Murder At St Marmaduke’s #29a

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Chapter 29

Tuesday 12th November 1985: 14.30 – 15.30

Section (a)

That’s better, her conscience told her. Much more befitting a clergyman’s wife.

Checking herself in the hallway mirror, Clarissa had to admit the truth of that. The bra — one of a half-dozen she’d treated herself to during a quick trip to the Busts’R’Us shop in town — looked great underneath the creaminess of her blouse.

Although —

What?

White would have been better than lilac. And all those other slutty colours you’ve come back with. Less stand-outish. And all the lace isn’t that becoming, either.

Oh, shut up! Aren’t you ever satisfied?

She closed her ears to whatever comment was about to come back, and hurried to answer the front door, the bell of which had just sounded for the second time.

‘Oh. Joseph,’ she said.

As always, the young man’s gaze dropped from eye level to somewhere below her chin. But rather than the usual gawp, this time a look of confusion crossed his face.

She felt a smile come to her face at the expression, and quickly doused it. He might misinterpret it as either her being extremely pleased to see him — in which case she might just have to start playing up to his expectations again —

Really?

— or as laughing at him, which would be really hurtful.

And then, she noticed somebody else hovering in the background. A young Asian woman. Mm, very nice, the thought instantly came to her.

Hey! None of that, either!

Shut up. ‘Come in, please,’ she said.

She closed the door, hung their coats on the rack in the hall, and ferried the pair into the sitting room and onto the sofa. ‘Tea?’ she asked.

As also usual, she felt the heat of Joseph’s blush as soon as the word was out of her mouth. ‘Erm — Erm — Erm —’

‘No thank you, Mrs Rawlings,’ the young Asian woman interjected, obviously feeling that the ‘Erms’ could get out of control if she didn’t. She smiled, and the smile did nothing to detract from how good she looked; quite the opposite, in fact.

Ahem!

Clarissa ignored that. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know…’

Joseph gave a start, which was so violent it might have tipped over the sofa if he’d been built along more solid lines. ‘My apologies, erm — Mrs Rawlings. This is Miss Chowdhary, of the police force.’

Oh. A policewoman.

‘Hello,’ she said, giving an answering smile which she knew couldn’t possibly be as bright as the one being aimed in her direction. ‘It’s Clarissa, by the way,’ she added.

The policewoman’s smile brightened, became almost blinding. ‘Amita.’

Clarissa shook hands with her. Amita’s handshake was cool and firm, her skin as smooth as the silk nightdress Clarissa kept in a drawer for the time she hoped would come one night when Frank was fully functioning. She felt that her own handshake was clammy and somewhat trembling, her hand as rough as the comments of the McAndes workmen she sometimes teased with an extra wiggle of her backside as she passed wherever they were working. Suddenly, she wished she’d left the formal greeting undone.

Turning her back, she counted a quick ten to compose herself, then sank into the chair opposite. ‘Now — how can I help you, Joseph — er, Amita?’ Damn! Even the woman’s name was enough to get her pulse racing.

You wait until they’ve left…

She slammed the door on the voice. Unfortunately, as it turned out, she forgot to slide the bolt.

‘Well — erm, Clarissa,’ Amita began. God, that voice was exotic. It sounded exactly like Miss —

That’s enough!

That rebuke hit her like a slap round the face with a Hettie Foster Bible quotation. For heaven’s sake, she thought back, her own internal voice sounding in that instant whiny and pathetic. It was only a schoolgirl crush.

Yes. One that nearly got you — and your teacher — into a whole heap of trouble. It was hard enough for her being an Asian in that school as it was. Without you risking her job with your advances.

They weren’t advances. They were…

She ground to a halt. Had they really not been advances?

She suddenly became aware that Amita was speaking; and, focusing her eyes, she saw that Joseph was staring at her with that puzzled expression he’d adopted before when she’d gone off into one of her internal arguments.

She shook her head to clear it. ‘I — I’m really sorry, Amita,’ she interrupted. ‘I’m afraid I missed what you were saying.’

The policewoman halted, and looked at her with concern. The same sort of concern that Miss —

‘Are you all right, Clarissa?’

No — she actually had one hell of a headache. Oh, God, she thought, please get me off my back…

‘I’m okay, thanks,’ she said aloud. ‘Just a bit run down, that’s all.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry. Look — we can go if you want. Come back some other time.’

‘No, no,’ she said hastily. ‘I’ll be fine, honestly. Please carry on.’

‘Well…’ Amita sounded unsure.

‘Please.’

‘Okay, then. Well, I was just saying that we don’t really know a great deal about the night of Harriet Foster’s death. Or, really, about the morning of Mabel Cartwright’s either. I mean — we have Joseph’s testimony for that one, but lots of things don’t make sense, such as the robbery that happened after. And regarding Miss Foster’s — well, we really do need an eyewitness for that, and wondered if you could tell us exactly what you saw.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I really didn’t see anything at all.’

A look of disappointment came over Amita’s face. ‘Oh — I see…’ she began.

‘Yes — I told your sergeant at the time. I didn’t see who went in ahead of me, and I didn’t see anyone come in after me. It was all very peculiar, given that so many of us came out again afterwards.’

‘Yes, that was very odd. I can’t understand that myself. But there’s nothing else at all you can tell us?’

‘No, I’m afraid not.’

The young policewoman looked so crestfallen, Clarissa’s heart gave a wrench. And then, she suddenly remembered something. ‘There was a car, though. Outside Hettie’s. And someone standing beside it when we all came out.’

Amita’s brow creased into a frown. ‘Yes, there was,’ she said. ‘Unfortunately, I don’t know whose it was.’

Clarissa stared at her. ‘Were you there, then?’

Amita’s smile became a grimace. ‘Yes, I was, for my sins.’

‘Oh.’ Clarissa was sure she must be blushing, and wondered how on Earth to explain it away. ‘I — I’m afraid I didn’t notice you there. All those others, you know…’

‘Of course.’ The smile returned. Amita’s teeth were really white.

For the past few moments, Clarissa had completely forgotten that Joseph was sitting next to the young policewoman —

— very close to the young policewoman —

— until he piped up, ‘I know who that is.’

Amita stared at him, and Clarissa, tearing her gaze reluctantly from Amita’s face, did the same.

‘I’m sorry?’ Amita said.

Joseph nodded his head emphatically. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It was the person that I work for. Mr Proctor.’

‘Really?’

Joseph nodded again. ‘Oh, yes. I saw him speaking with the sergeant when we were in the garden.’

‘Oh! It was definitely him?’

‘Definitely, Miss — erm, Amita.’

‘I see.’

So how come, Clarissa wondered, Amita didn’t know that that was who it was? Surely she would know everything, if she’s part of the investigation?

Joseph and the policewoman were staring at each other, and the question began to nag at her.

‘So why —’ she began to give voice to it.

And then the doorbell rang.

Damn!

She rose from her chair. ‘Please excuse me,’ she said.

As she left the sitting room, she glanced back. The two were in a deep whispered conversation with each other.

She shook her head as she walked towards the front door. What was it they weren’t telling her?

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