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
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