Murder At St Marmaduke’s #8a

Chapter 8 begins. To read the first seven, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html.

Chapter 8

Monday 4th November 1985: 17.20 – 18.00

Section (a)

‘There’s an aardvark in the pub (in the pub)
And it stole my pint and grub (pint and gru-u-u-ub)…’

Hamish McStrapp – inevitably known to his friends as ‘Jock’ – meandered his beat down the corridor of the police mortuary, singing an aria from Chas Gonad’s world-famous opera Tutte Fan Frutti. The acoustics were spot on in that particular stretch, and the tonal quality echoing from the walls blended with his own not-unmusical voice to create a veritable choir of McStrapps. Sometimes he wished he had a tape recorder handy to capture the sound.

He could only hope the mortuary’s occupants appreciated his efforts. Though how well they could hear him through the drawers they were locked into nightly, he wasn’t sure.

His was the early-evening shift; at midnight he would hang up his hat and his uniform jacket, and make his way home to Mrs McStrapp, who would no doubt have a tasty something lined up on the table for him.

That was the problem with the shift he was on. He started too early for dinner, and ended too late for supper. Lunchtime, consequently, was when he did his best work at the trencher, and he patted his ample stomach as he remembered the delicious steak pie swimming in gravy he’d enjoyed at one o’clock, followed by treacle pudding and custard at a quarter past.

Of course, Lizzie had also packed him a couple of sandwiches, a family-sized pork pie and an apple turnover for his eight-thirty break-time; but that was a heck of a while to wait. Fortunately, there was a confectionery machine not far off his beat, and he began to feel in his pocket for the loose change he always made sure he kept there.

‘And it eats my curry for its tea
And never leaves a bit for me…’

He reached the mortuary doors and peered in through one of the small round windows set into them. As far as he could see, no-one was on duty, even though it was still a while before official closing-time. Probably all at a seminar, he thought. Working life was full of seminars nowadays. He’d had to attend one only a week before, teaching him how to walk down a corridor quietly enough not to disturb the occupants of the room he was passing.

‘Am I being too noisy for ye?’ he called through the window. ‘Might sorry, lads and lassies.’

Chuckling to himself, he was just strolling on when a loud ‘screeeeeeeeeee’ from inside the room halted him in his tracks.

Puzzled, he returned to the window. He’d heard that sound before.

It was the noise of one of the less-than-well-oiled drawers sliding open – or shut.

He peered in again. He was sure he hadn’t seen anybody…

He still couldn’t. He tried the door. Locked. That proved there was nobody in residence.

Nobody on this side of the Great Divide, anyway.

He craned his head round, trying to take in the hard-to-see corners of the room.

Definitely nobody there. Though yes, he could see that one of the drawers was lying open when it decidedly shouldn’t have been…

The door exploded outwards. Hamish, smacked squarely in the face, chest, knees and everything else, hurtled backwards with a grace that had eluded him since schooldays, landing against the wall opposite with a bone-shaking ‘crunch’.

The world turned briefly black, and then refocused into a wavy sort of normality; albeit one where stars appeared to have manifested themselves on the corridor ceiling rather than outside where they belonged.

‘I’m so sorry,’ somebody called.

There was something distinctly odd about the apology, and in his befuddled state it took him several seconds to work out what it was.

The ringing in his ears from where the wall had interrupted his flight was so loud, it was blocking out any other sound. And yet – he’d definitely heard the ‘sorry’, as clearly as if it had been shouted into his head.

Directly into his head.

His brain, which was executing a passable impersonation of a kettledrum, froze. Very slowly, he turned his head to one side, then to the other.

The first direction was fine. Except for the stars, which shifted in line with his vision, nothing and nobody was in sight.

In the other direction, however…

His eyes sprung wide. Something that looked from the back aspect like a little old woman was shuffling along the corridor away from him. It had on a lab technician’s coat, and the limbs that poked out of it were wrinkled and pale; deathly white, in fact.

It had on no footwear. Apart, that was, from a small tag attached to a piece of string which looked as though it was flopping from one of the figure’s toes…

‘Hey!’ he opened his mouth to call, then had a rethink and told himself very firmly to shut the hell up.

He stayed prone and watched as the figure continued its curious shuffle along the corridor. Eventually, it reached the corner he himself had turned several moments before, and vanished from sight.

Slowly, he hauled himself to his feet, wincing with every movement. His mind had unfrozen itself and was now turning somersaults at a rate that would have made a professional gymnast green with envy. Unless he was very much mistaken, a dead body had just escaped from the mortuary, and was heading for the outside world…

How the braw bricht moonlicht nicht was he going to report that to Mr Thomas, his Head of Security?

But hold on – did he actually need to report it?

Strictly speaking, his job was to safeguard the premises and ensure that no criminal activity took place therein. Was an escaping dead body, technically, criminal activity?

Then he looked at the door that had met with him so forcefully. The top and middle hinges had been ripped from their moorings, the bottom one was bent to all buggery, the glass in the window had formed a mosaic on the floor, and the door itself was leaning at a drunken angle in his direction.

That, technically, was damage to the property. Something that fell within his purview.

Daingead!

Yes, he would have to report it.

But before he did, he was damn-well going to find that sweet machine, and the drinks one beside it. What he needed now was a large injection of Mars bars and sugary tea.

It was a shame the machine didn’t do the Mars deep fried. But they were still good to dunk, even so.

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