To read the first twelve chapters, please go to my St Marmaduke’s page.
Monday 4th November 1985: 18.28 – 18.30
Father Rawlings’ car slewed to a halt, and Joseph almost fell out in relief that the journey was over.
It wasn’t that the vicar was a bad driver. He was methodical, yes; every change of gear had been a careful display of co-ordination between hand, foot and stick, and had seemed to take at least two minutes a manoeuvre. And he was courteous; every zebra crossing they’d come across had had to be stopped at, regardless of Joseph’s insistence that time was of the essence.
And regardless of the fact that most of the zebras had nobody at them waiting to cross. ‘You never know,’ Father Rawlings had said in answer to Joseph’s exasperation, ‘a child may come dashing from an alleyway, and then where would we be? One cannot take chances.’
This from the man who was apparently happy with congregation members being done to death whenever Hettie Number One decided it was okay.
No – the worst part of the vicar’s driving had been the actual steering. That had been almost a case of letting the car decide where it was supposed to be heading, and going along with it for the ride.
Not quite fair, perhaps. Father Rawlings had actually used the wheel a few times, but seemingly more as an experiment in seeing what it did rather than having any particular idea. This had resulted in some of the most hair-raising moments Joseph could remember having; including one incident where the entire contents of a grocer’s had mysteriously transferred itself onto the back seat of the vicar’s car as they’d passed through, rather than adjacent to, the shop.
That must have come as rather a surprise to the detective inspector lying groaning on the same back seat.
It had been at Father Rawlings’ insistence that the two of them had hauled the policeman into the car after his close encounter with Joseph’s leg. ‘We cannot leave him here, Joseph,’ the vicar had said. ‘Remember the Good Samaritan: “And he bandaged the man’s wounds and took him to an inn.” Do unto others, don’t you know?’
That was all well and good, Joseph had thought at the time; but the man the Good Samaritan had helped hadn’t been trying to throttle him a few seconds before. At that moment, and totally against his normal nature, he wouldn’t have minded doing that unto the inspector big-time.
Besides – when they had visited the Pig and Truncheon on the way, the vicar’s roadcraft taking them on a detour through the public bar, there hadn’t been a second’s opportunity to say to the landlord, ‘Look after him and I’ll pay you any extra expense when I get back.’ There wasn’t even time to whimper ‘Help!’ before they’d exited via the beer garden leaving a trail of quivering benches in their wake.
Now, he stared at number 12 and gasped at the mess that should have been a front door. Surely Clarissa couldn’t have done that.
No! This confirmed his fears. The vicar’s wife was in terrible danger!
He scrambled up the garden path, his legs still wobbly from the journey, and over the chaos into the hallway. The sudden transition from bright street lighting outside to the gloomy exterior brought him to a halt.
But not for long. Without realising, he must have noticed that the sitting room was on the right of the hallway.
And there was a door. He leaped towards it and began thumping.
‘Clarissa? Miss Hettie Number One? Are you there? Can anybody hear me?’
Silence. Looking down, he contemplated the doorknob. Would it be rude of him to open the door and just burst in?
What was he thinking? Of course it wouldn’t be rude! Clarissa was in trouble!
He turned the knob, and leaned against the door. It didn’t open.
He tried again. And again. And – despite common sense telling him it wasn’t worth it – a few more times again.
And then a scream came from inside the room.