To read the first nine chapters, please click here.
Monday 4th November 1985: 18.28 – 18.30
Clarissa Rawlings’ heart thudded as she raced up the pathway and into Hettie Foster’s bungalow.
She couldn’t believe the state of the front door. It looked as though a herd of elephants had stampeded through. In size twenty-six hobnailed boots.
I told you you shouldn’t have come, her conscience said.
All the way there it had kept up a running conversation with her. Mainly along the lines of: So, we’re going to quiz Hettie Foster about Mabel Cartwright’s death, are we? You do realise this woman is potentially dangerous, don’t you? Shouldn’t you have told Frank where we were going, if not why?
You didn’t have to come with me! she’d snapped back at one point.
Oh, yes? And when have you ever done anything without me?
She’d ignored that, mainly because she knew it was right. Frank would have only worried about me being out alone in the dark, and insisted on coming as well, she’d thought instead.
Aren’t you more afraid he’d have insisted on driving?
Oh, very funny!
The point about Hettie being dangerous nagged at her, though. There were certain members of the congregation that in the few years she’d been at St Marmaduke’s she’d learned to keep a good arm’s length – in fact, an octopus’s-worth of arms’ lengths – away from. And among those, Hettie Foster was chief.
Chief in more ways than one. Similar to Jesus with his disciples, Hettie had accumulated her own set of followers over the years. Except in Jesus’s case, he’d never metaphorically grabbed someone round the throat and said, ‘You will do what I say, and think what I tell you to think, otherwise it’ll be the worse for you.’
She often thought that Hettie Foster would make a good pope.
But surely she was letting her imagination run away with her. What could one little old lady do to me?
Ahem, her dratted conscience jumped in again. A little old lady able to call on a legion of similar old women with the power between them to dispose of anyone she takes exception to.
Legion? There’s only four of them! Three, now Mabel Cartwright’s gone!
Yes. Mabel Cartwright’s gone. Isn’t that what I’m trying to warn you about?
Oh. Of course. That was, after all, what she was here to ask Hettie about. Mabel Cartwright was, indeed, gone. And Arthur Jenkins, who’d disappeared from the ranks a few months previously and not been traceable since. Until being lifted out of the crypt that morning.
And any number of others who’d also turned up there.
She suddenly wished fervently that she was back at home teasing Joseph with glimpses of her breasts.
I’ll talk to you about that later.
The hallway was lit only by the street-lamps, diffused by distance, and she hesitated. A flight of stairs (presumably to an attic room; she hadn’t noticed windows in the roof, but she’d been more intent on the mess at eye-level) was in front of her, and she wondered whether she should go up.
But the sitting room was a more likely place for Hettie to be at this time of evening, and that was on the right. She took two steps towards the door.
And then a scream rang out from behind it, and she stopped, her blood freezing in her veins.
An eternity passed, and then the scream was followed by a dull thud. Leaping forward, she threw herself at the door, fumbling with the knob. Although it turned, the door stayed shut.
‘Miss Foster?’ she called, applying her shoulder. The door remained staying shut.
‘Hettie,’ she called again, doing what she immediately realised was that stupid thing of rattling the knob as though it would make the blindest bit of difference. ‘Hettie!’
She ceased rattling, and began to pound on the door instead. ‘Hettie!’
And then there was a click, and the door v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y began to swing open.
The hinges creeeeeeeeeeeeaked, just like in a horror film.
Reaching out equally s-l-o-w-l-y, her heart beating a tattoo worthy of the Edinburgh military, she helped the door on its journey inwards.
And then she, too, began to scream.