A complete chapter to read today. Hope you enjoy.
As ever, to read the story thus far, please click here.
Wednesday 13th November 1985: 14.16 – 14.25
‘Well — she isn’t in here, by the look of it.’
Amita, standing roughly dead-centre of the nave, stared over to her right, then from the front of the church to the back, then over to the left, then to the front again. Could they have missed anywhere?
Unlikely. St Marmaduke’s, although a moderately sizable church, did not have a wealth of places in which a corpse could secrete itself. They’d checked all the pews, behind the altar, inside the vestry (including inside the vestments themselves, just in case Mabel Cartwright was disguising herself as a cassock or something), underneath the organ, even in the cupboard that housed the hymn books. The sum total of Mabel Cartwrights they’d come up with was zero.
At the front, the old ladies they’d followed in had pulled chairs from a couple of small piles to one side, and were now in the heads-bowed posture of those in praying mode. Amita sent a quick request of her own to Vishnu for everyone’s protection; then, on second thoughts, she apologised to Jesus for talking to one of her gods from one of his places of worship. Then, on third thoughts, she apologised to Vishnu for talking to Jesus, a non-Hindu god and so probably not a deity she had any business talking to at all; then, on fourth, fifth and possibly sixth thoughts, she apologised to herself for worrying, as to be honest, the two deities were probably on friendly enough terms to sort it out between themselves. Then finally, she got back to the task in hand, which in this case was staring around again, at a bit of a loss for what the next task could be now that the last one had drawn a blank.
Finally finally, she settled for looking at Joseph, which was as good a task as she could think of for the moment, and a lot better than some. He was also staring round the church, and now she saw his face pucker in thought. ‘I do not know if this is a possibility…’ he said slowly.
She followed his gaze, and saw that it was fixed on a door set into the right-hand wall.
‘Oh, I see,’ she said. ‘You think that Mabel Cartwright may be in the bell tower?’
Joseph shook his head. ‘No, Amita — access to the bell tower is at the back. That door leads in the opposite direction. To the place where Father Rawlings was trying to have Miss Cartwright’s body consigned on the day that she was killed. The place from which other dead bodies were brought up by the police.’
‘Ah!’ Amita nodded, understanding dawning. ‘The crypt.’
‘Yes,’ Joseph confirmed. Before Amita could say anything further, he began to stride towards the door.
Terrence Dawson stumbled into the church, his shoulder and knee both agonies of fire. Damn, that door had been solid!
Bloody Bodie and Doyle wouldn’t have taken five goes to barge it open, especially with the latch up. They also wouldn’t have then fallen over an uneven tile just inside it when they’d finally entered.
Maybe he should rethink his role models when it came to police-work. Opt for somebody a bit less bang-crash-wallop.
Juliet Bravo, maybe.
Yeah, she’d be a good one. Not so old and seemingly fluffy-bunnies as Miss Marple, but still with that cerebral edge and way of getting the job done.
He’d look ridiculous in the uniform skirt, though. Probably.
Right, task in hand. His training from the police academy (though not the one Steve Guttenberg had gone to; which was a pity, as it looked a hell of a lot more fun than the one he’d been to himself) kicked in. First thing — case the joint.
Okay. DC Chowdhary was there (he wasn’t surprised to see, given the sarge’s high opinion of her) and she was striding towards the far side of the church, another figure slightly ahead of her. Terrence heard her call, ‘Joseph, be careful, it may be dangerous!’
Ah — Makumbo. Of course.
And up at the front… Right, they must be the other old biddies who were at the meeting where Mabel Cartwright was killed. Looked as if they were at their prayer-thing again.
No sign of Mabel Cartwright, though. Presumably Amita and Joseph would have looked already, so no use him starting a search.
Nobody else present either. Okay. Joint cased. What was next, then?
Well — Makumbo seemed to be heading somewhere urgently. And from Amita Chowdhary’s warning…
Maybe Mabel Cartwright was behind that door they were heading towards.
And given what he’d seen had happened to Harriet Foster in probable revenge for Mabel Cartwright’s death…
Forgetting Bodie and Doyle, Miss Marple and Juliet Bravo, he swiftly thought himself into Carl Lewis from the previous year’s Olympics, and began to race like hell after the young black man and the Asian detective.
‘Ah, Sergeant. And — erm — Detective Inspector, isn’t it?’
‘Detective Chief Inspector, sir. Meredith.’
‘Yes, of course. Detective Chief Inspector. So sorry. I suppose you must be wondering what Clarissa and I were doing up this tree?’
There was a snort from beside Meredith that rapidly turned into a bout of coughing.
‘I imagine, Father,’ he said, ignoring the paroxysm, ‘you’re doing exactly the same as we are. Searching for Miss Cartwright, should she actually be alive and kicking. Or dead and kicking, should I say?’
‘Indeed. And jolly hard she’s making it for us, too.’
As to that, Meredith wouldn’t know. He and Ernie had been about to follow Dawson into the church, when there’d come, in rapid succession, a dull thump from the corner of the churchyard, followed by another dull thump from the same corner of the churchyard.
They’d hurried over to help the vicar and his wife to their feet, Meredith firmly ignoring the fact that the bottom of Mrs Rawlings’ skirt was a few feet adrift of the position one would expect it to be in. Both were now rubbing what were undoubtedly tender spots (again, he ignored where she was rubbing, and concentrated instead on the vicar); but, apart from looking somewhat dishevelled, they seemed relatively unharmed.
‘So, no luck out here, I presume?’
‘Indeed, Chief Inspector. We’d just decided that we should perhaps move our search to the inside, when…’ He indicated the ground.
Meredith nodded. ‘We were about to do so ourselves. Perhaps, if you’re sure you’re okay…?’
The vicar and his wife exchanged looks, then returned his nod.
‘Lead on, then, Reverend — Mrs Rawlings.’
‘Just one thing, though,’ Ernie cut in before anyone had moved.
‘Yes, Sergeant?’ Father Rawlings said.
‘Your car, there.’ Ernie nodded towards the side of the church. Meredith gave a start; he hadn’t notice the pile-up of metal and wood that wasn’t so much a vehicle, more a virulent warning of what modern sculpture could do if left to its own devices too long. ‘You do realise that parking in a graveyard on odd days in the month of November is an offence under a 1943 act of parliament, and I should rightly call for a tow-truck?’
Meredith made very sure he kept his face blank. Father Rawlings, on the other hand, began to look extremely anxious; his wife (not as bimbo as she looks, Meredith decided) more uncertain.
‘Oh, is that so?’ the vicar said. ‘I — erm —’ He ground to a halt
The sergeant gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, though, Reverend,’ he said, in the most annoyingly cheerful voice Meredith had ever heard from him; which was a long, long, list over many, many years. ‘We’ll overlook it this time, shan’t we, Chief Inspector? Long as you move it within, say, the next couple of hours. Fair enough?’
‘Oh — thank you so much,’ Father Rawlings positively gushed.
You really are a bastard, Ernie Bulstrode, Meredith thought at him.
From the grin the sergeant gave him, he’d heard what he’d no doubt consider a compliment loud and clear.
‘Well, carry on then, Reverend,’ Meredith said hastily. He indicated the way to the church door.
The couple set off, and Meredith and Ernie followed. ‘NIneteen-forty-three act of parliament, you sod,’ Meredith growled at him, sotto voce.
‘Well — serves the bugger right for being an insufferable git,’ Ernie sottoed back.
‘And I know what you were thinking with all that snorting and spluttering back there,’ Meredith added. ‘Those magazines you read when nobody’s looking are having an extremely bad effect on you.’
The sergeant chuckled. ‘Actually, Charlie — you’re completely wrong about that.’
Meredith stared at him. ‘Oh, yes? What were you thinking, then? Or should I be afraid to ask?’
Ernie gave another grin, as annoying as the earlier cheerful voice times two. ‘I was just wishin’ he’d’ve got up and said, “Me Tarzan, her Jane!”’