Saturday, 31 December 2011

Reverend Bartle II

"Er, isn't that one of those martial arts?"  Reverend Bartle looked rather confused by Playfair's sudden change of tack, and Miss Flava sympathised.  She looked over at Calamity who'd by now dug up nearly half of the tomato plants.  At a guess, she'd say that a good half-a-morning's work had been reduced to so much scattered soil and half-dead plants.  The green, meaty smell of tomato plants drifted towards her, and she wrinkled her nose a little.  She'd never much liked tomatoes, preferring to hide them under salad leaves or pull them out of her egg-salad sandwiches and drop them in the bin.  From which Calamity would invariably retrieve them, if they were in the office, and then eat them.
"No.  That would make it respectable."  Inspector Playfair was definite.  "It's the art of re-arranging furniture for large sums of money.  And I use the word art, rather than science, to indicate in particular that it is funded solely by people who think that the effect something has is more important than the cause responsible for it and who can't see when a painting is, in fact, just the result of the artist having a seizure in front of a canvas while holding paint.  Rather than heal the poor bugger who's just chewed through eight tubes of paint they pay ridiculous sums of money for his canvas and hope he doesn't think of getting treatment himself."
"Er.  Right," said Bartle.  "So Feng Shui is redecorating with furniture is it?  Is that something you do at IKEA?"
"I hope not.  You're not a follower, or a fan of Feng Shui then?"
"Sorry, Inspector, I'm rather not.  I don't do much interior design, my partner looks after all that kind of thing.  I'm more of a cook and a gardener."
There was a pause while they both looked at Calamity who had now dug up all of the tomato plants and was frantically digging in the rockery, unearthing rocks, more soil, and the occasional tortoise shell.
"It looks like we might have to buy tomatoes this year," said Bartle with a hint of reproval.  Playfair ignored him.
"What's your opinion of the dead then?  You're a priest, right, you must have to do the odd funeral.  Do you play with the bodies a bit first?"
"What?!"  Bartle reddened and his eyes opened wider, he puffed his chest out and looked more than a little ridiculous in his dress.  "What are you suggesting, officer?"
"I think he's suggesting that you tampered with the evidence," said Miss Flava, who was turning over the tortoise shells with a foot.  They all seemed to be free of dead tortoise, fresh or decomposed, and there was no sign of the shells being broken into.
"What?" Bartle turned to face her now, still red in the face and his voice was increasing in pitch.
"How did you know it was a screwdriver sticking into his neck?" said Playfair, his voice suddenly soft and coercive.  "If all you could see want the handle, and the man was hanging, so necessarily higher up than you because he's got to be off the ground, and the ground's all soft with blood, so you wouldn't get too close; if all this is true, how did you know he had a screwdriver in his neck?"
Bartle stared at Miss Flava, then at Playfair, and finally at Calamity, who was now in a hole almost the same size as her and still digging.
"They told me," he said weakly.  "The policemen, when they came to ask me about things.  They told me there was a screwdriver in the side of his neck.  They wanted to see what tools I have, so I showed them.  I keep them all in the greenhouse anyway, and screwdrivers aren't really gardening tools, are they?  Where is you dog going, Inspector?"
"Down," said Playfair.  "Don't worry, she wont' dig so deep that she can't get out again.  So, you claim that you know about this screwdriver because someone else told you.  Why are you telling me about it like you saw it at the time then?"
"I didn't know this was an interview!  You just came over and let your damn dog loose to ruin my garden and started asking weird questions!"  Bartle was tripping over his words now and looked extremely agitated; his hands were trembling and he kept smoothing down the front of his dress, unconsciously rubbing mud into it over and over again.
"Calamity!  Car!"  Playfair's voice was stentorian, and Calamity lifted her head, regarded him for a second, then bounded out of her hole and galloped back to the car.  Miss Flava nudged the fifth tortoise shell into line with the others with her foot, and then strolled over to the car as well to open the door and let Calamity back in.
"I'll have more questions for you," said Playfair.  "But I'll need to decide what they are first.  Enjoy your gardening."
Bartle stared after them in astonishment, watching as Playfair made a stab at getting the driver's seat and was neatly cut-off by a very rapid Miss Flava.  He grimaced, but went back round the to the passenger side and got in there while Miss Flava made sure she was in the driver's seat before he'd even opened his door.  The dog, the enormous Rottweiler that had completely ruined his gardening, barked a couple of times, and then the engine started up and the car drove away, leaving him with no tomatoes, a huge hole in the rockery, and a ridiculous number of tortoise shells.  He was pretty certain that neither he nor the previous priest had ever even owned a tortoise.

No comments: