Murder At St Marmaduke’s #34a

A quick rollover from the end of Chapter 33 to the start of Chapter 34.

As per usual instructions, to read the first 33 chapters, please click here.

Chapter 34

Wednesday 13th November 1985: 13.45 – 14.15

Section (a)

‘Can’t you drive a little slower, darling?’

Clarissa clung onto her seatbelt, her knuckles turning as white as her face probably was, as her husband rounded the corner of Cleopatra Street into Mark Anthony Avenue doing forty-five. Over the roar of the engine, which had been protesting about going upwards of thirty in first gear ever since the incident with the nursing mother on the zebra crossing five streets back, she just about heard Frank reply, ‘Not if we’re to get there in time to avert a possible disaster, my dear.’

She wasn’t quite sure what definition of ‘disaster’ Frank might have in mind. Certainly, her own at the moment was based on the fact that the mother had dropped off the bonnet two streets ago, leaving a rather startled baby clinging to the windscreen-wiper in front of her eyes, the dummy in its mouth being worked overtime as he or she (Clarissa was no expert on babies, and this one had no traces of blue or pink about it to give her a clue as to its gender) tried in vain to extract the milk it had been savouring before its unexpected joyride began.

Earlier, at the exact moment they’d decided to come to the churchyard to search for Mabel Cartwright, the phone had started to ring. (Clarissa had immediately had the wild thought that Mabel was ringing to tell them where she was, and had jumped so high she’d only avoided smashing her head against the ceiling by ducking in mid-air; a manoeuvre so perfectly executed, she’d have definitely scored a row of perfect 10s in any gymnastics competition.) One of Hettie Foster’s elderly coven (as she’d begun to think of them), Lavinia Number Two Marple, had been on the other end asking if she and the other two remaining witches could use the church to convene an emergency prayer meeting.

Frank had readily agreed. There’d been a worried pause after he’d hung up, then they’d both reached the rapid conclusion that if Mabel Cartwright was at the church, and the ladies who were witnesses to her death turned up there also…

Lavinia Number Two Marple? Why on earth had she thought that?

‘Almost there,’ Frank said. There was a crunch of gears, and possibly something else, as he took the direct route over the small roundabout at the end of Mark Anthony Avenue into Youaswellbrutus? Lane. The roar from the engine increased by about 300 decibels.

‘I think that was the exhaust pipe,’ she yelled.

‘Don’t worry, my dear. I’m sure we have another one.’

It was the biggest relief she could remember when, five minutes later, the car drew up alongside the church entrance and she was able to scramble out and onto the hallowed turf of the churchyard. ‘Don’t you think you should have opened the lychgate first, darling?’ she asked, surveying the mangled wooden structure adhering to the radiator grill. ‘Or maybe parked on the road?’

But Frank was already on the move, with an energy she hadn’t seen him exhibit since old Mr Cranthorpe had left the service one Sunday morning without depositing his prayerbook on the table at the back. She paused to give the baby a reassuring pat. ‘I’m sure your mother will be along to pick you up soon,’ she told it. ‘She must have seen Frank’s dog-collar as she slid off, so she’s probably put two and two together.’

She hurried after her husband, who had began hunting feverishly around the gravesides.

‘Do you think we’ll find her easily?’ she asked, as she caught up with him.

‘I imagine so, my dear,’ he replied, lifting a bunch of flowers from in front of one of the gravestones and peering suspiciously into the vase that had contained them. ‘There are only so many places she could hide.’

She began to help him search. ‘There is only one thing, darling,’ she said, as she peered over the back of a crumbling statue of St Pennis (the initial letter of whose name had been altered many years ago by a schoolboy with a penknife who’d thought himself a bit of a joker).

‘Mm?’

She picked a snail off the statue and checked inside its shell for any trace of an elderly, possibly-dead woman. ‘Why didn’t we just walk here? We only live twenty yards down the road.’

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