It was still there, the bench, the wooden seat slatted and tarnished, placed on the brow of the hill after Harold’s death, her parting gift, a memory recall, a small piece of immortality. Ethel surveyed it now thinking of a short time ago when Hazel Thorny, her old residential care home now owned and managed by Constance Lambush lying opposite, had gazed at her from behind windows dark and mysterious. A queer time that had been. A queer time had by all. Elderly ladies giving hand relief for gentlemen in need. Life is not a rehearsal but a vaudeville. Who would have thought it?
Hazel Thorny. Languishing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure on the Isle of Wight. “Never would have believed she’d stoop t’ murder,” thought Ethel flicking at fly that was orbiting her head. Bladder was looking weary, in need of rest, perhaps a drink. She looked toward the recently renamed house. Apple Crust Retirement Home. It had a certain ring to it.
Ethel rummaged in her handbag, produced a banana, unzipped it and then peeled the stringy bits off. Tossing the skin to Bladder who snuffled at the fallen foodstuff before consuming it nosily. Ethel nibbled at the white phallic shaped fruit and spotted Bladder looking at her and waggling his ears. He always did that when he wanted something. She threw the remains of the banana to her pet pig. His ears pricked tall and still.
“When you do that thing with your ears, you know that waggly stuff, you remind me of Parminter Fullcock,”
The said gentleman’s political campaign was going well. He was popular in the region anyway, more so than Rupert Snatch-Kiss who remained unforgiven following the debacle with Fekit woods, and besides, all Parminter said on behalf of the Whigs made a deal of sense. The only other person to consider of course was Verity Lambush but rumour had it she was about to withdraw. Ethel knew where her X would go even if it was a vote cast for the better of two evils.
Of all the political leaders Ethel had seen in her life, of all the backbiting between the two parties, of the various First Minsters, those of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, she had lived under or witnessed and all the Prime Ministers who had overseen Albion there had only ever been one who had done any real good, who had delivered policies that had benefited all. One who had walked the talk but sadly one who passed away the year Ethel was born.
Emeritus O’Brien, a thinker by vocation, a Neo-Distributist by policy although Whig by choice, had conceived four autonomous nations united under one common commitment. O’Brien believed in a de-centralised union, in localised government, linked by human decency and one moral code – one primary social law. It was he, following King George V proclamation ending the Empire, investing its powers in a Commonwealth of co-equal nations, who, along with Podraig Pierce and others, devised the Federal Union of Albion. Where before Great Britain had been an unequal state governed in reality by the English, now in its stead stood a four-nation union unlike any that had come before. This was 1920.
Since then men, and one woman, all lacking the singular vision to govern properly, had squabbled their way through history. The Whigs and Tories. Forever at each other’s throats. The business of the Whigs as progressives was to go on making the same mistakes whilst the business of the Tories was to prevent mistakes being corrected. And this both parties did as if by routine.
Was this what O’Brien had foreseen? A clockwork set of constantly inadequate politicians singularly failing in their chosen careers? Probably not.
A clanging of bells, a scream of a siren, broke Ethel’s reverie. She turned on her heel to see what was occurring. Down the hill an ambulance was bundling along the narrow road toward her. She had no time to wonder why as at her shoulder Constance Lambush appeared looking flustered.
“Constance! What’s going on?”
“It’s Wilfred Hardbottle. I think he has had a heart attack.”
Ethel was aware that Wilfred, octogenarian, and his mistress Rosie, of similar vintage, had sold their cottages and moved into the retirement home to live together. The move had only been a few months ago but all had been well with the couple.
“That’s a bit of a shock.”
“Perhaps,” agreed Constance, “but at his time of life unsurprising.”
“Inside trying to calm Rosie.”
“What brought it on?”
“I wasn’t there so can’t comment. It was Charles who called me to summon the ambulance which I did and then I ran out here to see if they were on their way.”
The clanging of a bell mixed with a screeching siren grew louder indicating imminent arrival of said emergency service. Coming complete with cream and green livery with the legend ‘Ambulance’ inscribed across its bonnet in violent red the vehicle, spiting gravel from it spinning wheels, ground to a halt but feet from where Ethel and Constance stood.
A door opened and a man in green uniform stepped from the cabin. Upon his concave chest a Red Cross announced his vocation. Ethel knew him well. It was Krispin Danglewash, of Muckleford Grove. Krispin had a scrunched up visage; a face crumpled and creased by a vicious criss-crossing of lines. His eyes were small and deep set hence he wore what seemed to be milk bottle bottoms as spectacles. Surrounding his eyes were more lines threading their way north of his forehand and south of his nose.
“Hello Krispin,” greeted Ethel.
“Hello Ethel,” returned Krispin. He was not much of a conversationalist.
“Hello Mrs Lambush. I believe you have an emergency?”
“Please follow me,” instructed the former cellist.
Together, Constance, Krispin, Ethel followed by a young, unintroduced female driver and medic stepped lively into Apple Crust Retirement Home. Through the front doors, opened wide to allow ease of access, down a short corridor, up a flight of stairs, along another, thin corridor, past a cupboard with a sign saying laundry until they reached room 69. Outside stood Charles Pickle, retired Royal Air force pilot, another octogenarian and the paramour of Constance Lambush. He was looking grim.
“How is he?” Asked Constance.
“Dead,” came the clipped response.
“As the dodo.”
“Upset in more ways than one.”
Krispin edged his way forward. Both Constance and Ralph backed away allowing the medic more room.
“Shall I have a look?” Krispin asked, eyebrow raised, medical bag weighted in his hand.
“Please do,” urged Constance still perplexed by her beloveds comment.
The scene before them was, to say the least, unusual. Rosie Sliteworth sat dressed in basque of red and purple, a G-string slicing her aging bits, a pair of knee length leather boots corrupting her aging flesh with a long riding crop between her feet. On the bed, covered in what looked like a hastily erected tent, his face hidden but his tightly secured hands and feet visible, was the deceased.
“Why have you placed a tent about his body?” asked Krispin nervously fearing the answer.
“It isn’t a tent it’s a sheet,” replied Rosie through snivelling gasps.
“Why the tent pole then?”
“It isn’t a tent pole. It is Wilfred.”
“Wilfred?” struggled an uncomprehending Krispin.
“I tied him to the bed, placed a penile ring around his manhood and then mounted him. Willy liked a bit o’ rough.”
“That’s his erection?” cried an unbelieving Krispin pointing a shaking finger in the direction of faux equine protrusion.
“Yes, I know,” repeated Rosie wiping a tear from her cheek.
Krispin collected his thoughts and tugged the sheet back. A gasp went up uttered by the female medic unaccustomed to being greeted by such a work of statuesque magnitude.
Constance looked toward Charles, her eyebrow raised. “Reminds me of Buzzcock.”
“Who?” Puzzled the former pilot.
“The pony Veronica had as a child.”
Composing himself Krispin folded the sheet over the preeminent feature and then placed his finger tips to the prostrate man’s neck. He swiftly removed them with a start.
“This man has been dead for at least twelve hours!” He declared looking accusingly first at Rosie and then Charles. “Why didn’t you contact us sooner?”
Rosie looked sheepish. Her weeping stopped and her cheeks flushed.
“Well,” she said, rubbing her chin as she did, “it was like this. Willy has always had tremendous staying power. Both he and I liked a bit o’ that Sadistic Mechanism, you know, whips ‘n gimps and being tied up. Anyways, as I said, he could go for hours. I’d flip my bonnet several times over but he just keep a’ going like he was mains driven.”
Four jaws dropped. Had there been sound affects then perhaps several ch-chings would have been heard. Krispin’s face blanched.
“You mean you straddled him for hours?”
“But surely you must have realised he wasn’t breathing?” Queried an unbelieving Charles.
“Did he not show signs of pain or distress?” Asked Constance.
“The only thing he said when we first got to it was ‘bugger.’ I thought that I was on a promise,” said Rosie dabbing her rheumy eyes with a hankie.
Krispin shook his head. His face had a look of disapproval.
“The reason he appeared to have what you call staying power was the onset of rigor mortis. You have been fornicating with a corpse.”
A sob muffled by a cotton handkerchief was the only response Rosie could make. Constance moved across to comfort her client.
“There, there dear. All women seek an upright man to lean on. Come on, dry your tears.”
Krispin had a quiet word with his female driver. Charles watched as the pair whispered to each other, nodding occasionally. When they finished their hushed dialogue Krispin turned to Charles.
“Right then,” he said not nearly as firmly as the deceased’s endeavour, “we best be getting this cadaver back to the hospital mortuary unless, that is, you have alternate arrangements.”
“As it happens we do,” replied Charles scratching the small of his back, “we normally instruct the undertakers to remove the departed after they have lain at rest a while in our chapel. It’s in the garden near the compost.”
Krispin nodded then turned to his female driver.
“Best get Doctor Kettle to come and do what he does.”
“What’s that then,” asked Charles, “write the death certificate.”
“Yes. We were called out to resuscitate a heart attack victim not revive the dead. I am not Jesus and he is not Lazarus. I’ll put a call in now.”
Krispin left indicating for his female driver to follow. As he went he transmitted via his comwand. Within the hour Doctor Kettle arrived. His black bag firmly in his hand. He didn’t seem that happy as he entered the home. He had a scowl on his face. It was Constance who greeted him.
“Doctor Kettle. Thank you for coming.”
“Mrs Lambush.” The response, curt, perfunctory, a signal that all was not as it should be.
“Everything okay, you seem a little, off colour?”
His face relaxed, his shoulders, previously hunched straightened. He smiled at Constance.
“My apologies. I shouldn’t let personal matters interfere with professional. I had a run in with a goat on the way here. I think it is the Micklethewaite’s beast.”
“Indeed. She rammed my car. Passenger side. Left a bloody big dent in it too.”
“Must have escaped again. They really should secure their gate.”
“Then as I pulled up outside a huge pig dragged a wagon down the driver’s side.”
Constance stifled a smile that was curling the corners of her mouth.”
“Then, as I got out the car, a passing pigeon pooped on my suit.”
“Dear Doctor Kettle,” she intoned gently, “you must allow me to make you some tea. What a dreadful set of experiences.”
“I tell you it’s like a psychotic menagerie out there. Animals running wild.”
At that moment Charles popped his head around the corner.
“Good morning Doctor. Shall I show you to the deceased?”
“Yes, please. Let’s get that done before the tea.”
Together, Constance, Doctor Kettle and Charles stepped lively down a short corridor, up a flight of stairs, along another, thin corridor, past a cupboard with a sign saying laundry, until they reached room 69. Outside stood Rosie looking at a loss for what to do, her face tear stained and pale.
“He was a good man,” said Doctor Kettle patting Rosie’s arm.
“I think I killed him,” sobbed Rosie blowing her nose loudly.
Doctor Kettle placed his hand on Rosie’s cheek. “Don’t be silly. Understandably you feel upset. I can help. I’ll come and see you once I have sorted Wilfred out.”
Charles opened the door for the doctor who nodded his thanks, took a deep breath and then walked in.
The room, or more pertinently the corpse, was left exactly as found with sheet covering the architectural elevation. Upon seeing the body thus shrouded Doctor Kettle, taking the sheet between forefinger and thumb, pulled it back revealing the dead man in all his manifest glory.
“Good Lord!” Exclaimed the medical man.
“I would have thought you’d seen it all before?” Posed Charles.
“I have. Although he was never so pleased to see me before.”
“It is quite something isn’t it?”
“Extraordinary. Never seen anything like it. Freak of nature really. It defies all given laws of physics, I mean the amount of blood pumped there must have drained his brain. I see rigor mortis has set in. Aided and abetted by a noticeable ring around his erection which undoubtedly is the reason it retains its current aspect.”
Kettle bent low, his head bobbing up and down as his eyes scanned the body. He looked like a cockerel searching for food. He placed his hand against the neck of the deceased and for one awful moment Charles envisaged Wilfred sitting up. He didn’t and Kettle continued examining the physical remains of Wilfred Hardbottle.
“Danglewash got it wrong. Yes, he has been dead a while but not as long as he said. It looks to me like he has had a heart attack which I think concurs with the medics. I won’t know for sure though until I carry out the post mortem.”
Charles stood looking at the cadaver.
“Not much we can do then is there? Normally we lay the deceased out in the chapel. I suppose now you’ll need to have it sent to the hospital?”
Kettle nodded in agreement.
“Yes, to pathology where I can look at it.”
“No, we don’t really have adequate facilities there. I’ll have the team take it to Winchester. I know the Chief Pathologist, a woman called Hillary Leatherbarrow.”
“Would he have suffered?” Asked Charles.
“Judging by the smile on his face, which I don’t think is a rictus grin, but also by the evidence of seminal discharge[Re1] displayed on the penis tip I’d say he died in the throes of sublime pleasure.”
“Nice way to go then?”
In the kitchen, refurbished since Hazel Thorny’s departure, sat Constance and Ethel each clutching a mug of coffee. Ethel was dunking a large, sugar coated doughnut into her drink.
“Poor old Rosie. Seems t’ have taken it bad don’t she?” Mumbled Ethel through a mouth filled with doughnut.
Constance and Ethel had been discussing events that had occurred that morning. Each of them steering a course around the size of the matter they had all observed. Ethel, more out of respect for a woman old enough to be her mother, bit her tongue and held her peace on the subject she most wanted to discuss.
“Once,” said Constance sipping demurely at her coffee,” whilst performing Elgar at the Albert Hall, “I was sitting next to a Scot’s cellist who always when performing insisted on wearing his kilt. After the performance, as the audience applause grew in appreciation, the conductor turned to the orchestra and bade us rise to accept the approval bestowed upon us. As I stood up so did the Scotsman. His kilt rose with him revealing the most splendid of features. His male member was huge. I gasped as did the audience. I don’t think any of us had seen a thing of such enormity before nor did I again until today.”
“It were like the leg of an old table,” insisted Ethel giggling.
“Quite so,” snorted Constance, “enough to bring a tear to your eye upon closer inspection.”
“A thing like that should carry a government health warning,” Laughed Ethel heartily, “it could knock your teeth out or puncture your liver!”
At that moment Doctor Kettle and Charles entered the room. Both Ethel and Constance ceased laughing and sat stock still like naughty school girls.
“Everything all right?” Asked a puzzled Charles.
“Fine dear, has the doctor concluded his examination?”
Charles nodded in the affirmative. Constance’s face took on a grave look. Ethel placed her hand across her mouth. Doctor Kettle placed his case on the table.
“Coffee?” Suggested Constance.
“I’ll get ‘em,” said Charles.
A schloop as the fridge door opened followed by the inward thrup of a bottle top being depressed. Then a clink of spoon on glass jar.
“It’s only instant,” advised Charles, “hope that’s okay with you doctor?”
“Of course,” smiled Kettle.
“Just milk please.”
The hiss of a pot boiling, then a bubbling of water poured over milky coffee granules and then chink chink chink of the brew being stirred. Charles placed the steaming mug onto the table by the good doctor’s elbow.
“It was a bit of a shock, wasn’t it?” Suggested Charles, “finding poor old Wilfred in that condition.”
Kettle arched an eyebrow. “Being dead or supporting the bed linen in such a profoundly ambitious manner?”
“You must’a seen it afore Doc,” queried Ethel.
“Yes, I have. A doctor sees many things that others only imagine. Not all of them pleasant sights. I had seen Wilfred undressed and knew of his, how shall we say, blessing. However, I had never had occasion to witness it presented in such a fashion, risen to the occasion as it were. I have to confess to being a little staggered by its enormity.”
Ethel swirled the remains of her coffee around before drinking it down.
“It’s Rosie I feel sorry for, I mean we all make lewd comments about the size of poor old Wilfred’s meat ‘n two veg but that woman has lost more than a well-hung husband, she’s lost her soul mate.”
Constance had taken a ginger nut from the jar and now dunked it in her coffee.
“You are absolutely right. It took me a lifetime to find my soul mate and Lord knows once you have the thought of losing them is unthinkable.”
Charles smiled, said nothing but simply hung his head down. Doctor Kettle looked from one of the couple to the other smiling himself.
“I confess to being a little concerned, judgemental even, when they first came to see me regarding their living together. I cannot go into the ins and outs of it naturally enough but I took the view they were a little long in the tooth to be contemplating congress. I was wrong. I see that now.”
“Many a good tune played on an old fiddle,” chipped in Ethel herself taking a ginger nut from the jar.
“Indeed, but we all tend to set preconceived time lines, don’t we?” Argued the Doctor.
“Do you? I don’t,” replied Ethel nibbling around the circle of the ginger nut as though she were a rabbit eating a daisy, “I don’t think age comes into the equation.”
“It shouldn’t but it does.”
“Things wear out. The human body deteriorates.”
“Well, as far as I could see there was little evidence of that in what Wilfred was armed with,” said Ethel popping the remaining crumbs of ginger nut into her mouth.
Doctor Kettle eyed the others over the rim of his mug. He knew he had put his foot in it, his size nines trampling over Constance and Charles’ devotion.
“What I meant, and I apologise if I have caused offence, is not that love cannot bloom late in the autumn of life, or indeed the winter, but it is passing strange to find it so filled by lust and, it has to be said, full bloodied enthusiasm. I suppose I have never before met a couple of such vintage who took to their boudoir armed with gimps, whips and the like. Do you know what Wilfred said to me when I urged him to take things a little slower? ‘Sex at my age is like taking a walk up a steep hill, you takes yer time but when you reach the top the view is as wonderful as it ever was.’”
Charles burst into laughter. “Bloody true,” he chortled. Constance smiled. Her eyes, the same colour as her daughters, lit up. “You are forgiven,” she said looking at Doctor Kettle. “I hear that Sister Lottofap has retired?”
The aforementioned nurse, now in her late forties, had long worked at Muckleford General. Her reputation as not only a damn fine health carer but also a vigilant, robust disciplinarian, one who brooked no nonsense, was legendary in the area.
“No, not a bit of it,” declared Kettle draining his mug, “rather than retire she has taken up a new post.”
“Yes, she is now the District Nurse. You will no doubt soon see her cycling these very lanes of Fekenham Swarberry.
“Ahhh, I see,” said Constance. Her sigh saying little but revealing much.
“Miss Lambush, or rather Mrs Ramhard, doesn’t much like Sister Lottofap does she?” Suggested Kettle.
“My daughter is one of a kind, or so she likes to believe. When two such beings meet there is bound to be friction.”
A pregnant pause as Constance smiled sanguinely at Doctor Kettle who gazed back worrying he may have made another faux pas. Ethel broke the silence.
“I saw her t’other day, on her bike she were, Sister Lottofap I mean not Verity. She was going t’ see Cybil. You know, check up on young Jonah. Make sure mother and son were fit and well.”
“He is a beautiful child,” agreed Constance, “he has eyes just like his mothers.”
“Hands like his father though. He is going to be a big chap when he grows up,” added Charles.
Doctor Kettle slapped his thighs. An indication that his visit was over.
“Right then, I shall make a move. As I said, I shall get the mortuary technicians in to transfer the deceased to Doctor Latherbarrow’s establishment. Thanks for he coffee.”
As he rose from his seat so Constance also stood up.
“Is it necessary for Wilfred’s body to go there? There wasn’t any cause for you to think it was anything other than natural causes?”
“Not at all,” replied Kettle, “he died of a heart attack brought on no doubt by extreme physical activity.”
“You mean Rosie really did kill him?” Asked Constance, her hand at her mouth.
“Not exactly no. At that age, and I am sorry to bring that up again, such things can happen. If you were to take my advice I would tell Rosie her true love died naturally for in truth he did.”
Constance felt Charles’ hand slip into hers.
“Thank you, doctor. We will tell her that but there won’t be any need for an autopsy. Rosie wants Wilfred buried ASAP. She doesn’t want him lying in state and certainly wouldn’t like to see him being cut up. Charles will make arrangements with a local funereal director.”
Although a far gentler, less forceful character than her daughter, Constance also had an authoritative manner. Doctor Kettle smiled, shook hands with both Constance and Charles, nodded a farewell to Ethel and then, escorted by Charles, left the retirement home.
Within the hour, after Charles had made said call to Larkspar, Werungle and Trot, undertakers, two representatives arrived resplendent in midnight black suits.
“I am Werungle,” said a thick lipped, many chinned, plump man whose eyebrows manifestly needed trimming. “And I am Trot,” said his loose limbed, large bellied, bleary eyed companion whose prehensile tongue slid across his nose.
“And Mister Larkspar?” Asked Constance.
“Preparing, always and forever preparing,” answered Werungle listlessly.
Constance indicated with the movement of her forefinger that the unlikely pair should follow her.
And so they did. The three of them stepped lively down a short corridor, up a flight of stairs, along another, thin corridor, past a cupboard with a sign saying laundry, until they reached room 69.
Constance opened the door. Werungle and Trot sloped past her. It was Werungle who first spotted the unusual aspect of the corpse.
“Blimey,” he said through his rubbery mouth, “I ain’t never see the like o’ that afore.”
Mister Trot stood stock still his eyes large as saucers, his tongue lolling from ear to ear.
“He won’t fit,” announced Werungle wringing his hands together.
“Won’t fit?” enquired Constance, “Won’t fit what?”
“The casket. We can either slice that monster off him or build a bespoke coffin.”
“I utterly forbid mutilating the deceased’s body. His wife would never forgive me,” cried Constance alarmed by the very thought of hacking a corpse’s spare parts off.
“Be a bespoke jobbie then,” gurgled Werungle.
“How much will that cost bearing in mind the widow is a pensioner?”
“Well, it’s like this aint it? Not a standard job, not by a long stretch. There’s the side panels that needs extending to match the dearly departed’s magnificent member. The additional quilting, the trimming as we funereal directors calls it, is another factor. All that timber and all that material well……”
“How much,” asked an increasingly frustrated Constance.
“I shall ask Mister Larkspar to get a quote to you,” he offered tapping his forefinger against his forehead.
“Rather than saw it off, I could always snap it, his cockstand I mean,” suggested a well-intentioned Werungle.
“No!” Hissed Constance.
Werungle nodded his acceptance.
“Right them Mister Trot. Let’s be about our business, shall we? Time to remove poor chap with impressive embolism from the eyes of the bereaved. Don’t lift him too high though, we wouldn’t want to damage the door lintel.”
As the undertakers made ready to remove Wilfred from where he had his finest and last hours, there came a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it,” volunteered Charles who swiftly slipped away down the stairs and along the passage to the front door. As the door swung open so Verity and Ralph stood before him smiling an expression he was unable to mirror.
“What on earth is wrong?” Asked Ralph perplexed.
“Is it mother?” Asked Verity.
“Constance is fine. Please come in and I’ll explain.
After the two men from the undertakers had left, Constance asked Ethel, Verity and Ralph to stay for lunch. They readily agreed so whilst Constance went to administer a sedative prescribed to Rosie by Doctor Kettle, Ethel lay the table as Charles prepared the meal assisted by Ralph’
By the time Constance returned, announcing that Rosie was nicely settled down and sleeping, the table was laid and the meal, pasta e fagioli, cooked.
Ethel was a Briton, English as the White Cliffs of Dover, a girl from Albion with Irish roots but when it came to food she was cosmopolitan glutton. As with her taste for men, she never said no.
Along with the dish of pasta was bread, a baguette, crudely cut into thick chunks and laid upon side plates. A bottle of Chianti, uncorked, ready to pour with five tall glasses guarding it, completed the table.
They sat and ate and as they did they chatted in the way friends and family should even though the English, unlike their European counterparts or Ralph the American who eat at a leisurely pace, confront mealtimes as though it were an industrial consumption process. This was not the case here though. Ethel broke her bread and nibbled upon it. Constance chewed hers with lustful delight whilst sipping her wine.
They spoke of this and that and that and this. Of families, of Fekenham and of past times. The wine added a certain quality to the conversation, a relaxing openness that allowed a capacity for frankness. Verity and Ralph, arriving late to Wilfred’s death, were full of questions – how did it happen? How was rose coping? The food was delicious, a delight to eat and it wasn’t until the last morsel had been devoured that the phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” said Charles hauling himself reluctantly up from his seat, “the coffee is on.”
“I think that might pass for a hint,” exclaimed Constance as she too stood up pushing the seat back with her legs, “I take it you all would like one?”
“Yes please,” replied Ethel, “but first I ought to see how that pig o’ mine is doing. If he’s gone and wandered off I’ll turn him into rashers.”
“Please,” said Veity and Ralph in unison.
“Make mine black Constance,” added Ralph.
Hurrying out of the kitchen where they’d been eating Ethel passed by Charles who was conversing on the phone.
“I’m sorry Mister Werungle, I don’t understand, please say that again. You’ve lost the body? Yes, I thought that’s what you said. What on earth do you mean to do about it? I see. And what am I meant to say to his wife, to the bereaved. Wilfred’s corpse has been misplaced?! How can you misplace a dead body? What? Where? I hope this is some sort of joke? No, I thought not. Very well. All I can say is how unprofessional this is. I expect you to find it and find it soon!”
With that the telephone was placed firmly back on its cradle. Ethel looked at Charles whose face was ashen.
“What’s up?” She asked troubled by the look on Charles’ visage.
“There’s been a mix up at the undertakers.”
“What sort o’ mix up?”
“Larkspar, Werungle and Trot’s premises, their funeral parlour, neighbours a firm who specialise in transporting ancient relics overseas, Dimduck and Daughter.”
“Okay,” interjected Ralph, “and what has this to do with Wilfred’s coffin?”
“Wilfred’s body was confused, or rather his coffin was, with another. The other container held something called ‘The Winchester Crozier…”
“Oh! My goodness,” said Verity, “that's a holy relic. It is held in high regard by the church.”
“Well,” continued Charles, “Wilfred’s coffin was accidently mistaken for this box containing the crozier.”
“Where is Wilfred now?”
“At Pool harbour about to set sail for China.”
“China?” Gasped Ethel.
“Yes, they have dispatched Wilfred to the orient!”
There then followed another knock at the door. Constance opened it. She was confronted by Suzanne Beaufont and Elvis Linkthorpe.
“Hello all,” said an exhausted looking vicar, “have I missed the dearly parted?”
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.