On a roll now…
As always and forever, to read the first 32 chapters, please click here.
And to read the first three parts of Chapter 33, find posts 33a, 33b and 33c below.
Wednesday 13th November 1985: 12.00 – 13.00
The Costalot Coffee House was packed again today; but this time, there was nobody there but the two of them.
That was the way it seemed to Amita. But really, what on Earth was happening to her? She was feeling so — so —
So Bollywood. That was it. Any minute now, she’d be springing up from her chair, dancing a Bhangra and singing Aap Jaisa Koi or something.
Joseph, meanwhile, was staring down, a frown on his handsome, gaze-at-across-the-breakfast-table face. (Oh, God, had she really just thought that again?) He was sipping his tea in a mechanical fashion, and she imagined herself as that teacup, being lifted to those lips…
Get a grip, Amita, for heaven’s sake! She shook her head angrily. She was not Zeenat Aman, the heroine of any number of Indian films; she was Amita Chowdhary, a detective constable with Camtown Police (albeit currently suspended), and she was trying to get to the bottom of a couple of gruesome murders in order to prove her worth to her superior officers! So there!
Whew! That had broken the spell. Now, to business.
‘Joseph, we have to decide what to do next.’
The young man looked up, his eyes widening, startled. Wherever his thoughts had been, his gaze had been on his hands, resting on the table-top.
In particular, she fancied, on his left hand. That had been the hand she had grabbed to drag him out of the vicarage yesterday (had it really only been yesterday? So much seemed to have happened), and whose absence, once she’d dropped it when he’d pointed out that she was still holding onto it, she’d felt immediately.
He nodded in a slow, thoughtful manner.
‘I agree, Amita. But I do not know about yourself, but I do not have any idea how to proceed.’
That was the problem. Neither did she.
But at least there was no ‘Miss — erm’ before her name this time! That was encouraging, surely?
No, stop it! Business!
‘I’m not really sure either, Joseph,’ she confessed. ‘Because I’m suspended, I can’t find out how the investigation’s going; and if I’m not careful, I could be in worse trouble if I’m found to be interfering.’
Of course, if she had anything approaching a friend at the station, she might be able to get information from them. But as the number of friends she had there was zero minus the number who actively despised her, that was a non-starter.
She dropped her gaze to the table, where her hand had been mechanically stirring her coffee for several minutes.
Except — oh. She discovered that, rather than being inside the cup, her spoon was tracing a circle around its outside perimeter. Which meant that, rather than stirring her coffee, she’d actually been stirring the saucer instead.
She hastily corrected the procedure, hoping he hadn’t noticed.
‘I suppose, then, that there is nothing to be done,’ Joseph said sadly.
‘I suppose not,’ she agreed quietly.
They were silent for several minutes, that grew into several hours, that grew into several weeks…
‘Erm — what about your work, Joseph?’ she said to break it. ‘You never seem to be there. Are you on holiday?’
He smiled, and she suddenly realised she hadn’t seem him smile much at all. It suited him; she wondered if she should suggest he do it more often.
‘No,’ he said, ‘I am not on holiday. But there is very little work for me to do at this present time, so Mr Proctor allows me to go in whenever I am able to.’
‘Really? What an extraordinary way of working!’
‘Yes, I believe it is. Mr Proctor and Miss Evans are very good to me.’
Miss Evans? Miss Evans?
‘Oh — they are?’
The smile widened. It suited him even more. ‘Yes. Mr Proctor still pays me a full salary, even though I am not in the office a great deal.’
Well — well done, Mr Proctor. But how, she wondered, was Miss Evans good to Joseph?
For heaven’s sake, what was wrong with her?
To her relief, the silence (measured in years, this time) that followed this brief conversation was broken by the arrival of the pretty waitress who’d been the object of the McAndes workmen’s Neanderthalism. Fortunately for the girl, the men weren’t in at the moment, so her skin was wearing its normal colour rather than the scarlet of the day before.
‘Excuse me, sir — miss,’ she said. ‘Would you by any chance be Mr Makumbo and Miss Chowdhary?’
Amita stared at her. ‘Yes — that’s us.’
The waitress smiled, and that looked better than the expression she’d been wearing yesterday as well. ‘Oh, good. There’s a phone call for you, if you don’t mind coming to the counter to take it?’
‘Yes, miss. The lady on the phone said to tell you it’s Clarissa.’
Clarissa? Mrs Rawlings?
She turned her head to stare at Joseph again. She couldn’t be certain, due to the natural colour that his skin wore, but she had the feeling that it was changing to his own equivalent of scarlet.
‘Erm — certainly,’ she said, turning again to the waitress. Then she turned back back to Joseph again again, and the thought crossed her mind that her body might not be dancing that Bhangra, but her head almost certainly was.
‘Shall we?’ she asked him to stall off any dizziness that might come with swivelling her head too many more times.
‘Erm — certainly, Amita.’ That was what his mouth said. His body, however, was saying a very emphatic, ‘Not on your life’; not that that was something, with his peculiarly precise mode of speech, he ever would say. (But he’d still called her ‘Amita’ without the ‘Erm — Miss’!)
She stood, and with the same not-on-your-lifeness, Joseph did too. They began to follow the waitress towards the counter, Joseph trailing by the length of a very long piece of string.
‘By the way,’ the waitress said — and her face did turn a deeper shade of pink, though not the ugly colour it had been the day before — ‘I hope you don’t mind that I assumed you were Mr Makumbo and Miss Chowdhary? It’s just that we don’t often…’
She must have suddenly realised where this next sentence might be leading, as she broke it off with a silent ‘Oh’ of embarrassment.
Amita smiled widely. ‘It’s no problem,’ she hastened to reassure the girl. ‘For my part, I’m just grateful you pronounced my name correctly. I’m usually referred to by people who don’t know me as “Miss Chapati”, or worse.’
This brought a relieved smile and a giggle from the waitress.
At the counter, the girl indicated the telephone and left them to it.
Amita looked at Joseph. ‘Would you like to…?’
His face turned a deep shade of horror-struck. ‘Er — if you do not mind, I would rather not. I find that many people cannot understand me on the telephone. It often brings about misunderstandings.’
This could only be an excuse. If anybody ever misunderstood something that Joseph said, it was because they were either deaf or DI Hampshireish.
Nonetheless, she smiled reassuringly at him and took up the receiver. ‘Hello, Clarissa. How can I help you?’