Murder At St Marmaduke’s #26a

It’s been a long, long time, but we continue the St Marmaduke’s story today.

For a catchup on all that’s gone before, click here.

Chapter 26

Tuesday 12th November 1985: 10.00 – 12.00

Section (a)

Phone, Dawson! Bugger!’

Ernie Bulstrode disengaged himself from the caramel wafer cupboard, where he’d been trying to work out which five wrappers had the nearest scoff-by date, and stomped out of the kitchenette. He glared at the phone, which had been shrilling into the atmosphere for half a minute longer than if he’d had his constable there to do as inferiors were supposed to (ie, as they were damn-well told). With another ‘Blast and bugger it’, he lifted the receiver.

‘Ah, Sergeant Bulstrode,’ Chief Inspector Meredith’s voice came down the line. ‘Do you have a moment, please?’

Ernie bit off the less than respectful remark that might have been his normal response given an empty waiting area and no junior to overhear. He and the DCI had a certain mathematical formula in their relationship, which went:

Charlie calls me by my rank over the phone + Charlie calls me by my surname over the phone = Charlie has a reason to be formal this morning, therefore I need to be as well.

In the time it took his brain to register that equation kicking in, something else appended two ‘+’s to the ‘=’ side:

+ that reason probably means a pile of brown, sticky stuff for somebody + hopefully that somebody won’t be me.

He didn’t know where the ‘+’s came from. He only knew that they’d popped up like a 3D edition of Busty (something he’d sent several letters to the editor suggesting, and was hoping to get substantial royalties for should the idea be taken up) and were now nagging at him in a way that was less than comforting.

‘Right away, sir,’ he replied with as much reluctance as he could put into his voice and not sound insubordinate. Dropping the receiver, and posting up the notice that told Mr and Mrs Public to dial ‘7’ and speak to somebody who might give a toss about whatever their problem was, he clumped down the corridor with his brow furrowed and several thoughts of a dark nature going on behind it.

Inside the DCI’s office, the reason for the formality became apparent straight away.

‘Ah, Sergeant, come in, take a seat,’ Meredith said, waving rather exaggeratedly towards one of his two visitors’ chairs.

Ernie did so, with a reluctance born of a career’s-time of avoiding the uniform that sat bolt upright, one razor-sharp-creased knee crossed over the other, in the chair’s twin. This uniform, as Ernie sat, stared at him as if he was some interesting, but slightly annoying, type of beetle.

The expression told Ernie two things. One, that the first addition to the ‘=’ side of his equation was not definitely probable, but definitely definite. And two, that the hope expressed in the second was not only sunk, but washed away in a flood of excrement that was surely about to hit him full in the face.

‘This is Sergeant Bulstrode, sir,’ Meredith was saying to the uniform. ‘Sergeant, this is Chief Constable Righteous.’

Ernie plastered the sort of smile on his face that he’d always detested in others as being comprised of a sight too many teeth. ‘Sir,’ he said to the uniform. On the whole, it was the safest thing he could think of saying at the moment.

There was a fraction’s delay, during which the beetle-probing continued unblinkingly. Then, as Ernie was beginning to wonder whether he should perhaps offer one of his hands to be shaken, or else fall to his knees and shower the chief-constabley shoes in reverential kisses, Righteous turned back to the DCI. ‘I have an appointment shortly,’ he said, glancing at his watch — which, Ernie couldn’t help noticing, probably cost more than his own several years’ back-catalogue of Busty magazines and caramel wafers combined. ‘Please tell the sergeant why we’re meeting.’

‘Of course, sir,’ Meredith said. He cleared his throat, and Ernie braced himself for the first turn of the metaphorical fan.

‘As you know, Sergeant, we’re two officers down in CID at the moment due to this St Marmaduke’s case.’

Uh huh. And a third taken away from bloody kettle duty, in case you’ve bloody forgotten!

If he heard the thought, which had been loud enough in Ernie’s head to have echoed round the walls several times before reaching his ears, Meredith decided to ignore it. ‘And because we have a number of serious cases being investigated at the moment, I’ve had to take control of St Marmaduke’s myself. However — this does mean that we’re still one short on that investigation.’

Uh oh. Another calculation began shooting through Ernie’s mind, faster than the consumption time of his third caramel wafer of the day. This one went:

Charlie’s just told me that they’re one man short + Charlie’s got me in his office with the CC present as well = …

Oh bugger.

‘So I’ve decided I should draft in an experienced officer to fill the gap; with the chief constable’s permission, of course.’

= Oh definitely bugger!

He didn’t even hear the sentence containing the inevitable conclusion. He suddenly became aware of the DCI’s hand thrust across the desk at him. ‘Welcome to CID, Sergeant.’

Ernie stared at the hand, then saw his own reach across to take it, shake it and give it back. At the second stage of this manoeuvre, he had the satisfaction of seeing Meredith wince at the pressure his subconscious exerted.

‘I’d just like to put on record,’ the chief constable said, his voice as glacial as his expression, ‘that I consider this to be unorthodox in the extreme, Chief Inspector.’ He stood, and Ernie and Meredith hastened to their feet as well. ‘However, I suppose that needs must be met.’

With that, he strode to the door, apparently deeming neither of them worthy of a departing handshake. Instead, he thrust open the door and said to the corridor beyond, ‘I look forward to hearing that this St Marmoset’s case is resolved, Chief Inspector, and that my cousin Jack will be restored to office as soon as possible.’

And then he was gone.

Ernie stared at the figure pounding down the corridor, then slowly and deliberately walked over and shut the door. Then, after a ten-count, he swivelled on his heel.

‘Don’t say anything, Ernie,’ Meredith said, and at the same time thrust up a hand, forestalling the approximately 5,182 expletives that had sprung to Ernie’s mind and were jostling with each other to explode from his mouth first.

‘Well, what the…’ Ernie began.

‘I said, don’t say anything, Sergeant — acting Detective Sergeant!’ Meredith cut across him.

Ernie clamped his mouth shut and contented himself with giving the DCI the kind of glare that Dawson received whenever he was particularly slow with the kettle switch.

Meredith gave a wry smile. ‘Believe me, it’s not a decision I came to lightly. But it’s the right one, nonetheless.’

He grabbed a folder from the top of a pile on the corner of his desk. ‘You did tell me you were hearing voices, didn’t you, Ernie?’

A voice,’ Ernie growled. He was swallowing down the rude words one by one, but they were still in the way of any civil ones that were on their way up. Number 937 was particularly ripe, and he was having the hardest job containing it.

Meredith sat, and waved Ernie back into the visitor’s chair. ‘So have I,’ he said. ‘And I want to know what the hell it’s all about.’

Ernie stared at him. ‘You what?’

The DCI gave a curt nod, and passed over the folder. ‘Three o-bloody-clock this morning. Frightened the shit out of me.

‘Now,’ he added, before Ernie could think of anything to say, ‘have a look at this lot. It’s the witness statements and what-have-you; including the ones you took at the Foster scene.

‘Not that any of it’s the blindest bit of use,’ he went on. ‘But it’s all we’ve got to go on at the moment. Give it the once-over and tell me what you think.’

Words number 574, 826 and 937 shot back up into Ernie’s throat, and he opened his mouth to give them air. Meredith gave him a glare that might even have equalled one of his own. ‘About the case, Ernie, about the case. Nothing else — right?’

Swallowing 574, 826 and, very reluctantly, 937, Ernie opened the folder and began to read.

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