Authors: Suzette Hill
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
To the happy memory of
Sheila Vera Llewellyn
1: The Vicar’s Version
2: The Cat’s Memoir
3: The Dog’s Diary
4: The Vicar’s Version
5: The Cat’s Memoir
6: The Vicar’s Version
7: The Vicar’s Version
8: The Vicar’s Version
9: The Cat’s Memoir
10: The Dog’s Diary
11: The Vicar’s Version
12: The Vicar’s Version
13: The Vicar’s Version
14: The Cat’s Memoir
15: The Dog’s Diary
16: The Vicar’s Version
17: The Cat’s Memoir
18: The Vicar’s Version
19: The Cat’s Memoir
20: The Vicar’s Version
21: The Vicar’s Version
22: The Dog’s Diary
23: The Cat’s Memoir
24: The Vicar’s Version
25: The Vicar’s Version
26: The Cat’s Memoir
27: The Vicar’s Version
28: The Dog’s Diary
29: The Vicar’s Version
30: The Vicar’s Version
31: The Cat’s Memoir
32: The Dog’s Diary
33: The Vicar’s Version
34: The Vicar’s Version
35: The Vicar’s Version
36: The Vicar’s Version
37: The Vicar’s Version
38: The Cat’s Memoir
39: The Dog’s Diary
40: The Vicar’s Version
41: The Cat’s Memoir
42: The Vicar’s Version
Also by Suzette A. Hill
When Detective Sergeant Sidney Samson appeared on my doorstep to announce the reopening of the Elizabeth Fotherington murder enquiry I thought at first that I was hallucinating. And then as he stood there thin and expressionless I began to wonder whether it was not I, but he who was delirious: one of us had to be out of our mind.
But as I stood transfixed on the threshold of my modest vicarage it became quickly apparent that each was seeing and hearing perfectly well. This was no figment, but a stark reality. The worst had at last occurred: they were going to resurrect the whole ghastly business, and this time I really would be for the high jump … What you might describe as beginner’s luck had surely come to its murky end!
Perhaps the term ‘beginner’ is a trifle misleading, for it must be said in my own defence that when I dispatched Mrs Fotherington almost eighteen months previously
I had no intention that the deed should be the forerunner of similar events – and nor fortunately has it been. One mistake of that kind is as much as anyone can cope with – or at any rate, as much as the Reverend Francis Oughterard, Canon of Molehill, Surrey, can. The dreadful business (not to mention its aftermath, the picture theft affair
) had put me under a considerable strain; and to have it now suddenly disinterred – the enquiry not the corpse – was a blow I felt I could barely survive.
However, the survival instinct being the force that it is, I pushed the dog out of the way, took a deep breath, and smiling bravely invited the wretched Samson in for a cup of tea.
I must explain that Samson is the junior and surlier half of Detective Inspector Gilbert March, a man known less for his perspicacity than for his plodding and genial obstinacy. His sidekick is less plodding, more obstinate, and largely uncongenial. The pinched features, thin frame and pale darting eyes give him the air of a peevish whippet, and while normally in the shadow of March, his watchful presence is invariably an irritant – and at times a fear.
Such a time was this – as I ushered him in, settled him on the sofa, and with frozen marrow waited in the kitchen for the kettle to boil. I stood there trying to work out what on earth had gone
. What had happened to rekindle their interest? What matters had been overlooked, found, said, to resurrect the whole thing again?
were they not content to leave the blame with dead Robert Willy, the flasher in the woods? He had been a most fortunate scapegoat, and at the time I had marvelled at how just occasionally fate deals a winning card. But then, as I might have known, such luck is invariably treacherous …
Thus, armed with chocolate cake and a blank mind, I returned to the study to face The Whippet. With March absent he had taken the liberty of rolling one of his own scraggy cigarettes – but, seeing the cake, seemed to have second thoughts; and putting the weed back in the tin helped himself to the larger of the proffered slices. Typical.
I watched irritably as he busied himself with what was to have been my after-supper treat; and then, clearing my throat, said in mild tones, ‘So what makes the police think the case should be reinvestigated? I was rather under the impression that it was all cut and dried.’
‘Impressions mislead,’ he said woodenly, scooping up the globules of chocolate icing and licking his fingers, ‘and things are rarely cut and dried.’
He was right there, I acknowledged bitterly, and recalled my sister Primrose’s voice saying: ‘Of course, they’ll never drop that case, you know. They never do, not fully … You mark my words, it won’t be the end of it.’ Evidently not.
‘No … no, I suppose they aren’t,’ I agreed vaguely. ‘But, er, has there been anything in particular that’s started things up? Fresh evidence or something?’ I held my breath and tried to look unconcerned.
‘Slowcome,’ he repeated, ‘of the Yard. The new superintendent, he’s on our tail. Thinks we’re too sleepy down here.
was the word he used.’ And whippet-like he twitched his nose in distaste.
‘Ah, one of those new brooms,’ I said sympathetically, lighting a cigarette. ‘They can be a bit of a pain!’
‘Yes,’ he replied slowly, ‘they can.’ And then as a seeming afterthought he added, ‘Though in this particular case I think he’s got something.’
‘But surely you were satisfied it was that flashing tramp, Willy!’ I exclaimed.
‘Mr March was,’ he said, ‘but
never thought things quite added up. Not quite … if you get my meaning.’ And he shot a sideways look at me, almost smiling.
I was so used to Samson’s sneers that a smile, even an incipient one, immediately struck terror and I almost upset the teapot. However, as a diversionary tactic I produced my cigarette case, and with cringing grace offered him a Craven ‘A’. He was about to take it, when Maurice made one of his sudden sorties through the open window, and with flying leap settled himself neatly at Samson’s feet.
‘Cor! Not that cat again!’ the detective exclaimed, getting up hastily and shoving the cigarette behind his ear. ‘Bloomin’ hazard!’
I could understand his response, for a year earlier when he and March were visiting the vicarage pursuing their ‘routine enquiries’, Samson had become embroiled in one of the more blood-curdling disputes between the cat and my dog Bouncer – a skirmish which had left us all (except the contestants) in a state of quivering shock. Evidently the memory still lingered.
‘He’s all right really,’ I lied, ‘just gets a little testy now and again.’
‘Should think he does!’ muttered Samson, edging towards the door.
I was relieved that he was going, but at the same time avid to know more about the fresh development. ‘So, uhm, you’ll be restarting things again, will you? Of course, if I can be of any use …’
‘Oh yes,’ he replied quickly, ‘you’ll be of use, sir. We shall have to interview all those we saw before – to see if anything else emerges. It’s just that, since I was passing, I thought you might like to hear about it first – she being one of your parishioners and you having been a close friend of hers. Sort of put you in the picture.’
‘Most thoughtful,’ I said warmly (inwardly recoiling at the use of the term ‘close’), ‘and, er, give my regards to Inspector March.’
‘Will do that, sir. I daresay he’ll be glad to see you again – and quite soon too, I shouldn’t wonder.’ And taking the cigarette from behind his ear and fumbling for a match, he sloped off down the path.
I returned to the study, consumed the last crumbs of the cake, and stared bleakly out of the window. So much for my holiday plans!
Readers having access to the previous jottings will recall that, exhausted by the rigours of dealing with my aide and bane Nicholas Ingaza (on whose behalf I had been forced to store a couple of stolen paintings), I had been about to arrange a brief visit to the island of Lindisfarne. This little jaunt was intended to restore lost energies – easily mislaid, I fear – and fortify me against further calamity. Unfortunately, it would seem the calamity had anticipated this hope and I was now back at square one, terrified and tense.
I say of Nicholas that he was my aide because, although wholly ignorant of the exact nature of my crime, he had been helpful in corroborating a yarn I had spun the police about a pair of incriminating binoculars. But Nicholas is one of those people who, however useful, will always remain a natural irritant. Favours that he may be minded to confer will require payment in full – if not excess. Forcing me into the role of receiver for his ill-gotten plunder had been in his view a fair exchange for, as he put it, ‘keeping an old chum out of hot water’. In fact I had never been his chum, merely his contemporary at St Bede’s theological college (from which, for soliciting in a London Turkish bath, he had been booted out), but fate and my ghastly blunder had somehow thrown us once more together. At a time of maximum danger Nicholas Ingaza’s support had been vital, but in terms of subsequent angst and trouble it had certainly cost me. Thus just when I was beginning to feel moderately free from his anarchic presence, and hopeful that the ghost of Elizabeth Fotherington was all but laid, the arrival of police officer Sidney Samson on my doorstep once more frustrated that long-sought peace and quiet.
Indeed, it was the need for peace and quiet which had necessitated Elizabeth’s disposal in the first place. Had she been less insistent in her garrulous and arch pursuit I assume she would be alive today, and Foxford Wood no longer the place of dread it has come to be. But as it is, I can rarely go near its precincts without hearing the gush of those interminable tones and their febrile inanities. Nor do I forget the fluttering of the wood pigeons, the bluebells, the far-off rasp of the roebuck, and the soporific drone of the aircraft as it circled high in the sky above the tall and innocent trees … while far below, down in that dense wood, my nerve finally and fatally snapped.
I continued to sit in the study for a good hour after Samson’s departure – fretting, brooding, reliving the past and dreading the future. The cat, having conveniently unsettled my visitor, had disappeared again. But Bouncer wandered in, burped loudly, and proceeded to dance around in preparation for his evening walk. At least that stirred me. So collecting ball and lead, and banishing other thoughts, we set off briskly to check the church and sniff the evening air.
The moment I saw that specimen coming up the garden path I knew that something was amiss – or at any rate, more amiss than usual. (Life with the vicar, or
as we are now obliged to call him, is rarely free from disturbance.) Our master has long had an aversion to Samson, which I am inclined to share; and of the two ‘rozzers’ – to use Bouncer’s term – the emaciated one is certainly the more dangerous. Thus curious to know what was afoot, I established myself on the ledge outside the study window and gave ear to the conversation within.
Much of this seemed to be taken up with the consumption of chocolate cake, but to my dismay there was also talk about the reopening of the Fotherington murder case. I could see that the vicar was in agitated mode, and felt it appropriate that I should make my presence felt. So, with a well-judged leap, I projected myself through the open window and landed within inches of the visitor’s feet. This had the desired effect: the weedy one jumped from the chair and announced his imminent departure. F.O. (as it is convenient to call the vicar) affected disappointment, but it was apparent to all and sundry – well, to me actually – that he was only too glad to be rid of his guest; and alone once more, he sank white-faced into the usual haze of smoke and lethargy.
I returned to the garden to cogitate beneath the holly bush. As I crouched there Bouncer ambled by, and I called him over and described what I had heard.
‘And so how is he going to get out of this one?’ I asked.
‘God knows,’ the dog replied.
Returning from my afternoon stroll a few hours later, I was just passing the tool shed below F.O.’s bedroom window, when my pawsteps were arrested by the most unsavoury noise coming from within: what you might call a mélange of prolonged belches and strangulated wails. A distasteful sound but not without interest, and for half a minute or so I listened intently. Eventually it ceased, and the perpetrator – Bouncer naturally – emerged into the sunlight wagging his tail.
‘How do you do that?’ I enquired. ‘And why?’
‘Oh, it’s something we dogs do from time to time,’ he replied airily. ‘Cats don’t have the skill for it.’
‘I should hope not,’ I retorted, ‘it is far from pleasant!’
shark cat arse on glue
– that’s Frog-speak, you know, for “each to his own”.’
Ignoring both ignorance and insult, I stared at him coldly, pointing out that there was nevertheless a hierarchy in such matters and that my
was considerably better than his.
‘If you say so,’ he said, grinning amiably.
I paused, and then asked again what had prompted the performance.
He became earnest, solemn even, and replied in lowered tones: ‘Mark of respect. Sort of fellow feeling for the vicar – just to show him that we’re on his side in this new mess he’s got himself into.’
mess,’ I exclaimed. ‘It’s the same one come back with a vengeance and we are all in dire jeopardy!’ And not wishing to be outdone by Bouncer, I too braced my lungs and embarked on a series of exquisite caterwaulings. The dog joined in and together we produced a fine and harmonious lamentation in support of our master.
Unfortunately this was cut short by the subject of our commiseration throwing open the window and hurling down abuse and a bucket of water. It just goes to show that humans, particularly the clerical sort, have even less good taste than their canine companions.
An hour passed, and I was just carefully monitoring the movements of a fat spider in the grass when Bouncer reappeared, snuffled about aimlessly and then started to scratch. He was obviously at a loose end and eager to talk. But, reluctant to leave the spider, I pretended not to notice …
‘Oh rapture!’ the dog suddenly barked.
I recoiled, startled. ‘
did you say?’
‘Rapture … Oh,’ he repeated.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Don’t you know, Maurice? I thought you knew
‘Of course I do,’ I replied irritably. ‘Thousands. But why are
‘Just thinking out loud. It’s what she used to say.’
‘Who used to say?’
‘Her – your dead mistress, old Fotherington.’
‘I don’t recall her saying that – certainly not to me.’
‘Well, no. I mean, she wouldn’t say it to you, would she, Maurice?’
‘I can’t think why not!’
‘I can,’ he replied darkly.
I twitched my tail impatiently. ‘You’re talking nonsense as usual. And in any case, you don’t really know what the word means.’
‘Oh yes I do,’ he said doggedly. ‘It’s what I feel when I’ve got a marrow bone all to myself and you and F.O. are out of the house and there’s no one there to interfere!’
I said nothing but thought the more. Obviously it was the Irish setter’s influence again: all that Hibernian blague was making Bouncer get even more above himself than usual. I was about to begin one of my sulks, when there was a sudden explosion of mirth and he roared, ‘Anyway, Maurice, bet she didn’t say “rapture” in Foxford Wood when F.O. was up to his tricks – not with that scarf round her gullet!’
For a moment I watched the ensuing antics as he rolled about helplessly, waving those outlandish paws in the air. And then, unable to retain my normal sangfroid, I too lapsed into unseemly jollity, and the garden was rent with barks and yowls.
An ineffectual oath of protest came from the study window followed by a carpet slipper, but we side-stepped it neatly, and I set off with sprightly foot to the graveyard refreshed and invigorated. The dog does have his occasional use.