Chapter 39 concludes today. To read the first two parts of it, see post #39a&b below this one.
And, if needed, to read all that’s happened before, please click here.
Wednesday 13th November 1985: 14.36 – 14.55
‘What’s happening?’ James’s voice was an urgent hiss. ‘All I can see from my angle is two blokes in the doorway, one of whom’s just yelled something so ridiculous his face has turned the colour of a baboon’s backside.’
‘The one who got killed last week’s about to stab one of the others,’ Andrew hissed back. ‘And what do you know about baboons’ backsides? The nearest you ever got to a backside was when that Roman centurion was taken short when we were hiding from his patrol that time.’
‘Please — don’t remind me!’
Andrew let that go. Happenings nearer the altar were more important than teasing his fellow saint. ‘I really think she’s going to do it,’ he muttered.
‘Oh, well,’ he heard James say. ‘More fun for you to watch. It isn’t fair, you know.’
Hmm, Andrew found himself thinking. Fun? It actually wasn’t, really — was it?
Minutes had passed, during which time the man at the door’s shout had died away completely. It was so quiet now, Lavinia could hear her heart thudding in her chest.
Well — at least that meant her ears were functioning again, which was one positive.
The only positive, really.
She contemplated the hatpin in front of her eyes, then the life that she’d led. It had been good, on the whole. Maybe the last few years had been overwhelmed a little by — well, by you know who. But yes — on the whole, no regrets really. (Apart from that incident with the Canadian airman in 1944. If he’d only been American, she’d at least have been up a pack of Lucky Strikes at the end of it.)
‘Mabel, dear,’ she heard Lily’s voice. ‘Do stay calm.’
The voice — Mabel’s voice but not Mabel’s voice — came as a sarcastic laugh into her head. ‘Stay calm! Calm!’
‘Tha— That’s it,’ Daphne’s quaver added. ‘Deep breaths, just like you used to. Remember?’
‘In case you haven’t realised —’ the laugh had gone, but the sarcasm element had ramped up by a million percent or so ‘— I stopped breathing a week ago. Deeply or otherwise.’
‘Oh.’ Daphne sounded as though she felt as silly as her remark warranted. ‘Of course. Sorry, dear.’
‘I don’t call it fun,’ Andrew said. ‘In fact, it’s anything but, to be honest.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well. Didn’t we have enough of killing back in the old days? With the Romans, and that? And all the things we had to put up with when we were getting the new religion off the ground? And for ages at this place, all I seem to have witnessed is old’uns being bumped off at the will of that psychotic woman who’s in charge of their meetings. About time it all stopped, I reckon.’
‘Oh.’ James’s voice was filled with uncertainty. ‘I suppose you’re right. I’ve never thought of it like that. Just always seemed part of life’s natural process. Like eating and farting.’
Andrew’s righteous indignation evaporated for a moment. He gave a tut. ‘Oh, so that was you when we were all shut in that upper room together. I knew it was!’
‘Couldn’t help it.’ If a stone carving could ever be shamefaced, that was exactly how James didn’t sound; rather, quite blase, annoyingly, given the irritation he must have known he’d caused all those years before. ‘It was that soup the women were cooking. Lentils every meal. Bound to have an effect.’
‘You let Hettie kill me!’ Mabel ‘said’. Her head snaked backwards and forwards, reaching what looked to Lavinia like impossible angles. Then she grabbed hold of it and manually turned it a full 180 degrees to stare at Lily and Daphne, both of whom reacted by attempting to crawl up the nearest wall and insert themselves into a stained-glass window. Lavinia just managed to resist the urge to be sick.
‘But we didn’t mean to, dear,’ she said.
In normal circumstances, that might have sounded quite reasonable, she thought immediately afterwards. Now, though…
‘I’m fed up with it, Andrew said. ‘All the killing. And I’m going to do something about it.’
‘Oh yeah? What?’
By swivelling his eyes to his left, he could just make out the shape of the lectern, and the large adornment whose wings held up the Bible that was used for Sunday readings. ‘Hey, Eagle!’ he called.
There was a pause, and then: ‘Yes?’ the reply came.
The eagle’s voice sounded like the wood he’d been carved from. Old, oaky and with a slight hint of squirrels.
Andrew explained what he wanted. ‘I see,’ the eagle said.
There was the groan of wooden wings being cranked up ready for lift-off.
‘I can’t watch, can I?’ a mutter came from James. ‘Stupid thing to say.’
Mabel’s voice was the sonic equivalent of a block of ice. ‘Whether you meant to let Hettie kill me or not is beside the point. You did. And I’m afraid, dear, that I’m not prepared to overlook that.’
Lavinia gulped, closed her eyes, and waited for the pain to start.
Meredith sprang forwards. That bloody Cartwright woman was about to stab that kneeling woman, and he had to do something.
‘Your wish is my command,’ a genie might have said at that point. (It wasn’t too far off panto season, after all, and having made a creditable Abanazar in the previous year’s Aladdin, performed in aid of the station’s favoured charity, The Sherlock Homes (sic) for The Families of Retired Police Dogs, Meredith was quite looking forward to seeing how this year’s production, Cinderella on Ice only Without the Ice, would manage without him as well as the ice.)
To whit — several somethings happened immediately after his thought, with absolutely no input from himself whatsoever, and at a speed that would have done credit to a 100 metres runner with his/her backside on fire…
Something one: a creaking began at the front, as if a tree had suddenly woken up and stretched its branches to relieve their stiffness.
Something two: a crack followed, as if one of those branches had overstretched itself, and decided it was fed up with the sky and would rather be at ground level for a while.
Something three: a flapping sound came after that, still with an element of creak in it; as if, say, the branch had grown rather woody feathers in order to aid its descent.
Something four: a large and incredibly fierce-looking object shot off one of the fixtures towards the Cartwright woman.
Something five: there was a cry of pain/fear/surprise as the large and incredibly fierce-looking object smacked into the hand of the Cartwright woman.
Something six: there was the tiniest of clinks as the prospective murder weapon hit the floor with the force of a butterfly settling on a hydrangea bush.
Something seven: Amita Chowdhary and Joseph Makumbo both darted forwards and, one each side, pulled the kneeling woman up and out of the way of the Cartwright woman.
Something eight: Terrence Dawson also darted forwards, grabbed the Cartwright woman by the still-upraised arm, twisted it down behind her back, and barked, ‘Stay right where you are, Miss Cartwright!’ in a tone that Meredith couldn’t believe had emanated from the constable’s six-foot-plus, seven-stone-soaking-wet frame.
Something nine: Ernie Bulstrode recommenced his stride towards the front of the church, at a speed that Meredith couldn’t believe his sergeant could attain without rocket propulsion being involved.
Something ten (or maybe, Someone one): a voice came from somewhere low down in the pew to Meredith’s left. ‘I’m so sorry, Clarissa my dear, I didn’t mean to squash you, but I was afraid you might be hurt by the flying pipework.’
Someone two: a higher-pitched voice replied, ‘That’s okay, darling, and thank you — but if you could see your way to shifting now, I think I’d be a lot more comfortable.’
Something eleven/twelve/whatever: the two appeared in a more-or-less upright position, and Meredith absolutely ignored where Mrs Rawlings was rubbing now.
Something final: Ernie Bulstrode reached the front, stooped and picked up the hatpin, concluding the dramatics for the moment.
Oh. Amend that. Something finally final: there was another, more muffled crack, and Constable Dawson said, ‘Oh shit!’
And then turned to look at Meredith with a stunned expression, holding Mabel Cartwright’s right arm in his hands sans the rest of Mabel Cartwright, which was advancing once more upon the woman being aided by his DC and the young black man.