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After the Lord Mayor's show

CHAPTER 20

In the last episode, the investigation continued into the poison cheese; the police beat at the door of ‘Cromwell’s’, and things went batty at the winter fayre. Some found it a rather hair raising experience – quite literally! Meanwhile, The Kid ate a baked potato in the cold, and some mystery hands pushed open the gate, holding in the cows…

Rex returned to the vicarage a troubled man; his mind awash with disastrous thoughts. How had it come to this?

After all, he should now be relaxing after a job well done; laughing away the evening with friends; anecdotes of the day amusingly shared.

‘What a day!’

‘Did you see so and so?!’

‘David on the door is worth the money alone!’

‘The teas did well!’

‘Yes, they say she was in the loo for forty minutes!’

‘Forty??’

‘I kid you not!’

‘The tombola took over £80!’

‘And tea-total vicar wins the Champagne! I mean, you couldn’t make it up, what happens in Misty Longings!’

‘Inky was a complete brick! The kids loved the bike races!’

‘And is it true about the good doctor’s hair?’

‘I nearly died! And did you hear what Mrs Post said??’

It would have been a fine evening, ending with a toast:

‘Here’s to another successful winter fayre!’

‘And so say all of us! Another successful winter fayre! Cheers!’

Glasses clink riotously. And then Rex would have said:

‘I don’t know how we do it, but we do!’

And perhaps they would have started singing: ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’.

But they didn’t, and he wasn’t. Life was never like it should be, or not for Rex anyway. And instead of all that, the distraught Reverend is crying on the floor of his study, and asking:

‘Where has it all gone wrong?’

He looked around at the pictures on the wall – many of them drawn by the children in the local school.

‘Kids keep you young,’ he thought to himself.

He looked at the umbrella stand, given to him by the parish on the occasion of his 50th birthday. Knowing him to be a single man, they’d made the event so special. Rex still couldn’t quite believe it, when people were kind. People here both loved him and trusted him. This was home!

Yet now – had he thrown it all away?

Rex got up from the floor, wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and sat himself down in his study chair. Here was a chair with a few stories to tell. This was the chair from which he spoke kindly to people about baptism and marriage; the chair from which he spoke gentle words to the bereaved. And this was the chair in which he wrote weekly sermons to strengthen the faithful few in the journey through life. But for how long would he sit here and gaze at the meadows beyond?

He would need to write some words for tomorrow. Saturday night spelt ‘SP’ – sermon preparation, and he must jot down some thoughts.

‘It is tempting to wing it,’ he said to himself, ‘but I am aware that when I don’t have notes, I do find it hard to stop, and consequently, drivel on a bit, just going on and on to no great effect – which can, on occasion, provoke anger amongst the faithful.’

‘If you haven’t struck oil in ten minutes, Vicar – stop boring!’ as one of them had said to him, in a rather angry manner.

Anger. Rex hated it with a capital ‘H’.

*

‘Patricia!’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘Come on in!’

Patricia was aware that suddenly Dr Hafiz was bald, but she wasn’t going to mention it. His eyes were still magic.

‘You will have noticed that I am suddenly bald,’ said the good doctor.

‘Hair loss can be a most sudden thing,’ said Patricia.

‘Indeed. Particularly when the bats swoop on your toupee, and render it quite ridiculous!’

‘Well, we were never quite sure.’

‘I am aware it was the cause of some debate.’

There was a slightly awkward pause.

‘Only amongst those who have nothing better to do than gossip,’ said Patricia, rallying bravely.

‘Does that leave anyone?’

‘You’re a very handsome man, Dr Hafiz, with or without hair.’

‘I have plenty on my back.’

‘Really? I like a man to be a man.’

‘But what’s the point of a hairy back, when on top – the part people see – you are entirely bald? It is not always easy to believe in God.’

Dr Hafiz shook his hand at the sky.

‘It does seem to be a bit of an issue with you, doctor!’ said Patricia, both happy and coy.

‘Do you think so?’

‘You are not normally so, well, obsessed with yourself. People in the village regard you as someone from another world entirely! In a good way.’

‘Everyone must place their vanity somewhere, I suppose. Where do you place yours?’

‘Well, I! – ‘

‘You don’t need to answer. Come inside, for it is a cold night. Happiness is the great work, so we will forget my poor head entirely, and sit and share brandy – and some rather wonderful Persian nuts. Do you like Iraqi nuts?’

‘I hope this is not connected with any small pink thing!’ said Patricia, remembering their oh-so embarrassing exchange at the Fayre. She blushed, even as she said it.

‘Now who’s obsessed?’ asked the doctor, with laughter in his eternal eyes.

‘Me?? Obsessed??’

‘And you must tell me all about Lord Jo. I need to know how he is, after that poison cheese. I want a full nurse’s report.’

*

They had found themselves leaving the Fayre together, and Inky had offered to walk Jane home.

‘Long Lane is a long lane,’ Jane had warned rather obviously. ‘I don’t want you collapsing on me.’

‘I love long lanes,’ said Inky. ‘It’ll be like what they call a ‘white-knuckle ride!’

One day, Inky wished to be involved in extreme sports.

And so they had walked together as the night drew in. It was nice for Jane to have company, and Inky liked to talk with Jane.

‘Is it true you keep owls?’ asked Inky.

‘I don’t keep owls,’ said Jane. ‘But they do seem to gather at Rose Cottage.’

‘Tawny owls or brown owls?’

These were the only two owls that Inky had heard of.

‘Tawny owl, brown owl, wood owl – they’re all the same bird.’

‘Really?’

‘If we’re lucky, they’ll be sitting on the chimney when we get there. They like the winter dusk.’

They walked a little.

‘You’re very lucky to have a home, Miss Jane.’

‘I suppose I am. Would you like a home, Inky?’

‘The completely best day of my life will be when I am handed the keys of the front door – my front door!’

‘That will be very special for you, I can imagine.’

‘And I will carry my wife over the threshold!’

‘Really?’

‘Definitely!’

‘And do have any particular house in mind?’

‘No, not at the moment.’

‘Or a wife in mind?’

‘Not at present.’

‘But those are your hopes.’

They walked a little further, before Inky summoned up more courage. He did find adults difficult.

‘People say I’m stupid, Jane.’

‘Only stupid eyes see stupid things.’

‘Do you think I’m stupid?’

‘I think you’re very alert and very kind. The children loved your bike races this afternoon.’

‘I just wanted them to have the time of their lives. Do you think they did?’

‘I think they certainly did. You made their dreams come true.’

‘Everybody has to have a dream!’

‘I suppose so, Inky,’ said Jane, suddenly a little deflated. Inky was a good boy, but Jane felt much too old to be talking with him. ‘Just don’t miss out on all the lovely things while you’re waiting for your dream to come true. Dreamers miss out on so much, in my experience.’

‘Did you miss out on so much?’

‘I missed out on almost everything.’

They walked in silence after that, until they reached Rose Cottage

‘Oh look – an owl!’ shouted Inky. ‘It’s brilliant!’

Jane looked up. Dark against the just-light sky was the silhouette of Peter the owl – just beginning his night vigil on the chimney of Rose Cottage. He would hoot quietly for a while, and look this way and that, before setting off for the valley in the small hours.

‘He’s getting ready for the hunt,’ said Jane.

‘He looks to kind and wise to hunt,’ said inky.

‘Nobody is too kind and wise to hunt, Inky. We’re hunters all, in our way. Like Peter, we swoop on our prey with a primal and wild scream.’

‘I suppose so,’ said Inky, not really supposing so at all. Was Jane completely mad? ‘I think I best be getting home.’

‘Indeed you must; yet how kind of you to walk me this far. Thank you.’

There was an awkward pause as Inky’s eyes drifted to Cadbury’s bedroom window. She was still staying at Jane’s, which was nice for her, but did mean they didn’t meet by the well, like they used to.

‘And when Cadbury’s completely better, and her things need taking away – ‘

‘You’ll be the first to know,’ said Jane. ‘The very first!’

‘Top banana!’ said Inky, and then cycled off into the distance, his red light fading.

He was nearing the end of his journey when he saw a strange thing – a shrouded figure looking around, before opening their front door. What were they doing out on a cold night like this?

‘Good evening!’ shouted Inky. ‘Bit chilly to be out and about! You’re not the Ghost of the Hooded Monk by any chance?!’

The figure didn’t acknowledge him, but went quickly inside.

*

Rex stood in the vicarage pantry. It was important that before going to bed, he jotted down some notes for his sermon tomorrow.

‘No notes, no votes!’ as he had come to learn. ‘Don’t waste people’s time with ill-conceived garbage.’

But profound thought doesn’t arise to order, as congregations well know. And tonight, Rex needed something a bit special to conjure it up. This was why he was in the pantry – it was where he kept this gear.

Rex hadn’t been strictly truthful with the parish; for he wasn’t actually tea-total. As a recovering alcoholic, it had been wise not to touch any alcohol in public; and of course it would also have been wise not to touch any in private either – but only Solomon was wise. No alcohol at all for Rex would have been very hard indeed, especially as his favourite hobby was cider making.

He contemplated his shredder and press in the corner; his clean and ready narrow neck jars by the fridge. There on the shelf, in strict order, were his siphons, sterilising tablets, capping tools and crown caps; nothing else in his life was as ordered as those. The apples themselves were in the garden shed. He used bramleys and russets in the main, but this year he’d add a touch of crab apple, which should add a little intrigue to the brew.

‘A little tasting session, and then the sermon,’ he said to himself. ‘As it says in the Book of Ecclesiastes, ‘there’s a time for everything under the sun.’‘

Well, maybe!

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