Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To catch up on the first five chapters, see my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html.

Chapter 6

Monday 4th November 1985: 15.30 – 16.15

Section (a)

Detective Constable Amita Chowdhary kept a wary eye on the door as she laid out pens and notebooks on the Incident Room desks.

She’d started in her own corner, noticeably remote from the rest, but doubted she’d be using the stationery. It was for the purpose of investigating the St Marmaduke’s case, in which enquiry, she imagined, she’d take little or no part. So far, in the six months she’d been at Camtown Police Station, the most exciting thing she’d been assigned to investigate was the coffee machine; and that by everyone but the DI, whom she’d once overheard telling – actually telling – a sergeant that he suspected given half the chance she’d lace the coffee with curry powder.

Just her luck to have been landed with a boss who believed that because somebody wasn’t the same shade of ghastly grey as him, he should treat them like something he’d scrape off his shoe.

She’d been on the verge several times of putting in an official complaint. She’d witnessed, however, exactly how that procedure worked at her previous station.

A WPC had complained about a sergeant who was giving her nothing but cell toilet-cleaning duties on the grounds that ‘housework was all women were fit to do’. On receiving the complaint, the superintendent had called the sergeant into his office and given him what must have amounted to the mildest rebuke in the history of telling-offdom. After which, the sergeant had stormed back and proceeded to give the WPC such hell she’d resigned shortly after and become a traffic warden so she could have a less stressful life.

And now the door crashed open, and a stream of profanities thundered in. Even by the DI’s standards it was impressive. Some of the words, she’d never heard before.

Instinctively, she ducked below the desk she was at and began fiddling with some telephone wires she’d begun to carry around with her for the purpose of looking gainfully employed while hiding.

‘Bloody chief inspectors! Gives me a bollocking for not wasting my bloody time…’ another stream of invective followed ‘…bloody obvious what the…’ more swearing ‘…bloody…’ another thirty seconds of expletive-deleteds ‘…take the bastard…’

At the end of the next round of ripe language, he added, ‘Where’s bloody Vindaloo Girl!’

Amita sighed. The default position whenever something upset the DI this much was for her to be given a rocket so huge it was all that would be needed for the town’s Guy Fawkes celebrations the following evening. She ducked even lower, and prayed that none of her colleagues had noticed where she’d disappeared to.

Her prayer, however, fell on deaf ears. ‘Here, boss,’ a sergeant by the name of Stephens called, slinking over to where she was and pointing downward.

Grabbing some of the DI’s choice phrases out of the air and throwing them silently in Stephens’ direction, she hauled herself to her feet. ‘You wanted me, boss?’

‘Yes, I bloody did, and no, I bloody don’t, but I’m stuck with you anyway, and I’d rather waste your bloody time than a proper detective’s, so get yourself round to Jack the Ripper Court, Flat 4, name of Chafford, and ask them where they were when the St Marmite’s party was kicking off.’

For a moment Amita didn’t move, astonished that, apparently, the DI was giving her some real work to do.

‘Still here, Vindaloo Girl?’ he snapped. ‘Sling your bloody hook and do as you’re told!’

With alacrity, she made her way over to her desk and began to gather up her things. As she left, she heard the inspector saying, ‘And now the rest of you get on with finding some evidence against that bloody Makumbo bloke. If necessary, make some up. I want him banged up by the end of the week!’

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Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To catch up on the story so far, see my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html for previous chapters, and the other sections of Chapter 5 below.

Chapter 5

Monday 4th November 1985: 14.00 – 14.45

Section (d)

DCI Charles Meredith swore; loudly, longly and very explicitly. Slamming shut the top drawer of his leftmost filing cabinet, he appended the expletive with, ‘You’d think the bloody A’s would all be in the same place!’

He yanked open the second drawer. An explosion in a paper factory met his eyes. He counted to one, then hurled that drawer closed as well. ‘I will not – will not – will not – lose my bloody temper!’ he told himself.

A knock sounded at his office door. With a sigh of relief at not having to try the next drawer down, he turned back to his desk and called, ‘Come in.’

The door opened, and the comfortable figure of Ernie Bulstrode barrelled in. ‘Ah, Ernie,’ Meredith said. ‘Come and save me from this bloody filing system, for God’s sake.’

Ernie grinned. ‘Another secretary left you in the lurch, Charlie?’

Meredith slumped into his seat and waved a bad-tempered hand in the direction of the cabinets behind him. ‘It took Sheila Granger two years to build a system I could work with. She retires, and six temps reduce it to rubble in three months flat. Only thing these agency girls know how to file are their nails.’

Ernie, uninvited, plonked himself onto the chair opposite. ‘That bad?’

‘That bad. I’ve just discovered the last one filed everything under “R” for “Report”, God help us.’

Ernie let out a bark of laughter.

‘It’s all right for you,’ Meredith said. ‘You’ve nothing to worry about except when your next tea break’s due.’

‘Oh, dunno about that. The stress I’ve got tryin’ to get Dawson to put the right amount of sugar in.’

‘I feel for you. And how is the young constable getting on?’

‘Fine, Charlie, fine. Definite CID material; which is, of course, his ambition in life, the prat.’

‘Really? You think he’s that good?’

‘Yep. Likes to dig into things; and logical with it. You should see the way he’s organised the caramel wafers.

‘He’ll make a good copper one day,’ the sergeant continued. ‘He just doesn’t know it himself at the moment.’

‘And no doubt you’re encouraging him all the way.’

‘Sarcasm, Charlie.’

Ernie leaned back in his chair and gave a beatific smile. ‘The way I see it is, if you give ’em enough bollocks, they develop all the quicker. The lad snapped at me only this mornin’. Good sign.’

‘I’ll tell him you recommended him.’

‘If you do, I’ll deny it to the end of my days.’

Meredith chuckled. ‘All right – I’ll bear him mind when an opportunity arises.’

‘Not before you get me a replacement!’

‘Oh, naturally.’ A thought struck Meredith. ‘Did you say, “organised”?’

‘Uh huh.’ Ernie looked suddenly worried.

‘As in, “could organise a badly mauled filing system”?’

‘Oh, now – hang on, Charlie…’

Meredith smiled triumphantly, and leaned forward. ‘You know you should be calling me “sir”, Sergeant?’

‘What – after all the years we’ve known each other?’

‘Rank counts over friendship.’

‘And I s’pose you’re about to pull it.’

‘I am indeed.’

Meredith sat back again and continued, ‘Right, that’s fixed, then. You tell young Dawson to report to me as soon as you get back to your counter. Shouldn’t take him more than – oh, five days? – to sort out this mess.’

‘Five days! You want me to deal with Joe Public for the rest of the week!’

‘You have it, Ernie. Well deduced.’ His smile widened. ‘Ever thought of applying for CID yourself?’

Ernie’s reply was inaudible and, Meredith assumed, not fit for the ears of a superior officer.

‘Anyway,’ he said, dismissing the subject, ‘I take it it isn’t young Dawson’s future you’ve dropped in to discuss?’

‘Nope.’

Meredith listened as Ernie described the day’s goings-on. ‘I’d lay a pound to my mortgage that the Chaffords are behind the robbery,’ the sergeant said. ‘But not the murder. Though the way Hampshire went into the interview room it’s a dead cert he wanted to pin both on the black lad.’

‘That wouldn’t surprise me, I admit.’

‘There’s another thing…’

Meredith frowned as Ernie told him about the strange wobble he’d felt in the station’s routine. It didn’t occur to him to doubt what the sergeant was saying. He’d have taken Ernie’s word on anything that happened in Camtown nick.

‘You say Jack only spent five minutes interviewing Makumbo?’

‘According to Dawson.’

‘That’s bizarre. I’ve never known Jack take less than an hour, especially where anybody darker than a gloss white’s involved.’

‘That’s a point, Charlie. Why did you put him in charge of this one?’

Meredith sighed. ‘Nobody else available, Ernie. I’ve left him till last pick; it so happens all the other senior officers are tied up on other cases. Besides – I have to use him, otherwise the Chief Constable gets on my back.’

‘Hampshire’s uncle, isn’t he?’

‘Cousin, Ernie. Either way, I can’t get rid of the pain in the arse. When I finally get slung out myself, I would like a pension to go home to.’

‘Appreciate your problem.’

‘Oh, well.’ Meredith shifted himself in his chair. ‘I suppose I’d better have a word with him. See if I can get the idea through that he might need to look elsewhere.

‘Though God knows,’ he added with another sigh, ‘once he gets something fixed in his head it takes a team of navvies with a JCB to dig it out again.

‘Leave it with me, Ernie.’

The sergeant got up to leave.

‘And don’t forget to send young Dawson in,’ Meredith added. ‘If he’s as good as you say he is, I look forward to him finding where the latest bimbo filed my lunch last Friday.’

Section (e)

Kevin Proctor threw aside the Patagonian shepherdess and rubbed his eyes wearily. Oh God, if he ever had to go through that again…!

He gazed at his slush pile. He knew exactly what it contained. HL Danvers’ latest masterpiece. HL Danvers’ masterpiece-before-last. HL Danvers’ masterpiece-before-that-one…

Oh – and the new one. He lifted it off the pile. Refreshingly thin; and refreshingly not HL Danvers.

He drew it out of its envelope. Interesting title, he thought.

Setting it in front of him, he lifted the frontispiece to turn it over.

The phone rang.

‘Bugger!’

He picked it up. ‘Yes, Sal?’

‘My name’s Sally, Kevin. I have a call for you.’

Kevin’s heart plummeted. ‘Oh, not…’

‘I’m afraid so.’

A click sounded. Reaching into his throat and yanking out his most enthusiastic voice, Kevin said, ‘HL! How lovely to hear from you…’

End of Chapter 5

Just One More Pill

Eric’s latest writing prompt (https://erick79.wordpress.com/) is ‘Just one more pill at it will change everything’. Here’s my attempt…

‘And what is this one, darling?’

‘Oh that – that is your vitamin supplement, my love,’ Henry said.

‘It doesn’t look like the others you’ve given me before.’

‘No, my love. I thought we’d try a new one again.’

Arabella stared at the tablet and sighed. ‘Do you really think it will help this time?’

‘Well, we must try these things, my love. Just once more, at least. You know what Doctor Carstairs said. A vitamin supplement with your regular medication can only help build your strength up. Perhaps in time we can have you out of that wheelchair and on your own two feet again.’

‘Perhaps.’

Henry watched as Arabella swallowed her evening tablets. Then he began to count the seconds. If he had it right this time…

Arabella shuddered. Her body went rigid – then a series of spasms shook her so violently she was flung from her wheelchair to land in a heap on the floor.

‘Yes!’ Henry breathed.

Another set of tremors shook his wife, as if electricity was being pumped through her. They jerked her gradually upright, to stand briefly before, turning, she lumbered out of the drawing room.

There was a crash as she exited the house. Henry made a note to call the glazier in the morning.

Meanwhile, he had work to do. Now he had the process right, he could go into mass production.

He hummed as he made his way back to his laboratory. ‘Patent Rejuvenating Pills’, he’d call them. So much more convenient than an unwieldy potion, which is what he’d had to work with so far.

Rather a shame about the by-product. All that ugly hair.

Still, he could tinker until he got that right. Meanwhile, people would pay a small fortune for a supply of Dr Jekyll’s Patent Rejuvenating Pills.

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

To catch up on the story so far, see my website, http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html for previous chapters, and the other sections of Chapter 5 below.

Chapter 5

Monday 4th November 1985: 14.00 – 14.45

Section (c)

Ernie Bulstrode was staring out at the waiting area, his copy of Busty lying disregarded underneath the reception counter.

Something was up. The beat of the station – normally as regular as his trips to the Gents – was out of gear. He didn’t know how he knew. It was just he’d been part of the furniture so long, he could feel it in his tea-induced water.

Everything’d been fine until ten minutes before. Then something had gone ‘clonk’.

Footsteps sounded, and Dawson appeared. ‘I’ll put the kettle on, Sarge.’

He sounded distant, and his normally cheerful face held a frown. ‘What’s up, lad?’ Ernie said, following him into the kitchenette.

Dawson filled the kettle, and set it onto its base. ‘I don’t really know, Sarge. It’s just – DI Hampshire was a bit weird when he came out from the interview.’

Ernie quirked an eyebrow. ‘Weird, lad? What did he do? Let Makumbo go with a pat on the back and a pledge to donate his next month’s wages to the Orphans in Africa appeal? By the way – that’ll boil a lot quicker if you switch it on.’

Dawson looked down, surprise on his face. ‘Oh. Sorry, Sarge.

‘Well, it was more or less that,’ he continued, depressing the switch. ‘Just stomped out and growled, “Get rid of the bastard.” No holding in the cells for as long as we’re allowed. He didn’t even look down his nose at me like he normally does. And he looked worried. I’ve never seen him look worried before.’

‘Now that is odd; I’ll grant you that.’

‘And besides, he’d only been in there five minutes. If he was getting Makumbo to repeat the story he told us, it should’ve taken far longer than that.’

‘Mmm.’

Ernie nodded. This was linked to his own unease. He knew it, as sure as he knew that eggs were little round things that came out of chickens’ bums.

He’d already reached a decision, but this reinforced it. ‘Right, lad,’ he said, heading out, ‘you look after things here; I’m going to see a man about a rottweiller.’

‘Sarge?’ Dawson stared down at Ernie’s empty mug, and at the kettle, which was beginning to steam.

Ernie waved a hand. ‘You can do me one when I get back.’

Some things were even more important than tea break.

And some aspects of tea break were more important than anything else. ‘By the way, Dawson…’

‘Yes, Sarge?’

‘I know the exact number of caramel wafers in that cupboard. And I know how many do a vanishing act when I’m not around. Just remember that.’

 

For Sale, Des Res

Eric’s latest writing prompt (https://erick79.wordpress.com/), is ‘That door wasn’t there before!’

My interpretation follows…

 

‘So, Mr and Mrs Foster,’ the estate agent said. ‘Happy?’

‘It all looks perfect, doesn’t it, darling?’ Linda said.

‘Absolutely,’ Jack agreed.

Linda turned towards the old lady who was selling. ‘A lovely home, Mrs Prendergast.’

‘Oh, I’m so glad you think so.’

Jack stroked his chin in thought. ‘Mrs Prendergast, would you mind if we looked round again? Just to make sure?’

‘Please do, dears. I tell you what; I’ll make us all a nice cup of tea.’ She headed towards the kitchen.

‘And I’ll phone the office,’ the agent said. ‘I’ll be with you in a few moments.’

Linda and Jack walked through into the dining room. ‘The Welsh dresser will go perfectly against that wall,’ Linda said.

‘You’re right.’

‘And against that one -’ She stopped. ‘Oh. That door wasn’t there before, was it, darling?’

Jack stared at the adjacent wall. ‘I don’t remember it.’

‘How odd.’

‘Yes.’ He strode towards it. ‘I suppose it must have been here. It’s strange Mr Anderson didn’t show us what’s behind it.’

He tried the door. It swung open easily.

‘It’s pitch black inside.’

‘Is there a light switch?’

He felt round and found one. ‘Oh.’

‘What is it, darling?’

‘It’s another large room. Another recep, or maybe a downstairs bedroom. Come and see.’

They went through, and looked around. ‘It’s huge,’ Linda remarked.

‘It is.’ Jack frowned. ‘No windows, though. And no furniture. I wonder what it’s used for.’

‘Perhaps it’s a storage room.’

‘I suppose -’ He pointed to the far wall. ‘That’s a strange painting.’

‘Yes, and it’s enormous. What is it, though?’

They moved closer. ‘What an odd-looking creature,’ Linda said.

‘Most peculiar.’ Jack leaned in closer. ‘You’d almost believe it was part of the wall, the way it blends in.’

‘That mouth looks rather fearsome. Those teeth!’ She shuddered.

‘What a strange picture to hang in an empty room.’

Jack turned away. ‘Hang on,’ he said.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Where’s the door gone?’

‘What?’

‘The door. The one we came in by. I can’t see it.’

‘Don’t mess around, darling.’

‘I’m not.’

They hurried over to the point where they’d entered. ‘It’s not here,’ Jack said.

‘We must be in the wrong place.’

‘We’re not. This is where it was.’

He began to feel around the wall. ‘Where the hell’s it gone?’

‘Darling – I don’t like this.’

‘Neither do I.’

He started hammering on the wall and yelling. ‘Hey! Hey! Can anybody hear me?’

Linda joined in. ‘Hello? Hello!’

Sounds came from behind them. Slobbering, slithering noises. Jack’s blood froze.

Together, they turned. Linda began to scream.

*

Mrs Prendergast listened to the sounds die away from behind the wall, and sighed. A pity; such a nice young couple.

But when the house was hungry, it had to be satisfied.

‘Hello, Mrs Prendergast.’ Mr Anderson entered the room. ‘Mr and Mrs Foster not with you?’

‘I’m so sorry, dear. They changed their minds, I’m afraid. They asked me to thank you and give you their apologies.’

The estate agent looked crestfallen. ‘Oh. I really thought those two would be buying.

‘Oh well,’ he added, brightening. ‘I’ve been told by the office that there’s another couple would like to come and view. Next Tuesday; is that okay?’

Mrs Prendergast considered. Tuesday; five days.

‘That will be perfect, dear,’ she said.

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

The story so far: A murder – witnessed by Joseph Makumbo – and a robbery have taken place at St Marmaduke’s church. Joseph has been taken to the police station for an interview, to be conducted by racist DI Jack Hampshire…

Chapter 5

Monday 4th November 1985: 14.00 – 14.45

Section (b)

Jack Hampshire thrust open the interview room door, and stood on the threshold.

One, two, three, four, five…

He eyed the bloke sitting at the table; the young, black bloke.

His lip curled. Well – he’d terrify this one in no time.

What was the bloke’s name? He glanced down at the file Constable Dozy, the woodentop plonk, had given him on the way in. Oh, yeah. Makumbo.

Not far removed from the name of the bastard who’d run off with his missus all those years ago.

He gave himself another ten count, then moved forward a pace. Just one.

He reached behind himself, and slowly swung the door closed.

One, two, three, four, five…

These were tricks that Archie Cosgrove, his old DI, had taught him. He’d never seen a suspect fail to be cowed by them. And this suspect was cowed. He could feel it.

‘Good afternoon,’ the suspect said. ‘Have you come to take my statement?’

Huh?

He felt his legs wobble, and his mind went blank. No suspect had ever wished him good anything before.

‘Erm -’

What was next?

His gaze dropped to the file. The file…

That was it! The next stage in the intimidation process. Open the file. Stare at the piece of paper it contained, the one giving a brief summary of the tissue of lies this bastard had probably come up with to explain away the murder. And the robbery.

He gave it a long, hard stare, reading nothing, trying to get his brain back into gear.

Okay. He felt steadier. Back to business. One, two, three, four…

He didn’t get to five. The world ripped apart, and a dizzying, terrifying sensation came over him, as if he’d been crumpled into a ball and hurled a vast distance.

When the world had reformed, he found himself seated at the table, Makumbo leaning forward earnestly and saying, ‘And that, as I told your sergeant and constable, Mr Inspector, is what happened.’

What?

He stared around in confusion. The recorder used for all interviews was working, the tape in it a good way through its length. His pad – that was open, a page filled in as if he’d been taking notes. ‘So one old lady stabbed the other in the eye, and you know nothing about the robbery,’ he heard himself say.

Where the hell had he got that from?

‘That is correct, Mr Inspector.’

His head still spinning, he dropped his gaze to the file again, which was on the table in front of him. He hadn’t even read the report. He didn’t have the first clue what excuses Makumbo was making, about either crime.

Except that it seemed he did.

What the hell was going on?

There was silence; then he realised the suspect was waiting for him to say something else.

‘Well, Mr -’

His voice sounded thin and weak. With an effort, he pulled himself together.

‘Well – Mr Makalumbo, if what you say is true, and St Marmalot’s has been the scene of these fantastical happenings, be sure that they’ll be investigated. Thoroughly.’

That was better. At least it sounded like normal him.

Had he had some kind of blackout? Conducted the interview while under the influence of an epileptic fit or something?

He certainly wasn’t under the influence of anything else. True, he’d had his usual three whiskies and two pints at lunchtime, but they’d never had this effect before.

‘It is true, Mr Inspector; honestly,’ Makumbo was saying. ‘And – I am sorry – but my name is Makumbo, and the church is St Marmaduke’s.’

Maybe he should have had a third pint after all.

He cleared his throat, then put the best sneer he could into saying, ‘I think I’ll be the judge of what names are what in this investigation, sir.

That was better, too. Much more like himself.

He had to get out of there, though. Take the tape, maybe; process just what had been said.

He stood abruptly, and reached over to the recorder’s stop button. ‘Interview ends -’ he checked his watch ‘- 14.15.’

Fourteen fifteen? How the hell could that be the time?

He stared at his watch, aghast. He hadn’t entered the room until ten past. From the length the tape had gone, and the notes he’d scribbled, surely the interview had lasted a good half-hour or so?

There was a clock on the wall behind Makumbo. He checked it. It echoed his watch exactly.

That did it. Something too bloody weird was happening. He needed a drink, and needed it now.

He’d normally have stood staring down at the suspect in an intimidating manner, before saying, ‘I’d advise you to get a lawyer, sir. I think you’re going to need one.’

Instead, he heard himself mumble, ‘I’ll get the constable to show you out.’

And with that, he showed himself out, fast.

The Conquest That Came A Cropper

Something different today.

A friend, Eric Klingenberg (https://erick79.wordpress.com/), has begun setting a weekly writing challenge; a phrase to inspire a short story or flash fiction.

Last week’s phrase, The potato is the key, prompted the following. Unfortunately, it’s a few days late, simply because a stomach bug curtailed my writing temporarily.

Ironically, this week’s prompt is about aliens. If I take the challenge, I will have to make it as different as possible from what you’re about to read…

 

When I saw Dylan, he was diggin’ the ground like there weren’t no tomorrow. Which there weren’t, on the face of it.

‘Dylan? What’re you doin’?’

Dylan stooped and picked a potato out the ground. Threw it into the sack beside him. ‘Diggin’ my crops.’

‘Why’re you botherin’?’ I pointed at the sky. ‘That spacecraft’ll be here soon. It’s destroyin’ everythin’ in its path. Won’t be nothin’ left before long.’

Dylan carried on diggin’. ‘Don’t mean I can’t get my food out the ground.’

Another potato went in. Lookin’ west, I saw the spacecraft gettin’ bigger.

‘Heard on the radio the armed forces’ve been destroyed,’ I said. ‘That ship up there’s unbeatable, they’re sayin’. Taken out everythin’ to the west of us, ’s well as the whole of Asia and eastern Europe. Soon get round to the rest.’

Dylan looked up then. ‘That the only ship they got?’ he asked, surprise in his voice.

‘Yeah, ’pparently so. A thousand miles across each way, the radio said. Just ’fore the transmission went dead, that is.’

‘Hmm.’ Dylan pulled another potato.

He straightened, and lifted the sack. ‘Makes it all the easier,’ he said. ‘Thought there’d be thousands of ’em.’

I followed as he lumbered over to where he kept Daisy, his crop-dustin’ plane.

‘What’re you thinkin’?’ I said. I looked up again. The spacecraft was almost fillin’ the sky now. ‘You ain’t thinkin’ of takin’ them on?’

He shrugged. ‘Could be.’

‘You’re insane!’

He hauled the sack into Daisy, then climbed aboard. ‘Maybe.’

He fired the engine. ‘What’re you gonna do?’ I yelled. ‘You gonna do like in that Independence Day film? Fly into their laser beam thing and blow them up from the inside?’

‘You’ll see.’ With that, he took off.

I stared after him, and said a prayer to whatever god might be listenin’. Then I settled back to wait for my cremation.

’Bout twenty minutes after, I saw that spacecraft give a lurch. Like it was drunk, or somethin’.

I watched, fascinated. It wobbled a bit, like it was tryin’ to steady itself. Then suddenly, it gave a nosedive, and carried on goin’ down.

The crash came with a dust-cloud I had to bury my face not to get choked by. When it cleared, I was just in time to see Daisy flyin’ in. Coupla minutes later, Dylan landed.

‘What the hell happened there!’ I asked. ‘Was that you?’

He began haulin’ his sack of potatoes outta the plane. ‘Yeah; guess it was.’

‘But what did you do?’

He grinned. ‘You know that trick you can stop a car workin’ by?’

‘Huh?’ I had a think about it. ‘Hell! You don’t mean…?’

‘Yep.’ He looked up at the sky. ‘Knew all I had to do was find the exhaust and stick a potato in it. Stops anythin’, that.’

He picked up his sack, and started walkin’ towards the homestead. ‘Fancy some potato fries?’ he asked.

 

Back to St Marmaduke’s soon…

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

Because of the fragmentary and top-down nature of this blog, a number of friends, having missed a few sections, have had to give up reading it.

For this reason, I am also posting each chapter, as I finish it, to my website. You can therefore catch up with anything you’ve missed from the first four chapters at http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html

Now, if  you’ve caught up, read on…

 

The story so far: Joseph Makumbo has witnessed an old lady being murdered during a prayer meeting at church. Police Sergeant Ernie Bulstrode and his junior, Constable Terrence Dawson, have been investigating…

Chapter 5

Monday 4th November 1985: 14.00 – 14.45

Section (a)

Ernie Bulstrode and Terrence Dawson had been assigned to watch the interview room door. That was – Dawson had been assigned to watch the door; Ernie had assigned himself to watch Dawson. ‘Lad in there decides to do a runner,’ he’d said, ‘you won’t have a bleedin’ clue what to do.’

The fact was, he wasn’t going back to the front desk without his junior. The hour or so he’d been there while Dawson was at the church had been bad enough. Some woman had come in and asked where her missing cat was, for God’s sake!

He’d pointed her in the direction of the pet shop, telling her it was under observation for suspected pussy-napping. He’d happened to read the phrase in Busty just before she rolled through the door.

Now Dawson said, ‘I really don’t see why Makumbo’s been hauled in, Sarge. He told us everything he knew down at the church.’

Ernie raised an eyebrow. ‘He’s here, lad, because Inspector Clouseau’s decided that because he’s black, he’s got to have committed some crime or other. If he can’t get him for the murder, he’ll get him for the robbery. Or cat-napping,’ he added, thinking of the woman who’d disturbed his peace earlier on.

‘Is DI Hampshire really that prejudiced?’

‘He once had a dalmatian dog arrested for not being totally white. That answer your question?’

‘Oh, right.’ Dawson’s face creased into a frown. ‘But since we’ve been assigned to watch Makumbo doesn’t get away…’

‘Well?’

‘Well – shouldn’t we be on the inside of the interview room?’

Ernie spluttered. ‘What? And maybe learn somethin’ useful, all on our own? Like who really did the old lady in, and whether Makumbo saw the burglars at work? We wouldn’t want to do that in five minutes flat when the Great Plodhopper can take all night, now, would we?’

‘But Makumbo explained the murder…’

‘Oh, yeah. Little old ladies with pointy things.’ He gave Dawson a pitying look. ‘You really think that’s likely, lad?’

Dawson looked taken aback. ‘You saying he’s lying?’

‘Of course he is!’ Ernie tutted. ‘Thought we were beginnin’ to make a copper out of you.’

‘But why would he lie about something like that?’

‘’Aven’t a clue, lad. Probably thinks it sounds better than, “I run away when the burglars arrived, and left a little old woman to tackle them on her own.” Anything’d sound better than that; leastways, if I was tellin’ it, it would.’

‘But what about the vicar bloke? All that business about people being beaten to death with a lecture, or whatever it was? That’s got to be connected, surely? Why hasn’t he been hauled in as well?’

‘Oh, him!’ Ernie gave a snort. ‘Nutty as a monkey’s breakfast, lad. All this persecution complex these religious bods have. Get him in here, he’d be tryin’ to convert us to North Sea Gas, or whatever it is they believe in.’

‘There were loads of bodies down in the basement, though.’

‘Pound to a penny they were somebody’s pet gerbils or something.’

‘Gerbils? Sarge, they were people!’

‘Gerbils are tricky buggers, lad. Had one convince me and Mrs Bulstrode for years he was our son. Ate ’is way through ’ouse and ’ome before we realised he was nothin’ more than a rat with delusions of grandeur.’

‘Oh, all right.’ Dawson sounded annoyed at the joke. Ernie was pleased by that. The lad was beginning to show some spunk occasionally.

It wouldn’t stop him giving the constable all the grief he could, though. That’s what subordinates were for.

There was silence for a while, then Ernie said, ‘Anyway, lad, it’s not our problem now Hampshire’s involved. Though why Charlie Meredith chose him to lead this particular investigation’s beyond me.’

‘Why is the DI so prejudiced, Sarge?’ Dawson seemed to have got over his annoyance for the moment.

‘Ah. Goes back a long time. All to do with his missus.’

‘I didn’t know he was married.’

‘He ain’t, now.’

‘Oh?’

Ernie tapped his nose meaningfully. ‘Not the time, lad.’ He nodded towards the door that led to the CID corridor. ‘I reckon I hear the dull plod of an even duller detective comin’. With luck, he’ll have brought the CID brain-cell with him. Though personally, I reckon that Amita Chowdhary lass has got it on permanent loan.’

‘Vindaloo Girl?’

‘That’s what he calls her. Though -’ and he gave Dawson the hardest stare in his repertoire ‘- if I ever hear you refer to her by that name, I’ll take you out the back and beat seven shades of shit out of you.’

To his satisfaction, Dawson’s face went the colour of beetroot. ‘Sorry, Sarge. I don’t usually…’

‘Good.’ He turned his glare down a few notches; the lad wasn’t really that sort of tosser, and he’d have learnt this particular lesson good and proper. ‘Anyway, I’ve gotta go. When the Great Defective lets you bugger off, don’t forget to come straight back to the desk. Lots of work to be done.’

‘Work, Sarge? We’ve got work to do?’

‘Yes, lad, work. For a start, I’ve missed my elevenses and my lunch. Three sugars, as usual. And four caramel wafers.’

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

The story so far: At St Marmaduke’s church, Mabel Cartwright, an old lady, has been murdered. Shortly after, the church is also robbed. The police are investigating. Two very interested observers, the effigies of two saints attached to the pulpit, watch on…

Chapter 4

Monday 4th November 1985: 13.00 – 13.15

‘All this excitement,’ Andrew said. ‘Don’t think we’ve seen so many people since the Dread Primary School Gathering of 1971. You know – when all those seven-to-ten-year-olds came galloping in and decimated the place in five minutes flat.’

He laughed. ‘Do you remember, one little monster coloured your beard pink? Took the then vicar weeks to get it off. Mind you – that could have been more to do with the amount he was charging people to come and take pictures of you.

‘I thought it looked rather good, myself. Lit up the church at night, as well. Could see in all the corners, even. Did wonders helping the mice avoid the traps.

‘Do you remember, they started worshipping you as “Squeakacoatl, the Bizarrely-shaped Mouse God”? Kept sacrificing bits of cheese to you? Rather sweet, I thought.’

There was no reply from James. Oh, be like that, Andrew thought.

He supposed his fellow effigy was still sulking over his romantic situation. The griffin from the font had now set up home on the pew-end opposite James’s gargoyle girlfriend, and the two other-worldly creatures, Andrew understood, were only one step removed from starting what he guessed would be an extremely ugly stone-wood hybrid family.

It wasn’t that he missed the sound of James’s voice; but it did get a tad quiet when the other saint was having the occasional sulking fit. Always had, even when they’d been people rather than engravings.

‘Loads of folk wandering around in white costumes,’ he carried on, hoping to elicit some response. ‘Powdering things, then brushing them down. Vicar’ll have a fit; they’re leaving more dust than that roof restoration gang did. Remember the mess they made? All those bits of tile mucking up the altar?

‘The vicar accidentally handed them out as communion wafers. Terrible row.’

There was still no response from beside him. Andrew sighed. This was a real mope.

‘Tell you something else,’ he decided to give it one more try. ‘They’re being a bit liberal with this “Police – do not cross” tape. They’ve wrapped it right round my chest and half-way up my chin. Any higher, I wouldn’t be able to say a word. How about you? You got any?’

After a moment’s silence, he heard, ‘Mmm. Mmm mmm mmm mm mm mm mmm mmm mmm mmm.’

‘Oh. Oh, right.’

A thought struck him, and he couldn’t help letting out a chortle. ‘Oh well; at least you can’t say anything else to upset Gargoyly.’

‘Mmmmm mm mm mm mm mm mmm mmm mmm.’

‘No need to be rude.’

He smiled to himself; it was nice to be able to tease James for a change, rather than being on the receiving end.

Then something caught his eye; and, as far as it was possible for a frieze to freeze, he froze.

‘Oh heck,’ he said.

‘Mmm?’

‘Well – you know I told you they’ve been carrying all those stiffs up from the vault?’

‘Mmm.’

‘Well, that’s what they all were; stiff as the proverbial sermon. The old woman on the floor, though; they’re standing around her taking photographs at the moment…’

‘Mmm?’

‘And when they had their backs to her for a second…’

‘Mmm?’

‘I don’t think they’ve noticed; but she turned over so they could capture her good side.’

End of Chapter 4

Murder At St Marmaduke’s

The story so far: A murder and a robbery have taken place at St Marmaduke’s church. The police – in the form of Constable Terrence Dawson – are investigating. Terrence has called on assistance from his superior, Sergeant Ernie Bulstrode; while the vicar, Father Frank Rawlings, has called on his wife, Clarissa – ministering in her own unique way to Joseph Makumbo, who witnessed the murder – to come and help clean up the mess caused by it…

Chapter 3

Monday 4th November 1985: 10.30 – 11.30

Section (f)

Joseph watched in astonished horror as Father Rawlings held Mabel Number Three’s legs aloft and berated the policeman who was patiently trying to get him to drop them.

‘My choir have every right to practise in peace! We have a very important Evensong tonight; it’s the anniversary of the martyrdom of St Eric the Unfortunate, and they have to have the Te Deum in the correct order. On Friday evening, instead of “We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord”, they sang “Thee God we, O praise; thee acknowledge Lord to be the we”. That will never do!’

Clarissa Rawlings was standing by Joseph’s side, the mop and bucket he’d carried to the church for her poised ready for action. ‘Perhaps, darling, we should wait for the constable’s superior to arrive,’ she suggested.

Joseph had encountered mixed emotions when, after she’d taken her phone call, she’d announced that her husband wanted them at the church. Hot and bothered as he’d been with her presence so close on the sofa, he’d suddenly found that when it was removed, he began to hope it would return as quickly as possible. Becoming disappointed when he realised it wouldn’t, he’d cheered up with the thought that at least he’d have the compensation of her company on the short walk to the church.

He’d been rather disgruntled, therefore, when they’d arrived and Clarissa had shaken the young policeman’s hand in greeting. He’d felt she held on a fraction longer then necessary. Her smile had been a little too friendly as well.

Oh my! he’d thought a second later. Surely I should not be experiencing such feelings? Should they not be more natural to Father Rawlings?

The thoughts he was beginning to have regarding Clarissa Rawlings were frightening him. Even for thinking of her as ‘Clarissa’ Rawlings rather than ‘Mrs’, his mother would have had him locked in his bedroom and on his knees in prayer for a week.

‘A good idea, Mrs Rawlings,’ the policeman said. He looked thoroughly harassed. Joseph began to feel sorry for him; then he saw the smile he gave the vicar’s wife, and the smile she gave him back, and the feeling was pounced on and pummelled into submission by another, far darker one.

At that moment, a heavy tread sounded in the porch, and a look of relief passed over the policeman’s face.

‘Is there a problem here?’ the tread demanded, entering the church behind them.

Joseph looked round. A shorter, older, more rotund version of the policeman stared back at him; rather rudely, he thought.

‘I’m Sergeant Bulstrode. I said, is there a problem here?’

Father Rawlings broke the ensuing short silence. ‘Ah, Sergeant. I was just telling your constable…’

The sergeant transferred his attention to the action at the front. His eyes popped, and his face turned a colour Joseph could only assume that the word ‘puce’ had been especially invented for.

‘Excuse me, sir.’ The voice that came out of the puce was low and dangerous; like that of a very large dog whose bone had been picked up from in front of its eyes. ‘Would you mind telling me why you’re waving that lady’s legs around like that? Most undignified, I’d say. Not to mention tampering with evidence.’

Joseph looked back towards Father Rawlings’ battle with Mabel Number Three’s prone form. He saw the vicar’s face crease into a frown.

‘Evidence, Sergeant? What do you mean? Miss Cartwright will have had nothing to do with this dreadful robbery, if that’s what you’re thinking. And it might be helpful if you officers were out looking for our valuable candlesticks instead of congregating in here like it was some kind of meeting place. Time is wasting, Sergeant. The tealeaves will be having it away on their toes as we speak.’

There was a splutter from beside Joseph. ‘I’m so sorry, Sergeant,’ Clarissa Rawlings said. ‘We were watching an episode of The Bill last night.’

Joseph turned back to the sergeant. ‘Excuse me, sir. I can help with regard to the murdered lady.’

The stare coming out of the popping eyes transferred itself back to him, only doubled in ferocity. It became the kind of stare you could only quail in front of, and Joseph duly quailed.

Before either he or the sergeant could speak further, however, the vicar cut in: ‘Ah, yes; Joseph. Do you know that when you left earlier this morning you failed to lock up after you? And look – church property has been stolen and damaged. What were you thinking?’

For not the first time that morning, Joseph felt his jaw work up and down with no sound emerging. At the same time, as if he and the senior policeman had suddenly formed themselves into a ventriloquist act, the sergeant supplied the necessary words: ‘Are you saying, vicar, that the death of that poor woman is of secondary importance to the theft of a couple of candles?’

‘Candlesticks, Sergeant, candlesticks! Why is it that you officers seem obsessed by the candles we put in them? They only cost one pound from Woolworths. The candlesticks, on the other hand…’

‘That’s beside the point, sir…’ the sergeant began to interrupt.

‘Of course it isn’t!’ The vicar was not to be deflected, it seemed. ‘We have any number of elderly congregants who are able to take Miss Cartwright’s place. Why, Joseph here is himself replacing Mr Jenkins, whose head was beaten against the lectern a few months ago. Our missing items, however, are invaluable!

Every bone in Joseph’s legs seemed to vanish at the same instant, and he began to collapse. The next moment, Clarissa Rawlings’ hand was under his arm, and then he felt a pillowy softness beneath his head.

It felt nice. Then he realised what the pillows were, and the rest of his bones vanished too.

‘A man was beaten to death against the lectern?’ The sergeant now sounded as if he was forcing out the words through teeth that were glued together. ‘And you didn’t think there was anything untoward about it? Didn’t think to report it to us, for example?’

Father Rawlings was staring at him. ‘Why – why should I? I mean – these elderly people have to go to glory sometime. Better here than anywhere else; at least they’re nearer to God when they go. And it wasn’t as if there was much blood involved. We hardly needed to spend anything on cleaning fluid. No need for a fuss at all, really.’

End of Chapter 3