Murder At St Marmaduke’s #29e

As ever, please click here to read the previous chapters.

And here for Chapter 29 sections a-d.

Chapter 29

Tuesday 12th November 1985: 14.30 – 15.30

Section (e)

‘I’m sorry to be so long,’ Clarissa Rawlings said. ‘Frank wasn’t in his study, and this place is rather rambling, I’m afraid.’

Meredith heard Ernie mutter a remark. It sounded like, ‘Matches half its occupants,’ but it was so muted that he couldn’t be certain.

Father Rawlings was peering round, a puzzled frown on his face, as if he couldn’t quite remember ever being in his sitting room before. Meredith coughed gently to attract his attention.

‘Ah — erm — yes? — erm — Inspector, is it?’

‘Chief Inspector, sir. And I’m over here. That one’s my sergeant — Sergeant Bulstrode.’

The vicar’s face cleared instantly, as if a shower had passed over in the half-second it took to say Ernie’s name and rank. ‘Ah, yes — Sergeant! I remember. Have you recovered our valuables? Is that what you want me for?’

Meredith saw Ernie shoot him a look. A look that clearly said, ‘Told you — loopy as Spaghetti Junction at rush hour.’

‘I’m afraid that investigation is still ongoing, Padre,’ he said. ‘We hope to have news of your candles very soon.’

The passing shower returned with both a bang and a force-fifteen gale. ‘Chief Inspector, I do wish you policemen would stop banging on about candles! These are candlesticks, sir! Extremely valuable ones!’

‘My apologies, Padre.’ Meredith couldn’t help wondering when in the course of the vicar’s lifetime a phrase like ‘banging on’ might have entered his vocabulary. It sounded as out of place there as a slice of pineapple inside a cheese and ham sandwich.

‘And it’s really about time they were returned!’ Father Rawlings galed on as if the apology hadn’t been heard. ‘This Sunday just gone, the Servants of the Sanctuary had to stick the candles onto saucers in order for me to light them. The effect was ridiculous! One parishioner asked me if the after-service coffee was now being taken at the altar in novelty teacups!’

There was a familiar spluttering, followed by a prolonged bout of coughing, from Ernie’s direction. The vicar glared at him, and Meredith did too, although he knew that neither glare would have the slightest effect.

‘I assure you I have my best men on it, Padre,’ he said. He made a mental note to get Ernie to put the squeeze on Ronnie Chafford; whom, he fully agreed with his sergeant, was as guilty as hell on the robbery front. But only after he’d discussed with the vicar what he intended to discuss, and damn the sergeant if he burst into coughing again!

‘I wanted to have a word with you on another subject, though, Padre. It’s of a more spiritual nature, though related to the murder cases we’re investigating.’

‘Oh yes?’ the vicar said, the thunderclouds vanishing instantly once more as interest replaced them on his features. ‘Oh, and by the way, Chief Inspector — “Padre” is not a term commonly used in the Anglican Communion. “Father” is more usual. It means the same, of course; however, we tend to think of “Padre” as referring to those on the more — ahem — Catholic side of things.’

‘I see,’ Meredith said. He wondered whether the Catholic side of things took offence at having their references used for the un-Catholic side, and if he’d soon be having to deal with hoards of barmy clergymen facing up to each other across a no-man’s land comprised of, say, Quakers and Buddhists trying to keep the peace. ‘Well — erm, Father — it’s like this…’

Briefly, he explained the findings of the scene of crime report, and his wondering about the dead being able to come back to life and exact revenge on the one who caused them to be in that state. Father Rawlings listened with what seemed rapt attention, coupled with a raise of the eyebrows that hinted he was speculating whether or not to ring the Funny Farm. Ernie, to Meredith’s annoyance, had the same expression, only minus the ‘rapt attention’ part.

After he’d finished, the vicar’s eyebrows subsided (although Ernie’s remained skyward, and the doubly-annoying smirk was back across his mouth) and with a thoughtful rather than sceptical air, he said, ‘Well — let me see. There is, of course, a reference in the Gospel of Matthew to some of the dead coming forth from their tombs when Jesus was crucified. That, I suppose, could be taken as a sign that such a manifestation is possible…’

‘Oh?’ That promised some sort of confirmation of how he was thinking, if a slightly antediluvian one.

‘Although some scholars speculate that that was an insertion into the text in order to fulfil Old Testament scriptures relating to resurrection, and might not have happened at all.’

‘Oh.’ That sounded less promising.

‘There are also, of course, instances in the Bible of others being raised back to life; for example, the son of the widow of Zarephath…’

‘Oh?’ That might be considered promising, although if he remembered long-ago religious lessons at school, it was even more antediluvian than the last example.

‘Although again, scholars speculate that the son was only dead a brief while and was treated by Elijah using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; perfectly normal in any age.’

‘Oh.’ That might not be promising at all, then.

‘And then there was…’

‘But have you heard of any such cases in modern day?’ Meredith interrupted, not wanting to have a complete history of biblical dead-raisings pass across his ears when all that had happened (or hadn’t happened, depending on your point of view) so long ago that even Methuselah’s uncle couldn’t have been alive to witness it.

‘Oh, as to that,’ Father Rawlings said, flicking a hand in a dismissive gesture, ‘certainly not. The age of miracles is long past, Chief Inspector, despite unsubstantiated reports one hears from — less civilised regions, let us say. The dead, I am afraid, stay very much dead until the last trump sounds and we are all called to account. Which — if you are interested —’ he began to cast around ‘— I have a pamphlet you might wish to read…’

Meredith was about to plead pressure of work preventing him having time to read the no-doubt fascinating pamphlet the vicar was searching for, when a gentle cough came from the chair in which Clarissa Rawlings had seated herself.

‘Yes, Mrs Rawlings?’ he said, as much to distract her husband from his search as in the belief she would have anything to contribute to the discussion.

The vicar’s wife smiled, rather self-deprecatingly, it seemed. ‘Well, Chief Inspector, it’s just that I did read — oh, a couple of years ago, I think it was — of a phenomenon which has been noticed; it might have been in The Times, although the library does take copies of all kinds of journals, including some of the medical ones. They called it the “Lazarus Phenomenon”. Reports of people being dead some hours, then suddenly their heartbeat returns. I forget what the reason was for that happening; but it was being considered quite seriously, I recall.’

‘Oh yes?’ Now this certainly was promising. ‘So you’re saying that Miss Cartwright might well have been subject to this phenomenon? Been temporarily dead, as it were?’

‘I suppose she might.’

Now that was a thought, definitely.

There was a cough from the arm of the settee. Meredith turned his head in that direction. ‘Yes, Sergeant?’

Rather than the previous smirk, Ernie’s face now wore a frown. ‘Well, sir, it’s just that when I saw Miss Meredith, her left eye had been pretty much taken apart and half her brain was leaking out through it — beggin’ your pardon for being so graphic, Mrs Rawlings. I’m not sure her heart would be havin’ any say in the matter of whether she carried on living or not.’

Oh. Yet again, oh. That wasn’t a thought at all, then. Definitely definitely.

There was silence in the room. Meredith was lost in thought, the principal one being How the hell do I make anything of this bloody mess? As far as he could judge, the other three were lost in thought as well; though what the thoughts of a half-mad vicar, his exhibitionist wife, and a sergeant who was sharp as a tack and lazy as a teenager might be, who could tell?

‘I could,’ a voice said from right beside his ear.

End of Chapter 29

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