The story so far: Joseph Makumbo attends a prayer meeting at St Marmaduke’s church, during the course of which one of the elderly ladies also present murders another. The vicar, Father Frank Rawlings, discovers that a robbery has also been committed, and reports this to the police. Meanwhile…
Monday 4th November 1985: 09.15 – 10.00
Joseph accepted a second cup of tea from Clarissa Rawlings. She bent over to pour, and he studied the wall opposite with desperate concentration.
He’d had no idea clothing could be so loose. Or underwear so…
He hadn’t seen such a sight since…
Throughout his young life, his mother had kept him well removed from the distaff side of Adam-and-Evedom, even to the extent of packing him off to a school where the genders were separated by confining them to different halves of the campus. The halves were divided by two enormous chain-link fences, several yards apart. It would only have taken a few rolls of barbed wire in the no-man’s land in the middle to turn the school into a World War Two film set. Any boy who dared to even begin scaling the fence on their side would inevitably hear their name bellowed across the playground, after which they would disappear into the sanctum of the headmaster’s office; followed soon after by a tear-stained, buttock-rubbing reappearance.
It soon became the norm that you didn’t even stand at the fence and look across to the other side, lest the teachers misinterpret your intentions. Thus Joseph didn’t see a girl close up until well after his sixteenth birthday.
‘There you are, Joseph.’
Her voice was like liquid honey poured slowly over a hot buttered muffin. He tried to remember how to say ‘Thank you’, and failed.
She reseated herself next to him; uncomfortably too next to him. He could feel heat coming from several parts of her body, and tried not to think about those parts, or any other parts. And failed.
He’d been astonished when she’d opened the door to his frantic ringing, all thoughts of Hettie Number One and Mabel Number Cartwright temporarily driven from his mind. He’d been seeing her around the church on Sunday mornings, but had no idea who she was. As she was the only other person in the congregation with an age in relatively small double figures, he’d been trying to get up the courage to speak to her. His heart had sunk even lower than before when, standing on the vicarage doorstep, he’d realised she was Father Rawlings’ wife.
After an interval of what had seemed an hour or two, during which time she’d gazed at him with one eyebrow quirked and a half-smile playing about her lips, he’d managed to gasp out, ‘Church, madam. Murder.’
Her eyes had widened. ‘You’d better come in. Joseph, isn’t it?’
Now she leaned towards him. Even more towards him. ‘You’ve had a nasty shock, Joseph. Do try to – relax.’
Even to his ears, which had never been exposed to as much as a Two Ronnies’ sketch prior to living by himself, the pause in front of ‘relax’ seemed laden with innuendo.
One side of him was pressed hard against the end of the sofa. He jumped as he felt a melony softness push against his arm on the other side. Try as he might, he couldn’t make himself any thinner. ‘Relax’ didn’t seem to have any space to wedge itself into.
Now he felt warm breath tickle his ear. ‘Perhaps you should lie down, Joseph,’ she whispered. ‘Would you like to do that?’
Breathing was a distant memory. All he could see was the colour orange, and he realised with another start that his eyes were closed. The softness was pressing more insistently, and he knew that in a moment he was going to whimper. Something was happening lower down that his mother would have beaten him to within an inch for if she’d seen it…
And then the telephone rang.
Clarissa smiled at Joseph and rose to answer the phone. Knowing his gaze would be glued to her backside, she added an extra wiggle to her walk as she crossed to the sideboard where the instrument lay.
You really aren’t a nice person, Rissa.
She stopped short. That damned voice again.
It was herself, of course. Her damned conscience, forever beating her up about this or that.
Shut up, she snapped back. I’m not doing any harm.
Oh really? Her conscience voice had its usual mix of wry amusement and contempt. And what harm do you think it would do Frank, knowing how you were behaving right now?
She cut off the intended swear-word. Leave me alone, she finished lamely.
It was true; Frank would be devastated if he knew she was toying with Joseph like she was. And yet, she couldn’t help it.
Oh really? her conscience said again.
Look, she thought furiously, you know about Frank’s problem. I’ve got to have some fun – in that way. I’m twenty-seven, for God’s sake. And if I’d wanted to be a nun, I’d have joined St Benedict’s on the other side of town.
So just because your husband is fifty-five and impotent, and you want to have your thrills, it’s okay to seduce a young, attractive member of his congregation?
Seduce? I’m not seducing! I’m – I’m –
But there her argument fell flat. ‘Mildly flirting’ was the phrase she wanted. But she couldn’t voice it. She knew she was doing more than that.
Beginning to realise?
Oh, shut up!
It wasn’t as if she would actually take Joseph upstairs and do the deed. She had enough self-control not to do that. Later, when he’d gone, she’d take herself off there and satisfy the feelings that were being stirred by her teasing. But she’d never –
Are you really sure you have that much self-control?
She gulped. Was she?
‘Are you all right, Mrs Rawlings?’
His voice broke her internal wrangle, and she realised with a start that the telephone was still jangling in front of her. She reached out her hand to pick up the receiver.
‘I’m fine, Joseph,’ she said, trying to put conviction into her voice. ‘Just fine.’