For any newcomers to this feast of fun (?): rather than scrolling down all my St Marmaduke’s blog posts for the last three years plus, you can read the first 33 chapters here.
And the first part of Chapter 34 is in post #34a underneath this one.
Wednesday 13th November 1985: 13.45 – 14.15
When he and Amita arrived at the church, the first thing Joseph noticed was Father Rawlings and Clariss— erm, Mrs Rawlings (sorry, Mother) diving among the graves in what seemed a very random fashion; picking things up, peering under them, then dropping them again in evident disappointment. Intrigued, he stopped to watch, then suddenly began staring at the ground he was standing on. Then he looked back at the reverendly couple, looked back at the ground, and then at the ragged chunks of wall on either side of him. Hadn’t there, a couple of days ago, been a gate and an archway occupying the large gap he was standing in?
How odd. He must ask Father Rawlings about it.
But only when the vicar wasn’t climbing on and off statues, of course, which was the thing he was currently doing. Joseph winced as he saw which part of some marbleised man’s anatomy he was using as a foothold to aid his passage, and a remembrance flashed into his mind of an occasion when some boys had cornered him in the school changing room after PE lesson one Friday afternoon. They hadn’t exactly climbed onto him like that, but one or two feet had certainly connected with the same area the vicar was using to assist himself upwards, and his eyes began watering at the memory.
He quickly wiped them dry, hoping Amita hadn’t noticed. And now, Father Rawlings was knocking on the statue’s head as if expecting someone to pop out of an ear and invite him in. When it became evident that nobody was at home, the vicar dropped down again with the same air of dissatisfaction.
‘Do you not think that Father Rawlings and his wife are acting rather strangely?’ he asked Amita.
She was staring round at the churchyard, her lips pursed, seemingly deep in thought. ‘Hmm?’
‘Father Rawlings. And Mrs Rawlings. They seem to be acting most peculiarly.’
He pointed to where Mrs Rawlings was currently hanging upside-down from a gravestone, holding a small cherub with one hand, her other poised as if to snatch at whatever she might find under it, and saw Amita frown as she too looked over at the couple. ‘Yes — very odd,’ she said.
He couldn’t remember which of them had come to the conclusion that Mabel Cartwright could be hiding at the church. He suspected that it would have been Amita; she was extremely intelligent, he’d come to realise. They’d hurried out of the cafe as soon as whichever one of them had suggested it had suggested it; and he’d been rather shocked — but, he’d found, extremely pleased — when she’d grabbed hold of his hand and they’d run like that all the way.
They’d just disconnected hands, but he could still feel hers in his, and it was warm despite the coolness of the day.
He studied her now, as she stared around. As well as highly intelligent, she was, he’d also most definitely come to realise, rather beautiful.
But — Clarissa Rawlings was beautiful. And she was as different from Amita as — as —
Well — as a pale-skinned, blond-haired young woman could possibly be from an olive-skinned, raven-haired young woman.
The only thing in common there was the word ‘young’. But yes, they were both beautiful.
He stared over again at Clarissa (I do not care, Mother; that is what I wish to call her, and I will!). Her beauty was something that hit you in the face like an iron bar wrapped in a gaily-embroidered silk scarf. Whereas Amita’s hit you more like a comfy cushion wrapped in the same silk scarf, but with slightly less embroidery and more of the natural fabric showing through.
Oh goodness, could it be that he was enamoured of both of them? How on earth could that happen? Was there not meant to be only one woman with whom one’s heart was perfectly matched? Forsaking all others, as the wedding ceremony had it?
If only he’d had a male role model to ask about such matters when he was growing up. Alas, by the time he was born, his father had already made the long journey to the heavenly realms (which, he’d later discovered by accident, were situated in Scarborough, his father having run off there with his mother’s cousin Noelene), and his parents hadn’t thought to provide him with an older brother to question. And, his only close encounter with a female other than relatives having been when he was almost pulled through the bars of a she-gorilla’s cage on an early visit to the local zoo, and with his school circumstances having been what they were, personal experience in such matters had never been applicable.
‘I am sorry?’ he said. Amita had made a comment, jerking him out of his musings (and the gorilla’s cage, which was almost as frightening now as it had been when he was seven).
She smiled, and it was as if the sun had come out to brighten the bleakness of the day. ‘Are you permanently sorry, Joseph?’
He stared at her. ‘I am sorry?’
The smile became a laugh, and it was a joyous sound, if one was being cliched. ‘I said, are you permanently sorry? It just seems that whenever anyone says anything to you, you answer, “I am sorry?” Just like that.’
‘Oh,’ he said. Then, because he couldn’t think of anything else, he added, ‘I am sorry.’
She laughed again, even more clichedly. ‘I said, I think that if Mabel Cartwright is here, she’s more likely to be inside the church than outside.’
‘Oh. Do you think so?’
‘I do,’ she said, nodding. ‘The reason being, I’ve just seen three elderly ladies go inside; and if I remember you correctly, that’s how many there should be left after we subtract Mabel Cartwright and Harriet Foster from the number you were in the prayer meeting with on the 4th.’
He stared over at the church door. ‘It is,’ he said, and all thoughts of Clarissa versus Amita in the ‘most beautiful woman I am enamoured of’ competition vanished instantly. ‘And if that is indeed the misses Lavinia Number Two, Lily Number Four and Daphne Number Five, then they may well be in grave danger. It might be that Miss Cartwright will try to exact vengeance on them for sitting around whilst she was killed.’
‘My thoughts exactly.’ To his further surprise (and, again, pleasure) she grabbed his hand once more. ‘Come on, then.’
Together, they strode across the turf towards the porch enclosing the church door. ‘By the way,’ Amita said. ‘What did you mean by all those numbers?’
‘I am sorry?’
She gave another tinkly laugh. ‘Don’t let’s start that again. Those numbers — Lavinia Number Two, and the others. What’s that all about?’
‘I really do not know,’ he confessed. ‘It is just the way that I began to think of the ladies whilst we were at the prayer meeting. It seemed like a good way to distinguish them from each other.’
‘Otherwise they were just generic old ladies, you mean? No real personalities of their own?’
‘That is about correct.’
‘Joseph — you really ought to write novels.’
He realised with a start that he hadn’t told her that this was precisely what he was doing. Now, why was that?
Well — he hadn’t known her that long. And since he had, they hadn’t really had time to swap many confidences.
Perhaps they could go for a coffee sometime without having the weight of murder suspicion hanging over them both? Exchange further personal details?
Could they do that?
Could he ask her to do that?
And what about…?
He gave a last glance back before they entered the porch. Clarissa Rawlings was making a stirrup with her hands to give her husband a lift-up into a lone tree in one corner of the grounds.
Maybe he could talk to Father Rawlings about his conflict between the two young women. The Asian policewoman with her hand in his, and the blonde who just happened to be…
Do not be silly, Joseph!
That wasn’t his mother telling him off this time. That was himself.
The church hove into view, and Terrence Dawson hove as well; though in his case, what he hove — heaved, more properly — was a heartfelt sigh of relief.
Why the hell did they make towns so complicated?
His journey between wherever it was he’d been when he’d decided to come here, and here itself, had been fraught with —
Not only had it taken him the best part of an hour, but to his certain knowledge he’d tramped along fourteen of the same roads six times each on the way. And most of the others — the ones he’d only tramped once — had been ones that led up either blind alleys or deaf cul-de-sacs (assuming they weren’t the same thing). In the end, he’d closed his eyes and just let his feet do the pathfinding; it was a damned sight less annoying, and (flattened nose notwithstanding, where he’d walked face-first into a lamppost) had at least had the merit of finally getting him to where he wanted to be.
So, now he had arrived — where would the dead/undead woman be hiding?
He stepped in through a large gap in the stone wall surrounding the churchyard. (That hadn’t been there the week before, surely?) Nobody was about.
Although — he paused, listening intently.
Yes — there was rustling coming from the tree that stood in the corner of the churchyard, over to his right.
‘Shall we?’ he said to himself.
He gave a tight-but-charismatic smile in return. ‘Let’s.’
With the utmost care, both of him crept over to the tree. If that was an elderly, probably-deceased woman up there, he’d give her hell from front and back.
Gaining the trunk, he flattened himself against it and looked up.
Very quickly, he looked away. Then, with twice the utmost care he’d used to get to the tree, he sidled away from it.
That was most definitely not the underside of an elderly, probably-deceased woman. Far from it, in fact.
Was the vicar up there as well as his wife, he wondered? And if so, what could they possibly be doing, apart from, in her case, hanging from a branch, her skirt flapping round her waist as she attempted to hook both legs over another branch in a way that would have had a gymnastics teacher resigning on the spot were she their pupil?
He frowned in thought. It seemed that, whatever they were doing, they had the outside of the place covered.
So maybe he should try inside…
With triple the previous utmost, he stepped across to the porch, and inside it to the door. Glancing to his right, he pointed downward. You go low…
Glancing to his left, he nodded. Understood.
With quadruple the most utmost of his utmosts so far, he reached out a hand to turn the large, twisted ring latch.
‘You know what?’ Ernie said. ‘That’s bloody Dawson disappearin’ through that door there.’
Meredith was staring in the same direction. ‘I thought it was,’ he said. ‘And what’s more, he has his uniform on while suspended. That’s an offence, as far as I can remember, Sergeant. Wouldn’t you say?’
Ernie gave a low growl. ‘That’s right, Charlie. But when we get inside, don’t be too hard on the lad, will you?’
‘Really? Why shouldn’t I be?’
‘Because, Detective Chief Inspector, if he doesn’t have a bloody good reason for breakin’ regulations like that, I’m goin’ to have his balls to make a necklace for my missus, so I don’t want you gettin’ to them first!’