Murder At St Marmaduke’s #26b

After another lengthy delay, St Marmaduke’s continues…

To read the first 25 chapters, click here.

For the first part of chapter 26, click here.

Chapter 26

Tuesday 12th November 1985: 10.00 – 12.00

Section (b)

Clarissa checked her makeup and hair in the hallway mirror before answering the doorbell. One never knew who it was likely to be; the bishop was always especially pleased to see her, in an is-that-a-crozier-in-your-pocket kind of way.

She undid an extra button on her blouse. Anything that might earn Frank some brownie points if it did happen to be His Reverence.

Really?

‘Shut up.’

She opened the door. ‘Oh — Joseph.’

The young man’s gaze as usual dropped immediately to several inches below her eye line, and his jaw dropped to several feet below that. And — he wasn’t that much younger than she was, she reminded herself.

There was a snort from her conscience as if it knew where that thought might be heading, and she shook her head in irritation.

‘Are you unwell, Mrs Rawlings?’

‘Oh — I’m sorry, Joseph,’ she said, startled and embarrassed she’d been caught out in an argument with herself again. ‘Just a touch of headache. Would you like to enter?’

He gave a start of his own and, wondering why, she quickly replayed her words. Ah — right. Filling her speech with innuendo was so much of a habit now, she never even noticed it.

She stood back, and he slid past her, flattening himself against the opposite wall as if trying to back through it. When he was safely past, she closed the door.

‘I — erm —’ As always in her presence, he seemed to be hunting round for words and finding they’d stolen off into the far distance, possibly never to be heard from again.

‘Tea?’ she said, giving him the broadest and most suggestive smile she possessed.

Hmph!

‘Erm — Oh — Erm — Yes — Erm — please.’ Finally the acceptance emerged, but in a squeak that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a nest of mice.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Do go into the sitting room. Oh. My manners — let me take your coat, first.’

There followed a dance so complicated it might have won the National Ballroom Championships if there’d been room in the hallway to fit some judges. It ended with Joseph, coatless but sweating more than he had been when he’d come in, disappearing with evident relief through the sitting room door. Clarissa watched as the door closed behind him, then wandered down to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Suddenly, the weirdest feeling swept over her; disappointment that they’d managed to ensure no part of him touched any part of her in the process of disrobing him, and relief of her own for precisely the same reason.

Hmm. Starting to realise how we should behave, are we?

She firmly turned her back on the jeer.

Give it a while longer, we might begin to disport ourself like the wife of a reverend should.

She ignored the comment with grim determination.

We might do up a button or two, don’t we think?

She concentrated on the kettle, the movement of her hands as she poured the boiling water into the pot to warm it, swilled it round, emptied it out, added tea leaves, poured in more water —

Or are we determined to continue whoring ourself for —

‘Oh, shut up, will you!’

Back with the tray some ten minutes later, she set it down on the coffee table with such a clatter she saw Joseph start so badly she thought he was about to leap to his feet. Damn her bloody conscience, she was not going to be dictated to by the part of her brain that would have had her wrapped in tarpaulin if it could. She made sure to bend so low to pour, her blouse almost gaped down to the table.

After an interval during the latter part of which she began to hear panting from the sofa, she straightened herself, then sat in the armchair opposite. ‘Now, Joseph, how can I help?’ To her own ears this came out as far more aggressive than she’d intended. What the hell was wrong with her?

The young man’s eyes were almost comically huge, and she could actually feel the heat of his blush from the ten feet or so of space that separated him from her.

‘I, erm — I was hoping to speak to Father Rawlings, if that is convenient,’ he managed to say. ‘I have something of a — erm — of a spiritual nature to ask him.’

‘Oh. I see. Right.’ She stood again. ‘I’ll, er — I’ll just go and fetch him, then. Won’t be a moment.’

She left the room. Outside in the hallway, she slumped against the wall, suddenly overcome by weariness.

Was she destined to keep fighting herself?

Shut the hell up!

She ran to the study, where she knew Frank would be. Tapping lightly on the door, she opened it and walked in. He was at his desk, probably already wrestling with his sermon for the coming Sunday, his profile bent low over a sheet of paper. Bless him, he was so conscientious when it came to his addresses to the congregation that he often drafted them six or seven times before he was satisfied.

‘I’m sorry to disturb you, darling,’ she said, as he turned his head to glance up at her. ‘Joseph Makumbo is here, wanting to talk to you about something.’

‘Oh. Yes, yes,’ he replied absent-mindedly, returning his gaze to the desk. His pen — he insisted on using the Parker 105 she’d bought him four years before, to write all his sermons — scratched over the paper as he jotted down a thought.

‘He says it’s something spiritual. Shall I tell him you’re busy?’

‘Hmm?’ He suddenly seemed to register her presence with his whole mind. ‘Oh, no, no, my dear.’ He laid down the pen, and stood, rather stiffly. ‘I’ll see him straight away.’

He began to hunt around the desk, moving papers and books and peering closely at the surface. ‘Erm — Clarissa, dear, have you seen my glasses by any chance?’

She couldn’t help it. She began to laugh, and soon she was helpless with laughter, and the tension inside her washed away on the waves of it. She danced up to her darling husband and kissed him lightly on the cheek. ‘You’re wearing them, silly. They’re on the end of your nose.’

‘Oh!’ He joined in her laughter, then returned the kiss, full on her lips. ‘Of course. Silly me.’ His smile lit up his face, shedding some of his years as it always seemed to do. ‘What would I do without you, my dear?’ he said.

‘You’ll never need to find out, darling,’ she replied.

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