At long last, Murder At St Marmaduke’s reaches its conclusion.
I’d like to thank all of you who have become followers of my blog because of this humble effort, as well as all who have ‘Liked’ posts, given comments, and generally made the whole thing worth carrying on with.
I will return with other writing soon, and possibly even more normal-for-blog observations on aspects of life. (I’m aware I’ve never followed up my initial thoughts about Jodie Whittaker’s tenancy of the TARDIS, for example.)
Meanwhile, if you need to read St Marmaduke’s in full, you can do so right here.
Otherwise, here’s the final chapter…
Monday 18th November 1985: 16.00 – 16.45
Dear Sergeant Bulstrode,
the letter that Ernie found in his pocket — and God (or rather, that prat they’d met earlier, either pretending to be Joseph Makumbo or actually being him, which Ernie wasn’t going to think about in case his arteries definitely did go bang this time) alone knew how it got there — read,
I refer you to your visit with your colleagues earlier today. Whilst you were here, I know that there’s another question you would have liked to ask, but didn’t want to in front of DCI Meredith, since it would have alerted him to the fact that you acted extremely unprofessionally in Chapter 23. (Plus, I ran out of space to explain it in Chapter 52, so sending you this letter is the best way I can think of to do so before the end of the book.) This is, of course, the question of why you were so confused as to how many ladies came to see you at the station on 7th November.
For an answer, I will refer you to my fictional Joseph’s conversation with Amita Chowdhary in Chapter 34 regarding his numbering of the ladies to avoid them being merely generic old women. You were, of course, confused as to how many women there were simply because it was numbers Two, Four and Five who were at the station with you, so you filled in the presence of Numbers One and Three by some psychological quirk which, being a mere novelist, I’m not intelligent enough to know the details of, and have no wish to research as it would take up valuable time I could otherwise be employing trying to make money from my writing.
You may also be wondering why the description they gave you was of me rather than Mabel Cartwright. This was an indication to anyone reading Murder At St Marmaduke’s that there was something beyond an ordinary murder story happening. (In case they hadn’t already guessed from the fact I had the effigies of two saints commenting on the action in various places; something you, of course, won’t know about unless you read the novel, which I can thoroughly recommend you do as a change from all those magazines with the pneumatic young ladies in them, since I understand that one has to eat a great many carrots to counter the effect those publications have on one.)
And in case you think the red herring thus thrown into the mix was rather a cheat, then it wasn’t really. After all, as the author of this work, I am effectively as responsible for killing Harriet Foster as Mabel Cartwright is. However — don’t even think of trying to prosecute me for it, as being your writer, I won’t allow you to.
I hope this is sufficient explanation for you. Be assured that I will never allow DCI Meredith to read Chapter 23, since I would then need to have him take disciplinary action against you; which I have no desire to happen, as you’re one of my favourite characters.
My very best wishes to you and your caramel wafers,
Joseph Makumbo (author).
‘Right,’ Meredith said. ‘The St Marmaduke’s case — or cases, rather, there having been a couple too many for my liking — being solved, it only remains for me to officially wrap up the investigation and thank you all for your participation in it. I can’t say it’s made a great deal of sense most of the time, but at least we’ve ended up with a result — of sorts — and for that, I can only be grateful.’
He waited for the round of applause, led by Terrence Dawson and, rather sarcastically, in his opinion, Ernie Bulstrode (whose arms were held stiffly in front of him, making him look like a cross between a sealion and one of those toy monkeys that banged a pair of cymbals together), to die away, then continued: ‘Of course, during the investigation, a major change has occurred within the team, with the resignation of DI Hampshire…’
This time, he had to wave his hand after a couple of minutes to suppress all the whooping, hollering and catcalling from the CID officers present; all of whom, it appeared, had never much cared for the detective inspector after all, and had only gone along with his particular brand of offensive policing in order to compile a full dossier on him to present to the Police Complaints Authority. As unlikely as that sounded, and Meredith doubted he’d ever set eyes on such a document even if he remained in his job till he was so dead he couldn’t see to read it without a pair of binoculars.
‘That means, of course, we now have a vacancy; which, I’m pleased to tell you, will be filled with immediate effect by former Detective Sergeant — now Detective Inspector — Stephens.’
More raucous cheering, and a footballish chant of ‘Stevo, Stevo’ followed this announcement, and he let this run its course. Occasionally, a boost in morale warranted a certain amount of childishness, he was beginning to realise; and there were none more childish than this lot outside of an episode of Watch With Mother.
After it had finally died away, he again continued: ‘This, in turn, means that there’s a vacancy for a new detective sergeant; which, I’m delighted again to announce, we are offering to —’
He couldn’t help breaking into an enormous grin as he sprung his trap; after all — if anybody deserved a shock, it was ‘— Sergeant Bulstrode!’
This time, there was a dead, baffled silence from the CID ranks. Two of the only three sounds audible were: one, a gasp from Dawson; followed by, two, an addition of, ‘Hey! Congratulations, Sarge,’ also from Dawson.
To Meredith’s extreme satisfaction, the third of the three sounds was Ernie appearing to choke on one of his pet caramel wafers. At the same time, an expression of such horror appeared on the sergeant’s face, he looked as though he’d just bumped into the corpse of Mabel Cartwright again, she being intent on a second round of their all-too-brief wrestling bout in St Marmaduke’s Church.
‘I — I — I mean…’ the sergeant began to splutter. ‘I mean — I — er —’
Suddenly feeling charitable (though not necessarily towards Ernie; more towards the CID officers, who were staring round at each other with faces ranging from extremely puzzled to downright appalled), Meredith broke into laughter. ‘Don’t worry, Ernie,’ he said, ‘I was only joking. You can go back to your front desk safe in the knowledge that we’re never likely to need your particular — not to mention, peculiar — talents in CID ever again.’
The CID officers did react to that one, longly and even more raucously; and again, Meredith had to wave his hand for silence, noting with great amusement the look on Ernie’s face as he treated the room to such a glare it was a wonder the paint didn’t peel off the walls and jump into a cupboard to hide.
‘Okay, okay,’ he called as a few cheers lingered. ‘Actually, I’m giving the job to Amita Chowdhary. She’s had to step out on other enquiries at the moment, but I am absolutely sure —’ and the emphasis he put into those two words could give them no doubt that anyone who gave him cause to not be so sure would be hung, drawn, quartered, boiled in vinegar, tarred and feathered, and then demoted to the sniffer dog’s second-best rubber bone for the rest of their career ‘— you’ll welcome her to the post and give her every help possible to settle into it.’
He’d told Chowdhary about her promotion a little earlier, after giving her permission to go into town and meet up with Joseph Makumbo; which relationship, for no reason he could fathom (and it was nothing whatsoever to do with only being a character in somebody’s novel, and therefore at the whim of its author), he was extremely keen to support. The look of stunned delight on her face had been worth its weight in feathers (which, his wife had once told him, weighed more than gold, for complicated reasons that he couldn’t remember and would probably never have a reason to enquire about ever again).
Now, the cheers and applause that went up from the CID crew at the news of Chowdhary’s promotion made Meredith about as satisfied as he could remember being since he’d joined the force; the only possible exception being the time he’d made his first arrests as a detective, when he’d stormed onto the stage of a dreadful amateur production of Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound and nabbed the whole cast for impersonating actors.
‘And finally, that in turn means that we have a vacancy in CID for a replacement detective constable. And that, I’m pleased to say, we’re giving to Constable Dawson. Congratulations, Terrence.’
The applause for this was more muted, but still generous. Meredith had no doubt that Dawson would fit in; and if necessary, in the same way that he was going to keep an eye on young Chowdhary, he’d damned-well make sure the constable did fit in.
There was another splutter from Ernie Bulstrode. ‘Yeah, congratulations, lad,’ the sergeant said. ‘But,’ he continued, turning only a slightly toned-down version of the paint-stripping glare on Meredith, ‘I hope this isn’t goin’ to be effective till after you’ve got me a new constable. Sir.’
Meredith’s grin this time was one of immense smugness. ‘Sorry, Ernie. I’ve decided there isn’t room behind that counter for two of you any more. After all — your ego is almost big enough to push the walls of the whole station outwards, never mind that confined space. So, you’re on your own from now on.
‘And that’s an order!’ he added, to forestall the protest that Ernie’s expression, opening mouth and deep inbreath were promising to come his way.
‘But don’t worry,’ he continued, as the sergeant’s mouth shut with a snap an alligator would have been proud of. ‘I know how precious your refreshments are, and I like to keep my officers happy.
‘So, to make sure you get your regular daily intake…
‘I’m going to buy you a Teasmade.’
‘So,’ Sally Evans said. ‘You’re going ahead with Murder At St Marmaduke’s?’
Kevin nodded. ‘I am. I know it needs some work; but then, don’t they all? And once a few of his darlings are killed — some of which I’m looking forward to murdering personally, as listed by you in Chapter 48 — I reckon it might well be our first success story.’
‘I’m glad you’re so enthused.’
He stared at her, unsure whether she was being genuine or sarcastic. As usual, her face and tone of voice gave away as much information as a politician in a Newsnight interview.
‘Erm — and apparently,’ he hastened on, realising his stare could be construed as something other than what it was (leading to yet more frost that the radiators had no chance of dealing with), ‘he’s already got a second novel finished in first draft, which he’s willing to give us first option on, when it’s in a fit state to be read.’
‘Really? That’s — potentially excellent.’
He gave a snort of laughter. ‘I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be another HL Danvers, Sally. Let’s face it — her manuscripts are so fresh from the typewriter they don’t even qualify as zeroth drafts.
‘No. I think Joseph Makumbo — or “Colin Z Smith”, rather — can, with help, become at least a half-way decent writer. And really, in a world where Jeffrey Archer is a best-seller, that’s pretty much all we can hope for.’
‘I suspect you’re right, Kevin. And by the way — do you realise that you just called me “Sally”?’
He smiled, feeling rather self-conscious. ‘Well — sometimes, changes have to be made. Don’t they?’
There was another brief silence, not quite getting to the ‘awkward’ stage, which was a nice change for him. Then he went on: ‘Anyway. This second novel. Wexford Pettigrew Solves A Murder, he’s calling it. Set in the 1920s. I’m really looking forward to reading it.’
‘That’s good,’ Sally said. And this time, she actually sounded sincere rather than is-she-or-isn’t-she.
Kevin hesitated, then gave a small cough. ‘It does mean — me going ahead with this book…’
He gave an apologetic smile. ‘It does mean I’m going to need Page 119, I’m afraid.’
To his astonishment, for the first time ever since he’d known her, Sally burst into laughter; and the sound was a highly pleasant one, too. ‘I did realise,’ she said. ‘And —’ She sobered, suddenly. ‘Oh well. I’ll just go and get it.’
She left his office, and there was the sound of a drawer being opened and closed. She came back, a single A4 sheet of paper in hand.
‘Please,’ she said, handing it across to him, ‘don’t read it till I’m not in the room.’
‘Oh. Okay.’ He placed it onto his desk.
There was another silence, this time filled with the kind of clichés that he was hoping to be able to tidy up, if not remove, from the rest of the novel. To break it, he smiled and said, ‘Well — I’ll, erm — I’ll let you know what I think. Shall I?’
‘If you must.’ She nodded; then, presumably to avoid yet another silence, she added, ‘I’ll let you get on.’
She turned, and he made sure not to stare at her backside as she walked to the door, since any actions he took now were bound to crop up in the last chapter that the author had promised to send as soon as they, and all others involved, had finished living it (which wasn’t a concept he could comfortably think about without going dizzy); and if Sally read about him ogling her, she’d no doubt be furious in the way that only Sally Evans could be furious, which was in the most scary way imaginable multiplied by a number too high to count.
As she reached the door, she stopped and turned back to him. ‘I would have said “yes”, you know.’
He stared at her in confusion. ‘I’m sorry?’
She smiled. Another first. ‘Chapter 9. Dinner. I’d have said “yes”. And I’d have added, “Pick me up at eight.”’
His brain somersaulted, as he recalled the part of the book she meant. ‘Oh…’
There was a thoughtfulness in her eyes that he realised with a shock might even be bordering on sadness, as she slowly shook her head. ‘In all this time. Haven’t you ever realised…?’
He frowned. ‘Realised?’
‘Yes. Why I’ve hung around here; working with you.’
‘I — What?’
She smiled again. ‘Just read Page 119, Kev. And yes — I did just call you that.’
She turned to go again, and said, her back (and backside, which he still wasn’t looking at) towards him, ‘In case you still haven’t got it… After you’ve read that, you can ask me what you wanted to in Chapter 9. And I’ll still say “yes”.
‘And then,’ she added, ‘you can arrange to pick me up at eight.’
‘So it was myself who whispered in my ear!’ Joseph said.
Amita gave him a quizzical look, one eyebrow raised in the way that Sally Evans had told him was so beloved of this Colin Z Smith author; who, although turning out to be himself, sounded like the kind of person he wouldn’t like if he were to meet him. (If meeting a different person who happened to also be oneself was not too bizarre a philosophical concept anyway, let alone meeting them and not liking them. Certainly it was a concept that, if one thought about it for too long, would probably give one a violent nose-bleed whichever one of oneself one happened to be at the time.)
‘I’m sorry?’ she said, recalling him from the brink of disappearing down a philosophical, not to mention grammatical, rabbit-hole just in time.
He smiled. ‘It is just something that I thought whilst I was at church two weeks ago. During Chapter One, I suppose we should refer to it now.’
They had, by an arrangement neither of them could remember making, convened again at the Costalot Coffee House. (Amita had said that she supposed the arrangement had been written for them, and the author had forgotten to type them both knowing about it. Joseph had made a note of this in order not to be so careless while writing his own novel; which actually, they’d concluded, was the novel they were living through. Which was another bizarre concept, and likely to paint one’s handkerchief scarlet if one wasn’t careful.)
‘Hello,’ the waitress they’d met the previous week interrupted his thoughts, placing a pot of tea in front of him and a decaf latte in front of Amita. ‘It’s lovely to see you both again.’
‘And you,’ Amita replied, smiling up at her. ‘No McAndes workmen in today, I see.’
‘No.’ The girl gave a smile of her own which even Joseph, as unfamiliar as he was with the ways of femalekind, could tell was one of immense relief. ‘We haven’t seen them all week, in fact. I think they may have finished the job they were working on and gone to another area.’
She moved away, and Amita leaned towards Joseph. ‘Actually,’ she said quietly, ‘they are still working on the same project. It’s just they’re a little inconvenienced at the moment, being held on suspicion of dealing narcotics.’
Joseph stared at her in surprise. ‘Really? I would not have thought that they would risk their positions by doing something so foolish.’
‘Oh, they haven’t,’ she said, her smile widening and her eyes twinkling in a probably clichéd, but nonetheless extremely attractive, way. ‘But each of them is, as we speak, being strip-searched very thoroughly by Constables Davis and Walker; besides whom, John Inman and Larry Grayson look like Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins. I think that might teach them a thing or two.’
Joseph wasn’t entirely sure who any of the mentioned gentlemen were; but he’d now been subject to enough character development that he could understand the implication, and joined in with her (once again clichéd-but-attractive) musical laughter.
‘But what did I — the author, that is — tell you about us not existing once the final word is written?’ he asked after their laughter had died away. ‘That is troubling, I have to admit.’
‘Oh, that!’ Her voice held an excitement that he couldn’t help being infected by. It lifted his spirits towards the roof to dance around the light fittings; and feeling it up there, he wondered if a home-life where that was always the case would ever be possible, and thought most decidedly that it would, in the right circumstances.
‘He told me,’ she continued, ‘that once the characters in a novel exist in the minds of their readers, they will always live on; assuming they’ve been that real to them in the first place. And their lives will be as the readers imagine. Which in our case, hopefully…’
‘Yes?’ he asked.
‘Well…’ Suddenly, she lowered her eyes, her face flushed, and her top teeth began to chew on her bottom lip in a way both endearing and puzzling. To his surprise, she carried on, seemingly apropos of nothing, ‘Do you think that two people of different religions — for instance, just as a hypothetical case — would be able to go out together, say? As a hypothetical case, of course…’
Oh! Could she possibly be meaning…?
‘Well — hypothetically…’ he ventured, treading very carefully, in case he was barking up completely the wrong footpath.
‘If, for instance, a Christian and a — perhaps, a Hindu, let us say…’
He held his breath.
‘A Christian and a Hindu? Good examples!’
Oh my goodness! Relief flooded through him. He was, in fact, treading on the softest, mossiest grass imaginable.
‘Well, if they were to go out together. As, say, boyfriend and girlfriend…’
‘Well —’ he said again, then paused, wondering whether to put in a jarring note. But, yes — for the sake of where he might be heading down his mossy road, it was best to be perfectly truthful. ‘Then,’ he continued, ‘there are those who might not be favourable to this happening…’
He hurried on, wanting to get the bad out of the way. ‘My own mother, for example…’
‘Oh! I see…’
‘But my mother, you understand, is many miles away, and would not even need to know about such an arrangement.’
‘There are, however, others, I think, possibly nearer to where we live — or, rather, where our hypothetical couple lives…’
‘Of course. Hypothetical…’
‘…who may be of the same opinion as my mother…’
‘Well — I think myself…’
‘Well — I think that such people would be very silly people indeed.’
‘Oh! Do you really?’
He nodded emphatically. ‘I do. And in the case, say, if such people were Christian ones…’
‘Well — there is only one set of Christians who I think would be silly enough to raise any objections to such an arrangement.’
Amita frowned. ‘Really? Who do you think they would be?’
He shot another smile at her. ‘I think that they would be evangelicals.’
‘Oh!’ Her frown this time had amusement written through it. ‘For some reason, I thought you were going to say “Americans” then.’
Now he laughed. ‘They are very much the same thing, Amita.’
She joined in his laughter. And then —
‘For heaven’s sake, Joseph! Enough of the hypothetical nonsense; we all know what you’re talking about! Kiss the woman, will you!’ the now familiar voice-from-seemingly-nowhere barked.
Joseph raised his eyebrows for one final, lack-of-an-emotion-thesaurus time. ‘I am just about to,’ he replied firmly. ‘And I do not need any more instructions from yourself, thank you. You just get on with typing
and let us get on with the rest of our lives!’