Simon Parke  
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Greedy Mr Gloom

CHAPTER 33

In the last episode, Alky gave David some very dodgy wine; Rex spoke with the greedy Gloom about funeral arrangements, whilst Dr Hafiz wondered if he was seeing things beneath the earth. Alky admired David’s calm, Jane found some letters behind the radiator, Lord Jo and Patricia went in search of posh clothes, and the shrouded figure could be un-shrouded soon!

‘That isn’t the sort of history we did at school!’ said Lord Jo, accelerating past a tractor.

‘How would you know? You were never at school!’ said Patricia, as the countryside shot by. In Lord Jo’s car, you were so high up, you could see over the hedges and across the fields. And there were plenty of those on the journey from Misty Longings to Lesser Needing.

‘So they dug up his son-in-law as well?’

‘Oh yes. Cromwell, his son-in-law Ireton – and the judge who had condemned Charles to death. They were all dug up.’

‘Now that’s what I call anger.’

‘Parliament’s anger, mind; it was Parliament’s decision to have the bodies exhumed.’

‘So the row went on beyond the grave.’

‘Oh yes. They then had their corpses dragged to Tyburn, where they were hanged for a day and then beheaded – on the exact anniversary of the execution of King Charles, January 30th. All very symbolic.’

‘What goes round comes round, eh? Though what a body must look like after two years underground – a bleedin’ disgrace, I should think!’

‘Well apparently, the body of Cromwell, having been embalmed, looked very fresh. But the body of Ireton had no such glory, and according to one onlooker, ‘hung like a dried rat’! Now, we’ll need to be looking for a parking space soon; the Clock Tower car park’s the nearest.’

*

In the corridors and caves beneath Misty Longings, Dr Hafiz was uncomfortable from the drip, drip, drip of the water, but now thought only of the figure he had seen ahead, shimmering like silver. For a man not given to haste, or indeed any form of exercise, Dr Hafiz propelled himself forward at some speed. On reaching the end of the tunnel, he was rewarded with a remarkable performance:

‘The liberty and freedom of the people consists in having government,’ spoke the soft Scottish voice; ‘those laws by which their lives and goods may be most their own. It is not their having a share in government; that is nothing appertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things.’

Dr Hafiz recognized him immediately, aware of the Van Dyck painting, depicting a king regal, melancholy and aloof. Charles I was perhaps smaller in the flesh – or rather, in the ether; for this was a ghost, shimmering like silver, which Dr Hafiz now contemplated.

‘Can I help you?’ asked the king, with some disdain.

‘A fine speech.’

‘You like it? It was the speech I made on the scaffold before my execution. It has merit, I think – though I would not expect you to understand.’

‘Assumptions do not generally bless us.’

‘Ask anything you need to, strange fellow, but be quick. I have no time for long dissertations.’

‘I only ever have one question when I meet a ghost.’

‘Is that so?’ said the king, with a sniff. ‘Well if, as I imagine, it concerns the clothes I wore on the scaffold – the heavy cotton shirt – I wore it solely to prevent the cold January weather causing me to shiver. I did not want the crowd thinking I was in any way fearful or scared – for I wasn’t.’

‘You imagine wrong. That was not my question.’

‘A question perhaps about my marriage?’

‘No.’

‘My marriage to the Henrietta Maria was one of the happiest royal marriages ever. The first few years left something to be desired. She was French, after all, and a tempestuous woman who took some time to settle to things English. But she learned, and after that – really very good.’

‘Fascinating, I’m sure. But again, not my question.’

Charles sighed. Subjects! How tiresome they could be!

‘And your question is?’

‘Why are you here?’

‘Why am I here? I think a king can go where he wills, can he not?’

‘Perhaps. But you are not a king.’

‘I am always king.’

‘And of course, this is not your home.’

The ghost of Charles looked round suddenly, scanning the approaches.

‘Are you all right?’ asked the Doctor.

‘I thought I heard someone approaching.’

‘Are you waiting for someone?’

‘More questions? You presume much on my royal patience!’

‘There is perhaps unfinished business for you, here in Misty Longings?’

Charles paused, and wiped his nose with a silk handkerchief.

‘I did once make a royal visit to this place. I was on my way to Oxford, and stayed in a house that was thereafter known as ‘The Palace.’

*

‘I understand your frustration, Mrs Post, but that is the price you have to pay for the removal of a rotting body.’

Yes, Rex had a difficult phone call on his hands. Hard financial news was being passed on to the client, and not being well received.

‘Treble?’

‘Treble.’

‘I think it’s extortionate.’

‘And I can’t disagree,’ said Rex. ‘Death is not cheap these days, but Mr Gloom has a particularly strong negotiating position on this occasion.’

‘I never liked him.’

‘No one likes him, Mrs Post; there is nothing to warm to, in Mr Gloom.’

‘He is a cross between a slug and a jackal.’

‘Strong words – but, well, yes – maybe.’

‘And he employs ne’er-do-wells as coffin carriers.’

‘You tell me nothing there. I found one of them stealing the organ appeal money after a funeral last week – and then discovered he also had a church candle stick in his pocket.’

‘Typical.’

‘Unfortunately, however, Mr Gloom has us by the short and curlies.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I’m sorry. It’s just a phrase.’

‘Well, it’s an unnecessary phrase.’

‘He has us over a barrel. Is that any better?’

‘Not really, no. I don’t think it’s a very wholesome image.’

‘I can see what you mean,’ said Rex, with various unhelpful images in his head.

There was a pause on the phone. Which way would Mrs Post jump?

‘But the funeral is sorted for tomorrow, you say?’

‘That’s the good news in all this, yes. Once the financial shock is absorbed, your father will finally be laid to rest tomorrow.’

*

It was when she lay flat on the ground, where once Café Disappointment had been, that Jane could best hear the voice; a man’s voice and coming clearly from underground: ‘You must sleep, dear girl; really, you must rest. I will perhaps attempt to get help, but for now, sleep will do you well.’

There was an unknown man down there! And then Jane realised that she was lying on a stone door or hatch, leading down into the ground, and she quickly put two and two together. Beneath her must be a system of caves, magnifying above, words quietly whispered below. One thing was for sure – the Kid needed help.

She ran to Dr Hafiz, but he was out; she went on to The Ridings but found Mrs Pump out also. She thought of the Manor, but got no reply when she rang. Was no one at home in the village?? She’d have to try the Vicarage, but there were no lights on. Was Rex in the church perhaps? (Actually, he was in his study – but had fallen asleep, quite exhausted with awkward funeral arrangements.) She walked through the graveyard towards the ancient church walls, pushed at the door and went inside. All was dark, except for the eternal candle burning by the altar; and a light on in the kitchen.

She hurried up the centre aisle, past hymn books and pews; and through the nave, past flower stands and organ. But then, what a shock! There in the kitchen, taking food from the fridge, was Billy!

‘Billy!’

‘I’m allowed to be here! Go away! Leave me alone!’

‘What are you doing here?’

‘It’s where I live. Go away – and if you tell anyone, I’ll kill you. I will – I’ll kill you. And I know who killed Lord Jo! I know who did the cheese!’

Jane looked at the quivering and twitching wreck before her.

‘Billy – I need your help.’

‘What?’

‘I need your help.’

‘You need my help?’

‘You’re strong, aren’t you?’

‘I am strong, yes.’

‘Then I need your help to lift a stone.’

‘I can lift stones easy!’

‘Then let us go together across the road. We have work to do, and not much time.’

*

‘A mild and gracious prince, who knew not how to be, or how to be made, great,’ said Patricia, who could still remember her dishy history teacher.

‘Who said that then?’ asked Lord Jo, ‘Cos bright though you are, Patricia, it sure as hell wasn’t you!’

‘No, it was Archbishop Laud, actually – one of Charles’ closest allies.’

‘You mean he was a friend? That’s faint praise from a friend!’

‘Well, this was the thing, really – Charles was curiously inept in his dealings with humans. Of course his accent didn’t help in those days – ‘

‘His accent?’

‘Scottish.’

‘Oh.’

‘Or his stammer. His stammer certainly didn’t help.’

‘I never know whether to finish the sentence with those ones.’

‘Never finish the sentence; never. It’s grossly insulting.’

‘But does speed things up.’

‘Lord Jo!’

‘All right, all right!’

They were nearing the Manor, on their return from shopping, and Patricia was wondering what she should do when they got back; how cool to play it. She didn’t feel at all cool; if anything, she felt hot! She’d had a lovely day, and she didn’t want it to end.

‘Few outside his immediate family felt any emotional connection with King Charles,’ she said. ‘And by the way – I really love this new coat!’

‘Then it wasn’t a wasted trip. You got a coat – and I got a bleedin’ history lesson.’

*

Cadbury watched as Inky sped off across the grass towards the shrouded figure. The day was fading, but there was light enough to see. The figure registered Inky much too late, and though it turned and ran, could not run fast enough. Inky made up the ground just before the Monk’s Bridge, and took the stumbling figure down with a wonderful tackle, learned from watching Rugby on TV.

‘Always hit low,’ the commentator had said, and this Inky did, clamping his arms around the knees of the one who ran.

Assailant and victim rolled together on the ground, in messy entanglement, before Inky pulled away the obscuring hood. The mystery figure was revealed – and Inky’s face was a picture of fear.

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