ROSIE BAUR, D.I. Chapter 25

3 Jun

25. THE FUNERAL

“She just went and left me all alone when there was a rush on, just so she could go and sing her lungs out down the church,” moaned Jackie Mansford in the Hospice shop when Alice walked in, accompanied by the two officers. “I hope you’re back for good and all or I’ll shut the place up and go home for a nice cuppa,” she added to her co-volunteer.

“I’m back,” confirmed Alice Boneham, “but she ain’t due at the church for a practice till six, that’s what she told me when she started that warbling back there,” she indicated the rear room of the shop with a carefully flicked thumb.

“She had a call just after you went,” grumbled Jackie, “and she was off without saying a word, but carrying her music case, leaving me high and dry with a crowd to serve.”

“And she’s gone already?” Constable Elena Davies was on the alert already. To her mind there was something about the dead man’s wife that was highly unpleasant. It may well have had to do with her sour attitude to normal bodily appetites (at least they were normal to the young police woman) or maybe it had something to do with the way she tried to apply her own standards to everyone else.

Alice nodded. “I complained, I did, but she didn’t take a blind bit of notice. She just breezed out like a ship in full sail, all high and mighty.”

“Which church?” asked Peter Jenson, alerted by the young constable’s concern expression.

“Saint Michael’s,” grumbled Jackie. “I’m going to jack this job in. It isn’t as if we got paid or anything. We do it because we want to be useful, and I reckon that should earn us a modicum of respect. But no. We’re slaves as far as madam’s concerned.”

But Peter and Elena were already climbing back into the police car and setting off, blue lights flashing with a wonderful urgency, towards the church, which was at the other end of Brumpton, in the leafier corner where wealth and possessions collided and nobody did anything unpleasant to anyone else.

“The boss was quite definite about needing her,” growled Peter, “and I reckon I can see why. Eliminate the rest of the rag-tails and you arrive at the guilty party.”

“I thought that was Joey?” asked Elena.

“The boss says that he was the one who put Buttery out of his misery,” Peter told her, “but in order to have done that someone must have put him in his misery in the first place.”

“You reckon it was his wife?”

“The boss seems to. Hold on tight. This could be hairy!”

He switched the siren on and made for a narrow gap down the centre of the road, weaving wherever necessary and almost losing a wing mirror on the first bend as he hurtled past a supermarket delivery van. But he made it and the car remained, thankfully, in one piece.

The church was peaceful and had about it an aura of timeless calm with shafts of sunlight shining through stained glass into mottled shadowy corners, until, that is, the two officers pushed the main door open and walked in to the middle of a funeral service, the coffin being about to be lifted and carried out to a waiting hearse by six black coated sombre men whilst the choir sang a liturgy in Latin. And right at the end of the choir, her nose higher than any other as if suspended from Heaven by an invisible rubber band, stood Miriam Buttery, mouth open and the sweetest of sounds being generated around her almost obliterated by a repeat of what Peter and Elena had heard earlier emanating from the back room of the charity shop.

Peter signalled to Elena that they should remain inconspicuous at the back of the church until the mourners had gone, and they sat down on a pew just out of sight of the main event. Slowly the coffin was carried towards them down the aisle and they bowed their heads out of respect.

“Is that…?” whispered Elena, indicating the last resting place of a deceased stranger.

“No!” hissed Peter back, “his body’s not been released yet!”

“Good,” sighed Elena. “Funeral’s always make me tetchy,” she added.

“They remind us all of our own mortality,” breathed Peter.

The funeral procession slowly left the church until all that was left was the choir and its tuneless leader.

“Come on,” whispered Peter, and he led Elena towards where the liturgy was still being wrecked by the lead singer. The melody came to a thankful end and the choristers quietly placed their music on the shelves in front of them and with sombre dignity made their way out of the stalls and into a vestibule where, no doubt, they would disrobe and eventually disperse.

“Mrs Buttery!” called Peter Jenson with what he considered to be the right amount of subdued gravitas, though even so his voice sounded unnecessarily loud and coarse.

She looked round at the sound of his voice, annoyance clouding the attempted serenity of her face.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, “isn’t it bad enough for a woman to have to mourn the passing of a beloved husband without mindless policemen putting their noses in and spoiling things?”

“Inspector Baur needs to have a word,” replied Peter, “and you’re to come with us.”

“Who told you I was here?” she demanded. “I’ll bet it was that b***h at the shop! I thought you’d solved my Philip’s murder by arresting that farm labourer from Croft’s place. So what more can I add that you don’t already know, and why barge into a church when Christian folks are saying goodbye to a loved one?”

“It was hardly barging in and certainly not disrespectful,” retorted Peter with just the right amount of a threat in his intonation to make her scowl. “Now please come with us and don’t make it necessary for us to use handcuffs.”

“Anyone would think it was me who killed him,” she grumbled, but started to follow the two officers.

“And did you?” asked Peter, mildly.

“You know that I didn’t!” she squawked in reply. “That Boneham bonehead did, and when I get back to the shop as sure as eggs are eggs I’m going to sack his wife!”

“You know that he did it?” asked Peter, “how come you know so much about our investigation?”

“What do you mean?”

“How come you seem to know that he killed your husband? We haven’t said that he did. We haven’t mentioned him to anyone. We haven’t told a single soul who we suspect…”

“It must have been him,” gabbled Miriam Buttery, “there’s nobody else … and someone knew where the hammer was! It was him, I swear it was him, the foul drunkard!”

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 18.03.17

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