Murder At St Marmaduke’s #45

Yet another complete – though again, mercifully short – chapter today. And a new morning dawns on our cast of characters…

As always, please click here to read the previous goings-on.

Chapter 45

Thursday 14th November 1985: 08.30 – 08.50

‘So,’ Ernie said, ‘when are we goin’ to arrest the bloody Chaffords, then?’

Contrary to his expressed intention the previous afternoon, the sergeant hadn’t immediately gone and hidden behind the safety of his counter when he’d arrived at the station that morning. Instead, to Meredith’s astonishment, he’d walked straight into CID, where he was now sitting on the edge of DI Hampshire’s desk in a pose that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Charlie’s Angels; except that Ernie could, in no way, shape or form, possibly be mistaken for Farrah Fawcett.

‘I s’pose this bugger’s comin’ in today?’ he’d said by way of greeting.

‘I’m afraid so,’ Meredith had confirmed. He’d kept his voice low, as a couple of the other CID officers were already hard at work trying to get the coffee machine to pour them plastic cupfuls of thick brown yuck. ‘I phoned him last night to let him know…’

A couple of sentences had come back at him containing some of Ernie’s ‘unique phraseology’, as Meredith had, over the years, come to regard it.

He’d held up his hand to stem the tide. ‘I know all that,’ he’d said. ‘And I can assure you that from now on, things are going to change around here. The chief constable demanding preferential treatment for his cousin or not. And hang my own career and bloody pension if necessary!’

Ernie Bulstrode had raised an appreciative eyebrow. ‘Glad to hear it.’

‘He sounded quite down, actually,’ Meredith had continued. ‘Not at all his usual sneering self. I think we might see a change in him when he appears.’

‘Like he might’ve turned into a human bein’?’

The chances of that being the case were slim to the point of malnutrition, Meredith knew. But he hadn’t expressed this to the sergeant, as bad-mouthing one underling to another wasn’t the done thing, especially when the ‘another’ was quite capable of bad-mouthing the ‘one’ of his own accord.

And it was then that Ernie asked the question this chapter begins with.

‘We have to wait for solid evidence,’ Meredith replied. ‘Which won’t, I’m sure, be long coming. Johnson and Hardy followed Ronnie Chafford yesterday, to that new town about thirty miles from here, the one with the long name; what’s it called…?’

‘You mean Webuiltthiscityonarubbishsongford?’

‘That’s the place, yes. They followed Ronnie to the house of a known fence called Gerry Batrick. He was there a while, and after he left, there was a lot of activity, as if the old boy was getting ready to fly the coup. They waited till he’d finished loading his van and was about to set off, then swooped; literally, in Hardy’s case, according to Johnson. Which I think is some kind of joke, though I don’t know what…’

‘I do,’ Ernie said.

Meredith stared at him. ‘Care to enlighten me?’

‘Later. What’ve they found?’

‘Quite a few items of interest, but nothing from the church so far, if that’s what you’re hoping. Mind you, Johnson said it’s like the inside of Doctor Who’s Tardis in there. They and some of the local lads have been at it all night, and he reckons they still haven’t got to the bit that goes up and down and makes the whoosh-whoosh noise in the middle yet. Sometimes, I think we should hold a workshop on what constitutes proper reporting procedure…’

‘Well, tell ’em to get a bloody move on, Charlie. I don’t want those buggers the Chaffords runnin’ off before I can nab ’em.’

Meredith drew in a deep breath. ‘About that, Ernie…’

Ernie threw a suspicious frown in his direction; which, had it been a right hook, would probably have had Meredith out on the canvas watching sparrows flitting around his head. ‘Ye-ah?’

‘I’m going to give that job to Jack Hampshire. I think I’d like to encourage him a little, even if I do have to stamp down on him in certain aspects.’

‘Oh, for —’

Whatever was for, Ernie bit it off, which Meredith was secretly grateful about. There was only so much insubordination a superior officer could ignore, even from somebody as much a part of the station as the cell doors, which had been in situ since Jack the Ripper was stabbing his dolls with a feeding spoon in practice for when he grew up.

‘You’re the boss,’ the sergeant grunted as a (very begrudged, by the sound of it) conclusion.

The door to the section opened, cutting off any necessity for Meredith to make the obvious retort. Jack Hampshire walked in; and Meredith could see straight away that it was, indeed, a very different DI from the one who’d stomped out of the same door a week or so previously. The shoulders were slumped, the eyes were puffy, and the stare, normally so laser-like with contempt, had a glazed aspect as though somebody had sloshed a bottle of Windolene over it and forgotten to wipe the stuff off.

Meredith frowned. ‘All right, Ernie, be nice, okay?’

The sergeant shuffled off his perch. ‘You can be nice to ’im if you want, Charlie. I’m goin’ back to where I belong.’

And leaving a mess of anagrammatically-similar initials behind him, the now-no-longer acting DS gave his DCI a nod, shouldered past the incoming DI, and stomped out of CID.

End of Chapter 45

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