To read the first seven chapters, please go to my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html. For the first three sections of chapter eight, please see the posts below.
Monday 4th November 1985: 17.20 – 18.00
‘Please make haste, Father Rawlings,’ Joseph said.
He was watching as the vicar made a leisurely circuit of the outside of his car, shining a torch over every inch of it as if the street lighting wasn’t adequate enough to show that, yes, it was still the same one he’d had that morning, and yes, it still had the requisite number of tyres.
With each of those inches, Father Rawlings bent to examine something in minute detail, tutting as he picked a pebble from a tyre tread or buffed a headlight with a cloth he’d already spent an age searching for in the boot.
‘Please, Father Rawlings!’
The vicar opened the bonnet, and began peering at the complexities of the engine. ‘One must attend to the safety aspects of motoring,’ he said. ‘It wouldn’t do to have an accident on our way to rescuing my wife.’
‘If you do not hurry, sir, there may be no your wife to rescue!’
Father Rawlings straightened. ‘We have plenty of time, Joseph,’ he said in a maddeningly reasonable voice. ‘Clarissa cannot possibly reach Miss Foster’s house for another twenty minutes or so. It’s only a fifteen minute drive.’
He bent back to his task. ‘Now – which one is the dipstick again?’
Having watched Only Fools And Horses a few evenings previously, an answer sprang to Joseph’s mind that he only just managed not to articulate. Instead, he asked, ‘But supposing Clariss – Mrs Rawlings – has taken the bus?’
‘Then that will be even better. The bus will take at least another half-hour. The route is so tortuous, it has to call at the same stop in Spiral Street three times before the driver can find his way out.’
His study of the engine over, the vicar closed the bonnet and bobbed below roof level on the other side of the car. His voice, when he spoke again, came as a disconcerting reminder of the bodyless one in church that morning.
‘You really must not worry so, Joseph.’
He reappeared, somewhat in the manner of a periscope emerging from the sea to spy enemy ships on the horizon. ‘Anyway,’ he said, thoroughly wiping what looked like perfectly clean hands with the buffing cloth, ‘I’ve completed my inspection, and I think we’ll be safe to proceed. Do jump in.’
With a sigh of relief, Joseph opened the passenger door.
‘Oi, you!’ a cry came from behind him. ‘Makumbo!’
That sounded very much like an enemy ship. Joseph froze, one foot already in the passenger well.
If I count to ten, the thought came unbidden into his mind, I wonder if this nightmare will become a happy dream instead?
A happy dream involving tea followed the thought; but as that concerned the object of his current anxiety, another involving Hettie Number One, Mabel Number Cartwright and hat-based pointy objects chased it from the scene before he’d even counted past zero.
He turned to the source of the cry. The inspector who’d interviewed him that morning was advancing on him, a look on his face which instantly gave Joseph no hope that this was a courtesy call.
That supposition was confirmed when, seconds later, the inspector reached him, grabbed the lapels of Joseph’s coat, and, it seemed, began to try to ram them up Joseph’s nose.
‘I wanna bloody word with you, Makumbo!’ The inspector’s speech was a muddled slur, and Joseph smelt the staleness of what he assumed was beer on the breath accompanying the sentence. The stink was so appalling, he ducked his head in the hope his lapels might fit.
‘Excuse me,’ the vicar’s voice came from the other side of the car. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘You stay outta this, Your Revernence!’
The policeman’s arm came up under Joseph’s chin and began to thrust his head back towards the car roof. Oddly, at this moment Joseph found three statements battling in his head for the right to be spoken first.
One: Mr Inspector, Father Rawlings’ wife is in great danger, and if you delay us further it may be too late.
Two: Please, my head is not meant to be at this angle; would you kindly release me so that I can breathe?
And three: Surely you mean ‘Reverence’?
Due to the angle worried about in statement number two, not even the relatively snappy number three had room to manoeuvre past his windpipe. Also due to the angle worried about in statement number two, Joseph began seeing twinkly lights in front of his eyes, and a certain encroaching darkness behind them.
Due to the delay worried about in statement number one, and the fact that the vicar didn’t seem to be taking any action beyond his mild verbal protest, some part of Joseph that he hadn’t been aware of before kicked in.
And kicked out.
The kick was extremely accurate, not to mention forceful. There was a satisfying ‘oomph’ noise from the inspector as he curled into a ball at Joseph’s feet.
Joseph stepped to one side, massaging his throat and trying to get his breath circulating back to where it was needed.
‘I say, Joseph,’ Father Rawlings said. ‘Do you think that was wise?’
St Andrew peered out at the church’s interior; empty, quiet and plunged into gloom now all the corpse-removing and fingerprint-dusting was over. Swathes of gaily-coloured tape still smothered every surface, giving off an ethereal glow that relieved the darkness a little. But frankly, the church was not the jolliest of places once the lights were extinguished.
Normally, once that happened, he and James would settle into bickering about the events of the day, even if their sole topic was what kind of spider it was currently spinning a web over the pair of them. But given his fellow effigy’s enforced untalkative phase, that enjoyment was denied him. He’d tried striking up a conversation with James’s gargoyle girlfriend, but all she did was throw an explosive ‘Men!’ back at him, so he’d quickly decided that that was a no-go.
He sighed. There was no prospect of the scheduled Evensong taking place to relieve the monotony, either. The police had made it quite clear the church wasn’t to be used until they’d finished investigating.
That made it perscena non grata as far as any more plot development went.
What on earth was that supposed to mean?
‘James?’ he said.
‘Do you wonder why we’re here?’
Andrew repeated his question.
‘Mm mm mm mm mm mm?’
‘I want to know,’ Andrew said, ‘because we don’t seem to have done much these last few chapters; and we’re unlikely to do much in the next few either.’
There was silence for a moment. Then: ‘Mm mm?’
‘Oh.’ Andrew paused, confused. ‘Did I say chapters? I meant, hours.’
‘I mean – what’s it all about? Existence? Us? Two lumps of stone carved into a bigger lump of stone? In short – why are we here?’
‘Hmm,’ James said. ‘Mmm. Mm mm mm mm mmmmmm. Mmm mm.’
Andrew sighed again, not one hundred percent convinced. ‘Perhaps you’re right. Maybe we’ll have something really important to do later on, which’ll make it worth while our having appeared at all. We can but hope.’