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…
Monday 4th November 1985: 10.30 – 11.30
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.’