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Authors: Leo Bruce

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BOOK: Furious Old Women
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“That's a good thing, anyway.”

“Old George Larkin takes no notice. I often wonder if he hears half the time. His son's a bit better than what he is but they're both pretty quiet.”

“So I've noticed.”

The younger Larkin had in fact joined his father behind the bar and seemed just as remote and discontented as the landlord.

Carolus found himself vigorously nudged by his informative new acquaintance.

“This is a real character, just come in,” he said. “Mugger, his name is. Lives a few doors from me.”

“What does he do for a living?”

“That's just it. Anyone would be hard put to it to say. Odd jobs here and there. Could be a wonderful gardener if he took the trouble. Now'n again he does a bit. Gives them a hand round at the Swan when they're busy. Goes in for keeping rabbits and pigeons and I don't know what. Breeds ferrets. Chickens, turkeys, anything like that. You ought to see his place. You wouldn't think it to look at him, would you?”

Without knowing quite what ‘it' was, Carolus wouldn't. Mugger was a tall ginger-haired man, rather stern and serious in expression.

“Proper old fox, he is,” went on the little man. “He doesn't half give old Slatt a time. Does it to pull his leg. Last winter Slatt caught him with a sack full of rabbits in a wood belonging to Commander Fyfe. Thought he'd got him at last, he did, and took him down to the police station to send him over to Burley. Old Mugger never said a word and when Slatt got on the phone to Commander Fyfe he found he'd given him permission to be there to keep the rabbits down.”

“It seems to be a lively village,” said Carolus.

“Of course this murder's upset things a bit. Scared a lot of people to think that such a thing could happen. Well, it's not very nice, is it? An old lady like that. They say the back of her head was smashed in something cruel. Makes you think.”

“It does.”

“She was a great churchgoer, Miss Griggs was. And her sister. Well, it's a place for churchgoing. I'm a bell
ringer myself. Only a lot have fallen off lately because of the larks this Miss Vaillant persuades the vicar to get up to. Wants him to start incense and she's got him dressed up like I don't know what with lace all over him. It doesn't do in a place like this. Miss Griggs was very much against it. I don't understand it myself but my wife says all that bobbing up and down and bowing and scraping is nothing less than roaming Catholic. There's talk of them starting idols next so I don't know what we are coming to!”

“Idols?”

“Well, images, then. It seems this Miss Vaillant brought one home from Italy and wanted it put in the church. Miss Griggs said if it went in she'd never come again and Miss Vaillant said if it didn't she wouldn't, so there you are. The poor vicar didn't know which way to turn. But they made it up somehow, because about a week before Miss Griggs died she started going to tea with Miss Vaillant. From what I hear she went twice in a week. It seems they came to terms. I never did hear what they arranged but Rumble heard from his wife that they got quite friendly all of a sudden. You don't know where you are with people like that, do you?”

“I don't.”

“That's what poor old Chilling used to say….”

“Chilling?”

“Bert Chilling. Just Passed On. It was in his grave as you remember that they'd put the body. He was a very nice chap, old Chilling. Used to come in here of an evening and very often ask you to have one. Can't say fairer than that, can I? Well, he was in the choir. Had been for years. And when this Miss Vaillant started these larks with the vicar and most of them were against it, old Chilling surprised them all. ‘You give 'em plenty of it, Mr Waddell!' he used to say. ‘Livens things up,' he told them. ‘I like to see it', he said. ‘Candles and vestments—the lot. I don't know why you don't put in confession boxes and be done with it.' Of course this came to Miss
Griggs's ears and she nearly passed out on the spot. But Miss Vaillant was ever so pleased. So there he was till suddenly he heard, on his deathbed as it turned out, that they'd made friends again. I shouldn't be surprised but what it Hastened his End. The shock of it, I mean. But you never know what to think, do you?”

“Not always,” admitted Carolus and refilled their glasses.

“Lovibond's my name,” admitted the small man rather coyly. “Fred Lovibond. I've got a little electrical business here. I was going to tell you how I came to have that….”

“No, you weren't,” said Carolus gently, “you were going to tell me the name of that young chap in the corner.”

“That? That's Laddie Grey. Used to help Rumble in the churchyard in the old days. His wife's been Shut Up, poor chap. About this business of mine….”

“I thought you were going to tell me about the murder of Miss Griggs.”

“Oh well, that. That was a funny business. Right from the start I said it was a funny business. I mean, where was she going at that time of the night?”

“What time of the night?” asked Carolus.

“When she was done for. It can't have been in plain daylight can it? I mean, it would call attention.”

“But it's dark by four.”

“All right. But where was she going after four? It's all very well but I don't see anyone going into a cold church at that time. And where else could it have been? No one's seen her, don't forget.”

“Then what do you think happened, Mr Lovibond?”

“Oh, I couldn't say. It doesn't bear thinking about really, does it? I mean it could have been anyone, almost. It came out at the inquest that it might have been a woman just as well as a man. I think myself it must have been a stranger. I can't see anyone in Gladhurst doing it. I suppose we shall know in good time. I hear they've got all the biggest policemen on it. Can't let anything like
that go past, can they? Old Slatt's been going round like a dog with two tails. ‘
We
shall probably be making an arrest shortly,' he says. Makes you laugh, doesn't it?”

“I don't know Slatt,” said Carolus.

“You'll find him out in the square now. Always out there in the evening, waiting for ten o'clock. He likes to have a chat while he's standing there looking at his watch for closing time. He talks quick enough. It's a job to stop him talking.”

Carolus found him without difficulty, a long-faced, solemn man who looked suspiciously at the world as though he feared it was going to burst into an explosion of laughter at the sight of him.

Carolus addressed him cheerfully.

“You're the Gladhurst policeman, aren't you?”

“Police
Officer
,” said Slatt in a gloomy voice. “P'raps you wasn't aware that the status has been changed? Police Officer, please.”

“Good evening, Police Officer,” said Carolus obligingly. “Nice evening for murders.”

“I take it you're a stranger here,” said Slatt. “Otherwise you wouldn't make jokes of that sort.”

A motor-bike sped by and immediately the whole bearing of Slatt changed. He ceased to be a lethargic individual leaning on a bicycle and became a crouching lion.

“See the way they go by?” he said. “It's disgraceful, really it is. You can't do anything about it either. We've got half a dozen or more in the village itself and they come through all the time.”

“What's wrong with them?”

“Wrong with them? They're dangerous, smelly, noisy and you never know what the young people who ride on them are up to.”

“Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters. You can't have people doing what they like. These motor-bikes bring trouble all round. We're always getting complaints. When we're busy with
something like this murder we don't want trouble with motor-bikes, do we? If I had my way….”

“You will, I expect, before long. Everything points to it anyway. But how do motor-bikes add to the confusion of the murder?”

“Because part of the investigation I carried out concerned their movements on that day. It was thought necessary to know which of them were where at the time of the crime. How was I to discover that with them flying round like wasps? There's young Bill Larkin the son of this House opposite got one and the Reverend Slipper the curate just bought one for running about on. Then Laddie Grey, he's had one for a long time and Albert Chilling whose father died the other day and two or three more. What they've got up at Hellfire Corner no one knows—half of them not insured I daresay. But I can't be everywhere at once, can I?”

“I suppose not.”

“As soon as I've stopped one and given him a warning for speeding there's another I find with his licence out of date. What am I to do? It's the same with the pubs. If I'm here at ten o'clock when they close I can't be outside the Swan as well and I heard it was nearly five past before they were all out of there the other night. That's only the half of it. There's swedes been missing from a pile beside the road to Burley and all the poaching to think of. I have to have eyes at the back of my head.”

“Poaching?” prodded Carolus.

“We've one or two really bad characters round here,” said Slatt darkly.

“Oh? ‘ A policeman's lot is not a happy one ‘, I gather.”

“A police
officer
.”

“I beg your pardon. ‘A police officer's lot is not a happy one', I should say.”

“No. It's very difficult sometimes. Do you live here?”

“No.”

“Staying in the village?”

“No.”

“Is that your car over there?”

“Yes,”

“Isn't that what you call a Bentley Continental?”

“It is.”

“You seem interested in what goes on here.”

“I am. Particularly murder.”

“That's a matter I can't discuss. It would never do for a police officer.”

“No. Of course not. Besides, I'm a stranger.”

“Yes,” said Slatt suspiciously. “And we don't get many strangers in Gladhurst.”

“None on the day of the murder, I understand?”

“Not so far as we're aware. And we've covered it pretty thoroughly. Bus, train, roads, shops, private houses. No one saw anyone they didn't know.”

“It must be very difficult for you. A dark afternoon, motor-bicycles and no strangers. You don't even know the time it happened, I'm told.”

“Not to the minute, we don't.”

“You should know that. They say ‘if you want to know the time ask a policeman'.”

“Police officer,” corrected Slatt.

“Of course. ‘If you want to know the time, ask a police officer'.”

“That's better,” said Slatt. “No, we don't know the exact time but if you had the experience of these cases that I have you'd know that time is not the all-important factor. That's an idea put about by these detective writers.” He paused to look at his watch. “Still four minutes to go,” he said.

Carolus smiled.

“So time has its importance in matters of the licensing laws?”

“That's another matter. It would never do to let people hang about in pubs half the night, would it? What would happen to their work next day, do you think?”

“I should have thought that the time he goes to bed might have been a man's own affair.”

“His own affair?” said Slatt, horrified. “Whatever do you think would happen to the country if we let people do what they liked? I'm surprised at a man like you suggesting such a thing.”

“Anarchic, you think?”

“Worse than that. Why very soon we'd have them up at all hours dancing and singing and I don't know what. How would you expect me to keep law and order then, I should like to know.”

“Do you sleep well?” asked Carolus.

“No, I don't,” said Slatt. “That's my trouble.”

“I thought it might be. Makes me think of Kipling—

Over the edge of the purple down,

Where the single lamplight gleams,

Know ye the road to the Merciful Town

That is hard by the Sea of Dreams—

Where the poor may lay their wrongs away,

And the sick may forget to weep?

But we—pity us! Oh, pity us!

We wakeful; ah, pity us!—

We must go back with Policeman Day—

Back from the City of Sleep!”

“Police
officer
” Slatt reminded him.

“Of course—

We must go back with Police Officer Day

Back from the City of Sleep”

“Time they was out,” said Slatt and strode across to the Black Horse.

5

W
HEN
Carolus next came to Gladhurst he decided to act on Mrs Bobbin's assurance that he would find it a parish matter. He asked for the vicarage and was directed to a small new semi-detached villa. The door was opened by a young woman with bright professional cheerfulness, like that of a hospital nurse.

“Yes, my father's at home,” she beamed. “Come in if you can squeeze your way along this passage. Mrs Bobbin told us to expect you. Father's in here.”

Mr Waddell was as bright and beaming as his daughter, a bald, round, obliging sort of man.

“De-lighted,” he said. “De-lighted, my dear fellow. Anything I can tell you is at your disposal. I shall be only too happy.” Suddenly he looked serious. “Unless of course it conflicts with my duty to the police.”

Carolus, not yet used to the vicar's facility for discovering the horns of a dilemma and being tossed from one to the other, said—” I don't think so.”

“I've always understood that private detectives and CID men were at loggerheads,” the vicar continued anxiously. “I shouldn't wish to find myself….”

“No, no,” said Carolus briskly. “What did you do that afternoon, Mr Waddell?”

The vicar recovered his jollity and gift for being all things to all men.

BOOK: Furious Old Women
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