The story so far: At a Monday morning prayer meeting at St Marmaduke’s church, an old lady is murdered. The vicar, Father Frank Rawlings, discovers that the church has also been robbed, and reports this – but not the murder – to the police. Constable Terrence Dawson is despatched by his sergeant to investigate…
Monday 4th November 1985: 10.30 – 11.30
Father Rawlings was striding around the front of the church, pointing out the empty places that had once held valuable objects: ‘…and here, there were the candlesticks that the Terrified Trappists of Teddington donated to us in 1580. Before my time, of course, but much admired over the years by all visitors to St Marmaduke’s…’
Terrence Dawson watched, fascinated, as the vicar lifted his leg to make another transition over the body lying on the floor, its head swathed in a pool of blood. A couple of chairs stood beside it, the plastic, school-room type. As he stepped over, Father Rawlings grabbed one in each hand; then, on the other side, he deposited them neatly onto a stack to one side of the choir stalls.
It was as if the dead woman hadn’t registered on his conscious; as if his legs were operating independently in order to keep him from falling over her.
‘Are you taking notes, Constable?’
‘Hmm?’ Terrence tore his gaze away, bent his head and pretended to jot something down in his notebook. ‘Erm – expensive, were they, these candles?’
He lifted his head again, and encountered a stare that would have had Sergeant Bulstrode asking for tips on technique. ‘Candles? What on earth are you on about, Constable? I’m talking about the candlesticks. Absolutely priceless. Been in the church since…’
‘Since 1580; you said.’ He felt himself reddening, and bent his head again quickly.
‘And here – ’ Father Rawlings was moving towards the back, stopping at a counter mid-way that held a small pile of leaflets ‘- the box where money is posted for the History of St Marmaduke’s from its founding in 1473 BC pamphlets has also been broken into. Absolutely disgraceful.’
The vicar gave a grimace. ‘I suppose I shall have to ask those of the congregation who have bought one of the pamphlets to pay again. Printing costs don’t meet themselves, you know. And whilst I’m about it, I really must get the date corrected. The earliest instance of a church here is actually 24 BC.’
Terrence did make a note this time. He supposed the fingerprint experts should be called in. No doubt the thief had worn gloves. But every avenue had to be explored. And the date of the candlesticks might be a help in tracking them down. Though they would probably have been made some years before that…
What the heck are you thinking? This is ridiculous!
‘Father Rawlings,’ he said.
‘Yes, Constable?’ The vicar was fussing around with the box, a cube of metal with a slot in its top and a door in its back. It had been levered out of its mounting in the cabinet, and the door hung open, limp and buckled.
‘Could I ask you not to touch that, sir? And, by the way, do you know there’s a dead body on your floor?’
Father Rawlings looked up and frowned. ‘Oh yes, I’ll need your help there, if you don’t mind.’
‘Yes.’ The vicar was striding towards the front again. ‘Your help to move her, of course. We can’t have people cluttering up the place. I’ve Evensong at five o’clock – we need to make sure everything’s clean and tidy by then.’
Terrence felt himself goggling.
‘Hopefully, my wife will be here soon,’ Father Rawlings continued. ‘With a mop and bucket. Unhelpful of Miss Cartwright to bleed all over the floor like that. Not to mention that – that -’ He inclined his head towards what looked like the congealed remains of a pre-packed casserole near the body.
‘But Father, there’s a dead woman here! And unless the part of my training course that dealt with how to spot a suspicious death misled me, she’s been murdered!’
‘Oh, yes.’ Father Rawlings treated the statement with the same air of matter-of-factness he might have given an enquiry for directions. ‘That often happens when the ladies get together.
‘We generally store them in the crypt. You can give me a hand down with her if you would, when you’ve finished taking the description of our missing cross.’