Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry - Book Five- The Runaway Cadaver - Chapter 10 -"Conflagration"

Leaving the tea rooms Parminter had walked to where his car was parked, opened the door and started his vintage model up. The soft purr of the Rolls Royce always made him smile. It was such a divine sound. As the car rolled out of the car park onto Fekenham High Street, Parminter spotted Ruth Crabtree waiting at the bus stop. He pulled over and wound down his window.
‘May I give you a lift?’
Ruth had smiled. It was a pleasant movement of mouth and eyes that lit up her face.
‘I am going to the Arkenfelt to visit a friend.’
‘Hop in then, I am heading that way.’
Ruth opened the car door and slid into the passenger seat.
‘Thanks. Who is this friend of yours then?’
‘A publican I need to speak with, Cheryl Bunkum.’
‘Oh, how ironic. That’s who I am going to see
Parminter had laughed. ‘I’ll be blowed. Very fortuitous.’
‘Fortuitous indeed’
‘Funny thing is I had wanted to speak with you on another matter. Well, not you really but Neal’
‘Oh, I see. How can I help?’
The car rolled away from the kerbside and gathered speed.
‘I would like to have your’s and Neal’s support with my campaign. It would mean a great deal to me to have as many of Fekenham’s small businesses voting for me as possible.’
‘I was already going to vote for you. Honest politicians are as rare as good English men.’
The comment about English men had brought a smile to the business man’s face. He drove a while in silence. His window wound down allowing the road sounds, tyres on tarmac to drift in. They passed a field, empty of crops but circled with lavender.
‘What a lovely smell!’ Enthused Parminter.
‘Brings back memories of my mum. She always wore a perfume smelling of lavender.’
‘Really? So did mine. How funny. Two things in common and we haven’t travelled a half mile yet.’
They both laughed enjoy the scent and the warm breeze that blew through Ruth’s hair.
‘How’s your wife? How’s Henrietta?’
‘Hen? Oh, she’s fine. Fusses over me too much but you won’t hear me complain. I think she gets concerned that I have taken on too much what with running the business while standing for election.’
‘I understand how she feels. It is quite a task you’ve set yourself.’
‘I suppose it is but I am enjoying it. I think the real challenge will come if I win.’
‘If? I really don’t think there is any question of you losing. I listen to folks down the Frog and everyone is backing you. Even in Muckleford, I hear the same things being said. No one around here wants Snatch-Kiss as Warden of Wessex, not after what he is doing to local businesses and especially not here after he tore down Fekit Wood.’
Parminter chuckled again, glad to hear the enthusiasm in Ruth’s voice but wanting to believe she was right about his winning the election. He told himself not to get overconfident, too keep working hard. It was hard work and commitment that had kept the business working so well all these years.
They drove for a while in silence observing how the scenery changed as they motored north. Then Ruth asked a question that took Parminter by surprise.
‘Have you heard the gossip being spoken about Arthur Bentwhistle?’
‘Can’t say I have, no. I’m not much a one for gossip, to be honest. I take it the gossip comes from the usual source?’
‘Millie Mead? Yes, yes it does. I agree about gossip but this doesn’t feel right and besides, I really like Lupini and wouldn’t want to see her getting hurt.’
‘What’s being said then, about Arthur I mean.’
‘That he frequents Ruth Beaufont’s Soft Room and is being, er, how can I put it, serviced by Black Betty.’
Parminter’s response was unexpected and not what Ruth had been expecting. Parminter laughed loudly, almost hysterically.
‘Forgive me,’ he choked back a guffaw, ‘but that is so off the mark. You think I am overstretching myself, what with running a business, small by some people’s standards, whilst running for election for Warden of Wessex. Rupert Snatch-Kiss puts me to shame. His empire is massive compared to my business. His ambitions higher too. He has been trying to purchase the Brewery, Rufus Barleycorn’s venture but Rufus hates the sight and sound of Snatch-Kiss so have been trying to offload to any interested party. I have no desire in a brewery nor Ralph Ramhard. However, Arthur, the owner of a public house is very interested. Arthur is not spending his time with the local lady of loose virtue but trying to make a deal.’
Ruth giggled. ‘I thought, or at least wanted to believe, Arthur was a reformed character. Thank you. Sorry to have drawn you into village gossip.’
‘No need to apologise. Not so sure Arthur has reformed but I know he hasn’t the time to be having another affair. Arthur isn’t like you or I. He gets easily tempted whereas you and I are faithful.’
Ruth blanched and then turned her face away looking out the window.
‘I often wonder how people like Arthur sleep with themselves at night. I know I couldn’t.’
The roads around Fekenham and those leading to Arkenfelt curved and snaked in a manner known only to the English. They passed tall hedgerows which displayed a variety of wild foliage including hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, ash and oak. Among these weaved the climbing traveller's-joy and honeysuckle. Running parallel was a series of banks and ditches each filled with a multiplicity of flowers like hedge bedstraw and red campion. Butterflies flew in among them seeking nectar or to lay their eggs, the beautiful black and brown hairstreaks or the purple emperor.
The distance from Fekenham village to the northerly Arkenfelt was no more than six miles. The journey had taken the two about twenty minutes. As they wound their way around the lanes they became aware of the countryside blending more and more into a semi-suburban area with occasional homes and houses dotted about. Rapidly the countryside retreated leaving a town, with all that is associated with such, standing in its place. This was Arkenfelt. As they motored through this area they could see a thin line of smoke snaking skyward.
‘That doesn’t look good, does it?’ Suggested Parminter with a tone of fear in his voice.
‘No. It looks as like it might be near to Cheryl’s tavern, the Sinking Sun,’ replied Ruth.
‘That was what I was thinking. I can clearly see fire now. There is a comwand in the glove compartment. Best give the fire brigade a call.’
Ruth did as requested, and as she was speaking to the operator so the car pulled around the corner to reveal the Sinking Sun ablaze.
Parminter parked the car and, with as much speed as a man his age not used to physical activity could muster, dashed from the car to the door of the public-house. The fire had spread rapidly and was not only visible from the outside but generated a heat that was unpleasant to be near.
Parminter kicked at the door which opened but an inch. He kicked at it again. Tongues of flame gushed out with explosive force throwing Parminter onto his back. Luckily Ruth was near and managed to pull him to his feet.
‘Good God! The heat is so fierce.’
Above the crackling of the fire they could hear a voice, muted, panic-stricken, hysterical, calling out for help.
‘That’s Cheryl!’ Cried Parminter.
‘What can we do?’
‘I don’t know. The blaze is too fierce.’
By this time the people of the town had started to gather around.
‘Where’s Cheryl?’ Asked one local.
‘Inside,’ replied Parminter.
‘Oh my God,’ cried a local woman, ‘can’t we get her out?’
‘It’s nigh on impossible to get any closer,’ said Parminter, ‘I already tried and was blown onto my back.’
‘Best call the fire brigade!’ Shouted another man.
‘I have already!’ Screamed Ruth as the fire’s noise grew louder.
In the distance, they all could hear the clanging bell of the fire engine. As the noise from the fire and that of the fire engine grew louder so the sound of Cheryl’s knocking and calling out diminished. As the fire brigade pulled up and as firemen raced to help as the sound of Cheryl’s voice ceased altogether.
‘Oh God, sweet Jesus no. Poor Cheryl,’ said Ruth.
Parminter’s face grew pale. He knew, even though he prayed he was wrong, that it didn’t look good. Quite why or how the fire had started he didn’t know but from first seeing smoke too then seeing flame had been remarkably quick. He was certain Cheryl was dead. He couldn’t see how anyone could have survived that blaze.
The fire crew worked incredibly quickly, more so when informed that someone was still inside the burning building. All attempts they made were defeated by the fierceness of the conflagration.
Parminter and Ruth, along with an ever-growing crowd of townspeople looked on. All of them shared the same thoughts of disbelief at how sudden and how fast the fire's growth had been but also felt a sense of wanting to help but being unable to.
When the police arrived, some twenty minutes after the fire brigade, they had asked who had been first on the scene. Parminter and Ruth said it was they. The police then asked why they were here so Parminter explained. The police officer in charge was a middle-aged PC from Winchester. His name was Hoary Honk.
‘You say you saw signs of smoke as you were approaching the pub?’
‘Oui, we were going on to see Cheryl.’
‘And you say within minutes the fire had taken hold of the building?’
‘Yes, exactly so. It seemed almost impossibly fast the way things happened,’ volunteered Perminter.
‘I see,’ said PC Honk scribbling notes hastily onto his pad. ‘Did you smell anything odd when you approached the building sir?’
Parminter had thought about this and then answered. ‘To be perfectly honest officer my only thoughts were to break down the door and get Cheryl out. I really don’t recall smelling anything at all.’
‘I see. You say you tried to rescue the landlady?’
‘Yes, but the fire exploded from the door and sent me flying onto my back.’
‘I see. So, from seeing the smoke to feeling the flames, how many minutes passed?’
‘Oh, I’d say no more than three.’
‘I see,’ said Hoary Honk scribbling more notes. Before he could ask his next question, an almighty explosion sent firefighters, town’s folk, along with Ruth, Parminter and PC Honk, scurrying for cover.  The barrels in the basement had exploded. Windows blew out sending shards of glass hurtling through the air. Miraculously no one was struck. As the windows shattered so too did the doors. The fire, briefly, ballooned outwardly before re-engaging with the already burning structure.
‘Everyone okay?’ Shouted PC Hoary Honk gingerly getting to his feet. The crowd, one by one, answered in the affirmative. Hoary, Ruth and Parminter were all stood near each other.
‘Have you not got to see someone? An appointment with a V.I.P?’ Asked Ruth of Parminter.
‘I have but don’t feel I should leave. Not with this going on,’ replied Parminter.
PC Honk raised his hand in conciliatory fashion.
‘Two minutes more, sir. My boss, Inspector Lazarus is on his way. He may want a quick word. It shouldn’t delay you by much.’
‘Okay. Not to worry. I can spare a little time under the circumstances.’
The two minutes stretched to twelve and then a car was heard, a shudder of breaks, a door opening then shutting, and then a tall blonde-haired man walked toward PC Honk. Parminter observed this calmly although wanting matters to speed-up so that he could crack on. Not just to make his next appointment but because he had to make the flight for his holiday. The two police officer spoke for a while often looking his way yet sometimes looking toward the fire which was now being doused by the fire brigade. The conversation over, Adam Lazarus walked over toward Fullcock.
‘I know who you are sir. I think we all do. I have spoken with my sergeant who has given me all the pertinent detail. There is nothing more to be gained by you staying here. If we need to talk to you again we know where to find you.’
Parminter had held out his hand for the policeman to shake. ‘Thank you,’ he said. He then turned to Ruth. ‘Will you be okay getting home?’
Lazarus answered for her. ‘We’ll drive the young lady home, sir. Now off you go and make sure you win that election.’

Parminter had left still feeling a sense of bewilderment and a loss he found hard to comprehend. He hadn’t known Cheryl Bunkum that well. They had only met, at the most, twice before. Yet her death, for he was positive she was dead, had touched him deeply. He didn’t understand why it had but nonetheless, it had. Rather than stop for lunch, he had driven on arriving a little earlier than required. It was now just after noon.
He took hold of his comwand and called his wife.
‘Hen, it’s me. Something awful has happened. You remember Cheryl Bunkum of the Sinking Sun, the woman I was meant to meet today? Well, as I arrived the pub was on fire. Cheryl was inside. There is no way anyone could have survived. Listen, Hen, there is nothing I can do. I am going to let the police know about our holiday and how to contact us and then I am going to cancel my last appointment. Pack our stuff for the holiday into your car and meet me at the Port in Poole. We can grab something to eat and drink before we take the air balloon to Turkey.’
Hen agreed to the plan and went away to pack. Parminter drove off still thinking about Cheryl Bunkum, feeling sick to his stomach but aware there was nothing to be done. He drove steadily never being one to accede the speed limit. Not because he was particularly diligent but rather because he disliked going fast preferring to take his time, to enjoy the feeling of being in such a car as a Rolls Royce.
Having driven into the Port of Poole’s car lot, he had parked next to a hire vehicle. He knew it was such for the number plates bore that distinctive emblem that denoted the vehicles status. The car’s engine was still running even though the driver was absent. There was something familiar about the hire car, something that had him wondering where he’d seen it before. Just then two men turned the corner. One was obviously the manager of the car hire company whilst the other was a shabbily dressed Regus Nasaltwist.
It had seemed odd seeing the once powerful senior Tory member dressed in such a fashion. It was upon seeing the former chief whip of the Tory party that Parminter recollected where he’d seen the car before. He had seen it overtake him on his journey from Arkenfelt to Poole. It seemed even odder to think of his being here having travelled a similar route as Parminter. What on earth was Regus Nasaltwist doing in Poole?

Having watched Parminter drive off, Adam Lazarus heard the insect buzz of his comwand.

‘Hello? Hi, Cyril. What can I do for you? I see. What state is the corpse in? Very decomposed eh? That means it’s been buried a long time, years maybe. You found what? A note. What kind of a note. Right, okay. I’ll be right over. Give me half-an-hour.’
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry - Book Five- The Runaway Cadaver - Chapter 9 - "Running With a Large Bladder 3"

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.”
“Where’s Charles?”
“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.”
“And Rosie?”
“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.”
“Muckleford General?”
“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?”
“None better.”

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.
“Sugar, milk?”
“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.
“Please do.”
“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.