Simon Parke  
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The bath must wait!

CHAPTER 35

In the last episode, Inky tackled the problem of the shrouded figure; the doctor asked the king about the farmer; Billy swung open the door in the floor and Cromwell felt sad amidst gold. Rex, meanwhile, renegotiated with the undertaker, and Inky wondered if he should say sorry; before a mysterious approach focused attention elsewhere.

‘I am calm,’ said David, as he contemplated the sandwiches, and decided on the cheese and pickle.

‘Death does not frighten you?’ asked Alky.

‘Not really. I have contemplated it often enough. In fact, I laugh in its face – or smile, at least.’

‘I always felt you were a man of some depth,’ said Alky, as he went for ham and tomato. ‘They poisoned Socrates, of course, and he was equally stoic about it all.’

Now that he was murdering someone, he felt strangely alive, and was suddenly aware of a number of cleaning jobs to be done about the house.

‘We must all face it sometime,’ said David. ‘And really, is sooner any worse than later?’

‘Indeed,’ said Alky. ‘And rest assured, David, that I will continue with my care of the birds. Perhaps I shall even become the Village Bird Warden. It would seem the least I could do for your legacy. I mean, obviously you’ve spent most of your life depressed, running that appalling cafe – but you were always good to the birds.’

Alky wiped the sweat from his brow. All this excitement – and more to come! ‘And now,’ said Alky, ‘pray silence for the final surprise of the afternoon!’

With those words, he dramatically pulled away the cloth from what David had imagined to be a long coffee table – but turned out to be a fine antique coffin!

‘Family heirloom, dear boy,’ said Alky. ‘No previous owners. Consider it my final gift to you!’

‘It’s a very fine item.’

‘Thank you.’

‘But perhaps it is the second to last surprise of the afternoon,’ said David.

Alky started to cough a little.

‘A seasonal cold, no doubt,’ said Alky.

‘Possibly a cold. Or possibly the anti-freeze,’ said David.

‘No. That’s your problem, young sir.’

‘Well, is it? Because from what you say, it may well be yours!’

‘And how’s that?’

‘Because on each occasion you brought our drinks in, I swapped my glass for yours when you were out – mine always being far too full for my liking.’

‘What do you mean? How can a glass of wine be too full?’

‘I have two friends to get back to; with important matters to consider. So temperance was always on my mind. For ‘when the wine is in, the wit is out,’ as they say.

‘You idiot.’

‘I take that as a compliment on this occasion.’

Alky was now staggering towards the sofa.

‘I’m not well,’ he said.

‘No. You poured your own death too skilfully. Would you like to die here? Or shall I call an ambulance?’

*

Patricia made her way home from the Manor, wearing her lovely new coat, but sad on the inside: ‘I think I was right to leave,’ said Patricia to herself, as she reached the gate, and started the short walk down the road back to hers. ‘I did get the impression from his attitude that our day together was over. That’s fine; it’s been a lovely day. But does that mean everything is over? I can’t believe the 24 hours I’ve just experienced! But is that it?’

Lord Jo, meanwhile, had checked with his foreman that everything was well on site, and was now running a steaming hot bath with plenty of bubbles. It was nice having a lady around; but it was also nice when she left.

‘Thank you for coming, thank you for going,’ as the Swedish said.

Jo was stripped down to his underpants, when the phone rang.

‘Typical,’ thought Lord Jo. ‘If you want a phone call – strip down to your underpants and run a bath!’

‘Jo here,’ he said briskly. This shouldn’t take long.

‘Hello, Lord Jo,’ said the voice at the other end.

‘Oh, it’s you,’ said Lord Jo in instant recognition.

‘Yes. And I need your help urgently, Lord Jo. Even though I did try and kill you on Saturday.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I tried to kill you on Saturday.’

‘Full marks for honesty,’ thought Lord Jo.

‘But something’s come up,’ continued the caller. ‘And I don’t know who else to turn to; and perhaps ‘kill’ is a bit strong.’

‘The cheese certainly was.’

‘I didn’t mean to kill you. I just meant to – oh, I don’t know; give you something to think about, I suppose.’

The strange problem was then explained to Lord Jo, and the question put again: ‘Will you help me?’

Lord Jo had a decision to make.

*

‘I have warm memories of our first meeting at Childerley Hall.’

‘Were you there?’

‘You know I was there,’ said Cromwell.

‘I must have forgotten. I remember a large number of visitors from Cambridge University, certainly – all bowing a great deal and pledging their allegiance to me.’

‘As I pledged mine,’ said Cromwell.

‘Yours proved a strange allegiance,’ said Charles.

‘But a worthy cause,’ said Cromwell. ‘Religious toleration for all!’

‘The Anglican church is the only church under God; this is self-evident.’

Cromwell sat, while Charles stood by the carriage.

‘And I liked you,’ said Cromwell. ‘You know that.’

‘It is really of no concern.’

‘Remember when we met at Caversham? I was greatly touched by your affection for your family, particularly towards your children; truly moved.’

‘So why did you execute their father?’

‘Their father lacked a little frankness, did he not? Whoring around Europe for armies.’

‘Their father was king.’

‘Their father was a man amongst other men – men who wished for straight forward dealings, rather than polite subterfuge.’

‘You cut off my head!’

‘And then had it sewn back on, so your family could see you whole!’

Charles felt around his neck.

‘I grant you – that was a small courtesy.’

‘And one not shown to me – I presume you know what happened to my body?’

‘I did hear, yes. And hardly wept.’

The Kid was unnoticed but wide awake.

‘So what now?’ asked Cromwell.

‘What now?’ asked Charles, with an upward and dismissive shake of his head. ‘You speak as if our futures are intertwined!’

‘And they are not?’

‘A king and a farmer? Where is the connection? I will be polite with you, for I am so. But I will not be confessional.’

Cromwell got up and joined him by the carriage: ‘For myself, I would be away from here. Would you not so wish?’

‘I do tire a little of these vaults.’

‘Then let us each allow the other peace.’

‘I will make my own mind up on these things, without reference to your good self.’

And then the Kid could listen no more:

‘It is time you went, sire,’ said the Kid.

Both figures jumped back in surprise.

The Kid stepped out from behind the carriage

‘It’s almost like you’ve both seen a ghost!’ she said.

*

Patricia sat by the phone for a while, and then did some cleaning around. It might be good to give all the cushion covers a wash, what with Christmas approaching. She had been thinking of going over to her sister’s for Christmas Day – this is what she usually did. But obviously if Lord Jo were to ring with other suggestions, they would have to be considered. She could always see her nieces another time.

She looked again at the phone. It was highly unlikely he would ring her so soon; he’d probably be checking on his JCBs. Perhaps she’d give her sister a ring now. They hadn’t spoken for a couple of weeks – it would be good to catch up.

*

AAAAGGHHH!

When they all bumped together in the dark, it was a moment of terror, shock – and very quickly delight.

‘Cadbury! Is it really you?’ asked Dr Hafiz.

‘Mrs Pump showed us to her special door!’ said Cadbury.

‘David!’

‘Jane!’

‘You came via your home?’ said Jane.

‘I did!’ said David.

‘And so did we!’ said Jane. ‘Forgive us our trespasses.’

‘We wanted to try that door, but David wouldn’t let us!’ said Inky. ‘Then Mrs Pump turned up at the ruin, and told us there was somewhere we should go – her front room!’

‘My entry point too,’ said Dr Hafiz.

‘I couldn’t have done it without Billy,’ said Jane.

‘You came with Billy?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then where is he?’

They were suddenly aware that Billy was not with them.

‘Billy!!??’ they called. ‘Billy!!’

But there was silence; a deep damp silence, reminding them how far from home they were.

‘He has probably gone crazy,’ said Inky. ‘He has spent most of his life in vaults like this, hidden away. He’s probably flipped; I’d flip.’

‘We must find him,’ said Jane.

‘We could split up into search parties,’ said Inky, who thought he’d probably find him first.

‘No, we stay together,’ said Cadbury, a counter-balance to Inky’s rampant individualism.

‘Wise words,’ said the doctor. ‘There’s a thin line between an adventure and a grave. And we walk it now.’

‘Can I at least be an advance party?’ asked Inky.

*

‘Oh my God!’ said Lord Jo, on entering the room.

‘Yes – I know. The dead body stinks.’

‘No – it’s the one standing next to it who stinks!’

‘I’m sorry?’ said Rex.

‘She’s a bleedin’ disgrace to the village!’

‘Do you mean Mrs Pump?’ asked a quizzical Rex. ‘But I thought you two got on well?’

‘Us get on well?!’

Mrs Pump moved to explain: ‘Jo thinks I’m a scheming bitch,’ she said, ‘and I think he’s a money-grabbing philistine, who lives in my home. Apart from that, we are each other’s greatest fans. I can’t work with him, of course.’

‘And I can’t work with her!’ added Lord Jo.

This was definitely a surprise for Rex, and not one he needed right now. With these two on board, he had thought he had the dream team – not a team who hated each other’s guts! Who could keep up with the shifting tides of fall-outs and love-ins in this village? Clearly not Rex! As they stood in the old post office sorting room, by the rotting corpse of Mrs Post’s father, there were clearly issues to be worked through between these two strong-willed individuals.

‘And I haven’t forgotten the cheese!’ said Lord Jo, looking hard at Rex.

Oh dear!

‘Come back, Mr Gloom,’ he thought privately, ‘all is forgiven!’

Because in this room, apparently nothing was forgiven; and the funeral was only 18 hours away.

Yikes!

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