To read the first six chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. To read the first part of chapter 7, see the post below this one.
Monday 4th November 1985: 16.20 – 17.15
In Father Rawlings’ blacked-out study, Clarissa was performing a lingering striptease. Her blouse was almost undone, the basque beneath – bought two days before – peeking out scarlet. Several candles flickered in the twilight, and Clarissa was hoping against hope that her husband’s nether regions were responding likewise.
She’d taken to surprising Frank with these performances, brooking no argument from him as to inappropriate time of day, or urgency of completing his latest sermon. And for his part, after the briefest of protests he always fell in with a will that excited her, working on himself to try to achieve the longed-for arousal.
‘You like this, don’t you?’ she purred as she slid the blouse from her shoulders and let it slip to the floor.
‘Yes,’ he gasped back as she bent towards him, giving him the full benefit of the basque’s effect on her chest. His free hand groped forwards, and she drew back teasingly. ‘Not yet, you naughty boy.’
The doorbell rang. The atmosphere went from red hot to turn-off instantly.
‘Aww, damn!’ Clarissa groaned.
Frank began hastily fastening his trousers. ‘I suppose we’d better get it, my dear,’ he whispered. ‘One doesn’t know if it might be something important.’
‘I suppose.’ She reached to the floor and picked up her blouse, then pulled open the study door. ‘I love you,’ she said softly, turning back to him before she passed through.
He smiled. ‘I love you too, my dear.’
She donned the blouse as she headed towards the front door, neglecting to do up the top few buttons.
You going to answer it like that? her blasted conscience queried.
‘Oh, shut…’ she began aloud, then closed her mouth. It was right, and she couldn’t be bothered to argue.
She fastened the other buttons before opening the door.
‘Oh, hello Joseph,’ she said.
Irritation coursed through her. Yes, for all the young black man was cute, he’d interrupted a special time with her husband, and probably only so that he could drool over her breasts again; almost literally.
Perhaps she’d done herself a disservice acting as she had with him that morning.
Beginning to think twice about our infidelities, are we?
She suddenly realised he was staring at her, a puzzled frown on his face, and wondered for a moment if she’d spoken aloud. ‘Oh – sorry, Joseph,’ she said hastily. ‘Please – come in.’
She stood aside for him, and as a sop to her conscience ensured she was far enough back that he didn’t have to make contact with any part of her as he entered.
She led him into the sitting room, and motioned to the sofa. ‘Would you like some tea?’ she asked as he sat, then regretted the question as she saw his eyes spring wide. Damn! She’d need to get the basque off double-quick while the kettle was boiling, to give him the eyeful he wanted; and the ties were so fiddly.
Oh, and there was me hoping we’d mended our ways.
She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. It’s not doing any harm! she snapped back.
Methinks we doth protest too much…
‘Are you unwell, Mrs Rawlings?’
She opened her eyes again and forced a smile in Joseph’s direction. ‘Just a little tired, that’s all,’ she answered. ‘I’ll make that tea.’
To her surprise, he held up a hand to stop her. ‘I do not wish to keep you, Mrs Rawlings,’ he said. ‘I merely wish to ask a question, if you do not mind?’
A dozen questions he might want to ask instantly passed through her mind; all of them variations on the same subject, and all of them ones she’d had to answer in the negative before, to any number of men.
Slowly, she lowered herself into an armchair. What looked like disappointment flickered across his face, presumably that she was sitting opposite rather than next to him.
‘What is it, Joseph?’
‘I would like to ask,’ he began, and she braced herself. To her astonishment, he continued, ‘the prayer meeting this morning? The – erm – the unfortunate trouble that occurred?’
‘Oh. Oh – yes?’
‘Well,’ he said. He appeared to be searching for the right words to use. ‘There were other ladies there, apart from – apart from Miss Cartwright? There was one named Hettie, I think?’
‘Hettie Foster?’ She wondered where on earth this could be leading. Surely he couldn’t want anything of that cantankerous old –
‘Is that the lady’s name? Well,’ he went on, ‘she was quoting words of scripture during the meeting, and I wish to ask her something concerning them. I wondered if you might be able to tell me where she lives, so that I might go and speak to her.’
She felt her eyes widen. ‘Oh,’ she said again. ‘Is that all?’
‘I am sorry?’
‘No, it’s me who should be sorry,’ she said hastily, relieved and yet puzzled. Why on earth would he want to ask Hettie Foster anything about her King Jamesy rantings?
Or was that just an excuse? She felt a nagging doubt creeping up on her.
She realised that in all the confusion that morning, she hadn’t even asked Joseph exactly what had happened at church. And it had been patently ridiculous when the police had marched him off to their station as if he might be in some way culpable.
And Frank, bless him, had only been concerned about the robbery, and had interrupted Joseph just as he was about to give them information about Mabel’s death.
Could it be that Hettie Foster was involved somehow? She wouldn’t put it past the old woman. Especially given the number of fatalities Frank told the sergeant had occurred in the past; a revelation that had astonished her, given that he’d never even mentioned them before.
She came to a decision. Standing, she said, ‘I’ll see if I can find Hettie’s address for you. I shan’t be a moment.’
She blessed the fact that Frank must still be holed up in his study, so wouldn’t hear her leave. Grabbing her overcoat and scarf from the hallway cupboard, she opened the front door and slipped out, closing it quietly behind her.
She knew the addresses of all the congregation by heart. Not waiting for the bus in case Joseph came to look for her, she began to walk briskly in the fading light towards the part of town where Hettie Foster lived.