read the first part of chapter 7, see the post below this one.

Chapter 7

Monday 4th November 1985: 16.20 – 17.15

Section (b)

In Father Rawlings’ blacked-out study, Clarissa was performing a lingering striptease. Her blouse was almost undone, the basque beneath – bought two days before – peeking out scarlet. Several candles flickered in the twilight, and Clarissa was hoping against hope that her husband’s nether regions were responding likewise.

She’d taken to surprising Frank with these performances, brooking no argument from him as to inappropriate time of day, or urgency of completing his latest sermon. And for his part, after the briefest of protests he always fell in with a will that excited her, working on himself to try to achieve the longed-for arousal.

‘You like this, don’t you?’ she purred as she slid the blouse from her shoulders and let it slip to the floor.

‘Yes,’ he gasped back as she bent towards him, giving him the full benefit of the basque’s effect on her chest. His free hand groped forwards, and she drew back teasingly. ‘Not yet, you naughty boy.’

The doorbell rang. The atmosphere went from red hot to turn-off instantly.

‘Aww, damn!’ Clarissa groaned.

Frank began hastily fastening his trousers. ‘I suppose we’d better get it, my dear,’ he whispered. ‘One doesn’t know if it might be something important.’

‘I suppose.’ She reached to the floor and picked up her blouse, then pulled open the study door. ‘I love you,’ she said softly, turning back to him before she passed through.

He smiled. ‘I love you too, my dear.’

She donned the blouse as she headed towards the front door, neglecting to do up the top few buttons.

You going to answer it like that? her blasted conscience queried.

‘Oh, shut…’ she began aloud, then closed her mouth. It was right, and she couldn’t be bothered to argue.

She fastened the other buttons before opening the door.

‘Oh, hello Joseph,’ she said.

Irritation coursed through her. Yes, for all the young black man was cute, he’d interrupted a special time with her husband, and probably only so that he could drool over her breasts again; almost literally.

Perhaps she’d done herself a disservice acting as she had with him that morning.

Beginning to think twice about our infidelities, are we?

Shut up!

She suddenly realised he was staring at her, a puzzled frown on his face, and wondered for a moment if she’d spoken aloud. ‘Oh – sorry, Joseph,’ she said hastily. ‘Please – come in.’

She stood aside for him, and as a sop to her conscience ensured she was far enough back that he didn’t have to make contact with any part of her as he entered.

She led him into the sitting room, and motioned to the sofa. ‘Would you like some tea?’ she asked as he sat, then regretted the question as she saw his eyes spring wide. Damn! She’d need to get the basque off double-quick while the kettle was boiling, to give him the eyeful he wanted; and the ties were so fiddly.

Oh, and there was me hoping we’d mended our ways.

She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. It’s not doing any harm! she snapped back.

Methinks we doth protest too much…

‘Are you unwell, Mrs Rawlings?’

She opened her eyes again and forced a smile in Joseph’s direction. ‘Just a little tired, that’s all,’ she answered. ‘I’ll make that tea.’

To her surprise, he held up a hand to stop her. ‘I do not wish to keep you, Mrs Rawlings,’ he said. ‘I merely wish to ask a question, if you do not mind?’

‘Oh.’

A dozen questions he might want to ask instantly passed through her mind; all of them variations on the same subject, and all of them ones she’d had to answer in the negative before, to any number of men.

Slowly, she lowered herself into an armchair. What looked like disappointment flickered across his face, presumably that she was sitting opposite rather than next to him.

‘What is it, Joseph?’

‘I would like to ask,’ he began, and she braced herself. To her astonishment, he continued, ‘the prayer meeting this morning? The – erm – the unfortunate trouble that occurred?’

‘Oh. Oh – yes?’

‘Well,’ he said. He appeared to be searching for the right words to use. ‘There were other ladies there, apart from – apart from Miss Cartwright? There was one named Hettie, I think?’

‘Hettie Foster?’ She wondered where on earth this could be leading. Surely he couldn’t want anything of that cantankerous old –

‘Is that the lady’s name? Well,’ he went on, ‘she was quoting words of scripture during the meeting, and I wish to ask her something concerning them. I wondered if you might be able to tell me where she lives, so that I might go and speak to her.’

She felt her eyes widen. ‘Oh,’ she said again. ‘Is that all?’

‘I am sorry?’

‘No, it’s me who should be sorry,’ she said hastily, relieved and yet puzzled. Why on earth would he want to ask Hettie Foster anything about her King Jamesy rantings?

Or was that just an excuse? She felt a nagging doubt creeping up on her.

She realised that in all the confusion that morning, she hadn’t even asked Joseph exactly what had happened at church. And it had been patently ridiculous when the police had marched him off to their station as if he might be in some way culpable.

And Frank, bless him, had only been concerned about the robbery, and had interrupted Joseph just as he was about to give them information about Mabel’s death.

Could it be that Hettie Foster was involved somehow? She wouldn’t put it past the old woman. Especially given the number of fatalities Frank told the sergeant had occurred in the past; a revelation that had astonished her, given that he’d never even mentioned them before.

She came to a decision. Standing, she said, ‘I’ll see if I can find Hettie’s address for you. I shan’t be a moment.’

She blessed the fact that Frank must still be holed up in his study, so wouldn’t hear her leave. Grabbing her overcoat and scarf from the hallway cupboard, she opened the front door and slipped out, closing it quietly behind her.

She knew the addresses of all the congregation by heart. Not waiting for the bus in case Joseph came to look for her, she began to walk briskly in the fading light towards the part of town where Hettie Foster lived.